travel guide

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

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

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

Situated high above the water and tucked between vineyards, Manorola is one of the smallest of the five. The colourful buildings and narrow streets are very picturesque, like something from a painting. The town is pleasant to explore with a pretty town square, cobblestoned streets and opportunities for snorkelling and boating activities from the dock.

Corniglia

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. Corniglia is surrounded by vineyards on three sides and makes a good base for exploring the national park and other towns.

Vernazza

The most famous of the five, Vernazza is often referred to as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It's a small village with a pretty harbour and colourful houses. It also has two tiny beaches (one near the harbour and a slightly larger one accessible from the town square) and some interesting, artsy shops.

Monterosso al Mare

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 seaside resort vibe. Monterosso is the only village with a long, sandy beach, making it a good base if you want to spend some time in the water. It is also the liveliest of the five villages, with a good range of restaurants and accommodation options in town.

For more detail, read our overview on the Cinque Terre towns.

The beach at Monterosso

Where to stay 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 also has a beautiful long, sandy beach. Saying that, there are also pretty guesthouses and apartments in the other villages, and you'll definitely enjoy experiencing the quieter evenings with fewer visitors around.

Read our guide on where to stay in the Cinque Terre for more detailed information on accommodation options in and around the national park.

Some of our favourite places to stay in 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

Insider tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure
We promise not to abuse our new friendship. Please see our Privacy Policy

Share this article

Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. 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 11 September 2022

Italy

Italy is one of those countries that has something for everyone, from food, beaches and mountains to art and ancient history.
© 2022 Faraway Worlds.