Cinque Terre is one of the most desirable destinations to visit Italy. So much so, Italy put restrictions as to how many visitors this historic area hosts each year (link to article). Not only is Cinque Terre reachable by cruise ship and car, it's a popular destination for hikers who want to walk the trails between towns. Cinque Terre means Five Lands and includes the sleepy fishing towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
The beauty here stems from its untouched old-world feel. There are no mega-hotels and you can't even drive in the town center. In Vernazza, ancient cobblestone streets wind their way from the hills all the way down to the water's edge. Manarola boasts generations-old homes lean into each other while waves beat down on the rocks below, while in Corniglia, you have the view of two towns to the north and two towns to the south.
Because Cinque Terre is such a popular destination, I want to share some helpful tips for traveling to the Italian Riviera. Whether it's a how-to or spots for the picture perfect postcard shot, there's no such thing as too much information.
Getting to Cinque Terre
Because Cinque Terre is up there on bucket lists, you might think it's fairly accessible. While it's not too far off the beaten path, it does help if you know how to get there.
Driving: Don't try to drive into Cinque Terre. First of all, if you're American and brave enough to drive in Italy, well done, friend. I still don't recommend going to Cinque Terre by car. The hills in which the towns are nestled are full of switchbacks and hairpin turns. Not to mention, you're driving primarily through old towns and villages and the signage to get to Cinque Terre is minimal, if it's there at all. Also, once you arrive, there is no guarantee you'll have a place to park. You can't park inside the city limits and while there are tourist information centers, they have parking time limits.
Bottom Line: Cinque Terre is no place for cars.
The train is your best bet for visiting Cinque Terre. Traveling by train in Italy is insanely easy to begin with and each of the five towns has its own train station. We successfully did a day trip, albeit a long day, to Cinque Terre. If you're in one of the main cities of Italy, like Venice, Rome, or Milan, you'll want to start by taking a high speed train to the Florence train station. From there, head to the La Spezia station and you can choose find one of the five towns for your stop. Once you arrive, you can explore the town before jumping on the inter-town train between the other cities. There are plenty of ways to get to La Spezia depending on your origination point, but La Spezia is the key station to get to Cinque Terre.
Once you're there, If you don't want to take the train between cities, you can hike. Please note, I didn't say walk. I wouldn't recommend this if you're not a strong and up for a challenge. It's definitely more of a hike and we'll get into the trails next.
Hiking Cinque Terre
The trails of Cinque Terre are a wonderful hike. People choose to do the hike either all at once from Montorosso to Riomaggiore or to spread it out over several days. If you're an avid hiker and only have one day, the trails from end to end take about 6 hours. That being said, if you're more into slow travel, pack a backpack for a few days, and meander in and out of the five cities.
Keep in mind, this is no place for rolling luggage. Even if you were to stay in one city only and have someone drop you off, there are so many staircases and winding paths within the cities it would be quite impractical to pack any type of rolling luggage. Cinque Terre is for day trips and those who pack lightly. If your preferred travel style is luxury hotels with bell hops and room service, Cinque Terre is not for you. If you want to do a little extra work to find the beauty in Italy and see a part of it that is mostly unchanged, you'll love the historic charm of the Five Lands.
However, if you're a serious hiker, learn more about the rugged trails into the mountains of Cinque Terre.
The Five Cities of Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre has, you guessed it, five towns. The northern most town is Montorosso, followed by Vernazza, Corniglia, Manorola, and Riomaggiore as the southernmost town. If you don't have much time, or only want the highlights, Vernazza is one of, if not the best of the five. It has several great restaurants and a great mountains-to-sea vibe. Plus, you have the ability to go all the way down to the sea as well as climb to the top of a tower and see the surrounding towns. Manarola is another lovely town, but fewer restaurants. That said, the town supports several nice souvenir shops and a gelato place that's AMAZING.
When you see images of the Italian Riviera, the iconic shot is usually of Manarola, taken from the hiking trail around the corner from the city. When the boats run, take a boat tour between towns for some fantastic shots of Cinque Terre. One of the best places to take tons of photos is at the top of the tower in Vernazza. It's quite a climb to the base of the fortress, then you should climb to the top of the tower for the best views possible. There is an entrance fee to access the fortress, but the views are well worth it. Plus, the money from the entrance fees goes toward preserving Cinque Terre.
Food of Cinque Terre
As you might expect, Italy itself has amazing food. Northern Italy's pesto and the cream-based sauces are unparalleled, where southern Italy prides itself for their tomato based sauces. Cinque Terre falls into the northern category and their pesto is amazing. In Vernazza, there's a little shop with pesto pizza. The crust, the pesto, the delicious buttery-ness that is the dough.... Bellisimo!
While visiting Cinque Terre, you should also check out the seafood. It doesn't get much fresher than what the locals bring in. Anchovies are quite popular in this region and despite causing a bit of bad breath, they really are delicious. If you like Caesar dressing, you know anchovies provide the saltiness, so you'll probably like any of the anchovy dishes prepared for you. The food of Cinque Terre is unique to this region, so get it while you're there!
At the end of the day, no matter how you do it, you won't regret visiting Cinque Terre. From the old-world charm of each town to the beautiful vistas, Cinque Terre offers something for everyone. And of course, the food is unique to the region, so don't miss out!
If you have questions on Cinque Terre, shoot me an email and ask away! I'm happy to help however I can.
Have you been to Cinque Terre? Share your thoughts and photos in the comments? On Instagram? Tag @meganvick55 - I'd love to see your pictures!!!