Travel Log: Cinque Terre, Italy

We stepped off the train and entered into a dreamland. These quaint colorful villages that kiss the clear blue sea are pure magic. In Italian, Cinque Terre means Five Lands because this region is made up of five coastal villages. These villages (ordered south to north) are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.  My husband and I spent three days and two nights here and we wish it would have been more! These costal villages are slightly less touristy than a lot of popular Italian towns because they are separated by the hilly coastline! 

We took an early train from Firenze (Florence), to La Spezia, and then on to Cinque Terre. Since we were backpacking we headed straight to our AirBnB in Corniglia to drop off our packs. Then we took the short train ride back to the southern most village, Riomaggiore, to begin our exploration of this town. By the end of the day we made our way back to Corniglia for the night. The next day we did the same thing, moving to our new AirBnB in Monterosso to drop off our bags and then taking the train back to Vernazza to start the day. I've included our favorite things about each village as well as where we ate and what we did.

At the end of the post I've added tips for getting around Cinque Terre as well as other secrets that are great to know if you are traveling anywhere in Italy. 

Riomaggiore 

As I said before, it is the southern most village of the five and it was by far my favorite. When we were there it was quiet, picturesque, and absolutely relaxing. We grabbed gelato, wandered through the narrow streets and eventually made our way to the water. We shared the jetty with only a handful of people and enjoyed the crystal clear water. 

Manarola

... is the next town town up in Cinque Terre. We decided to hike up through the vineyards to get from Riomaggiore to Manarola. The views were breath-taking (literally). It was an incredibly beautiful and very steep trail with little-to-no shade, but we thought that it was worthwhile. When we got to Manarola, we had lunch and tried pasta with a squid ink sauce! It was interesting to say the least. Manarola was by far the most crowded villiage so we didn't say for long. We took another dip in the water before taking a train back to Corniglia. 

Corniglia 

We LOVED Corniglia. It is the only village without direct ocean access so travelers often skip it, but I whole-heartedly recommend scaling the many steps to this overlooked town! Because it is often skipped, there are hardly any tourists around. I felt like we got a little window into the authentic lives of the Italians that live here. 

We had two amazing meals in Corniglia. The first was dinner at Enoteca Il Pirún where I had a spinach ricotta ravioli with an almond pesto sauce. This is the second best meal I've ever had. Ever. The first being a lasagna I had in Rome (that trattoria is under the food section of my Travel Log of Rome). After dinner we grabbed a bottle of wine from a local market store and headed to the rooftop patio of our AirBnB which has a CRAZY view of the coastline. 

The next day we had a really amazing pesto pizza from La Gata Flora. 

If you didn't know, the Italian province Liguria (where Cinque Terre is) is where Pesto originates, so you definitely need to try at least one pesto dish when you're there! 

Vernazza

We really enjoyed Vernazza! It is the second largest village out of the five with lots of space to spread out a blanket and sunbathe. There are two options if you want to sit by the water: the rocky beach on the south side and the harbor to the north. The small rocky beach was crowded so we opted for the harbor. 

We purchased little cheap swimming goggles so we could snorkel around! It was SO fun! I would recommend doing this in Riomaggiore as well but we didn't think of it until we got to Vernazza. 

We had another really great pesto pizza at Batti Batti before taking a water taxi to Monterosso! 

Monterosso

Monterosso Is the northern most village out of the five and it is also the biggest. It is the only village with a proper beach and ton of hotels. There is a new and old section to town and we stayed up the hill on a vineyard in the old part of town. Because it took so long for us to get the water taxi, we didn't have a ton of time to explore Monterosso before the sun set. So we just washed up and had a relaxing dinner on the water. 

Tips for Getting around

The best way to get around in Cinque Terre is by foot or by train. I would not recommend driving because the roads are very narrow, take the long way around (because of the windy coastline), and there is very little parking. In fact, it is near impossible to get around, let alone access, these towns by car.

1. On Foot

There are two routes that you can take on foot: 

  • The foot path near the water: this is an easy beautiful walk 
  • The trail: this is a very difficult hike as it takes you through the vineyards, above the villages, and over the rugged coastal hills. The views are absolutely breath taking but don't expect for it to be an easy hike. 

Often because of storms, the easy foot paths will be closed. So you will either have to hike the difficult trail (like we did) or take the train. You can find this information on the official website of the Cinque Terre National Park.

2. The Train

There is a train that runs right along the coast and is pretty easy to navigate. The villages are less than a ten minute ride from one another and the trains come frequently. You can buy your ticket from a machine or from a person, but if you don't speak Italian I would recommend using the machine.

One last thing you should know if you are going to ride the train here (or anywhere else in Italy) is that you need to validate your ticket before you get on the train. There are little bright yellow or green machines that you stick your ticket into and it stamps the time you are going to use it. If you don't validate your ticket you can get a huge fine!

3. Water Taxi

There are boats you can pay take from one village to the next. The views of the towns from the water are so beautiful but this is by far the most expensive way to get around. It was worth it for us to try it at least once, so we took a water taxi between Vernazza and Monterosso! It was beautiful!  

Other Tips & Tricks

Finding the best food: 

  • Look for the label TRATTORIA. We ate at these restaurants whenever possible and they never failed us.  
  • Trattoria's are usually cozy family owned restaurants that make traditional Italian food. This alone makes them amazing but they are also usually inexpensive! 

Avoiding Crowds

  • Get up early and be at attractions before they open
  • Reserve or buy your ticket online the day before. 
    • Not only are the tickets usually cheaper this way but you also get to skip the long lines! 
  • I have a whole blog post on how to Avoid The Crowds if you are interested in more detailed info :)

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