Cinque Terre's brightly-colored villages built into the dramatic cliffside on the sea make it a visually stunning destination you won't want to miss. Explore the narrow alleyways of these historic towns, swim in the crystal clear sea, or hike along the cliffs to enjoy sweeping views. In this post, I'll share all you need to know to spend a couple days in beautiful Cinque Terre on your next trip to Italy.
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About Cinque Terre
Situated along the Italian Riviera on the Ligurian coastline, Cinque Terre (meaning "Five Lands") is a series of five historic fishing villages - Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Today, the five towns and the surrounding hillsides make up Cinque Terre National Park and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pronunciation Tip: As an English speaker, you'll probably be inclined to mispronounce 'Cinque Terre'. The phonetic Italian pronunciation is written [tʃiŋkwe ˈtɛrre]. If you're as clueless about the phonetic alphabet as I am, perhaps this will help. After listening to it, the closest way to describe the typical Italian pronunciation of Cinque Terre is "cheen-kweh teh-rreh". However, locals to the region may pronounce it more like "sheen-kway teh-rreh".
These centuries-old, colorful village houses, shops, and vineyards cling to the hillside and overlook the beautiful Ligurian Sea. With car traffic banned, it's like stepping back in time as you meander through the small alleys and stair pathways on foot.
With easy access to the sea and rolling hills surrounding the villages, Cinque Terre is a great place to enjoy various outdoor activities, including boating, kayaking, swimming, and hiking. Plus, the vineyards mean you can end the day with a delicious local wine each night.
When Should I Visit Cinque Terre?
Peak season for Cinque Terre is July - August and the sunny, clear skies make it clear why. We visited during July and it was gorgeous. However, it was very crowded and quite warm. Beautiful weather made it a great time for water activities, but it was a bit toasty for hiking.
The best time to visit Cinque Terre is probably in the shoulder months - April-May or September. During these months you'd still have sunny skies and relatively warm temperatures, but it will be cooler for the scenic hikes. Plus, you'll have more breathing room in town as it would be less crowded.
How Long Should I Visit Cinque Terre?
Even though I'll show you how we spent 2 days in Cinque Terre, you could easily stay longer. In order to visit each village, you need at least 1.5 days. Once you begin to add in activities, such as hiking or a boat tour, then you'll end up with at least 2-3 days of activities.
With that in mind, I'd say 3-4 days in Cinque Terre would be the perfect amount of time to relax, plus take advantage of all the activities. But if you book ahead and pack your days full of activities, you can get a lot done in just 2 days!
If you're really short on time, you could book a day tour in Cinque Terre to get a taste of the area. One day won't allow you to fully explore the villages, but might give you an idea of where you'd like to spend more time on a return trip.
Getting to Cinque Terre
In my opinion, the easiest and most convenient way to get to Cinque Terre is on the train. It's also possible to get to Cinque Terre by car or motorcycle, but finding parking could be difficult.
If you're coming to Cinque Terre from abroad, you'll have to fly into one of the larger cities. Pisa and Genoa have the closest airports and are a quick train ride away from Cinque Terre.
Train to Cinque Terre
Catching a train to Cinque Terre is easy, but might involve a transfer along the way to reach your final destination. Trenitalia has several direct connections to the towns that border Cinque Terre National Park - Levanto and La Spezia - from cities like Pisa, Milan, and Rome.
Booking Train Tickets: On Rail Europe, I found it easy to check out train schedules, pre-book tickets, and choose seats for our train travel around Italy.
Once in Levanto or La Spezia, you'll transfer to the Cinque Terre Express. This regional train runs between Levanto and La Spezia several times per hour and stops at each of the five Cinque Terre towns.
If you're staying in Monterosso al Mare - the westernmost town in Cinque Terre - you may be able to find a direct train as some Trenitalia trains stop there.
Tip for Booking Your Ticket to Cinque Terre
When booking your ticket to Cinque Terre, enter the town in which you'll be staying as your final destination. This may be obvious, but I got confused when booking and made our journey more complicated.
Even though we stayed in Riomaggiore, I entered Monterosso as our final destination because it gave us a direct route. However, we still had to transfer to the Cinque Terre Express to reach Riomaggiore. Because we hadn't booked that ticket in conjunction with our main ticket from Milan, the connection wasn't smooth. We missed at least one Cinque Terre Express train in Monterosso because we had to go to the ticket counter on another platform to purchase the ticket separately.
In contrast, two ladies on the train with us from Milan had pre-booked to Riomaggiore. Their ticket had them transfer to the Cinque Terre Express in Levanto instead of Monterosso and lined up the timing perfectly. Booking that way saved them time and an uncomfortable wait in the blistering sun on the platform at Monterosso. Lesson learned!
Driving to Cinque Terre
Although you could choose to drive to Cinque Terre, cars are not allowed in the villages. Parking at the entrances to the villages is limited and somewhat expensive. Plus, if you accidentally drive into a residential area, you could receive a hefty fine (which will be mailed to you even if you live abroad).
If you choose to drive, you might consider parking in Levanto or La Spezia where more lots are available. Then, take the Cinque Terre Express train to travel between the villages.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
Since the villages within Cinque Terre National Park are small and don't really have large hotels, finding a place to stay can be tricky. As a result, many people choose to stay in the towns bordering the park - Levanto or La Spezia. It's easy enough to catch the Cinque Terre Express into the park during the day.
If you truly want experience the magic of Cinque Terre, I highly recommend staying in one of the five towns. Early mornings and late evenings before day trippers arrive are peaceful and you really get a feel for the local vibe of the town.
Things to Consider When Booking a Place to Stay in Cinque Terre
Although I recommend staying in one of the towns, here are a few things to keep in mind when booking a place to stay in Cinque Terre:
Our Apartment in Riomaggiore
During our trip in July 2022, we stayed in Riomaggiore - the easternmost town in Cinque Terre. We managed to find a great deal on an apartment - Le case Diamar - which I booked through Agoda. However, it turned into a bit of an adventure.
When we looked at the map while booking, we could tell the flat was towards the top of Riomaggiore. We knew it would be tough pulling our suitcases up the hill, but we weren't prepared for all of the stairs!
Getting Lost Finding our Riomaggiore Apartment
Despite reading the instructions the host sent to us, at first we couldn't find the apartment. We found the church and the yellow building in which the flat was located, but couldn't figure out how to get inside. It turned out that our flat was on the third floor and had a separate entrance. The building itself had no interior staircase, which I didn't realize at the time, is quite common in these older houses.
To get to our entrance, we had to go up to the road above the building, which was basically the top of Riomaggiore. Luckily, there was an elevator next to the church which took us up to the road. But then, we had to climb back DOWN 70 steps. Some of these steps were so steep they reminded me of a Hong Kong hike.
Of course, this meant each time we left our apartment to explore or get food, we had to climb UP the 70 steep stairs. Needless to say, we got our exercise in Cinque Terre!
Staying in a Riomaggiore Apartment
Despite the initial stress of finding the apartment and discovering the hike needed to reach it, the one-bedroom apartment we booked in Riomaggiore was delightful.
Spacious and airy, it had kitchen, plus a large terrace with a sliver of a sea view and an ear-piercing proximity to the bell tower. Luckily, the bells only chimed a couple of times a day! Even though the apartment did not have air-conditioning and we visited during summer, the sea breeze kept the apartment cool.
Searching for a Place to Stay in Cinque Terre
To get idea of what to budget and what type of accommodations are available in Cinque Terre, use the map below. This map is zoomed into Riomaggiore, where we stayed. Scroll out to view what accommodations the other villages have to offer.
Filter by your individual preferences and input your travel dates to see what places are available and what their nightly rates are.
Getting Around Cinque Terre
Despite the ban on automobiles, it's relatively easy to get around Cinque Terre and see the five villages. For scenic views and a good workout, you can hike between the towns. Or, simply hop on the train and you can move between the towns within a few minutes.
Note on Accessibility: As an able-bodied person who is used to hills and climbing stairs, I found it easy to get around Cinque Terre. Unfortunately, people with reduced mobility may find it challenging to navigate some of the towns. As in many old villages, these towns have a lot of stairs and not all places are accessible.
Cinque Terre Card
If you're spending a day or two exploring the villages, I recommend purchasing the Cinque Terre Card. This card allows unlimited use of train travel, walking paths, electric village buses, and entrance to some cultural attractions. When we visited in July 2022, the cost for a 2-day Cinque Terre Card was 33€ per person (1-day pass - 18€).
If you're planning to get around by hiking, you can purchase the Cinque Terre card without the train travel which is much cheaper. The 2-day hiking pass in July 2022 was 14.50€ per person (1-day pass - 7.50€).
Each train station in Cinque Terre has a tourist information center where you can purchase the Cinque Terre card. The offices are not open 24/7 though so if you want to get an early start, then I suggest purchasing your pass online.
Hiking Cinque Terre on the Sentiero Azzurro
Without a doubt, the best way to appreciate the scenic beauty of Cinque Terre is on the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail). This trail run along the coast, connecting the towns and offering incredible sea views. You'll also find unique views of the villages as you approach them on the trail.
In prime hiking season, you'll need to pay a fee at the start of the trail (cash only) to hike the Sentiero Azzurro or purchase the Cinque Terre Card. If you're visiting during the off-season (November 1st to March 31), the trails are free.
Pro Tip: Due to landslides, certain sections of the Sentiero Azzurro might be closed when you visit. You can find more information on the Cinque Terre hiking trails here.
Cinque Terre Express
The quickest and easiest way to get around Cinque Terre is by the Cinque Terre Express - a regional train running between Levanto and La Spezia, which stops at each of the five Cinque Terre towns.
If you plan to use the train multiple times per day, I recommend purchasing the Cinque Terre pass. Not only does it save money, but it also the time waiting in line to purchase a new ticket each time you want to hop on the train.
Cinque Terre Ferry
From late-March to the beginning of November, the Cinque Terre Ferry runs between most of the villages (weather permitting). It's a more expensive option than the train but is an excellent way to admire the beautiful villages from the sea.
For unlimited ferry rides between the villages, you can buy a 1-day pass for 30€ for adults, 25€ for children (2022 prices).
2-Day Cinque Terre Itinerary
With our 2-day itinerary in Cinque Terre, we explored the five towns - Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore - and also hiked one of the trails. In this section, I'll share how we spent our two days, plus share ideas for other Cinque Terre activities that we missed.
Arriving in Cinque Terre
Our arrival in Cinque Terre was fraught with misadventure and I took note of many things we could have done differently. Arriving in Monterosso on a train from Milan in mid-afternoon, we spent some time baking on the train platform.
Eventually, we boarded the Cinque Terre Express to Riomaggiore where we proceeded to drag our suitcases up through the steep and charming town. We definitely weren't the only ones so felt solidarity with our fellow sweaty travelers.
Upon arriving at what we thought were our accommodations, we discovered we were lost. Luckily, our host responded quickly to our pleas for help and we sorted out where we actually needed to go. By the time we found our apartment, we collapsed for a bit to recover.
Dinner at Da Dulin
After enjoying the evening breeze on our flat's terrace, we hiked back up the 70 steep stairs from our apartment to find dinner.
We ate at a place towards the top of Riomaggiore called Da Dulin - a charming place with exposed brick arches. The highlight of the meal for me was the swordfish carpaccio and the local white wine.
Pro Tip: When in Cinque Terre, I highly recommend enjoying the local or house wine. Not only was it delicious, it was also MUCH cheaper than wines on the menu from other parts of Italy or abroad.
Day 1 - Exploring Cinque Terre
Our first full day in Cinque Terre, we planned to see as many of the villages as we could. Riding the Cinque Terre Express between villages helped us to save our energy for walking around the towns. Even taking the train, however, we got in plenty of steps and climbed quite a few hills!
Since we were staying in Riomaggiore, we began and ended each day there. Making our way down the steep hill from our apartment, we stopped to visit some of the sights. If you are not staying in Riomaggiore, you'll have to climb up the steep hill from the train station when visiting the town.
Alternatively, you could hop on the electric bus (included in the Cinque Terre Card) which will take you part-way up the hill from the train station.
Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista
The Church of San Giovanni Battista, founded in the 14th century, was located just next to our Riomaggiore apartment. The neo-Gothic facade had to be rebuilt in 1870 after the original collapsed. However, they maintained the 14th century rose window in white Carrera marble and the two Gothic entrances from the original structure. I can also attest to the fact that the bell tower still chimes to this day.
Oratorio di Santa Maria Assunta
Built in the 16th century, this Catholic church preserves a 14th-century wooden statue - Madonna of the Chains - in memory of those who were kidnapped and enslaved during coastal raids over the centuries.
Waterfront and Swimming in Riomaggiore
Finally, we made it down to the waterfront to admire the colorful houses built into the cliffside. The view of the Riomaggiore with the cliffs and sea in the background is gorgeous - one of the quintessential views of Cinque Terre.
Although Riomaggiore does not have a sandy beach, you can swim in the harbor and sit out on the rocks. Later in the evening, those rocks are where you can catch one of the best sunset views in Cinque Terre.
Looking for a fun activity in Riomaggiore? Why not try a cooking class? In this class, you'll learn how to make homemade pasta and a classic Italian dessert - tiramisu.
Purchasing the Cinque Terre Card in Riomaggiore
After admiring the views in Riomaggiore, we made our way back to the train station to purchase our Cinque Terre card. We had to wait in a long line due to crowds. Plus, I think also issues they were having with their systems. Another reason to pre-purchase your Cinque Terre card.
Once we bought our cards, we hopped on the Cinque Terre Express. Don't forget to validate your Cinque Terre Card the first time you use it or else you could be fined.
Monterosso al Mare
Our next stop was Monterosso - the westernmost Cinque Terre town and the only one with a long stretch of beach. It's also the only town that isn't built straight up a cliff, so it's easier to walk around it. The town is divided into two sections, an old town and a newer section near the train station.
Relax at a Beach in Monterosso al Mare
If you're planning a beach trip in Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare is probably the best town for you. Several beach clubs line the long, sandy waterfront where you can pay a daily fee (~20€), then choose a spot to park yourself for the day.
You'll find several hotels and vacation rentals in the newer section of Monterosso, which are only a short walk to the beach.
Walk the Coast to Monterosso's Old Town
Personally, I found the older section of Monterosso to be much more charming. From the train station, you'll walk east along the coast. Then, walk through the tunnel under the San Cristoforo promontory (~550 m / .35 mi) to reach this part of town. If you want to skip the walk, you could take the electric bus instead.
Along the way, the views of the beaches and the sea are spectacular. Once in the old town, meander through the small alleyways, stop in the local shops, or grab a bite to eat.
La Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista
As we entered the older section, La Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista caught my eye. Built in the 14-the century, the black and white striped marble stands out against the colorful houses.
Lunch at Tosca Bistrot
If you're feeling hungry while in Monterosso, I recommend Tosca Bistrot for a delicious meal. The pesto dishes in particular were a stand-out for Jeremy and me.
What We Missed - Kayak Trip
If you'd like to spend time on the water, consider booking a kayaking trip from Monterosso. Not only are the views of Cinque Terre stunning from the sea, but some trips include snorkeling. With the crystal clear water of the Ligurian Sea, you're bound to have a great experience.
Heading east from Monterosso, the next town is Vernazza. From the train station, it's an easy walk along the main street, which is lined with cute cafes and restaurants, to the small harbor.
Beach and Swimming in Vernazza
Although there's a small "beach" in Vernazza, the small sandy area does not really compare to the one in Monterosso. The sea is still clear and inviting though - perfect for a quick dip on a hot day.
Chiesa di Santa Margherita d'Antiochia
At the waterfront, you'll notice a small Ligurian-Gothic church framing the harbor (see the photo above). The Chiesa di Santa Margherita d'Antiochia was built in the 14th century and is notable for its 40m-tall octagonal tower topped with a dome.
The church's interior still seems quite stark compared to many we visited in Cinque Terre.
Despite the relatively flat walk from the train station to the waterfront, Vernazza is quite a steep town. Climbing to visit the Castello Doria - the oldest surviving fortification in Cinque Terre - is a workout!
To get there, head up the narrow staircase by the harbor and keep making your way up through the tight alleyways of stairs. You'll begin to see signs as you get closer and will need to pay a small entrance fee (~3€).
Once at the top, you'll have amazing 360-degree views of the town, surrounding vineyards, and the sea. The fortress remnants are kind of crumbling, but the climb is worth it for the views.
On the first day, we skipped Corniglia - the next town after Vernazza. Corniglia is the only town without sea access and is a 377-step climb up from the train station. We decided to save it for the next morning.
Continuing eastward, Manarola was the next stop. By this point, you'd think the villages would lose their charm, but no. Manarola is another beauty.
Swimming in Manarola
The seafront in Manarola is the place to go if you're looking for a bit of adventure. As we watched, many swimmers climbed the large rock formations, then plunged into the waters below. Even though Manarola does not have a beach, the harbor area seemed quite open and an inviting spot to swim.
Climb to Viewpoint
As someone who enjoys a view, my favorite thing in Manarola was climbing the hillside across from the town. The views looking back over the waterfront and the town were gorgeous. On certain days, you could even grab a drink or bite to eat at Nessun Dorma - a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the city. Unfortunately, it was closed the day we visited.
Returning to Riomaggiore
After a big day of exploring the beautiful towns of Cinque Terre, we returned to Riomaggiore. Since we spent most of our day walking around sweating, we enjoyed a shower and a bit of relaxing on our apartment's terrace before dinner.
Before going to dinner, we walked along the road at the top of Riomaggiore to see the castle. This fortress was initially built in 1260 by the Marquises of Turcotti, but finished in the 15th-16th century by the Genoese.
From the castle, you'll have incredible sea views. This point is another great spot to watch the sunset in Riomaggiore.
Dinner at Il Grottino in Riomaggiore
For dinner, we enjoyed a delicious seafood meal at Il Grottino - a restaurant along Riomaggiore's main street.
Day 2 - Climbing and Hiking
After visiting most of the Cinque Terre villages on our first day, we had fewer places on our itinerary for our second day. The main goal was to visit Corniglia and perhaps hike in the afternoon if it wasn't overly hot.
We didn't get an early start, so by the time we reached Corniglia, it was already after noon.
Corniglia is the only village in Cinque Terre that does not have direct sea access from the village. Sitting upon atop a 100m-tall rocky promontory and surrounded by vineyards, you'll have to climb up almost 400 stairs to reach it.
Alternatively, if you have the Cinque Terre Card, you can hop on the electric bus shuttle at the train station. Be prepared to queue in peak season though as many people want to take the bus and it's quite small.
Whether due to the climb to get there or the lack of sea access, Corniglia seemed much quieter than the other towns in Cinque Terre, which made me love it.
Climbing the Lardarina in Corniglia
The Lardarina in Corniglia is a 377-step, jig-jagging, red brick stairway which leads from the train station by the sea up to the town. No stranger to stairs since we live and hike in Hong Kong, 377 steps seemed manageable.
Personally, I didn't think the climb was that bad. The staircase switchbacks up the hill and the stairs themselves are not steep. Other than the fact it was mostly in the sun, it was a fairly easy climb. And the views were amazing so you could stop to admire them if you need a break.
Chiesa di San Pietro
One of the first sights we encountered in Corniglia was the Chiesa di San Pietro. This Ligurian-Gothic church was built in 14th century and has a large rose window in Carrera marble. The inside of the church is much more ornate than I expected and has undergone some renovations in the Baroque style.
From the courtyard of the church, you have lovely views of the town and the sea.
Views of Corniglia
One of the things I enjoyed most about Corniglia was wandering down the main street and looking into the tiny alleys - some with incredible sea views. Plus, the town just had a more relaxed vibe to it.
Lunch at Enoteca Il Pirun
After walking around a bit, we stopped in Enoteca Il Pirun for a delicious lunch. We had some miscommunications about what we wanted for lunch and ended up with a different (and heavier) appetizer, plus a whole bottle of wine. Of course, it was all delicious so we had to eat it all. We couldn't get enough of the pesto pasta either.
Completely stuffed, we figured we'd better go on the hike to work it off!
Hike from Corniglia to Vernazza on the Sentiero Azzurro
Even though it was hot, we decided to start a hike in mid-afternoon. By starting in Corniglia, we were already up 100m in elevation. So, we figured it couldn't be too challenging to hike to Vernazza. What we probably should have considered a little harder was the intense sun and our lack of sunscreen.
About the Hike to Vernazza from Corniglia
The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza on the Sentiero Azzurro is roughly 3.5 km (2.2 mi) in length. It gains ~135 m / 440 ft in elevation, but descends ~211 m / 692 ft.
If you hate hiking uphill, going from Corniglia to Vernazza is definitely a better direction than the other way around.
This section of the Sentiero Azzurro is a mix of stone paths and rocky, dusty trail. It follows the coastline and has incredible sea views most of the way. However, shade is a luxury that is hard to find on this trail. The sun exposure and summer heat are what made this hike more difficult than it should have been for me.
Luckily, at the highest point of the trail, a bar/café - Bar Il Gabbiano - was serving freshly squeezed orange juice and lemon juice. It was deliciously refreshing and sitting inside the café gave us a break from the sun.
Views of Vernazza
Descending into Vernazza at the end of the hike, we had gorgeous views of the town. It was fun to see the places we'd explored the day before from a different angle.
**For more information on the Sentiero Azzurro as well as on our hike from Corniglia to Vernazza, check out my post - A Gorgeous Hike on the Sentiero Azzurro in Cinque Terre.**
Since we'd already seen the town and were sweaty and gross, we headed straight back to Riomaggiore on the Cinque Terre Express to shower.
Prefer to Hike with a Guide? If you're unsure about tackling the trails by yourself, you could hire a guide for a private Cinque Terre trekking tour instead. On a trekking tour, you'll not only get exercise, but you'll also learn more about the history and local life of Cinque Terre's villages.
What We Missed - Cinque Terre Private Boat Tour
If we'd had more time in Cinque Terre, we would have loved to have taken a private boat trip on the Ligurian Sea. I've heard that some of the best views of the Cinque Terre villages are from the sea. So, if you have time in your itinerary or prefer not to hike, consider adding a boat trip into your itinerary.
Our final night in Riomaggiore was a quiet one. After showering and slathering my burned body in aloe vera, I tackled the sweaty laundry. One of the best things about our Riomaggiore apartment was the washing machine, drying rack, and terrace with a sea breeze!
Jeremy hiked back into town to pick us up a pizza from Pizzeria Kepris to enjoy on the terrace - the perfect ending to the day.
If you still have energy and have time in your itinerary, this would be the perfect time to head down to the rocks on the waterfront or to go on a sunset boat cruise.
Sunset Boat Ride
A sunset boat cruise is a great way to see both the village of Riomaggiore and the gorgeous sunset. Pre-book a boat online or head down to the waterfront early in the day to line up a trip for later in the day.
Leaving Cinque Terre
The next morning, we left Riomaggiore bright and early. Jeremy got in an early morning workout by carrying our very heavy suitcases up those 70 steep stairs from our flat.
Enjoying the lack of crowds at 7:15am, we wheeled our suitcase down through Riomaggiore and caught the Cinque Terre Express (purchasing a single ticket) back to Monterosso. There, we boarded a train to Pisa for our next adventure.
After visiting the beautiful coastline villages, it's easy to see why Cinque Terre is a must-visit destination in Italy. Even during peak season when crowds flock to the region, the beauty of these towns is undeniable. Spending a couple of days exploring, hiking, and swimming is the perfect holiday.
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