Planning Your Stay in Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre translates to “five lands," and that’s what you’ll find here: five of the most gorgeous coastal villages in Italy. These include Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.
Beyond the Mediterranean charm, rugged coastal beauty, and great food, however, is yet another selling point: this area is easily navigable and quick to get around. The villages themselves are charmingly diminutive—it only takes about five minutes to walk from one end of each town to the other. The exception to this is the largest, Monterosso al Mare, which requires a couple hours to explore thoroughly.
But that’s just the towns themselves. Behind each one rises the steep mountains of Italy’s Liguria region. These coastal slopes are green and beautiful, with terraced vineyards that have been cultivated for hundreds of years. More than that, trails lead from town through these mountains and make for some great day hikes. And just outside of Cinque Terre to the north is Genoa, a historic coastal city that makes for a great extra stop if you have a few days to spare.
24 Hours in Cinque Terre
In 24 hours, you can see all five villages, provided you spend about an hour in each one. The first you’ll arrive at is Riomaggiore. The main street, Colombo, terminates at a narrow dock, and the view from here, with colorful tenement homes rising up the mountainside, is incredible. Near the dock, locals jump into the sea to cool off during the summer while above them tourists sip wine on café terraces overlooking the Mediterranean. And if a wine tour is in your sights, check out this 10-day itinerary.
After enjoying a coffee or wine tasting in Riomaggiore, travel another couple minutes north by train to Manarola. You’ll find the same sloping main street leading down to the water here as you did in Riomaggiore, but with better viewpoints. This is due to the stone walkway that leads around the point of Manarola and which offers some great vantage points to take incredible wide photographs of the town.
From here take a scenic 15-minute boat ride to Corniglia, which many locals rank as their favorite town in Cinque Terre. Located on a hilltop accessible via switchback stairs rising above terraced vineyards, Corniglia offers panoramic views of the coast. The best vantage point is from the medieval battlement towers just above town. This is also a great place to grab lunch in one of the cafés on its charming Piazza Tarragio. If you have hiking in mind, consider this combined Cinque Terre/Portofino excursion.
Then you’ll head to Vernazza, which has the most beautiful historic harbor in Cinque Terre. If you didn’t have lunch in Corniglia, then do so here, or simply relax on a waterfront patio table and sip on a refreshing Aperol spritz. Definitely make your way up the stairs to the top of Castello Doria, a stone defensive fortress that offers 360° views of the town, harbor, and coast from its battlements.
Then there’s Monterosso al Mare, the largest of the Cinque Terre towns and one that boasts the longest pebble beaches. It’s the most popular of the towns and is home to great restaurants and rich history in the form of ancient churches, castles, and convents. The Castle and Convent of the Capuchin Friars, for example, which is perched atop St. Christopher Hill at the top of town, has the best views overlooking Monterosso Bay.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
2-3 Days in Cinque Terre
After running between the various towns, make day two a beach day by lazing on the pebbly shore at Monterroso al Mare or diving into the turquoise waters off the rocks in Vernazza. (The smaller beach here is also ideal for sunbathing.) Another option is to travel to the longer Levanto Beach. You could end the day with a tour of Cantina 5, a major winery. Cinque Terre is famous for whites, and the rule of thumb is to select wines produced in and around the town in which you find yourself.
On day three stay within Monterosso al Mare and browse the boutiques and wine stores with your companions. Also, delve into the gastronomic culture of the region. Because of its proximity to Genoa, much of the cuisine you'll enjoy here is of the Genovese variety. The highlight is, of course, pesto, a delicious basil-based sauce that has its origins in Genoa way back in the 16th century. For a trip that combines great food with lazing on Monterosso's beaches, check out this 13-day vacation.
Speaking of which, cap the day by learning to prepare pesto in a local cooking class. It's a hands-on tutorial led by a local instructor who will reveal the secrets to this northern-Italian delicacy that has conquered the world. Once the class is complete you'll be able to sit down to a meal featuring the very sauce you created and paired with a delicious local wine. For a cooking class combined with visits to Genoa and Pisa, consider this two-week itinerary.
4-5 Days in Cinque Terre
After touring the villages and learning the secrets to real Genovese cuisine, on day four relocate to the actual city. On the way, stop in Portofino, a colorful fishing village that rivals any town in Cinque Terre for beauty. Enjoy a walk around the village and lunch at a patio table overlooking the sea. There's also the option to expand your Portofino excursion with trips to Milan and Turin, which you can do on this 10-day trip.
There will even be time for a boat tour to the village of Rapallo. Perched on a hill above this coastal village is Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro, a Marian church and famous pilgrimage site that was built in 1558 and which features an incredible marble facade. Also here is the historic Castello di Rapallo, a defensive fortress dating to the 16th century. After Portofino you can continue a few minutes further up the coast to Genoa, where you'll overnight.
Day five you'll discover Genoa on a three-hour tour. This ancient seaport metropolis was for centuries a hub of global trade, which turned Genoa into a superpower during the Middle Ages. You can see much evidence of this legacy in its well-preserved historic center. Nicknamed La Superba (the Superb One), this medieval enclave is filled with so much stunning architecture that in 2006 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the tour, you'll walk the labyrinthine streets of La Superba and pass historic churches like the Romanesque Church of San Donato and the Gothic Sant'Agostino, which was built in 1260. There's also the 15th-century Oratory of San Giacomo della Marina, a waterfront chapel featuring a dozen Baroque artworks, and the 17th-century Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato, whose interior is an explosion of Baroque ornamentation, colorful frescoes, and opulent gold leaf décor.
You'll also stroll the famous Piazza De Ferrari, a grand plaza where you'll find the famous Teatro Carlo Felice, the city's opera house, which was inaugurated in 1828. The tour continues through the historic streets, visiting areas like the old harbor and stopping at public parks like Villa Durazzo Pallavicini, a green space and botanical garden done in the English-romantic style.
Speaking of which, there's no better way to cap your Genoa excursion than with a visit to Parchi di Nervi. This 22-acre (9-hectare) park and gardens complex sits on a coastal cliff and abounds with Mediterranean flora and tropical plants. Walking the pebbled pathways you'll see cedars and pines sitting next to colorful oleander bushes, squat olive trees, and various palms. Come later and you can watch the sunset over the ocean. Or you could expand your trip and really immerse yourself in the region over 14 days.