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Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
11 March, 20245 minute read

The famous five: a guide to Cinque Terre

You’ve likely seen photos of the Cinque Terre before. Those brightly painted houses, all clustering around a teeny harbour or a dinky beach. That backdrop of lush, forested hills, scored with vineyards, lemon groves and foot-worn hiking trails. The little train line that cuts through the cliffs and emerges beside the sea.

But nothing quite prepares you for just how lovely this corner of Italy is. None of those pictures has been Photoshopped – these five towns are as beautiful in real life as they are through a lens. The whole area has been designated a national park for its beauty and charm, while UNESCO lists it as a World Heritage Site for its ‘great scenic and cultural value’.

Looking to visit the Cinque Terre for yourself? Here’s our quick guide to this wonderful area, from the best Cinque Terre beaches to the regional dishes you should try while you’re here.

What are the five Cinque Terre towns?

Cinque Terre means ‘five lands’ and refers to the five fishing villages that hug the coastline here: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.

Monterosso: the beachy one

Monterosso is the largest and has a big sandy beach. It’s split into two parts – the older part is full of atmospheric caruggi (medieval alleyways) and those famous sorbet-coloured buildings, while the modern part is home to the beach and the train station.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

Vernazza: the pretty one

Vernazza is set around a small natural harbour and watched over by a medieval castle; it’s incredibly picturesque. A number of paths lead up into the hills around the village – a short hike will reveal picture-perfect views back over Vernazza. A beautiful church is built onto the rocks adjacent to the café-lined main square (the perfect place for a cappuccino or a glass of wine).

Corniglia: the clifftop one

Corniglia is the only village that’s not on the seafront – it sits up on a rocky promontory, about 100m above the sea, so you get lovely views along the coast from here. From the train station, steps or a shuttle bus will bring you up into the village, where you’ll find a tight squeeze of townhouses, all painted in those raspberry, peach and lemon hues. Its location means it’s quieter than the other villages, so it’s a good choice if you want to escape the crowds for a bit.

Manarola: the wine-making one

Manarola’s colourful buildings seem to tumble down the cliffs towards the sea, ending at a little piazza and a rocky harbour. There are plenty of flat rocks for sunbathing – the deep water makes it a great spot for swimmers. A path leads along the edge of the cliff to a wonderful viewpoint; there’s also a café/restaurant here if you fancy a glass of local sciacchetrà wine to go with the views – Manarola is surrounded by vineyards. And don’t forget to spend some time away from the water, exploring the narrow streets of ‘Upper Manarola’.

Riomaggiore: the vibrant one

While all the Cinque Terre towns boast those colourfully painted houses, the ones in Riomaggiore are particularly vibrant, with vivid reds, oranges and yellows mixed in with the pastel shades. A rocky breakwater across the little harbour is a favourite spot for enjoying the views back towards the village – if you can manage the slightly precarious walk, it’s a great place to bring a takeaway snack or gelato. Wander along the sloping main street to find gift shops, gelaterias and cafes, some with terraces for enjoying coffee in the sunshine.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Things to do in Cinque Terre

The nice thing about visiting the Cinque Terre towns is that there’s not a huge tick-list of sights to see. Each village will have a couple of churches and historic buildings that you can visit, but mainly the exploring is simply wandering through those narrow streets, soaking up the atmosphere and stopping for coffee, gelato and photos every now and then.

Wander through the narrow streets, soaking up the atmosphere and stopping for coffee, gelato and photos

If you’re after something more active, hiking trails link all the villages, as well as going deeper into the Cinque Terre national park. Some are more strenuous than others, taking you high into the hills through lemon groves and vineyards – you’ll definitely need proper walking shoes for these rather than sandals. If you don’t have the time (or inclination) to tackle the whole route, you can easily head a little way out of a village, enjoy the views, then head back down. A couple of the more popular trails require a Cinque Terre hike pass, which can be purchased from tourist information points.

Boat trips are a scenic alternative to taking trains between the villages (we travel by boat on our Cinque Terre excursion), allowing you to enjoy views of the coastline from the water. Bear in mind that ferries don’t stop at Corniglia.

The best Cinque Terre beaches

Monterosso has a big sweep of golden sand, with sunbeds, parasols and a host of bars, cafes and restaurants just steps away. If you’re after a ‘traditional’ beach, this is the one to aim for. Vernazza and Riomaggiore both have little pebbled coves where you can pop down a towel and have a paddle. Manarola doesn’t really have a beach as such, but there are flat rocks for sunbathing and swimming off (as mentioned before, the water is deep so it’s one for confident swimmers only). Corniglia has a rocky cove, again with fairly deep water; you’ll have to walk down (and back up) a lot of steps to reach it though!

Spiaggia di Fegina beach, Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre weather: what to expect

High summer temperatures in the Cinque Terre are hot. Expect average highs nudging 30°C – lovely for beach days and evenings al fresco, but it can be tough for hiking and sightseeing.

Spring and autumn are both lovely, with temperatures in the early 20s. Our Tuscany and Cinque Terre tours travel in May and September, when the weather’s warm and the chance of rain dips significantly.

What to eat (and drink)

Of course, you’ll find all the usual Italian favourites on offer here, but there are definitely a few local and regional specialities to keep an eye out for.

The olives grown in the hills behind Vernazza are turned into some of Italy’s finest olive oil, while the lemon groves mean you’ll enjoy deliciously citrussy sauces and toppings for seafood and pasta dishes. Speaking of seafood, anchovies are a speciality in Monterosso, where there’s even an annual festival dedicated to them. Pesto is the pasta sauce of choice, made with fresh local basil and olive oil. Basil also makes its way into gelato – it’s surprisingly good!

Two DOC wines are produced in the Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre DOC is a straw-coloured dry white wine (which goes very well with those Monterosso anchovies), while sciacchetrà is a sweet, fortified wine with a bit of an almond aftertaste.

Can I combine Cinque Terre with another part of Italy?

It’s really easy to combine Cinque Terre with other areas of Italy – we choose to combine it with Tuscany on our tours. They make a great pairing. First, enjoy the countryside, visiting the likes of San Gimignano, Chianti, Lucca and Florence. Then, head for the coast. We stay in the lovely beach resort of Viareggio, which makes a day trip to the Cinque Terre towns nice and easy.

Discover the beauty of the Cinque Terre on our Essence of Tuscany with Coastal Viareggio tours.


Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.

Laura | About the author

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