Cinque Terre has been the no. 1 destination on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. With pastel coloured buildings perched on the cliffs of the Italian Riviera, who wouldn’t be allured by this charming place?
Cinque Terre literally translates into 5 towns, but these aren’t just any ordinary towns. The region has been heritage listed by UNESCO in recognition of its exceptional beauty and it’s ode to a traditional way of life.
Many of the towns still can’t be accessed by car. Tiny little Piaggio Ape (Italian for bee) trucks transport out all the rubbish and bring produce into the town. There are no Golden Arches or modern take away shops here. Instead treat yourself to some of the best tasting food that’s made with Italian love. There are so many local Ligurian specialities like focaccia and pesto. Don’t forget the seafood either! Being so close to the ocean means there is an abundance of delicious and fresh seafood.
Here is a little guide to each of the towns along this beautiful coastline.
Riomaggiore is probably one of the most instagrammed towns of Cinque Terre. It’s the second smallest and most southern of the five towns. You’ll probably recognise the town by this terrocatta building.
As you get off the train, you have to walk past the main village and go through a little tunnel to get to the beachfront. The cove is small but the water is the perfect shade of crystal blue. If you want to have a little siesta you’ll have to camp on the rocks of the boat ramp.
Riomaggiore is probably the best town for snorkelling or scuba diving because the harbour nice and quiet. If you want to go for a little paddle then hire a small wooden boat and enjoy the lovely landscape view of the town.
Probably my favourite towns, the view of Manarola was like looking down onto a rainbow. When you first walk up to the viewing point over this beautiful town it literally takes your breath away.
It’s just like all the postcards, only BETTER! While it’s a little bit eery, the cemetery has one of the best views over the town.
You can swim off the boat ramp towards the front of the harbour. If you’re brave (and a 15 year old boy), you might want to clamber up and jump off the ginormous rock in the middle of the harbour.
For those that are after a more chilled out vibe, there is another boat ramp around the corner of the harbour. This little cove is often missed because the hiking path around the corner is closed. Bring a little picnic and spend the afternoon soaking up the sun on the tiered ledges.
Corniglia is the smallest of the five towns and unlike the other towns, it sits high above the water.
We didn’t manage to visit this small little town which I regret now. What stopped us? Well the thought of climbing 365 stairs to the top of the town without the reward of a dip in the ocean wasn’t that appealing in the 35 degree heat.
We did manage to get a view of the town from the water and it did look rather sweet.
Vernazza is the second largest town in Cinque Terre. This lovely town would rival Manarola to be my favourite town in Cinque Terre.
As you walk out of the train station you wander through the streets lined with gelatissimos, fried seafood on a stick and the fluffiest focaccia I’ve ever tried.
Vernazza also has a beautiful square with huge colourful umbrellas to match the faded coloured buildings. We didn’t eat at any of these places because they look at little too crowded and touristy but I loved the buzz.
This town also has a lovely sandy beach and a beautiful harbour where there are huge rocks for you to laze out on.
On our last morning in Vernazza we decided to visit the town really early for a dip. That’s when I really fell in love with this town. We wandered down to the bakery, sipped on two espressos at the bar (no take away cups here) and took some fresh bread down to the harbour. The streets of the town were basically empty and we had the whole harbour to ourselves. An hour later, the first ferry of tourists arrived and it resumed back to the busy little town.
We shot sunset at Vernazza one night and ran into a party going on in the alley. In true Italian style, all the lovely nonnas were asking us to joint them for a wine and take a plate of food!
Monterosso is the largest and most northern town of Cinque Terre. It’s quite unique compared to the other towns because it is flat with two large beaches that span across the town.
Monterosso certainly has a more ‘resort’ feel to it with many hotels, restaurants and bars lining the beachfront. At the far ends of the beach you can hire water sports equipment and cute two person paddle boats as well.
For a few euros you can reserve a nice sunny spot by the sea for the day. Head for cover under the striped beach umbrellas which line Monterosso’s beautiful beaches. If you get a bit peckish can can just pop up to town for a fresh focaccia or a cocktail in a bucket (literally).
1. Get a Cinque Terre Park pass. This pass will give you access to the hiking trails and will also give you unlimited train rides between the towns. Try to avoid buying you ticket from 9am – 11am in the morning. This is the peak time and you may have to line up for about 40 minutes to get your pass.
2. Read the train timetable! We spent a lot of time standing on the platforms waiting for trains because they have a rather irregular schedule. They don’t come every 8 minutes as some websites may suggest! It’s also worth noting that the train rarely runs on time… But hey, you’re on holidays so it doesn’t really matter! Also if you go to dinner in another town make sure you know what time the last train departs. Otherwise you’ll end up having to sleep in an empty boat for the night!
3. Take some swimming shoes! I have come to terms with rocks instead of sand on beaches however some shoes would’ve come in handy while clambering over the slippery rocks to get into the water. I also managed to lodge my foot into on a sea urchin which was extremely, extremely painful! If you don’t want sea urchin spikes in your foot then definitely get some footwear!
4. Book your restaurants in advance. There are literally 1000s of people visiting Cinque Terre in summer and it can make it really difficult to book into good restaurants or any restaurant for that matter! Try to book your restaurants in advance or eat early (630pm) or late (830-9pm).
5. Stay outside of the 5 towns. If you can’t find somewhere to stay in the 5 towns, then I would have a look at La Spezia. It’s only 5 minutes away from Riomaggiore and there are a lot more modern, well equipped options there. We stayed at a beautiful AirBnb only a few minutes away from La Spezia station. The apartment was the best AirBnb’s that I’ve ever stayed in and I’d definitely rebook there next time!