It is almost a sure thing you have heard of those 5 little towns on the Northwestern coastline of Italy in the Genoa region. Ancient fishing towns with sweeping views of rugged coastline engulfed in lush hillside vineyards and flowers. Tight streets filled with smells of fresh focaccia bread, pesto, sea food, and some of the best wine that will ever hit your taste buds. Yes, it is no lie that Cinque Terre or “Five Lands” is one of the most extraordinary and colorful places on the planet.
The five famous towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare are must see destinations. After having visited the area twice now, I can tell you that the best time of the year to visit would most likely be March-May or September-November. The summer months can be very hot, although it is very nice to jump into the refreshing water. However, it is not the heat that should keep you away from visiting Cinque Terre in the summer, it is the large amount of people that visit the area. Cinque Terre was not truly discovered by the public until recently in the last 20 years. These ancient fishing villages were practically hiding until Cruise Lines and Instagram found them. Now, more and more people have a mission to visit the area. I don’t blame them! It is one of my favorite places, but these people are not prepared for what they are visiting and often ruin the area for the rest of us. I always say that you cannot visit a place without any prior research. Cinque Terre is absolutely no exception, and I can tell you that there is a lot more to Cinque Terre than only being a spectacular spot for a social media post.
*Check out the Table of Contents below for quick links to different parts of Cinque Terre*
* Table Of Contents *
IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CINQUE TERRE:
Put on your sunscreen! Get your sunglasses ready! Grab a Towel! Buy a snack or grab a bottle of local wine! Andddddddddd climb some rocks… The area doesn’t truly have a beach. If you want to go to the beach; please, please, please go to the Caribbean and stay there. It blows my mind how many people come to this area, and the rest of the Mediterranean for that matter, and complain about the lack of beaches and the large amount of rocks. Monterosso is the one town that has a big area of beach, but it gets overcrowded pretty fast by all of the whiny people that couldn’t find a beach in the other rockier areas. Climb on the rocks and jump in the water! It’s a lot of fun and the water is refreshing. This is not a beach get away at all, so if you want the beach please do some research and go elsewhere.
My favorite of all. The towns are SURROUNDED with hills. That is what makes them so unique and stunning. Manarola and Corniglia are literally built on the sides of cliffs while Riomaggiore is downhill all the way to the harbor. Walking around the towns all day will put quite a workout into your legs and butt. You cannot come to these towns without being ready to walk up hills. There are way too many people that are too old, too young, out of shape, etc. that come to the area not ready for this. I can promise you, walking through out each of the towns everyday is tough. Corniglia and Riomaggiore are the toughest of the five. Corniglia has 382 steps straight up to the town to and from the train station while Riomaggiore sits at about a 45 degree angle from the harbor to the town center. These two towns will make you sweat all day, but I guess that is why they are the two most quiet towns 😉
There are trains running through each town every twenty minutes or so from about 5:00 am to 1:00 am. They run from La Spezia to Levanto and vice versa. The trains are a very fast way of transportation as it only takes 7 minutes from La Spezia to Riomaggiore and only about 3-4 minutes between each of the towns. Train tickets are $4 Euros for a one way ticket and they sell daily passes for $16 with unlimited trains. It is best to just get a ticket as you go. I have spent a total of 6 days in Cinque Terre and have never purchased more than 3 tickets in a day. You should take your time through Cinque Terre and only visit one or two towns a day to get a feel for the charm of each. It is not in your best interest to rush through in 12 hours trying to get a picture of each town. Once you visit a town, it is hard to leave it in less than 4 hours. Unless you’re speedy Gonzalez and only want to see what each town looks like as fast as possible, don’t get a daily pass.
Something to keep in mind; The trains are best in the morning. They get very crowded and sticky during the day, especially if there is a cruise ship in La Spezia. Another thing to note; Trains are constantly delayed or sometimes don’t show up when it is busy. Make sure to have a back up plan. You san see a full list of train time tables here:
Ferries give you another opportunity for transportation and offer a different point of view of the towns. Although, they are much less frequent, take more time, and are more expensive. They run from Portovenere to Levanto, and vice versa. Ferries stop in each town from 8:45 am to 6:00 pm only once per hour. They are running much less often, so keep that in mind. The prices range based on what you’re buying and where you are going. A round trip ticket from Portovenere to Levanto will cost about $33 while a one way ticket from Riomaggiore to Monterosso will cost $12. You can see a full list of time tables and prices here:
One of the most popular things to do in Cinque Terre is hike the trails between each town. The most popular trail, Sentiero Azzuro , runs through each of the towns from Riomaggiore to Monterosso or vice versa. Although, the trail is currently accessible only from Monterosso to Corniglia due to recent land slides. This part of the trail is the more difficult stretch and should not be accessed unless you are fit, healthy and prepared to climb some steep stairs. The trails are not as easy as most websites say they are. They are full of steps as they are climbing up a hill to its peak, then right back down. It does not matter which town you start the trails from, they are going to be difficult. Too many people come out to these trails wearing flip flops and carrying a beach towel. How many times do I have to say it! Do your research!!! It is a legit hiking trail and you better be prepared to do some climbing. The most famous stretch of all is the very easy 30 minute walk of Via dell’ Amore between Riomaggiore and Manarola. This path is currently closed and is said to not re open until at least 2021. There are many other trails as alternatives, but they are much longer in length and go straight up the sides of the mountains to add to difficulty. However, the views are incredible.
Something to remember, the main trial is not free as Cinque Terre is indeed a National Park. Therefore, you must pay a fee of $7.50 Euros per person that will last the entire day. This payment is only for main trail from Monterosso to Corniglia as the rest of the stretch through to Riomaggiore is closed. The rest of the trails are free.
For more information on hiking Cinque Terre, you can read my other blog post, “Hiking Guide to Cinque Terre” @
Guess what? There aren’t any! Other than in Monterosso, where driving is very limited, you cannot drive in these towns. It forces everyone to have to walk everywhere. What a glorious thing.
Each of the towns have their share of delicious food, a lot of which being very similar. The number one must have item is pesto. Pesto is originated in the Genoa Region that Cinque Terre lies in. The basil flavor in the pesto is so fresh and the extra virgin olive oil grown from the hills gives it that extra robust flavoring. It is not as full of garlic as you will find in most places outside of Italy. The best pesto dish on every menu is Trofie and pesto. Trofie is a short, thin, twisted noodle from Liguria. This dish is often accompanied with zucchini, green beans, or potatoes. It is different from any pesto dish you have tried and will make you want to come back for more.
Another staple of Cinque Terre is the seafood. The seafood is always fresh as these are indeed ancient fishing villages. On top of the fresh seafood, another popular item is fried, street seafood. You will find store fronts in each town that sell fried calamari and anchovies to go.
Other must have food items include focaccia, anything lemon, olives and of course the wine and olive oil. The wine and olive oil is the best I have ever had as they are both made fresh from the hillsides of Cinque Terre. Don’t go looking to try the wines and oils elsewhere, you won’t find them. These people take pride in selling their wine and oil only in Cinque Terre. If you want to try it, you better buy a plane ticket.
Now all of those tips and disclaimers are out of the way, a description of each town from South to North.
Riomaggiore is the Southern most town and my favorite of the five. Maybe I am a little bit biased because this was the first town I visited in Cinque Terre. Perhaps it is the way that gorgeous “V” shaped cove sits nestled into colorful houses surrounding it with the sound of waves pounding the harbors’ seawall. It could be the incredible food consisting of light focaccia, the freshest pesto, gourmet seafood, or the best wine on the planet. No, it has to be the tiny car-less streets that wind up the hills from the harbor to the town center. Wait, no, the peacefulness of the town.
Riomaggiore is one of the least visited towns in Cinque Terre. People are typically drawn more to Vernazza, Manarola, and Monterosso because they are usually the most photographed and more popular areas for swimming. Riomaggiore is the most gorgeous in my mind, but when people start walking through the town they have to be thinking to themselves, “Oh, hell no”. Riomaggiore is built on a hill and I am not talking about a bump. I stayed in this town for three nights on the top of the hill which forced me to walk down and back up multiple times a day to eat, take the train, or just walk around. I can tell you that my legs were screaming by the end, but every walk was worth it. The town is full of stunning views from many different angles and has a great atmosphere.
What To Do:
Walk the streets
Yes, the streets are difficult to walk, but there are so many things to see. There are so many different shaped and colored houses lining up the streets from the harbor and up into the hills. Each is unique and often draped with many different varieties of flowers.
Walk Via dell’ Amore
This one would be a no brainer if it was open right now, but you will get your shot again in 3 years!
Visit the harbor
The harbor is a perfect place to jump off some rocks to go for a refreshing swim in the hot sun. If cliff jumping or swimming is not your thing, then it is a good place to dip your toes in or just take in one of the best views in Cinque Terre.
Eating is my favorite in Riomaggiore. Each town is filled with most of the same things, but Riomaggiore has a more peaceful setting. Don’t leave Riomaggiore without eating at “RÍo Bistrot”. My favorite restaurant in all of Cinque Terre, and on my list of top places I have ever eaten, this restaurant is exquisite.
The menu has a small offering, all of which are very good. The house wine is fresh from the hills of Cinque Terre and will be a perfect accompaniment to your seafood or pasta. The olive oil is from the hills of Cinque Terre as well and helps wash down their delicious bread.
Make sure to have anything on the menu that has pesto in it, this is the best pesto you will ever eat. The ultimate dish is of course the trofie and pesto.
Not only is the food here incredible, this restaurant has some of the best views of the harbor in town.
The best views are always some of the hardest to get to. The view of Riomaggiore is no different. To get to the ultimate view of the town, you need to walk all the way down to the bottom of the harbor. There you will follow the seawall out to where it curves. You must climb on the rocks out past the boats to the middle portion. When you finish climbing and turn around you will have a full panorama of Riomaggiore in front of you. If you look to your left you will have a clear view of Manarola, Corniglia, and Monterosso.
An alternative view to this one is to climb up the steep stairs at the harbor, past the pizza restaurant, and all the way back down the steps to the water’s edge. Standing there, you will have this view.
Manarola is perhaps the most famous of the bunch. This is the town you will mostly see pictured in magazines and Instagram. Being the most popular, a price comes with it. Manarola can often become very crowded, especially in the summer months or if there is a cruise ship in La Spezia. Don’t let that stop you from coming though. This town is gorgeous as it is full of colorful houses that sit on the side of a cliff. Manarola is much easier in terms of walking compared to Riomaggiore and Corniglia, but it still has its fair share of hills.
What to do:
Walk the streets:
As I said this before about Rimaggiore, I will say it again here. Make sure to spend some time walking the streets and going into the tiny shops through out town.
Walk Via dell’ Amore:
Yes, I know, its closed.
Walk to Corniglia via Sentiero Azzuro:
Yeah, this one is closed too. However, there is an alternate path that goes up the hill and is gorgeous. It has some stunning views and travels through the small town of Volastra before going back down into Corniglia.
This is the best town for cliff jumping. There are some good sized rocks through out the harbor to climb up and jump off of into the very refreshing waters. If you’re a dare devil, you can even jump from the big rock in the middle of the harbor which is about 10m (32 feet) in height. If you are willing to jump from this, you will for sure have a large audience watching.
What To Eat:
Just like the rest of the towns, Manarola is no exception and is full of pizza, pasta, seafood and more. One place that is unique in Manarola is “Pastakeaway”. This place is great because you can buy some amazing $7 pasta to go and take it on the train or your hike on the way to the next town!
The views are always endless in each town. Manarola of course has its famous view of the town from the opposite side which is stunning. Take the path down by the water as it curves out onto the hillside opposite the buildings. There you will have the gorgeous view of the town.
If you continue to walk around the path towards the path that would have taken you to Corniglia, you will get a view of Corngilia, Monterosso and the impressive coastline.
These are the easy to get to and popular views, but I am more of one for hidden views. If you’re adventurous and want to see a more aerial view of the town, head up the hill towards the town center. When you are next to “Pastakeaway”, there is a large, steep and thin staircase that heads straight up between tiny buildings. Follow the stair case up and walk for about 5 minutes. You will enter a vineyard that is looking over top of Manarola.
Corniglia is probably the least popular town of Cinque Terre. Most people put this one at the bottom of their list and visit it last or not at all. I don’t see why, this town is absolutely stunning. It literally sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the water. It offers stunning views of the water and Manarola along with being completely surrounded by vineyards. It is amazing to look at the town from all angles and wonder how the hell people made this town hundreds of years ago. Yes, it is the most difficult to get to, but the walk up the 382 steps from the train station into town is worth it.
What To Do:
Walk the streets:
Yup, you guessed it.
Go for a boat ride:
The best way to get a glimpse of this town is probably from the water. It is amazing to look up at a huge cliff and just see little bits of houses.
Hike to Vernazza via Sentiero Azzuro:
Yes! The trail is open! Do not come here without taking the trail to Vernazza. This trail should take about 2 hours and is full of steps. You go up, then you go right back down into Vernazza. But don’t worry, there is a cafe at the halfway point with alcohol.
What To Eat:
As I continue to say, there are many restaurants through out Cinque Terre, all of which contain excellent Italian food. For Corniglia, I like “Enoteca Wine Bar”. It is a very small tapas place on the side of the street just before going into the main center of town. Why is this place great? Because it is in the perfect location being the first restaurant you see after a demanding hike from Vernazza. Stop in and enjoy a celebratory glass of wine and some antipasti dishes.
To get the best look at Corniglia, your best bet is to go into the water. If you really want to appreciate how crazy Corniglia is, venture out into the sea and take a look at how it is built on the edge of a very high cliff. Corniglia is literally “living life on the edge”.
Just like Manarola, Vernazza is very popular with tourism and social media. Vernazza is very unique in its own way just like the rest of the towns. This gorgeous and colorful town is built atop a small, curved peninsula that is completely surrounded by the glittering sea. The shape of this town and the strong sea wall create a very calm harbor where there are plenty of boats and areas to swim. The Castello Doria and the Santa Margherita di Antiochia church both tower over the harbor and are two of the prettiest buildings through out Cinque Terre. There are gorgeous views from every angle of Vernazza, and all of them should be seen.
What To Do:
Walk the streets:
Really? I never thought about doing that!
Go for a swim:
Vernazza has an incredibly calm and beautiful harbor. The waters are very refreshing and crystal clear right to the bottom. It is the perfect place to go for a swim or jump off a view rocks on a hot day.
Hike to Monterosso via Sentiero Azzuro:
Yes, This trail is open too! A trip to Cinque Terre cannot be completed without hiking this trail. This trail is demanding as well so please leave your sandals, beach towels, and sun umbrellas at home. The walk from Vernazza to Monterosso is around 2.25 miles and takes about two hours. This hike puts you right into the thick of some vineyard and onto the edge of the mountainside while delivering incredible views of the coast line. It is worth sweating for, just know that there is always pizza or limoncello waiting at the end of the hike.
What to eat:
Other than Riomaggiore, I have spent the most time in Vernazza among the five towns. Although, I have eaten here, I cannot fully recommend anything. I have eaten grilled octopus, calamari, focaccia, and the second best trofie and pesto behind “RÍo Bistrot’ in Riomaggiore. I can vouch for the food in Vernazza and say it was all incredible. Do not go to Cinque Terre without trying every kind of food there is to offer. Some towns may be a slice of focaccia while another will be a gourmet dinner. That decision is entirely up to you.
Vernazza has a ton of views, but three come to mind. The first and most popular view sits at the start of the path to Monterosso. Follow the sings labeled Monterosso behind the church/clock tower and go up. After about 5 minutes or less of walking, you will be standing above the train tracks and harbor while looking at the very unique shape of Vernazza. It is not hard to stand here for hours and watch people jump off of rocks and listen to the trains zoom by beneath your feet.
The next view that many people don’t know about is at the beginning of the trail to Corniglia. Walk up and past train station while continuing to go up the hill. You will then see a sign on your right labeled Corniglia. Follow the steps and the path up the hill until you come to the small castle. Turn around and get a different perspective of Vernazza.
The last view is completely unknown and hidden to tourists. I honestly don’t know if people don’t know about it, or if they just don’t want to make the journey up to see it. I have gone to this view twice, and on both occasions I have seen only 4 people in the entire area, none of which being in this spot. To get to this view, you need to walk about 15 minutes up a hill, the entire time… The easiest way is to walk past the train station and take the fork on the left up the hill as deep as you can go. At the end of the road it will become a hairpin curve to your left, turn left and continue to follow the road.
Follow this until the end when you see a very old and abandoned looking clock tower and church on your right. Take the stairs up.
These stairs are quite beaten up and you can tell this is a less taken path.
You will eventually get to a view point with a bench. The view is pretty, but that is not the one you are looking for.
Continue to make your way up the hill. The path will be full of trees shading your walk while there are some pretty houses with vineyards on your right.
When you get to the top, there will be a gate and cemetery in front of you. It might be creepy, but walk in.
This is one of the prettiest cemeteries you will see. After walking in, there will be a little stair case on your right that you will take just before walking to the end of the cemetery.
Take a look below and you will have a birds eye view of Vernazza. This place is so quiet you could hear a pin drop and you can really appreciate the town all by yourself. It is demanding and can be hard to find, but the view is incredible.
MONTEROSSO AL MARE
Monterosso sits at the Northern end of Cinque Terre as its biggest and most visited town. Monterosso is the most visited town of the five because it is the only one that can truly be accessible by car and has the only proper sand beach for easy swimming access. Monterosso is split into two distinct parts; the old town and the new town. They are separated by a large hill, but can be accessed by a path that winds around the hill side or through a small tunnel. The old town has all the charm while the new town feels like a beach resort.
What To Do:
Walk the streets:
Visit the Old Town:
The Old Town has all the charm. The streets are tight and present some of the weirdest building structures you can find. There is a gorgeous little piazza with the Church of Saint John the Baptist at the epicenter. This church was built sometime between the 13th and 14th century and is still beautiful. It has a distinct look that sets it apart from most churches with its black and white striped walls.
Go to the beach:
If you want to wear your sandals, carry your towel, put up an umbrella and run around screaming like an idiot then this is your place! Go here, stay away from the rest of Cinque Terre, and have fun adding to the already overcrowded beach.
Hike to Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore via Sentiero Azzuro:
Yes, the trail starts here and goes the opposite way I have been telling you about all along.
What To Eat:
This is the one town I have never truly eaten in other than a quick croissant and cappuccino before hiking to Corniglia. The food here is like the rest of the area. However, expect the restaurants to be more crowded here than in the other towns.
The Best view of Monterosso is at the beginning of Sentiero Azzuro. Make your way past the old town and up the stairs onto the path. Walk about 5 minutes until you are about 50 yards from a set of stairs that goes straight up into the trees. Turn around and you will have a panorama of the old and new towns of Monterosso al Mare.
While I cannot stand the amount of people visiting Cinque Terre and taking up space, I cannot stop spreading the word about how wonderful this place truly is. If it is a place that has not been on your radar to visit in the past, it surely should be now. So, visit. Be immersed in the beauty. Hike the trails and have a gourmet dinner overlooking the sea. Eat some fresh pesto with trofie pasta and use some of the best wine on the planet to wash it down. Indulge in the delicious focaccia bread and drown it in the most incredible and robust flavored olive oils. Jump off some rocks and take some of the most unforgettable pictures. Just please, leave your sandals at home.
Please comment and reply below and don’t forget to subscribe! Let me know if you have been to Cinque Terre and have any more suggestions, or just want some more information. You can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org as well. You can also reach me through my Instagram @travelingle and @egtrotters. Thank you!