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A Beginner’s Guide: Cinque Terre, Italy

By September 23, 2014 city guides, europe, italy, travel

cinque-terre-a-beginners-guide-anisa-sabet-the-macadames

So Cinque Terre is nothing short of amazing. If you follow me on Instagram – you would have seen many a pic from my 5 day stay there.

Although there is lots of information online, I found a lot of it to be a tad confusing (although this one’s good!) so I thought I’d put together a simple guide for visiting the region including tips on hiking and also what to do in Cinque Terre.

What is the Cinque Terre?

Firstly if you’ve never heard of it, Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 fishing villages nestled into some of the most dramatic and beautiful coastal scenery there is. It’s been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1997 meaning there’s been a huge increase in tourism over the past decade, although this has not resulted in any loss in its authenticity.  People come from all around the world to traverse its winding paths through the cliffsides from village to village and thankfully cars are banned (in all except Monterosso) meaning it still maintains an old world charm.

Cinque Terre has a very unique historical feature of steeply terraced cliffs bisected by complex farm and garden systems that have been created over the past hundreds of years. Unfortunately in 2011, flash floods caused devastation in Vernazza and Monterosso, burying streets and houses under meters of mud and sadly claiming half a dozen lives. As of my visit in 2014, all as up & running however in Vernazza you can view images of the after effects on several people’s homes.

Where is the Cinque Terre?

The Cinque Terre villages are located just north of the Tuscany border and is accessible by train from either Florence or Milan. If you’re flying in to visit, I would suggest using the Pisa, Genoa or Milan airports.

We drove from Florence and it took less than 2.5 hours to reach the northern most village, Monterosso Al Mare.

Where to stay when visiting the Cinque Terre

First of all, Cinque Terre is not a place, as mentioned above, it’s actually 5 places so don’t bother looking for hotels in “Cinque Terre”.

I had this romantic idea of hiking from one village to another during the day and staying in each of the villages across 5 nights. But this would actually be super annoying and pretty pointless (more why later).

To enjoy the area, just choose to stay in any of the 5 villages. Access wise, it doesn’t matter which one you choose as they are all really close and accessible by train.

The five Cinque Terre villages from north to south

Monterosso Al Mare | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 1

Monterosso al Mare is the biggest village with several streets and is fairly flat in comparison. It has an old town, new town and has the biggest beach of all the villages. For a more relaxed holiday where you’ll want ample beach time and loads of restaurant/bar options – Monterosso is your best bet.

Vernazza | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 3

Vernazza is the next village and is in my opinion the most beautiful. It has one main street, a castle with remaining fortress walls and a beautiful church built on the water. It has a waterfront area with bars where you can watch the sunset and a small beach.

Corniglia | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 2

Corniglia is the middle village built far above the sea on the cliffs. You actually have to go up 365 steps just to reach the town centre so if you’re not travelling light, I’d probably sit this one out.

Manarola | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 3

Manarola is the second most southern village, it also has 1 street and a harbor area where you can sunbake and swim. It isn’t “beachy” though, just some concrete and rocks to lay your towel but the water is divine and clear. It has an absolutely beautiful vantage point where all the popular Cinque Terre shots are taken. Come sunset you’ll be fighting every man and his tripod for a spot.

Riomaggiore is the most southern village and has one street, a harbor a rocky beach, a castle, a church and a handful of restaurants.

There are also villages surrounding these 5 including Levanto to the North and La Spezia to the south, you could also stay at either of these.

There are varying accommodation options in each of the villages ranging from hostels, to hotels to resorts or Airbnb properties. We stayed in Monterossa Al Mare using an Airbnb property and it was perfect.

Transport between the Cinque Terre villages

There is a train system that runs through all the 5 Cinque Terre Villages. Tickets can be bought from the station at 1,70 euro each or are included with your daily hiking pass (12 euro). This means you can catch as many trains as you like on that day until midnight. I am not sure if they have multi day passes but I’d say they might.

Make sure you “validate” your ticket on the day of your travel before getting on the train otherwise you could be up for a hefty fine.

Hiking the Cinque Terre

When I thought of hiking Cinque Terre, I thought it was a massive day long 50km+ type of event. But this isn’t the case, you could actually hike the whole 5 villages and back in one day if you wanted (23kms).

I suggest doing day hikes to the villages you want to see and if you’re tired after a few too many Proseccos, just get the train back.

Here is the link to the current trail maps. Sometimes sections are closed so be sure to check this when planning your trip and again before heading out.

How long should you stay in the Cinque Terre?

I honestly wouldn’t stay less than 3 nights (we stayed 4) but you could probably see it all in 2 nights if you did 2 big hikes. My itinerary below is 3 nights & 4 days and based out of Monterosso Al Mare.

Itinerary: 3 night & 4 day itinerary for the Cinque Terre 

Please note this is based on the weather being sunny and it’s based out of Monterosso al Mare. 3 nights and 4 days is enough to see all the towns while still leaving enough time to relax and enjoy your holiday! If you have less time, feel free to chop & change the itinerary to suit. 

Day 1

You’ll likely be arriving tired (maybe hangry) so i’d not plan too much for arrival day. I’d suggest finding a place on the water and watching the sunset with a glass of Prosecco or Chianti.

For dinner head over to Miky for dinner. They aren’t the cheapest but from experience and the reviews I’d say it’s worth it. They serve top quality Italian food and are rated the best restaurant in town. 

Day 2

Today is for beaching! All that you should be doing today is relaxing. After all, what are holidays for?

Monterosso Al Mare | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 3

For lunch head to Cantina by Miky (sister restaurant to Miky) – located on the water, it’s the perfect spot for a relaxed and fresh lunch. We ordered the whitebait.

Cantina di Miky | Monterosso | Cinque Terre | The Macadames - 1

Followed by mussels.

Cantina di Miky | Monterosso | Cinque Terre | The Macadames - 2

With a side of octopus salad.

Cantina di Miky | Monterosso | Cinque Terre | The Macadames - 3

And this trofie pasta with pesto was perfection!

Cantina di Miky | Monterosso | Cinque Terre | The Macadames - 4

And of course no Italian meal is complete without Tiramisu!

Cantina di Miky | Monterosso | Cinque Terre | The Macadames - 5

You can work your lunch of with any of the many beach activities. Why not try stand up paddleboarding or canoeing?

Or you could just laze on these beach chairs all day. Sound more like you? Yep – me too.

Monterosso Al Mare | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 2

For dinner I’d suggest heading into the old town to explore.

Monterosso Al Mare | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 5

There are loads of great restaurants so just look at Trip Advisor. But whatever you do, pop into Enoteca da Eliseo for a wine. It’s a gorgeous family run wine bar – their house Chianti is so delicious and such great value! They even let us bring our pizza to have with our wine, I’m sure they’d let you do the same.

Day 3

You better do some hiking right? There are trails that run all throughout the area, some are paid (12 euros) and some are free. By the way it’s not a walk in the park, don’t wear thongs/flip flops – sturdy hiking shoes or trail runners would be best. And pack loads of water & snacks, it can get pretty hot out there.

If you’re just after a mini hike, defiantely do the Monterosso to Vernazza trail – there is nothing more special than getting up over the hill and seeing Vernazza laying in front of you.

Vernazza | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 1

It’s time for a morning coffee and pastry to keep your energy up! Or better yet a gelato from Gelateria Vernazza. If they have the Marscapone and burnt fig – dive headfirst into it! There is a lot to see in Vernazza so give yourself an hour to see the castle, harbor area and church.

You can go for a swim if you like. It does look rather inviting.

If you’re a keen hiker, continue on to Corniglia. But you must stop at the cliff face bar on the way.

Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 3

And be sure to tip this guy. You can hear the beautiful italian jazz floating through the cliffs as you walk.

Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 2

Corniglia doesn’t look like much from afar. But up close – she’s real pretty.

Corniglia | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 1

You could stop in Corniglia for lunch but whatever you do, don’t go to Corniglia’s “beach”. Aside from the death trap of “stairs” to get down, the water was filthy!

Corniglia | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 4

Corniglia | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 5

Depending on your strength, you could walk or train to Manarola for an afternoon swim. The harbor is perfect for lazing about.

Manarola | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 1

But make sure you give yourself enough time to get a photo of the village of Manarola basking in the setting sun. You just walk out to this point.

Manarola | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 2
And that my friend is where you get this magic shot.

Manarola | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 4

After you’ve grabbed your photo – it’s well and truly time for a wine at one of the harbor restaurant/bars. Most places have happy hour where you get free nibblies with your drinks.

For dinner – I’d suggest going to Il Porticiollo. They serve fresh seafood and traditional Italian food. We had their ravioli.

Il Porticciolo | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 8

And squid ink pasta with tuna.

Il Porticciolo | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames

And this is their fresh fish cooked with lemon and potatoes.

Il Porticciolo | Cinque Terre | Italy | The Macadames - 7

Nothing super fancy, just fresh and tasty traditional seaside food.

After dinner feel free to pop around the late night venues which often have live music or just catch the train home.

Day 4

All good things have to come to an end. If you’re leaving by train, I’d suggest buying your ticket the day before to save yourself the time of lining up. I hope you enjoyed your time in the Cinque Terre – although I know that you did!

If you have more time

If you’re still keen to hike, I’d suggest doing the Monterosso to Levanto hike, although I didn’t get time, it’s meant to be one of the most beautiful.

Or if you’re looking for a more relaxing day, you could catch the train to Riomaggiore and have a morning swim. To find the beach go down to the marina then take the stairs to the left and it will take you around to the ferry dock, and just past that you’ll find the beach.

For lunch you could adventure to the village of Groppo. It’s completely out of the way, so give yourself an hour to arrive (you need to take the train from Riomaggiore to Manarola then walk). Cappun Magru is the restaurant to go to – the food is fresh and all made with local produce. Apparently the wine pairing is a must-do.

After lunch go and spend the afternoon and evening in Vernazza. They have some of the most beautiful seaside restaurants, including well known Ristorante Belforte which has beautiful views.

I’m here to help

I hope this helps you planning your Cinque Terre trip – please pop any questions you have in the comments and I will do my best to answer.

Don’t forget to hashtag #travelwiththemacadames on your travel pictures – I love to see where you’re exploring!

Anisa – The Macadames. xx

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17 Comments

  • Reply Rebecca D December 31, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Hi Anisa,

    Absolutely love your blog! Helping so much with planning my next Europe trip for June-Aug 2015. My sister and I were thinking of doing a day trip here from Milan? Do you think that staying in Cinque Terra would be better? Or can you see enough in one day?

    Look forward to hearing your response.

    Bec xx

    • Reply Anisa December 31, 2014 at 10:48 am

      Thanks so much Bec. I would honestly try stay in Cinque Terre, it’s so beautiful. We stayed 4 nights and it was barely long enough. Could you at least stay 1 night? I didn’t stay in Milan long but I loved Cinque Terre much better. It’s so unique, the real Italy. Let me know how you go. Thanks for stopping by. Xx

  • Reply Donna January 26, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Hi , we are interested in traveling to Europe in the year 2017 for a few months and i happened to found your blog… Loved it!! i have a question, can we book accommodation through Airbnb any time, e.g. the day before we arrive or a week before? we wanted to go with the flow and book accomodation as we go…. is this possible? Thank you, Donna

    • Reply Anisa January 27, 2015 at 8:31 am

      Thanks for stopping by

    • Reply Anisa January 27, 2015 at 8:37 am

      Apologies I wrote a full response & it cut all of it out. Here we go again. You can use Airbnb last minute but I’d go only a week out not the next day. Reason is that you apply and they hold the money & if they say yes you get charged. Usually it takes 1-2 days. I think there is a 48 hour limit. This would make it difficult for same day/next day bookings. Also I actually prefer booking in 2-3 week lots because otherwise you spend your whole holiday at Internet cafes trying to book accomm/transport. Plus you find better deals/get more for your money when you book in advance. Hope this helps. Xx

  • Reply Karen May 19, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    Hi, my husband and I are going to be in CT from Saturday night to tuesday afternoon. Is that enough time to see the sites and get some beach time without rushing around for the whole time?

    Love your blog! Very helpful!

    • Reply Anisa May 19, 2015 at 9:06 pm

      Hi there, glad to hear you’re visiting CT. I think 2 full days is enough. I would spend one day travelling the to all the towns and the other day relaxing. What town are you staying in?

  • Reply Kassy August 14, 2015 at 5:06 am

    Hey anisa, was just wondering did you take your campervan here? And if so where did you stay?
    Thanks

    • Reply Anisa September 9, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      We didnt actually as the campsites are a bit away. We parked our van in the large carpark in Monterosso and then got an Airbnb for a few nights. It was a nice little break from our van 😉

  • Reply Chris September 27, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Wow! Smashing! Love your blog – so helpful. I’m an Australian planning my winter escape in 2016 – just don’t like the cold – Sydney sun lover. So Monterosso is for me. Would you recommend any hotels there? Somewhere nice with a view. Thanks in advance, Chris

    • Reply Anisa September 29, 2015 at 11:32 am

      Thanks so much. We did airbnb mostly = hotels are SO overpriced (we found). Best of luck!

  • Reply Kat Espejo February 8, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    Hi! This guide is really good!!!!! 🙂 Wanted to ask you where did you stay in the 5 villages, and if you have a link to your Airbnbs? Hotels indeed are overpriced 🙁

    • Reply Anisa February 10, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      We stayed in Monterosso, I had a look to find the airbnb we stayed in but couldn’t. Have you checked the ones in that town out? They are relatively affordable in comparison with hotels? Let me know how you go!

  • Reply Polina May 11, 2017 at 1:45 am

    Hi! We are going to Cinque Terre this summer and are so excited. We have booked an airbnb in Monterosso and will be getting in mid-day Friday and leaving Sunday morning. I found a boat tour in Manarola that looks amazing but the only option is to do it at 10am Saturday. Do you think we should try to extend an extra day (which would mean cutting Chianti/Tuscany) to do the hiking trails, or should we try to fit it all on Saturday? Thanks so much!! We love hiking and the sea so we are having so much trouble deciding 🙂

    • Reply Anisa May 11, 2017 at 10:01 am

      Oh thats so exciting! I would try to fit it in as Tuscany/Chianti is so lovely too. You could definitely hike the whole thing in a day but it’s very long. If I were you, I’d skip the boat tour and just hike the trails then still see Tuscany / Chianti. Hope you have the best time!

  • Reply Elbert June 21, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Hi Anisa, I’m going to Cinque Terre in a week now, and I can’t hardly wait!
    Could you please advise me where are the picturesque spots in Cinque Terre? I’d like to have those shots overlooking the colorful village, and I can’t seem to locate where is it.
    Thanks in advance!

    • Reply Anisa June 21, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      Its so beautiful. It’s basically all picturesque – you can’t go wrong! Those photos are all taken from the hiking trails so if you go on the trails – you’ll get the shots you want 🙂

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