Ahhh, Cinque Terre. I absolutely fell in love with this beautiful part of Italy! We spent three days here and frankly, it wasn’t enough. One day I’d love to come back and spend more time here. It was so relaxing and the scenery of the five villages built right into the cliffs is just so striking and unique. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite Cinque Terre photos that we shot, as well as the top things to do in Cinque Terre. Next week I’ll be working on a full Cinque Terre itinerary so that travel guide will be live soon!
A little about Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is so unique, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site! Literally translated, Cinque Terre means five lands, and is made up of a string of five towns along the seaside cliffs of the Italian Riviera coastline. These towns are centuries old, with references to them dating back to the 11th century. How people in that time were able to build into these dramatic cliffs and make a life for themselves there we’ll never know, but it’s pretty impressive to think about.
The five towns are all filled with beautiful, colorful houses, steep vineyards, and harbors with fishing boats and delicious, seafood-focused trattorias and bars. Cinque Terre is a very popular tourist destination during the summer, and it gets especially crowded midday when all the cruise boats stop by for the day. The best time of year to visit is at the start or end of summer to avoid some of the crowds. And during the summer, early evening just as the sun started to set was my favorite time, as all the tourists from the cruise ships had left, and we had the beaches all to ourselves with beautiful golden light shining down.
Getting to Cinque Terre
In order to get to Cinque Terre, you’ll want to take the train to La Spezia. From there, you’ll have to transfer to the smaller train that goes through the five towns. You can pick one of the five villages to make your home base, as it’s easy to visit one or two other towns in a day trip.
Getting around in Cinque Terre
There are no cars in Cinque Terre! The easiest way to get from town to town is by hopping on the train. You can get a Cinque Terre travel card at any train station so you can easily hop on and off. The only other way to get from town to town is to hike, which gives you incredible, sweeping views of the coastline. If you do have a car, you’ll be able to drive it close to Cinque Terre, but you’ll have to park it and leave it outside of town.
1. Do a sunset boat ride. You absolutely must do a sunset boat ride in Cinque Terre! There are some stunning views of Cinque Terre by land, but once you get out on the water and see Cinque Terre from the perspective of the sea, you realize just how heartbreakingly beautiful it is. Like I legit cried, it was so beautiful. Angelo’s Boat Tours will take you out at sunset for a cruise around all five towns, while serving up tapas and drinks.
2. Go on a hike. Besides the train, hiking is the only other way to get from village to village. Hiking Cinque Terre is another must-do, and you should definitely pick at least one of the hikes—you don’t have to hike through all of the villages to enjoy stunning views! The easiest hike (Manarola to Riomaggiore) is currently closed from a landslide, but that’s ok because the harder hikes are the ones with the most rewarding views! We did the hike from Manarola to Corniglia and it was so, so beautiful. You start with an ascent up through Manarola’s wine terraces, and are met with incredible views of Manarola below you and Corniglia to the north. You then continue on to Corniglia, and since you’ve already climbed your way up, you won’t have to take the 700 steps from the train station up to the town of Corniglia! This was a pretty moderate hike with some steep inclines, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.
I’d love to come back some day and hike through all of the towns, starting from Riomaggiore in the south all the way to Monterosso in the north. If you’re game for that, it’s an 11km trail and will take you about five hours (not counting time to stop along the way and take photos). So definitely doable as a day trip, but your legs might be a bit sore the next day!
When you’re hiking in Cinque Terre there are a few logistical things to keep in mind. First, you’ll have to buy a Cinque Terre Trekking Card in order to access all of the trails (these are sold at all of the train stations). Secondly, you must wear closed-toe shoes—Cinque Terre has actually banned sandals on the hiking trails. I guess they got sick of tourists tripping over their sandals and needing help down with a sprained ankle. 🤷🏻♀️
Be sure to check the Cinque Terre tourism website to see a map of all the hikes and which ones are open.
3. Rent an umbrella and chairs on the beach in Monterosso. Monterosso reminded me a lot of Nice. The main street along the water is flat and wide, so it’s the least characteristically Cinque Terre, but also the most accessible if you’re traveling with kids. Monterosso is also the only town with a “sandy” beach (although tbh, this is the Italian Riviera and there’s no sand, just tiny rocks), and the only spot where you can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas (very Nice-style). We spent an afternoon relaxing here and it was pure heaven.
4. Go wine tasting. You’ll see the steeply-terraced vineyards in Cinque Terre, so it’s time to participate in some agritourismo (agritourism—agriculturally-based tourism). Here are a few wineries you can visit and do tastings at:
5. Take a cooking class. Cinque Terre is known for its pesto, so not only should you eat all the pesto dishes while you’re there, it’s also really fun to take a pesto-making class. The restaurant Nessun Dorma offers pesto-making classes, as does the Cinque Terre Cooking School.
6. Go kayaking. Get some exercise and enjoy more views of Cinque Terre from the water. You can either rent a kayak and go off on your own, or you can book a group tour. You’ll see seabirds and beautiful caves (I could not get over the striations on the rocks, formed over hundreds of years of huge waves in the winter crashing down on them), and if you’re lucky you may come across dolphins as well. Kayaking around the towns is a beautiful way to spend the day, and you can stop along some of the rocky beaches to relax, have a snack, or sun bathe.
7. Go scuba diving. Cinque Terre has a protected marine area that is considered a national park, which means there is absolutely no fishing in this marine life reserve area. But you can scuba dive there! Get a little salty and explore Cinque Terre under water. There are several dive shops that offer equipment rentals as well as a guide, and if you’re a newbie or beginner diver they also offer refresher courses so you can feel comfortable getting in the water.
8. Visit a castle. There are a few different castles in Cinque Terre that you can visit (one of them, in Vernazza, is now the restaurant Belaforte). Doria Castle and Castello di Riomaggiore are two castles you can visit. Doria Castle has mysterious origins and it isn’t clear exactly when it was built, but there are references to it dating back to the 13th century.
9. Watch the sunset from a scenic view. There is truly nothing better than grabbing a table with stunning views at a restaurant or bar in Cinque Terre, and just kicking back with a drink and snacks (or a full on dinner).
A few restaurants with the most dramatic views in Cinque Terre include:
Nessun Dorma: Nessun Dorma is known for its incredible views of beautiful Manarola (it’s located right next to Manarola’s scenic view point), but be aware that they don’t take reservations and the line to get in, especially around sunset, is extremely long. Go early and have a loonnnng, leisurely apertif or dinner to get a table and drag things out until the sun sets.
Trattoria dal Billy: Another spot in Manarola with incredible views. Be sure to make a reservation and ask for an outdoor table. This was our Airbnb host’s favorite restaurant in Cinque Terre and we absolutely loved it. Fresh, delicious seafood and jaw dropping views.
La Torre Aurora: This one has plenty of outdoor seating, and we had an awesome dinner here, but you can also go for just cocktails.
L’Ancora della Tortuga: You’ll find amazing food and views at this spot in Monterosso. Our Airbnb host recommended it as one of the best spots to dine in Monterosso.
A Pie de Ma: We had afternoon espresso and snacks here and it was just perfect. It’s a little wine, coffee, and charcuterie bar and it’s in Riomaggiore, but on the other side of the train from town so it is much less crowded. Gorgeous, gorgeous views of the cliffs and crystal clear turquoise water.
Bar La Terza Terra Corniglia: If you’re in tiny, sweet, little Corniglia, Bar La Terza is a great spot to grab a glass of wine and a snack and enjoy some beautiful views.
Belforte: Belforte is known for being the restaurant that is in a castle, overlooking Vernazza and the sea and serving delicious seafood and pasta. It’s one of the most popular restaurants in Cinque Terre, so do try to make reservations. We tried calling a million times and they never answered, so I had to just swing by when we were in Vernazza one afternoon to make lunch reservations for another day.
10. Visit all five towns. When you’re visiting Cinque Terre, you absolutely must pay a visit to all five towns! Each town is just a few minutes away from the next by train, so it’s easy to visit at least two towns in one day. Each one has its own personality, and they’re all charming and beautiful. I’ll be sharing a blog post soon with a full travel itinerary, so you can see how we visited all the towns in three days.
Writing up this list of the top things to do in Cinque Terre has me missing this beautiful part of Italy so much! If you’ve been, I’d love to know what you did there so I can add it to my bucket list when I return…one day.