Travel Guide

Cinque Terre National Park, Italy: sweeping views and seaside villages

Roxanne de Bruyn

Founder and contributing editor

This section of northwestern coastline of Italy is stunning - tiny fishing villages tucked into little hills, the sea disappearing into the sky. The Cinque Terre National Park is spectacularly beautiful, filled with wildflowers and hidden paths through the trees.

It's the perfect spot to spend your time walking along the trails, exploring the charming villages and eating local food and wine. Here's what you need to know to plan an unforgettable trip to the Cinque Terre.

Looking down at the village of Manarola in the Cinque Terre

How to get to the Cinque Terre

The easiest way to get to the Cinque Terre is by train. If you're leaving from Rome or Florence, you can get direct trains to La Spezia in Liguria. The journey takes about two hours from Florence and three hours from Rome, by fast train.

From La Spezia, you can take the local train in direction Levanto. This train stops in all of the five villages.

If you're starting in Genoa, you can also take the local train south towards La Spezia, which stops at the Cinque Terre villages on the way. You can also do a day trip to the Cinque Terre from La Spezia, Monterosso or further afield.

Another wonderful way to see the villages are from the water. You can book a boat trip from La Spezia or Monterosso and these trips allow you to see the villages and the national park from a completely different perspective. Saying that, taking the train gives you the time and flexibility to fully explore each village.

Day trips to the Cinque Terre National Park

The coastline at Manarola in the Cinque Terre

Exploring the Cinque Terre by train

If you're short of time or don't find the thought of walking between all five villages appealing, consider exploring the Cinque Terre by train. This is also a good option for those who want to do a section of the High Path, but still visit all of the villages.

The train is the ideal means of transport between the Cinque Terre villages - you can stop and explore a village, then head to the next one. The trains stop directly at the villages, so you don't have to do much walking and run regularly. The special trains, Cinque Terre Express, run every 20 minutes from mid March until the end of October. There are also beautiful views on the journey as the train track hugs the coastline.

If you're staying outside of the Cinque Terre, it's easy to visit the villages by train. This is an especially good option if you want to take your time exploring each village over a few days. The train line also connects the Cinque Terre with Ligurian coastline, so you can do day trips to Genoa, Sestri Levante and even Santa Margherita and Portofino.

A path through the vineyards in the Cinque Terre National Park

Walking the Cinque Terre

For centuries, the only way between the Cinque Terre villages was by foot. Now, it's still a popular way to see the villages and the surrounding national park. The trails either follow the coastline or head high into the hillside, surrounded by terraced vineyards and sweeping views out to see.

Before you begin your walk in the Cinque Terre National Park, decide which trail you want to do and make sure it's open. The trails can be affected by weather with landslips common after heavy rains. Take some water with you and wear suitable clothing and shoes. There is a charge to enter the national park during the day.

The Blue Path

The most popular trail, the Blue Path follows a coastal route between the villages. The trail has been worn, over the centuries, by people who used it for passage from one town to another - in many parts it is ann old mule track. The path from Monterosso to Riomaggiore is about 12 km and reaches a height of 200 meters at Prevo, a small village in the hills near Vernazza. It's a reasonably easy trail, however there are some steps and steep sections.

The Blue Path is marked by a white-blue striped market and it takes about five hours to complete the full trail. Keep in mind, that it will be a very full day if you decide to visit the villages as well - ideally take a few days to walk the route if you want to spend some time at each of the villages.

The view from the clifftops high above the villages

The High Path

If you aren't as concerned about visiting the villages, but want a good hike with panoramic views, consider the High Path instead. The trail is divided into five sections - all marked Path number 1 (AV5T) on maps of the national park. The route goes along the mountains, past forts and small villages, with panoramic views. The section from Monterosso also offers views of all five villages. The last stretch of this trail is popular with visitors wanting to hike from Monterosso to Levanto.

Other trails in the Cinque Terre National Park

As well as the two main trails, there are a number of tracks and loops in the hills above the villages. These are my favourite walks as they offer gorgeous views above the villages and are much quieter than the Blue Path.

Here you can walk among the vineyards, stop at tiny hamlets in the hills and see the ruins of the old workers' cottages. There are also a number of sanctuary churches near the small settlements. It's peaceful and serene although the trails can be steep (and a bit treacherous) in places. Signage isn't always as good as on the major trails, though, so review your route before leaving.

The harbour at Vernazza in the Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre towns

The Cinque Terre includes five fishing villages on the coastline. There are a number of other villages in the national park, however these are even smaller with limited amenity.

Riomaggiore is the southernmost village and is also relatively large. Many visitors start there trip here as it's the closest to La Spezia. Riomaggiore has colourful houses set around the harbour and there's a reasonable selection of food and accommodation options. It is set on the hillside, so be prepared to walk up and down sloping streets while you're here.

Manarola is in a beautiful setting above the water and tucked into the vineyards. The colourful buildings and narrow streets are very picturesque, like something from a painting.

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.

Vernazza is smaller with a pretty harbour and colourful houses. It also a tiny beach and some interesting, artsy shops.

Monterosso is the largest of the villages and the furthest north. Many visitors end their walk through the Cinque Terre here. It's the easiest to access (you can drive there and there's parking near the town) and it has a beach town feel. It has a long beach with a wide range of restaurants and accommodation.

The beach at Monterosso

Where to stay in the Cinque Terre

If you want to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the Cinque Terre, you can stay in one of the five villages. This way you won't have to travel in each day and you can enjoy the villages in the evenings, when they are relatively quiet. As the villages are close together, you only really need one base for your trip - it's not worth trying to split your time between a couple of the villages.

However, the five villages are extremely popular and can be very crowded in the peak season. Prices are also very high, due to their popularity, with accommodation and food more expensive than elsewhere in the region. Many of the villages are also set on the hillside and streets can be quite steep. For these reasons, many travellers choose to stay outside of the Cinque Terre and visit the villages during the day.

Staying in the Cinque Terre

If you want to stay in one of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso and Riomaggiore are your best bet. They are the largest of the villages and have the best accommodation and food options. Monterosso is also the only one with a beach. Saying that, if you can find a nice guesthouse or apartment in one of the other villages, you'll definitely have a quieter experience in the evenings.

Hotel recommendations in the Cinque Terre:

Looking down at the hilltop village of Volastra

Staying in Volastra

For a completely different experience, you can stay in the tiny village of Volastra above Manarola. While this isn't one of the five villages, it's still situated in the Cinque Terre National Park. Volastra makes the perfect spot if you want to explore some of the trails at your leisure, soak in the beautiful views and escape from the world. You can get a bus from Manarola to Volastra.

Hotel recommendations in Volastra:

  • Luna di Marzo - a small hotel with incredible views

  • The Garden - a beautiful guesthouse with lovely gardens and a wonderful outlook

Staying outside the Cinque Terre National Park

Staying outside of the Cinque Terre is also a good option as long as you pick somewhere on the train line - in fact, I prefer it as I find the villages a bit busy and touristy. Levanto and La Spezia are good options - both larger towns with more affordable food and accommodation and a more local feel.

If you don't mind being a bit further from the Cinque Terre, the seaside towns of Deiva Marina. Moneglia and Sestri Levante also make great bases for exploring the region. They are also further north, so are well positioned for day trips up the coast.

Hotel recommendations outside the Cinque Terre:

Looking down towards Corniglia in the CInque Terre

Where to next

From the Cinque Terre National Park, you can head north and explore more of Liguria and Northern Italy. On the train route up the coast, you'll find a number of lovely seaside towns, including Sestri Levante and Santa Margherita. The latter makes a great starting point for a day trip to Portofino, which you can visit by ferry or walking along the coast. There is also plenty to see in Santa Margherita itself.

Further north, you'll find the fascinating coastal city of Genoa with a number of interesting attractions and some delicious food. From there, you can continue north either to Turin or Milan.

If you've already travelled through Northern Italy, you can continue south to Tuscany and Florence, or east to the Emilia-Romagna region

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and contributing editor of Faraway Worlds. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 26 April 2022

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