Cinque Terre travel guide

If there’s nothing you love more than finding yourself in a shopping centre at 6pm on Christmas Eve, or you’ve always fantasized about being reincarnated as a battery chicken, then joining a guided tour of Cinque Terre in June will surely float your boat.
If, on the other hand, you want to explore these lovely coastal villages and not be swept along with thousands of others, then visit out of season and stick to the higher walking trails.
Sure, the famous footpaths between the five villages can be transfixingly beautiful in places, but bottlenecks are common. You can get around much more freely further up, following the historic trails of the Cinque Terre National Park. And if hiking isn’t for you, then at least aim to spend a night or two in one of the villages so you can enjoy it without the day-tripper crowd. It’s the best way to get a feel for this gem of the Italian Riviera without a hundred other people in the frame.

Read our Cinque Terre travel guide for more details.

Cinque Terre is…

without doubt one of Europe’s most picturesque coastal destinations, and as you would expect, ridiculously crowded for much of the year.

Cinque Terre isn’t…

just about the five famous interlinked villages – scenic walking trails abound at higher ground above the busy Azure (Blue) Trail, and further afield, where you’ll find much more freedom.

What we rate, and what we don’t

Underrated

Staying elsewhere

Staying nearby, such as in La Spezia, and making the short journey to the villages in the morning makes sense if you don’t mind a short transfer each way, and is also advantageous for walking further afield. Reasonably priced accommodations in the villages themselves are naturally in very high demand.

Staying in Cinque Terre

Yes a direct contradiction. The best time to experience the villages is either early morning or the evening, when all of the day-trippers have returned to their hotels and everything quietens down. It can almost feel peaceful, and of course the sunsets are magnificent.

Sea kayaking

Another way to admire that stunning Ligurian coastline is sea kayaking, which is a gentle afternoon excursion on some walking holidays around Cinque Terre – it requires a little more exertion than just hiking, but offers a unique perspective of the iconic villages.
Rated

Walking

Cinque Terre is lovely for walking, but don’t stick to the Azure Trail which can be more like a conga line at points. The national park has around 100km of trails, many at higher elevations, that are much quieter and will also offer a little more challenge.

Local produce

There’s no shortage of restaurants in Cinque Terre with menus priced for tourists, but the olive oil, the anchovies, the wines and especially the pesto (which originates from this region) are all renowned. By treating yourself you’ll not only be supporting local producers, but also helping keep people on the land, which is essential to preserve the old hill terraces.

Corniglia

Corniglia is often overlooked, being set inland and usually reached with a tough uphill walk as it’s 100m above sea level. That also means it’s the calmest of the villages, with lovely views of the sea far below, historic terraces and even beaches (more steps down to them though).
Overrated

Via dell’ Amore

The Via dell’Amore, likely to reopen as late as May 2023, will no doubt be just as packed as before the landslide that closed it. Easy to walk, with handrails, and especially attractive, it is the most popular stretch of the Azure Trail but so swamped that it’s little more than an obligatory photo stop for most.

Trains between villages

Taking the train between the villages might seem convenient, but it can be an awful experience, with platforms and carriages full to the point of being dangerous at peak times. You’re far better off getting around by foot or by boat.

Terraces

The famous terraces carved into the hillsides above Cinque Terre to cultivate grapes and other crops have been sadly neglected as people leave the land for more prosperous work in tourism. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s time that repairs to this unique cultural landscape were funded properly.

Our top Cinque Terre Holiday

Tour of  Northern Italy

Tour of Northern Italy

Experience the magic of Italy

From £3205 to £3460 21 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 13 Apr, 27 Apr, 11 May, 25 May, 8 Jun, 29 Jun, 6 Jul, 3 Aug, 17 Aug, 24 Aug, 31 Aug, 7 Sep, 14 Sep, 21 Sep
2021: 12 Apr, 26 Apr, 10 May, 24 May, 7 Jun, 28 Jun, 5 Jul, 2 Aug, 16 Aug, 23 Aug, 30 Aug, 6 Sep, 13 Sep, 20 Sep
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Cinque Terre or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Cinque Terre map & highlights

Cinque Terre was once plagued by marauding pirates. Now it’s overrun by tourists. È sempre la solita zuppa – always the same old soup.
The ‘Five Lands’ of the Italian Riviera, from north to south Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, are strung like pearls on a crescent-shaped stretch of coastal beauty between Ventimiglia and La Spezia. These charming villages with their pastel-shaded houses and fishing harbours form the centerpiece of Cinque Terre National Park, the smallest in Italy and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Driving here is not recommended, with steep, twisty roads and parking almost non-existent. Instead you get between the villages by train, the ferry (doesn’t go to Corniglia) or a network of ancient walking trails, with routes higher up and in the surrounding countryside providing a welcome break from the day-tripper crowds.
1. Azure (Blue) Trail
2. Corniglia
3. La Spezia
4. Levanto
5. Manarola
6. Monterosso al Mare
7. Riomaggiore
8. Vernazza
Azure (Blue) Trail

1. Azure (Blue) Trail

Linking the five villages, the Azure Trail (so-named for its dreamy sea views) is the most attractive, the most well-known and consequently by far the busiest walking route in the area. Centuries old and taking five hours to walk, it follows the coast and is frequently affected by landslides – as of October 2019 the Via dell’Amore section was closed for repairs. Walking at higher elevations is much more peaceful and just as scenic.
Corniglia

2. Corniglia

Corniglia is about as near to ‘escaping the crowds’ as you’re going to get in Cinque Terre. Set back from the sea, it feels like a rural country village, with fewer than 200 residents. The ‘fasce’ terraced fields are numerous here as people relied more on farming than fishing. Many visitors are put off by the ‘Lardarina’, 382 steps over 33 flights, though a small bus does go from the station. Reward your climb with a mouthwatering honey gelato.
La Spezia

3. La Spezia

La Spezia serves as the gateway to Cinque Terre just to the west and a base for many tours exploring the villages. The city is a cruise port (bleurgh) and naval base, and there are ferries along the coast from the harbour. Browse the old town’s trattorias to enjoy typical Ligurian cuisine, and perhaps time your visit for mid-March and the St. Joseph Fiesta, with feasting and a huge market that’s fab for traditional handicrafts and foods.
Levanto

4. Levanto

Set just to the north of Cinque Terre, Levanto is a little more relaxed, and a regular base for those wanting to avoid staying in the villages themselves as it is just a few minutes away by train or boat. The town has a longish strand of beach and like the rest of the area, plenty of well-kept historic architecture. Don’t leave without tasting the gattafin, a deep-fried pastry purse stuffed with sautéed onions and chard.
Manarola

5. Manarola

Close to Riomaggiore, Manarola feels even more crammed in summer as it’s the second-smallest of the five villages. It is an exquisite place though, with a small harbour and a piazza lined with seafood restaurants. The ubiquitous, sweet Sciacchetrà wine is especially good from Manarola’s vines. Go in December or January to see the hills behind illuminated by the largest nativity scene in the world.
Monterosso al Mare

6. Monterosso al Mare

The largest and to be honest the least attractive of the villages, Monterosso al Mare has a resort-y feel to it, with lots of modern hotels and restaurants. Stick to the old town for a more pleasurable visit. It has the only beach of any significance in Cinque Terre which predictably gets crazily busy. The gigantic statue of Neptune, cast in concrete and iron, is the most interesting sight.
Riomaggiore

7. Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore welcomes, if that’s the word, some two million visitors every year, being the most southern and accessible of the five villages. The fishing boats bobbing in the harbour should be a reminder that not everyone here depends on tourism for their livelihoods, so do try a cone of anchovies, a local speciality – the fishermen trick them into their nets with lamps at night.
Vernazza

8. Vernazza

Dominated by its old fortress, Vernazza is perhaps the prettiest of the five villages, its harbour overlooked by wonderfully elegant pastel-shaded houses. The olive groves here are said to produce some of the finest oil in Italy, and many other homegrown specialties from pesto to craft beer can be tasted at July’s Feast of Santa Margherita. The new pebble beach tends to be a little quieter than the city beach.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: antonio erre] [Is/Isn't: Daniil Vnoutchkov] [Underrated: LiFE on Manual] [Rated: pxhere] [Overrated: Fredrik Rubensson] [Azure (Blue) Trail: susanne906] [Corniglia: chensiyuan] [La Spezia: Riottoso] [Levanto: Davide Papalini] [Manarola: Miriam Rossignoli] [Monterosso al Mare: Lee & Chantelle McArthur] [Riomaggiore: Raul Taciu] [Vernazza: Med Cruise Guide]
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