Cinque Terre is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy. Tiny villages on the cliffs with colorful facades attract tourists from all over the world. Is Cinque Terre really worth visiting though? Let me show you Cinque Terre from my perspective and tell you about the best restaurants, beaches, and things to do in the Cinque Terre region.
1. Cinque Terre Towns review:
Cinque Terre means Five Lands in Italian. Why five lands? That’s because it’s not a tourist resort, but 5 individual villages tied together by the coast on one side and Cinque Terre National Park on the other. The villages are located in the Liguria region just in the middle between Genoa and Pisa. And it’s such a beauty, that it was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997. Let’s take a closer look at the villages in particular:
Monterosso, or Monterosso al Mare, as it´s officially named, is the northernmost and the largest village of the five. And it’s also the most touristy one. Not only because of all the facilities but also because Monterosso has practically the only sandy beach in Cinque Terre. In comparison to the others, Monterosso has a kind of resort-like vibes thanks to its modern development. So, if you are planning to stay in Cinque Terre for a couple of days, this would probably be the best option regarding the accommodation, restaurants, and cafés. However, I would recommend staying in one of the bigger cities and taking trips from there, it’s much more convenient.
Vernazza is the only village with a natural harbor. For centuries, fishing and wine production were the only sources Vernazza could rely on. Lucky for you, that means you can enjoy wonderful fresh seafood and a tasty glass of wine in there. Gourmet needs aside, another thing to do in Vernazza is to take a tour to Doria Castle. It dates back to the 11th century and to be honest, it’s mostly a ruin, but the admission is only 1.50 EUR (1.30 GBP / 1.70 USD) per person and from the castle tower you can enjoy the most beautiful views of the village.
Tip: There are two photogenic viewpoints on each side of the village. One on the way from Monterosso and the other on the exit to Corniglia. Make sure you don’t miss them if you’re hiking along the coast. Otherwise prepare to pay a full fee for the hiker’s pass just to get to that place.
The cliff rock village. Unlike her sisters, tucked tight under the hills, this one sits on the top of it. Which only means one thing—you are going to sweat all the pasta calories to get there. There are 365 steep steps from the train station to the piazza (meaning square, but in this case a teeny tiny courtyard with ancient church). Enjoy!
Manarola is the second smallest, but maybe that’s an advantage. Its main street is packed with boats, restaurants, and good cafés. You might miss a proper beach; however, the trick is not to look for one. Just head out to the pier, use the rocks around and dive right into the water. You can have fun exploring all the caves along the coast and the life underwater. The access is a bit tricky, but it’s worth it. Unless you’re there with kids. Then it’s probably not the best swimming area, as there is complicated access and deep waters right from the start. And don’t forget to climb up to the hundreds-of-years-old vineyards on the hill. It’s a great spot to make some rad pics.
When we made it to Riomaggiore I was already a bit annoyed by the train journey and the never-ending tourist crowds. So, it genuinely felt like any of the other villages we’ve visited on the way. A lot of colorful houses, narrow streets, some ancient churches, and boats. The only slightly interesting piece may be the castle. Castello di Riomaggiore is also mostly a ruin, but its history goes way back. The first written record is from the 500s, in which the castle is already called “ancient”, imagine that. Moreover, in the 8th century, part of the castle was torn down to make a cemetery out of it.
2. How many days do you need in Cinque Terre?
We made it in one day and honestly, it was enough for me. Cinque Terre is a very popular tourist destination, but to be honest, I think it’s just overrated garbage. The villages are pretty and everything, but all the same. For me, it was an underwhelming experience, as there’s not much to do or see apart from strolling the streets and fighting the crowds. Man, I really hate the crowds.
3. Watch out for the Cinque Terre train
Absolutely my worst train experience ever! Well, except the one with naked bloke running around, but I’ll tell you about that some other time. Anyhow, there’s nothing like “THE Cinque Terre train”. It’s a regular rail link between Genoa and La Spezia and it’s totally chaotic. So, we ended up spending over two hours on the packed train. Sometimes going back and forth because the villages are actually a few minutes away from each other and the train doesn’t always stop when you want it to. On the other hand, it is arguably still the fastest way to get around in Cinque Terre.
The single one-way ticket in between the villages is 4 EUR (3.40 GBP / 4.65 USD), the other option is to buy the Cinque Terre Treno card for all day, which also includes the hiking pass and costs 13–16 EUR (11–13.50 GBP / 15–18.60 USD), according to season.
4. Cinque Terre has no beaches
I don’t want to be a spoilsport, but there aren’t many beaches in the Cinque Terre region. As I already mentioned earlier, the only proper sandy beach is in Monterosso. And logically, that means it’s crammed. I’m not really a beach type of person, so I wouldn’t care. Unfortunately, Karin needs to take a dip whenever she’s around the sea. You can figure out the rest… I suffered under the parasol on the crammed beach, while my wife enjoyed her bath.
Tip: If you’re up for a little adventure, save the swimming experience for the other villages. Although there are no genuine beaches, it’s possible to get to the sea through the rocks and the swimming experience might be better as there’s more space and various caves along the coast (as in Manarola, which I mentioned earlier).
Be prepared to pay for a lido
You might be surprised that most of the beaches in Italy are charged with a “lido”. It’s because almost every beach has its own beach club, which provides parasols and sunbeds. You can of course use the free public space, but in Cinque Terre in particular, it’s very limited and almost impossible to find a free spot there. The lido costs around 20 EUR (17 GBP / 32 USD) and it usually involves a rent of parasol and two sunbeds for the whole day.
5. Try Cinque Terre Wines
The tradition of wine production goes way back in Cinque Terre. The sunny slopes on the Ligurian cliff are so renowned for their terraced vineyards, even Boccaccio and Petrarch wrote about it. Although there is local vino de la casa in each village, two wine brands earned the DOC certificate (controlled designation of origin).
- The Cinque Terre DOC – signature dry white wine made from Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino grapes
- Sciacchetrà DOC – sweet dessert wine
Fun fact: The terrain around Cinque Terre is so rough that all the work on the vineyards must be done by hand. No wonder, the local producers are so proud of their wines, considering how arduous the work is.
Tip: If you crave more information about Italian wines and food-related facts, read also my Food of Italy article.
6. Cinque Terre towns are easily accessible by car
In contrast to what most of the travel blogs say, all the villages are easily accessible by car. Driving in Italy and searching for a free parking lot is another thing. For the truthful depiction of driving in Italy, check Travel Tips for Italy: 10 Things to Know Before You Go.
We were in Cinque Terre in July, when the tourist season is at its peak. Therefore, we spend a good two hours looking for a free parking spot. It was infuriating and you don’t want it, believe me. Hence, even though it’s possible to get there by car, I recommend taking the train… or getting there really early in the morning. Like at 8 am or earlier.
7. Go for the Blue Trail Hike
One of the best things to do in Cinque Terre (apart from touring the village streets) is hiking. There’s this Blue Trail Hike (also called Trail No.2 or Sentiero Azzuro) which connects all the villages. Well, it used to. Due to a massive landslide in 2016, the route between Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore has been closed. That leaves us with half of the trail:
- Monteresso to Vernazza: 4.2 km (2.6 mi)
- Vernazza to Corniglia: 3.4 km (2.1 mi)
The trail is easy, so it might be a far better option than the train. Although, you need to buy a hiking pass that allows you to use the trail no matter the distance. Prepare to pay, even when you just want to climb to the route to take some pictures.
- The Blue Trail Hiking Card costs 7.50 EUR (6.30 GBP / 8.70 USD) and it’s valid for one day.
- The contemporarily accessible part of the trail takes about 3 hours (including many photo stops).
- All the other trails in the Cinque Terre National Park are for free.
- You can pick up the free paper map at the checkpoint cabins in each village with marked routes. However, the trail is well marked by red and white signs.
- The trail is easy for anyone who is used to hike. Nevertheless, it’s a mostly dusty route or steep rocky steps, so make sure you have the right shoes (the flip flops may not be the best choice).
- All trails in the Cinque Terre region are marked in free maps at the tourist offices in respective destinations, or you can use komoot.com to plan the journey on your mobile phone.
8. The best restaurants in Cinque Terre
Restaurants in Cinque Terre were surprisingly cheap, considering it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in Italy. Obviously, seafood is the main deal here. You can enjoy delicious fresh-caught anchovies and many other sea treats. However, there’s always one or two vegetarian or vegan options on the menu, in case you prefer it.
Here is the list of best restaurants in the Cinque Terre:
- Trattoria dal Billy (Manarola): This restaurant is in a marvelous location with a view over the harbor and the food is great.
- Miky Ristorante (Monterosso): Miky is generally considered to be a must-visit stop in Monterosso. Great food for good value, professional staff, and perfect location.
- Nessun Dorma (Riomaggiore): Popular among the locals and tourists alike, with breathtaking views of Manarola village on the cliffs.
- A Cantina de Mananan (Corniglia): Small cozy restaurant offering homemade fresh dishes.
- Belforte (Vernazza): Amazing food, local wines, and the best view in Vernazza.
Tip: As in the rest of Italy, don’t forget to book a table in advance. It’s possible there won’t be any free seats when you arrive for dinner spontaneously.
9. Book a boat tour in Cinque Terre
One of the best things to do in Cinque Terre is book a boat tour. Not only you won’t have to endure the crammed trains and streets, but you will also have a unique view of the villages from the sea. It’s not possible to rent a boat, as it’s a national park, however, you can book a tour and just enjoy the scenery. Private boat tour costs approximately 650 EUR (548 GBP / 757 USD). Another option is to rent a kayak and explore the shores on your own. Either way, the reliable company for rentals and tours, which we used was Cinque Terre Dal Mare.
10. Is Cinque Terre worth visiting?
Yeah, sure. It’s a beautiful location with unique architecture and great food. On the other hand, you need to consider the over-tourism during the summer season and the fact that there’s nothing to do. Of course, for non-Europeans, the architecture and the setting might be enough to visit. Taking a stroll through the village, enjoying the views (perhaps from the boat) and hiking is the most you can experience though. Just remember that there are no big tourist attractions or museums and such.
BONUS: Linguistic checkpoint
Many people wonder how to pronounce it right. If you don’t speak Italian, you probably screw it. So, here’s the heads up to not make a fool of yourself in front of locals. The proper pronunciation is CHIN-kweh TAIR-reh with stress on the first syllable. If you really want to try hard, check this video made by two Italian girls, and learn the right pronunciation of most Italian vacation destinations.