Visiting the quaint villages in the Cinque Terre National Park has become a must on many Italy itineraries. The villages are charming, with spectacular views and spending a day (or more) wandering between them is a wonderful experience for any holiday.
Well connected by train and the hiking trails, you can easily visit all of the villages in one day, although you'll need a little longer to explore them fully. Here's our overview of the towns in the Cinque Terre and what you can expect when you visit each of them.
Riomaggiore is many visitors' introduction to the Cinque Terre as it's the closest to La Spezia, the nearest city to the national park. As well as being the southernmost village, it's also one of the largest. Colourful houses are set around the harbour and there's a reasonable selection of food and accommodation options. The town is situated on the hillside, so be prepared to walk up and down sloping streets while you're here.
The most famous Cinque Terre trail, Via dell' Amore (Lovers’ lane), connects Riomaggiore with Manarola. It's a romantic walk along the coast and is only 1km long. Just keep in mind that the trail is closed due to landslips until July 2024.
Riamaggiore is a picturesque place to base yourself for a few days with a few hotels and guest houses to choose from. Just keep in mind it can get busy in the mornings, especially in summer. As a result, it can be quieter later in the day, once visitors have continued on to the other towns.
Surrounded by the vineyards cascading down the cliffs in Cinque Terre National Park, Manarola is easily recognisable from paintings and postcards. The town is delightful - all colourful buildings and winding streets - and is large enough that there's still space to move, even in the summer months. The town is pleasant to explore with a pretty town square, cobblestoned streets and opportunities for snorkelling and boating activities from the dock.
The second smallest of the Cinque Terre, Manarola has a permanent population of less than 400 people. It's also situated on the hillside, so once again, be prepared to navigate steep roads and stairs. There are some beautiful walks in this area of the national park and it's also possible to visit the nearby vineyards.
Corniglia is the central village and the least accessible as there's a steep flight of stairs to the village from the train station. Due to this, it's probably the quietest of the five, with lovely views of the coast. An ancient Roman settlement, it's surrounded by old terraced vineyards and has the feel of an countryside village rather than a seaside town.
Being in the middle of the five towns, Corniglia makes a great base for exploring the Cinque Terre. While it does get busy in the afternoons, the hustle and bustle is minimal compared to the other four, and its quite tranquil in the evenings. Down by the water, there is a rocky cove, the perfect place for an afternoon dip.
Renowned for being one of Italy's loveliest villages, Vernazza is the jewel of the Cinque Terre. As well as the obligatory pretty harbour and colourful houses, Vernazza has a fortified town and a beautiful bell tower which adds to its charm.
Along with the lovely piazza, the 12th Century Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia (home to the bell tower) is well worth visiting. St. Marguerite is the patron saint of the town, and legend tells of a treasure chest containing the bones of her hand washing up on the shore of Vernazza - the church is now on the spot where the bones were found. Visit for the Feast of Santa Margherita on 20 July and join in as the town celebrates with a festival and fireworks.
There are two small beaches in Vernazza, one near the harbour and the other accessible through the town square. It's a small town and it does get very busy, as people tend to linger over photos, food and visiting some of the artsy shops. There are also a number of easy hiking trails to Corniglia, Monterosso and Foce Drignana accessible from the town.
With a permanent population of around 1,500 people, Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the Cinque Terre. It's also the furthest north so many visitors end their walk through the Cinque Terre here. Essentially a resort town, Monterosso is the easiest of the villages to access - you can drive there and there's parking near the town. In short, it's the perfect place to stay if you want to add a beach holiday onto your Cinque Terre trip.
Monterosso is the liveliest of the towns, with a wide range of restaurants, bars and hotels to choose from. It's also the only one of the villages which has a long, sandy beach with a couple of beach clubs, so you can book a lounger and umbrella and just relax. The hills which surround the town are known for their lemons, so taste the local limoncello while you're here.
Parts of the town date from 11th Century and exploring the old streets and historic buildings is a fun way to wile away an afternoon. You can also visit the Capuchin Covent and climb up to the Cemetery and old town walls, which offer panoramic views and a glimpse of the original, 7th Century settlement.
Locanda A Cà Du Gigante, a pretty guesthouse with an on-site restaurant just a minute's walk from the beach
Bellambra located in a historic building in the centre of town overlooking the beach
Antica Ancora with beautifully-decorated rooms, some suitable for families
Il Balconcino sul carugio for a spacious, two-bedroom apartment in the middle of town
If you want to escape the crowds that you see in many Cinque Terre towns, head up to the tiny village of Volastra nestled in the hills above Manarola. While Volastra isn't one of the five towns, it's still located in the Cinque Terre National Park and is a wonderful spot to visit if you have the time.
You can walk up to Volastra on an alternate route between Manarola and Corniglia which meanders through the terraced vineyards. The path is quite narrow and steep in places, but the views are spectacular. The hike takes around half a day (including time for photos) and Volastra makes a wonderful stop on the route. If that sounds a bit too energetic, you can also get a bus from Manarola to Volastra.
Despite being a bit more remote, Volastra is a lovely place to stay if you want a quiet experience immersed in the national park.
Last Updated 21 September 2022