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 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 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 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 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.
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.
Today is for beaching! All that you should be doing today is relaxing. After all, what are holidays for?
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.
Followed by mussels.
With a side of octopus salad.
And this trofie pasta with pesto was perfection!
And of course no Italian meal is complete without Tiramisu!
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.
For dinner I’d suggest heading into the old town to explore.
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.
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.
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.
And be sure to tip this guy. You can hear the beautiful italian jazz floating through the cliffs as you walk.
Corniglia doesn’t look like much from afar. But up close – she’s real pretty.
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!
Depending on your strength, you could walk or train to Manarola for an afternoon swim. The harbor is perfect for lazing about.
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.
And that my friend is where you get this magic shot.
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.
And squid ink pasta with tuna.
And this is their fresh fish cooked with lemon and potatoes.
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.
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