One visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cinque Terre, and I was in love! Seeing the colorful towns of Cinque Terre cling to the cliff of the Italian coastline made me stand in awe of the determination and stamina of the people who created the Cinque Terre villages.
Visiting the Cinque Terre towns is unlike visiting other famous towns in Italy. Here in the Cinque Terre, you won’t find many of the traditional tourist attractions.
Instead you will find five towns each with unique personalities that embrace the natural beauty of the rugged coastline that surrounds them.
The coastal villages are part of the Cinque Terre National Park, each connect to another by a series of hiking trails, walking paths, and a reliable local train.
While many are visited on a day trip, we recommend spending a few nights in the Ligurian Riviera to ensure you get a true feel for the five lands.
The beautiful towns of Cinque Terre have proven to be popular destinations offering visitors colorful houses, spectacular views, epic hiking, and great restaurants to explore.
Let’s dive into the five Cinque Terre towns. I assure you, if it isn’t on your couple’s bucket list, it will be after you read this post!
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What are the Five Towns of Cinque Terre?
The Cinque Terre is made up of five towns in the Liguria region of Italy.
While they are all part of the national park, each town does have its own unique vibe and personality, differentiating it from the other towns.
If you start at the northwest portion of the Cinque Terre and travel south, the five cities appear in this order: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
Let’s analyze each of the five villages a little closer so that you can see all that the Cinque Terre towns have to offer.
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Monterosso al Mare
A Beach Lovers Paradise
Of all of the Cinque Terre towns, Monterosso al Mare is the only village that has a true stretch of beach for you to enjoy. Therefor, this is the best town for those of you looking for a beach in Cinque Terre.
This is also the town with the most Cinque Terre hotels, so many people choose to make Monterosso al Mare their “home base” while exploring the five villages of the Cinque Terre.
As one of the larger cities and most northern of the five villages, Monterosso al Mare is separated into two sections, the “Old Town” and the “New Town.”
The New Town is where you will find the sandy beach, a perfect location to enjoy a day on the Italian Riviera. This is also where you will find the majority of the hotels in town.
The New and Old Town are connected by a tunnel making accessing each quick and easy.
The ruins of a castle overlook the old town area of Monterosso offering stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and the surround coast.
Tourists love to visit the Gothic-style San Giovanni Battista Church located in the main town square, and see the statue of the Giant at the north end of the beach. Many travelers also love visiting weekly Farmer’s Market which is held every Tuesday morning.
A sunset meal at Ristorante L’Ancora Della Tortuga in a must during your trip. The sweeping views of the ocean and beach are truly some of the best in all five towns. Just be sure to make a reservation if visiting during high season as this is one of the most popular restaurants in the village.
Getting From Monterosso to Vernazza
Taking the train from Monterosso to Vernazza is a quick, five minute journey. You can access the train by purchasing a single ride ticket, or a daily pass at the train station.
Of course, many tourists prefer to explore the hiking trails during their time in Cinque Terre, Italy.
The hiking trail from Monterosso to Vernazza leaves from the eastern part of Monterosso. Walk down the road leading from Hotel Porto Roca and find the path that begins with a long staircase.
The path between these two towns takes about 1.5 hours to hike as it winds through the olive orchards, vineyards, and along the coast of the sea.
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Before hiking in Cinque Terre, always check for the conditions of the trails here. Given the location of the towns, the Cinque Terre is a very unstable environment that is prone to flooding and landslides.
In addition, you do have to pay a hiking fee if you are planning on using the hiking trails from Monterosso to Vernazza or Vernazza to Corniglia (the others are free). The easiest way to do this is Cinque Terre Trekking card. You can purchase one at the any of the train stations or the Tourist information points in Cinque Terre, La Spezia, or Levanto.
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The Most Beautiful Cinque Terre Town
Vernazza is often referred to as the most beautiful Cinque Terre town.
When you see the colorful houses that appear to be clinging to the side of the rocky cliffs hovering over the town piazza and small harbor below, you will understand why.
In the city center, wander from the train station down to the town’s main street. Here you are treated to small cafes and boutique shops beckoning you to come inside. Of course, the cafes here are great to just sit at and enjoy some people watching!
Overlooking the town are the remnants of the old Genoses walls and a watch tower.
If you want one of the best views in Cinque Terre, climb the steps on the hill opposite of the watch tower. This view of Vernazza is truly spectacular and one of the most photographed in the five towns.
Getting From Vernazza to Corniglia
Most tourists to this area like to move from one village to the next by hiking through Cinqe Terre.
Of course, you can take the train to get from Vernazza to Corniglia, but if you want to enjoy hiking to the next village, then you can do that here as well.
The trail leaving from Vernazza takes you above the sea and back down again through a series of up and down elevation changes.
The hike takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete and is rated as average on the difficulty scale.
Like some of the other trails, this trail does require a fee. The best deal is to purchase the Cinque Terre Trekking Card mentioned above.
Get off of the beaten path when exploring Vernazza. Take time to wander the side streets and enjoy just being in Italy. You will be rewarded with great sea views at every turn.
Best Town To Spend The Night In
Corniglia is the only Cinque Terre town that is not built directly on the sea. It’s true, but don’t worry, Corniglia has its own charm and, honestly, is the best town to spend the night in thanks to the quiet, calm environment.
This Cinque Terre town is built high on a hillside overlooking the Ligurian Sea.
If arriving into town on the train, it is important to note that you will have to climb over 300 stairs in order to make it to the town. If you prefer not to do this, then just wait right outside of the train station for the shuttle bus that will take you into town.
Once you arrive in town, you are greeted by a town that has been in existence since the middle ages. The ancient Roman village has always been huge on agriculture, which is apparent when you view the surrounding hillsides.
Wander around the narrow streets of Corniglia to get acquainted. Pop into the cute shops and enjoy a glass of homemade wine.
For a great view of the ocean, follow the main walkway through town until you get to the large sea-facing terrace. This is the only place in Cinque Terre where you can get a view of all five villages.
If you are choosing to spend the night here, you will note that there are not many hotels. There are, however, numerous bed and breakfasts and apartments available for rent.
During your time in Corniglia, do your part to help settle the gelato battle of Corniglia.
You see, on the main street, there are two rival gelato shops right next door to one another, and I mean rivals!
Taste both and decide for yourself which one is best.
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Incredible Wine Production
Granted, the colorful houses hanging on the Cinque Terre cliffs ensure that you get some incredible view while visiting Manarola, but that is not what this town in Italy is most famous for.
Manarola, Italy is most well known for the incredible wine they produce here. When you see all of the hillside vineyards surrounding the town, you quickly understand why.
The wine produced in Manarola is a sweet wine named Sciacchetra. Be sure and try it during your visit to Manarola.
The small town square overlooks the harbor below and is home to several restaurants and bars that are the perfect location to enjoy a glass of Sciacchetra.
Overlooking the town is the Church of San Lorenzo. Here you can see the historic church that was built in the 12th-century. There is also a 16th-centure watch tower and the church’s bell tower at the top of the hill.
Don’t miss the Manarola Vineyard walk during your time in the city as well.
The trail for the vineyard walk begins right by the church, just look for the wooden railing. The walk zig zags through the hillside vineyards offering up incredible views of the town and the ocean.
Hiking From Manarola to Riomaggiore
There is a great hiking trail that leads from Manarola to Riomaggiore called the “Via dell’Amore” translated to Lover’s Lane.
This trail is an easy hike that hugs the cliffs and overlooks the water.
Unfortunately, this path has been damaged and is currently being repaired. As of publication of this article, it is scheduled to open in July of 2024.
While there isn’t a beach here, there is some great deep water swimming and you will see locals swimming here throughout the summer. Join in during your visit as well. I mean, what is a trip to Cinque Terre, Italy without enjoying the beautiful waters?
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You will find the town of Riomaggiore nestled into a tiny natural harbor carved out of the rocks. If you are taking the train into Cinque Terre from La Spezia, this is the first town that you will come to.
I will never forget the feeling when I saw Riomaggiore for the first time. We traveled up from La Spezia. I stepped off of the train and was immediately greeted with this gorgeous, colorful Cinque Terre village.
The stone streets in Riomaggiore invite visitors to come and explore this quiet town.
Lined with cafes and small shops, Riomaggiore is the introduction to Cinque Terre for many visitors as most people enter from La Spezia, which is to the south of Riomaggiore.
Consider taking the 10 minute climb to the castle walls and he two towers that overlook the town. You will find fabulous views from this vantage point, so be sure to make the trek if you are up for it.
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How Do I Get To Cinque Terre?
There are several ways that you can get to Cinque Terre.
If you can though, I recommend spending a couple of nights in the five villages so that you can get a real feel for the area and life here. Many people choose to stay in La Spezia while visiting the towns of Cinque Terre as it is conveniently located via the local train.
How Many Days Should I Stay?
I feel like deciding how many days to stay in the Cinque Terre depends on your travel style.
I recommend staying at least three to four days if you can fit it into your itinerary. This will allow you to spend time in each of the villages and not feel rushed.
If you are only visiting this region of Italy and nowhere else, you can easily spend a week or longer here and enjoy hiking and relaxing while on vacation.
Where To Stay In Cinque Terre
Discovering where to stay in Cinque Terre is so much fun. I just love looking at the boutique hotels and the apartments that are available for rent.
To help you with this, we wrote a complete post that include accommodation recommendations on where to stay in Cinque Terre.
Top Tours For Cinque Terre
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About The Author
Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures. Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through her informative writing style on her blogs, That Texas Couple and Totally Texas Travel. Her practical tips and suggestions help make travel dreams a reality while immersing her readers in the history, culture, and food of a region. She is happiest sipping wine in Italy or chilling on a beach with her husband, Marty.