The first-timer’s guide to visiting the Cinque Terre

The first-timers guide to visiting the Cinque Terre, Italy

From five sleepy Italian fishing villages to one of the most famous coastal landscapes in the world – the Cinque Terre has been through a few changes over the years, but it still looks every bit as gorgeous as you’d imagine. It’s now a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with up to 2.4 million people a year visiting the Cinque Terre to walk, boat and train their way through its dramatic cliffs and pretty coastal villages.

But what do you need to know if you want to tick a Cinque Terre trip off your travel wishlist? This Cinque Terre travel guide has everything you need to know to plan your holiday and make the most of your time visiting this beautiful stretch of coastline.

Read more: What does it cost? Five days in the Cinque Terre budget breakdown

Visiting the Cinque Terre

Blue seas and cliffs in Cinque Terre, Italy
Deep blue sea

What and where is the Cinque Terre?

People talk about the Cinque Terre like one place, but it’s actually a stretch of Italian Riveira coastline made up of five villages – the Five Lands or Cinque Terre in Italian. Running from north to south the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.

Each one of the five is a beauty, with pastel buildings and sparkling sea views, but each has its own different character. The Cinque Terre is located just south of Genoa in north-west Italy. It’s within easy reach of the airports at Genoa, Pisa, Rome, Florence and Nice, and there’s a train connection between La Spezia and Levanto which stops at each of the villages.

The colourful streets of Riomaggiore
The colourful streets of Riomaggiore

How long should I spend there?

If you’re really tight on time you could ‘do’ the Cinque Terre in one day by starting early and walking straight through from one end to the other. There are a lot of day tours* available or you can just take the train or boat from one village to the next with an hour in each.

But you wouldn’t be really doing it justice, and you’d be missing out on the best time of day. Between 10am and 4pm the villages are rammed with day-trippers – the train platform in Monterosso at 4pm took me right back to commuting on the London Tube in rush hour. But come the evenings things calm down and there’s much more of a relaxed feel.

Ideally you’d want to spend three or four days visiting the Cinque Terre to do it justice. That’d give you time to explore each village, do a couple of half-day walks and a boat trip along the coast. The villages have a different atmosphere at different times of day, so staying for a few days would give you time to decide on your favourite and go back for sunset or dinner.

And if you’ve got more time, there are plenty more walks you can do, or you could travel further afield and visit the neighbouring towns of Portovenere, Levanto or La Spezia.

Manarola's harbour in the Cinque Terre
Manarola’s harbour

When’s the best time to visit the Cinque Terre?

The Cinque Terre’s never exactly quiet – busy season runs all the way from Easter until October. But to avoid the worst of the crowds, steer clear of July and August. Accommodation gets booked up really far in advance and it can get really hot so isn’t the best time for walking.

Shoulder season – May and September – is a good time for visiting the Cinque Terre, with warm days and less people than in peak season. Or if you want to risk the off-season you can get a bargain and have the paths to yourself, but it can be wet, especially around November. And if the weather’s bad you risk boats being suspended and hiking trails closed.

Sunny lunch at a Plaza in Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Sunny lunch in Vernazza

Where should I stay in the Cinque Terre?

Staying in one of the five villages means you don’t have to travel in each day and can soak up the atmosphere in the evenings. But because it’s so popular, accommodation is pricey – even for pretty uninspiring places – so try to book early. There aren’t many hotels except in larger villages Monterosso and Riomaggiore, so it’s mostly guesthouses and apartment rentals.

The villages are so close together that there isn’t one that’s in a better position than the others. And it’s not really worth moving around and staying in a couple of different villages as you can get between them so easily. It’s more a case of picking the one which has the right character for you (and where you can find somewhere decent within your budget!).

Monterosso is the furthest north and the largest of the villages. It’s the easiest to access which means it does get busy, and it’s also the only Cinque Terre village with a proper beach and seafront promenade. Monterosso has more of a resort feel, with the widest selection of accommodation and best hotels*, and it’s the least hilly so is the most accessible.

On the beach in Monterosso
On the beach in Monterosso

At the other end of the Cinque Terre is Riomaggiore, another of the larger villages with a gorgeous setting and brightly coloured houses set around the harbour. It’s got a good selection of places to stay and eat and the best nightlife, but brace yourself for plenty of hills.

Vernazza and Manarola are both smaller and are arguably the most beautiful of the Cinque Terre villages. Manarola is surrounded by vineyards and Vernazza has a tiny beach. Both have mostly self-catering accommodation.

As does Corniglia, the central village of the five. It’s the smallest village and the hardest to get to, as there’s no sea access and a huge flight of steps leads up to the village from the train station. This makes it the quietest – especially in the evenings – and its position high up on the rocks means you get great views (I stayed here and loved it).

Otherwise a cheaper option is to stay in neighbouring Levanto* or La Spezia*. Both of these towns are on the Cinque Terre train line so it’s easy to get around, but accommodation, food and pretty much everything else is cheaper as you’re not in the ‘proper’ Cinque Terre. They also have a more authentic, local feel as they’re not so overrun with visitors.

Where to stay – The first-timers guide to visiting the Cinque Terre
A cute apartment building in Riomaggiore

How hard are the Cinque Terre hikes?

For centuries, the only way you could get between the Cinque Terre villages was on foot, and it’s still the best way to get around, with a constant stream of gorgeous sea views. There’s a mix of coastal and hillside paths. to choose from Though the coast paths aren’t just a walk along the seafront – at least not the part that’s open.

The one flat stretch of coast path from Corniglia to Riomaggiore is closed for the foreseeable future after it was damaged in landslips back in 2011. The rest of the paths involve lots of ups and downs with some rocky ground with a few big drops and steps to clamber up.

You don’t need to be really fit but do need to be be comfortable walking uphill and have decent walking shoes – most people were wearing hiking boots or sturdy trainers. The distances involved aren’t huge, but it can take longer than you’d guess from the distance as it’s so hilly. Plus you often end up waiting for people to pass on narrow stretches which slows things down. So start early or late if you can to miss the peak of walkers.

On the coast path through the Cinque Terre
On the coast path

The Sentiero Azzurro or Blue Trail starts from Monterosso and takes around two hours to reach Vernazza and another two to carry on to Corniglia. From Corniglia to Manarola you have to take the high route via Volastra – it takes around three hours and involves some serious climbs but the views at the top through the vineyards are well worth it.

Then from Manarola you can walk on to Riomagiorre via Beccara in around 90 minutes, though there’s another big climb to start.

As well as the main walks there are quieter hill paths, like the Sentiero Rosso or Red Trail from Portvenere to Levanto. There are also shorter sanctuary walks run steeply uphill from the villages. And even if you’re not hiking there are lots of hills and steps in the villages.

Beautiful Vernazza from the cliff path with a flag blowing in the wind
Beautiful Vernazza

Do I need a permit?

To walk the coast path from Monterosso to Corniglia you need a Cinque Terre Card. You can get them in villages and from huts at the start of each section of the path. If you’re walking between Corniglia and Riomaggiore you must take the hill path so don’t need a permit.

Cinque Terre Cards cost €7.50 for one day or €14.50 for two days. They include free wifi, local buses and toilets (€1 otherwise). Or there’s a train version which also includes unlimited train travel on the Cinque Terre line between Levanto and La Spezia. They cost €16 for one day, €29 for two or €41 for three, with discounts for children, families and off season.

The first-timers guide to visiting the Cinque Terre – Cinque Terre Card
My Cinque Terre Card

How do I get around the Cinque Terre?

The Cinque Terre is a National Park, so vehicle traffic is restricted to residents only in the villages and it’s best to avoid taking a car if you can (not least because the roads are terrifyingly narrow and winding with a ton of sheer drops). If you are driving around, you can park in La Spezia or Levanto then catch the train into the Cinque Terre.

The trains are the easiest way to get to and around the Cinque Terre, running between La Spezia and Levanto and stopping at each village. You can also connect to Genoa, Pisa, Rome and beyond. It only takes about five minutes from one village to the next. Tickets cost €4 for a single journey (free with the Cinque Terre Train Card), irrespective of how far you go.

Corniglia's train station in the Cinque Terre
Corniglia’s train station

You can’t reserve seats on the trains and the queues on the platforms can be crazy, but trains are long and they often use double-decker carriages so you can squeeze a lot of people in. Trains run up to three times an hour in each direction from 5am–11.30pm, and you can pick up or print out a timetable. And don’t forget to validate your ticket before getting on board.

There’s also a ferry connecting the villages (other than Corniglia which doesn’t have a harbour) with Portovenere, La Spezia and Levanto. It’s worth a trip to check out the views from the water. A day ticket with unlimited journeys costs €35 adults/€20 children, or you can get cheaper afternoon or single tickets. You can also rent a boat or take a sailing trip.

The Cinque Terre ferry
The Cinque Terre ferry

What else is there to do?

There are a few churches and monuments you can visit around the Cinque Terre but it’s mostly all about the outdoors. As well as walking you can get out on the water – go sailing*, swimming, take a kayaking trip* or go diving and snorkelling from Riomaggiore.

Don’t miss trying the local seafood, with cones of fried calamari, shrimp and anchovies available everywhere. It goes brilliantly with the local white wine. The hills behind the villages are covered in vineyard terraces and you can do a tasting at some of the wineries.

And look out for some of the annual festivals, like Saints’ Days, Easter processions, the lemon festival in May and anchovy festival in June, the grape harvest festival and Monterosso’s bizarre cuckold festival in November.

The first-timers guide to visiting the Cinque Terre – walking routes to Monterosso
Walking through the vines

What should I bring with me?

Not too much! Chances are you’ll have to climb a huge hill or a flight of stairs to reach your accommodation, so try to bring as little as possible. If you’re walking then don’t forget decent shoes as well as a hat of scarf in summer, as there’s not a lot of shade along the paths. Also pack a water bottle as there are free water taps in each village where you can refill it.

Although Monterosso’s the only village with a real beach, you can swim from each of the villages – amazing after a sweaty day walking – so bring your swimmers. If you forget things like sunscreen there are shops in each village, but because it’s a touristy area they do charge a premium. And if you get stuck English is widely spoken around the Cinque Terre.

Colourful buildings on a hilltop in Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy
Hilltop Corniglia

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  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    August 2, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Cinque Terre looks beautiful Lucy, you photos are gorgeous and it’s on my wish list for sure. Did you visit Portovenere, Levanto or La Spezia?

    • Reply
      August 4, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      We only passed through Levanto but did do a day trip to Portovenere which was lovely (there will be a post about it eventually!).

  • Reply
    August 2, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    It’s not surprising that it’s so popular because it looks drop dead gorgeous, Lucy. It being so busy is a bit of a turn off but obviously you made it work by staying at the least accessible village. Good shout! 🙂 🙂 Where does Cinque Terre come roughly on your list of favourite places?

    • Reply
      August 4, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      Ooh it’s got to be in the top five Jo, the views really were non-stop gorgeousness! I was expecting it to be busy but there were a few moments when the crowds were crazy, but you could always escape!

  • Reply
    August 4, 2017 at 5:48 am

    stunning, the more i see pics and read about this place.. the more sooner I want to visit it. thanks for sharing !

    • Reply
      August 4, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      It definitely warrants a spot on the wishlist!

  • Reply
    Bianca Malata (@ItsAllBee)
    August 4, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Pinned! I have this place on my wish list but its the fear of large crowds there considering how popular it it. Hopefully I will visit towards the start of the tourist season May/June. Love the detail. Covers all I need to know…Just need to book the ticket now.

    • Reply
      August 4, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      Hope you have a great time – and glad to hear it was useful. Late May/early June’s a good time to go as it should be sunny but not too frantic – and there’s always quieter spots to escape too when it does get crazy!

  • Reply
    Lisa Mae
    August 6, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    I’m going on a day trip from a cruise ship here next month. I know it will only be a taste, but I can’t wait to take so many photos of these gorgeous villages! You make it sound so amazing. Hopefully one day I can go back for the quieter times.

    Lisa |

    • Reply
      August 7, 2017 at 10:13 am

      Have an amazing time! I really like cruises in that they’re a great way to get a taster of different destinations so you can work out which ones you like best and then go back and explore them some more.

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    August 7, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    It’s most definitely on my wishlist. Do you know if you can get the train to Portovenere from an airport as well as to the villages? I’d love to stay there as a base for exploring Cinque Terre. I went many years ago and have longed to go back ever since.

    • Reply
      August 7, 2017 at 7:22 pm

      Portovenere doesn’t have a train station so it’s a little bit harder to get to. You can get the bus or boat to there from La Spezia though which is on the train line.

  • Reply
    August 8, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    Hi Lucy, My husband and I are arriving in Vernazza on 8/26. We fly into Pisa, staying one night. Next day, taking the train to Vernazza and staying five nights. We’ll have plenty of time to hike and relax. After, we are taking the train to Venice for two nights. We’ve been to Italy (and Venice) five times. This will be our first trip to CT. Looking forward to it.

    • Reply
      August 10, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      Sounds like you have a great trip planned! Five nights is a really good amount of time to spent in the Cinque Terre so you should be able to see a lot. Have a fantastic time.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    August 10, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    It’s really useful to have this information – especially how to visit this gorgeous area while avoiding at least some of the crowds!

    • Reply
      August 10, 2017 at 8:33 pm

      It is a bit of a challenge escaping the crowds – but not impossible!

  • Reply
    October 4, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    Great article! I’d love to visit Cinque Terre!

    • Reply
      October 8, 2017 at 5:50 pm

      Thanks, it’s a wonderful place!

      • Roseann Marr
        July 12, 2018 at 3:46 pm

        Very helpful article. Are there small private boats that take you to the villages verses the ferry? Also, does going by ferry have a lot of uphill walking?

      • Lucy
        July 13, 2018 at 2:04 pm

        Hi, yes here are little boats you can charter to take you round too – most of the villages are built into the hillside so there’s a bit of uphill walking but nothing too bad. Monterosso is the flattest village and Corniglia has the steepest climb (but you can’t reach it by boat so you’d need to take the train, and there’s a bus to the top).

      • Roseann
        July 13, 2018 at 3:20 pm

        Thank you. The info you provided has helped us to make our decision. Some years ago when we were a few years younger we walked upward to a lighthouse in Portofino and we were fine. So we have decided to charter a small boat and visit the villages at a slower pace.

  • Reply
    Vijay Patel
    December 21, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Great article! It really helped me to clear few of my doubts as I am planning to visit Italy in next few months. I would love to visit these places.

    • Reply
      December 21, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      Hope you have a great time!

  • Reply
    April 14, 2018 at 9:29 am

    So concise and apt. Found you through Pinterest and love this post 🙂 I definitely think Cinque Terre is much more than a day trip. I could spend days chilling there 😉

    • Reply
      April 20, 2018 at 2:03 pm

      Thanks so much. Glad it was useful – I could easily spend days in the Cinque Terre too!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2018 at 9:25 pm

    Hi Lucy,
    I am going to Cinque Terra this summer and I found your article really helpful. I am trying to figure out the best way to access Monterosso beach (my wife and I want to spend a healthy time by the water). I know that most of Monterosso’s beaches are private, so you pay for access. Is the beach front owned by the buildings that line it? Will I get complimentary beach access if I stay at a hotel/guesthouse thats on the beach? Thanks!

    • Reply
      October 25, 2018 at 7:29 am

      Hi, I believe there are a mix of private and public beach areas in Monterosso’s two beaches – if you’re staying in one of the beach hotels you’ll get access to their beach area otherwise you can pay for a deckchair/sunbed/umbrella (prices around €10-20 for the day so if you get there early it’s better value). Have a great trip!

  • Reply
    March 31, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Hi Lucy, I always dreamed about going to see Tuscany and Cinque Terre are on my bucket list.
    I like to take scenery pictures and Cinque Terre have tremendous landscapes.
    I really love the couple of photos about decorations made with clothes hanging from windows and balconies. It’s a great
    set designers work!
    You mentioned La Spezia a couple of times. Are there still areas where you meet locals?
    Is it a safe place?

    • Reply
      April 15, 2019 at 8:24 pm

      La Spezia is a good base if you want to meet more locals, it’s another pretty place too and fairly safe as far as I know.

  • Reply
    May 6, 2019 at 9:44 pm

    Hello Lucy,
    Well done for this blog which is very clear… I will be visiting Cinque Terre at the end of the month so I can’t wait!
    Could you please let us know where you stayed at Corniglia?

    • Reply
      May 7, 2019 at 9:20 am

      So glad it was useful! We stayed in an apartment in Corniglia – there’s a link in this post:

      • Jeff
        July 12, 2021 at 7:13 pm

        Lucy great blog on CT. My wife and I want to plan a trip for our 30th beside CT where else would you suggest for beauty without Long Island crowds !

      • Lucy Dodsworth
        July 28, 2021 at 1:12 pm

        If you like Italy then the area around Sorrento is really beautiful and easy to visit the Amalfi Coast, Capri and the other islands. Or more quiet, in the far south Puglia has some really interesting places to visit and pretty coastal towns.

  • Reply
    Pall Forloney
    July 15, 2019 at 10:47 am

    Your prices are not up to date, it is 16.00 euro per day for the Cinque Terre card. The tour buses, cruise ships and day tripper are the major problems in the villages. I live here and now with all the day people coming in, we have starting to lose our identity. The economy is fallen because of all the other places to stay outside of the area. If you think it this way, the bus tours come from outside. So they sleep and eat there. The tour bus and tour guide are from there. What do the villages see, them buying the slice pizza, fried fish cone, gelato, water, soda, and beer. What is left for the village, the trash we pay for to be taken away. Want to really see Cinque Terre, stay here and get a local guide to show you the trails that the cattle don’t go on. You have not seen this area until your experience it a local. The rest is a checklist and photo of yourself in Manarola. Come see the beauty Cinque Terre holds for you!

    • Reply
      July 21, 2019 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks for commenting – the passes seem to still be selling online for €14.50 but I’ll double check. Definitely agree that it’s better for people to travel more slowly and stay in the area, and if you can get a local to show you some of the lesser-known areas that sounds like a great idea.

  • Reply
    R A M
    July 15, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    I was in Cinque Terra on July 11 and only visited 2 villages due to many tourist. We decided to leave and visit next fall after the tourist season is over. We left and had our driver take us to Portovenere instead where we enjoyed a lovely dinner in place of snack foods. Cinque Terre is lovely but I agree with the writer…the tourist are leaving behind their fast food waste.

    • Reply
      July 21, 2019 at 9:06 pm

      Yes it sounds like it’s really starting to suffer from overtourism, I hope that a way can be found to stop the area being too negatively impacted by tourism as it’s a wonderful place.

  • Reply
    December 17, 2019 at 6:18 am

    I am planning to stay in La Spezia. Single older female. I feel like the best view and pics might be from a boat, but want to wander in a couple towns as well. Do the boats stop at each for a period of time at all?

    • Reply
      Pall Forloney
      December 17, 2019 at 9:48 am

      Hi Marian, Let me first let me tell you about when the ferry boat runs. It will start around the 3rd of April and run until the 1st of November. This ferry goes to Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore, Portovenere and La Spezia. They stop only long enough to let people off and on the ferry. They do sell an all-day ticket, an afternoon ticket, and each stop ticket. The views from the ferry can be amazing providing you get on early enough to get a seat on the land side of the boat. There are many wonderful photos to be taken from the hillsides as well.

  • Reply
    Jennifer L
    February 18, 2020 at 6:51 pm

    Wonderful post. I agree with your other posters. Clear and full of information. I think the years between 2017 and 2019/20 have been very active ones for touristing with a giant impact on the Cinque Terre towns. Pall & Lucy – I offered to take my 83 year old father on a trip. He loves to travel and my mom passed away. He requested the Cinque Terre and a northern Italian lake. We have both been to Italy here and there over the years. It is his favorite country. (We are Americans.) My question is about the hiking trails. My dad exercises 3-4 days a week but is still 83! By far, I am most concerned with uneven footing over distance or hills. Sounds like the Corniglia to Manarola hike might be too much for him. Both the other hikes are probably ok with the first two, Monterosso- Vernazza and Vernazza -Corniglia, being the most walkable. Does this sound accurate to you? Thank you!

    • Reply
      February 25, 2020 at 4:48 pm

      Thank you – and yes I’d agree the Corniglia to Manarola is very hilly, with big rocky steps and uneven underfoot so may be a bit too difficult. I did it with my dad who’s in his 70s but it is a steep day and he found it quite hard work, especially if it’s a hot day.

  • Reply
    Jennifer L Demarest
    February 25, 2020 at 9:27 pm

    Thanks for the reply. Sadly we will put off this trip for now with the Northern Italy outbreak of the corona virus. Even if I still wanted to go it is not sensible to bring an 83 year old. Plus, unfortunately, we don’t know where we will be with this outbreak by May. Heartbreaking for the tourism industry.

    • Reply
      March 9, 2020 at 12:12 pm

      Yes it’s a really tough time for Italy at the moment, fingers crossed it’ll be under control soon and the tourist industry can recover.

  • Reply
    Paula Allen
    April 25, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    My daughter and I are planning to visit Italy this September- starting in Rome for 3 days, then Verona for 2 days then Cinque Terre for 4 days. Do you have any recommendations on how to get from Verona to Cinque Terre?

    • Reply
      April 26, 2020 at 4:40 pm

      Hi Paula, the journey by train takes around 5 hours – you will need to change trains in Milan and then transfer onto the Cinque Terre line trains in La Spezia, which connect all the villages. You can book tickets online through Trenitalia or Italiarail (which sells tickets in US$/£/€).

  • Reply
    Jane Nairne
    June 1, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    I based myself in La Spezia and got the first train out to a village each morning and walked for a couple of hours, had coffee in a cafe, swam, had a fabulous seafood lunch and then got the train or boat back to La Spezia. La Spezia is really interesting – had some art nouveau and art deco buildings, a fantastic museum – the Amedeo Lia collection and good restaurants and bars. I stayed in the Hotel Venezia very close to the station – friendly, quiet and reasonably priced.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 3, 2020 at 8:36 pm

      Sounds lovely – and La Spezia is such a good option if you don’t want to be right in among the madness of the Cinque Terre villages!

  • Reply
    Céline S
    August 3, 2020 at 8:51 am

    Thanks for your article which has given me some good tips about the Cinque Terre. I am going there on Thursday, driving in from Menton in France. I don’t know what to expect regarding the crowds. As it was very easy for me to book some accommodation just a few weeks ago, I hope there will be less people. It looks like a wonderful place and I know many people who have been there who think so too. Thanks again.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      August 11, 2020 at 11:15 am

      Hope you have a great trip – I’m hearing that Italy is fairly quiet at the moment so you should hopefully get to see it without the usualy peak season crowds!

  • Reply
    March 28, 2021 at 10:25 pm

    Its a very informative blog. after having been to Cinque Terre quite a few times, there are always new things to try out, and new ways to explore the region. Thanks

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