Of the best things to do in Cinque Terre, the list-topper is probably just using your eyes. This miraculous chain of colorful cliff-clinging villages simply raises the mood with a single glance.
Of course, travel is about smelling, touching, tasting, and listening as much as it is about drinking unparalleled gorgeousness with your eyes. So we’ve compiled a definitive list of the very best things to do in Cinque Terre.
1: Wander the Ancient Trails
Part of the charm of this colorful Italian nook is its remote location. Prior to the train line arriving in 1870, the inhabitants of the Cinque Terre reached each other’s towns either by boat or by traversing the numerous trails that wind through the olive groves, crags, and small vineyards planted in the upper elevations above their terracotta chimney pots.
The most well known of these routes is the Sentiero Azzurro path, which connects all of the villages in a glorious (and fairly strenuous) eight-hour walk. Its most famous stretch is the Via dell’Amore (Lovers’ Lane) that’s currently closed (alas for the lovers) until 2023 as it undergoes essential maintenance.
Fortunately, many miles of wiggling, wildflower-lined walks remain open to exploring, some with worthy destinations at their scenic conclusions. From Riomaggiore, for example, stony paths wind through the juniper and prickly pears to the breezy heights of the Madonna di Montenero, an 11th-century church with sweeping views over the coast (and to Corsica’s beaches and rugged coastline on a clear day).
2: Make Pesto at Nessun Dorma
Pesto-making is one of the most rewarding things to do in Cinque Terre, especially when it takes place at the legendary Nessun Dorma.
Manarola’s most high profile bar & restaurant—feted for its quintessential Cinque Terre views and epic antipasto—hosts its pesto-making classes on its terrace. With Carrara marble pestle in hand, you’ll pound freshly picked basil leaves while trying not to be too distracted by the matchless views of Manarola. As part of the pesto-making experience, you’ll have a fabulous Ligurian lunch and a tasting of the superb local wines.
While you’re in the area, try to pick up some of the seeds of the local basil plant. Its smaller leaves are more concentrated with flavor than the ones you find in non-Italian grocery stores. Grow some plants at home, and soon you’ll be able to whip up exactly the same pesto as you did in Nessun Dorma, and with one taste be transported back to the sunshine, crisp white wine, and stunning views of Manarola.
3: Savor Ligurian Cuisine
It seems that the Italian people have a natural ability to tweak their cuisine to delicious effect. In real terms, this means that you think you’re familiar with a region’s culinary tricks, when suddenly you’re presented with a hitherto unknown pasta shape in a new mouth-watering dish and often only about a mile from the last town you (over)ate in.
It’s no different in the Cinque Terre, where you’ll find its own localized take on flavorful, sea-focused Ligurian cuisine. Pansoti is a good example—these triangular ravioli enclose a hyper-local filling of the flowers and herbs foraged from the hills surrounding the five villages mixed with sharp, local ricotta-style cheese.
Farinata has a broader catchment area, with versions of this coastal street food favorite found as far west as France and into neighboring Tuscany. A crisp slice of chickpea flour pancake that’s served pleasantly chewy on the inside, the Cinque Terre version offers salty capers and onions baked in, or you can have it simply seasoned with salt and pepper).
While in Monterosso, be sure to have at least one plateful of lemon and garlic anchovies—the town is famous for them. The finger-length fish also go well laid out as flavor bomb toppings on a pizza. And most visible in people’s hands on Riomaggiore’s pebbly beach is the paper cones of fried calamari served simply with a slice of lemon (Tutti Fritti is the local’s takeaway of choice).
4: Explore the Lemon-Scented Lanes of Monterosso
The westernmost and largest of Cinque Terre’s seaside villages, Monterosso al Mare (commonly shortened to “Monterosso”) feels most like a traditional Italian seaside resort. Its large (by boutique Cinque Terre standards) Fegina Beach is shaded by lines of striped umbrellas. Couples wander along the long promenade shaded by stone pines, and the curious peel off into the peach and lime alleyways and lanes of the backstreets.
Once you’ve soaked up enough sun, join them. Pass through the pedestrian tunnel to the older part of town, past masses of bright bougainvillea and the occasional—essential—gelato shop (try the lemon and licorice flavor at II Golosone on Via Roma). Look out for the stunning facade of the Church of San Giovanni Battista, made from the creamy-white and jade green marble mined locally.
Monterosso is also known for its lemon groves, and you’ll find these trees all around town. Monterosso’s lemons inspired the Nobel-prize winning poet, Eugenio Montale, to pen his affecting “The Lemon Tree” poem after spending childhood summers there. Understanding why Montale was so inspired by this area is one of the easiest things to do in Cinque Terre.
5: Cliff Dive into the Ligurian Sea
It’s not the only method for taking a refreshing ocean dip, but with the majority of the Cinque Terre wedged into rocky coves rather than fronted by silken beaches, cliff diving is naturally a popular choice among locals. Following a day’s toil on the high terraces harvesting grapes or olives, surely the swiftest route to submerging yourself in the shimmering waters of the warm Ligurian Sea is the only way to go?
You’ll see the locals diving most days during clement weather, although it’s particularly popular at the eastern side of Monterosso’s beach and leaping from the cliffs into the deep water off of Manarola. Be sure to confirm with a local the best spot in whichever village you’re in.
6: Find Sanctuary (and Seafood) at Fuori Rotta
Somewhere as uniquely scenic and celebrated as the Cinque Terre can get busy, especially during an Italy vacation in the summer. While most restaurants take reservations in the five villages, you may—from time to time—still want to feel like you’ve escaped the crowds.
One such retreat is Fuori Rotta, set up high in Riomaggiore’s noodling side streets. Serving sophisticated Ligurian cuisine, Fuori Rotta also offers a quieter ambiance thanks to its slightly removed location. Grab a stripy table on the sun terrace with your ocean views bookended by pastel houses, order some juicy red shrimp and sauteed squid, and pat yourself on the back.
7: Get Romantic in Manarola
Despite tough competition from its four neighbors, it’s easy to see why Manarola is often declared the “most romantic” of the Cinque Terre. A bright jumble of houses assembled on a strong chin of limestone, its sheer black cliffs are a natural bulwark against winter storms. This allure is what makes an exploration of Manarola one of the best things to do in Cinque Terre.
It’s tiny, the second smallest (and oldest) of the famous five by population (353). However, this sea-facing hamlet feels larger thanks to its steep alleys and lanes and the expansive ocean views to the south.
There’s no beach, but that’s part of what makes it one of the most engaging of Cinque Terre’s attractions. Locals and visitors sunbathe on the rocks beside the navy-blue waters, diving directly into the lapping waves before returning up the ladder fused into the rocks.
If you’d rather gaze at the picture-perfect harbor, make for Manarola’s Trattoria dal Billy. Whether it’s the balcony tables offering sunset views, the fact it’s in the most romantic town, or simply that they deliver bottles of grappa and limoncello to your table for you to liberally taste test at the end of the meal, the restaurant is often declared one of the area’s most romantic. Salute!
8: See Cinque Terre from the Sea
The most obvious of Cinque Terre’s attractions is how it looks: whether you’re seeing it from above on one of the rose-scented trails or while sipping rosé from a cliff-side table.
To fully appreciate the almost organic nature of the architecture, nothing beats admiring Cinque Terre from the sea. If you’re in Monterosso, try a sunset tour that delivers to-die-for golden hour views, the sun’s dying rays burnishing each village’s pastel plumage, the light lingering in the snaking caruggi (the Ligurian name for its alleyways).
If you’d rather be captain of your own destiny, Riomaggiore and Monterosso also offer rentals of dinghies and kayaks.
9: Sip the Region’s Incredible Wines
Like frown lines in the cliffs, the wizened agricultural terraces of the Cinque Terre wiggle their way above the carnival-colored towns. Among them, you’ll find olive trees—their silvery leaves blustered by the sea breeze—along with figs, capers, and lemon groves heavy with some of the most delicious examples of fruit you’ll ever taste. The rest will be given over to the unmistakable gnarled knuckles of grapevines.
Local winemakers have been producing vintages here since the Romans. In the 1970s, the region’s production was granted DOC recognition, ensuring that traditional methods and flavors have been preserved to this day. More well-known grapes like Vermentino feature in the mix, but Bosco and Albarola are also an integral part of the classic Cinque Terre blend. In the glass, the white wine is the color of late-afternoon sunlight that’s dynamite when paired with seafood fished from the twinkling ocean below.
Tours of vineyards—available throughout the five townships—tend to supply a history lesson, a wine-making presentation, and a convivial tasting of delicious wines paired with antipasto and that Ligurian mainstay: fresh-baked salty focaccia. Don’t forget to round off at least one meal with the local dessert wine: Sciacchetrà. Its sweet fig and apricot profile matches perfectly with a selection of local cheeses.
10: Go Paragliding
If you’re after a bird’s-eye view of the Cinque Terre to complement your sunset boat trip and vertiginous cliff walks, sign up for the unique paragliding experience offered only at Monterosso.
Easily one of the most offbeat things to do in Cinque Terre, the gentle descent takes around 20 minutes from the dusty heights above town to a dramatic landing on the area’s best beach.
11: Soak Up the Sunset
Sitting within the colorful amphitheaters of the Cinque Terre and feeling the warmth of the sunset soaking into your skin is top among many visitors’ must-do lists of key Cinque Terre attractions.
But where’s best? With Corniglia and Vernazza, locals will point you to the scenic viewpoints up the hill that’ll deliver excellent perspectives on the respective village with the sunset pulling focus in the background.
In Manarola, make your way up the paved path to Punta Bonfiglio (only about 200 meters from the harbor itself). Watch the sun from the top of the promontory or sneak a table at Nessun Dorma just below to better compare the orange of the sun with the glow of your Aperol Spritz.
If you’re in Riomaggiore, trek up to the square 13th-century castle. A key part of the Cinque Terre’s defenses in less peaceful times, the stout cliffside fortress has commanding views over the coast.
Monterosso requires less leg work. Make your way to one of the best beaches in Italy and rent a lounge chair, or find a place to dig your toes into the sand. As the sun begins to set behind Punta Mesco, either go for a swim—the water stays warm into early fall—or uncork your bottle of Cinque Terre DOC and begin to leisurely find your way to the bottom of your cone of lightly battered calamari.
Beware: due to its orientation, Monterosso’s sunsets aren’t as long as the other villages. Of course, there is the beach and the ocean right there before you, so it’s all a question of priorities.
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