If you are looking for a vacation spot on the Italian Riviera, look no further than the Cinque Terre. This area is a composition of five small villages along the rugged coastline of Italy complete with stunning views and great food. The area surrounding the Cinque Terre is all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cities are connected via a regional train system and a network of walking/hiking trails; cars are almost non-existent. Take a couple of days and visit all 5 villages.
How to Get to the Cinque Terre
From the South: Take a train to La Spezia where you then should change to a regional (“Regionale”) train that makes stops in all of the towns in the Cinque Terre. Be sure to check the train schedule though, some trains are express trains that don’t stop in all of the towns. If you aren’t careful, you could end up going out of the way!
From the North: Take the train to Levanto and then change to a regional (“Regionale”) train. Most regional trains stop in all the towns in the Cinque Terre, but double check!!
How to Get Around the Cinque Terre
By train: This is the fastest way to get from town to town in the Cinque Terre. Each of the 5 villages has its own train station where the regional train will stop. You can get to all the towns in the Cinque Terre via train within 5-10 minutes. But you must BUY A TICKET. I cannot stress that enough. I ended up getting a fine for not buying a ticket (even though the ticket office was closed). I would recommend buying multiple tickets and one time and use them as you go so you don’t run into any problems. Stamp your tickets before you get onto the train at a yellow machine on the platform.
By foot: The towns of the Cinque Terre are connected via a network of trails along the coast. This is the best way to see the Cinque Terre! The views are absolutely stunning. The trails vary in difficulty, so you can pick out the ones that are best for you. To walk the trails, you will probably have to buy a Cinque Terre Card. It allows you to walk along the trails, and there is an option to add train tickets to the card. A one day pass without trains is 6 euro. Sometimes you will get lucky and there will be no one at the trail head. In that case, just keep on going!
The 5 Villages
Monteresso al Mare: This is the Cinque Terre’s only resort town, full of hotels, rentable beach umbrellas, crowds, and a late night scene. It is not exactly the cheapest place to be. But, it is an excellent place to lounge on the beach and shop. Plan a day or so to check out the beach town (it’s the best beach you will find in the Cinque Terre).
Riomaggiore: Riomaggiore is characterized by it’s non-resort feel and pastel houses that sit on top of each other. There is a rocky “beach” here, if one could call it that. This town very laid back and “real”. I didn’t spend much time in this village, but it definitely warrants a visit!
Manarola: Manarola is a tiny, picturesque village that is built into the cliff. There is deep swimming and rocks for sunbathing. Manarola is known for its tasty food, so be sure to have some wine and pesto. Walk up the coast to see the local vineyards and some more stunning views.
Corniglia: The smallest and perhaps least glamorous of the villages, Corniglia is where I made my home base. Corniglia is the only town that doesn’t sit close to the coastline, it sits above the sea. It is peaceful and friendly, honestly where I would have preferred to stay. It is not very touristy and only has a few restaurants, but don’t let that deter you. It’s a great place to make your home base because it’s right in the middle of the 5 villages.
Vernazza: The jewel of the Cinque Terre. This is probably going to be your favorite town, if I had to guess! Vernazza is the closest thing to a natural harbor with a ruined castle and an old church. The harbor is bustling with restaurants, bars, people sunbathing and eating gelato. Be sure to check out the Tuesday morning market if you can! Check on the view of Vernazza as you make your way on the trail to Monteresso al Mare.
You might not know this, but the birthplace of pesto is actually the Cinque Terre. If you are like me and are slightly obsessed with the stuff, you must try some and take some home with you! Italian food is so delicious and the locals in the Cinque Terre believe food is very important. Try the foccacia, cheese, wine, pesto and you will be set.
In the Cinque Terre, there is not really a set list of places you must see. Just enjoy wandering around each village and take in the stunning scenery. Relax and sunbathe, meet the local cats (which are everywhere), walk along the rugged coastline and enjoy!