Travel DestinationsTransportationTravel Packages & ToursPacking & PreparationLodging

The Beginner's Guide to Visiting Cinque Terre

Updated on January 19, 2017
bdegiulio profile image

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures, experiences, and makes the world a better, more tolerant place.

Vernazza
Vernazza | Source

If you are planning your first visit to the Cinque Terre region of Italy, otherwise known as the Italian Riviera, there are a number of things you may want to consider before you decide which village to stay In. As we get ready to return to this beautiful stretch of coastline famous for its stunning views, incredible hiking, and local cuisine it dawned on me that many people have a serious misconception as to what to expect when it comes to accommodations here.

While the term “Italian Riviera” conjures up images of posh resorts along a stretch of beautiful sandy beaches, the Cinque Terre is anything but this. The five villages that make up this UNESCO World Heritage site are old world Italy, although their recent popularity threatens to change that. Thank you, Rick Steves. In all but one of the villages there are no hotels to speak of. And if you are looking for a Bed & Breakfast, you will see many advertised yet most do not offer breakfast. What you do get is an odd assortment of rooms, apartments, hostels, and Bed & Breakfast like places. Finding and securing accommodations can sometimes be a challenge and realizing exactly what you booked can often times offer a surprise.

Manarola
Manarola | Source
Vernazza
Vernazza | Source

Keep in mind also that your arrival at your accommodations in Cinque Terre will not be to a check-in lobby and do not expect an elevator to whisk you and your luggage to your room. There are steps everywhere and I have never seen an elevator here although they may be hiding somewhere.

Your arrival process will most likely involve searching aimlessly for where you are supposed to go and then climbing some stairs to find your room, which will most likely be smaller than you envisioned. You would be well advised to get accurate directions before you leave or better yet have someone meet you at the train station when you arrive. Many of the accommodations will do this for you if you ask. But, and I say this with all sincerity, this is all part of the charm of this region of Italy. If you are looking for resorts and fine sandy beaches then you would be advised to go elsewhere, perhaps to the Amalfi Coast or the French Riviera? If you are intent on visiting Cinque Terre the closest thing you will find to a resort feel would be Monterosso, which is the flattest of the five villages. It is also the only one with a stretch of beach to enjoy.

Corniglia
Corniglia | Source

Monterosso: The largest by area and flattest of the five villages with a population of just over 1,500. Stay here if you want a strictly beach vacation or if climbing stairs is an issue. It does not have the steep slopes and long vertical stairs that the others are known for. Definitely offers the largest selection of accommodations.

Vernazza: Perhaps the most scenic of the five villages with the train station right at the top end of town. Hiking in either direction from Vernazza will involve a steep ascent out of town but the views are unforgettable. Probably the most popular village to stay in for visitors so start your search early. Vernazza has a population of about 1,000 residents.

Corniglia: Definitely the smallest and quietest of the villages. It's perched high on a cliff above the sea and offers great views and sunsets. We stayed here on our first visit to the Cinque Terre and loved it. The train station is located down by the shore and there are 382 steps to reach the town although a shuttle bus does make the trip for a small fee. With a population of about 250 there are many more steps than people in Corniglia.

Manarola: Offers scenic views as you hike in along the coastal trail. Bustling village during the day due to its close proximity to Riomaggiore, which is a short walk away through the Via dell’Amore. Accommodations are limited so start your search early. Manarola has a population of about 450 residents.

Riomaggiore: The easternmost and first of the villages as you head into Cinque Terre from La Spezia. The village rises quickly from the tiny harbor so expect a lot of steep steps and hills. Riomaggiore offers a few more options when it comes to accommodations than Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola, and with a population of about 1,700 residents it is the most populous of the five villages.

Manarola
Manarola | Source

Did you know that Cinque Terre is actually part of a National Park, established in 1999?

See results

There may certainly come a day when this magnificent place will change and become more mainstream although I hope not. There may be big name hotels with plush lobbies and elevators and I suppose this might be considered progress, although it's hard to envision Cinque Terre ever becoming this. Even now, while Cinque Terre retains its charm and old world feel, it is being overrun with tourists on a daily basis during the peak season and being forced to change as it copes with its ever increasing popularity. To understand and appreciate the true allure of Cinque Terre you will need to stay there. I say this because during the day tour buses and cruise ships arrive and hordes of people descend on these villages. At night they leave and the villages return to their somewhat peaceful and relaxed norm and you see what it is that makes this region so appealing to visitors.

Corniglia
Corniglia | Source
Corniglia
Corniglia | Source
Manarola
Manarola | Source

When to visit

The best months to visit Cinque Terre are considered April through mid October. While the winter months can offer some nice weather the rainy season begins in mid October and the trails are sometimes closed due to the weather. Summer months bring larger crowds and higher accommodation rates along with the summer heat, which makes the shoulder season as the ideal time to visit. If I had to pick the best months to visit I would go with May, early June and September.

Known for its scenic hiking trails, all it takes is a short hike out of one of the villages and you will soon realize why you came here. When you find yourself high up on a trail with a beautiful view of one of the villages and the Ligurian Sea you will realize that this stretch of coast is indeed one of the most beautiful in the world. And your affection for this region will only be reinforced when you reach your destination and find one of the many wonderful restaurants here to relax and sample some of the local cuisine that Cinque Terre is famous for. Yep, that’s what this region of Italy is best known for, hiking and eating. Throw is some locally crafted wine made from the vineyards that dot the hills and you have hit the trifecta.

If this is not what you had in mind for your Italian Riviera vacation then you may be somewhat disappointed. Understandably, when one hears the term “Riviera” they immediately form a mental image and I’m sure this has misled many a visitor to this stretch of coastline. The Amalfi Coast this is not. Yet, if you enjoy hiking, beautiful scenery, great food and wine, then you have certainly come to the right place.

Source
Source

Getting to Cinque Terre

The closest major airports are Pisa and Genoa although Florence and Milan are also close enough to take the train in a reasonable time. Depending on where you are coming from you can take the train to either Levanto or La Spezia and then take the local train, which connects all five of the villages.

Something else to be aware of is that the villages are for the most part no drive communities. Monterosso, the largest of the five villages does allow limited vehicle traffic for locals but you will be forced to park outside of the villages and walk if you bring a car. It is not really a good idea to being a vehicle when visiting Cinque Terre. Even if hiking between the villages does not appeal to you all five communities are connected by the local train that stops every 30 minutes. There is also ferry service available, which will offer a different perspective of the coastline. The easiest way to access Cinque Terre is to take the train to either La Spezia or Levanto, which are the towns just outside of Cinque Terre and then take the local train from there.

Travel Time by Train to Cinque Terre

From
To
Approximate Travel Time
Pisa Central Train Station
Riomaggiore
1hr 30min
Genoa Brignole Station
Monterosso
1hr 15min
Florence Santa Maria Novella Station
Riomaggiore
2hr 45min
Milan Central Railway Station
Monterosso
3hr 15min
Vernazza
Vernazza | Source
Source

Because many of the trails connecting the villages are located within the Cinque Terre National Park there is a fee to access the trails. The Cinque Terre Card gives visitors access to the trails and use of the park buses. The cost is 7.50 euro for a one day card and 14.40 euro for a two day card.

There is also the Cinque Terre Train Card, which includes access to the trails, park buses and daily unlimited use of the train from Levanto - Cinque Terre - La Spezia. The one day card is 16 euro, two day card is 29 euro, and the three day card is 41 euro.

One last thing to consider before you plan a trip. While you should certainly pack your bathing suit, be forewarned that only one of the communities has a true sandy beach. Riomaggiore and Manarola have no beach what-so-ever although both have rocky areas where I suppose you could place a towel and sunbathe. Corniglia is perched high up on a cliff with no beach also, but it does have great views. Vernazza has a small harbor with a very small beach area but small boats come and go here so it’s not ideal. There are some rocky cliffs that kids use to jump into the sea but that’s probably not a good idea. Monterosso al Mare is the only village with a true sand beach but it is interspersed with pebbles and small rocks with intermittent patches of sand. Many visitors use the beach here and we have used it in the past but be sure to bring appropriate footwear for navigating the rather uncomfortable beach terrain.

The beach in Monterosso
The beach in Monterosso | Source

Hopefully this helps you as you prepare for your visit to the Cinque Terre. A little preparation and wisdom always helps and can certainly prove useful to avoid any misconceptions you may have about the area. This really is one of the most scenic and beautiful regions of Italy with amazing food and scenic hiking so enjoy all that it has to offer.

Ciao for now.

Did I Mention the Beautiful Sunsets?

A Cinque Terre sunset
A Cinque Terre sunset | Source
A markerCinque Terre, Italy -
Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, 19018 Riomaggiore SP, Italy
get directions

A markerCinque Terre, Italy -
Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, 19018 Riomaggiore SP, Italy
get directions

© 2017 Bill De Giulio

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 6 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Sam. Thank you. We are going back in September and can't wait. It really is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited.

    • Sam Dreiberg profile image

      Sam Dreiberg 6 months ago from India

      I travelled to Italy 2 years ago and went to so many beautiful cities there. Cinque Terra is such amazingly beautiful place. Its so scenic everywhere u look. This post made me nostalgic. You used some amazing pictures to describe this place. Great hub!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 8 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Linda. Thank you. I do feel very fortunate to be able to visit these places. And to return to Cinque Terre is just a blessing. It really is an amazing place and we are extremely excited to be returning. Thanks so much for stopping by, have a great weekend.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 8 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love your photos, Bill. This is yet another article that makes me wish that I could see what you describe in real life. You always show such interesting and beautiful places.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 8 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Mary. Thank you. If you ever get back definitely stay a few days. It's certainly one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Italy and we found the food to be wonderful. Have a great day.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 8 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks for this detailed description of Cinque Terre. Next time, we will not just drive through it but stay for a few days. Your hub has made it more attractive to me.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 8 months ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Glenis. I'll have to check it out.

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      Glenis Rix 8 months ago from UK

      Posted a link to this Hub on my Flipboard, Bill :)

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 8 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Glenis. Thank you. So glad that this brought back some nice memories for you. It's certainly a beautiful area and we are very much looking forward to returning. Have a great weekend.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 8 months ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Bill. Haha. It's cold here also with snow coming this weekend. Just looking at the pictures warms me up. We are very much looking forward to returning to this area of Italy and seeing a few new areas. Thanks as always for stopping by, have a great weekend.

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      Glenis Rix 8 months ago from UK

      Great hub, which brought back some happy memories. The day we were in Manarola the walking paths were closed because they were dangerous and the sea so rough that the boats couldn't sail from the "harbour". Had to make our way back to base by train. Lovely pics!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm cold this morning, the critter's water is frozen solid, and you show me pictures of this beautiful place? How cruel is that, Bill? LOL Another wonderful travel article done by the master!

      Happy weekend my friend.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 8 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Suzie. Thank you. Nice to see you here. It's one of our favorite areas in Italy and we are very excited to be returning. We'll also be visiting Lucca, Milan, the Lakes region and a few yet to be discovered Tuscan towns so I should have plenty of new material to write about. Hope all is well. Have a great weekend.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 8 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Flourish. Thank you. I do feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel the way we do. We are very excited to be returning to Cinque Terre, it really is an amazing place. Have a wonderful weekend.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 8 months ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Bill, great article on this region with useful info all travelers will be glad to have. Knowing what to expect here is key such as steps, accommodation and transport. Stunning pics as always enticing us into this historic beautiful must see part of Italy, congratulations on another winner!!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 8 months ago from USA

      What a terrific hub on a gorgeous place to visit. You are so fortunate to be able to travel frequently and to such amazing places. The photos are beautiful and several remind me of wistful paintings I've seen. I'd love to experience the real deal.