You may have not heard of the Cinque Terre but there is a good chance you’ve seen photos of these colorful villages built into the cliffs on the Italian Riveria. The Cinque Terre (which translates to Five Lands) is a cluster of five small villages that dot the Northwest coastline of Italy — the five towns are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. In this Cinque Terre Travel Guide, we’ll talk about things to do, what to see, where to eat, how much to budget, and other tips for exploring this amazing part of Italy.
Quick Background Of Cinque Terre
The five villages that comprise the Cinque Terre are all only a few miles apart. Each has a train station and trains run frequently from village to village. The train ride between each village only takes three or four minutes so travel is easy.
Another popular way to visit each village is by hiking the beautiful trails that connect each village. We’ll cover hiking the Cinque Terre more in-depth later in this guide but the hiking trails range from fairly easy paved paths to advanced rocky paths with steep inclines and declines. Furthermore, many paths are closed for the foreseeable future because of landslide repairs so you’ll want to check the latest trail condition reports.
Cinque Terre is a popular day trip destination so each of the tiny villages does get overrun with tourists from about 10 am to 5 pm — however, after about 5 pm the tourists leave and the villages are very quiet and enjoyable. So, if you have the option, try staying in one of the villages for a couple nights so you can truly enjoy these traditionally sleepy villages. As a bonus, staying overnight lets you hit the hiking trails early so you can beat the crowds (and heat).
TIP: No cruise ships dock in the neighboring towns of La Spezia or Genova on Thursdays — so it’s a nice time to visit Cinque Terre without the added cruise crowd.
The Cost To Visit Cinque Terre
While it might not be as expensive as the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre can get a little expensive since its a popular tourist spot and that means tourist prices — especially in the summer. Luckily, there are a still enough budget food and accommodation options so you don’t have to break the bank.
Accommodation ranges from luxury hotels and hostels to family-run vacation apartments and B&Bs. We rented an Airbnb from a lady whose family had lived in the village for multiple generations and her family has owned the apartment for more than 100 years. In general, if you want to stay in one of the villages you should expect basic, yet comfortable, family-run rental apartments or small hotels. The bigger hotels are mostly found in Monterosso (the largest of the five villages).
- Family-Run Rental Apartments and Hotels: These run from $100-$200/night. Check Booking.com for current prices and availability.
- Traditional Hotels: Most budget and mid-level hotels are located in Monterosso for around $120-$200/night. You can also check out the larger nearby towns of La Spezia (to the south) and Levanto (to the north) because they’re a super quick train ride away and you’ll save some money. Check Booking.com for current prices.
- Hostels: Expect to pay €20-€30/night per person. You may need to look at larger nearby cities like La Spezia or Levanto (both a quick train-ride away) for more hostel options. Check Hostelworld for current prices.
It’s easy to pay a bit of a premium for food and drinks in Cinque Terre but with a little planning, you can keep your food costs to a reasonable level. There are a number of quality restaurants so at least you’re paying for good food — but still do a bit of research first as there are more below average restaurants than above average. Expect to see mostly seafood in the restaurants (these are fishing villages after all) but pesto is another local specialty. One thing to note — servings tend to be on the smaller side (maybe so you can save room for gelato?).
- Expect to spend €8-€15 for a seafood pasta dish at an average restaurant.
- A sandwich on traditional focaccia bread will cost €3-€6.
- Fried calamari or other seafood + fries in a cone will cost €6-€12.
Getting from village to village via the train is fairly affordable at around €4 for each ride. You can also take a ferry between the different villages. An unlimited day pass is €25-€35 (depending on which locations you’re visiting). You can also buy cheaper one-way tickets — check here for the official ferry prices.
Don’t forget to budget for those extra travel costs that you might spend some money on. Here are a few popular travel extras:
- Cinque Terre Hiking Pass: 1 day Cinque Terre Card is €7,50 and the 2 days Cinque Terre Card is € 14,50. There is also another option that adds unlimited train travel between Levanto – Cinque Terre – La Spezia. 1 day for €16, 2 days for €29, and 3 days for €41.
- Private Trekking Tour: Hire a private guide to help you explore the more advanced trails. It can be a little expensive but it can be worth it if you’re a hiking nut.
- Wine Tours and Tastings: Cinque Terre is famous for their wine so there are a number of wine tastings and tours.
- Sunset Boat Tour, Sailing Tour, Kayaking: There are plenty of ways to get out on the water — from renting your own motorboat to booking a sunset tour on a beautiful sailboat. These can all range in price from fairly affordable to very expensive so do a little research. Check Viator for different sailing cruises.
- Cooking Class, Pesto Making, etc.: Cooking classes are always a fun way to learn about the culture so consider taking a cooking class. Did you know pesto was invented in Cinque Terre? Take a class and learn how to make your very own.
How Long To Visit Cinque Terre?
Many people who visit Cinque Terre as a day trip might be a little disappointed — mainly because these little villages get swamped with visitors from about 10 am – 5 pm. That’s why we recommend visiting for at least two or three days. Giving yourself this extra time allows you to do a couple hikes, wander the villages, enjoy a few meals, lounge on the beach, and sip on a few cocktails while admiring the ocean views. But most importantly, this lets you experience the villages and hikes without all the other visitors.
We found ourselves taking hikes in the morning, eating lunch in one of the villages, coming back to the apartment for a nap, and then enjoying quiet drinks and dinner.
That said, all the Cinque Terre villages are very small and there aren’t a ton of “sights” so many visitors might get a little bored after a couple of nights.
When to Visit Cinque Terre
May to September: The weather is warm and sunny so it’s the perfect time for spending time on the water or on the beach. The warm weather also means that hiking conditions might not be as pleasant if it’s a hot day.
It’s also the most-visited time of year so you’ll have to deal with a bunch of other tourists. August is the hottest time of year and it’s also the busiest time since many Italians go on vacation this month.
April to Mid-May and September: These periods are nice for hiking since the weather is milder. The water will still be cold April to Mid-May but it can still be nice in September.
The Rest Of The Year: It’s often cold and rainy the rest of the year. It’s common for some/all tails to close and some restaurants might close until tourist season comes back. A lot of the locals also leave for the season so it’s probably not the most exciting place to visit.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
We’ll cover each village more in-depth later in this travel guide but here is a quick overview of each village to help you decided where to stay when visiting.
Note: Staying a few nights? Choose one village as your home base and use the train or ferry to get around. The villages are so close to each other that it doesn’t make sense to stay in different villages.
- Monterosso al Mare: Monterosso is the largest and most visited of the villages. It has a bit of a resort vibe since it has the only a real sizeable beach in Cinque Terre and it’s the only village with large hotels. It also has the most amount of restaurant options. This is also the best location for travelers with mobility issues because the terrain is much flatter than the other villages.
- Vernazza: We stayed in Vernazza and really loved the village. It has plenty of restaurants, a cute natural harbor with a bit of beach area, a nice piazza, and the train station is only a short walk to the waterfront. There are a few small hotels but most accommodation are small family-run rental apartments or B&Bs.
- Corniglia: This cute little village is nestled up in the rocky hillsides more than other other villages so it really doesn’t have any beaches or water access. Corniglia is a bit less popular with visitors because the train station is nearly 400 steps uphill from the town — luckily, there is a shuttle bus. As for accommodation, expect small family-run rental apartments or B&Bs.
- Manarola: This super colorful village, which is said to be the oldest in Cinque Terre, has a small harbor where you’ll see a few people swimming. Manarola is a favorite of many visitors who spend a few nights in Cinque Terre. The town is surrounded by vineyards and is famous for their wine. There is an easy paved trail that goes along the ocean between Manarola and Riomaggiore (but it was closed for repair as of this writing). Accommodation is mostly small family-run rental apartments or B&Bs.
- Riomaggiore: Although it may be a little rougher around the edges than some of the other village, Riomaggiore still has plenty of charm. Most of the town is wedged between rocky valley that leads down to the water. There is no beach but there are some large rocks popular with sunbathers. Accommodation is mostly small family-run rental apartments or B&Bs.
Things To Do In Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre doesn’t have many must-see “sights” — that’s because the little colorful villages, the hiking trails, and the beautiful scenery are the sights. It’s a place to relax and enjoy the views and ambiance. That said, there are plenty of things to do in the Cinque Terre to fill a couple days.
- Go Hiking & Admire The Sights: There are multiple hiking trails that connect the five villages. It’s one of the most popular things that draw people from all over the world to this beautiful part of Italy. There are trails for all fitness levels — from flat, a paved half-mile trail to advanced, three to five-hour hikes through the hillsides.
- Unfortunately, because of mudslides and trail restoration, some of the main trails are closed for repair for the foreseeable future. That said, most of the more advanced trails are still open. We’ll talk more about hiking later in this guide.
- See The Five Villages By Boat: Hop on a boat and enjoy the views of the colorful buildings and the terraced hillsides from the water. There are ferries that go between all the villages. You can also rent your own boat or take a boat tour if you want a more intimate experience.
- Sunset Drinks: Every village faces the west so you can enjoy a nice sunset from just about anywhere. So grab a drink at one of the many restaurants/bars or pour yourself a drink and enjoy the views.
- Wine Tasting In The Vineyards: The hills surrounding the villages have been terraced into vineyards so there are multiple places to do wine tastings. Sunset wine tastings are very popular.
- Get Up Early For Photos: It’s about impossible to take bad photos in the Cinque Terre so make sure your camera or phone has a full battery because you’re going to need it. Get up early to beat the crowds if you want photos without 900 people in them.
- Early Morning Espresso: Wake up early and grab an espresso to enjoy these traditionally sleepy fishing villages while they’re still sleepy. Grab a croissant while you’re at it.
- Gelato. And More Gelato: Every village has a few gelato options.
- Fried Seafood In a Cone: Need a quick snack? You’ll find multiple places serving up calamari in a cone.
- Enjoy The Local Cuisine: Seafood reigns supreme at most restaurants so that’s your best bet in terms of getting quality food — notably anchovies. The region is also the birthplace of pesto sauce so you gotta try a few pesto dishes. Focaccia bread was also invented in the region. The regional wine is excellent and they’re also famous for the Sciacchetrà (a sweet dessert wine).
- Swimming and Sunning: Monterosso has the only actual beach — the others towns have small harbors or large rocks for sunning. So grab a seat under a beach umbrella at Monterosso. Or find yourself a large rock in the sun and relax in the sun.
Hiking Cinque Terre
One of the most popular activities in Cinque Terre is hiking because it offers some of the most beautiful views in the world. That said, there are multiple trails and it can be kind of confusing to know which paths to take. And to make things even more confusing, many of the trails have been damaged by storms so they’re closed for repair (reopenings are unknown). But we’ll do our best to give you an overview of hiking these trails.
But first, we have a few overall hiking tips:
- The main trail is called the Blue Trail and it can get very crowded so we suggest getting started early to avoid the crowds (and heat).
- Speaking of starting early, a majority of the trail gets full sunlight and there are large portions without any foliage coverage so start early if you don’t want to get fried by Mr. Sun.
- Bring plenty of water with you. You can refill/buy another bottle in each village but don’t expect to find any water on the trail. It doesn’t hurt to bring some snacks as well.
- Bring sturdy shoes because part of the trail can get very tricky. We wore sneakers but sturdy hiking shoes probably would have been smarter on the more difficult sections.
- Hiking in the rain can be dangerous so it should be avoided.
- Be careful because many trails are narrow and there some large drops. These can get quite tricky when the trails are busy.
Blue Trail (Path #2)
The main trail is called the Blue Trail (it’s also called #2 path). This is what nearly every visitor takes. You’ll need a Cinque Terre card to walk these trails. You can buy the card online (sent to your phone), at train stations, tourist office, at the entrance to the paths, and a few other places. The pass costs €7.50/day but you can buy a two or three-day pass as well.
The Blue Trail connects each village. Each portion of the hike is broken up from village to village and you can walk in either direction. You can also just do a portion of the hike and take the train to the next location. Some of the paths are paved and even wheelchair accessible but others can be a bit difficult.
Note: The Blue Trail is marked with painted red and white stripe trail markers.
So let’s take a look at each section of the Blue Trail.
Riomaggiore to Manarola Trail
Currently closed for repair and not expected to open until 2021.
Nicknamed “Lover’s Lane”, this path is the easiest walk and winds along the coast. It’s totally flat, paved, and takes 30 minutes to walk.
Manarola to Corniglia Trail
Closed for repair until sometime in 2019.
This is another fairly leisurely hike that hugs the coastline and takes a little over an hour to hike.
Corniglia to Vernazza Trail
The path between Corniglia and Vernazza is a bit harder but it offers amazing views of both villages, the ocean, and lush vegetation. Expect uneven dirt trails, uneven stone steps, and steep inclines and declines. We saw quite a few people with hiking poles and shoes — so you may want those (we didn’t use any).
Most people take about 1.5-2 hours to complete this route.
Vernazza to Monterosso Trail
The route between Vernazza and Monterosso is very popular but it’s arguably the most challenging of the routes on the Blue Route. We did it in sneakers but we saw many people with hiking shoes and hiking poles. There are a lot of steps, narrow dirt paths, and a number of steep inclines and declines. It also offers some of the best views and photo opportunities.
Most people take about 2 hours to complete this route.
Advanced Hiking Trails
There are a number of other medium and advanced difficulty trails that go up higher in the mountains and offer even better views but these are geared toward experienced hikers. We actually took one of these trails on accident so what we thought was a 1.5-hour hike turned into a four-hour trek. Luckily we were in decent shape but it was still a little taxing (we needed a nap afterward).
So if you take these trails make sure to bring plenty of water and it’s smart to wear hiking shoes.
Sanctuary Trails and Mountain Trails
Hundreds of years ago pirates would attack the villages from the sea so each village had its own sanctuary at the top of the mountain where villagers could hide out for protection. Now you can hike these same trails. There is a trail up from each village to its sanctuary and then there is a trail that connects each sanctuary. These can be tough and the paths can be confusing so you’ll want to do more research for these. Budget at least six hours for the full route.
The mountain trails are a series of fairly advanced difficulty trails that run higher in the mountains. We did part of these trails and they do offer some great views but they were fairly difficult. The entire hike can take as long as 10 hours.
Cinque Terre City Guides
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is easily the largest village in Cinque Terre and it’s the least charming of the five. There are plenty of restaurants and it has the only real beach in Cinque Terre. It also has the most amount of lodging options and hotels so this is where most people stay. It has a cute old town, but unlike the other villages, Monterosso is fairly flat so it’s best for people with mobility issues.
Check Booking.com for accommodation options.
Where to Eat On A Budget In Monterosso
- Gastronomia San Martino: Affordable and fresh Italian dishes priced at €7-€12. Also suitable for takeaway.
- Il Bocconcino: This hole-in-the-wall takeaway place always has a line of people waiting for their fried seafood.
- Pizzeria La Smorfia: Solid pizza joint.
- La Cantina del Pescatore: Sandwiches and other Italian dishes.
- Il Frantoio: Fresh and tasty farinata, focaccia, and pizza at solid prices. Great for a meal or a quick snack.
- IL GOLOSONE: Great gelato.
Things To Do In Monterosso
- Hit The Beach: Get some sun and spend some time in the ocean. You can rent an umbrella + two chairs for about €20-€30 from a private beach (and you get access to private changing rooms) or you can rent an umbrella from the public beach for around €10.
- Do Some Shopping: Cinque Terre isn’t the best place shopping but you’ll be able to pick up some regional specialties (pesto, wine, olive oil, etc.) from a number of shops in town.
- Have A Wander: Monterosso has a cute old town so spend a bit of time wandering around. There are a few striped churches in town that you can check out.
- Hike To Vernazza: The hike between Monterosso to Vernazza is the toughest of the Blue Trail but it has the best views. Give yourself two hours.
- Take A Boat Cruise: There are a number of cruises throughout the Cinque Terre. Check out Viator for different tour options.
Vernazza, which is called the “pearl of the Cinque Terre” is a charming village with a large harbor and a tiny bit of beach — it’s also one of the most popular of the villages. There are a lot of restaurants located on the main street and around the harbor. There is a large lookout tower that overlooks the village. There are a few family-run small hotels, rental apartments, and B&Bs. This is the town we stayed in when we visited.
Check Booking.com for accommodation options.
Where To Eat On A Budget in Vernazza
- Lunch Box: This little joint serves up solid sandwiches, a tasty breakfast, and fresh smoothies.
- Piadiamo Vernazza: A hidden away sandwich place.
- Gelateria Il Porticciolo: Excellent galato.
- Gelateria Vernazza: More excellent galato.
- Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre: This place might not have a seaside view (it has a view of a parking lot) but there’s a reason this is one the most popular restaurants in Vernazza. They serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.
- Vernazza Winexperience: Ok, it’s not super budget but it’s a beautiful spot to enjoy some wine, cheese, and snacks.
Things To Do In Vernazza
- Enjoy The (Tiny) Beach: Vernazza has a very small sandy beach and a few large rocks where people hang out and enjoy the sun.
- Drink On The Harbor: There are a handful of bars and restaurants around the harbor so it’s the perfect place to enjoy a drink — especially at sunset.
- Get Views Of Vernazza: There are a number of ways to get great views of Vernazza. The hiking paths to both Monterosso and Corniglia offer beautiful views of the city.
- Doria Castle: Doria Castle is essentially a large lookout tower at the top of the village. It costs €2 (cash only) to visit.
- Rent A Boat: You can rent a small motorboat for about €140 for a half day. There are also bigger/luxury boats for rent or tour available.
- Do A Tour, Cruise, or Cooking Class: There are a handful of extra activities available on Viator.
This cute little village is nestled high up in the rocky hillsides so it really doesn’t have any beaches or water access (technically, there are three beaches but they are fairly difficult to access). Corniglia isn’t quite as popular with visitors because the train station is nearly 400 steps uphill from the town. Luckily, there is a shuttle bus. This is one of the quietest villages but it’s a popular lunch spot for people hiking the trails. As for accommodation, expect small family-run rental apartments or B&Bs.
Check Booking.com for accommodation options.
Where To Eat On A Budget in Corniglia
- Er Posu Cafe: A nice little family-run cafe serving breakfast, lunch (focaccia sandwich, salads, etc.), and great cappuccino/espresso.
- Pan e Vin Bar: Another tiny and friendly cafe serving tasty coffee, breakfast options, bruschetta and focaccia sandwiches, and other items.
- Km 0: You’ll find bruschetta and focaccia sandwiches, salads and other homemade dishes but they also have a solid selection of local craft beers.
- Alberto Gelateria: Fill up on gelato.
- Caffe Matteo: Fill up on salad, pasta, quiche, pizza, coffee, and a hearty bacon and eggs breakfast in a cozy courtyard.
Things To Do In Corniglia
- Wander: There aren’t many key sights in Corniglia so enjoy the tiny quiet alleyways.
- Sea Views: Walk all the way through town and you’ll be met with great sea views.
- Stop For Lunch: There are a number of nice lunch spots in town to take a rest and enjoy a leisurely bite.
Manarola is the oldest village in Cinque Terre (dating back to 1261) and it’s considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy thanks to its colorful buildings and small harbor where you’ll see a few people swimming. Manarola is another favorite place to spend a few nights in Cinque Terre. The town is surrounded by vineyards and is famous for their wine. There is an easy paved trail that goes along the ocean between Manarola and Riomaggiore (but it is closed for repair as of this writing). Accommodation is mostly small family-run rental apartments or B&Bs.
Check Booking.com for accommodation options.
Where To Eat On A Budget in Manarola
- Pizzeria & focacceria La Cambusa: Grab a quick pizza or a pesto focaccia.
Things To Do In Manarola
- Take A Dip: There isn’t a beach but you can still go out in the water. There are rocks you can climb on and catch some rays or you can jump off the rocks into the water. The water is clear so you might see some fish swimming around.
- Coastal Walk (Closed For Now): The Manarola-Corniglia coastal path is still closed for repairs but it’s scheduled to reopen in 2019. Once open, it’s a great path to walk.
- Vineyard Hike: While the coastal walk may be closed, you can still take a hike through the surrounding vineyards that have been terraced into the lovely hills surrounding the village. It is a bit of a trek (we recommend doing the hike early or later in the day) so bring water and comfortable shoes.
- Instagram-Worthy Drinks: Check out the restaurant/bar called Nessun Dorma — it overlooks the village and has the best views of Manarola. This is the best place to take photos that are going to make all your friends jealous.
- Instagram-Worthy Dinner: One of the most popular restaurants in Manarola is Trattoria Dal Billy. It’s a bit expensive but the food is great and it’s perched up above the village so the views are also amazing. Reservations are highly recommended.
Riomaggiore is a little rougher around the edges than some of the other villages but it still has plenty of charm. The town is split into two — the area around the harbor/water and the part higher in the hills. The most picturesque part of town is wedged between a rocky valley that leads down to the water. There is no beach but there are some large rocks popular with sunbathers. Accommodation is mostly small family-run rental apartments or B&Bs.
Check Booking.com for accommodation options.
Where To Eat On A Budget in Riomaggiore
- K&Pris Pizzeria Pinseria: The best place to grab a tasty and authentic Italian pizza or two.
- Il Pescato Cucinato: The best place to grab deep-friend seafood in a cone.
- Tutti Fritti: Another excellent place serving up deep-fried seafood in a cone.
- Da Paolino: Excellent and delicious pizza and focaccia.
- Old School Riomaggiore Gelateria & Snack Shop: Tasty gelato and a few other goodies.
Things To Do In Riomaggiore
- Explore The Harbor Area: The buildings surrounding the harbor can’t be missed so get there early if you want photos without a ton of people in them.
- Swim and Sun: The harbor is rocky so you’ll find people jumping off the rocks into the water — but the sane people stay on the rocks to soak up the sun. You can also swim in the water to cool off.
- Explore The High Town: From the harbor walk up the steep hill to get to the high town. It’s quiet, much less touristy, and has great views. There is also a nice church to spend a few minutes checking out.
- Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Path): This lovely paved path is currently closed but it connects Riomaggiore with Manarola.
- Sunset Meal or Drinks: Like all the villages of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore offers up some great sunset views. So grab a table at a restaurant or grab snacks/wine and head to the harbor’s rocky beach. There are plenty of takeaway pizza and fried seafood spots to grab a quick meal.
MORE EUROPEAN TRAVEL RESOURCES
- We’re big fans of Travel Guidebooks and we highly suggest both Rick Steves’ Cinque Terre & Rick Steves’ Italy. We found that both books had a lot of great information and self-guided walking tours.
- Traveling Europe by train? Check out our guides to Train Travel In France and Train Travel in Italy.
- Need some packing tips? See our list of the Best Travel Backpacks check out our Europe Packing List.
- Don’t forget to pick up some Travel Insurance.
- Check out our popular Europe City Price Guides to help estimate your travel costs.
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Thanks For Reading! — James