Cinque Terre city guide
North-west Italy’s Cinque Terre are five picture-postcard towns strung out along a stretch of coastline between Genoa and La Spezia. The five towns, from top to bottom, are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Rigomaggiore.
With their roots in ancient times, the towns owe their current appearance to the medieval period. Before the advent of mass tourism, they were primarily fishing villages connected by vertiginous paths that crisscrossed the towering cliffs. Terraced steeply, these cliffs now support fields and gardens bisected by low stone walls known as muretti; some are so precipitous that gardeners have to transport equipment and crops up and down in motorized carts!
Of the five villages, each has its own distinct charm—at the top, Monterosso is the largest and boasts the only long, sandy beach in the area; Vernazza is the most photographed, with its natural pier and tumble of colorful houses; Corniglia is the only village built up on a clifftop rather than down by the water; Manarola shelves down to its tiny harbor and boat ramp; and finally, Riomaggiore climbs up along the ridge and is often quieter. The different personality of each village is what gives the area its appeal; whichever turns out to be your favorite, visiting them all is the only way to truly understand what connects them.
What to do and see in the Cinque Terre
- The main draw for hikers in the Cinque Terre is the 7-mile “Blue Trail” that connects all five villages. Varying from flatter paved sections, such as the Via dell’Amore between Riomaggiore and Manarola (currently closed until 2024 due a landslide), and more challenging steep sections, the whole thing takes about 5 hours to walk and offers spectacular views. If you want to explore all five villages along the way, allow significantly more time, as well as the chance for a lingering lunch somewhere around Vernazza.
- For a lesser-known hike, start in Riomaggiore and head south for 8 miles to the town of Portovenere, sometimes referred to as the Cinque Terre’s sixth town. The route offers stunning views of Palmaria and the Tino Islands, both part of the UNESCO World Heritage site and visitable by boat.
- Speaking of Portovenere, a bustling market is held in the town center every Monday.
- Manarola may not have a traditional beach to speak of, but its harbor makes the perfect spot for a refreshing swim after a long walk.
- Don’t miss the opportunity to take a boat trip along the coast—this is really the only way to get a feel for just how steep the cliffs are as you look back at the villages that appear shoe-horned into the gaps. Some boat tours offer lunch, drinks, and the opportunity for a swim. A regular ferry service also operates between the towns.
Tips & Tricks when visiting the Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre have a long season and are busy from May to October; visiting at either end of this span is the best way to avoid the crowds. The villages are small and can often be unbearably packed in mid-summer—take this into consideration to get the most out of your visit. If you do come at a busy time of year, get up early or stay out late to enjoy the relative peace and quiet.
The time zone in the Cinque Terre is GMT+1 from late October to late March and GMT+2 the rest of the year.
The closest airports to the Cinque Terre are Genoa and Pisa, both served by European destinations and a short train ride away. The two Milan airports are also worth considering, but ground transfer times will be longer and may require more connections.
Due to the limited parking available, a car is a liability in the Cinque Terre. Taking the train will save a lot of stress.
Best ways to visit the Cinque Terre
- The Cinque Terre and Portovenere have long been a magnet for those in search of romance. Known as the Gulf of Poets, the stretch of water overlooked by Portovenere was named after the British Romantic poets Byron and Shelley, who escaped here in the 1820s. The incredible beauty of this coast makes it ideal for a couples trip—sunsets are a particular bonus; watch as the sun sinks into the water behind Riomaggiore or take a boat out for a sunset cruise.
- Due to the need to get around on foot, the Cinque Terre may not be ideal for a trip with kids, but there are still plenty of things to keep them entertained, from boat trips to the scenic playgrounds overlooking Manarola and Monterosso.
- Foodies will love this region of Italy, known for its seafood, lemons, and classic trofie pasta with fresh pesto, made from basil leaves grown in the terraced gardens. Glistening with olive oil and loaded with toppings, focaccia also originates here in Liguria. The more unexpected savory farinata di ceci, made from chickpea flower and often topped with sea salt, is also a must-try.