Your guide to the best of Italy’s Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore  town, Cinque Terre

Zoe MacFarlane

Posted June 23, 2023

Rome and Venice are, of course, must-dos on your Italian holiday. To complement Italy’s most iconic cities, travel to picturesque Cinque Terre, just a few hours by train from Milan. From the gorgeous vistas to the ancient sites to the delectable cuisine, this handy guide helps you plan a side trip to this mesmerising region of Italy.

Five idyllic hillside villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Corniglia – stand united as Cinque Terre. Meaning Five Lands, Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an accolade granted for being “a cultural landscape of extraordinary value”.

With brightly painted houses perched precariously on the cliff’s edge, stunning views of the Ligurian Sea, and a plethora of outdoor activities, this is a region that naturally rejuvenates your spirit and enriches your soul.

Cinque Terre Manarola at sunset

Manarola village looks beautiful by night. Image: Getty


What to see, do and eat in Cinque Terre

Explore Cinque Terre’s quaint villages

Strolling the streets of the Cinque Terre villages is a must when visiting the region. It is amid the colourful homes and narrow, winding streets you discover the best of each hamlet.

Vernazza is a striking destination with a tiny harbour, medieval tower, terraced olive groves, and some of the most attractive homes on the coast. Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the Cinque Terre villages. This vibrant destination draws a crowd in summer for its long sandy beach, clear waters, and relaxed vibes.

As Cinque Terre’s southernmost village, Riomaggiore is no less charming. The postcard-perfect waterfront is a great place to soak up Riomaggiore’s lively atmosphere and its glorious sunsets. Quaint Manarola offers a more low-key experience from which to explore Cinque Terre. Coupled with narrow paths, vibrant buildings, and charming eateries, Cinque Terre’s oldest town is sure to woo you with its charms.

Corniglia is the only Cinque Terre village without direct sea access, though that makes it no less picturesque or appealing. Perched high on a rocky promontory, Corniglia can feel more peaceful and secluded than the other four villages. For wine lovers, Corniglia makes for a particularly enchanting destination to stay.


Monterosso square in Cinque Terre, Italy

Pretty buildings abound in Monterosso village. Image: Getty


Soak up historical Cinque Terre

While simply being in Cinque Terre is a highlight, there are historical highlights here, too. Discover the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, in the heart of Vernazza. The Gothic-Ligurian architecture and impressive frescoes of this 14th-century monument make for a enriching visit.

The gothic Church of San Giovanni Battista in Monterosso appeals with its stunning façade and detailed interior. High on a hill behind this iconic church, stop by Santuario di Nostra Signora di Soviore. This beloved 13th-century religious sanctuary offers visitors history, epic views, and a sense of tranquillity and peace.

Castle Riomaggiore is another ancient monument worth your attention. Exploring the partial ruins of this 13th-century castle transports you back to another time in history.


Vernazza fishing village in Cinque Terre, Italy

Vernazza is another picturesque Cinque Terre village. Image: Getty


Enjoy the best of Cinque Terre’s natural attractions

Pack your sturdy shoes to take in Cinque Terre’s delightful hiking experiences. The most famous, the Sentiero Azzurro, the Blue Path, is a 12-kilometre coastal trail connecting the five fishing villages. While you’ll put in a little effort at times across the walk, the sweeping panoramic views and opportunities to stop for gelato and café at each village make it well worth it.

Be sure to walk the scenic cliff-hugging kilometre-long Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) if it’s reopened. Scheduled for summer 2024, this famous walk connects Riomaggiore to Manarola.

Naturally, you’ll want to swim in the azure waters of the Ligurian Sea. For beaches, head to Monterosso’s Fegina Beach and the sandy patch in front of Vernazza harbour's main square. Alternatively, Mantarola’s small harbour gives access to an idyllic swimming hole.

On foot, in the water, and the on the water make for the three best ways to experience the beauty of Cinque Terre. Aboard a boat tour, you’re gifted with a different perspective of each village, complemented by hidden coves and the chance to snorkel the refreshing crystal-clear waters. For couples, choose a sunset boat tour to add some additional romance to this already swoon-worthy destination.

If you’d prefer more adventure on the water, kayaking is a popular activity for a slow-yet-enjoyable way to soak up the atmosphere and scenery of these fascinating historic villages.


man walking along coastal path in Cinque Terre, Italy

The Sentiero Azzurro is a coastal trail connecting the Cinque Terre villages. Image: Getty


Take a culinary adventure in Cinque Terre

Did you know that Cinque Terre is the birthplace of pesto? The temperate climate is ideal for olive groves, vineyards, and orchards, with around 400 dotted around the region. To taste-test the best olives, sample a pesto dish. Try trofie pasta with pesto, pesto Genovese, along with the region’s famed olive-oil-rich focaccia.

It should come as no surprise that Cinque Terre’s five fishing villages are renowned for their delectable seafood dishes. See muscoli on the menu (mussels) in every village restaurant, served marinated in white wine or stuffed (muscoli ripieni). Monterosso has its own seafood claim to fame: salted anchovies! Served raw with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon is a firm favourite way to eat them.

The terraced vineyards of the Cinque Terre produce exceptional wines, mainly crisp, dry whites. Visit a local vineyard to learn about their wine-making process, indulge in their best tipples, and to soak in the incredible vistas of the villages and sea. For local dessert wine, order Sciacchetrà. This well-known Cinque Terre export pleases the palate with its sweet yet mildly salty flavour.


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