Cinque Terre, a beautiful place. Or should I say 5 beautiful places? Cinque Terre meaning five lands is just off the coast of the Italian Riviera. These five fishing villages hidden in the mountains have gone through quite a change, thanks to social media. A major thanks to the Instagrammers who have posted photos of these isolated villages; drawing the masses from all parts of the world, to discover the small picturesque coastal cities. The five towns that complete the Cinque Terre National Park are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza (a personal favorite), Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
Each town has something different to offer than the next. In this article, we will journey through all five villages and I will do my best to help alleviate some of the hassle and confusion of traveling between all five villages. Visiting Cinque Terre offers many sorts of activities for all people: you can hike, boat, or my favorite, just stroll through all 5 cities and dine on the best seafood you can imagine (Calamari are amazing here!).
How to pronounce Cinque Terre?
When I first read the name: Cinque Terre. I pronounced it like “sink-que terre”. DO NOT say it like that, to help save yourself from utter-embarrassment. The correct way is “Chinq-way Te’ray”. It definitely helps hearing it. Here is a 20-second video of the pronunciation:
Cinque Terre Italy Map
Here are the five towns of Cinque Terre.
Monterosso al Mare
The only one of the five villages with a true sandy beach. This Northernmost point of Cinque Terre is the biggest village, filled with the most accommodations for travelers. Monterosso is also the least hilly; for people who are carrying a bit too much, book a hotel/apartment here. Aside from the beach and accommodations, this mini-city offers a lot to see, like the old town and new town. Monterosso is also the only one with a long, beautiful seaside promenade. Famous for its Lemon Trees and Anchovies
Sights: The Castle (partially ruined), the church of St. John the Baptist, Monterosso Giant, the beach.
My favorite of the five villages. And one of the smallest of the five. This single street town does have a tiny beach. With a beautiful Piazza Marconi that is facing the sea and mountains, don’t forget to sit and grab a drink and enjoy the view. Also, a church that’s open to the public is right on the water (in Piazza Marconi).
Sights: Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, Doria Castle, Piazza Marconi
The smallest of the five and the most remote. The village of Corniglia rests on top of a mountain overlooking the Italian Riviera and hosts a breathtaking view of Manarola off in the distance. Corniglia, since it’s on a mountaintop (also the reason why ferries don’t stop here), you will have to climb 300-400 steps to get to the city. From my experience and personal opinion, if you’re going to visit Cinque Terre for a single day. I suggest knocking Corniglia out of the way first. I without much research made Corniglia my last stop, and man when I saw the steps, I let out a little cry (i powered through!). The narrow alleyways of Corniglia reminded me of Venice.
(*Tip* take advantage of its remoteness, Corniglia is often the least crowded with tourist)
Another small town, with a single windy, uphill road. I stayed in Manarola and would do it again! This quiet destination has access to water, but no sand beaches. There are ladders built on the sides of rocks to help you get in and out of the water safely. There is also a long stretch of walkway carved-out on the side of the mountain where people go to see the sunset and take the most popular photos of all of Cinque Terre. (Here is a photo I took at that spot at the end of June 2018)
Last but not least is the town of Riomaggiore. This town is often the most crowded because of its compact-size (though Monterosso usually has the most people). This Easternmost fishing village also has a single windy road going uphill (kind of like Manarola, but more elongated), filled with restaurants and shops. Here is where I ate the best calamari in my life. You will find so many restaurants and takeaway places,
your choice is as good as mine. (Here is another photo I took at the end of June 2018 in Riomaggiore)
You may be asking yourself how long should I really stay? There are 5 villages so maybe 5 days, right? Well, it depends on the type of traveler you are: a limited traveler, a relaxed traveler, or a backpacker.
- Limited Travelers: You can do Cinque Terre in one day; you wouldn’t be doing it justice, but you do have time to discover each village. If time/money are limited, a day trip will be great.
- Relaxed traveler: If you are traveling with no constraints and have time to relax, I suggest 3 days is more than enough time. You can visit two cities each day, leaving one for the last day. And if you are the super-relaxed traveler that likes to spend all morning/afternoon time on the beach and then head to the city. 5 days at this paradise will be far more than enough time for you to be lazy and disconnect from the real-world (ahhhh, soothing).
- Backpacker: Next type of traveler and the type of traveler I personally am. Is the backpacker’s mindset traveler. I’m not sure if that’s a real term to describe it. But the way I feel when I travel is if I can go to another place close by after visiting the main destination, I will. Or if you are actually backpacking through Italy and want to get the most out the shortest time. 2 full days will be enough. (*backpackers tip* for CT I suggest going to all five villages the first day and then the second day go back to all but spend more time at your favorite cities).
Cinque Terre in three days
Here are a few things to do while in Cinque Terre:
- Hiking: (full day/half day) Be sure to hike at least one trail. For the views and landscapes are unbelievable. Hiking-junkies plan a whole day to hike the whole Cinque Terre Trail. Just make sure to check the tourism offices about which trail is open/closed and what their fees are.
- Hiking all of Cinque Terre can take between 6-8 hours. Most difficult trail: Monterosso to Vernazza. Easiest trail: Riomaggiore to Manarola.
- The best place to start is Monterosso at 6-7AM when it’s still cool out.
- Village hoping: (full day) Visit each town throughout the day. Have breakfast in Monterosso, then head to Vernazza for a stroll. Before heading to Corniglia be sure to have water, you’ll have to climb 350 steps. Enjoy the views of being at the highest points in Cinque Terre, after Corniglia head to Manarola for lunch and a swim. Then off to Riomaggiore for the dinner and drinks.
- Wander: (full day/half day) make sure to just follow the wind, if you have been to all five towns. Go back to your favorites. Wander the streets, you won’t get lost. Each town is small with less than 3-4 streets.
- Swimming: (half day) you’re in one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world! Go for a swim, snorkel if your heart desires. Riomaggiore has a number of shops that lets you rent gear.
- Wine tasting: (half day) If you love wine, squeeze in a wine tasting at one of the vineyards at the top of the villages.
Trains from Florence to Cinque Terre
Many trains run to Cinque Terre from Florence each and every day. Make sure to check Trenitalia and Italo for each has competitive pricing, along with different classes and trip-length. Whichever one of the five towns in Cinque Terre you want to visit first, you will have to make one transfer in La Spezia. No matter which train you take (highspeed, regional, etc.), La Spezia is the main hub for you to get onto Cinque Terre’s train line that runs along all five coastal towns.
Check these websites for the best prices:
Cinque Terre transportation between all five towns
Transportation is very easy. You have the options, either by train or ferry (Ferries don’t go to Corniglia). The train is the easiest way; a day pass (16 Euros), two-day pass (29 Euros), or a three-day pass (41 Euros). Trains stop in all five villages with a distance time of 5-10 minutes between each village. Traveling by ferry, a day pass costs 35 Euros, with this stiff-price you will be getting the best views of Cinque Terre and its towns from the water.
Cinque Terre Restaurants
I will not name any restaurants. I am not a food critic, nor do I think it is fair to take business away from other restaurants who have just as delicious food. For the three days I went, I chose restaurants and takeaway places at random, just by peeking from their menu and looking at my budget. And all of them were perfect!
What I will tell you about food in Cinque Terre is the type of food you should try.
Did I mention calamari? You definitely need to put calamari on your food bucket-list when visiting Cinque Terre. The pesto was amazing! Artichoke and anchovies are both popular here.
Visiting Cinque Terre will open your eyes. Out of this world architecture, you can only see on TV and in movies. Unforgettable seafood. This town is for every type of traveler, just make sure not to jam-pack too much in one day. Be sure to just stroll up and down the streets of all five towns, just to take it all in. Do some walking tours/boat tours, learn about the history and the men who protected the lands from the pirates back in the day. Drink some white wine and watch the sunset, you’ll have the time of your life!