Cinque Terre could be characterized as the perfect travel destination and for good reason. The lovely weather, beautiful seaside, picturesque buildings and the unique hospitality of the Italian people, all make these cliff-top villages along the Italian Riviera a truly magnificent summer destination. The string of five villages that are centuries old was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, which is another testament to the need for preservation in the area. Cinque Terre is also a National Park as well as a protected marine area. The combination of these ensures that both the architectural and natural beauty of the region is maintained.
How to Get to Cinque Terre?
The best way of getting to these villages is by train. I wouldn’t recommend getting there by car because, vehicle traffic is restricted to residents only in the villages, so, except from having to drive in particularly narrow roads, you might end up with a fine. Thankfully, Italy has one of the most extensive and at the same time affordable train networks in Europe. The price you will need to pay will normally depend on the distance you are crossing. If you are starting from Rome, then the train ride should cost you around 40-50 euros. From Pisa and Genoa, the train ride will be less than 2 hours and should range in price from 7 to 15 euros. I travelled there from Florence, which lasted about 2 ½ hours (15-25 euros), with one train switch in La Spezia. From there, it takes about 15-20 minutes depending on which village you are visiting first.
Booking your train tickets is relatively easy, as there are many available apps that you can choose from or use to compare routes and prices. I booked my tickets via Omio, which I think is the best solution and also offers easy to use e-ticket functionality.
Must-See in Cinque Terre
If your visit to Cinque Terre is a short one, then there will be some must-see locations that you should strive to see. As Cinque Terre is a cluster of villages, I recommend visiting the most important ones whilst there for a weekend trip, to better take in the beauty of the area without rushing.
Riomaggiore is the perfect base for your trip. This is partly because it is the closest to La Spezia out of the five villages. From there you can take advantage of the regular and fast train service that links the villages, since getting from one to another takes only about 5 minutes. This will allow you the option of making choices spontaneously and just witnessing the Italian lifestyle firsthand.
For your stay, “La Prima Terra” is a nice choice, a unique looking property perfectly located on the main street of the village, just a five-minute walk from the famous colorful fishing port and picturesque marina.
If you’re looking for the freshest, most delicious fried seafood, this is the place. Head to “Il Pescato Cucinato” for lunch, a local fried seafood shop where you can get a take-away seafood mix cone to enjoy with a view. The cone, which is filled with fried fish, shrimps, calamari, anchovies, potatoes, vegetables and other seafood, will normally cost you around 5 to 12 euros, depending on the size and the ingredients you choose. Not to mention how perfectly it goes with the local white wine!
Another great take-away choice is “Kepris Pizzeria“, where you will get to see the dough being made right before your eyes. You can also choose from their incredible selection of fresh and delicious toppings at a reasonable price. “Kepris” is a real hidden gem, a bit further away from the touristic area. The tastes, though, are going to reward you.
No day in Cinque Terre ends without a spectacular sunset. While the port of Riomaggiore is famous for its view, with the perfect light and dreamy pastel colors, it can be very crowded. If you prefer to have a secret sunset spot all to yourself, I suggest you explore the higher trails of the village. This spot, for example, is great for watching the sunset, if you want to enjoy Riomaggiore from a different perspective. Just grab some wine and pizza and be amazed by the beautiful views more privately and romantically.
Possibly the most beautiful of the five villages, known as “the jewel of the Cinque Terre.” The village has a lovely natural harbor, pastel-coloured houses and an incredible seaside Piazzetta. For history lovers the Doria castle, located on the hilltop, dates back to around the 11th century CE, making it the oldest surviving fortification in Cinque Terre. The main church of the village, Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, is located at the old harbor overlooking the sea and is a prime example of Ligurian Gothic architecture.
“Batti Batti” focacceria is the perfect take-away choice, right on the main road leading to the port. There, you will enjoy some traditional Italian food, while taking in the vibrancy of the village.
All five villages are connected with a hiking trail. If you are not in for the “full hiking experience”, though, you can still walk to a couple of viewpoints that are must-sees in my opinion, mainly because the view from the top is truly exquisite.
The first one is on the hiking trail from Vernazza to Corniglia, which is a bit steep and slippery so come prepared with the right shoes. The views will reward you after the climb.
The second one is on the hiking trail from Vernazza to Monterosso Al Mare, which will give you a breathtaking view of the harbor. The bluest waters below can be seen during afternoon.
For both of these hikes wear appropriate and comfortable shoes, as a guard will be checking your footwear in order to protect you from accidents.
My personal favorite out of the five villages is Manarola. It is a charming and romantic village built at the edge of the cliff, an iconic scene of the Italian Riviera. Many of the houses are hidden high in the hills, but you can get a panoramic view from the harbor.
Manarola’s waters are lovely to swim in and for a more unique experience, try to line up your visit with the feast of the patron saint of the village, San Lorenzo, on August 10th. During the feast, the celebrations with fireworks will seem like a dream!
If you are looking to grab a bite or drink with a stunning view, make sure you visit Nessun Dorma where you can enjoy amazing Italian food along with a refreshing Spritz.
Best time to visit Cinque Terre
The most popular times to visit Cinque Terre are between late April and September. Late April through May are less busy but also a little cooler. I went there during the Italian summer time. If you choose that period, be prepared for very high temperatures (even during the nighttime) and a lot of crowds. Whenever you choose to go, though, I guarantee you that exploring Cinque Terre is a lifetime experience, you don’t want to miss!