The Cinque Terre, or five lands, is a chain of five picturesque villages on the coast of Liguria in northern Italy. The towns are connected by footpaths, with no more than 3.5 miles between each village. While the Cinque Terre is best known for walking holidays, there are plenty of things to do there beyond walking from town to town—though you should do a little of that, too.
Read on for our ideas for the top 10 things to do in the Cinque Terre.
Take a Hike (Of Course!)
Even if you're not planning to walk the 7 miles from one end of the Cinque Terre to the other, you should at least hike a small section of the many trails that network the area. The walk from Manarola to Corniglia, for example, is just over a mile long and can be done in about 40 minutes. More adventurous hikers can hike all the towns in one day, stopping for lunch along the way and capping off their day with a seaside dinner. For more on walking between the towns, see our guide to getting to and around the Cinque Terre.
Spread a Towel on Monterosso Beach
The many beaches of the Cinque Terre tend to be small, pebbly, and in high season, crowded. Fegina Beach at Monterosso al Mare is the largest beach in the region, and the only sandy one. You might be able to eke out a couple of square meters here to spread a towel, but if not, try your luck at some of the dozens of other beaches along the coast. The harder the beach is to reach, the better your odds of finding some elbow room.
Take a Photo at Manarola's Scenic Viewpoint
Many a visitor has paused for their photo op at the Manarola scenic viewpoint, and you should, too. The view is near the end of a paved walkway that runs north of town. You can see it from the town itself, and it takes only about 200 yards of easy walking to reach. Time your visit for sunset, or as the lights of the town start to glow and reflect against the sea, and you'll have a photo—and a moment—you'll treasure forever.
Hop on a Boat
Seeing the Cinque Terre from aboard a boat means seeing the towns and the coastline from a completely different perspective. Either in a rental zodiac (gommone) that you pilot yourself, in a scheduled group sailing or with a private skipper, a boat ride will take you past hidden coves, beaches, and waterfalls, and provide glorious views of the shoreline. The smaller the boat, the better you chances of stopping off for swimming or snorkeling in the clear waters of the Ligurian Sea. Cinque Terre al Mare offers boats in Riomaggiore, as do several others. Vernaza also has a lot of boat charters.
Swim in the Ligurian Sea
The rocky coves and pebbly beaches of the Cinque Terre are lapped by clear, eye-popping blue waters that are great for swimming and snorkeling. If you're visiting in the summertime, be sure to take a dip. Water temperatures are generally warm enough for swimming from mid-June into September—though the hearty may brave the bracing waters in spring or fall.
Sample Street Food
Dining options in the Cinque Terre ranges from formal sit-down dinners to super-casual affairs—in the form of street food sold in front of restaurants and bars or from pushcarts. Make sure at least one of your meals is spent snacking on local, portable specialties eaten on your beach towel or while strolling through a piazza. Be sure to try fritti mistii, a paper cone of mixed, fried seafood; farinata, a regional chickpea pancake; or focaccia, a pizza-like bread flavored with olives, tomatoes, olive oil, and sea salt.
Take in a Seaside Sunset
Sunset is a magical moment in the Cinque Terre, when the colors of the setting sun reflect off the sea and the colored buildings of the towns seem to glow. Streetlights come up, and the towns take on a fairy tale setting. It's hard to screw up a sunset photo from anywhere here, but some never fail sunset spots include on the trail from Corniglia looking towards Vernazza, the Manarola viewpoint, and from Riomaggiore harbor.
Taste Local Wines
The grapes used to make the wines of the Cinque Terre grow on gravity-defying terraces that cling to the steep hills of the coastal interior. If you walk between the towns, you're sure to see row after row of them. If you see a sign that says degustazione di vini (wine tasting) while you're out walking, stop in to sample Vernaccia, the local white, or Sciacchetrà, a honey-colored dessert wine. Even if you don't visit a vineyard proper, you can do a wine tasting at a tasting room or wine bar in one of the towns.
Wander Into Tiny Churches
Every town in the Cinque Terre has at least one church—Monterosso has four. As you wander from town to town, take the time to seek out these small sanctuaries, some of which date to the 13th century. Highlights include the Church of San Francesco and the Capuchin Monastery at Monterosso, with a work by Dutch master Antoon Van Dyck. You won't miss Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church in Vernazza, with its distinctive belltower and location right on the seafront.
Snorkel or Scuba in a Marine Sanctuary
The waters off the Cinque Terre are part of the Pelagos Sanctuary for marine mammals, which covers much of coastal Italy, all of the French island of Corsica, Monaco, and much of the French Riviera. Several species of whales and dolphins inhabit these seas, which is also home to rare seagrasses and a variety of fish. Snorkelers will see a lot of sea life in secluded coves and along submerged cliff walls. There are several scuba schools in the area, and dive and snorkel boats can take you to spots unreachable from the shore.