Anyone who has visited Cinque Terre—or merely Googled it—can picture the gorgeous pastel buildings perched one on top of the other that appear to rise dramatically out of the sea along Italy’s Ligurian Coast. Ever since tourists started visiting the seaside oasis a generation ago, it has captured the hearts of countless travelers and it’s easy to see why.
The Fab Five
So what do you need to know before taking a trip to Cinque Terre? Well first of all, it’s not a single destination. Cinque Terre, which translates to “five lands”, is made up of—no surprise here—five distinct fishing villages that hug the Mediterranean coastline in Northwestern Italy. Each one is nestled into the protected Cinque Terre National Park. Reachable by boat, train, or foot, the five villages aren’t the easiest to access, but that doesn’t stop the throngs of visitors who come to the Italian shores each summer to admire the picture-perfect harbors, stacked colored houses, and crystal-clear waters. And for those who make the journey, it’s well worth it!
What to expect
Four of the five villages, except for Monterosso, are car-free, which gives them a nostalgic, slow-down-and-enjoy-the-view vibe. Cinque Terre is a hiker’s paradise, home to a network of trails that connect the five villages and are protected by the national park. Visitors should expect to see lots of hikers making their way from one town to the next. For those who want to get in on the action, be sure to bring proper footwear and check online to see if any Cinque Terre trails are closed due to unsafe conditions.
Curious if you’d be interested in a hike? Check out this traveler’s story about her Cinque Terre hike from her time on our Northern Italy & Cinque Terre Walking Tour.
What to eat
Local seafood like anchovies, mussels, and other shellfish are as fresh as it gets when you’re in Cinque Terre. Another must-try? Pesto. The Ligurian Coast is famous for the basil-and-oil delicacy, often served on trofie pasta, which is a regional twisted noodle, traditionally made with chestnut flour.
A village-by-village breakdown
Monterosso — The northernmost village is also the biggest and most resort-y thanks to its gorgeous sandy beaches (which are not the norm in this part of Italy). While all five villages are carved into dramatic cliff-side locations, Monterosso is the flattest of the bunch, making it the best option for anyone with mobility concerns.
Go here for: the beaches and the fresh-caught anchovies
Vernazza — Arguably the most beautiful of the five towns, Vernazza is likely the picture you have in your mind when you imagine Cinque Terre’s candy-colored harbor, with boats bobbing in the sea. It does have a small beach near the harbor and it’s not quite as steep as the other remaining three villages. All in all, it’s a traveler favorite!
Go here for: the views and the colors
Corniglia — Continuing from north to south, next in line is Corniglia, the tiniest village of the five. It’s set high atop a hilltop, and is the only Cinque Terre town without a beach or harbor. Its remote location makes it harder to get to than the others, so there are fewer tourists here and a true off-the-beaten-path feel.
Go here for: the peace and quiet, and the honey gelato
Manarola — Manarola is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the size of the five villages. But don’t overlook the charm of this brightly colored village—it’s great for sunbathing on the rocks and tasting local specialties.
Go here for: the highly acclaimed sweet Sciacchetrà wine and the picturesque harbor
Riomaggiore — Riomaggiore is the southernmost village of Cinque Terre. It’s the second largest, offering nightlife and more to do beyond eating, hiking, and sunbathing (but really, when you’re in Cinque Terre, what else is important?).
Go here for: fried seafood and views up the coastline to the other four villages