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Towns of Cinque Terre – A Travel Guide

A cliff viewpoint of the beautiful town of Vernazza with colorful houses and a small bay

Towns of Cinque Terre – A Travel Guide

Nestled along the rocky, rugged coastline of the Italian Riviera, you’ll find the five charming and colorful towns of Cinque Terre. An area that has captured the hearts of travelers from around the world for decades, and even inspired a Disney/Pixar movie. The iconic look of the area is instantly recognizable in one of the franchise’s latest hits, Luca.

A woman sitting on the rocks looking at the colorful town of Riomaggiore with the words "The towns of Cinque Terre" superimposed

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre National Park has held its well-deserved UNESCO world heritage site status since 1997 as a “cultural landscape”. Each town possesses its own unique character, offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the rich culture and breathtaking beauty of this region.

In this travel guide, we’ll explore the five Cinque Terre villages, how to get there, how to travel between them, the best places to stay and eat, the ideal time to visit, and whether this enchanting destination is worth the journey.

What Are the Five Towns of Cinque Terre?

Cinque Terre, which means “Five Lands,” is made up of the following five towns, from north to south: Monterosso al Mare (often shortened to just Monterosso), Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

A woman sat on a brick wall with a very colorful, pretty village built around the steep cliffs behind

Tip: If you’re wondering how to pronounce Cinque Terre, then we can save you the embarrassment we had. It’s something approaching cheen-kway tehr-ray or cheen-kweh tehr-reh, not similar to a French style of Sank tehr as we initially thought!

Monterosso

Monterosso al Mare is the most extensive of the five villages and is often the first stop for most travelers. It’s divided into two main parts: the Old Town and the New Town.

The Old Town oozes traditional Italian atmosphere with its narrow, winding streets and colorful buildings. There are a few historical churches, such as the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, which houses incredible artworks.

A woman sitting on a brick wall looking out at a beach with dozens of blue and white parasols

Monterosso is also famous for its beautiful sandy beaches, including the main beach, Fegina, perfect for sunbathing and swimming in the sea. It’s a wonderful place to unwind and take in the Mediterranean sun. Don’t forget to try the local limoncino liqueur or indulge in the town’s excellent restaurants.

Vernazza

Vernazza was our personal favorite of the five towns in Cinque Terre. The town boasts a natural harbor, a picturesque waterfront, and colorful buildings that line the waterfront and the hilly slopes.

You will no doubt have seen this in many a photo, as the view from the cliffs is one of the most iconic of the entire area.

A couple standing hand-in-hand looking at each other on a cliff viewpoint with the colorful town of Vernazza below, a protected bay and harbor area

The Piazza Marconi is the heart of Vernazza, offering spectacular views of the marina and Doria Tower. The iconic Chiesa di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia stands at the center of town, a beautiful example of Ligurian Gothic architecture.

Adding to Vernazza’s charm are the narrow alleys and charming cafes that allow you to relax and savor the authentic Italian way of life.

Corniglia

Corniglia is a unique gem among the Cinque Terre towns due to its location perched high on a cliff. This vantage point offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Riviera.

A wide view of the calm sea around Cinque Terre

Unlike the other towns, Corniglia doesn’t have a direct connection to the sea, but it compensates with its character and stunning vistas. The town is known for its peaceful and intimate atmosphere.

Stroll through its terraced vineyards, producing some of the region’s best wines, or explore the medieval buildings and the lovely Chiesa di San Pietro. Corniglia provides an escape from the crowds and a quiet appreciation of Cinque Terre’s beauty.

Manarola

Manarola is famous for its incredible sunsets, offering breathtaking views as the sun dips below the horizon.

A woman enjoying the view over a quaint Italian town on the coast

The town is characterized by its steep, colorful houses that cascade down to the harbor. You can enjoy the fantastic scenery from the Belvedere viewpoint, which is also the starting point for the renowned ‘Via dell’Amore’ or ‘Lover’s Lane.’

This short coastal path connects Manarola to Riomaggiore and is a popular spot for couples. Manarola’s bustling main street is lined with charming restaurants and cafes, making it an ideal place for dining and taking in the views.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is the easternmost town and the gateway to Cinque Terre if you’re arriving from La Spezia.

It’s characterized by steep, colorful houses that line the waterfront. The town exudes a vibrant atmosphere with its bustling streets, shops, and lively dining options.

A woman sat on some rocks in the sea with the colorful town of Riomaggiore behind and many small boats anchored in the water

If you’re coming from this direction instead then you can start the famous ‘Via dell’Amore’ trail from Riomaggiore. You can also explore the Castello di Riomaggiore, which offers superb views of the town and the coastline. Riomaggiore is the perfect place to savor Ligurian cuisine like pesto pasta and Genoese focaccia.

How to Get to Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is easily accessible by train from major Italian cities like Florence, Pisa, and Genoa.

A long white ferry heading towards land

La Spezia is the gateway city to the region from the south, and Levanto from the north. From these, you can take a short train ride to any of the five towns.

If you’re arriving by car, there are parking areas outside La Spezia and Levanto, and you can take a train to Cinque Terre from there.

How to Travel Between the Five Towns of Cinque Terre

There are two main ways to travel between the towns: by train and by hiking. We wouldn’t advise driving since the roads are narrow, winding, and due to the geography of the area it’s more time-consuming.

Train Between the Towns of Cinque Terre

A viewpoint of cliffs, sea, and a train track running through a tunnel

Each of the five towns has a train station, meaning it’s easy to get around by train. The Cinque Terre train service is frequent, reliable, and offers stunning coastal views. It’s the most efficient way to hop between the towns, and it’s included in the Cinque Terre Card, which allows unlimited train travel for a day.

Hiking Between the Towns of Cinque Terre

For the more adventurous traveler, hiking trails connect all five towns. The most famous trail is the ‘Sentiero Azzurro’, or ‘Blue Trail’, which offers breathtaking views of the coastline.

The Blue Trail links all of the villages, but we loved the Sentiero Monterosso Vernazza section, which as you probably guessed links those two villages. It has incredible views of the sea and lots of terraced gardens.

A woman walking along a footpath at the top of a rocky cliff overlooking a deep blue sea

Some sections including Sentiero Monterosso Vernazza and Sentiero Vernazza Corniglia require a Cinque Terre Card. You can get a hiking card, or you can get a combined train and hiking card if you’d like to do a bit of both.

Be sure to check the status of the trails, as weather or trail maintenance can affect accessibility.

Best Places to Stay in Cinque Terre

Hotels in Cinque Terre are abundant but fill up quickly during the peak tourist season. Each town offers a variety of lodging options, from cozy guesthouses to upscale hotels.

Monterosso and Vernazza are good choices due to their accessibility and beautiful beaches. But be prepared to pay far higher prices than you’d expect for Italy.

You can find better value options in Corniglia and Riomaggiore, with incredible sea views. Like Madüneta 5 Terre in Corniglia, or apartments in Villino Caterina House or Cinque Terre d’Amare in Riomaggiore.

Alternatively, you could make it a day trip and stay outside Cinque Terre, in the nearby town of Levanto or city of La Spezia.

Best Places to Eat in Cinque Terre

The culinary scene in Cinque Terre is a food lover’s paradise. Be sure to try a pesto dish (a local specialty), a cheeky Aperol spritz, and the excellent regional wines. In each town, you’ll find charming restaurants and cafes with delightful menus that cater to a variety of tastes.

We loved the pasta in ‘Il Casello’ overlooking the sea in Monterosso. There’s also a great ice cream place if you head towards the main beach called ‘Gelateria La Scogliera’.

Best Time to Visit Cinque Terre

The best time to visit Cinque Terre all depends on your preferences. The summer months of June to August are the most popular, but also the most crowded.

Spring and early autumn are excellent alternatives, offering pleasant weather and fewer tourists. If you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during these shoulder seasons.

Is Cinque Terre Worth Visiting?

100% categorically, YES! Cinque Terre’s unique blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, delicious food, and welcoming atmosphere make it a must-visit destination.

Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, an adventure in nature, or a taste of authentic Italian life, the five towns of Cinque Terre have something special to offer every traveler. So, pack your bags and embark on a journey to this enchanting coastal paradise. Your Cinque Terre adventure awaits!

Cinque Terre FAQs

Can you walk the 5 towns of Cinque Terre?

Yes, you can walk between the 5 towns of Cinque Terre. In fact, hiking is one of the most popular ways to explore this picturesque region.

Which is the best town in Cinque Terre?

The “best” town is subjective, but if we had to choose it would either be Monterosso for the beach and restaurants, or Vernazza for the picturesque harbor and colorful buildings.

Which town in Cinque Terre should I skip if I don’t have time?

If you have limited time in Cinque Terre, Corniglia might be the one to miss. It lacks direct sea access and is situated atop a cliff, which can make it less accessible and time-consuming to explore.

Which town in Cinque Terre is ‘Luca’ based on?

The town of ‘Portorosso’ in the Pixar movie ‘Luca’ is not directly based on any one town in Cinque Terre. Instead, it draws inspiration from the overall aesthetic beauty of the region.

Can I swim in the sea in Cinque Terre?

Yes, you can swim in the sea in Cinque Terre. There are many rocky or pebbly beaches, but Monterosso offers a sandy beach.

Towns of Cinque Terre – A Travel Guide

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