Visiting Cinque Terre: A Complete Travel Guide

Planning on visiting these iconic Italian villages? Here’s my full guide to visiting Cinque Terre after spending a few days exploring!

If you guys have been following, you know Cinque Terre has been on my list for a while. I included it in my most colorful places to visit in the world list a few years back, and I’ve always had it saved it for a future trip to Italy.

Whelp, that Italy trip finally happened! Milou and I spoke at Traverse in Trento, and then we decided to spend the week after around Cinque Terre and Tuscany with her boyfriend. We spent a nice 3 nights and 2 full days exploring these pretty, pastel villages and enjoyed ourselves a lot more than we were expecting.

Here’s my complete guide for visiting Cinque Terre so you can plan your own lovely trip!

Cinque Terre Map

Quick Links

This post is quite in-depth, so if you want to jump down to a specific section, just click these links:

The Cinque Terre Villages

“Cinque” obviously means five in Italian, so as you might guess, there are five villages that make up the area. They each have their own unique histories and landmarks, so I thought I’d do a quick intro to each of them.

Riomaggiore

Closest to La Spezia, Riomaggiore gets its name from the river that flows under the main street, and, according to some reports, dates all the way back to the 700s.

You’ll recognize it best because of the reddish building that sits in the forefront of the most famous of Riomaggiore photos. If you need more information about touring the villages, the main tourist office is also located here.

panoramic view of manarola where you can see the colorful buildings sitting on the cliff over the blue water

Manarola

Manarola sits between Corniglia and Riomaggiore, and it’s one of the smaller towns in Cinque Terre. However, it’s also possibly the oldest!

It’s current standout quality is the swimming area right near the village. I wouldn’t plan on laying out your towel and sunbathing because you’re pretty much choosing between a cement ramp and a rocky area near the water. However, if you want to go cliff jumping, it’s pretty easy to do — just expect an audience!

Corniglia

Ahhh, Corniglia! It’s the only village of the five that you can’t see nor approach by sea. Up on a hill, once you get the train in, you need to take a shuttle bus up to the actual town. The bus is included with the Cinque Terre card. There’s also the Lardarina, a series of 382 steps, but, uh, we waited for the bus.

Vernazza

Between Corniglia and Monterosso, Vernazza, to me, is the most photogenic of all the villages. It’s the one that still feels the most like  fishing village, and you could easily spend all day walking around and hiking up to different vistas. We did see some people swimming in the harbor, but it was mostly kids. Not sure how comfortable of a beach area it’d be. 

Monterosso al Mare

And last but not least, Monterosso al Mare! Of all the villages, it’s definitely the one that caters the most to tourists as it feels more like a big resort than a fishing village. The iconic orange and blue umbrellas line the beach, and it really is quite a fun area. This is where we chose to relax and spend our last afternoon in Cinque Terre. Yes, renting those beach chairs was annoyingly expensive, but it wound up being worth it! 

Things to Do in Cinque Terre

Visit all 5 villages using their hiking trails

If you enjoy hiking, it’s very possible to hike between all five villages. I believe it’s even possible to hike from Levanto to Monterosso and La Spezia to Riomaggiore, but don’t quote me on that. 

The trails, from what I’ve read, range from short and easy to a bit more strenuous. Sometimes they’re also closed for repair! The trails between Riomaggiore and Manarola and Manarola and Corniglia were closed for us, so I wound up not hiking whatsoever haha. 

If you’re solo traveling and want to join a group for the hiking, there are a few options to choose from:

  •  This trekking trip leaves from Florence an starts in Manarola and goes through Vernazza. It’ll end with a train ride to Monterosso and then a boat ride to Riomaggiore where you’ll do the easy “Via dell ‘Amore” path to Manarola.
  • Leaving from La Spezia, this hiking tour will have you take a train to Manarola and hike through Corniglia before lunch. Then you’ll hike to Vernazza and then go back to Riomaggiore. 

Take the ferry to see 4/5 ferries from the water

One of the coolest ways to see the villages is from the water! There’s a ferry that goes to all the villages except for Corniglia. Just be careful that the ferry is actually running! When we went, the water was too rough, and it looks like that’s not an abnormal occurrence. 

You could also do a boat trip to see the villages. Here are some nice options:

Go swimming

I mean, Cinque Terre is on the Italian Riviera! The two main ones for swimming are Manarola and Monterosso. Manarola is nice for swimming and cliff diving, but it’s not quite as nice for leaving your things. Both were pretty crowded when we went.

If you’re looking for a more typical swimming experience, try Monterosso as it has the whole umbrella/lounge chair set-up, which leads me to my next one…

Relax at the beach

If you do as we did and stretch out your time in Cinque Terre a bit, then you’ll have all afternoon to lounge on the beach in Monterosso. Beware of the sand though — it gets HOT. We were bouncing from shadow to shadow to get into the water and out! 

We stayed over by the blue and striped umbrellas, which is a bit smaller than the main beach area with the orange and green ones. I think I’d prefer it just because there’s a little place to eat right on the beach and you can climb up the side of the cliff to get really beautiful views of the area. It didn’t feel quite as crowded either. 

Eat all the delicious sea food

I mean, if you’re by the sea, shouldn’t you try some seafood? We got some in our pasta dishes, but I’m sure there are specific seafood dishes popular for the riviera. We ate in Riomaggiore and Monterosso and then once or twice where were staying in Levanto.

If you stay in La Spezia, you may actually like this fun food tour that’ll take you to five different stops in town. Otherwise, this food tour with  local guide goes around Riomaggiore.

Go out on the water

There were a lot of kayaking options from the villages! If you’re more active, this is a cool way to see the villages from afar. And trust me, most people aren’t going to Cinque Terre with plans of kayaking, so you won’t be crowded in with everyone else.

For some kayaking tours, try these:

  • Sunset Kayak & Wine Tour – For something a bit more relaxing, go kayaking from Monterosso to Vernazza. You’ll enjoy your apertivo and wine in a nice little cove! 
  • Cinque Terre Kayak Tour – This one is definitely more adventurous than the above tour! It lasts anywhere from half a day to a full day and starts in Monterosso. You’ll kayak by Vernazza and Corniglia. Then you’ll have the option to snorkel if you want to do a full day tour.

You could also do a sailing tour from La Spezia

A 2 Day, 3 Night Cinque Terre Itinerary

I think two full days in Cinque Terre are a nice middle ground between slow and fast travel. If you’re hiking and seeing this visit as more of an active holiday, you could easily stretch it out over a week, hiking and stopping in each village to spend the night and walk around. 

Day 0: Getting to Levanto

Check in: Al Molino delle Ghiare

We drove to Levanto from Verona, which took a little over 3 hours. Since we had a car, we obviously couldn’t stay in the villages. Plus, we wanted to stay away from them just in case we found the crowds to be too much.

We booked 3 nights at Al Molino delle Ghiarewhich is perfect for 3 people and a car! It’s more like a small house, so we had a kitchen, living room, a bathroom, and two bedrooms. It’s not quite in town, but when you check-in, the owner will show you how to get there and where to park. They’ll also give you a parking pass, so you don’t have to worry about parking fees in town!

Dinner: Da Tapulin

Once we were settled, we went down to the waterfront to get dinner. We ate at Da Tapulin, which was a nice little place. It was actually pretty crowded, so there was a bit of a wait before we could sit. 

colorful buildings atop of a cliff -- most prominent color is orange

Day 1: Riomaggiore, Manarola, & Corniglia

Morning: Head to Levanto Train Station

In the morning, we went straight to the Levanto train station. Sure enough, as the internet had warned us, there was quite the line! It’s not too bad, and we even had time to get our cards and then get a quick bite to eat at the little cafeteria in the station. 

The card costs 16 euros for one day and 29 euros for 2 days, so if you know you’re going in multiple days, it’s worth buying them all at once. 

Riomaggiore

We decided to plan our itinerary by going to the furthest village first and making our way back. This actually worked quite well because Monterosso is the village with the beach, and we knew we’d be sun bathing for at least part of our itinerary. 

We spent a decent amount of time in Riomaggiore walking around. You’ll actually want to walk along the water to get to the harbor area which is where all the best views are. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant nearby and got some lunch. It was a nice little place, and our waiter even teased me a bit when I ordered a caffe shakerato with my pasta haha. 

Manarola

We then popped over to the next village — Manarola! We 100% were planning to do the walk between Riomaggiore and Manarola since it was the easiest and shortest path, but it was closed for some TLC. 

Manarola’s most notable feature is the swimming hole and the rock you can jump off. I was so, so eager to swim, but it just didn’t look like a comfortable area to leave your things, and I didn’t want to be all wet and drippy for the rest of the day. 

Corniglia

Corniglia is the only town not visible from the sea. We took the bus up and down. It’s free with your Cinque Terre card and 2.50 euros otherwise.

We arrived at the right time because most of the day trippers had left, and it was around golden hour. It really did feel nice and calm! We strolled through town, and ended the whole day with a nice gelato before getting pizza back at Levanto.

Day 2: Vernazza & Monterosso

Vernazza

We started out going to in the morning to get breakfast and walk around the village. There are so many viewpoints, and we didn’t even go to all of them. After a nice breakfast in town, we walked over to the harbor and spent some time enjoying the sea views there.

Then we figured out where to climb up to get a cool view of the tower castle. The hike isn’t long or hard, but it is a bit steep, so, at least I was a little winded by the time we got to the main view point.

Monterosso al Mare

And then we took the train to Monterosso! The town is actually split into two parts– the old and new. You’ll disembark in the new part, but it’s just a small walk through a tunnel to get to the old part. We grabbed lunch at a cute place in the old part of town, and then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the lounge chairs and swimming!

During sunset, I got up and explored a little, climbing up around the side of the cliff. I’m pretty sure it’s where you’d come down if you were hiking from Vernazza. Then once I got back, we went to dinner in town and, of course, ended the day with more gelato!

Day 3: Leaving Cinque Terre

Alas, it was time to leave beautiful Cinque Terre! We checked out of our cute house and made our way over to Lucca after 2 full days enjoying the villages.

I think we all quite enjoyed the area, especially since we were prepared for it to feel like a tourist circus show. Luckily, even with the massive crowds from cruise ships, the villages still retain their charm.

Cinque Terre Travel Tips

Tours to Cinque Terre

There are a ton of day trip options if you’re tight on time and still want a taste of Cinque Terre. Here are some of the cities that have day tour options:

Getting into Cinque Terre

By Train

The easiest way to get into the villages is by train. You can either get a ticket with Tren Italia or buy the Cinque Terre card. If you know you’re going more than one day, purchase in advance since it’s a bit cheaper. You can get them at the Levanto or La Spezia (and maybe Riomaggiore) train stations, but be warned the lines can be long in the morning! 

Our longest route was from Levanto to Riomaggiore, and it was less than an hour. It only takes 5-6 minutes or less to get in between the villages from there! Our guesthouse owner gave us papers with the timetables, but you can also check them here.

By Ferry

As I mentioned above, you can take a ferry to 4/5 villages (all but Corniglia). The ferries do leave from Levanto and La Spezia as well. Just be warned, they may not run if the water is too rough!

Cinque Terre Hike

And, of course, for the outdoorsy, there are the hiking trails! All five villages are linked with some sort of trail, though I have no idea what any of them are like personally because I didn’t hike a single one lol. In my defense the easiest one I would have done, between Riomaggiore and Manarola, was closed. From what I’ve seen online, the trail times are around the following:

  • Monterosso – Vernazza: 1.8 miles (2.9 km) – 2 hours
  • Vernazza – Corniglia: 2 miles (3.2 km), 1 3/4 hours – 2 hours
  • Corniglia – Manarola: 1.2 miles (2km), 1 – 1/2 hours
  • Manarola – Riomaggiore: 1.2 miles (2km), 30-40 minutes

By Car or Taxi?

Just a reminder you can’t take cars into the villages, so that means no taxis either!

Levanto — the town where we stayed

Where to Stay in Cinque Terre: Accommodation Tips

This is kind of a loaded question. You basically have seven options:

Levanto or La Spezia

The benefit of staying in one of the two side towns is that you’re not anywhere near most of the tourist activity! Plus, if you’re driving around Italy, you obviously can’t drive into any of the villages.

We stayed in Levanto because of this. I read online that most people preferred Levanto to La Spezia, so I looked for places with free parking there.

Like I said above, we stayed at Al Molino delle Ghiare, which is actually about a 10 minute drive outside of Levanto. It’s in a super random area with other houses, but it was nice and spacious, and had two bedrooms for us. Check here for rates + availability

Have you stayed in La Spezia? Curious to know what it’s like!

The Villages

Each village has its own charm, as you can see above and each of my individual village posts., so I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them. Monterosso feels the most like a resort town, so there’s probably more to do there but also more tourists. Corniglia is probably the most “off-the-beaten-path” since it’s a little trickier getting there than the other five.

Here are some cute places to stay in each village:

Bonus: Rapallo or Finale Ligure

Erin and Simon over at Never Ending Voyage have a ton of experience with Italy, so when I told Erin I was going to Cinque Terre, she recommended staying in Rapallo or Finale Ligure if I really wanted to somewhere quieter. They’re a bit farther from the villages, especially for two days, but if you want to base yourself on the riviera for a little while, it sounds perfect! You can check out their Rapallo guide here and their Finale Ligure guide here.

for more on italy

If you’d like to explore more of this charming country, check out this Italy by train itinerary. The train system in Italy is incredibly convenient! There’s not always A/C, which can be a bit hot, but it’s not horrible. Some other cities covered on the blog include Milan and Turin.

As far as driving goes, Joris rented a car through a Dutch rental car company, and for our trip it wasn’t too bad. Just keep in mind, most rental car options in Europe are manual only! Italians are also pretty aggressive drivers.

And, as always, make sure you learn a bit of the language (at least how to say “thank you!”), and know that the Italian names and English names aren’t always similar (Florence vs Firenze).

I do recommend having some sort of travel insurance just in case anything happens, especially if you’re doing anything active like hiking. Depending on your activities and budget, you may like World Nomads or Safety Wing better. You can get a quote for World Nomads here and a quote for Safety Wing here. I personally had Safety Wing for my trip just because I was traveling for a month straight and had no plans on doing anything too dangerous. 

Are you planning on visiting Cinque Terre or have you? What did you think?

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