The watercolor towns of Cinque Terre, including Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, are strung along the rugged and impossibly beautiful Italian Riviera.
Lying on the country’s northwest Ligurian coast, just north of La Spezia, the low-slung Cinque Terre towns link together one of the most picturesque destinations in mainland Europe.
They span miles of craggy coastline, featuring harbors dotted with fishing boats, bound together by the Cinque Terre National Park.
Here’s everything you need to know to make the best of your time in this delicious slither of Italy’s Riviera.
Why Visit the Towns of Cinque Terre
The sun-dappled towns of Cinque Terre are bucket-list destinations. Among the most romantic places in Italy, each of the five villages shares common traits, but they also have their own history and personality.
There are charming beaches, terraced vineyards, scenic hiking trails, and outstanding cuisine in each pocket. The villages are positioned fairly close to each other, too, which means you can explore more than one in a day, hike sections of the coast, or simply focus on getting to know one of the Cinque Terre towns.
For travelers looking for a heady dose of nature, culture, and gastronomy, Cinque Terre is a compelling place to visit on vacation.
History & Culture
The name Cinque Terre dates from the period of the maritime Republic of Genoa—originating sometime between the 11th and 15th centuries— when the five towns were grouped together.
Each town’s history pre-dates this period, however, with Monterosso, Vernazza, and Corniglia dating back to the Roman period. The most northerly towns of Monterosso and Vernazza, closest to Genoa, were settled first.
The dry-stone walls that make the undulating landscape of Cinque Terre National Park famous, creating picturesque terraces reaching up to 1,640 feet above the sea, reflect over 1,000 years of history.
This ingenious agricultural technique has allowed farmers to cultivate grapevines, citrus trees, and olive trees among the ultra-steep setting for centuries, producing world-class wines, olive oil, and lemons.
Today, each town has a signature look with buildings painted in a rainbow of mood-lifting shades—muted yellow, orange, and pink—with tall palm trees and medieval churches looming over narrow harbors.
Such is the beauty of the Cinque Terre, the towns have been immortalized in literature and cinema.
Festivals with a religious and culinary theme are big in the Cinque Terre. Look out for the Monterosso al Mare Lemon Festival, taking place on the third Saturday of May, in celebration of the town’s zesty citrus production. The streets are filled with vendors selling produce from jams to jellies, cakes, and drinks.
Monterosso and Riomaggiore celebrate the day of St. John the Baptist in June. In Monterosso, this is marked with fireworks and anchovy dishes.
Similarly, Corniglia celebrates the day of St. Peter and St. Paul in June, Vernazza celebrates the day of Santa Margarita in July, and Manarola the day of St. Lawrence in August.
Wildlife & Nature
While the postcard-perfect five towns are the star of the Cinque Terre, this 14.9-square-mile national park is also rich in wildlife and nature.
Each town is surrounded by trails laced with flora, including chestnut, cork, and Aleppo pine trees, plus fragrant lavender, thyme, and rosemary.
Look out for swooping peregrine falcons and, though not always easy to spot, wild boar, weasel, fox, and bushy-tailed marten that inhabit the national park.
The waters around Cinque Terre are teeming with wildlife with the area designated a Marine Reserve and Sea Cetacean Sanctuary. Fin, sperm, and goose-beaked whales, and dolphins frequent these warm waters.
The region’s rich agriculture only adds to the lure of the Cinque Terre, with rolling vineyards and leafy olive, and lemon groves woven through the terraced countryside.
Hiking and biking between the towns is the best way to soak up the nature and wildlife of the Cinque Terre. Pace yourself, though, especially if you venture out in the peak of Italy’s summer season, when temperatures peak around 85°F.
Tips for Visiting the Cinque Terre
The easiest way to visit the towns of Cinque Terre, not all of which are accessible by road, is by train. A quick service links each village from La Spezia, with the scenic and inexpensive route taking just 15 minutes from Monterosso, the northeasternmost town, to Riomaggiore, the southwesternmost.
Opt for a one-day Cinque Terre train card if you plan on visiting more than one of the towns, which allows you to hop on and off at different stops.
While the local train service is the quickest way of getting around and exploring the Cinque Towns, the best way of seeing them is from the water. Consider a boat trip along the Cinque Terre coastline, with leisurely tours departing from Monterosso, Riomaggiore, and nearby La Spezia.
Boat trips typically stop to allow travelers the chance to take photos of each seaside village, with time to enjoy a dip in the glistening sea. Wear swimwear under your clothes and pack a towel if you plan to dive in.
If your intention is to hike some of the Cinque Terre National Park’s hinterland, your best bet is to hire a guide to ensure you’re in knowledgeable hands. Each town has its own visitor center with information on the petite park.
Things to Do & Attractions in Cinque Terre
Explore Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the Cinque Terre towns and the only one with more of a typical seafront frontage, including a narrow promenade and long beach.
Via Roma cuts through its center, with narrow winding streets filled with blush-colored buildings branching off.
Highlights of Monterosso al Mare include the 13th-century Church of St. John the Baptist in the town’s main square. Inside the exquisite Gothic-Genovese-style church is a wonderful fresco depicting the baptism of Jesus Christ.
Monterosso’s buzzing streets are crammed with cafés, bars, restaurants, and gelaterias. Visitors could also spend time shopping, browsing the pottery stores and gift shops, before a walk to the dazzling seafront.
Enjoy the warm sea air as you wander to the western edge of town, at the end of Fegina Beach, to view the Statue of the Giant. You’ll see “Il Gigante” from the distance, a towering concrete sculpture that rises 46 feet from the cliffside, representing Neptune, Roman god of the sea.
Stop at one of the waterfront bars after for a rewarding Aperol Spritz or Campari and savor la dolce vita.
Hike the Spectacular Cinque Terre National Park
Cinque Terre National Park is under 15 square miles, but there is a 75-mile network of hiking trails carved into the sloped coastline.
Each town has its own ring-route trail of varying lengths, from around five miles to just over eight, though they’re best suited to more experienced hikers.
Among the most rewarding sections of the park are the well-trodden coastal paths. Via Dell’Amore, or Love Way, between the Italian coastal towns of Riomaggiore and Manarola, is one of the most popular.
It takes around five hours to conquer the stretch from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, or vice versa. Most of the route traces the coastline, though between Corniglia and Riomaggiore the route dips inland.
Wander Manarola’s Old Town
The city of Manarola is extraordinarily beautiful. Reached from La Spezia train station in just 17 minutes, the town is home to tightly crammed buildings that frame the harbor, rising up the hillside.
As small as Manarola might be—it’s the second-smallest of the towns of Cinque Terre (Corniglia is the smallest)—it has plenty to offer day-trippers.
Wander through the meandering streets to Manarola’s Piazza Papa Innocenzo IV, the village’s main square, location of the 13th-century Church of San Lorenzo and the town’s looming bell tower.
Follow the steps down to the marina, take a dip in the water, or simply sit back and sip on a glass of sciacchetrà, a sweet dessert wine, at one of the town’s seaside bars.
Before you leave, stroll to the viewing point near the Cemetery of Manarola, to the eastern edge of the harbor, for some of the most dazzling views of Manarola.
Climb to Corniglia
Pint-sized Corniglia is the only one of the towns of Cinque Terre that is perched above the cliff and not directly next to the shore.
Lying roughly midway along the Cinque Terre’s coastline, the mountain village is typically a stopping point when passing from town to town, with its elevated positions providing goosebump-inducing views.
For visitors taking the train to Corniglia, there is the option to climb the famous Lardarina staircase. This trail is not for the faint-hearted, coiling almost 400 steps up the cliff. While there are places to stop for a breather, it can be a tough climb.
Opt for the shuttle bus from the train station to the center of Corniglia if you prefer a more leisurely ascent. Enjoy a freshly-squeezed orange juice or gelato from Alberto Gelateria when you arrive.
Stop by the Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina, a small chapel with frescoed ceilings before reaching Corniglia’s sea-view terrace. On a clear day, it’s possible to spot the neighboring Cinque Terre towns, dotted among the emerald-green coastline.
Sunbathe on Beautiful Beaches
Visiting a variety of charming beaches is one of the best things to do in Cinque Terre. Some are sandy, while others are pebbly, but what they share in common is beautiful turquoise water that’s perfect for swimming from May to October.
If you prefer sand, go to Monterosso’s Spiaggia di Fegina right in front of the town’s tourist information center and train station. Fegina is an easy 23-minute train journey from La Spezia.
Lined with elegant period villas, Fegina is one of the prettiest beaches in the Cinque Terre. Relax under the shade of an umbrella on a sun lounger. Gelaterias and beach bars are dotted around the shoreline to offer welcome refreshments.
Vernazza’s tiny beach is delightful, tucked into the town’s harbor, right in front of the 14th-century Church of St. Margaret of Antioch. Another option is Riomaggiore Beach, just south of the town center. The pebble-filled shore is accessed from the cliffside stairs.
Read: Best Beaches in Italy
Relax in Vernazza
Vernazza is set around a V-shaped harbor. There’s a shallow sandy beach with bobbing fishing boats lined up in the water, framed by the Cinque Terre’s uniform of soft-hued buildings.
To one side of the narrow harbor is the pretty 14th-century Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, with its octagonal bell tower. To the other side are the ruins of Doria Tower, a coastal bastion that is over 1,000 years old.
Enjoy the short walk between the two landmarks to get a sense of Vernazza’s lively backstreets. Via Roma is the main thoroughfare—a pedestrianized strip leading to the harbor, lined with shops, bars, and restaurants.
Enjoy the slow pace of Vernazza over a plate of spaghetti topped with clams and mussels, paired with a glass of chilled white wine.
Get to Know Riomaggiore
Characterful and car-free Riomaggiore has been built up into a breathtaking Cinque Terre town since the 13th century.
Visit the 1260-built Castello di Riomaggiore, which overlooks the Ligurian Sea. The castle stands at the highest point in Riomaggiore, offering a protective eye over the town.
Admire the views from the Italian castle before heading to the town’s landmark religious building, the 14th-century Church of St. John the Baptist. Much of the Gothic church was repaired in the 19th century following a partial collapse of the building.
After, make your way down Via Colombo to Il Pescato Cucinato for a cone of delicately fried squid, shrimp, and anchovies drizzled with lemon; this is one of the most popular dishes to go in the Cinque Terre.
You could also enjoy a cooling swim in Riomaggiore’s natural pool that’s wedged in the harbor. Kayaks are available for hire and boat tours depart from the harborside.
Food & Drink in the Cinque Terre
Cuisine in the Cinque Terre is focused on honoring the region’s long-standing food culture and savoring simple pleasures.
Squid, shrimp, lobster, mussels, octopus, and tuna; thanks to the bounty of the Ligurian Sea, seafood is a staple. Shellfish and fish are served fried, grilled, and oven-baked, topping pasta dishes and stuffed in gorgeous ravioli in tomato or lemon-based sauces.
Anchovy is a specialty here, especially in Monterosso, where the silvery fish are matured in salt—typically in terracotta pots or chestnut-wood barrels—every year from June. Enjoy them with lashings of olive oil, garlic, oregano, and wedges of rosemary-topped focaccia bread in restaurants across the Cinque Terre.
Pesto dishes are a big hit, too. The pasta sauce, consisting of basil, garlic, pine nuts, sea salt, finely grated Parmesan cheese, and olive oil, has its origins in the Liguria region.
Cinque Terre’s wines are typically white, dry, and crisp, combining Albarola, Vermentino, and Bosco grape varieties, delicious accompanied with seafood and pasta on a warm summer’s day.
Italy is known for its wines, and one of the region’s most famous wines is the sweet, velvety dessert wine, Sciacchetrà. The nectar-hued wine perfectly complements pistachio- and lemon-flavored desserts, and other sweet treats.
Visit the sloped terraces of Terra di Bargòn winery in Riomaggiore to try Sciacchetrà at the cellar door. In Monterosso, Buranco Winery is a Sciacchetrà producer offering terrace tours, tastings, and pairings.
White and red wines, along with limoncello, brandy, and honey are also produced at Buranco. Cián du Giorgi, in the village of San Bernardino between Vernazza and Corniglia, opens its winery for tastings of its easy-drinking whites and rosés.
A bottle of local wine, olive oil, honey, and tinned anchovies make for splendid gourmet gifts to take home.
Best Time to Visit Cinque Terre
The best time to visit Cinque Terre is between May and October when you can feel the seductive warmth of the Ligurian Sea. The region enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate with a long summer season and warm shoulder seasons, too.
Peak season, July and August, is naturally hotter and busier. If you can, consider visiting in May, June, or September, when temperatures are pleasant, warm, and less crowded.
Spring and early fall are perfect for hiking, too, with the cooler temperatures making a walk along the Cinque Terre hills a rewarding experience.
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