When we decided to spend some time in Italy on the European leg of our trip, I knew there was one place we shouldn’t miss out on. That was the Cinque Terre.
What is the Cinque Terre, I hear you ask. In Italian, it means “the Five Lands”. You might not know quite what it is but you’ve more than likely seen it. The Cinque Terre is that famous stretch of Italian coastline, the one with colourful houses built into the cliffs. You know, the one you see all over Instagram! It’s made up of five little fishing villages, each prettier than the next. It’s a real treat for your eyes and a real paradise for photographers!
Visiting in April, we did not have the most perfect weather but overcast or not, we were not disappointed. The Cinque Terre was everything we were expecting and so much more. Even though none of the photos truly do it justice, keep scrolling for a little taste of this breathtaking part of Italy.
Where is the Cinque Terre?
The Cinque Terre is located in the province of La Spezia, Liguria. It’s south of Genoa in the north-west of Italy and only 100 kilometres north of Pisa. Because of its location, it’s easy enough to combine a trip to Tuscany with some time on the Cinque Terre.
The five villages of the Cinque Terre
There are five villages on the Cinque Terre. From South to North you will find Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Together, they form the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Riomaggiore is the first village of the Cinque Terre you’ll meet if you’re coming up from the South. It’s where we decided to stay while exploring the area and we’re glad we did.
This ancient fishing village is the most colourful one of the five and we loved its atmosphere. Riomaggiore is also where you’ll find the best sunsets. Riomaggiore wasn’t as touristy as the more popular Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso; after 5 pm the streets were quite quiet.
Riomaggiore is divided into three parts, the train station, the old town and the harbour. After exiting the train, you head through a tunnel to reach the old town. You also get to the harbour by going down a set of stairs at the end of that tunnel.
The village of Manarola is only 500 meters from Riomaggiore. You used to be able to walk between the two villages along the stunning coastal path called “the Via del Amore”. Unfortunately, this path is closed due to landslides and won’t reopen until at least 2021.
With its stunning harbour and surrounded by vineyards, Manarola is truly splendid. It was one of our favourites of the five villages and we visited it twice.
Corniglia is the smallest village of the Cinque Terre and the only village which is not right down by the sea. This cute little village is perched on top of a hill, so to reach it you must climb 365 steps or take the shuttle bus from the train station.
Corniglia is the quietest of the villages and only offers small family run hotels. We found the best gelatos on the Cinque Terre there at the Alberto Gelateria. Try their basil gelato speciality! YUM!!
Vernazza is said to be the prettiest village on the Cinque Terre. Its main street leads straight from the train station down to the harbour. You’ll get the best views across the village by walking up the hill a bit on the path that leads towards Monterosso.
Vernazza has a small beach and a beautiful waterfront piazza that is packed with bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, Vernazza suffered from a very bad flood in 2011 and you can still see remnants of the flood damage on some of the buildings.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso is the largest of the Cinque Terre villages. Because it is the only one with a decent sized beach, it is also the most visited village. Therefore, you will find all sorts of accommodation there, including larger hotels. It’s divided into two parts by the San Cristoforo Hill. On one side you have the historic part and on the other, the new section.
The best thing to do while in Monterosso is to take the path up to the top of the Capuchin Monastery. There you’ll have an amazing panoramic view of the whole of Cinque Terre with the other four villages in the distance.
Don’t forget to hop on a boat
The Cinque Terre is not just stunning on land, you get an even better view of it from the sea. Make sure you hop on a boat and enjoy the colourful houses and terraced hillsides from the water. There are ferries that run between the villages or you can take a boat tour. We used Enjoy Cinque Terre Boat Tours and had an amazing time!
What about hiking on the Cinque Terre?
We were so looking forward to walking between all of the villages. Simon and I love hiking but unfortunately, when we visited in April 2019, most of the coastal hiking trails were closed, apart from the trail from Vernazza to Monterosso. Winter seems to attract a fair bit of bad weather in this part of Italy, which often leads to landslides.
How long should you spend on the Cinque Terre?
If you rushed through it, you could visit the Cinque Terre in just one day (there are plenty of day trips from Florence and Pisa). But we recommend spending at least two or even three days there if you have the time. We stayed three nights and had plenty of time to explore each of the villages, hike, take a boat trip and just relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
How do you get to the Cinque Terre?
If you’re already in Italy, the best way to get to Cinque Terre is by train. Depending on where you are coming from, you’ll connect to the local Cinque Terre train line in La Spezia (if you come from the south) or Levanto (if you come from the north). From those two stations, you can change to the local train line that connects the five villages together.
If you are coming from overseas, the closest airports to the Cinque Terre are Pisa, Florence and Genoa.
So which village on the Cinque Terre is the nicest?
That’s a question that only you can answer by checking them all out! I had always heard that Vernazza was the nicest. However, it was not our favourite. Although we loved Vernazza, we loved Riomaggiore and Manarola even more.
Still, every village is beautiful, with its colourful buildings and sparkling sea views. They each have their own character and all are worth a visit. My advice is to check them out and form your own opinions.
Do you need the Cinque Terre card?
If you are planning on hiking the path from Monterosso to Vernazza then yes, you absolutely need to get the pass; it’s a requirement. There are two checkpoints at the entrance to each town.
The pass includes free train rides, so if you are planning on moving around a lot between villages then it might be better for you to purchase the Cinque Terre Pass. Definitely get it if you are only there for one day.
However, if you are taking it slow and only planning on visiting one or two villages a day, then it is not worth the cost. The card costs 16 Euros per person. Each one-way train ticket between villages is 4 Euros. If you think you will catch the train more than 4 times in a day then buy the card (it also includes free public toilet entrance and WIFI at the train stations). If not, just buy tickets as you go.
You can purchase the card at any of the Cinque Terre tourist offices, located at all five train stations and also at the stations in La Spezia and Levanto.
Where should you stay on the Cinque Terre?
- Where we stayed: La Dolce Vita in Riomaggiore. This has clean, quiet rooms and very friendly owners. You also don’t have to walk too far up the hill from the station!
- La Casa dei Treni Lux&Relax in La Spezia. Best Value on booking.com
- A cà da Alba Rooms in Monterosso al Mare: Best reviewed on booking.com
If none of the above accommodation takes your fancy, you can use HotelsCombined to scan across all the top travel sites using the search box below. We use it all the time.