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A Cinque Terre Primer

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

It is Cinque Terre that transforms postcards into daydreams. This string of five seaside, cliff-hugging villages lines the Italian Riviera above the sparkling Mediterranean. Here, travelers flock to the colorful homes, steeply terraced vineyards, bustling harbors, and trattorias serving fresh seafood and local Liguria pesto. It may feel overwhelming at first to decide which village to visit (we suggest all of them!), how to get between them and what to do while you’re there. To that end, we offer these tips as your primer for Cinque Terre.

1. Take Time to Get to Know the Villages

While it is possible to visit all five villages in one day, we highly recommend that you slow down and enjoy each one’s distinct personality. For a more buzzy, social evening, hang out in Riomaggiore. We love Vernazza for its romance. In Monterosso al Mare, spend a day strolling along the waterfront promenade for a quintessential experience. For swimming or cliff diving, head to Manarola and set your sights on Corniglia for quiet.

2. Lace Up Your Hiking Boots

The famous Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail) links the villages, a cliffside hiking trail that provides panoramic views as you walk. Almost everywhere you look, you’ll find additional walking and hiking paths of different difficulty levels crisscrossing through the mountains, the hillsides, and along the cliffs. The entire route is less than 8 miles taking about six hours. Or over a few days, with each leg taking no longer than two hours.

Try the Trail of Sanctuaries through the forest and farmland, which leads you to small churches devoted to Mary. Or, follow the Ancient Settlements trail to abandoned quarries and ancient ruins. (Bonus: This trail ends at a wine-tasting bar.)

3. Purchase a Cinque Terre Card for Trail Travel

If you prefer to zip from one village to the next, consider taking the train. We suggest leaving early in the day to maximize your time in each town. Or, since this is the marvel of the Mediterranean, consider visiting by private boat tour or public ferry. For bus or train travel, Blue Trail access, museum visits, WiFi access, and even free restroom use at train stations, purchase the Cinque Terre Card. You can buy it online or at the railway station in any of the villages. If you’re paying the fees for each item a la carte, you’ll rack up a hefty bill fairly quickly.

4. Dine Reasonably

With all the walking (even if you’re not hiking the Blue trail, the villages all require a fair amount of walking and stair climbing to experience them fully), you’ll work up an appetite. While you will be in touristed towns and some food prices can run high, it’s easy enough to shop the morning market in La Spezia (bring cash) for picnic items that you can eat along the way.

Bring a reusable water bottle and fill it at the water fountains in each town. Treat yourself to one or two excellent sit-down meals when you reach one of the villages. As for what to eat, you’ll have access to fresh seafood year-round, the locally famous Pesto Alla Genovese, focaccia bread, fresh-caught anchovies, and delightful Limoncino.

5. Meet the Locals

Italians love socializing, so you’ll find them out in the evening, gathering on the plaza or bars to catch up with their neighbors. Here, residents are proud of their heritage and towns, and their enthusiasm is contagious. Join them and hear stories of the region, or if you’re crossing through private land on a hiking trail (which many of the paths do), raise a hand in greeting. You never know – you may just be invited for a drink.

Ready to experience the Cinque Terre? Let’s chat.

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