Vernazza the jewel of Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre Guide: Planning Your Trip

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Italy's Cinque Terre is a marvelous tourist destination featuring five seaside villages at the foot of terraced hills that fall steeply toward the sea. Cinque Terre is a place to enjoy fabulous vistas by hiking the trails that connect the five towns, visiting them by boat, or just stopping at one or two of the towns.

Cinque Terre can get crowded with tourists who come to enjoy the little villages, especially in the summer. Plan ahead if you want to stay in the Cinque Terre, especially with an advance hotel or vacation apartment reservation, and have an idea of what you want to experience. It's also a beautiful place to visit in the offseason. 

The five villages that make up the Cinque Terre, from north to south are:

Levanto is the next town north of the Cinque Terre. Portovenere, to the south, is also a well known Italian tourist resort town. Some visitors choose to base in one of these two towns and make day trips into the Cinque Terre. The coastline between Portovenere and Cinque Terre is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to VisitBecause of intense summer crowds, the best time to visit the Cinque Terre is during the shoulder months of May and September. Weather is reliably pleasant, but most of the high-season visitors have either yet to arrive (May) or already gone home (September).
  • Language: Italian is the first language in all of Italy. But you'll find English widely spoken in the Cinque Terre towns, especially at hotels and restaurants.
  • Currency: As a member of the EU, the euro (€) is the currency used in Italy.
  • Getting Around: Walking is the most popular way to get from village to village in the Cinque Terre, and it's what draws most visitors to the area. The villages are also connected by train, and a seasonal ferry serves all of the villages except Corniglia, which is not located directly on the sea. Cars are not allowed in any of the villages. This, as well as limited parking outside the villages, makes driving an unattractive option.
  • Travel Tip: If you just want to walk a short section of trail between two towns, the path between Riomaggiore and Manarola is the shortest—a walk of 15-20 minutes.

Things to Do

Most visitors to the Cinque Terre do at least a little bit of hiking, even if it's just a short walk between two towns. The sensation of getting your first glimpse of, and then descending down to, the next town, is one of our top travel experiences in Italy. Boat rides, and swimming in the Ligurian Sea are also popular activities here.

Hiking and the Cinque Terre Card

In order to maintain the tourist and weather-ravaged trails and environment around the Cinque Terre, the National Park of the Cinque Terre started to require a ticket in order to walk on the trails within the park, including those connecting the towns. That is just one benefit of the card, which includes the use of ecological Park buses, access to all trekking paths and even WiFi internet connection. The Cinque Terre Card is one way to simplify your travel within the Cinque Terre.

  • Cinque Terre hiking - The terraced, coastal villages of Cinque Terra offer some of the most scenic hiking trails in Italy. There is an extensive network of footpaths that connect each of the five villages to one another. There are easy trails and more difficult trails for experienced hikers. Note that if you walk between the towns, you must purchase a Cinque Terre Card. The towns and the surrounding natural area are within a national park, and the card allows you access to all trails, shuttle buses between the towns, restroom access, and museum discounts.
  • Boat rides - Either in a self-piloted gommone (zodiac boat) or in a chartered or scheduled boat tour, seeing the Cinque Terre from the sea is an unforgettable experience. Plus you see coves, beaches, and waterfalls that can't be seen from the trails. Cinque Terre al Mare offers boats in Riomaggiore, as do several others. Vernaza also has a lot of boat charters.
  • Swimming - Summertime swims in the clear, clean waters of the Ligurian Sea are exhilarating. Four of the five towns have seaside swimming areas or pebbly beaches, and there are places along the trails where you can hike down to the sea for a dip.

Cinque Terre Maps and Resources

  • Cinque Terre Tourism Offices - Main villages and area towns have tourist offices where you can obtain maps and information, the Cinque Terre Card and get assistance with reservations.
  • Cinque Terre: Hiking the Blue Trail  - The Blue trail is the easiest, the most well-known, and the most popular path. The 12 km (7.5 miles) path is divided into four sections and connects all the five villages of the Cinque Terre.

What to Eat and Drink

The seaside location of the Cinque Terre means that fresh seafood features prominently on restaurant menus, as do dishes made from the bounty of inland Liguria, known for its olive oil, basil, and wine. Anchovies are a local specialty, served fried, marinated, or atop pizzas and pastas. Bright green pesto is another local favorite, as is focaccia, a thick pizza bread often studded with olives and tomatoes. Cinque Terre wines include Vernaccia, the local white, or Sciacchetrà, a sweet, fortified dessert wine.

In Manarola, Nessun Dorma is famous for its million-dollar views of the town and the sea, romantic setting and simple, well-prepared local specialties. Guests clamor for a spot on Ripa del Sole's outside terrace overlooking Riomaggiore. In Vernazza, Ristorante Belforte is a moderately priced option in a spectacular setting—within an ancient tower and clinging to the cliffside over the sea.

For more on what to eat in the Cinque Terre, check our guide to the 10 Foods to Try in the Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre lit up at night
TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Where to Stay

While there are quite a few hotels in the Cinque Terre, the area is extremely popular, especially during July and August, so book early. Monterosso has the most lodging opportunities. Vacation rentals are also popular along the Ligurian coast for those traveling with families or wishing to stay longer and have a "slow travel" experience along the way.

When booking your hotel or vacation rental in one of the five towns, if it's not clear from the property website, ask about how far the lodging is from the train station or harbor, and keep that in mind when you pack. Because of the many steps leading to a lot of properties in the towns, if there's one place in Italy to pack light, this is it.

We really like the idea of seeing the Cinque Terre with just a lightweight backpack, hiking between the towns and staying overnight in more than one of them.

Getting There

You can get to Cinque Terre in several ways but keep in mind that the little villages do not allow cars. 

  • Train: There is a train line that runs from Genoa (130 km to the north) through the Cinque Terre, to Pisa and on to Rome—it's the easiest way to get to the villages. From Genoa (Genova), take the local train toward La Spezia and get off at your destination, or take the express directly to La Spezia and the local back to your Cinque Terre destination. Expect the regional trains to be very crowded. Standing in the aisles at La Spezia until the first stop in the Cinque Terre is the norm from spring through fall.
  • Plane: The nearest airports are the Cristoforo Colombo International Airport (GOA) in Genoa and the Galileo Galilei International airport (PSA) in Pisa.
  • Boat: The Consorzio Marittimo Turistico runs summer boats from La Spezia to the Cinque Terre as well as excursions along the coast. 
  • Car: While it is possible to approach Cinque Terre's five villages by car, it isn't recommended by travelers who've tried it. The roads are winding, the villages do not allow cars and parking fees outside of the towns can get pricey. As in Venice, there is no use for a car once you're there. There is daily parking just outside Riomaggiore and Monterosso if you arrive early in the day. You can, however, drive easily to the ridge above the villages and end up in a town like Volastra, and walk or use public transport to the five coastal villages of the Cinque Terre. Great views and great food await in Volastra and Groppo so it is a good option if you are intent on driving.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Save money by staying nearby - If the price tags for hotels in the high season put you off, consider staying in one of the gateway towns to the Cinque Terre, like Levanto, La Spezia or Portovenere. In the first two, especially, you'll find cheaper and more plentiful accommodations.
  • Snack on street food or pack a picnic - You can save money at mealtime by buying a piece of focaccia or faranita—a chickpea pancake famous in the region—and eating lunch on the go, or by buying the makings for a picnic from a local grocer,
  • Buy the Cinque Terre card - If you plan to take the train between the two or more towns and do any hiking on the trails, the Cinque Terre card besides being required to hike, will save you money. It also includes free or discounted admission to local museums.
Article Sources
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  1. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. "Portovenere, Cinque Terre, and the Islands (Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto)."

  2. Central Intelligence Agency. "The World Fact Book."

  3. European Union. "The 27 member countries of the EU."