A Guide to Cinque Terre
If you haven’t yet been to this picturesque part of the world, grab a pen and take notes, and add it to your list of places to go right now! When planning our Italian vacation this past summer, seeing the coastline (both in the north and the south) was an absolute must. After spending a few days in wonderful Positano (you can see our complete travel guide here!) we made our way through beautiful Tuscany, all the way up to the colorful cluster of villages in the north, Cinque Terre.
For those of you not that familiar with Cinque Terre, but mostly with the postcard images you see online, the name translates to five villages; Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. These colorful towns are perched on the cliffs of the Italian Riviera and are connected to each other by hiking trails, which you can easily access if you don’t “accidentally” forgot your hiking shoes like I did (Don’t tell The Husband!), and if the weather allows. Each little town has its own unique beauty that you will fall in love with, but with the same laid-back and idyllic ambience.
We spent 3 days in Cinque Terre and stayed in the magical village of Manarola, from where we also explored Riomaggiore and Monterosso. Below you can find out how to get there, where to stay, what to do and see and where to eat.
HOW TO GET THERE
When arriving in Cinque Terre from cities such as Florence, Milan and Pisa, the best way to get there is to take the Trenitalia train to the city of La Spezia, from which you can take the local train straight to Cinque Terre. The first of the 5 villages that will be reached is Riomaggiore, from which the train will continue and stop at all the other villages as well. The last and furthest stop is Monterosso.
Traveling between the villages is very easy and can be done either by foot, train or ferry (No cars are allowed). If you are there in the peak of summer and only have a few days to explore, I would suggest taking the train, as all 5 villages can be reached easily and quickly (It’s only about a 5 minute train ride between each village) and it would save you a lot of time. Buy a day pass for 16 euros at the ticket counter at the train station and use the train for an unlimited amount of times in 24H, or buy single train tickets for 4 euros each.
Most people hike their way around the villages and it's probably one of the best ways to explore if the summer temperatures aren't at its peak and you have more than a few days to enjoy Cinque Terre. To gain access to these hiking trails you need to buy a Cinque Terre Card at the train station, and also make sure the trails are open before you head out as they're often closed due to landslides or maintenance. One of the easiest and most popular trails is the one between Manarola and Riomaggiore, known as "Lover's Lane", which only takes about an hour to hike. It's a paved walking path with spectacular views of the sea, vineyards and cliffs. If time is limited and you're not quite prepared (or fit) for a hike, you can take a leisurely stroll along the pathway of Manarol and have the same majestic views of the vineyards and sea.
WHAT TO DO
Planning an itinerary for Cinque Terre will depend on how many days you have there and also if you're there to relax, or explore! We tried doing a little bit of both and therefore decided to only visit 3 of the 5 villages; Manarola (Where we stayed and also the most picturesque village), Riomaggiore (Another majestic and colorful village with a beautiful view from the harbor) and Monterosso (The village with the best beach). Below you can have a little peak at each village and find out what to do there.
Pastel colored houses adorning the cliffs, a backdrop of vineyards and panoramic see views makes this one of THE most beautiful places in the world. Manarola is known as the most "picturesque" village and in my opinion it really is. It's also the second smallest of the villages making it super easy to explore (It only took us one hour to see the entire village!)
All the shops and restaurants are toward the side of the seafront, and the colorful houses and vineyards right on the opposite side. Make your way up the hill towards the vineyards, where you'll find the pathway that connects your to the other villages. Walk along this pathway for majestic views of Manarola and the ocean, and follow the route all the way around until you reach Nessun Dorma, the restaurant with the best views (and cocktails!)
If you follow the pathway it will lead you back to town, where you will find a variety of boutiques and shops where you can buy a souvenir of two or some gifts for friends and family back home. There is also a local supermarket where you can buy your daily necessities, and a range of bars and restaurants where you can wine and dine the night away.
Manarola is famous for it's magical sunset, known as "Golden Hour", so make sure to step outside right before the sun sets or grab a table by Nussun Dorma for front row seats.
A visit to Manarola won't be complete without a day swimming on the rocks. Go early to grab a spot next to the waters and take along a pool float if you can so you can relax and enjoy the sun.
Riomaggiore is another majestic village and is the first of Cinque Terre you meet when travelling from La Spezia. Most of Riomaggiore is squeezed into a narrow valley, with colorful houses on the one side and a tiny harbour below. This charming village bustles with shops and cafes, and gets quite busy during the day. It's best to go early in the morning to avoid the crowds and tour groups.
Riomaggiore is mostly known for its unique and quaint harbour, where you can cool down in the waters and also get the best view of this colorful little town. There is a coffee shop right by the seafront where you can start your day the Italian way, sipping on an Espresso (or two!)
Monterosso is the largest of the 5 villages and also the only village with a proper strip of beach, making this a popular destination for families. Along the promenade you can find a variety of gelato food stands and also seafood restaurants, where you can buy fresh seafood cones and other fishy treats.
To grab a spot at this popular beach, its best to go super early, or as the locals do, go the night before and reserve a sun chair and umbrella in advance. You can walk along the promenade to decide which stretch of beach you prefer, and rent a chair and umbrella for about 12 euros. There is also a bar right on the beach where you can get some refreshments for the day.
WHERE TO EAT
There is no shortage of good food on the Italian Riviera, whether you’re in the mood for fresh seafood, hearty Italian pizzas or some fresh anchovy and tomato bruchetta (I'm drooling over the keyboard as we speak!) An absolute must is the popular restaurant Nussun Dorma, that has one of THE best views in Cinque Terre. High up on the cliffs overlooking the sea and colorful houses of Manarola, it feels like you just stepped into a postcard. They serve magnificent platters here (See below!) and the best Aperol Spritz in town. To avoid the long lines, get there before 6PM or be prepared to wait for about an hour (or two..) to be seated. It's totally worth it though, and you have the best seats to watch Manarola's magical sunset, know as "Golden Hour".
After dinner and drinks at Nessum Dorma, walking down the hill you’ll spot an adorable little ice cream truck, selling delicious Italian gelato. They’re parked there all day, so you can even stop by for some sweet dessert on another day.
One of the things I was most excited about when planning our trip was the fresh seafood cones they sell in Cinque Terre (Drool!) You can find these in most of the villages, but the one we went to and LOVED was located in Monterosso, right on the promenade next to the beach. Il Bocconcino is a well-known shop and popular among locals and tourist, hence the looong line, but it was worth the wait. They also sell beer and other refreshing beverages to enjoy with your mouth watering food cone.
One can't go to Cinque Terre without doing a proper date night, and the perfect spot to do that is at Marina Picolla. This Michelin star restaurant has outdoor seating with panoramic sea views, and has a huge selection of fresh seafood and Italian pastas and wines.
WHERE TO STAY
When planning our trip I immediately knew that I wanted to stay in Manarola, the most picturesque of all the villages, in my opinion (It’s also the village you see on all the postcards!) As we only had a few days there and had been traveling for almost 3 weeks (With large suitcases!) I wanted to find a place to stay that was literally a stone's throw away from the train station, was centrally located, and walking distance to the seafront. I found this gem that ticked all the boxes and also had some of the best ratings in Manarola. San Giorgio is located smack bang in the middle of town, 200m walk from the seafront, right across the exit of the train station and surrounded by restaurants, supermarkets and little shops and boutiques. The rooms are modern and clean with air conditioning and also Wifi, and with a beautiful view of the Ligurian sea.
CINQUE TERRE MAP
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