Things to do in Cinque Terre are not typically Italian – there are no museums and famous artwork. Still, this is one of the most popular destinations in the country and quite reachable. You just need to know when and how to come. If you are in a broad “neighborhood” – in Tuscany, Veneto, or Genoa and Milan, it’s quite easy to get here by train. It’s even more relaxed by car (at least to La Spezia town) while a boat ride might just be the prettiest.
Still, keep in mind that this is one of those destinations that tourists flock to in large numbers, it’s going to be hard to find a quiet spot to take a photo or have a coffee, or you just might miss a train or two due to crowds. They say that Cinque Terre is visited by 2.5 million people every year while the population is only 4,000!
Cinque Terre Italy Map
Cinque Terre Italy
Cinque Terre in Italian literary means “five lands”. The name refers to a group of fishermen’s villages in Liguria that are similar in architecture and form a certain national park. The area was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1997.
*A few of the main facts will be provided in sections about each of the villages followed by important tips and pieces of advice that will help you visit the area.
Unlike the rest of Italy, Cinque Terre villages don’t have typical landmarks related to museums or great works of art but that’s not the reason anyone comes here anyway. Still, there are a few historic buildings to be seen in Riomaggiore Italy, namely San Giovanni Church and San Lorenzo Church, both dating from the 14th century. There is also the Riomaggiore Castle that was built in 1260 with a nice view of the sea.
Riomaggiore is the first village to be reached from La Spezia. Instagram photos will often picture this place from the sea given that it stretches on both sides of the cove. What’s interesting is the fact that Riomaggiore was the first of the five villages to be discovered by tourists after it was portrayed by the 19th-century artist Telemaco Signorini in his paintings.
A long corridor will take you from the train station to the foot of the village. The street then goes between yellow and orange facades to a wide terrace. If you turn right, there will be a small viewpoint to take pictures from. The castle and its terrace are on the opposite side.
Manarola Cinque Terre
Manarola is one of the most popular towns in Cinque Terre Italy due to its lovely view from the walkway across the cliff with colorful houses. This is where a popular restaurant can be found with a beautiful view and some delicious Italian specialties.
In a small marina, there is a tiny pier and a little square with restaurants and cafés next to it. There is no typical beach here but Manarola is still popular among swimmers.
The popular hiking trail Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Trail) links Riomaggiore with Manarola but one should check if the path is open. In the central area, there is the San Lorenzo Church to be seen, built in 1338.
The only town in Cinque Terre Italy without access to the sea is Corniglia. It is thus less visited than others. It’s also high up on the 100-meter cliff above sea level. There are 377 steps that will take you from the railway station to the central area which can get challenging during summer. Still, with your train ticket, it’s possible to take a minibus ride that goes every 15 minutes.
This is also the place to find the San Pietro Parish built in a typical gothic Ligurian style, along with narrow allies and arches between the colorful houses. There are no hotels in Corniglia, only apartments or rooms to let. The small square houses a café next to the charming stairs. The church is on the right and the lovely view for taking photos is on the left.
This is where I bought my focaccia and farinata (and a few cannolis), and rushed back to catch the minibus with Željana and Duško. (Those pastries stayed warm until we reached Vernazza.)
We needed to spend more time in Vernazza. The station is on the top of the town which tumbles down to the small bay. There is a nice square with Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church, a small beach full of swimmers while tourists occupy the nearby staircase. (This is where we had some ice cream later.) At the edge of the village, there is Doria Castle with an imposing tower dating back to the 15th century when the area was trying to defend itself from pirates.
When walking down from the station, you should take a small narrow passage between buildings on the right and then continue to climb up and to the left. There will be a narrow path that will take you by a cottage with a guard you should show your ticket to so that you are able to pass without paying an extra fee. Also, one shouldn’t wear slippers or flop-flops but comfortable hiking shoes. The path curves and then goes up turning into slippery, narrow stairs. I even think that the heat was the hardest to bear here. So, the first shaded area was ours! (It was time for that Corneglia pastry after all.)
While we were recovering from the heat, a few girls were stepping down the same path. One of them was so tired that her legs were seriously shaking. “Don’t bother to go further from the curve on the top, it’s pointless and too hard with nothing to see afterward”, she stressed before continuing down. And so, we just took another 20 steps or so, found one of the best views in Cinque Terre – and came back down.
Monterosso al Mare Italy
This is the last town and the only one that it’s not tumbling down from the cliff. It’s the easiest to reach with no ups and downs over and over but it’s also pretty basic. Nevertheless, Monterosso al Mare is best-known for its beach, the only regular one in Cinque Terre.
Monterosso has a variety of hotels and restaurants. Its long sandy beach is full of sunbeds and umbrellas while the Fagina area at the end is a free part of sand where you can place your towel on. Right next to it, there is a Giant sculpture, representing Neptune, the sea god.
If you managed to visit all five towns in one day, as we did, this will be the place to take a rest. I have to admit that I wasn’t even thinking about the beach. I just wanted a quiet place to sit and have a macchiato lungo (or two).
If you are coming to Cinque Terre because of the beaches, Monterosso is the best option. If not, you don’t have to spend a lot of time here.
Things to do in Cinque Terre
So, when it comes to things to do in Cinque Terre, there are a few facts one has to know before visiting. People come here from Easter to November while July and August are the busiest months. May and September are nice options but you might not be able to swim. If, on the other hand, you come during winter, this will probably be the best time to have a few quiet days. Even though you will have the hiking trails and viewpoints just for yourself, they might get closed due to bad weather.
Also, you won’t go around by car. Inhabitants are even prohibited to use one. This doesn’t come as a surprise when taking into consideration that a few decades ago people only went on foot here. Until the 1960s, Cinque Terre Italy was totally unknown to tourists while the villages were accessible only by foot or small boats.
TIP: Although hiking trails are popular, one has to check if they are open. Have in mind that they tend to become narrow and steep. (For instance, it will take about whole two hours to walk for 5 km from Vernazza to Monterosso!)
Similar to what we said about the time to visit, go for accommodation. Try to avoid the peak season. It’s virtually impossible to find a room in August. So, book your apartment months in advance if you wish to stay in one of the villages. La Spezia, the port with the central railway station, is also a good option. It’s not far and it has a lot of hotels and apartments that are less expensive than those in the actual Cinque Terre towns. The train ride from La Spezia to Riomaggiore lasts only for about five minutes.
TIP: Your daily train ticket will allow you to hop on and off as many times as you like in a day. When you buy it in La Spezia, it will cost 18.20 Euros. All the toilets at the stations will be available for free (otherwise they cost 1 Euro), you can pass to some hiking trails without paying an extra fee, and you will be able to take a minibus in Corneglia.
So, among things to do in Cinque Terre is to go around by train. They are frequent and it will only take 5 minutes to get from one village to the next. It would be best to check the departures when arriving at the next station and to plan how much time to spend there, especially if you are visiting all the five towns in one go.
TIP: Chances are that you will wait in line at the station in La Spezia. Tickets are sold only for the actual day. Your ticket should be verified and try to have it on you at all times. Thefts are frequent in trains and railway controls can stop you at any time. Also, you need your ticket if you want to go hiking.
Another option would be to take a boat ride. They also have daily tickets for Cinque Terre that cost about 35 Euros. This way you will be able to take some lovely photos, especially in Riomaggiore. But! There is a line here as well and you might wait for more than half an hour for the next boat to sail in. Boat rides can also be canceled due to bad weather.
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If you find yourself here during summer, make sure to wait for the dusk when temperatures drop and crowds disappear. This is the perfect time to enjoy the view and quiet moments by the sea. You can either stay longer in Cinque Terre in the evening or rent an apartment in one of the villages.
TIP: One more thing! As anywhere else in Italy, you can order pasta. Given that Genoa as the capital of Liguria where Cinque Terre is located is also a birthplace of the famous pesto sauce, the best choice would be to have pasta with pesto.
Or even better – a salty pastry called farinata also originated from Genoa and became especially popular on the Ligurian coast, so instead of pasta, taste the farinata pastry with pesto. This area is also famous for its focaccia bread. And so, you should just choose the ingredients!
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