CINQUE TERRE – The World’s Most Picturesque Hiking Trails

The Cinque Terre, connected by the world’s most picturesque hiking trails, are built on terraces above the deep blue Ligurian sea.

Riomaggiore, one of the Cinque Terre from where you can take world's most picturesque hike
View of Riomaggiore from the Ligurian sea.

Gimme five! High five! Scattered way up high on the steep hills of the Ligurian coast are many small, picturesque villages. Yet, only Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare became world-famous for their scenic views and overwhelming beauty. In 1997, they made it to the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites – along with Porto Venere and the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto.

Gimme Five!

A couple of years ago, my daughter was still a teenager then, a friend told me about her amazing trip to the Cinque Terre. Cinque…what? She described idyllic trails on ridges above the see, colorful villages, in brief – the legendary Italian Dolce Vita.
I was about to plan our summer holidays – and that fairyland was where I wanted to go.

We flew into Venice where during our three days stay I fell in everlasting love with the city. Mind you, even despite the incredible crowds pushing through Venice’s alleys during the summer months.

After pit stops in Florence and Pisa where I refreshed some quirky memoirs from my own wild teenage years, we finally arrived in a place with the melodious name Riomaggiore.

You don’t name just any place like a soprano aria – only the most beautiful one. And consequently, the sight of the village left me speechless.

Young girl standing next to a small car at the CINQUE TERRE - The World's Most Picturesque Hiking Trails
Although my daughter was only 12 when we first visited the Cinque Terre, she was taller than an Italian lorry.

All my life, I’ve been rather cheap when it comes to accommodation. Hence, I had booked us in a small cabin way up high in the mountains above Riomaggiore.

Never will I forget the moment I opened the front door and stepped into the small garth. I was awing at the deep blue waters of the Ligurian Sea gently rolling towards the horizon. I saw the lush hills winding along the bay with rocks and massive trees protruding from the ranges.

Until that moment, never had I seen such beauty.
It was the epitome of a scenic landscape. It was nature in perfection.

I was literally moved to tears.

Cinque Terre

Liguria is the coastal region in northwest Italy, bordering France to the west and the Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany in the east. It’s stretching along the Ligurian Sea which is actually part of the Mediterranean. Also, the region belongs to the transnational Mediterranean Alps.

The part called Cinque Terre is 12 kilometers long. It consists of five small, sloping terrain cuts opening to the sea. You’ll find a colorful village in each of the valleys. Four of the five villages are located directly on the water. One, however, lies on a ledge around 100 meters above sea level.

This climate-favored and fertile region is home to around 7000 inhabitants. Today, it is protected as a national park in which nothing may be built or changed.

Most of the slopes above the villages are forested. For centuries, the inhabitants have made a living from the wine, citrus fruits, and olives that are growing on terraces. And, obviously, from fishing in the Ligurian Sea.

Wine grapes in Manarola
Wine grapes in Manarola.

In 1874, the railway line from Genoa to La Spezia was built along the coast. Each of the five towns got its own station. Outside the train stations, the route runs almost entirely in tunnels. The railway is still the most important connection between the villages.

Trainstation of Corniglia, the central village of the Cinque Terre.
The trains between the five villages run almost as often as your local subway.

That you basically have to take the train somewhat protects’n’preserves the idyllic Cinque Terre. Since these five gems are by far no longer an insider tip, tourism became the main source of income for locals.

However, there is only a small piece of sandy beach in Monterosso al Mare. Therefore, mass tourism cannot gain a foothold in the small towns.

Take a Hike

If you enjoy a scenic hike, you’ll find over 120 kilometers of trails along the Cinque Terre coastline. There is no entrance fee to the Cinque Terre National Park. You only need a ticket for the two most famous trails – but only during high season from Easter to the month of October.

View of the Ligurian Sea from Corniglia, one of the CINQUE TERRE - The World's Most Picturesque Hiking Trails
Don’t worry, even with the Via dell’Amore being closed, you’ll enjoy many breathtaking views.

If you start your hike in Riomaggiore, you normally get to Manarola in a short 30 minutes. These two are connected by a trail called Lovers’ Lane which is only 1.5 kilometers long. However, due to maintenance work, this lane is currently closed. You can still hike, but you have to take the far longer and more exhausting way across the mountains. When planning your trip, check if the path between Manarola and Corniglia is open again. Supposedly till the end of summer 2021, it’s undergoing maintenance.

From Corniglia to Vernazza, the 4 kilometers long way is open. However, don’t expect a walk in the park. There are slopes’n’stairs and during the 90 to 120 minutes, you’ll definitely break a sweat. Same goes for the following leg that takes you from Vernazza to Monterosso on 3.5 kilometers in more or less the same time.

The hikes are very scenic. You are walking on narrow paths through the maquis and through vineyards and olive groves. Since you can take breaks once you get to the individual villages, you need to stock up on water and possibly snacks only for the then following leg. Nevertheless, sturdy shoes with a good grip are crucial. Also, bring some sunscreen and possibly a hat.

Riomaggiore

I don’t remember exactly why back in the days we had chosen Riomaggiore as our base camp. I only know that we certainly didn’t regret it.

Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the five villages of the Cinque Terre.

View of Riomaggiore when getting there by ferry.

Like the other villages, it is squeezed between the Ligurian Sea and the steep mountain range that detaches from the Apennines.

The Riomaggiore valley is surmounted by Mount Verugola. Its three peaks have always been the icon of the village. Consequently, they are depicted in the municipal coat of arms,

The historic center dates back to the 13th century. It is located in the valley of the Rio Maggiore, a river from which the village’s name is deriving.

Via Colombo in the center of Picturesque Riomaggiore where the hike of the Cinque Terre starts.
Walking down the street. Behind the first row, you see the next level of houses.

Riomaggiore is made up of several parallel orders of Genoese tower houses. At least along the main street Via Colombo, almost every building houses a café, a grocery store, or a specialty shop. Hence, Riomaggiore is idyllic but at the same time bustling with everyday life.

No Place for Beach Bums

Although the Cinque Terre are located right on the shores of the Ligurian sea, there are no truly pleasant beaches. Apart from the beach at Monterosso al Mare and a small spot in Vernazza, you can spread out your beach towel on huge rocks or small pebbly spots. Nothing too comfortable.

Two divers at Riomaggiore where the picturesque hike of the Cinque Terre starts.
Obviously, the Ligurian Sea is also a great diving ground.

However, from there, you can access the deep-blue waters which are a real treat.
Be careful, though, since the shores are rather rocky and pebbly, you might want to wear swimming shoes.

Via Colombo in the center of Picturesque Riomaggiore where the hike of the Cinque Terre starts.
Via Colombo, Riomaggiore’s main street.

Quite honestly, the Cinque Terre are not the best place if you are planning a beach vacation. Opposed to that, it’s the perfect spot for long hikes in idyllic surroundings with relaxing breaks at cozy cafés’n’bars in picturesque villages.

If that’s what you are going for, you won’t find a better place.

What to Visit

For some reason, Riomaggiore is the best place to shop for local souvenirs. You’ll find those ceramics, beach towels, and local delicacies also in the other villages. Nevertheless, in Riomaggiore, they have the best prices.

While shopping, you’ll already enjoy the sight of the colorful house facades with those old wooden window sheds. There is laundry fluttering at every house. This is so scenic that I ask myself if these kitchen towels and shirts are really laundry or actually just charming decoration.

Some special structures to see is the castle from the second half of the 13th century. Follow the signs and climb a few steps for a wonderful view from the castle that serves today as a community center.

The Madonna with Child from the central triptych of the Oratorio di Nostra Signora Assunta in Cielo .

Right in the town’s center are the Church of San Giovanni Battista from the 14th century as well as the Oratorio di Nostra Signora Assunta in Cielo from the 16th century.

The Path of Love

Riomaggiore can be reached walking over two main paths. One is the ridge path number 1, an ancient mule track, today known as the Alta via delle Cinque Terre.

Alternatively, you can take path number 3. It branches off at the Telegrafo and reaches first the sanctuary of Montenero and then Riomaggiore.

The main route, however, is the coastal path number 2. It is known as the blue path and crosses the Cinque Terre all the way from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. Still, at this time – in 2020 – parts of this trail including the famous Via dell’Amore are closed for maintenance.

Trivia

Riomaggiore was the first Italian village to have a cable television system connected to a single satellite dish owned by the municipality. Also, the use of antennas on roofs has been prohibited for the sake of the aesthetics of the sceneries.

Presumably, visitors will love the fact that the system allows receiving also foreign broadcasters.

Manarola

Very similar to Riomaggiore, Manarola, is clutched between the Ligurian Sea and the mountain range. Actually, the second-smallest of the Cinque Terre was built in the final stretch of the Groppo stream valley.

Manarola, one of the Cinque Terre along the world's most picturesque hiking trail
Forget descriptions – just let this view sink in.

The multicolored Genoese tower houses are overlooking one another along the via Discovolo, Manarola’s main street. Also due to the intertwining narrow alleys that are connected to each other by irregular slate stairways, Manarola is at least as beautiful as Riomaggiore.

Manarola, one of the Cinque Terre along the world's most picturesque hiking trail
Parking the boats on Manarola’s main street.

Manarola has a small hoist for lowering and hoisting the many boats. You’ll find them neatly arranged along the Via Birolli, the main road near the Marina.

What to Visit

During our visit years ago, we didn’t really explore Manarola. We walked there on the Via dell’Amore. During most of that walk, I was clutched against the rocks’n’bushes from fear of heights.

Once we got to Manarola’s historic center, we entered a small mom and pop shop where we shared a soda and Mimi got some egg-shaped Kinder-chocolate-thingie. Obviously, Ferrero manufactured this particular treat only for the Italian market and not for exportation. Consequently, that thingie was kind of a big deal for a twelve-year-old.

Lush vineyards in the backdrop of Manarola, one of the Cinque Terre connected by the world's most picturesque hiking trail
Lush vineyards in the backdrop of Manarola.

Probably it was Ferrero’s fault that we didn’t get to explore Manarola beyond that store. They simply distracted us with their truly Italian chocolate-thingie.

Because when I came back now, I was just blown away by the village’s beauty.

Going Up

While the center is quite similar to Riomaggiore, there are those trails along the shore. Then, they wind all the way up into the lush vineyards. About halfway is a terraced restaurant where to fine dining nature has added a killer-view of the Ligurian Sea.

The grape woman statue by Antonio Pujia in Manarola.
The grape woman. This statue by Antonio Pujia reminds you of where some of Manarola’s wealth comes from.

I, however, passed the waiting crowds and kept on walking’n’climbing into the vineyards. There, only a few other visitors disturbed my solitude.
From up there, I didn’t have only a fantastic view of the peaceful sea. It’s also the best place to see the local cemetery. After some tourists did picnic right on the graves and took crazy selfies a couple of years ago, it now is closed to visitors.

The cemetery of Manarola, one of the Cinque Terre along the world's most picturesque hiking trail
R.I.P. with a view: The cemetery of Manarola overlooking the open sea.

To get back downtown – downtown…literally – you can take the stairs that lead down from trail number 6.

Manarola, one of the Cinque Terre along the world's most picturesque hiking trail
Walking the main street of Manarola up….
Manarola, one of the Cinque Terre along the world's most picturesque hiking trail
….and down again.

Mind you, these stairs are very steep with lots of pebbles and dust and twigs on them. You should only walk them down in good hiking shoes. If your shoes are not that sturdy, you better keep on walking on trail number 6. It leads in a wide circle to the Chiesa San Lorenzo.
This house of worship was built in the Genoese Gothic style in 1338.

From there, you can comfortably stroll back to the main street.

Tracks

The main route to hike to Manarola is ridge path number 1. To reach the village from this former mule track that today is known as Alta via delle Cinque Terre, you have to take either cross path number 2 or – as mentioned above – path number 6.

Two people overlooking the sea at the Cinque Terre connected by the world's most picturesque hiking trail
There are uncountable spots’n’angles to enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful views.

The second route would be the coastal path number 2. Called the blue path, the route crosses all the Cinque Terre. Till late summer of 2021, parts of this trail including the famous Via dell’Amore will remain closed for maintenance.

Corniglia

So I deeply love Riomaggiore for sentimental reasons – and because it’s so incredibly scenic. I fell in love with Manarola this time since I explored it beyond the Kinder-store.
And now we get to Corniglia that I love because its appearance is similar to the other villages. However, its location is quite unique.

This beauty is playing hard to get – and I actually fall for it.

View of the village – village with a view.

So Corniglia is centrally located between Manarola and Vernazza. To latter, it is joined by a trail located halfway between the summit and the sea.
Corniglia differs from the other villages as it is the only one that does not open to the sea.

Sign at Corniglia, one of the Cinque Terre connected by the world's most picturesque hiking trail
Left or right – totally your choice. What the sign doesn’t tell you is that you have to climb to the historic center over 382 steps. Or you take the bus and get there in a couple of minutes.

The historic center of Corniglia is located on the top of a promontory about 90 meters high. It is surrounded by vineyards on the characteristic terraces and faces the sea practically on the village’s backside.

It’s easier to walk the 382 steps down.

The Only Way Is Up

To get to Corniglia’s historic center from its train station, you either need to climb a staircase called Lardarina. There are 382 steps, divided into 33 flights so that you will probably break a sweat. Or, of course, you can also walk up the winding Via Stazione. However, that’s not less exhausting, take it from me.

For those who want to enjoy Corniglia’s beauty without any exercise, there is a local shuttle bus going about every ten minutes between the station and the junction of Via Stazione and Via Fieschi way up high.
If you have a Cinque Terre Card, this bus – just like the buses in every other of the villages – is included. If not, it sets you back only 1.50 €uros.

The narrow entrance to Corniglia’s historic center.

The origins of Corniglia date back to the Roman era. Interestingly, during the excavations of Pompeii, wine amphorae with the name of Cornelia were found. The name probably derives from a local family, Gens Cornelia.

Restaurant at Corniglia, one of the Cinque Terre connected by the world's most picturesque hiking trail
Hungry? Thirsty? At Corniglia, many lovely bars’n’restaurants are waiting for your visit.

During the Middle Ages, Corniglia – like the other villages – was the object of rivalry between the counts of Lavagna, the lords of Carpena, as well as the bishops of Luni. Only in the 13th century, the region became the realm of the Republic of Genoa.

Narrow street at Corniglia, one of the Cinque Terre connected by the world's most picturesque hiking trail
Shopping in Corniglia is definitely more scenic than at your local mall.

What to Visit

The entire town develops along the Via Fieschi. It leads from the parish church of San Pietro to the viewpoint of the terrace of Santa Maria.

As the Via Fieschi crosses Via Stazione, you enter the Carugio of Corniglia. This narrow street leads to the town’s main square, the Largo Taragio.

Frozen yoghurt made from local lemons and topped with local honey.
As you enter the Carugio, you’ll spot the Gelateria Alberto to your right: Nothing beats the Italian heat better than their frozen yogurt made from local lemons and topped with local honey. La dolce vita at its best!

It’s the perfect spot to enjoy some refreshments and pay the Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina a visit. This small church was built in the 18th century.

Largo Taragio with the Oratorio Santa Caterina at Corniglia, one of the Cinque Terre connected by the world's most picturesque hiking trail
Largo Taragio with the Oratorio Santa Caterina is historic Corniglia’s main square.

Behind the church is a small square from which you can see the tower, the only part left from the Genoese fortifications. From the top, you have a mesmerizing view of the Ligurian Sea and the village of Manarola.

View of the Ligurian sea through a gate at Corniglia, one of the Cinque Terre connected by the world's most picturesque hiking trail
Although the village is not as open to the sea as its neighbors, you always can catch a glimpse here and there.

Another panoramic viewpoint is the terrace of Santa Maria. Just make your way on Via Fieschi from Largo Taragio towards the sea.

View of the Ligurian sea from Corniglia, one of the Cinque Terre connected by the world's most picturesque hiking trail
Terrace of Santa Maria: Drink with a view.

If you aren’t afraid of many, many steep stairs, you can walk down from Largo Taragio to the Marina of Corniglia. It’s a small harbor for the few berths used by Corniglia’s inhabitants.

Beach of Gùvano And the Naked Truth

As you turn right, on the coastline towards Vernazza, is the famous naturist beach of Gùvano. This stretch of coast is said to be one of the most beautiful of the entire coastline. However, the – dangerous – trails have been closed so that the beach can only be reached from the sea for instance by canoe.
In any case, listen to what locals tell you about the present situation.

The beaches below Corniglia can mostly be only reached by boats.

While the alluring historic center stretches from the Via Stazione westwards, east of the road is the parish church of San Pietro, a fine example of Gothic-Ligurian architecture of the 14th century.

Tracks

While the trail between Manarola and Corniglia is currently closed and expected to be re-opened only in late summer of 2021, you can hike the three kilometers to Vernazza in about 90 minutes. Although you don’t have to be an experienced climber, be prepared for quite a number of stairs. You should definitely wear good sneakers or preferably hiking shoes.
The hiking trail is included in the Cinque Terre Card that I introduce below. If you don’t have one, you need to buy a pass for four trails that costs 7.50 €uro.

Trivia

Picturesque Corniglia is also the summer residence of the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto.

I Visitatori by Michelangelo Pistoletto at the GNAM in Rome.
I Visitatori, hence, The Visitors, by Michelangelo Pistoletto at the GNAM in Rome. Oh, and between them, I included myself.

He even included the local population in some of his works.

Vernazza

The next colorful bead on the Ligurian string is Vernazza. It’s the second-largest of the Cinque Terre.

Enjoying the sun under Santa Margherita’s bell tower.

Since many visitors believe that Vernazza is the most beautiful among the villages, it’s also the most-visited. I personally don’t find it that extraordinary and the large crowds pretty annoying.

Vernazza’s beach: Better than nothing.

However, one of Vernazza’s strongest suits is certainly its marina, a promenade, and mainly a small beach. It’s right on the oceanfront and far less rocky than most of the other beaches in the area. You can access the water without breaking your neck – that’s definitely a plus.

While wimps like me choose the harmless way into the waters, these brave guys are jumping headfirst from the cliffs.

Being the first castrum of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza was first documented in 1080 as a maritime base. A powerful dynasty of Frankish origin was also ruled Vernazza in the 11th and 12th centuries. Most likely, they used it as a naval base both to protect the eastern coast from the raids of the Saracens and to maintain the trade in the area.

Strolling down Via Roma.

In the 12th century, the Republic of Genoa built a strategic fortress on Punta San Pietro in the larger, south-bordering town of Porto Venere. Shortly after that, the republic took also possession of Vernazza.

The increase in commercial traffic and the development of the navy made Vernazza an important spot for the Republic of Genoa,

Getting Connected

The construction of the Genoa-La Spezia-Pisa railway during the second half of the 19th century abolished the Cinque Terre’s isolation.

It actually marked an economic increase in the production and export of wine. This trade had declined in the 17th century and then stagnated throughout the 18th century.

On the other hand, at the same time, there was a substantial increase in population. People were unable to find an outcome in the overloaded agricultural sector.

Looking up from the crowds, you spot Vernazza’s very picturesque side…

Consequently, at the beginning of the 20th century, people migrated to neighboring centers and above all to La Spezia.

…and old residents.

What to Visit

The territory around Vernazza is characterized by the typical terraces for the cultivation of vines. Approximately 7,000 kilometers of dry stone walls are forming these morphological structures.

In this picture, you can see it all: The terraces, the castle, the towers, the rocks, and the Ligurian Sea.

Walking up the trails, there are two points from where visitors can take pictures of the village from the height of the bird’s flight.

Right next to the oceanfront Piazza Marconi is the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia. Built in the 14th century, its most unique feature is the octagonal bell tower. There is hardly a picture of Vernazza without this iconic spire.

On the opposite side of the village is the Doria castle. Its first records date back to the 13th century. The cylindrical tower, restored in the twentieth century, is the oldest part of the fortification.

Just below the Doria castle is the quadrangular medieval Belforte bastion. Its construction dates back to the Genoese rule. It was part of Vernazza’s defensive system.

Tracks

Around Vernazza, the legendary blue path, the coastal trail number 2, can be walked undisturbed. You can hike either 3.2 kilometers southwards to Corniglia in about 90 minutes. Or you’re heading north to Monterosso. That’s about the same distance and difficulty level.

However, if you are up for some serious hiking, there are longer and steeper trails in both directions. They are 6.5 respectively 7.5 kilometers long so that you’ll probably need about three to four hours for either of them.

Monterosso al Mare

This fishing village on the Ligurian coast is the largest settlement in the Cinque Terre. Actually, Monterosso stretches for 1.5 kilometers and is divided into two parts.

View from the sea of Monterosso’s new part Fegina where also the train station is located…

The small, old town is separated from the newer Fegina district by a rock protruding into the sea. The two parts of town are connected by a pedestrian tunnel that leads through the rock.

….and the historic old town where the ferries from La Spezia are docking.

Monterosso al Mare, hence by the sea, has definitely the most comfortable beaches of all the villages. Nevertheless, don’t expect long, sandy stretches with secluded bays. The beach is rather dusty and pebbly. The major part is privately managed. Here you have to rent chairs and umbrellas and lay in a row with other people like sardines in a can. However, there are smaller parts and large rocks where you can spread out your beach towel without paying.

Beach at Monterosso al Mare.
Monterosso’s beaches do not offer too much room for individualism.

The shores are pebbly and partly rocky, too. Therefore, especially if you have sensitive soles, bring a pair of swimming shoes to protect your feet.

While the beach is not that great, the water is fantastic. Most of the time it’s quiet so that you can swim and snorkel since there are surprisingly many fishes swimming close to the shore.

What to Visit

As I mentioned above, a pedestrian tunnel connects the two parts of Monterosso. It leads through the foothill of the San Cristofero height. On top stands the watchtower Torre Aurora built in the 16th century. It reminds today’s visitors of the formerly permanent danger of pirate attacks in this region. Ascending the tower offers an interesting insight into Monterosso’s medieval history under the as well as a beautiful panoramic view.

View of the Ligurian Sea from the the viewpoint below Torre Aurora.

In the historic old town of Monterosso is the beautiful Church of San Giovanni Battista. It was built between the 13th and 14th centuries and then renovated during the Baroque era.

A piece of San Giovanni Battista’s façade.

The façade flashes the iconic two-tone pattern made from green and white marble. You’ll find these in several churches around northern Italy.

A closer look at the green and white marble blocks as well as the artisticly carved window.

A large rose window in artistically carved white marble is placed above the main portal.

Stripes without stars on the churche’s inside. Look out for the engraved inscription in medieval letters on one of the columns.

Interestingly, the bell tower was originally a medieval lookout turret. It was part of the fortifications built by the Republic of Genoa in the 13th century.

From watch to clock: New job for Monterosso’s medieval tower.

Just like in the other villages, there are stores, restaurants, bars, and cafés in Monterosso. The major difference, however, is the balneario-atmosphere.

A truly special local product: Look out for the local guitar builders who show their masterpieces at the arcades on Via Roma.

My Tip

Especially if you don’t have much time to spend at the Cinque Terre so that you have to rush from village to village, you should travel northwards. Hence, start your day in Riomaggiore and work your way up to Monterosso.

This is why they added al Mare to Monterosso.

No matter if you are visiting by train or if you’re hiking, you’ll definitely enjoy ending the day by relaxing on the beach for a while.

Tracks

The 3.3 kilometers on the blue path from Monterosso to Vernazza are not really hard, however, there are many stairs. Hence, the 90 minutes that you’ll probably need might tire you out. Coming from Vernazza to Monterosso is a bit easier than the other way around. Also, once you get there, you can just crash on the beach – see my tip above.

If you’re down for some more serious hiking, you can either walk from Monterosso northwards to Levanto. You’ll probably need about three hours for the 7 kilometers, but the terrain is easy to walk. Or you take the mountain route to Vernazza. On these almost 8 kilometers you also pass two ancient sanctuaries, Soviore and Nostra Signora di Reggio. However, it will take at least 3.5 hours.

Practical Information

How to Get There

By Car

All villages in the Cinque Terre are traffic-calmed. Cars without a permit must be parked in designated parking spots or outside the villages.

However, keep in mind that most of the car parks are reserved for residents.

By Train

Therefore, the best way to explore is Cinque Terre is by train. The villages can be easily and quickly reached by regional and fast trains from Genoa, Pisa, and Florence. The closest city, however, is La Spezia. From there, it’s only eight minutes to get to Riomaggiore.

In case you forget your itinerary, the route is written on the train doors.

There are various trains per hour in both directions. A trip sets you back 4 €uros per ride no matter how far you go. However, if you plan to visit various villages in one day, a Cinque Terre card for 16 €uros quickly pays off. Especially, since it comes with a number of additional perks.

The train journey is actually an attraction in itself. It crosses the region in an impressive stretch of tunnels along the sea. After minutes in a dark tunnel the ever so often views of the water are then almost blinding.

Taking the train in Riomaggiore: Wait with a view.

There are tourist stands or offices at each of the villages where you can get information on basically everything regarding your visit. They also supply you with a small time table which will help you with your planning. However, you can always check out convenient connections on the website of trenitalia, the national train company. It’s very clear and well-functioning.

By Ferry

No question, the most alluring way of visiting the Cinque Terre is from the sea. You can, obviously, choose between a privately chartered vessel and the Cinque Terre ferry line. During high season, there is a scheduled boat service from La Spezia going to four of the five villages.

The port of La Spezia from where you can take a ferry to Portovenere as well as the Cinque Terre where you can take the world's most picturesque hike
The port of La Spezia from where you can take a ferry to Portovenere as well as the five villages.

If you are taking the ferry from La Spezia, you pay 18 €uros for a trip to Riomaggiore or Manarola and then 23 €uros if you go to Vernazza or Monterosso.

View of Portovenere from the sea.
Arrivederci, Portovenere, we are off to explore new shores.

If you join the ride in Portovenere, you pay 14 respectively 18 €uros. To enjoy an entire day taking the ferry as often as you please, you pay 27 €uros for the Cinque Terre and 35 €uro if you include Portovenere and La Spezia.

Ferry taking people from La Spezia to each one of the Cinque Terre - The World's Most Picturesque Hike
Obviously, accessing the villages from the sea is the most alluring way of exploring the Cinque Terre.

Kids under six years of age travel for free, between six and eleven, they pay 12 €uros from La Spezia and 10 €uros from Portovenere no matter how far they go. For the day passes, they pay the same price as adults.

How to Get Around

There is an electric bus service managed by the Cinque Terre National Park in each of the villages. Once you’re tired from all that climbing and descending, it’s a welcome opportunity to rest for a couple of minutes.

Especially between the station and the historic village center of Corniglia, the so-called Ecobus is the visitors’ best friend.

It also shuttles people between the town centers and the parkings as well as some of the slopes.

Unlimited rides on the Ecobus are included in the Cinque Terre Card. Individual tickets cost 1.50 €uros.

The Cinque Terre Train Card

As a matter of fact, there are two types of the Cinque Terre Card. Actually, there is no such thing as an entrance fee to the Cinque Terre National Park. Hence, whether you need a Cinque Terre Card or not depends on what you are planning to do.

A single train ticket costs 4 €uros per journey. The card costs 16 €uros per day for an adult and includes further perks such as using the Ecobuses within the villages and the National Park area and access to all trails.

Cinque Terre Card
With the Cinque Terre Card, you can enjoy the five villages an entire day to the fullest.

If you intend to visit at least three villages by train, the cards pays off.

But even if you plan to use the train only twice but want to hike one of the coastal paths, you should consider getting the Cinque Terre Train Card. Because another priceless benefit is avoiding long lines to purchase tickets.

So in short, this is what you get for your 16 €uros:

  • unlimited train travel in the 2nd class of regional trains on the La Spezia – Cinque Terre – Levanto railway line
  • unlimited bus travel within the villages and the National Park area
  • free access to all trekking paths
  • free Wifi-access at the hotspots within the National Park area
  • discounted admission to the Civic Museums in La Spezia

If you stay longer, you can buy the Cinque Terre Train Card at 29 €uros for two and at 41 €uros for three days.

Kids from four to twelve pay 10 €uros for one day and families – two adults and two children – pay 42 €uros. There is no option to buy tickets for more than one day.

Important Tip

Always remember to validate your regular train tickets at the station before you use it. You will find the stamp machine located in the stairs on the way to the platform. If you don’t do so, you will get fined – and those fines are quite expensive.

Since the Cinque Terre Train Card is issued for specific days and needs to have the bearer’s name on it, you do not need to validate it.

The Cinque Terre Trekking Card

There are about 120 kilometers of trails at the Cinque Terre National Park. Of these 48 hiking trails, you need the Cinque Terre Trekking Card only two of them. If you want to hike between Monterosso and Vernazza respetively Vernazza and Corniglia, you need the Trekking Card. Access to all other paths is free of charge.

Also, if you purchase the Cinque Terre Train Card, access to those two paths is already included.

Both types of card can be obtained on the spot at the tourist offices or also online. They are not valid for 24 hours, but for the specific day quoted on the card. Also, there is no refund whatsoever if you cannot use a once issued card. Hence, check the wheather forecast before planning your visit.

Where to Stay

Since tourism has been increasing, you’ll find tons of accommodation in the villages and on their outskirts. Still, since mindless construction is prohibited, lodging can get quite expensive, especially during high season.

Also, while strolling up and down the villages’ steep alleys is much less fun when you have to carry or drag your luggage.

Man pulling his luggage up a steep street in the Cinque Terre, The World's Most Picturesque Hike
If you have to schlepp your own luggage you might wanna consider packing light.

Therefore, my advice is to look for a place to sleep in the neighboring city of La Spezia – for various reasons.

Firstly, you’ll have a wider choice of hotels, hostels, apartments, and the like. Obviously, where there’s competition, prices are cheaper. You get a better standard for the same price.

Then, La Spezia is not as packed with tourists and therefore calmer and more relaxed – despite the fact that it is a bigger city.
You find more nice, reasonably priced restaurants instead of overcharging tourist traps.

And you’ll get to experience the real Italy. There are beautiful streets and nice markets – you rub shoulders with locals and enjoy Italian life.

Don’t you worry to be too far from the action: From La Spezia it’s only minutes to the Cinque Terre. Literally: You get to Riomaggiore in eight (!) minutes by train.

The Poet Hotel

So if you listen to what I say and opt for accommodation in La Spezia, I actually have the perfect place for you: The Poet Hotel.

The reception and the bar are one at The Poet Hotel in La Spezia, the gateway to the Cinque Terre.
Promising: The reception and the bar are one at The Poet Hotel.

No matter who you are and what you are up to, you will absolutely love The Poet Hotel. Because it is for everyone.

For those who need lots of comforts – but also for those who prefer it plainly stylish.
Romantics and art lovers alike will spot inspiring work.
Those who want to be right where the action is will love The Poet Hotel’s conveniently central location.
And those who need serenity will wake up and spot Liguria’s lush mountains.

View of La Spezia from The Poet Hotel in La Spezia, the gateway to the Cinque Terre.
Room with a view: Good morning La Spezia! Gimme a moment – I’ll be ready to explore your beauty in a sec.

On three floors, The Poet Hotel has 57 rooms for different needs’n’budgets. From a standard double room to a junior suite deluxe, you choose what you need and what your funds allow.
No matter what, your stay will be comfortable from the first minute on.

Painting in the breakfast room of The Poet Hotel in La Spezia, the gateway to the Cinque Terre.
Was Banksy here? A fun painting decorating the spacious breakfast area.

After a good breakfast in their cool dining area, you’ll make your way either to the train station which is about five minutes walking from the hotel’s door. From there you can easily explore the Cinque Terre and take a late train back. Since the way to your cozy room will be a very short one.

Room at the Poet Hotel in La Spezia, the gateway to the Cinque Terre.
What a poetic sight: Slowly, the first rays of the sun are entering my comfy room at The Poet Hotel.

Or you explore the lovely town of La Spezia a bit and then take a ferry first to Portovenere and then to the Cinque Terre. I’ve described all those options above.

Chiesa Parrocchiale N.S. Della Neve at La Spezia
Chiesa Parrocchiale N.S. Della Neve across the street from my room is calling: Get up, lazy bones, we have a lot of hiking to do!
Let Your Hair Down

As you come back after a long day hiking or from the beach, your hair wet and your skin salty, you’ll enjoy thorough sponging under their soft rain shower.
Quick, snuggle up in their thick, soft bathrobe.

Bathroom at The Poet Hotel in La Spezia, the gateway to the Cinque Terre.
A spacious bathroom…
Showe Gel and Shampoo at The Poet Hotel in La Spezia, the gateway to the Cinque Terre.
….with complimentary toiletries is awaiting you. I appreciate that they come in sustainable large bottles instead of those tiny plastic containers that are so not eco-friendly.

If you’re not too tired, you can enjoy an Aperitivo at their bar before heading out to dinner. Or you just stay in, pour yourself a drink, and watch a little TV. Maybe in Italian to practice. Or one of their many international channels in another language.

Bathrobe at The Poet Hotel in La Spezia, the gateway to the Cinque Terre.

Whatever tickles your fancy, I promise you that the friendly staff at The Poet Hotel will do everything to make your visit to La Spezia and, of course, the Cinque Terre a comfortable and unforgettable one.

Poetic writing on the wall of The Poet Hotel in La Spezia, the gateway to the Cinque Terre.
Writing on the wall: This is why they call it The Poet Hotel.
(This cute graffiti translates to the sea that climbs between rocks and cliffs)

Where to Eat

Where to Eat? The Cinque Terre are catering to both national and international tourism, hence restaurants, eateries, and snack bars are plenty everywhere.

The villages are certainly great spots for sampling Ligurian cuisine.

Obviously, seafood is on top of the menu. Make sure to sample their stockfish, salted anchovies, and stuffed mussels.

Nevertheless, don’t forget that you are in a rural, mountainous region, hence especially in winter, there are veggie chowders, seasoned with olive oil and wild herbs such as radicchio and garlic.

Other typical dishes are the Ravioli. Mostly prepared during the holidays and according to the tradition eaten for three consecutive days during the carnival. Then, the Genoese Pesto is world-famous, obviously.

If at noon you just need a quick snack, you can feast on – you’ve probably guessed so – pizza. Often it’s sold al taglio, that means by the slice. You pay according to the weight.

Also, focaccia is a popular Italian snack stemming from Liguria. It’s basically a flatbread made from yeast dough just like pizza. However, it’s mostly prepared with rosemary, garlic, herbs or olives. Although it’s not as richly garnished as pizza, it’s very tasty.

Cash And Cards

The villages are touristy and businesses want you to shop till you drop, to eat, and to drink. Therefore, credit cards are widely accepted. But there are also ATMs in each of the villages.

Basil Ice Cream with olive oil
Don’t run short of cash for the many gelati you’ll sample. This one is made from basil and topped with some fine olive oil.

Since 2001, 19 European countries paying with €uros, and Italy is, obviously, one of them. The exchange rate is 1 US$ = 0,84 €UR (September 2020), but you can check the conversion on this page.

Language

Although the Cinque Terre are very touristy, people speak mostly a very basic English. And they don’t do it voluntarily. So while they halfheartedly make an effort to understand what you’d like, they might snort and roll their eyes. Don’t take it personally.

Reading Glasses and an Italian Newspaper
Wouldn’t it be great being able to read an Italian newspaper while having your morning caffè?

Zushini, Gnotchi, Raditcho – I’m bleeding from my ears since I hear these mispronunciations so often.

Seriously, guys, it’s not so hard.

So here are some general rules: As in any other Romance language, C is hard when written before A, O, and U, hence, it’s pronounced K.

If followed by E or I, it’s tch as in witch.

Now, if a C followed by E or I should be pronounced K, an H is added: Zucchini, Gnocchi, Radicchio – Zukkini, Gnokki, Radikkio.

On the other hand, if C followed by A, O, or U should be pronounced tch, they slip a – silent! – I in: Ciocolata, Ciabatta – Tchocolata, Tchabatta – forget about the I in-between.

Italian Classes in Italy’s Most Exciting Cities

As a matter of fact, it might be a great idea to learn some Italian or brush up what you already know. A great place to do so is the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci. Not only do they have campuses in Milan and Rome, they are also in Siena and Florence, hence not far from the Cinque Terre.

If you are interested in taking Italian classes, but you’re insecure about how to organize your stay, don’t worry. The friendly and efficient ladies at the Scuola’s office are accommodating and can arrange literally everything for you – starting with an airport pick-up if you wish.

After a placing test, they advise you which class would be your best choice and help you with every little detail including providing housing for the duration of your course.

Connection and Communication

If you have a European mobile phone contract, no roaming charges apply within the EU. This applies in all 28 countries of the European Union as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.
The EU roaming regulation applies to all contracts.

Andorra, San Marino, Monaco, and Switzerland are excluded because they are not EU members. In the three smallest countries, however, you can log into the mobile network of a neighboring EU state. This way, you can still use the EU conditions.

Woman holding a cellphone
A cellphone is, obviously, an indispensable travel gadget.

There was free Wifi at basically every business such as hotels and restaurants. Also, with the Cinque Terre card, you have free Wifi access at designated hotspots.

The standard voltage in Europe is 220 V and the frequency 50 Hz. In Italy, they use three plug types, namely C, F, and L.
Whereby, since nowadays, all these chargers have integrated adapters, in general, the voltage and frequency don’t really matter.

You’ll find comprehensive travel info in my post World’s Most Complete Travel Information – an indispensable globetrotter-classic.

Pinnable Pictures

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RIOMAGGIORE
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MANAROLA
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VERNAZZA
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CINQUE TERRE
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MONTEROSSO
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CORNIGLIA

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* Disclaimer: My stay at The Poet Hotel was complimentary and the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci granted me a small discount on my course. However, all opinions on their service are mine and were by no means influenced by my cooperation partners. The provided links are a service to my readers. There are no affiliate links in this post.

71 Replies to “CINQUE TERRE – The World’s Most Picturesque Hiking Trails”

  1. I visited Cinque Terre years ago and didn’t even know trekking through them was a thing! How awesome! This would be such a fun and unique way to experience each of these special towns.

  2. This has been on my bucket list for a number of years now. And your post makes me to want to go NOW! The quaintness and beauty are so evident in your pictures, which makes me wonder how truly incredible it is in real life!

    1. As always, pix probably don’t do it justice – although I did my best 😉 Yes, despite the crowds, it’s still dreamy – beats me how they do it 😀

    2. I so look forward to all of your Italy posts! It is my dream to visit Cinque Terre! I’d love to take more language classes, but I’m always so intimidated. The fact that the school your chose holds your hand through everything, even arranging an airport pick up would make me feel much more secure!

      1. Ah, this is so encouraging – I’m rushing into it so you don’t need to wait for too long 😉 Regarding language learning: There is no reason to be intimidated. Mind you that at the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci, only the teachers’ Italian is perfect, so….you’re in good company!

  3. You are absolutely right, this is a gorgeous, picturesque trekking trail. The whole town is magnificent, and I reckon that I could live here, and not miss the urban life.

  4. Your visit looks so amazing. I studied Cinque Terre a bit in college when I studied Italian, but I never got to visit when I was in Italy! I hope I can do that someday!

  5. What a comprehensive guide to Cinque Terre. It is a place in Italy that I was due to visit this year but will now have to look at going in 2021. I had not thought about hiking in the area, but I will look into it.

    1. A couple of people didn’t know about the hiking – funny, since it’s really a big deal there. Anyway, I hope you’ll make it there very soon!

  6. Amazing article. The villages are awesome, especially I liked the lanes between the houses. The colours of the waters are pure blue, too intriguing. I feel like visiting each of them, awesome. Missing travelling in a big way.

  7. You have such wonderful captures of Cinque Terre! This is one of my dream destinations! I pray that traveling will become safe again, soon.

  8. What a wonderful tour of this area! So much to see. Your mention of the “Kinder-thingie” brought a smile to my face. I discovered Kinder eggs when I worked for a German company in the U.S. and my German colleagues would bring them back as treats from their travels home. We would decorate our desks with the prizes inside. Now they sell them in the U.S. Thanks for sharing about that beautiful area.

    1. We have Kinder eggs in Germany – but those in the Cinque Terre were a special Summer edition they sold only in Italy at that time 😀

  9. We have fond memories of visiting Cinque Terre. We visited a few of the villages but did the train between towns. We always planned to return to do the hikes. Good to know that the paths are very different in different sections. We did love wandering in the vineyards on the hills. But sure want to go back at harvest time. Your post just made me yearn for a return to Cinque Terre. What a great comprehensive guide.

  10. Is it wierd that I’m just getting to know about Cinque-terre now? It’s seems like a very beautiful and fun place to visit. Beautiful pictures, by the way.

  11. What an amazing in depth guide, I think it looks breathtaking. The comment about speaking English with an eye roll made me laugh, I kind of feel for them haha, people can be difficult!

  12. I want to visit Cinque Terre so badly! My family visited last year for a few day after we visited family in Germany, but I had to leave early for work and was not able to go. I can’t wait to see it all in person one day 🙂

  13. Wow the area of Cinque Terre is quite fascinating and I really appreciate the amazing level of helpful and practical detail you have included here. Given the immense natural beauty of these coves, there is little wonder these 5 villages were settled and developed so long ago. The perfect region to hike and take in the glorious landscapes here.

  14. oh Wow! You’ve brought back so many memories for me. My husband and I visited this magical place on our very first overseas trip. I want to go again.

  15. Awesome! I love reading others adventures in travel especially these days when we can’t leave the country. Looks like a very beautiful place!

  16. The ONLY way I would get my butt up and hike is for those VIEWS!!! Everyone that has been to the cinque are has warned us about the walking but honestly there is soo much to absorb that we wouldn’t even mind the trek. Thank you for the amazing hike inspo!

    1. As a matter of fact, you get the views also from the villages – and even the stations while you are waiting for the comfortable trains 😉

  17. Such a beautiful place! I can’t get over the gorgeous views of the sea and the colorful mountainside villages. This is looks like a great place to visit.

  18. I’ve never actually heard of this coastline but your photos of it look so pretty! I love the look of Manarola with its colourful buildings and spectacular views. This is somewhere I’ll be adding to my bucket list for sure!

  19. I love the idea of this trip! I have never been to Cinque Terre but I really like the idea of hiking between the villages. I’m a huge fan of enjoying the journey instead of just focussing on the destination. Thanks for all the info – a really comprehensive post!

  20. Cinque Terre is definitely on the list! All these villages are so beautiful and picturesque but I think I would also love to have Riomaggiore as the base and go on exploring from there. And without a doubt I would indulge in countless of their frozen yogurts while exploring all these villages. A sweet treat to beat the heat is a must 😉 Love the colorful buildings all around and the deepest blues, such a scenic place this one is.
    Also getting that train card is a great tip!

  21. Cinque Terra is on my bucket list, but not because I know much about it, but because the photos I’ve seen are so incredibly beautiful. I love the colors of the buildings against the backdrop of the green mountains and the blue sea. Since reading this post, now I know I probably won’t get much beach time in and I need some really great walking shoes. I love all of your photos. I’m with you and don’t mind missing out on the crowds.

  22. We loved our time in Cinque Terre so much. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do much hiking as I was recovering from foot surgery. Regardless, it was a fabulous place.

  23. A friend has been posting to Facebook this week sharing experiences and photos of their visit to Cinque Terre, and they have done a fair bit of hiking while there. I am awed by the views you describe (even from the small cabin way up high) but also wonder whether I’ll feel vertigo and likewise from those hiking trails! The beautiful photos of the streets and buildings are particularly appealing to me though, and as we don’t enjoy beaches, the lack of beach space isn’t a negative for us at all. I was starting to feel tired reading about all the stairs but pleased to know that there are shuttle buses available to circumvent the stairs in some locations!

    1. I so feel you since I also suffer from acrophobia – whereby I have the feeling that’s it’s getting a bit better. Taking the train between the villages is a great alternative since you can always take a short hike from each village just to the outskirts without going all the way to the next village. Even that way, you’ll enjoy breathtakingly beautiful views – no sweat!

  24. I have never thought of visiting Cinque Terre, but you know me and my hiking, I will have to do a bit more research of this area. I also prefer quaint villages over large cities so this area would be more to my liking. A great tip on where to stay to avoid the tourists!

  25. You just seem to have a magical friendship woth words, I just enjoy the way you write so much! You have a flow girl and its beautiful 🙂

  26. One of my top areas in Italy to visit once we are free to do so! I didn’t realize there were so many hiking opportunities in the area though – good to know!

    1. When hiking, you get to see the mesmerizing sceneries from more angles, obviously. However, especially in the summer heat, going from village to village by train is a valid option – since every little corner is just beautiful 🙂

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