What I love about each of the 5 charming villages of Cinque Terre
There are places in the world that take your breath away and instantly steal your heart. For me, the Cinque Terre in Italy 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 towns in Italy; here, you won’t find many of the “must see” sites that people often associate with traveling to Italy, such as museums, Roman ruins or castles. Instead, you’ll find five distinct villages that embrace the Italian natural beauty that surrounds them and invite you to enjoy a slower pace during your stay in Italy.
The five villages of the Cinque Terre invite you to take an afternoon swim in the beautiful blue waters, enjoy a glass of wine in a local café or spend your day hiking through the beautiful hills connecting the towns .
While the whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and they are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park, each of the five villages has its own charm and personality. Visiting and not exploring each city individually would be a shame.
Let me show you what I love about each of the five charming Cinque Terre villages!
House in Via Dell’Amore
Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the five Cinque Terre villages and the first stop on the train from La Spezia. Stepping off the train at Riomaggiore, guests are immediately treated to the incredible cliffside town. The colorful houses seem to cling to the side of the cliffs, all grouped around the small natural harbor carved into the rocks below.
Riomaggiore is a quiet town, but don’t let that stop you from visiting, as it is full of personality. As the largest of the five towns, Riomaggiore is most often the starting point for tourists visiting the Cinque Terre.
Visit the main street of Riomaggiore to get a taste of local life. The street is lined with shops and cafes welcoming visitors to try their house wine and sit down for a while. The remains of a 15th century castle dominate the sky and seem to watch over the small town below.
If you feel up to it, a 10-minute climb will take you to the castle walls and the two remaining towers. Just note that the ground can be uneven in this area and the climb is a bit steep. The climb is worth it, as you are rewarded with a magnificent view of Riomaggiore.
The main attraction here is Via dell’Amore, translated as “The Way of Love”. This paved, flat and easy-to-navigate path skirts the cliff and connects Riomaggiore to Manarola. The views of the sea and 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 current trail conditions before hiking. At the time of publication, the trail was closed with an expected reopening in July 2024.
Picturesque hill and famous wine
When traveling north, Manarola is the second largest village in the Cinque Terre. It is the most famous seaside village thanks to its picturesque hill covered with colorful houses, but Manarola has a second claim to fame: its wine!
The small square here is lined with seafood restaurants, and the small harbor is home to a small boat launch, all overlooked by the colorful hillside houses. A climb up the cobbled streets brings you to the Church of San Lorenzo, a Gothic church built in 1338. Opposite the church you will find a 16th century watchtower and the church bell tower.
Vineyards surround the town on the rugged hillside, producing grapes that would later become the famous Sciacchetra sweet wine for which Manarola is known. Be sure to try some during your stay in Manarola.
A short walk from the church is the start of a beautiful and relatively easy walk, the Manarola Vineyard Walk – just look for the wooden railway. The walk winds through the vineyards of Manarola, giving you stunning views of the village and the 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 for incredible views of the city. It’s a short climb, but well worth it when you reach the top. It’s easy to see why Manarola is one of Italy’s most romantic towns.
Peaceful town with incredible views
Corniglia is the only village in the Cinque Terre that is not built directly on the sea. Instead, it is perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. This strategic location gives Corniglia one of the best views in the Cinque Terre that no doesn’t require a lot of hiking. However, you will have to climb more than 300 steps from the station to access the city. Well, that or wait for the shuttle that will pick you up right outside the station.
This ancient Roman village has a long agricultural history, which can still be seen today with vineyards surrounding the town on three sides. Today, visitors to Corniglia are treated to small alleys surrounded by brightly painted houses.
The main driveway leads you to a large terrace facing the sea which offers an incredible view of the five villages of the Cinque Terre. It is the perfect place to have a coffee and admire the beauty of the Italian coast.
Pro tip: If you are planning to spend the night in Cinque Terre, Corniglia is a fabulous town to choose. At night, when most 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 the most photographed village in the Cinque Terre – and arguably the prettiest. When you climb the steps of the promontory in front of the town tower and look down at Vernazza, it’s easy to see why.
The colorful houses seem to spill out along the rugged cliff, all overlooking the small square and the rocky harbor below. Above the colorful town are the remains of the ancient Genoese walls and a watchtower. In summer, the harbor is dotted with boats and bathers, all enjoying The good life in Italy.
Restaurants and bars serving the catch of the day and fine Italian wine line the town’s main street. The fact that there is no car traffic in the town only makes it even more charming and relaxing!
The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. The path is considered to be of medium difficulty but contains elevation changes and is on a natural and uneven surface. You can choose to hike from village to village in the Cinque Terre or take the regional train.
Pro tip: Step off the main street and stroll through the narrow lanes of Vernazza to get a sense of daily life in this hillside town. You will be rewarded with magnificent sea views at every turn!
5. Monterosso Al Mare
Village by the sea
Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five Cinque Terre villages, and also the one with the only long sandy beach in the region. 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 the New Town of Monterosso that you will find the majority of hotels in the Cinque Terre.
Of course you can hike from Vernazza to Monterosso if you want. Just be sure to buy your hiking pass, which can be purchased at the train station or at one of the Cinque Terre tourist information points. This hiking trail is on uneven and natural terrain with unevenness.
It’s the perfect city to visit if you want to spend a day at the beach. You’ll find Monterosso 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 hire a kayak and explore the many caves that dot the coastline in this area.
La Fegina, or New Town, is home to a statue of Neptune, giant statue. This statue clings to what remains of Villa Pastine after being ravaged by war and rough seas. It has become a symbol for the city of Monterosso. Just head to the north end of the beach to see it for yourself.
During your stay in Monterosso you can visit the Church of San Giovanni Battista. Perched above the sea you will find the medieval Torre Aurora, a 13th century tower that is now a leading restaurant in Monterosso. You can also visit the Covenant of the Capuchin Friars, a monastery founded in 1618 which houses remarkable works of art.
Pro tip: Plan a sunset dinner at Torre Aurora to see one of the most magnificent sights in the Cinque Terre, as the sun sets over the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. Although a bit pricey, this splurge is worth it to enjoy these unique views.