Visit Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre is a group of five villages set in scenic splendour on the cliffy coast of Liguria between La Spezia and Levanto. The scenery and the picturesque ancient villages together combine to make this one of the most lovely (and popular!) stretches of coast in Italy.
We travel quite a lot in France and Italy and this is one of our very favourite areas, we would return any number of times if possible!
Together the five villages and the surrounding landscape are a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and two of the villages are also listed among the most beautiful villages in Italy.
The steep hills and cliffs around the villages are scattered with terraces of vineyards and olive trees, adding further to the appeal of the Parco Nazionale dell Cinque Terre (Cinque Terre National Park) as the region is now designated.
Italy This Way comment: it is easy to get the impression from photos and travel guides for the Cinque Terre that the villages will all be quite similar and that visiting one or two of them will be sufficient. We urge you to stay longer and visit as many as possible, they are really each quite distinctive.
Tour the Cinque Terre villages
From west to east the villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each has its own particular charm and individual character.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the villages, and the one with the most accessible beach.
See Monteresso guide
The steep alleys and the charming harbour at Vernazza make it our personal favourite.
See Vernazza guide
Corniglia is unique on the Cinque Terre in being high on a rocky promontory rather than on the coast itself.
See Corniglia guide
Manarola has a lovely scenic historic centre of tall pastel painted houses.
See Manarola guide
Riomaggiore is the largest and most accessible of the villages, and also extremely charming.
...really all the villages have something special to discover!
Note that it is easy to travel between the villages using the train service that operates quite frequently and stops at each of the villages. This is a much more relaxing way to explore the Cinque terre than to follow the roads between the villages, and avoids the challenges of parking.
Cinque terre coast path
Close together, the villages of the Cinque Terre are spread over about 11 km of coastline, and are joined by a very pretty pathway (the Sentiero Azzurro) that hugs the cliff between the villages, and also by a small railway (but no road). The path has lovely views of the steep cliffs of the coast with the sea below, the vineyards of the region, and of course the villages themselves.
Note that the footpath from Manarola to Riomaggiore is easy, and the most popular section of the footpath: this part is called called the Via dell Amore. The other parts of the pathway between the villages are less easy for the elderly and young children.
In our opinion the most beautiful section is also unfortunately the hardest, and is the part between Vernazza and Monterosso.
If you are tackling the whole 11 kilometre path it is much easier on the legs to walk from east to west (i.e. to start from Riomaggiore), but it will still take most of the day to complete the path once rest breaks and time to explore the villages are included.
Access to the main footpath between the villages now requires a pass costing a few euros - a necessary measure to prevent overcrowding but money well spent. It was around 7 euros for a day pass giving unlimited access when we last visited.
It is also worth noting that individual sections of the path are closed quite frequently because of landslides. This isn't a problem because you can just catch the train around the closed section.
Cinque Terre National Park
Although the vast majority of visitors are to be found in and near the five villages, the Cinque Terre National Park is actually quite extensive and includes the coast from Levanto to Portovenere as well as the mountains behind the villages.
If you are able to spend a few days here there are numerous walks and trails to discover throughout the park - our map shows more than 50 separate trails varying in length and difficulty from 15 minutes to 4 1/2 hours so there really is something suitabel for everyone.
The tourist offices in the area are well organised and are a good starting point if you want to walk or cycle in the region. The tourist office in Monterosso is the principal one for the Cinque Terre villages but each of the villages has its own and to make them easy to find they are always right next to the train stations.
The Tourist Ofices also each have free wifi which is useful if you are exploring but don't like to be away from technology for too long!
Much the best way to reach the region is on the train or boat from La Spezia or Levanto, since parking at the villages themselves is both difficult and expensive, and there is no direct road between the villages. You can then use the little stopping train to move between the villages themselves - a one day ticket allows you to get on and off as often as you like to explore all the villages.
Ferry services also join all the villages except Corniglia, in summer months, and is another lovely way to explore.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Liguria guide.