Cinque-Terre-Italy-Overlooking Vernazza

19 Cinque Terre Tips You Need to Know Before Your Trip

Have you been dreaming about visiting the Cinque Terre on the idyllic Italian Riviera?

The Cinque Terre tips in this guide come straight from my own experience visiting the villages of the Cinque Terre.

This Cinque Terre travel guide can help you maximize your time, take advantage of the best things to do, and avoid common mistakes on your first trip to the Cinque Terre. 

19 Cinque Terre Tips You Need to Know Before Your Trip

Cinque Terre National Park along Italy’s Ligurian Coast is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful places to visit in northern Italy.  

It’s also one of the most visited places in Italy! These firsthand tips are meant to help you navigate the paradise of the Cinque Terre with ease whether you visit in the peak summer season or at another time of year.

1. Which are the Cinque Terre Villages?

Cinque Terre Italy Monterosso View From Trail

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso is the northernmost of the 5 villages. It’s also the biggest. You’ll find shops and restaurants in the old town and the largest stretch of beach in all the Cinque Terre villages. 

As you stroll the old town, stop in for a visit to Oratorio della Confraternita dei Neri. The thin white and black stripes lead you into an unusual 17th-century chapel with skulls and skeletons.

Vernazza

Cinque-Terre-Italy-Overlooking Vernazza

Vernazza is one of the prettiest villages of Cinque Terre with its colorful buildings arching around the harbor. From the hiking trails above, the views overlooking Vernazza are spectacular whether you’re walking from Monterosso or Corniglia.

The village has plenty of good eats, perfect for weary hikers looking to refresh and refuel. There is a small area of sand alongside the harbor if you’d like to sit and stare out at the turquoise waters.

Corniglia

Corniglia is the only Cinque Terre village that sits up high on a cliff without access to the sea. But given its position, Corniglia also offers great vantage points to take in the landscape without having to trek up to reach them.

Grab a gelato from Alberto Gelateria, stroll through the tiny streets, and enjoy the views. To get away from the Cinque Terre’s hustle and bustle, consider staying in Corniglia. While days can be busy as visitors arrive by train or on foot from Vernazza, in the evening you’ll feel as if the village is all yours.

ProTip: Unfortunately, the main footpath connecting Corniglia to Riomaggiore is closed because of landslides damaging the trail. More details on this below. But, you can easily take the train to Riomaggiore in just a few minutes to continue on your Cinque Terre adventure.

Manarola

Cinque Terre Italy Manarola

Manarola is a pretty village (like all of these villages!) sitting dramatically atop a seaside cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. The harbor is tiny, with only a boat ramp and no beach.

There are a lot of streets and alleyways to explore some of which climb uphill. Definitely head to the Chiesa di San Lorenzo at the top of the hill. The frescoed church dates back to the 14th century.

This is also that spectacular postcard Cinque Terre image at sunset you’ve undoubtedly seen. Head to the Manarola Scenic Viewpoint for the best views. If you can, try to snag a table at Nessun Dorma to enjoy the sunset views with a glass of wine and some bruschetta.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is the southernmost Cinque Terre village and the closest to La Spezia. The colorful buildings surround the harbor and lead up into the cliffside. There’s also a rocky outcropping, accessed by a staircase, for you to walk along the rocks or sit by the sea.

The 13th-century Castello di Riomaggiore also has beautiful views of the water. Riomaggiore also is where the Via dell’Amore starts or ends depending on which way you’re traveling through the Cinque Terre.

There is a small section that is open in Manarola if you’d like to see the view from the path. This had been the most popular walking path between Riomaggiore and Manarola. However, it was also damaged by landslides and is slated to reopen in 2024.

2. Best Time to Visit Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre Italy Riomaggiore

The summer months bring the high season in the Cinque Terre. The beautiful villages of the 5Terre are full of hikers, day-trippers, beach-goers, and boaters.

It’s the best time of year to enjoy the turquoise sea, but also the busiest time which can make it more challenging to get around the area.

The winter months bring with them the low season.

The pretty Cinque Terre fishing villages are very quiet. Some of the hiking trails may be closed because of weather concerns. No boats run from La Spezia or Levanto and even some shops, restaurants, and hotels shut down for the season.

While summer comes with a lot of visitors, the spring and fall months are an ideal time to visit. It’s true, it might not be perfect beach weather. However, hiking will be more pleasant without the summer heat and the colorful towns will be less crowded.

3. Get a Cinque Terre Card.

Cinque Terre Italy View Monterosso From Hiking Trail

There are 2 different Cinque Terre cards, the trekking card and the train card.

The Cinque Terre Trekking card includes access to the Sentiero Azzurro, the Cinque Terre trail connecting Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia.

The Cinque Terre Train card gives you access to the trails, but also unlimited train travel among the villages, Levanto, and La Spezia. 

You can buy cards for 1, 2, or 3 days and decide whether you’d like just trekking access or train access as well. If you buy a 1 day Cinque Terre card, it’s valid just for that date so it’ll expire at midnight.

For my last Cinque Terre visit, the combination train and trekking card cost around 18 Euros. I hiked from Monterosso to Corniglia and also took the train several times. The bundled card saved me money (and hassle) compared to purchasing train tickets and entry to the hiking trails a la carte.

It’s possible to purchase your Cinque Terre Card in advance to avoid lines and save time. Plus, you’ll be ready when you come upon the inevitable checkpoint along the hiking trails.

4. Lounge on the Cinque Terre Beaches. 

Cinque Terre Italy Monterosso Beach

Except for Corniglia, each of the 5 Cinque Terre villages have some beachfront. Small patches of sand and rocky outcroppings surround the harbors in each of the villages.

But, if you’re searching for the best Cinque Terre beaches to spend a relaxing day by the sea, look no further than Monterosso al Mare.

The main strip of beach stretches lengthwise along the aquamarine Mediterranean Sea. The beach club there rents umbrellas, lounge chairs, and cabanas. You get access to changing areas, showers, bathrooms, and WiFi, as well as food and drink services. 

You can easily plan a full beach day or stay just part of the day. The village’s main streets and piazzas are just a 2-minute walk from the beach. The train station is also just near the beach, making it easy to head to another Cinque Terre village, La Spezia, or Levanto in just minutes.

5. How to get to Cinque Terre (Hint: Don’t Drive!)

Of all the Cinque Terre tips on this list, this one will 100% save your sanity!

You can get to the Cinque Terre by train, car, or boat. Without a doubt, the best way to get to the Cinque Terre and travel among the villages is by train. (More on this below.)

The Cinque Terre towns are tiny. Streets are narrow and congested during the peak summer season. Many areas are designated as pedestrian-only. And finding places to park can be the nightmare that ruins the entire trip.

Bottom line: Yes, you can technically drive to the Cinque Terre. However, I strongly advise against it. If you’re driving and staying directly in one of the villages, make sure your Cinque Terre accommodations include parking. Once parked, explore the area by train, boat, or on foot.

Cinque Terre ferries operate between Levanto and La Spezia from late Spring to late Fall, stopping at all the Cinque Terre villages except Corniglia. The Cinque Terre boats also stop at Portovenere, a secret hidden gem Cinque Terre village!

You can buy a one-day ticket or a half-day ticket for unlimited hopping on and off between the towns. Tickets are available at the docks, half an hour before sailing.

6. Cinque Terre by Train is the Easiest Way to Go.

Train Cinque Terre Italy

All 5 of the Cinque Terre villages have train stations. The train is by far the best way to travel to, from, and around the Cinque Terre.

The local train starts and ends in La Spezia and Levanto. Each stop between the villages is no more than just a few minutes’ ride. So, it’s quick, easy, and great for maximizing your time when you have just 1 or 2 days in the Cinque Terre.

Remember, that a train strike in Italy will also affect Cinque Terre trains.

ProTip: Take a photo of the train schedule with your phone. This way, you can plan accordingly instead of wasting time waiting on a train platform. 

7. Closest Airport to Cinque Terre

There are no Cinque Terre airports. The closest airports to the Cinque Terre are in Genoa, Pisa, Florence, and Milan. Luckily, you can connect to trains from each of these cities to arrive in the Cinque Terre without a car.

The closest and quickest options are the airports in Pisa and Genoa. Trains from these cities take 90 minutes or less to arrive in the Cinque Terre.

8. Where to stay in Cinque Terre

Cinque-Terre-Italy-Vernazza-Village

Finding Cinque Terre accommodations can be stressful! The 5terre villages are small and have limited places to stay. Not to mention, the steep, hilly terrain can make just getting to your hotel’s front door with your luggage an exhausting challenge.

So before going any further, understand the golden rule for Cinque Terre accommodations. It’s simple, and yet so important for a smooth trip. Ready for it?

Book early and pack light.

With that, Vernazza and Manarola are popular villages for overnight visitors. They’re colorful, charming, bustling, and come with some of the best Cinque Terre sunset spots. In fact, you’ve probably seen the iconic photograph of Manarola and its pastel-hued buildings clinging to the cliffside overlooking the Mediterranean at sunset.

Vernazza is also squarely along the blue Cinque Terre hiking trail (Sentiero Azzurro). Hikers and visitors regularly stream into the village, looking for food, a place to fill up water bottles, shops, and places to sit on the small beach and along the harbor.

On the other hand, Corniglia is the trickiest of the 5terre villages to stay in. The train station is situated along the water, below the village. And, there is no boat access because of Corniglia’s elevated position. So if you arrive by train, it comes with having to carry your luggage up many flights of stairs to reach the village.

However, the village has a tranquil feel after the day-trippers and hikers depart, not to mention some of the best views overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Basket of lemons in Cinque Terre Italy

If you’re arriving by car, the best Cinque Terre hotels will be the ones with parking. It’s an absolute must-have. Monterosso al Mare has the most hotel options in the Cinque Terre and is easier to drive into than the other villages. It’s also the best Cinque Terre village to stay in if you’d like some beach time.

Like the other Cinque Terre villages, Riomaggiore has restaurants and shops and train and boat access. It can be a great place to base yourself on a Cinque Terre trip. The main street in the village leads uphill, away from the train station and tiny harbor. You won’t walk far before finding yourself somewhat removed from the activity near the village’s transportation centers.

Here are a few of the best places to stay in the Cinque Terre.

  • Hotel Stella della Marina: This hotel is located in Monterosso, just a minute away from the beach. The rooms are air-conditioned and guests have access to private parking. The hotel has a rooftop terrace with Mediterranean Sea views, perfect for having breakfast or lounging with an aperitivo.
  • Hotel Porto Roca: Also in Monterosso set on the cliffside above the town and beach, this hotel has an outdoor pool with sea views. Rooms are air-conditioned and the onsite restaurant serves a breakfast buffet.
  • La Torretta Lodge: For a splurge consider this gem located in the village of Manarola. The lodging is in a Medieval tower that has been converted. The spectacular views at sunset from here will take your breath away.

9. Alternatively, Stay in La Spezia.

If you’re not finding a hotel to suit your needs in one of the Cinque Terre villages, expand your search to La Spezia.

Besides having more hotels, La Spezia tends to be more affordable. Many hotels also offer parking or provide discounts for a paid public parking area nearby.

La Spezia is also along the same train line as the Cinque Terre villages. The train ride from La Spezia Centrale to Riomaggiore (the first Cinque Terre village on the route) is less than 10 minutes.

La Spezia also has Cinque Terre boat access from the harbor. 

For my last (spontaneous) Cinque Terre trip, I used La Spezia as my home base. I had a rental car that I needed for my northern Italy itinerary and I did not want to drive any more than necessary while in the area. The train was simple and eliminated all driving/parking stress.

Check current hotel prices in La Spezia.

Here are a few of my favorites in La Spezia. I chose hotels that offered parking because it’s an absolute must.

Regardless of which hotel you choose, I would recommend contacting the hotel before your stay to understand the parking logistics. You’ll want to know the exact location, time restrictions, and if there are any reservations needed. 

  • The Poet Hotel: This popular boutique hotel comes with free breakfast, a central location, and valet parking. (This alone is worth its weight in gold!) The Poet Hotel is just a short walk to La Spezia Centrale where you can take the train to the Cinque Terre. The harbor is also just 15 minutes on foot if you plan to visit the Cinque Terre by boat.
  • Hotel Birillo: This budget-friendly hotel is another great option in La Spezia. The hotel is a short walk from the train station and the harbor. Paid parking is available on-site and rates include free breakfast. 
  • Hotel Firenze e Continentale La Spezia: Located in the historic center of La Spezia, this hotel is just a 2-minute walk to the train station. Paid parking is available nearby, as is the pedestrian restaurant and shopping zone in La Spezia. Free breakfast is included.

10. Make an Early Start.

The peak season (summer) in the Cinque Terre can be quite crowded. The villages and coastal trails aren’t big. Monterosso’s beachfront is more sizeable than the beaches in the other Cinque Terre villages, however, there are only so many loungers and umbrellas.

Whether you want to hike, spend time by the sea, or stroll the narrow lanes of the villages, make an early morning start to miss some of the crowds.

11. Start in Monterosso.

In Monterosso, you can prepare and hike to Vernazza, enjoy breakfast, rent beach loungers, and make your way around to a few of the famous sights in town.

If you’re planning some beach time, do that first before moving on to Vernazza or the next village on your Cinque Terre itinerary. You’ll have more luck getting a lounger on the beach earlier in the day as opposed to later. 

Just like some of the best places in Puglia, Italy, the beaches can get quite crowded during the summer.

Besides, Manarola has the best Cinque Terre sunset views! Better to make your way from Monterosso towards Manarola for later in the day.

12. Hike the Cinque Terre Trails!

It’s so worth it and absolutely one of the best things to do in the Cinque Terre!

The most popular trail is the Sentiero Azzurro or blue trail. It’s a coastal trail that winds through the terraced hills of grapevines overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

As of writing this (2022), only the Monterosso-Vernazza and the Vernazza to Corniglia sections of the blue trail are open.

The sections connecting Corniglia to Manarola and Manarola to Riomaggiore (Via dell’Amore) are scheduled to reopen in July 2024 after being washed out by landslides years ago. 

It’s possible to do this hike with just a sturdy pair of sneakers and an average level of fitness.

Yes, there are stairs to climb and uphill trails. But, once you’re past those sections, the trail tends to flatten out and curve along the cliffside before sloping downwards into the next village.

And if you’re short on time or don’t want to spend all day hiking, just hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. You could also hike this section in reverse, but I prefer the views walking towards Vernazza…even with the stairs at the start of the trail!

If you’re up for something a bit more challenging, there are trails higher up that weave through the National Park. These trails are far less traveled than the blue trail which makes them a great way to avoid the larger crowds in summer.

ProTip: Get water BEFORE you set off on a hike. Aside from a few tucked-away terrace cafes serving food and drink, you won’t find available water on the trails. Especially in the summer heat, you’ll be thankful you brought water.

13. Bring a Refillable Water Bottle

The good news is the villages have refilling stations where you can get clean, cool drinking water before continuing on without needing to purchase countless plastic bottles of water.

The Cinque Terre has long struggled with a crush of visitors, especially during the peak summer season. Refilling a water bottle is one small thing you can do to respect the local environment. 

If you’re worried about the cleanliness of the refilling stations, consider a CrazyCap water bottle. You can refill it no matter where you are and CrazyCap purifies the water and self-cleans the bottle itself.

14. Pack Light and Dress Sensibly. 

Consider how close or far your Cinque Terre hotel is from the train station. While some hotels may offer luggage assistance, smaller B&Bs and guesthouses may not. Be sure you can carry the bags you packed.

If you’re hiking, bring or wear comfortable, gripping walking shoes. The trails can be rocky and uneven in places. Flip flops, crocs, and strappy sandals aren’t suitable for the terrain.

And, respect the power of the sun. Sunscreen and even a sun hat can make a big difference when you’re hiking the Cinque Terre in the summer months.

15. Don’t Trespass (not even for the perfect Instagram photo or video).

Cinque Terre Italy Terraced Grapevines

There’s no denying that overtourism has been an issue in this region. And unfortunately, this is why it was important to include this reminder on this list of Cinque Terre tips.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the local farmers who felt it necessary to post signs stating, “No Trespassing,” Do Not Enter,” or even “This is not a bathroom!”

These farmers (and likely their ancestors for generations before) work hard growing grapes and olives on these hills. Be respectful of that and remember you are 1 of millions of visitors to the Cinque Terre. 

If you trample off the path, others will follow in your footsteps. If you trespass on private property for a photo or video and post it on social media, others visiting after you will want the same shot.

16. Eat Trofie al Pesto.

Cinque Terre Italy Trofie Pesto

Whether you’ve visited Naples, Italy yet or not, you probably know the city is synonymous with insanely, delicious pizza. Well, what pizza is for Naples, pasta and pesto are for Liguria! It’s a must-eat while in Cinque Terre.

Trofie is a short, twisty pasta from the Liguria region and it seems to have been made to pair perfectly with pesto. I had a dish of Trofie al Pesto in Vernazza, after hiking from Monterosso. After many trips to Italy (and an Italian mother-in-law), it just might have been the best dish of pasta with pesto I’ve ever eaten!

Any plan regarding what to do in the Cinque Terre should include enjoying this local pasta specialty as often as your stomach can manage!

ProTip: Wash it down with a glass of local Cinque Terre wine and follow it up with some gelato for dessert. You deserve it after hiking all that way. And, who’s counting calories in Italy, anyways! 😉

17. Finish the Day in Manarola.

Cinque Terre Italy Manarola Viewpoint

There are a lot of places throughout the Cinque Terre to be at sunset.

But, for the most iconic photos of the Cinque Terre, head up to the Manarola Viewpoint. The sun doesn’t set behind the village. Rather, the light reflects off the village. This combined with the multi-colored buildings on the cliff and the blue waters of the Mediterranean is a great way to finish a day in the Cinque Terre.

Nessun Dorma, the restaurant at the viewpoint, gets quite busy around this time. But if you can get a table, don’t miss the opportunity to savor the views and toast to an amazing day.

18. Change Perspective on a Cinque Terre Boat Tour.

You can explore the Cinque Terre by train and along its hiking trails. You’ll get a close-up look at daily life as you see farmers working in the hills or local artisans in their shops.

But, a boat to the Cinque Terre is the best way to take in the incredible views looking back on the coastal villages. The colorful, side-by-side buildings centered around a tiny harbor on the rocky cliffs of the Mediterranean are beyond scenic.

Whether you want to spend a day on the water or just cruise as the sun sets, here are a few Cinque Terre boat tours to consider.

19. You Only Need a Cinque Terre Tour If…

…you’re staying in Florence, Pisa, or Milan. These cities are within reach of the Cinque Terre but they’re just far enough that you don’t have any time to waste. 

Choose a day tour that suits your timing and what you’d like to see and leave all the logistics to a local guide.

If you’re staying in the Cinque Terre, La Spezia, or Levanto, it’s not necessary to book a day tour unless you’re looking to do something highly specialized like a Cinque Terre Food Tour or a Cinque Terre: Wine Tasting & Walking Tour. 

And if you’re coming from central and southern Italian cities like Rome or Bari, the best plan will be to position yourself further north or in the Cinque Terre itself before trying to explore the region.

Travel to the Cinque Terre!

Cinque Terre Italy Corniglia

It’s absolutely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Italy! And even though it can get crowded during the peak summer season, these tips for the Cinque Terre will help make your time in the Italian Rivieria smooth and spectacular.

So, what questions do you have about visiting the Cinque Terre in Italy?

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