Cinque Terre, this beloved colorful gem is located on the west coast of Italy, 2 hours from Genoa or 1 hour from Pisa.
The Cinque Terre area includes five towns:
- Vernazza, and
- Monterosso al Mare
These originally fishing villages are dating back long ago. They are all situated on the cliff or in the hillside of this vineyard area dominated by sloping terraces.
I visited this region a few times already because I am charmed by the old streets, crystal clear turquoise water and picture pretty views. Part of its charm is the feel of the history and the connecting old paths, boats, trains, and lack of the cars.
The first thing you notice when you visit Cinque Terre are the colorful houses. Red, green, blue … Locals say, that the reason for it is that every fisherman can recognize his house after a long fishing trip from far away and be even more excited that he is coming home.
It is getting more and more popular, so it can get very touristy and expensive in high season. Doesn’t matter, it is still one of my favorite destinations in Italy.
Fly to Pisa airport, which is about a 75 minutes drive from here. There is another airport you can fly to, Genoa, but Ryanair flies to Pisa, and we all know what that means…cheap flight! Woh OOo OOo!
We prefer to book a car because we like to sightsee and stop wherever we like on the way, but you can take a train directly to Cinque Terre. The towns are also connected by train and lot of people uses Cinque Terre travel card which is under 20 Euros. We loved to walked through the trail in vineyards, from one town to another, where you always have breathtaking views. After the 2011 floods and mudslides, some of the trails or areas might be still under reconstruction. Check out the trails on this website.
Compared to a car rental, the one-day train ticket is around 12 Euros and much faster transport (through the tunnels) in between towns compared to zig zag roads on the hillside. Don’t forget to validate the ticket before you board the train! Check the train schedule here, usually, they operate every hour. When we visited, the trains were usually really full during the day and there were much fewer people in the evenings after 4pm,
When to go:
It is always nicer to go in the summer months so you can swim in the sea. Spring time brings the blooming vineyards. I would say, late summer in September is the best. Nice weather, warm sea and less people.
If you want to save some money stay out of the main touristic areas and commute to the sea. We always try to have an apartment with a view and when it is outside of the main areas it is cheaper. Monterosso has the most accommodation offers. You can find shared rooms on Airbnb, starting around 30 EUR per night and apartments, for approximately 60 EUR.
Beware – if you rent a car – there is very limited and expensive parking in the towns themselves. The local police is very tourist oriented, giving tickets whenever they find suitable. Avoid 50 EUR fines and double-check the parking signs before leaving.
What to Eat:
- Pizza: Of course.
- Panini. With different flavors.
- Farinata: Simple bread.
- Vine: Buy a bottle in a local shop (cheaper) or have a glass in the bar with the view. Local wines are Schiachetrà or dry Costa da Posa di Manarola.
- Limoncello, refreshing lemon liquor.
- Pansotti con salsa di noci: Pasta filled with ricotta.
- Acciughe: Anchovies, done in various ways.
- Trenette al Pesto: Try any pasta with locally made fresh pesto.
Where to Eat:
- Il Pescato Cucinato: Amazing pasta, fresh seafood, and fried anchovies, in Rio Maggiore.
- Da eraldo: Delicious pasta and nice staff, in Monterosso.
- Il Pirata delle 5 Terre: Popular for breakfast or brunch with delicious food, in Vernazza.
- A Cantina da Mananan great food in Corniglia.
- Nessun Dorma wine bar in Manarola.
- Hiking! Thousands of people walk the trails of this national park every year and everyone who visited the area would tell you this is beautiful and the best way to see everything from above. These trails were originally mule narrow paths, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
- Swimming! When you experience the clear water and chill refreshment you will be super happy. You will be also rewarded by the sea-views of the towns.
- Rent a kayak! Do you want to escape the crowds and experience the beauty in the silence? Take a kayak for a “spin”! The rental sea-kayaks are really stable so even if you haven’t done it before it is not that hard.
- Photography! Almost every view, around you, is suitable for painting, so explore and take lots of pictures.
You have the magnificent view from each of the towns as all of them are terrace like gems but I would put Corniglia as a viewpoint winner here due to the challenging terrain and fewer visitors than other places.
Artist in you:
Basically, each of this town is a photographer’s paradise. You will be mesmerized by artistic beauty. Bonus – each of them is a bit different 😉
- Fabbrica d’Arte Monterosso: Ceramics which are locally made, check out the opening hours on their website.
- Calandra Arte Di Sebastiano Calandra, nice art gallery in Manarola
- Monterosso, with classic old Italian streets and various, artistic facades of the buildings. Monterosso, the least “hilly” one, with long sand beach, is a great place to start your walking tours of exploration before you start complaining about the steep hills (if you are not in shape as I was :)). If you really miss shopping on your trip, Monterosso will solve it. Don’t forget to admire sea views from the harbor with many colorful boats …
- Corniglia, only one not on the water level, with a beautiful view and steep narrow streets. From the train, you still need to get up for around 400 stairs, which can be good burning exercise before you throw yourself on homemade ice cream as everyone else. After the ice cream, climb down to the other side of the town to a quiet turquoise lagoon and relax.
- Manarola is filled with small shops selling art and small souvenirs. Some of the shops even have the store owned by the same family for decades.
- Riomaggiore, the hilliest one with steep streets. We took a swim with locals near the harbor. I really enjoyed sitting on the big rock in the water after snorkeling, chasing colorful fishes and still enjoying the colorful view of the town above us.
- Porto Venere: Even though it is a bit further away you would be surprised how amazing it is. It has a castle ruin above the town where you can admire the giant waves sliding by the cliffs.
- Vernazza: The most photographed and popular of the towns. If you want to really enjoy the beauty and magnificent colors try to climb up the hill. You will not need to fight with other tourists for the picture like we had to :). When I wanted to sketch I actually needed to find a more calm place where I can actually sit down for a while. A lot of seafood and pizza places are waiting here for you.
Harbour in Vernazza.
Summary of top things to see:
Riomaggiore – most hilly and the best sea views)
Manarola – best to start with the terrace trails
Corniglia – with a lagoon to swim and snorkel
Vernazza – most photographed
Monterosso – flat with sandy beach
Porto Venere – with a castle ruin
Porto Venere at the harbor.
Good to know:
- Some restaurants will charge you for the bread on the table even if you didn’t order it.Send it back if you don’t want to eat it.
- In your final bill, there will be usually a “coperto” which is a “table tip” (Around 2,50 – 4,00 EUR), so don’t be surprised by the higher amount. This tip doesn’t include the waiters time, so it is nice to leave some tip afterward but not necessary. If you don’t pay the tip, you are like a local. Only tourists do that 🙂
- From Cinque Terre it is easy to go to Lucca, Sienna, Florence or Venice so this can be a longer trip than you thought…..
Here is my experience from Cinque Terre. Did I miss anything? If you have more tips I should include here I would love to know! Let me know in the comments.