The Ultimate Cinque Terre Italy Guide: How To See The Best Of It
There is no place in the world like the dreamy Italian Riviera which is why I’ve put together the ultimate Cinque Terre Italy guide for you. I also made a Youtube video of our time in Cinque Terre which you can watch here to see how breathtakingly beautiful it really is.
Nestled on the northern coast of Italy as part of the Ligurian Region resides a wonderful slice of heaven known as Cinque Terre. The magnificent Cinque Terre is known for it’s picturesque pastel colored houses, breathtaking coastline, delightful fishing ports, sparkling teal blue waters, and that captivating Italian charm. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Park so there are no corporate chain stores or cars in these villages which is what makes it so authentic and special.
The name “Cinque Terre” translates to “Five Lands” which describes the five quaint towns that make up Cinque Terre. From north to south the towns are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. A little further south is my favorite area to stay, La Spezia, which I will explain in more depth later.
I put together the ultimate Cinque Terre Italy guide covering everything you need to know including the difference between each village, the best beaches, where to stay, what to do, how to get there, and some important info and history behind this Italian gem.
The Ultimate Cinque Terre Italy Guide
Cinque Terre Villages
Each fishing village has it’s own unique and distinctive qualities worth experiencing which I will detail below, from north to south.
Monterosso, the largest town of the five villages, is renowned for it’s lido beach clubs, turquoise blue waters and sandy beaches speckled with colorful umbrellas. This is the only village with beach clubs where you can rent a sun bed and umbrella for the day. This is really convenient, but you have to arrive in the early morning to snag one. We went during high season in July at 11 AM and they were all already booked! But don’t worry if you can’t rent one, you can go to the public beach all the way at the end of the town on both sides.
We went to both beaches, but definitely prefer the public beach to the right when you get off the train, or the north beach. This is the only beach in Cinque Terre that has sand instead of rocks which is a huge plus! The water is also very mild here because Monterosso is in a cove, so it’s great for kids. Monterosso is also the only village in Cinque Terre where we saw a few cars so if you do drive, this would be a good place for you to stay.
Most visitors tend to stay in Monterosso because it has the most accommodation options and is the the only town with a flat terrain.
As far as things to do here, you can walk along the seaside boardwalk, go to the beach, and eat authentic Italian food by the sea.
- Walk the seaside boardwalk
- Go to the beach
Vernazza has a secret beach! This was our favorite beach in Cinque Terre, where we spent most of our time. To get there, you walk through the town and then on your left you will see a roped off area with a cave tunnel behind it. Go through the cave tunnel and enjoy pure bliss amongst the bronzed locals. The beach here is rocky and the tide can be strong sometimes, but there is a lot of space to layout. This is the spot. (There’s also no kids here which is nice if you want to truly relax.)
Vernazza also has a quaint piazza by the sea lined with restaurants. My favorite lunch spot in Vernazza is 5terre which has refreshing juices, sorbets, crepes, and light bites to go. Fresh juices in Italy during summer are a must.
- Go to the secret beach
- Grab lunch to go at 5terre
Corniglia is a bit difficult to reach. There is no harbor and lots of stairs, 365 stairs from the train station to the village, to be exact. There is also a shuttle bus to take you from the train to the town at times, but I heard that it isn’t always reliable. To be honest, we skipped Corniglia because they don’t have a beach and it is just too hot during summer here to not be near water. And almost every review I read on Corniglia said to skip it. So we did.
Manarola is the most photographed & iconic town of Cinque Terre so you’re probably already familiar with this place. This is where you go for the views and cliff jumping. While there is no beach here, there is a small harbor where you can bask on the rocks or boat ramp amongst flocks of locals.
Whatever you do, you must see the breathtaking views in Manarola for yourself. To get there, walk down to the marina from the train station and then once you see the marina walk up the path to the right. It’s really easy to find so you shouldn’t have any problems. If you have time, you should have a glass of wine and eat at the quaint restaurant that is perched on the cliff, Nessun Dorma.
- Cliff jump
- Walk up to the viewpoint
- Go to Nessun Dorma
Filled with alluring seaside views and an authentic Italian vibe, Riomaggiore is a gem worth seeing. Here you will see the fishermen docking and pushing their boats through the village streets, women hanging their laundry from their windows, and kids playing in the streets. It all feels very poetic.
The train station divides Riomaggiore into two parts, the borgo dei pescatori -the fisherman’s village, and the borgo dei contadini – the farmer’s village. Go inland to the farmer’s village first and explore around the town. There are some great views up the streets and you can avoid huge crowds here. For lunch, make sure to stop by Britta, the only vegan spot in Cinque Terre. We stumbled across this place and it was such a great find!
Then make your way to the water where you will see paint painted wood boats bobbing in the glistening waters and a small area to lay out. Head up the left side of the marina for a gorgeous view of the village.
- Get takeaway from Britta for lunch
- Walk up to the viewpoint
Cinque Terre Italy Guide
Best Beaches In Cinque Terre Italy
I wouldn’t call all of these places beaches, they are more like rocky coves, but these are the best places to lay out by the water.
- Vernazza secret beach is by far #1
- Monterosso public beach or at a private beach club
- Manarola marina on the rocks or boat ramps
- Riomaggiore beach
Best Photo Spots
What would a Cinque Terre Italy Guide be without mentioning the best photo spots?!
- Manarola marina & view
- Riomaggiore view
- Vernazza secret beach
- Vernazza harbor with the colorful boats
- Monterosso beaches with the colorful umbrellas
How To Get There
Getting to Cinque Terre is a breeze. You can come by train, car, or boat, but I highly recommend by train because you don’t have to worry about parking, driving, or getting lost. Book your tickets ahead of time on Rail Europe. I also use Rome2Rio to help figure out directions before and while traveling.
Most common trains to get to Cinque Terre:
Rome to Cinque Terre: 4.5 hour train ride with one change at La Spezia station
Milan to Cinque Terre: 3 hours direct train ride
Florence to Cinque Terre: 2.5-3 hours with multiple changes
La Spezia to Cinque Terre: 15-30 minutes by train
Getting from town to town is really easy in Cinque Terre. You can travel by train, by boat, and by hiking. Again, I recommend by train because it is the easiest & fastest, but maybe take one trip by ferry to see the towns from a different perspective. The train only costs about 4 Euros each trip and runs about every 20-30 minutes so you don’t have to worry about being stranded. They don’t really check tickets on the train because it’s such a short ride and so packed (like actual sardines) but make sure to buy them just in case because if they catch you without tickets you have to pay a 220 Euro fee.
Note: Each village is only about 5-10 minutes from the next by train which makes seeing all of Cinque Terre do-able in one day.
Where To Stay
Hint: it’s not in Cinque Terre
Okay so this is really important if you’re planning on staying in Cinque Terre for a few days. Do not stay in Cinque Terre! Stay in La Spezia, which is a 10 minute train ride away, at The Poet Hotel. I’m so thankful I found this gem because it was absolutely PERFECT for the 4 nights we spent here. I can’t believe this boutique hotel and town aren’t more popular yet, they deserve more love.
Reasons you should stay at The Poet Hotel in La Spezia:
- The Poet Hotel is a 10 minute walk from La Spezia train station.
- Cinque Terre is only a 5 minute train ride from La Spezia station.
- It’s located in a trendy, yet quiet location with tons of restaurants, cafes, and shopping, that are open late. There’s even a vegan restaurant here!
- You can walk to the marina where you can catch the ferry to Cinque Terre or Portovenere.
- The hotel style is a perfect mix of contemporary & modern design with retro tones. I typically prefer boutique hotels because they are more unique, and I was right with this one. Book a room with a terrace, the views from here are stunning. We will definitely stay here again when we visit Cinque Terre & La Spezia.
- Every other hotel in Cinque Terre is rather dated and really overpriced for what you get. The Poet Hotel was only about $130 per night including breakfast during high season – which is a $teal.
- La Spezia has more to do and see and isn’t overly crowded.
Cinque Terre Italy Guide continued…
How Long To Stay
It depends if you’re going to relax or to explore. You can easily see all of Cinque Terre in a day, but I like to slow travel to get a feel for the place. We stayed 4 nights which was the perfect amount of time to relax, go to the beach, explore each town, and really enjoy the culture.
Best Time To Visit
We went during high season in July and it was too crowded in Cinque Terre, but not so bad in La Spezia. I’d recommend going in September when the weather is still great, but the crowds aren’t as crazy.
What To Eat
- This region of Italy is known for it’s fresh seasfood, pesto pastas, foccacia flatbread, anchovies, wines (obviously), pandolce, gelato, and limoncello. Try them all!
What To Skip
All of my travel guides are honest, including this Cinque Terre Italy Guide, because I want you to have the absolute best time traveling. And sometimes, there are places you should skip.
Things To Do
- Relax. This is a place you should go to to relax and live in the moment.
- Go to the beach.
- Eat gelato and/or sorbet in each town. When in Italy, a gelato a day is standard;)
- Take pictures and video for memories to look back upon.
I hope this Cinque Terre Italy guide was helpful and helps you plan your next trip! If you’d like me to write about something specific please comment below:) I’d really appreciate it!
The Ultimate Cinque Terre Italy Guide
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