The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre Guide- Where to stay and things to do

Five quaint, colourful towns perched on the rugged cliffs of north-west Italian coastline- Cinque Terre is a place you’ve got to experience in your lifetime.

Whether you are planning a visit to Cinque Terre or simply dreaming about these seaside towns, I’ve put together a guide to the region, including where to stay, things to do, and the best spots to swim, eat, take photos, and most importantly… Get the best gelato.

As I sit here writing this, I’m perched on a rock, the sound of lapping waves filling my ears, the taste of fresh seafood and a juicy peach fresh on my lips. I’m staring in awe at the view in front of me- a cluster of colourful pastel building hanging daintily off the side of a cliff. Riomaggiore is the first of five seaside towns on the north coast of Italy that make up Cinque Terre, and is our residence for the next five days. After a month-long whirlwind tour of the USA, I am eternally grateful to have this time to unwind and adjust to a slower pace of life. After all, in Italy, the biggest problem I face in a day is selecting which gelato flavour is next to delight my palate (a problem that sometimes occurs twice a day, mind you).  It’s only been a day, and already I’ve become deeply infatuated with the Cinque Terre region. From the artisan wine to the impeccable seafood, the iridescent water to the vibrant throng of building facades, a stay in one of these seaside towns is a magical experience to say the least.

 

 

Riomaggiore

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The first and the second biggest of the five towns, Riomaggiore is known for its locally-produced wine and picturesque wharf framed by colourful tower houses. With lots of accommodation and dining options and a nice sheltered beach to swim at, Riomaggiore is a great base for your visit to the Cinque Terre region.

Where to eat: Il Pescato Cucinato is a little takeaway seafood shop that makes the most delicious fried calamari buckets. Enjoy one of these down by the wharf with a cold beer in hand and you’ll be in heaven. You’ll find the shop half way along the main street in Riomaggiore.

Where to stay: I stayed at the Casalorelei: Camera Rosa through AirBnB and was very pleasantly surprised with the accommodation. The apartment was very close to the train station and it took about 5 minutes to walk into town. The room was simple, clean, and fairly spacious, and came fully equipped with everything down to supplies for breakfast. It even had a little balcony with a view of the sea! If you haven’t used AirBnB before, you can sign up here to receive $45 off your first stay.

Best photo spot: Down by the marina, you will notice a rocky outcrop that you can access via stairs. If you are limber on your feet, climb out to the furthest point at sunset to get the best view looking back on Riomaggiore!

Where to Swim:  From the main street, head through the tunnel to the wharf, then follow the stairs up and around the cliff until you reach a rocky beach. This is the perfect spot to sunbake and take a leisurely swim in the ocean as oppose to swimming around the harbour.

 

Manarola

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Manarola may be the second smallest of the towns, but it is also the oldest, and in my opinion, the most beautiful in the Cinque Terre region. With the magnificent San Lorezo church perched up on the hill, mazes of cobblestone alleyways to meander through and a cliff face like no other, Manarola was easily my favourite of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre.

Where to Eat: Trattoria dal Billy is a little hidden gem that is definitely worth the short trek. This restaurant not only had a great view over the water, but the food was absolutely divine. Very fresh seafood and impeccable homemade pasta.

Where to Drink: Nessun Dorma boasts postcard-perfect views over Manarola. Perfect for a drink or a snack whilst you watch the sunset, and you’ll get an extremely insta-worthy photo whilst you are at it! The café is away from the main town and can be found by walking around the path along the cliff edge and then up the set of stairs at the bend of the path.

Where to get Gelato: 5 Terre Gelataria will fulfil all your gelato cravings and then have you coming back for seconds. Simple but delicious flavours of both gelato and sorbet to suit all tastebuds.

Best photo spot: After many hours of searching for a photo spot that was not obstructed by fences or hoards of tourists, we accidentally stumbled upon a place with the perfect view over the city. If you follow the path around to Nessun Dorma, walk up the stairs until you see a pink arch. The spot is actually a cemetery, so be respectful, but if you walk through you’ll soon have the best view over the city without any obstructions or crowds to get in your way. Alternatively, if you are feeling adventurous, climb over the fence of the main path and on to the rocky cliffs and you will be able to get an epic shot. Not that I would ever do something like that…

 

Vernazza

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I personally didn’t spend too much time in this town, but it is hard not to instantly fall for Vernazza… Especially once you’ve seen it from above. The closest of the five to remain a “true” fisherman’s village, it has the only natural harbor in Cinque Terre. Vernazza is even home to the Castle Doria, a 15th century lookout tower, which was allegedly used to protect the village from pirates.

Best photo spot: Hike the trail towards Monteresso for about 15 minutes and you’ll get to the place with the postcard perfect shot. It really doesn’t getting much better than this vantage point! Normally you do have to pay to enter this path, but if you aren’t planning to hike the whole trail you can always try asking if you can just go in take some photos and come back.

Where to swim: I wouldn’t suggest Vernazza for swimming. There are a few places to swim around the harbour but the other towns definitely offer better swimming options.

Where to eat: When you need a break from the carb-overload of pizza and pasta, Lunch Box has your back. With fresh juices, smoothies, sandwiches and salads, this is an ideal stop after completing one of Cinque Terre’s killer hikes.

 

Monteresso

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The biggest and most resort-like of the five towns in Cinque Terre, Monteresso is the place to come for anyone after a variety of restaurants, shops and a proper beach to swim at. Personally, I wouldn’t choose to stay at Monteresso- it doesn’t quite have the same quaintness as the other towns and is noticeably busier. However, I would definitely still recommend checking it out as the beach is rather beautiful and there is a lot to explore in town!

Best photo spot: No particular vantage points to highlight, but make sure you get a snap along the beach of with the colourful umbrellas against that popping blue ocean. You always have to get that classic beach shot!

Where to eat: You won’t run out of restaurants to choose from here. For a cheap, informal eat, try Gastronomia San Martino Restaurant. The establishment itself doesn’t look like much, but they make arguably the best handmade pasta in the region. This place is not to be missed!

Where to swim: Most of the beach at Monteresso you do have to pay for. Generally the price includes a chaise lounge and an umbrella, but it still sucks having paying to use a beach. There are a few spots along the beach that are free but inevitably are very crowded. We ended opting not to swim at the beach due to these crowds.

 

Corniglia

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Corniglia is the most unique of the five towns, mostly due to its geographical position. Unlike the other four seaside towns, Corniglia is perched up on a hill. We didn’t have a chance to visit Cornelgia on our visit, which was a shame as the views from the top are meant to be rather spectacular!

Where to eat: After climbing 365 stairs to reach the top of the town, you are going to be ready to have your hunger satisfied. Pan e Vin Bar is a hole-in-the-wall cafe that will do exactly that, offering a delightful range of focaccia and bruschetta.

Where to drink: Fancy drinking a glass of wine against a backdrop of shimmering ocean? Bar Terza Terra offers an extensive range of wine and cocktails and its outdoor terrace offers the best views in Corniglia.

Where to get Gelato: Alberto Gelateria Restaurant boasts some of the most deliciously unique ice cream flavours in Cinque Terre, using locally sourced ingredients such as basil and honey. For something a little more refreshing, the Lemon Granita is said to be the best around.

 

Other Notes

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Getting from town to town: The train is by the far the cheapest and easiest method for getting from town to town. Tickets are sold at the station for a couple of Euros, running from La Spezia to Levanto and stopping at the five towns along the way. If you have time and want to escape the throng of tourists inside Cinque Terre, both La Spezia and Levanto are both towns that are worth visiting for the day. The other option for getting between towns is the ferry. Although it is pricey, the ferry is the most picturesque way to travel as you are able to see the full glory of each town from the water. Ferries will only run when the sea conditions are right (I learnt this the hard way), so try schedule a ride at the beginning of your visit to avoid missing out.

Hiking: One of the most popular things to do in Cinque Terre is hike the famous trails between the towns. To do so, you have to purchase Cinque Terre card from one of the tourist offices, which you buy as a daily ticket for about 5-7 Euros. Unfortunately, many of the paths are closed at the moment due to the devastating landslides that occurred a few years ago. Be sure to check which trails are actually open before planning your hiking trip.

 

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I hope this guide helps you to enjoy your time visiting Cinque Terre to the maximum. In the end, the five villages that make up Cinque Terre may be a little more commercialized, overcrowded and overpriced than their former fishing village days, but in my opinion, they still haven’t completely lost their Italian charm. My best piece of advice? Avoid the crowds, grab a bottle of wine and a takeaway pizza, find a little sanctuary on the rocks, and get lost in this magical mirage of pastel paints, rugged cliffs and turquoise ocean.

N x

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Caroline Sølver
    September 10, 2015 at 6:28 am

    Your pictures are absolutely stunning and you look amazing! I was in Cinque Terre five years ago and I loved it, but I feel like (because of us – damn travel bloggers ;) ) like you write in the end of the post that Cinque terre is becoming overcrowded and commercialized :'(

  • Reply
    Roaming Ruby
    September 10, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Love it! One of the best artricles ive read on the cinque terre, may I ask how you made your way through the towns? Train or did you walk the national parks? Also did you just take day trips to the other towns from Riomaggiore? X

  • Reply
    Cocoa
    September 10, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Reading through this post has been the highlight of my morning. The Cinque Terre is my happy place and you captured it perfectly.

    PS: If you ever go back to Vernazza, there is a really great area for swimming/rock jumping- there’s a big hole in the rock as you walk down the main street, and if you pass through you’ll end up at the area called New Beach. It was created by the flood a few years back and is my favorite beach in the Cinque Terre- lots of cool places to climb and explore!

  • Reply
    melrae21
    September 11, 2015 at 6:31 am

    Great post! I’m in Riomaggiore right now! I’ve chosen to stay here as my base for my 5 night stay. I’ve
    visited all the towns so far and hiked between Monterosso and Corniglia today which was incredible! Loved the gelato recommendation in Corniglia, actually tried the basil and honey flavours today after the hike. Amazing!

  • Reply
    Louise
    September 15, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    Hello! I found your blog from the interview on Cava For Lunch and I’m really glad I did! You seem like a wonderful person who takes nothing less than wonderful photos. I adore the colors in each and every one. Will be living vicariously through you until I can perhaps too one day find a job travelling the world and writing about it. Have a lovely week! xx

    Louise
    http://louiseplace.com

  • Reply
    Kristina
    September 17, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    such a great post! I am contemplating going there next year and this post has given me so much inspiration!

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Kelana by Kayla
    October 28, 2015 at 10:56 am

    This is one of the best guides I have ever come across! Its amazing, truely! Your photos are fantastic too! Shared to twitter :) xx

  • Reply
    Kait Collins
    April 29, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Hi there! Do you happen to know how one might be able to check and see which paths are open at the moment? Thanks so much for your post! Very helpful in planning my trip to Cinque Terre in a few weeks :)

    • Reply
      polkadotpassport
      April 29, 2016 at 7:25 pm

      I’m so sorry I’m not sure you’ll have to check the local cinque Terre website for those details! Glad it could help :)

  • Reply
    Emily
    May 19, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    I have recently become quite in love with your blog, as I am planning a five week trip to Greece, Italy, Ireland and England. Your tips, tricks, fashion and photo ops are inspiring.

    In the very last photo pictured in this post, you are in a floral skirt, standing on rocks looking out towards what I think is Manarola (?), to get that shot do you have to purchase a Cinque Terre hiking card? Or was this shot available just from walking from the centre of town to the outskirts of town?

    I haven’t looked much into the hiking card as I assumed I’d just take the train from town to town, but now I am not sure.

    The view is amazing and I’d love to see it for myself! Just wondering how you got to that spot! Thanks! :)

  • Reply
    natasha
    June 15, 2016 at 5:02 am

    The photo of you in Manarola on the rocks looking out at the town, is that where you describe hopping over a fence to get too??

  • Reply
    Amoureux Voyageux
    August 18, 2016 at 2:52 am

    We are going there in a few days, and that’s by far the best article we’ve seen so far, well done, keep the hard work going, we will talk about your article on our travel article about this place!

    Cheers

  • Reply
    Natalie
    February 2, 2017 at 2:20 am

    Ooh absolutely love your photos! I can’t wait to visit the area too!

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