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A Guide to the Best Things to do in Cinque Terre

Last Updated on 28th October 2022 by Sophie Nadeau

Cinque Terre is a magical destination along the Italian Riviera (between Florence and Genoa to be precise). Largely traffic free, the five lands are made up of five pastel-hued port towns which overlook the crashing waves and are themselves nestled in the shadow of the Ligurian wine region.

Here’s your Cinque Terre guide, an ultimate itinerary for the best things to do in Cinque Terre as well as the closest airport to the region, where to stay and the best village to visit!

In total, as its name would suggest, there are five villages that make up Cinque Terre. Nestled in the very heart of the Liguria region in Northern Italy, just west of the city of La Spezia, sits the legendary ‘five lands’.

A destination that spans 10 km of coastline, the region is visited by thousands of tourists annually. And it’s not hard to see why. If you’re planning a visit, then here’s how to spend 2 days in Cinque Terre.

Cinque terre
Cinque Terre/ MNStudio/ Shutterstock

Here’s why you should consider a visit to Cinque Terre (the Five Lands)

Turquoise sea, brightly coloured houses that would look at home in Balamory tilled fields frame these picture-perfect scenes; Cinque Terre is actually a collection of five villages. Culture meets nature in a destination that’s different from anywhere else in Europe.

So beautifully and culturally important are these villages and their surroundings in the 5 Terre, which were first attested in the 11th Century, that they are now a National Park and UNESCO world heritage site.

The best part is that there is little sign of modern fast food shops and outlets, forcing you to try local delicacies. The quality of the anchovies from the village of Monterosso al Mare is such that they have been given a special protected designation of origin title from the European Union.

Cinque Terre is also one of the most romantic destinations in Europe, making it the perfect destination if you’re planning a honeymoon in Italy.

Riomaggiore/ LucVi/ Shutterstock

What villages make up Cinque Terre?

The five villages are as follows; Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Three of these five villages are only accessible by paths, trains, and boats; it is really like stepping back in time (but with the reassurance of healthcare, world travel etc when you return to the real world).

Where is Cinque Terre?

Cinque Terre is located in the region of Liguria on the Western coast of Italy. This is just above the region of Tuscany. Located within a National Park (Cinque Terre National Park), the area attracts up to 2.4 million visitors on an annual basis.

How long do you need to visit Cinque Terre?

Well, while it is certainly possible to visit Cinque Terre as a day trip from Milan, I would certainly not advise you to. For starters, the journey is incredibly long, and you don’t want to be spending hours of your precious time in Italy travelling on public transport or even in a car!

As well as this,Cinque Terre merits a visit of more than a mere few hours. To truly appreciate the beauty of this stunning destination, you’ll want to set aside at least two to three days of travel time, and preferably more!

water at Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre/ Gaspar Janos/ Shutterstock

Best things to do in Cinque Terre

Learn about the local history

Until the arrival of tourism, the only real way to get to the five lands was by sea, and even today the town boasts vestiges of its rich past. Once upon a time, Cinque Terre was described as the five castles.

This is because, during the Middle Ages, each of the villages would have sprung up in the shadow of fortified castles that would have protected the surrounding villagers from pirates.

Today, ruins of the castles of each town remain, some of which can be visited by the public. One of the best preserved castles is that of Vernazza, which is nicknamed ‘Belforte’ (loud cries) on account of the fact that those keeping a watchful eye out for pirates would scream from the tower to warn residents of incoming pirates during the Middle Ages.


Sample local food

If there’s one thing you should know about Italy before your trip, it’s that Italian food is simply divine. The Ligurian region is no exception to the rule and Cinque’s close proximity to the sea means that seafood and locally caught fish are two of the most popular elements of any Cinque Terre menu.

Getting seafood to take away in a cone is locally popular and you’ll see many tourists and locals alike wandering around the towns with their savoury snacks. The seafood cone is also a budget friendly way of testing a variety of the seafood that’s popular in Cinque Terre.

seafood in Cinque Terre
Seafood in Cinque Terre/ Marechal Lenaic/ Shutterstock

If fish isn’t really your thing, the Liguria region as a whole is home to some of the best focaccia and pesto in the world. Olives, grapes, and lemons are also grown in the region and it is around these foodstuffs that most of the towns’ industries have grown. With this being said, the biggest industry in Cinque Terre today is tourism.

dinner in Cinque Terre
Dinner in Cinque Terre/ Ekaterina Iatcenko/ Shutterstock

The most classic dish to come from Cinque Terre is pasta (typically a gnocchi) served with pesto and anchovies. Indeed, pesto is alleged to have originated in the Five Lands and the traditional recipe includes basil, garlic, sea salt, virgin olive oil and toasted pine nuts. Pesto is often garnished with freshly grated parmesan.

For an even greater insight into food from Cinque Terre, consider booking a food tour like this one.

Drink local white wine/ Cinque Terre Wine

Italian wine is world-famous and so it’s worth noting that, the Cinque Terre, too, produces its own white wine on the steep hills overlooking the villages below. Sciacchetrà wine (found only in Cinque Terre) is sweet and is typically consumed together with a crispy biscotti.

The two wines that are exclusively produced in the area are Cinque Terre DOC (dry white wine) and Sciacchetrà DOC (a sweet dessert wine).

In the past, each family would have had its own small vineyard and the hills have been terraced for hundreds of years and today the dry stone walled terraces line the hills above the towns. The most famous of the villages for wine-making is Corniglia, where wine has been produced since Roman times.

Cinque Terre wine
Cinque Terre wine/ Giorgio Paravagna/ Shutterstock

See the monorail wine train

One of the most unique things in Cinque Terre is to the monorail wine train which takes workers through the steep ridges of the Ligurian wine region up to the vineyards above. Unfortunately, the wine trains are not open to the public and cannot be ridden by tourists.

wine train cinque terre
Cinque Terre wine train/ Photoestetica/ Shutterstock

Explore the harbour of Vernazza

Vernazza is made up of one long winding street that makes its way from the train station down to the port. Boats sway in the breeze in the natural harbour (the only natural harbour of Cinque Terre) and there’s a little pebble beach where you can relax or paddle in the sea.

The best thing to do in Vernazza is to relax by the harbour and watch the world go by. Other highlights of Vernazza harbour include sunning rocks, a kid’s beach, and a wide array of delectable eateries. It’s worth noting that cars are not allowed to enter Vernazza, with the exception of delivery vans on Tuesdays.

Vernazza harbour
Vernazza Harbour/ cge2010/ Shutterstock

Visit the Vernazza weekly market

Whether you’re in search of a unique souvenir or simply want to pick up some local produce, a particular highlight of Vernazza is the weekly market, which takes place on the long main street which forms the basis of the town.

The market takes place on Tuesday mornings so be sure to get up early so as to make sure you’ll be able to visit (and buy the best produce before it’s all sold out!). There’s even a number of florists if you wish to purchase fresh flowers during your market visit.

Vernazza market
Vernazza market/ CHEN FANGXIANG/ Shutterstock

Wander the Caruggi (narrow passages)

As most of the towns only have one central road which passes through them, the only way to get to the houses and buildings which are constructed on higher ground are by walking through the caruggi.

These narrow lanes are typical of the region and can get pretty dark at night and, at certain points, the passages get so narrow that they pass through/ under neighbouring buildings.

In many of the villages, if you follow the passages right to the top, you’ll come out at the castle, which in turn offers breathtaking views over the village below and its surrounding coastline.

Visit the landlocked town of Corniglia

The only town that is not set along the coastline is Corniglia and so this Cinque Terre destination can often feel even more remote than its counterparts. However, just because the town itself is landlocked doesn’t mean that its surrounds are. On the fringes of the town there is a Belvedere where visitors can look out to sea.

Some of the top highlights of Corniglia include the church of San Pietro (Saint Peter), which overlooks the main town square, and the oratory of Santa Caterina (Saint Catherine).

Corniglia/ Cezary Wojtkowski/ Shutterstock

Enjoy the harbour at Manarola

Many say that Manarola is one of the most picturesque villages in Cinque Terre, and its honestly hard to disagree. One of the top things to do in Manarola is to go swimming in the crystal clear waters, and so be sure not to forget your bathing suit!

Manarola/ Whatafoto/ Shutterstock

Snap a photo of Riomaggiore

One of the most classic photos of Cinque Terre can be taken in the quaint village of Riomaggiore. Due to the compact nature of the village, it’s not hard to find the town’s main viewpoint, which comprises of the entirety of the town, including the harbour.

There’s rocks which jut out to sea, from which you can take the photo. The most magical of the time to see Riomaggiore is at sunset and so consider packing some snacks and don’t forget your camera!

Riomaggiore/ Paolo Gallo/ Shutterstock

Relax on Monterosso Beach

Despite their position perched on the cliffs next to the sea, not all of the villages and towns of Cinque Terre have their own beach. One of the best beaches in Cinque Terre is that of Monterosso al Mare Beach. Monterosso is also the largest of the five villages.

Unfortunately, due to a real lack of beaches in the area, the beach can get incredibly busy, particularly during the summer months. As such, if you’re visiting Monterosso in July or August, then be sure to head to the beach as early in the day as possible in order to secure a nice spot on the beach.

Monterosso Beach
Monterosso Beach/ Shoriful Chowdhury/ Shutterstock

Go kayaking

Of course, if you want to get an entirely new perspective of the Five Lands, then the best way to do so is by going out to sea. Booking a kayak tour like this one is a great way to enjoy a water-based activity in Cinque Terre.

Kayaking Cinque Terre
Kayaking Cinque Terre/ Mikhail Varentsov/ Shutterstock

Take a sunset cruise from Monterosso

Even if you couldn’t believe that the coastline of Cinque Terre simply couldn’t get more magical, it can. Taking a sunset cruise from Monterosso like this one will allow you to enjoy the Italian Riviera in an entirely new light.

Hike between the villages of Cinque Terre

One of the best days in my travels in Cinque Terre was the day I purchased a day pass and hiked between Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza. Although only 1.8 miles long, the summer heat coupled with a number of descents and ascents can mean it takes 2 hours to walk on average.

However, the panoramic views are breathtaking and ensured that Cinque Terre has ended up on my Bucket List of places to return to and that I truly recommend hiking between at least two of the villages during your time in the Five Lands of Italy.

Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre/ Dudarev Mikhail/ Shutterstock

In total, there are 120 km worth of hiking trails comprising of 48 hiking trails so make sure to wear comfortable shoes for walking. In order to go on the most famous of the trails, the Blue Trail, you’ll need to purchase a Cinque Terre card. This card will also give you access to bus rides and public toilets.

Please note that, while many guides will suggest that the Via dell’Amore (path of love) is one of the top hiking trails in Cinque Terre, it has sadly been closed since 2012 due to a devastating rock and mudslide in the area. The trail is reset to open to the public in July of 2024.


How to get to Cinque Terre

As with many destinations in Italy, the easiest way to get to Cinque Terre is via train. The train journey takes visitors through long tunnels which traverse beneath rolling hills covered in vineyards. The train line dates all the way back to the 1870s and was an incredible feat of engineering when it was first opened.

You won’t need a car to get around Cinque Terre and nor should you try and visit the five ports with one. The villages are interconnected with one another by train and, with the exception of walking, regularly serviced train spots are the best way to get between each of the Cinque Terre towns.

Best place to stay in Cinque Terre

Each village has its own unique vibe and so where you stay in Cinque Terre is entirely dependent on your budget and what you’re personally looking for. While Vernazza is the most easily accessible of all five towns, and so has the most in terms of accommodation, those looking to get a little off the beaten path might consider booking a stay in Riomaggiore. The best value for money budget rooms are called ‘camere’.


Closest airport to Cinque Terre

Chances are, if you’re headed to Italy from abroad, then you’ll probably be taking the plane. If you’re looking for advice on how to get to Cinque Terre, then the nearest airport is at Pisa.

A final note…

One of the more interesting facts about Cinque Terre is that, while Italian is the main language spoken, each of the five villages have their own distinctive dialect, which in turn is a variation of Ligurian.

While many people speak English, it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Purchase an Italian phrasebook like this one to help you get by.

If you’re looking for even more inspiration about the boot-shaped country, then be sure to check out our best travel quotes about Italy or our 2 weeks in Italy guide. And if you need to know more information before heading to the South of Europe, check out our top Italy travel tips.


Enjoyed reading about the best things to do in Cinque Terre? Pin this article now, read it again later:

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The Travellers

Monday 26th of June 2017

Very beautiful. We went in Italy but definately we will go again. One of my favourite places.


Tuesday 12th of January 2016


Omgg I'd love to visit Cinque Terre once in my life :

And your pictures are truly amazing ! :) I'll definitely keep an eye on your blog

Keep going

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