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HANGING BETWEEN THE RUGGED COAST AND THE CRYSTAL BLUE SEA, CINQUE TERRE IS ONE OF THE MOST SUGGESTIVE PLACES IN ITALY.
Up until a few years ago, Cinque Terre was a conglomerate of 5 tiny fishing towns on the Italian riviera. But thanks to the incredible views and unmatched charm its popularity is now through the roof.
When we visited last year, I finally understood why people from all over the world cannot leave Italy without a quick trip here. And with so many inspiring things to do in Cinque Terre, you are going to need more than a few hours to experience the true beauty of this enchanting place.
We spent two night here, which I would say it’s the minimum amount of time you need if you really want to make the most of this unique place.
But no matter how much or little time you have, I am going to help you to pick the best things to do and how to avoid the tourist traps that come with Cinque Terre’s popularity.
And if you need more information about the best time to go and how to get to Cinque Terre check out my complete guide here.
The best things to do in Cinque Terre
1. Visit all 5 Cinque Terre towns
First of all, Cinque Terre means Five Lands in Italian. Which is exactly what Cinque Terre is: a cluster of 5 little towns. And if you are coming here for the first time, the best thing you can do is to soak in the beauty of each fishing village.
Most people will come by train, using the Cinque Terre Express, from La Spezia.
If you are doing the same, you will probably see the villages in this order:
Riomaggiore is the first train stop. It’s built between 2 rugged hills and has plenty of steep stairs and suggestive back alleys to explore. The pretty colorful houses are built vertically on the rocks. A very interesting thing you might want to check out when you are there: most houses here have 2 entrances, one at the lower level at the front, and one at the higher level at the back.
We are all allowed to have a favorite town in Cinque Terre. And mine is, without doubt, Manarola. It has incredible pretty pastel-color houses going from pink to green, yellow to blue, that blend with the horizon at sunset. It’s surrounded by green and lush vineyards and its pretty harbor is simply stunning.
Corniglia is the only town that isn’t built at sea level. As it’s less accessible than the other towns is often much quieter, but this doesn’t make it less beautiful. If anything, it’s perfect to relax and chill out, especially if you want to enjoy great views without the crowd.
Vernazza is probably one of the most photographed villages in Cinque Terre. And for a reason: it offers breathtaking views, and it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of its small, narrow and colorful streets. Considering everyone wants to take a snap here, be prepared for some queuing in the most beautiful spots.
Monterosso Al Mare
I found Monterosso to be the least Cinque Terre-y village of them all. It’s much bigger than the other four towns, and it reminded me of a pretty coastal town on the Italian Riviera. If you love spending time sunbathing, you can rent a deckchair on the beautiful sandy beach, ideal to relax and unwind. Plus there are more hotels, restaurants, and shops here than in any other town in Cinque Terre. It’s also much easier to access with its flat streets which makes it the perfect place to stay for families with small kids or anyone with mobility issues.
How to avoid the tourist trap: most tourists will come from La Spezia and stop at Riomaggiore first. If you want to avoid following the crowd, don’t stop at Riomaggiore and go directly to Monterosso al Mare. And then walk back from there! The reverse order is a winner.
Cinque Terre Towns Map
2. Go for a hike
Going for a hike is without doubt one the best things to do in Cinque Terre.
First of all, yes, it is a hike, but not a difficult one. You need to be a bit fit, but pretty much anyone that can walk up some stairs on uneven terrain can do it.
Just make sure to avoid flip flops on the day, and wear some comfortable trekking shoes and you’ll be set for some incredible views along this spectacular path.
A bit of history and some details now:
Cinque Terre was named a National Park by Unesco in 1997, and there are over 120km (75 miles) of trails in the rugged mountains surrounding it.
Which means you can spend several days exploring it.
But if you are short on time, your best bet is to follow the blue trail.
The blue trail, the most famous footpath that connects all 5 towns, is one of the easiest. It’s 11km long (6.8 miles) and it will take you roughly 5 hours to walk.
Remember: this doesn’t include the time to stop and admire the views, or the time you will want to spend in the villages. You can do it all in a day, but you’ll be much more comfortable with time if you do it across two days.
The blue trail is slipt into 4 sections.
- Monterosso to Vernazza: This section is 3.6km (2.23 miles) and it takes roughly 2 hours to walk. It’s the longest of the four walks, so make sure to rest along the way, while enjoying the stunning views.
- Vernazza to Corniglia: 3.45km (2.14 miles), this section will take you roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- Corniglia to Manarola: This is a much easier hike, on flatter ground, only 2.9km and it should take you a bit more than 1 hour.
- Manarola to Riomaggiore (The Lovers Walk): This is the most famous path in Cinque Terre and the easiest. It’s only 1.1 km (0.7 miles) and takes around 25 minutes. The views from here are so romantic and charming that it’s known as Via dell’amore (The lovers walk).
The footpaths are often closed for restoration. Make sure you check here before you go to avoid disappointment!
Note: Via dell’amore is currently closed. It should open again from April 2021.
To hike around the Cinque Terre National Park, you will need to buy the Cinque Terre Card.
The Cinque Terre card gives you access to all hiking paths, buses that run into the park, toilets, and Wi-fi in the area.
There are two types of cards you can get:
- Cinque Terre Hiking Card
- Cinque Terre Treno: Treno means train in Italian. This card gives you everything the hiking card gives you plus access to unlimited train travel between La Spezia and Levanto (and all Cinque Terre stations).
You can buy the Cinque Terre cards at the Reception Centers of the Cinque Terre National Park, or you can buy the Cinque Terre Treno in advance here.
3. Take the train
If you are short on time or want to experience taking a train that runs perched over the sea with stunning views, you can’t miss taking the Cinque Terre Express.
The Cinque Terre Express connects seven cities:
- La Spezia
The train takes only 10 to 15 minutes to travel between each town. there are plenty of trains running every 15-30 minutes, especially in high season.
You can buy tickets at any train station. From the 14th March to the 1st November 2020, the one-way ticket for the Cinque Terre Express costs 4 euros for adults and 2 euros for children aged between 4 and 12. The ticket needs to be validated before departure and is valid for 75 minutes and for only one route (intermediate stops are not allowed and the ticket can only be used once).
Or simply get the Cinque Terre Treno Card. It will end up being much cheaper if you plan to take the train a few times.
4. Take Instagram-worthy pictures
Let’s be honest here. As much as we all love the views and living in the moment, we also want some beautiful unforgettable pictures to show everyone and to remember this magical place.
Plus, if you love your camera as much as Dan does, Cinque Terre is the perfect location to capture some incredible shots.
So grab your phone or your SLR and I will tell you exactly where you need to go:
- Riomaggiore: walk on the rocks on the harbor. You can also take the steps to the left of the harbor to see some stunning top views.
- Manarola: there are plenty of beautiful spots here, but my favorite is on the way to the top of the little cemetery. Go down to the harbor and take the pathway to the right. You can’t miss it. Keep walking up until you find a spot you like. This place is so beautiful and the light changes at any time of the day. I suggest coming back a couple of times to make the most of it.
- Corniglia: the only way to take a beautiful spot of Corniglia in its entirety is to take the walk from Vernazza. From the trail, you can admire the town in all its beauty.
- Vernazza: with Manarola, Vernazza is one of the most photographed towns in Cinque Terre. My favorite spot is towards the end of the trail that comes from Monterosso al Mare, on the descent to Vernazza. My second favorite spot is the view from the harbor. Here you can take a picture of the colorful fishing boats, with Vernazza in the background.
- Monterosso Al Mare: one of the best picture spots here is on the way from Vernazza to Monterosso. From here you can admire the whole beach. You can also take great shots of the colorful sun umbrellas and turquoise sea.
Tip: if you decide to explore Cinque Terre by boat, you will be able to take pictures from a different point of view. Looking back at the villages from the water will give you some unique pictures.
5. Go to the beach and take a dip in the crystalline sea (or jump in it)
If you visit Cinque Terre in the summer one of the best things to do is to take a dip in the refreshing sea. I wasn’t brave enough to do it in early June, but Dan jumped in it like a little kid.
Our favorite spots:
- Monterosso: perfect if you want to chill out for a few hours on a traditional beach.
- Manarola: doesn’t have a beach but the harbor here is so pretty you just want to jump in the sea on a hot day. It’s where Dan decided to put his swimming skills to the test.
- Riomaggiore: has a rocky beach made of pebbles and most local kids love jumping in the sea from big rocks. If you are adventurous enough, join in!
6. Taste the scrumptious food
Where to start…first of all we are in Italy, therefore everything you do revolves around food.
And now let me explain to you how your typical day is going to look like:
You wake up and if your body craves some caffeine, you can start your day by drinking the creamiest cappuccino you’ve ever had with a crispy cornetto (it’s similar to a croissant but a bit less buttery).
You walk for a bit, and your stomach is up for a delicious snack.
Here, focaccia comes to the rescue.
Focaccia Genovese is one of the most famous focaccia in Italy! If you find yourself in Monterosso, try Il Fornaio di Monterosso. They have some tables outside and you can enjoy the sea view while eating one of the many focaccias they serve.
Then you walk a bit more, and you need to rest…while sitting in a restaurant by the sea, eating trofie al pesto.
Pesto was born in this region of Italy; therefore, you will find it everywhere, and it’ll be the freshest and most aromatic pesto you’ve ever had!
And in the evening, it’s all about finding a restaurant with a view, while eating the fresh catch of the day!
Anchovies are a local staple here in Liguria. Fishermen clean them and keep them in salt for 40-60 days in a dark place. You can eat them in many restaurants in Cinque Terre seasoned with Ligurian extra-virgin olive oil, oregano, and garlic. Delicious!
7. Indulge in creamy gelato
Yes, food again!
But gelato deserves its own section on the list of things to do in Cinque Terre.
Because no trip to Italy is complete without an insane amount of gelato.
Nothing beats Italian ice cream on a hot sweaty day. And while we were there one of our favorite games was to try a gelato in each town.
Wanna play with us?
- Riomaggiore: Old School
- Manarola: Gelateria 5Terre
- Corniglia: Alberto Gelateria
- Vernazza: Gelateria Vernazza
- Monterosso Al Mare: Gelateria La Scogliera
Hard to pick a favorite, but if I had to, I would probably go for Gelateria Vernazza. The gelato was incredibly creamy and flavors were unique, seasonal and used some regional ingredients from Cinque Terre.
And if it’s seriously hot, you should try their a granita al limone, made with local fresh squeezed lemon juice, water, fresh lemon juice, and sugar. Granita is more watery than a sorbet, but it’s incredibly refreshing in the heat of the summer.
8. Explore Cinque Terre by boat
Renting a boat or taking the ferry that connects Cinque Terre in the summer is a great way to explore the area from a different point of view.
Or you can opt for a great boat and food experience that you won’t easily forget (although it’s more expensive). Maria and Nicola will make you feel so welcome on their boat.
Or if you feel like a romantic sunset cruise is more your kind of thing, this tour here is what you are looking for.
9. Watch the view from Nessun Dorma
Placed in one of the most phenomenal locations in Manarola, Nessun Dorma is one the best spot in Cinque Terre to grab a delicious bite to eat. Not only the view from here is incredible but you can also enjoy fresh local food.
Try a simple mouth-watering bruschetta with pomodoro or with acciughe (anchovies), while drinking a chilled glass of local white wine.
They also offer delicious sandwiches for lunch, salads and local meat and cheese platters.
Be warned: this isn’t a full-on restaurant. If you are looking for a proper meal, this might not be your best choice. But for a quick lunch or an evening aperitivo while watching stunning views is perfect.
A truly unforgettable place.
If you want to support Nessun Dorma and Cinque Terre during these difficult times, you can buy a Nessun Dorma Box: the finest selection of local food and wine delivered from Cinque Terre to your home. By buying a box you will support Cinque Terre winemakers and producers while sampling some incredible products (the outstanding pesto, traditional trofie pasta, Ligurian olives and local wine to name a few).
Nessun Dorma ships to the USA, Canada, and Europe. The shipping cost is included in the price of the box.
10. Visit a vineyard (and taste the wine, of course!)
Cinque Terre is not only famous for its delicious food, but also for the local wine produced in this area. One of the first things you’ll notice in the hills surrounding Cinque Terre is the abundance of vineyards.
And one of the best things to do in Cinque Terre is to get to know local wine producers while tasting the incredible wine they make here.
Most tours include a tour of the vineyards, followed by a trip to a working winery where you can taste the refreshing white wine and some local products.
There are plenty of vineyards and tours you can book, like this one. Make sure to taste the local white wine and my favorite, a sweet passito wine, called Sciacchetrà.
11. Learn how to make pesto
I’ve already told you pesto is one of the specialties in this region of Italy.
How about learning how to make it?
One of my favorite things to do is to learn how to cook local dishes when I visit new places. I find it one of the best ways to get to know the locals and their culture.
And making pesto in Cinque Terre is just special.
I know what you are probably thinking: what’s so special about making pesto? You just throw some basil, extra-virgin olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan in a food processor and you are done!
But I promise you…there is plenty more to experience.
One of the best places to take a class is Nessun Dorma. Yes, not only they serve delicious food, but they also teach you how to make pesto.
First of all: the location is phenomenal.
Then, the host, Simone, is really passionate about Cinque Terre and he is a great storyteller. He is going to teach you all the local tips and tricks about the perfect ingredients that make pesto truly special, and he will show you how to use a proper mortar. By the end of the class, you’ll become a pesto wizard.
This location is so popular I suggest you book in advance on their website by clicking here.
12. Climb the tower at Doria Castle
If hiking Cinque Terre isn’t enough for your spirit of adventure, I have something fun for you. How about climbing an 11th-century old castle in Vernazza?
You can’t miss it: it’s on the south side of Vernazza, dominating the small town from the top of its 60 meters.
The castle itself isn’t impressive but it’s an incredible panoramic point from which you’ll be able to see all the surrounding coast and sea.
The admission charge is only 2 euros. Make sure you bring cash as of the time of writing they do not take credit cards.
Just one note: you won’t be able to see Vernazza in all of its glory here. The best town view is from the trail from Vernazza to Monterosso, but the sweeping views of the water, part of the town and countryside are well worth the climbing effort in my opinion.
13. Drink a spritz in Piazza Marconi
Piazza Marconi is Vernazza’s life epicenter. There are plenty of cute little bars and restaurants here where you can sit outside and drink a cold spritz while watching the panorama.
Perfect after a day of exploring the area, especially if you decided to climb the stairs to Doria Castle!
14. Climb the stairs to Corniglia
Up for another climb after Doria Castle?
If you want to reach Corniglia, you’ll need to climb 377 steps from the train station at the bottom of the hill. The staircase is made of bricks and locals call it Lardarina. If you are attempting the climb in the summer, make sure to wear a hat to protect your head from the sun and drink plenty of water.
All I can say is: the view from here is breathtaking.
Well worth the sweat!
15. Watch the sunset
I find there is always something magical about watching a sunset: it makes me feel like my worries fade away with the end of the day. Plus the awe-inspiring colors of the sky, help me to get lost in the moment and clear my mind.
There are hundreds of great spots in each Cinque Terre town from where you can admire the sunset.
One of my favorite ones is in Manarola, on the pathway that leads to Nessun Dorma.
I also loved watching it from the trail that goes from Monterosso to Vernazza. From here you can see the beautiful colors of each house, while the sun is setting in the sea.
The harbor of Riomaggiore is another great location, especially if you accompany the view with some local wine and a slice of focaccia.
Here you have them: the best things to do in Cinque Terre!
We loved our time in Cinque Terre, and I believe you’ll have an incredible time too!
If you have any questions or simply want to share your experience in Cinque Terre, just leave a comment below.
And for more information about the best time to go and how to get there check out my complete guide to Cinque Terre here.
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