Guide to Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre (meaning five lands) is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Located on top of the rugged cliffs along the Italian Riviera coastline, you’re surrounded by the Ligurian Sea on one side and beautiful, pastel-colored buildings on the other. In the old days, these five villages were known for fishing, but nowadays they’ve become a must-see for travelers. Known for fresh seafood, pesto, focaccia bread, and breathtaking scenery, it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular!

During my study abroad in Florence, Cinque Terre was one of my favorite daytrips, but I didn’t get a chance to explore all five villages, so of course I had to go back. And this time, I brought my Italian host with me, so I could get a proper tour.

To get around, you should buy a day pass at La Spezia train station for 16 €. This will give you access to unlimited train travel between the villages, buses, the hiking path, and Wi-Fi Internet connection. You can also buy a pass without access to train travel for half the price if you plan on doing the 8-hour hike through the five towns.

While I love a good hike, I didn’t have that much time to spend in Cinque Terre (or the proper shoes on) so, we hopped on the train to our first stop…

Riomaggiore

The first of the five villages is Riomaggiore, and when you get your first glimpse of it, it will definitely set your expectations high for Cinque Terre. Departing from the train station, walk towards the main street Via Colombo. Along here, you'll find plenty of restaurants, gelato cafes, and souvenir shops where you can stock up on pesto to bring back home.

Walk down Via Colombo and make your way towards Piazza Vignaioli.

Walk down Via Colombo and make your way towards Piazza Vignaioli.

For a photo-worthy view, go towards the little cliff by the ferry dock on the opposite side of the buildings.

For a photo-worthy view, go towards the little cliff by the ferry dock on the opposite side of the buildings.

If you're ever here during the right time, don't miss the chance to see the sun set!

The beginning of a wondrous sunset over Riomaggiore.

The beginning of a wondrous sunset over Riomaggiore.

Soft, pink skies against the rough sea.

Soft, pink skies against the rough sea.

You'll also find the entrance to Via dell'Amore (Lovers' Path) in this village, which you can hike all the way to Manarola.

Manarola

If you've googled 'Cinque Terre' or looked it up on Pinterest, there's no doubt you've seen photos of Manarola. It is by far one of the most picturesque places I've ever seen.

For shops and restaurants, walk down Via Antonio Discovolo, which will eventually turn to Via Renato Birolli. If you want a restaurant with a view, go to Nessun Dorma up on the hillsides for a quick bite and to take in the sights.

For the iconic shot of Manarola, walk towards the right of the harbor where there’s a path with railing. Keep walking up the path for a higher vantage point and the perfect shot!

For the iconic shot of Manarola, walk towards the right of the harbor where there’s a path with railing. Keep walking up the path for a higher vantage point and the perfect shot!

Even with the grey skies, this view is stunning.

Even with the grey skies, this view is stunning.

Corniglia

Getting off the train station at Corniglia, I didn’t expect to find a long, winding flight of stairs up to the actual village. This famous staircase, called “Ladarina”, is composed of 380 steps and connects the train station to the village. There’s also a bus that transport visitors back and forth if you’re not up for the mini hike.

Similar to the other villages, Corniglia is made up of colorful buildings.

Similar to the other villages, Corniglia is made up of colorful buildings.

Corniglia is the smallest, but also the highest up of the five villages. So, once you're at the top, you've got a fantastic view overlooking the sea and the sloping hills. If you look closely enough, you can even spot Manarola.

Perfect view of the Ligurian Sea on top of Corniglia.

Perfect view of the Ligurian Sea on top of Corniglia.

Manarola, one of it’s neighbor villages, can be seen in the distance.

Manarola, one of it’s neighbor villages, can be seen in the distance.

Honestly, Corniglia wasn’t quite as memorable compared to its neighbors. We did, however, have a fantastic lunch at Km 0 (Via Fieschi, 157, 19018 Vernazza SP, Italy)! They source their ingredients locally, and if I remember correctly, they have vegan and gluten-free offerings. Unfortunately, I was so hungry I forgot the take photos.

Vernazza

It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I think Vernazza has to be the most charming out of all of them. The main piazza is at the center of all the action, surrounded by restaurants, and overlooks the harbor. It's a really good spot to people watch while eating a seafood cone from Batti Batti (Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, 21, 19018 Vernazza SP, Italy).

Piazza Marconi is the main square of Vernazza and where you can find cats taking a little nap.

Piazza Marconi is the main square of Vernazza and where you can find cats taking a little nap.

The first time I came here, I hiked through Vernazza to Monterossa for a fantastic view.

View of Vernazza from the hiking path.

View of Vernazza from the hiking path.

The hike was well worth the view, but if you’re not doing the hike go to Castello Doria for a panoramic view that’s equally beautiful.

View of Vernazza from Castello Doria.

View of Vernazza from Castello Doria.

Monterosso al Mare

The fifth and last village is Monterosso al Mare. This village has the longest beach and on a warm, sunny day everyone flocks here to relax and enjoy the sun and sea. Sadly, we didn’t make it here on my recent visit. It was cloudy and a bit chilly, so we decided to skip it since there was no point in really going if we couldn’t take a dip in the water.

But I do fondly remember my first trip here during the peak of summer. After a tedious hike starting in Vernazza, my friend and I finally made it to Monterosso, and I was in desperate need of a cool-down in the water. The beach was pretty crowded, so I swam out to a little rock island, claimed my spot, and soaked in my surroundings. It was truly the perfect end to a perfect day!

If you’re looking to relax on the beach, Monterosso is your best bet. There are also many cafes and restaurants in the area perfect for lunch or dinner after a long day in the sun.

If you’re looking to relax on the beach, Monterosso is your best bet. There are also many cafes and restaurants in the area perfect for lunch or dinner after a long day in the sun.

Get away from the throngs of tourists by finding yourself a nice secluded spot among the rocks.

Get away from the throngs of tourists by finding yourself a nice secluded spot among the rocks.

*Originally published on Violets for Vivien

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