There are places in the world that take your breath away and instantly steal your heart. For me, Italy’s Cinque Terre is one of those places.
The rugged Italian coastline that makes up the Cinque Terre (Italian for “five lands”) attracts visitors from all over the world. The villages of Cinque Terre are different from most cities in Italy; here you won’t find many of the “must-see” sights that people often associate with travel in Italy, like museums, Roman ruins, or castles. Instead what you’ll find are five distinct villages that embrace the natural Italian beauty surrounding them and beckon you to enjoy a slower pace during your time in Italy.
Cinque Terre’s five villages beg you to take an afternoon swim in the beautiful blue waters, enjoy a glass of wine in a local cafe, or spend your day hiking through the gorgeous hillsides connecting the towns.
While the whole region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they are all part of Cinque Terre National Park, each of the five villages has its own unique charm and personality. To visit and not explore each town individually would be a shame.
Let me show you what I love about each of Cinque Terre’s five charming villages!
Home Of The Via Dell’Amore
Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the five villages in Cinque Terre, and the first stop on the train from La Spezia. Stepping off the train in Riomaggiore, guests are immediately treated to the incredible cliffside town. The colorful houses seem to be clinging to the side of the cliffs, all clustered around the tiny natural harbor carved out of the rocks below.
Riomaggiore is a quiet town, but don’t let that stop you from visiting, as she is full of personality. As the largest of the five towns, Riomaggiore is most often the starting point for tourists visiting Cinque Terre.
Visit Riomaggiore’s main street to get a taste of the local life here. The street is lined with shops and cafes welcoming visitors to try their house wine and sit for a while. The remains of a 15th-century castle loom overhead and seem to be watching over the small town below.
If you are feeling up to it, a 10-minute climb will bring you to the castle walls and the remaining two towers. Just take note that the ground can be uneven in this area, and the climb is a bit steep. The climb is well worth it, though, as you are rewarded with glorious views of Riomaggiore.
The main attraction here is the Via dell’Amore, translated to “The Way of Love.” This paved, flat, and easy-to-walk path hugs the cliffside and connects Riomaggiore to Manarola. The views of the sea and the hillside vineyards are breathtaking, but the best thing to do from this trail is to watch the sunset!
Pro Tip: Via dell’Amore is known to close due to landslides. Always check the Cinque Terre website for the current condition of the trails prior to hiking. At the time of publication, the trail was closed with a scheduled reopening of July 2024.
Picturesque Hillside And Famous Wine
When traveling north, Manarola is the second village in Cinque Terre. It is the most famous seaside village thanks to its picturesque hillside covered in colorful houses, but Manarola has a second claim to fame: its wine!
The small piazza here is lined with seafood restaurants, and the tiny harbor is home to a small boat ramp, all overlooked by the colorful hillside homes. An uphill climb on the paved streets leads you to the Church of San Lorenzo, a Gothic church built in 1338. Across from the church, you will find a 16th-century watchtower and the church’s bell tower.
Vineyards surround the town on the rugged hillside, yielding grapes that will later become the famed sweet Sciacchetra wine that Manarola is known for. Be sure to try some during your time in Manarola.
Just a few steps from the church is the beginning of a gorgeous and relatively easy walk, the Manarola Vineyard Walk — just look for the wooden railway. The walk winds its way through the vineyards of Manarola, affording you with amazing views of the village and sea as you progress. The majority of the path is paved or a boardwalk, but it is important to note that there are stairs and elevation changes on this walk.
Pro Tip: Be sure to head to Punta Bonfiglio to see some incredible views of the city. It is a short uphill climb, but it is well worth it when you reach the top. It is easy to see why Manarola is one of the most romantic towns in Italy.
Peaceful Town With Incredible Views
Corniglia is the only village in Cinque Terre that is not built directly on the sea. Instead, it is perched high on a cliffside overlooking the sea. This strategic location gives Corniglia one of the best views in Cinque Terre that doesn’t require a lot of hiking. You will, however, have to tackle over 300 stairs from the train station in order to access the town. Well, that or wait for the shuttle bus that will pick you up right outside of the train station.
This ancient Roman village has a long agricultural history, which can still be observed today with vineyards surrounding the town on three sides. Today, visitors to Corniglia are treated to small alleyways enclosed by colorfully painted houses.
The main alleyway leads you to a broad, sea-facing terrace that has an incredible view of all five of Cinque Terre’s villages. This is the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and admire the beauty of the Italian coastline.
Pro Tip: If you are planning to stay overnight in Cinque Terre, Corniglia is a fabulous town to choose. At night, when most of the tourists have left, Corniglia is a peaceful and charming Ligurian village that welcomes guests with open arms.
The Prettiest And Most Photographed Village
Vernazza is Cinque Terre’s most photographed village — and arguably, the prettiest. When you climb the steps to the headland opposite the town tower and look down on Vernazza, it is easy to see why.
Colorful houses seem to spill out along the rugged cliffside, all overlooking the little piazza and rocky harbor below. Above the colorful town are the remains of the old Genoese walls and a watch tower. In the summer, the harbor is dotted with boats and sunbathers, all enjoying la dolce vita in Italy.
Restaurants and bars serving up the fresh catch of the day and some good Italian wine line the town’s main street. The fact that there is no car traffic in the city only makes it that much more charming and relaxing!
The hiking path from Corniglia to Vernazza takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. The path is considered to be of average difficulty but does contain elevation changes and is on a natural, uneven surface. You can choose to hike from village to village in Cinque Terre or take the regional train.
Pro Tip: Get off of the main street and wander through the narrow side streets in Vernazza to get a feel for what daily life is like in this hillside town. You will be rewarded with gorgeous sea views at every turn!
5. Monterosso Al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five villages in Cinque Terre, and also the one that has the only long and sandy beach in the area. The town is separated into two parts, the New Town, called Fegina, and the Old Town, linked together by an underground tunnel. It is in Monterosso’s New Town that you will find the majority of the hotels in Cinque Terre.
Of course, you can hike from Vernazza to Monterosso if you would like. Just be sure to buy your hiking pass, which can be purchased at the train station or at any of Cinque Terre’s Tourist Information Points. This hiking path is on uneven, natural terrain with elevation changes.
This is the perfect town to visit if you want a day at the beach. You will find Monterosso’s beach lined with colorful chairs and umbrellas just waiting to be rented for the day. Enjoy a swim in the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean Sea, or rent a kayak and explore the many caves dotting the coastline in this area.
The Fegina, or New Town, is home to a statue of Neptune, Statua del Gigante. This statue clings to what is left of the Villa Pastine after being ravaged by war and rough seas. It has become a symbol for the town of Monterosso. Just head to the north end of the beach to see it for yourself.
During your time in Monterosso, you can visit the church of San Giovanni Battista. Perched high above the sea, you will find the medieval Torre Aurora, a 13th-century tower that is now a prominent restaurant in Monterosso. You can also visit the Covenant of the Capuchin Friars, a monastery founded in 1618 that houses some notable artwork.
Pro Tip: Plan to have a sunset dinner at Torre Aurora to see one of the most gorgeous sights in Cinque Terre, the sun setting over the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea. Although a little pricey, this splurge is well worth it to enjoy these once-in-a-lifetime views.