Planning your visit to the Towns of Cinque Terre

Planning a visit to Cinque Terre

Pastel houses, fresh seafood, colorful fishing boats, and stunning views are just a few reasons why you should put this area of Italy on your list of places to visit.

Cinque Terre is definitely worth visiting. Whether you choose to check out one town or all five you will discover that Cinque Terre is a beautiful destination. The towns include Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. Each one is unique and offers something a little different for the visitors.

Cinque Terre literally means, “five lands”, and is made up of five separate fishing villages that have been car-free for more than a decade. The best way to see Cinque Terre is by using the 19th century train that connects the towns. If you are wondering how to pronounce the name of the area it is chin-kwe ter-re with a rolled r sound. Try it out!

Steep paths connecting the villages traverse the cliff sides surrounded by vineyards and stunning views. These towns were once completely isolated from the rest of civilization. The residents pulling in fish from the sea and growing grapes on the hillsides untouched by the outside world. The architecture of Cinque Terre has been perfectly preserved even while the area became open to tourists.

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Cinque Terre’s famous five villages

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore brings everything you could ever want in an Italian coastal town together in one. It is the largest of the five villages and acts as Cinque Terre’s unofficial headquarters. A picturesque harbor offers visitors a chance to rent kayaks and small boats to explore the area by sea. Hike to the 11th century Santuario di Nostra Signora di Montenero for spectacular views. Riomaggiore is the best place to watch sunset. Groups gather on the walls above the harbor to watch the sun sink below the water. The light hits the buildings giving a romantic glow to the peeling pastel structures.

Manarola

Manarola

Manarola is the perfect spot to sip on limoncello while enjoying a picturesque ocean view. There are also more grapevines surrounding this town than any of the others. Walk along the lively main street to the beautiful waterfront promenade that is constantly lined with boats. If you are lucky you will be able to watch as the day’s catch gets pulled in by the fishermen giving you a glimpse of everyday life in the village. Rumor has it that this villages is the oldest of the five and there are many priceless medieval relics that seem to support that claim. Climb a short uphill hike known as Punta Bonfiglio to the top of the hill for fabulous views and a bar. While visiting Manarola try the famous Sciacchetrà sweet wine.

Corniglia

Corniglia

Corniglia is a bit tougher to visit but worth the effort. Upon your arrival to the train station, you will exit to see a steep winding incline that takes the visitor from the sea to the village towering over the water. This walk includes 385 steps known as the Lardarina and takes about 20 to 30 minutes. If walking up a steep incline isn’t for you than check the local bus schedules that will take you from the train station to the center of the town every 5 to 8 minutes. Corniglia is a quieter hamlet that sits atop a 330-foot-high rocky cliff. There is no direct sea access, unlike the other towns. However, you can take the steep staircase down to a rocky cove where locals and tourists alike soak up sunlight and dip their toes into the cool sea. Follow the narrow alleys around the town and find the Belvedere di Santa Maria for incredible views. To find it, follow Via Fieschi through the village until you reach the balcony. This is the only place where you can see all five villages of Cinque Terre at once. Leave time to experience local gelato at Alberto Gelateria.

Vernazza

Vernazza

Vernazza is a great spot for an aperitivo near the water and to enjoy the beautiful harbor. The small harbor is surrounded by colorful umbrellas of local restaurants offering fresh seafood and refreshing drinks. The main cobbled street, Via Roma, connects the seaside Piazza Marconi with the train station. Wander around the side streets that take the visitor to the trademark of the city. The Genoa-style caruggi, meaning narrow streets, where you will get glimpses of the sea at each turn. Vernazza is the quaintest town in my opinion. I love the small alleys that I usually have to myself, and the sea seeming to surround the town. However, it is also considered to be one of the steepest of the five villages. Each street leading from the main square goes straight up with many steps and steep inclines. To me it is completely worth the burning lungs. Leave time to pop into the 14th century Chiesa di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia.

Montrosso al Mare

Montrosso al Mare

Monterosso al Mare is known for small winding streets and brightly colored buildings. This is a perfect place to enjoy a beach day seeing that the other villages don’t offer a proper beach. This village is known for its lemon trees that seem to be bowing to you under the weight of its fruit ready to harvest. Monterosso al Mare is divided into two parts, the new and old. They are linked by an underground tunnel that lies beneath the busy San Cristoforo promontory. In my opinion this town is the least quaint and appears like any other seaside village in Italy. However, should you decide to take the train or trail to this city make sure you try some of the anchovies that the town is famous for.

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Where to Stay in Cinque Terre

Let’s be real, this area is expensive so be prepared for a little bit of a sticker shock. However, I have found that choosing one town and then day tripping from there is the easiest way to visit Cinque Terre. My top choice is Riomaggiore seeing that it is the first town on the train line and provides access to everything from restaurants, laundry services, sea access and even parking at the top of the hill. I like renting an apartment or guesthouse to get more of an authentic point of view of what life is like in Cinque Terre.

Some of my favorites are: A really beautiful guesthouse is the La Cometa di Rio. It has a sea view and is only steps to the Riomaggiore Beach. Another great place is Affittacamere Le Giare that offers the visitor a stunning balcony and fast Wi-Fi. The last place I’ll suggest is Sergeant First Class Riomaggiore that provides private parking, air-conditioning, and an amazing terrace overlooking the town and harbor. 

For other options check out Hotels.com.

When is the best time to visit Cinque Terre?

Italy is not really a place you want to visit from June to the end of August because of the heat and crowds. Believe me, it is VERY hot and VERY crowded. However, consider visiting Cinque Terre during the cooler months such as spring and fall. The crowds will be lesser and the weather nice and cool without being too hot or too cold. Winter is not a great time to visit Cinque Terre because a lot of the restaurants and hotels are closed for the season. However, if you want no crowds and the ability to enjoy the scenery without the oppressive heat, this could be a good time to go.

Cinque Terre

How many days to spend in Cinque Terre

It really depends on you and what you are wanting to do while visiting. It takes some time to get to the area so keep that in mind. I would schedule three to five days to visit Cinque Terre. This way you will have time to enjoy each of the villages, do a few hikes, and maybe even take a boat trip around the towns.

Which town is your favorite?

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