Cinque Terre is an absolute must see – Even if you do not plan to hike the entire coast, I truly believe this is one of the most magical places I have ever visited. Even if you need to shave a day off Rome or Florence – make sure to stop by and explore the beautiful towns of Cinque Terre.
For the hiking experience: If you are up for breaking a lot of sweat, challenge yourself to hike to all 5 villages.
For the resort experience: If you want a more relaxing time, you can choose which paths to hike and spend the rest of your time in the sunshine of the Monterosso beach.
You can’t go wrong: No matter what your itinerary, you will be shocked by the beauty.
What is Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre means “Five Earths,” and is made up of a conglomerate of 5 small villages built into the cliffside. They are each part of the larger province of La Spezia. Each village has its own unique charm – from north to south you will find Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
How long is each hike and what are my options?
You will find summaries below but use this website for guidance – it is the best summary of your options that I have seen. It includes length, time, difficulty, calorie count, elevations ect
“The Blue Trail,” 6-7 hours: This walk is made up of 4 different pieces of the Blue Trail along the seaside and will take you all the way through. Check for trail status- when we visited, many pieces of this hike were closed (until 2018). From online research, it seems like the recommendation is to start this trail from Riomaggiore since it becomes more challenging with each subsequent trail (Start easy, work your way up in case you get too tired)
Monterosso-Vernazza: 2 Trail Options
- Blue Trail – 2 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes
- Long Route – 4.5 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes
The long route includes 2 sanctuaries and a nice aerial view
Vernazza-Corniglia: 2 Trail Options
- Blue Trail – 2 miles, 1 hour 45 minutes
This trail was very green – and decorated by the beautiful olive groves. For many parts of it, I felt as if I was on a forest trail
- Long Route – 4 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes
Corniglia-Manarola: 2 Trail Options
- Blue Trail – 1.6 miles, 45 minutes (Closed until 2018)
- Long Route – 3 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes
This trail that takes you through the town of Volastra, over the hills and through vineyards, but be prepared for the 1200 stairs. Volastra is a very quiet town, and we only saw a few villagers as we walked through.
Manarola-Riomaggiore: 2 Trail Options
- Via d’el Amore – 1.2 miles, 20-40 minutes (Closed until 2018)
Paved trail along the seaside, fully accessible for strollers and handicapped visitors
- Beccara Trail – 1 mile, 60 minutes
Steep (pretty rough) 1 mile hike over the top of the mountain instead of around on the seaside. Be careful of loose rocks because the climb and descent are very steep. Your legs will shake but don’t worry, what goes up must come down. You will also get a beautiful aerial view of Manarola:
What if the trail is closed?
Many tails are closed for repairs each year. Check out this website for alternate routes (we used the alternate routes for the 2 closed trails)
What if I get lost?
The trail markers are very clear (red and white) and can be found very close together on the rocks and trees. We got confused as to where the trail restarted after passing by Volastra but asked a villager and he was very willing to help. If you stay on the trails and keep walking forward, then you will not get lost. It is very obvious when you are deviating from the trails and extremely dangerous so don’t do it!
Village by village:
On a map, it is hard to visualize how small each village really is. If you are in a rush, don’t worry – you can easily walk through each village within 30 minutes, and within 1 hour you can even get a bite to eat.
Monterosso al Mare:
- The nicest beach (and the only one with sand)
- Rent kayaks or beach accessories if you want a beach day
- The largest and most built up town
- Resort town feel with a lot of cute artisanal shops
- Picturesque pier with a (very) small beach area used mainly for cooling off
- Feel free to jump off the docks and into the water
- Cool tower and “Castello” with beautiful views from the top overlooking both the sea and the village
- The most crowded town
- Limited access to the beach
- Least crowded town and the lest built up
- Built very high up, truly on the edge of a steep cliff without direct access to the sea
- Surrounded by vineyards on three sides
- Church of St. Pietro overlooking the sea is worth a visit and photo op
- Known for its wine
- Great seafood shops along the main road
- I loved all the villages but this was personally the least memorable – it was a little crowded and was lacking the unique features found in the other villages
- Access to a beach with very rough rocks (not for laying out)
- Hike up to the “Castello de Riomaggiore” for the best view (and no crowds) and a great sunset
- Surrounded by terraced olive trees and vineyards
- Also known for a beautiful sunset over the pier
- Water bottle carrier or small backpack
- Sneakers for the trails (they will get dirty) NO flipflops or heels
- Exercise shorts
- Bathing suit
- Tank top + Sports bra
- Don’t forget the camera!
You will need lots of water, but I suggest buying bottles in each of the villages.
- Don’t bring a car – hop on a train to La Spezia from Florence and then transfer to the smaller train that gets you right to Cinque Terre
- Train, Ferry and Walking passes – I suggest buying the combined pass that includes all of them.
- When you arrive, stop by any of the welcome centers to get a map
- Ask about any closed trails. When we went, the a few trails were closed off so we were given directions for alternate routes
When to visit?
We went to Cinque Terre in the summer during the height of tourist season – the bigger villages were more crowded, but nothing too crazy. The smaller villages were sparsely populated. We had no trouble finding space on the beaches and were actually surprised with how few crowds we encountered. As for the hikes, we saw at most 10 people on the trails the entire day. We did not have to wait in any lines for food and the cool attractions at the outskirts of the villages were entirely deserted.
Where to stay?
AirBnb vs. Hotels
Whatever you choose, pick a home base. It is very easy to move between the villages by train and so save yourself the inconvenience of having to repack and move your things from place to place.
We stayed at an AirBnb in Riomaggiore. We chose the location because it is more built up than the other villages, but not quite a resort town like Monterosso. It is also the southernmost village so we would be able to take the train all the way to Monterosso and then walk back to Riomaggiore having seen all the villages.
If you are looking for a beach experience, Monterosso has some very nice resort-like hotels, restaurants and access to a beautiful beach.
- We only spent 2 nights and a total of 2 days and were able to explore all the villages and complete the hike
- If you want an extra day to relax on the beach I would suggest 2-3 full days
As a rule, if you plan on visiting Italy in June/July, you are going to sweat. Luckily, Cinque Terre is cooled by the sea breeze and easy access to the beach if you need to cool off. We have a high tolerance for heat and found it very manageable. Make sure to stay hydrated -We went through 1 Liter of water during each hike and then guzzled more when we stopped in the villages. There weren’t many places to refill water bottles, so we ditched the Nalgene and paid the price for a 1 L bottle in each village. This handy water bottle sling saved us from any inconvenience, but a small backpack would also do.
Where to Eat?
Unlike the big cities in Italy, it isn’t necessary to plan out your eating itinerary. It takes at most 20 minutes to stroll through each village which allows you a chance to check out all the small establishments and decide what you are in the mood for.
We picked up a new snack as we stopped by each village. The eateries are set up as small homestyle mom and pop shops and you can’t really go wrong. We brought our food out so we could enjoy sitting by the seaside while we ate.
I would recommend finding some shellfish along the way (sadly I am allergic). My personal favorite was the focaccia and I ate one at every village. Here are some of the places we tried…but you can’t go wrong. Don’t be fooled by rankings you see online, Even the average shop is still going to taste amazing.
Our 2 Day Itinerary:
Day 1: We stayed in an AirBnb in Riomaggiore. We arrived in the early afternoon from Venice and immediately paid for our hiking, ferry, and train passes plus picked up a map from the welcome center. We checked into our AirBnb and got on our exercise clothing. We explored Riomaggiore for 25 minutes – got some Focaccia and then hiked up to the Castello. From there, we decided to try the Beccara trail to Manarola. This was tough but worth it. We picked up another snack once we got to Manarola. We explored the town and then opted to take the Beccara trail back to Riomaggiore. Found some gelato and watched the sunset from the pier. We got to bed early to prepare for the next day
Day 2: We got up early and took the train from Riomaggiore straight to Monterosso. Our plan was to hike all the way back to Riomaggiore so we would end up at our home base. We found some deli sandwiches at a super market in Monterosso and headed to the beach. After cooling off, we were ready for the hiking. We hiked from town to town, exploring each one for at least 30 minutes. Finally we made it back to Riomaggiore in the early evening, took a much needed shower and watched the sunset from the Castello.
Day 3: We had to be packed and ready to board the train by 11am, so after getting breakfast in Riomaggiore, our days in paradise were over and we headed to Florence.
Live your life & enjoy.