From its rugged coastline to the charming historic villages, Cinque Terre (pronounced “Cheen-Kway Tare-ray”) is an Italian gem not to be missed. Over the years, people have built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. There is still wild nature intertwined with old vineyards, houses built into the rocky cliffs, and olive groves, all overlooking gorgeous blue sea waters.
Cinque Terre Villages
The first records of Cinque Terre date back to the 11th century. In Italian, Cinque Terre means five lands. The villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) are snuggled within the Cinque Terre National Park and protected by the Mediterranean Sea to the west. You can hike between the villages and take in the views of the pristine blue shorelines.
Monterosso is a most north ancient village of Cinque Terre National Park, located atop a hill. It is the biggest of the towns and boasts ruggedly beautiful beaches. It also has an Old Castle, Church of Saint John the Baptist and the Convent of the Capuchin. The town has a very classic Italian promenade with cafes and restaurants along the beach. If you’re looking to lay out on the beach or hang out on the promenade, this is a town for you.
Photography tip: The best photos of the town can be taken by climbing the trail to Vernazza.
Vernazza is one of the smaller towns, but centrally located. It features a picturesque small port, evidence of its ancient maritime traditions. The town has defensive structures, elegant architecture, and decorative portals. The main tourist attractions include the Parish House of Saint Mary of Antioch, the Doria Castle and the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Reggio. Vernazza is more quiet than other towns, it’s a great place to relax and absorb the atmosphere, especially after sunset.
Photography tip: The best photography spots for Vernazza and the promenade that rings the harbor, the path to Monterosso. Also make sure to catch the colorful boats in the harbor.
Manarola is a terraced town that sits at the top of a cliff and seems to tumble down into the sea. You can find a wide variety of local artist stores here with hand-made art. You can experience best views from the Punta Bonfiglio headland, or the churchyard of Sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Salute di Volastra’.
Photography tip: The best shots of the town can be found when you take the trail that leads up above the town heading north. You should also take a photo of the rock jutting out with the houses at sunset.
Corniglia is located on the top of a promontory, where locals produce excellent wines, such as the Cinque Terre DOC, the Pollenza, and the Sciacchetrà.
Cinque Terre’s most famous town and most southern one. This is a great spot to get some excellent gelato or refreshing limoncello. We loved Riomaggiore, it’s much more lively than Vernazza and has great restaurants with sea views.
Photography tip: The best shots of Riomaggiore can be taken from the rocks that ring the harbor and from the trail above town.
Getting Around Cinque Terre
Access to Cinque Terre
If you are driving to Cinque Terre, there are parking lots outside of towns where you can leave your car and then take the shuttle into town. While it’s possible to get to Cinque Terre by car, a far better option is a train from a large city, such as Florence, Milan, Rome, etc.
Moving between the Villages
The easiest way to travel between villages is by train. In peak hours there are trains every 10 minutes. Later in the evening, trains are less frequent. If you’re planning on having dinner in one of the villages and then catching a train back to your town, make sure to check the schedule ahead of time. We didn’t do that and we had to wait an hour for the next train. Each trip costs 4 Euroes, or you can get a day pass for 16 Euroes.
Another way to travel between villages is to hike. See section below for details.
Hiking in Cinque Terre National Park
You cannot visit Cinque Terre and not hike between towns. It’s definitely a must! There are hiking trails that connect all of the towns. However, make sure to check the website for latest information. Trails close frequently due to weather and rock slides. In 2018 two of the trails have been closed.
The first thing you’ll want to do is to purchase your Cinque Terre National Park Pass. This pass allows you access into the National Park and its hiking trails. You can also purchase the pass online, ahead of time. There is also an option that combines the park pass with train passes, if you’re planning on going between towns a lot.
While there are hikes between all of the towns, I would recommend taking the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso. The views were stunning and the hike was one of the easier ones. At first you will climb a number of steps and go pretty much only uphill. After that the trail evens out and then you will climb down a large number of steep steps to Monterosso. I would not recommend taking this hike backwards – from Monterosso to Vernazza – unless you’re used to walking up steep stairs. This hike takes about an hour, make sure to bring hiking shoes, water and sun protection. A lot of the trail is exposed to the sun on the sea side.
Staying in Cinque Terre
We stayed in Vernazza and loved it. It’s centrally located, a little less crowded and becomes a sleepy little town in the evenings. Since our goal was to relax and enjoy the quiet, this was a perfect spot for us.
There are hotels and private apartments for rent in all of the towns. Some things to pay attention to are:
- How far is the place from the train station? You’ll have to walk there while carrying your luggage.
- How many steps do you have to climb to the place?
- Are check-in hour limited? Do you have to set up a check-in appointment?
- Does it have a view of the sea? You can’t stay in Cinque Terre and not have a view.
If you’re planning on hiking and taking your time exploring the towns, you’ll want at least two full days (three nights) in Cinque Terre.
One thing we learned is that golden hour is very important here. The towns light up in sunset light and almost sparkle. So, definitely plan on catching a couple sunsets while in Cinque Terre. When the sun sets, everyone leaves, but stick around as the sky turns blue and you will get great photos of lit up town centers.
Other Tips for Cinque Terra
Here are a few other tips for visiting Cinque Terre:
- Cash – The majority of businesses we came across in Cinque Terre only took cash as payment. Make sure you have enough Euros to pay for food, water and any souvenirs.
- Shopping – since most places are mom and pop shops, they close pretty early each day.
- Season – best time to visit is outside of peak season. These are small towns and get crowded easily.
We loved our time in Cinque Terre National Park. It’s such a charming location with rich culture, natural beauty and long history. You will love it! Enjoy every moment in this enchanted park.
Here is a Pinterest image to pin.