There are so many wonderful things to do in Cinque Terre, the beautiful stretch of Italian coastline. Cinque Terre is named after five fishing villages set into the hillside, each of which is covered in colorful houses that overlook the sea.
Cinque Terre is an incredibly popular spot in Italy and for good reason. It’s often considered the Amalfi Coast for backpackers, but with lower prices and a more rugged landscape. It’s easily accessible from both Pisa and Florence, making an ideal spot for a day or two along the coast.
I planned a trip to Cinque Terre with some very helpful advice from an Italian friend, whose girlfriend is from La Spezia. He fell in love with the Ligurian coastline after taking the ferry and seeing the trademark towns from the water, and he was eager to share his best tips and tricks for enjoying a visit to this region.
I shaped my trip using his advice, and I wanted to share all of the highlights of my trip so that you, too, can make the most of your visit to Liguria.
- 1 16 Wonderful Things to do in Cinque Terre
- 1.1 Visit all five towns (The Cinque Terre)
- 1.2 Hike
- 1.3 Try a fresh focaccia from Forno de MA
- 1.4 Wander through the hillside vineyards
- 1.5 Explore Portovenere
- 1.6 Take a boat
- 1.7 Have a coffee on the hillside
- 1.8 Try a pastry
- 1.9 Take home some Italian treats
- 1.10 Cook dinner with fresh Italian ingredients
- 1.11 Take the train
- 1.12 Watch the sunset
- 1.13 Eat gelato
- 1.14 Swim
- 1.15 Visit La Spezia
- 1.16 Sample some Italian cuisine
- 2 How many days should you spend in Cinque Terre?
- 3 Is Cinque Terre worth visiting?
- 4 What is the best way to see Cinque Terre?
- 5 Where to stay
- 6 Author Bio
16 Wonderful Things to do in Cinque Terre
Once you get to Cinque Terre, you might find yourself wondering how to make the most of your trip. Read on for all of the best activities to do while you’re in the area, and I’ve also included some information to help you plan your stay.
Visit all five towns (The Cinque Terre)
The first thing you need to know about Cinque Terre is that it’s an area named after five idyllic seaside towns along the Italian coastline about midway between Genoa and Pisa. The Cinque Terre (literally, “Five Lands”) are, from north to south, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
The towns are all connected by a train line and a hiking trail, and they’re close enough that you can see all five in one day, either by walking between them, taking the train, or a combination of both.
Which is the prettiest of the Cinque Terre towns?
Vernazza was the most beautiful town in my opinion, though each has its own charm (that’s why you really ought to try to visit as many as you can!). Riomaggiore was large and bustling, and would be a great place to stay if you want to keep to the Cinque Terre towns.
If you’ve seen photos of Cinque Terre, they were probably from Manarola, which is said to be the most photographed of the towns.
Are the nearby cities of Portovenere and La Spezia worth visiting?
Yes! I would absolutely make some time to get off the beaten track and visit Portovenere and/or La Spezia. Cinque Terre is beautiful, like walking through a postcard, even–but my fondest memories are from my hike and visit to Portovenere.
Cinque Terre is a landscape best enjoyed on foot, and there are many hiking trails to choose from once you arrive.
Be forewarned that the trails close intermittently due to landslides, maintenance, and other issues. When choosing a hike, you’ll want to have a backup plan in case you’re not able to complete the trail you’d planned. The hiking trails are well marked and plentiful, giving you an abundance of choice when choosing where to go.
Along the paths, you’ll find a few places to buy water and snacks, but plan to bring plenty of your own. You can’t know ahead of time if the stops will be open to visitors, so it’s best to be prepared.
The Ligurian Coastal Hike from Portovenere to Riomaggiore
During my trip to Cinque Terre, the popular Sentiero Azzurro trail that connects the five towns was closed for renovations. So, I needed to make alternate arrangements.
On the advice of a local friend, I decided to hike from the port town of Portovenere to the southernmost Cinque Terre town, Riomaggiore. With frequent stops to check out the views and enjoy some snacks, the hike took the better part of a day. I arrived in Riomaggiore in time to wander around then hop a train to Vernazza to catch the sunset.
The hike from Portovenere is long and moderately strenuous, with some significant hills as you get closer to Riomaggiore. Just outside of Riomaggiore is one of the most beautiful and strenuous stretches, where you walk along the vineyards on a steep hillside overlooking the water.
Try a fresh focaccia from Forno de MA
One of the best things I’ve ever eaten in Italy was a piece of fresh focaccia in Portovenere at Forno de MA. I’ve never been a focaccia enthusiast, and I’ve often found the slabs of bread to be either too dry or overly oily. The focaccia from Forno de MA was intensely flavorful, perfectly moist, and covered in some of the most delicious green and black olives I’ve ever eaten.
The bakery had a long line that stretched out onto the sidewalk even in October, so you may want to try to visit on the earlier side to have the best options. At the time I visited, the bakery was cash only, similar to many of the spots I encountered while in Cinque Terre.
Wander through the hillside vineyards
The steep hillsides that surround Cinque Terre are covered in vineyards, many of which overlook the Ligurian Sea. There, grapes grow on their vines in the hot Italian sun before being collected using a single-railed trolley system, complete with a seat for the operator.
Traversing the sun-soaked Ligurian hillsides, I couldn’t help but try to imagine what life must have been like for generations of Italians who have spent their days working on these steep hills. I didn’t have time for a wine tasting on my trip, but I’m sure you could set up a wonderful visit at one of these vineyards.
Just outside of the Cinque Terre towns, there is a fishing village called Portovenere, easily accessible by train or bus from La Spezia. There are small gems hidden throughout Portovenere, from the fairytale-like stone steps that lead up to the church to the narrow and windy roads filled with shops selling traditional items packed through the medieval quarter of the town.
If you go to Portovenere, don’t skip the church even if it’s a bit of a walk. A portion of the church is in active use, complete with a musician playing traditional songs near the doorstep for coins from passersby. Near the church is an unroofed structure with open stone windows that look over the Ligurian Sea and on towards Cinque Terre.
Portovenere has plenty of shops at different price points to buy gifts and souvenirs, and the prices are likely to be a bit lower than similar items in the more famous towns nearby. There were a number of sleepy restaurants and cafes throughout the town, in case you needed to take a break for an espresso and a small sandwich.
Take a boat
If you have the option, spend at least a small amount of time seeing Cinque Terre or a nearby portion of the coastline from the sea. From the water, the tiny colored houses nestled into the hillside take on an even more magical quality.
There are boats available to take you out on the water throughout the area, but you can also simply take a ferry from La Spezia for a similar experience and to get to your next destination. The ferry runs between La Spezia and Levanto, with stops in Portovenere, Riomaggiore, Manarola,Vernazza, and Monterosso. Note that Corniglia is not accessible by ferry. Tickets start at €8 per person.
If you prefer, you can hire a private boat while in Cinque Terre. The prices for this will vary.
Have a coffee on the hillside
If you decide to hike from Portovenere to Riomaggiore, you just might stumble upon a coffee cart located just off the trail. The small food truck-style operation served espresso, sandwiches, and even wine, depending on the time of day.
There were a few small tables and chairs made from logs, and each of them looked out over the sea; it was the perfect stop for a treat and a chance to take in the view.
If this particular truck isn’t around when you visit Cinque Terre, just keep an eye out for other unexpected gems along the trail. There are plenty of beautiful, tucked away places throughout Cinque Terre that will add to the magic of your trip.
I tried and failed to find the name of this particular coffee cart on Google Maps. If you happen to find it and love it, you might write them a review so that others will know it’s there!
Try a pastry
While wandering through the medieval coastal town of Portovenere, I was tempted by a bakery that was piled high with small pastries and other sweet treats. I didn’t ask what the pastries were, I just chose the most perfect looking one and bought it.
My selection was a small, flaky pastry filled with Nutella, and it was delicious. There are small bakeries piled high with pastries throughout Cinque Terre, so look around in each of the towns and choose one that appeals to you. Although they’re regional to Naples, you might even see a sfogliatelle stuffed with ricotta if you search long and hard enough!
Take home some Italian treats
One of the best parts of visiting Italy is being able to find high-quality yet inexpensive kitchen staples. So, stock up! If you have room in your bag, buy some olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, dried pasta, limoncello, and wine to enjoy when you get home.
I like to buy these things at a Carrefour or other grocery store, not the tourist markets, so that I can be sure I’m getting more authentic ingredients. My two tricks for deciding what to buy are 1) watch what the Italians buy (then copy them), and 2) look for any sort of award on the packaging.
Be sure to carefully package any liquids before flying home so that they don’t spill in your bag.
Cook dinner with fresh Italian ingredients
You may never have a better chance at making incredible Italian food at home than you do while traveling in Italy and cooking in your Airbnb or hostel. The ingredients are incredibly fresh, and you can make an impressive (and cheap) fresh pasta dish with only the staples you buy at a local grocery store.
For a quick and delicious meal, buy some fresh pasta, pesto, veggies, and a bottle of wine from Coop or Carrefour. Be sure to buy the fresh pasta and pesto, both of which will be in the refrigerator section. Typically, you’ll only need to boil fresh pasta for about 3 minutes, but be sure to read the instructions on the package because the exact amount of time will vary.
This is an especially good option if you’ve been eating pizza across Italy for a few days and want to add in a hearty serving of veggies to your dinner. In my experience, it can be hard to get a veggie-filled meal – especially when all you want to eat is gelato and focaccia. If pasta with pesto doesn’t interest you, you’ll find plenty of ingredients for other easy meals you can make while staying in.
Take the train
Most any visit to Cinque Terre will involve some time on the train, as the area is steep and mountainous with very few roads and even fewer cars. Luckily, the trains are convenient, clean, and relatively easy to navigate.
If you choose to hike a route other than the main Sentiero Azzurro hike that connects the five Cinque Terre towns, you’ll probably still want to see as many of the Cinque Terre towns as possible. This is where the train becomes your best friend. You can take the train quickly between the centers of each of the towns, and they run several times each hour so you won’t have to wait too long.
You can pay for each ticket on the train, or purchase a day pass with unlimited rides for about €18 per person.
Watch the sunset
Grab a table with a view of the water before the sun starts to set over the sea. There, you can sip an Aperol spritz or a glass of local wine while the final moments of the day slip by, a perfect ending to your day in Cinque Terre. Any of the towns will have views of the water, but for the most iconic experience you’ll want to head to Vernazza or Manarola.
I chose Vernazza and was not disappointed. There, I found rows of tables with prime views of the horizon. The steep hillsides on either side of the vista made it more memorable than other times I’ve watched the sunset from the coast.
There’s something positively lovely about eating gelato on your Italian holiday, and Cinque Terre has plenty of gelato for you to sample. On a hot summer day, you’ll find yourself looking for ways to cool off, and a gelato cone is likely to fit the bill perfectly.
You’ll find gelato all over Cinque Terre, so you shouldn’t have to hunt long to find some decent options. You’ll want to avoid places with gelato piled high behind glass cases–these cater especially to tourists and usually won’t be as flavorful or amazing. Instead, opt for places that are a bit more modest in their presentation.
I found a gelato shop that also seemed to sell cycling gear in a small village while hiking between Portovenere and Riomaggiore. I only stopped because I was rather hungry from hiking for several hours. I chose the special of the day, a cherry gelato with juicy bites of fresh cherry mixed into a creamy vanilla base. It was the best gelato I’ve ever had.
It was too cold when I visited Cinque Terre in mid-October, but you can swim in spots in Manarola or Monterosso al Mare during the warmer months. A dip in the sea would probably feel pretty lovely after a hot day of hiking through the Cinque Terre towns!
If you decide to go for a swim, take care to secure your belongings while you’re in the water. Better yet, leave someone in your group to watch the bags while you float in the salty water under the hot Italian sun.
Try a liqueur
Make a point of trying an Italian liqueur while you’re in Cinque Terre. The most famous option is limoncello, a sweet and strong elixir made from sugar, lemons, and alcohol. If you don’t have a chance to order limoncello at a restaurant, you can buy small bottles in the tourist shops throughout the five towns.
If you’ve already tried limoncello, expand your horizons and try local favorites like Vecchio Amaro del Capo, a Calabrian liqueur, or Crema di Pistacchio, a creamy pistachio liqueur. Unlike a shot of liquor, liqueurs will be sweet and thick, better for sipping or mixing into a cocktail.
Visit La Spezia
You’ll probably pass through La Spezia on your way to Cinque Terre, as it’s the local hub for the region. While you’re passing through, take some time to wander around and get a sense for the local city.
When I visited, I saw open air markets, tempting coffee shops, and I loved walking around the harbor to see the boats set off towards the open water.
La Spezia is a small city, and there you’ll find a more local flair than in any of the Cinque Terre towns. The city is packed with traditional restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops. Take full advantage while you’re there and try an osteria, or smally family restaurant, that’s a little further off the beaten path.
La Spezia is also a great choice for any budget travelers, as you’ll find more options and lower prices for accommodations than in any of the Cinque Terre towns.
Sample some Italian cuisine
No trip to Italy is complete without some delicious and authentic Italian food. In Cinque Terre, you’ll find a wealth of delicious options at various price points.
For the best recommendations, ask a local what they recommend, or look for a spot where the locals seem to flock. Google Maps can serve as a backup plan, but the locals will have even better intel.
How many days should you spend in Cinque Terre?
Many people visit Cinque Terre as a day trip, but the area is big and varied enough to warrant two or more days, especially if you want some time in Portovenere and/or La Spezia. I recommend that you spend at least two nights and one full day in and around Cinque Terre, which should give you enough time to see the major sites.
If you have extra time, you could even explore the Apuan Alps just south of the Cinque Terre region. The jagged peaks look like they’re made purely of marble, and you’ll have a chance to marvel at them from the highway if you drive between La Spezia and Pisa.
Is Cinque Terre worth visiting?
Yes, Cinque Terre is definitely worth visiting, especially if you enjoy hiking and exploring on foot!
If your group is less inclined to hike or explore on foot, you might prefer other stretches of coastline. The towns are lively and very beautiful, but the joy of Cinque Terre is definitely in the exploration of the area.
Even if you plan to see Cinque Terre by train, you’ll likely spend some serious time climbing up and down the hillsides and through the towns. So, wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
An Italian friend told me, “Literally throw away the map!” when I got to Cinque Terre, and I think it was sound advice. Don’t worry too much about seeing every single church, but do take some time to wander around and soak up the romance. Let your curiosity guide your exploration.
What is the best way to see Cinque Terre?
The best way to see Cinque Terre is by foot and public transport. Plan a long hike, preferably one that will take you for a long stretch along the Italian coastline and offer views of the crystal blue water.
Cars are highly restricted, and you’ll find that it’s hard to find a taxi or other car service while in the area. Think of Cinque Terre as the perfect place to stretch your legs and imagine what life tucked into the Italian coastline might have been like for the last few centuries.
You’ll find that there’s plenty to occupy a few days of your itinerary, between Portovenere, La Spezia, and the Cinque Terre towns. Pack lightly, wear comfortable shoes, and bring some cash, as you’ll find a lot of the countryside is more rustic than the nearby cities of Florence, Genoa, and Pisa.
Where to stay
Stay in La Spezia for the best experience, biggest range of options, and a sense of local flavor. La Spezia is a small port city with public transportation to the coast, open air markets, great coffee shops, and a few large grocery stores. You’ll also find some great restaurants, albeit without the trademark views you’ll find in the Cinque Terre towns.
You can easily access the five Cinque Terre towns by train from La Spezia, which takes about 30 minutes each way. Alternatively, you can travel from La Spezia to Portovenere by ferry or bus, then hike about 5 hours (approximately 5.5 miles) to Riomaggiore.
Aside from the ferry, any public transit from Portovenere to the Cinque Terre towns will be routed through La Spezia.
Amber Haggerty runs Amber Everywhere, a site dedicated to encouraging others to travel. The mission of Amber Everywhere is to help people feel the sort of belonging, purpose, empathy, and expansiveness that travel can offer, especially if approached with the right mindset. Amber is originally from Colorado, but now she now lives in Europe and writes about her experiences traveling and living abroad.
You can follow her on Instagram @amber.everywhere or on Twitter @EverywhereAmber.