Cinque Terre Boat Tour: A Must See View of the Five Lands

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A boat tour of Cinque Terre is a great way to experience the stunning scenery of this region in Italy from a different perspective.

looking at colored buldings of vernazza from shore
Vernazza from the sea

The rugged cliffs, turquoise waters, and colorful fishing villages of this UNESCO world heritage site look even more spectacular when seen from the sea.

I highly recommend you join a boat tour in Cinque Terre. It will give you a much more unique perspective of the area, and most importantly, give you a break from the crowds. It’s a small boat – only 8 on our cruise – so you’ll have space and uninterrupted views.

You can join other larger boats for full-day tours along the beautiful coastline or catch the ferry boat from La Spezia, which takes you through Portovenere and the Island of Palmaria in the Gulf of Poets and past the five towns from the water.

We saw some of those boats coming in and out and they were packed with people – like hundreds. Personally, I’d rather pay the extra money for a more personalized experience. It doesn’t work out to be that much more!

Where to buy Cinque Terre Boat Tours?

boat near shore with colored buldings of vernazza in background

We almost missed what ended up being our favorite experience in Cinque Terre. I had booked a Cinque Terre boat tour last minute, after hearing it was one of the top things to do there.

Thankfully, they had space on their afternoon tour for the June 24th. I mentioned that date to them in two emails; then when they asked me to confirm the date for my booking, I brain farted and put July 24th.

I was booking so many things at the time it must have just all gotten jumbled up in my head! Always get someone to double check for you!

I did not catch that error until we arrived at the meeting point in Manarola and checked in with Daniele. I could tell he was nervous, and something was wrong. He asked to see the email thread and then showed me the error!

I was shattered! He was wonderful and told us to hold steady in case he had a no show, but unfortunately luck was not in our favor.

It turned out that Daniele later had a last-minute cancellation of four for his sunset boat tour, but because we did not have Wi-Fi, I missed his email until we were in Riomaggiore when it was too late!

But not to worry, as we found a miracle solution not long after in Manarola.

savannah on boat smiling with riomaggiore in background

After a few hours of sadness over my mistake, I wandered past a shop front in Manarola advertising a boat tour.

Luckily, they had space for their boat tour the next day. It cost me €45 more than Daniele’s price, but I was so happy to get on and rectify my mistake.

The moral of the story is that it’s cheaper to book your tour online, but you must make sure you check your details carefully as tours get booked up and it’s not always possible to book them last minute. This was the tour we ended up doing.

You can also book a private boat tour of Cinque Terre, which would be much more relaxing and intimate, albeit more expensive. It might work out cost-effective though if you have your own group of six.

Our Experience On A Cinque Terre Boat Tour with Captain Cosimo

craig and cosimo smiling to camera
Craig and Captain Cosimo

Our skipper for our boat tour of Cinque Terre was Cosimo, who immediately started the boat trip with, “I think you’re going to love my playlist.”

Hit play and I heard the very recognizable first notes of Sweet Caroline (in case you’ve missed that memo, it’s my name!) I turned and gave him a thumbs up and a grin, and he nodded back as if to say, “I got you!”

With each new song that ranged from the sixties Frank Sinatra to eighties Gloria, and to the modern, Can’t stop the feeling, Cosimo beamed, signaling that he loved the song with a quick touch of his hand to his chest.

As I grew up with many of these golden oldie tunes from my parents, we sang along together. Frank Sinatra was obviously his favorite.

caroline smiling on cinque terre boat tour
Dancing to the tunes

After all my years of travel, it’s the memories of the connections we make with other humans that linger long. There’s no better way to connect with other humans than singing along to music. It is our universal soul language.

Captain Cosimo’s business is the sea. He takes small groups out three times a day in his boat, and sometimes from his sailing boat in La Spezia where he lives. But often that sailboat is just for his pleasure.

A reason he loves the winter in Cinque Terre is that he gets the sea to himself as the crowds disperse and the temperatures drop.

In July, the outside air and water temperatures are matching – 80°F/ 26°C – perfecto. In August the sea temps can reach 87°F/ 30°C

With the boat chasing the breeze and the shade cloth above, we didn’t feel the intensity of the sun that fries you when on land.

What’s Included

craig smiling on boat
Beers included

The boat tour comes with some snacks – not much, just some Italian pretzel cookie looking things – and a cooler full of beer, wine, water, and soda.

Cosimo was enthusiastic in encouraging us to have some prosecco and wine and kept reminding us throughout the trip to fill up our glasses.

The wine was Spanish and Italian wine, but not local to Cinque Terre. Those bottles are expensive, as Cosimo said “very difficult to grow” as he pointed to the vineyards clinging to the steep mountain faces.

looking at colored buildings of Vernazza from shore with vineyards in the background
Vineyards behind Vernazza

Another side of Cinque Terre to be amazed by. It piqued my curiosity to research how those grapes do with all that salt spray, as the Mediterranean Sea is very salty – good for keeping you afloat while swimming.

Craig and I had a couple of glasses of Cinque Terre wine at lunch in Vernazza a few hours earlier just to try it and it was surprisingly very good.

Attractions on A Cinque Terre Boat Tour

A boat tour allows you to access some areas that are not easily reachable by land, such as secluded beaches and coves. There are many top attractions on a Cinque Terre boat tour, such as…

Five Lands from the Sea

colored buildings of riomaggiore with small boats in water in foreground
Riomaggiore

The boat tour takes you into all five of the towns in the Cinque Terre National Park; Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza.

Our boat tour left from Manarola, the second of the five towns. So, our cruise started by going south to the first, and oldest town, Riomaggiore.

As Cosimo told us, this village is about 1000-1500 years old, as told by the church that stands in the village.

colored biuldings of riomaggiore on cliff face
Riomaggiore

We then cruised back past the Cinque Terre towns of Corniglia (Cosimo’s favorite), Vernazza, and our favorite Monterroso, and then back to our starting point, Manarola.

Cosimo pointed out features to us along the way, such as the Love Trail – the hiking trail that passes through all five towns and is currently closed in a couple of sections due to landslides.

looking at colored buldings of vernazza from shore
Vernazza is gorgeous

He also pointed out how the Cinque Terre villages look with Christmas lights (with photo on his phone), showed us the small village of 25 people right up on the hilltop, where old World War II bunkers were, and fancy hotels and bars.

colored buildings of manarola on cliff face
Manarola

There was also the 400 steps people have to walk from the train station to the hilltop town of Corniglia, and the very important kelp underwater that produces the oxygen that keeps this national park thriving. 

Open Sea Swims

colored buildings of corniglia on top of hill
Corniglia

We had three swimming stops on the boat tour. One just offshore from Corniglio, which I was happy about as it was the only one of the five towns we did not step foot on. So, I feel as if I can say we visited.

Cosimo jumped in the crystal-clear waters with his GoPro and took footage of us all jumping off the boat which he turned into a video with music and sent it to our WhatsApp instantly.

caroline and kalyra swimming in sea off shore

Our third swim came just before returning to Manarola. It was our last swim for the rest of our European trip, so we all dived in to soak up that saltiness.

You can also go snorkeling if you have gear, or you can just swim around and let the fresh Ligurian Sea cool you down.

Sea Cave Swim

entrance to a sea cave
The Sea Cave

We then stopped for a little pirate exploration in a sea cave. He sent us on our way with a flashlight and we swam into the cave for five minutes to check it out.

I was so happy Savannah decided to join us. She’s a major Outer Banks (the Netflix show) fan so for her it felt like she was on a quest to find treasure.

It was great to see how much she’s grown in confidence as that was something in past years she’d be too afraid to do.

That’s why I love traveling with kids. It pushes their comfort boundaries a bit, gives them opportunities they’d never normally do, and so they get to know themselves more and develop confidence.

It also helps them to see the world is not as scary as it sometimes makes you think.

looking at monterosso beach and colored buildings from the ocean
Monterosso

When we turned around at Monterosso Beach – our favorite – we were able to see an expansive view of all five towns at once. I wish I could have captured it on camera, but some landscapes are just better left for your eye in real life.

coastline cinque terre national park
The expansive view of all five towns

We cruised back a little further from the rocky shoreline, which was an incredible perspective.

I enjoyed contemplating these five little towns perched on tiny hillsides right next to the sea. One false move of the sea or land at Mother Nature’s blessing and they’d either crumble or be washed away.

Enjoy the rest of our Cinque Terre boat tour through our photos!

looking at monterosso beach and colored buildings from the ocean
Monterosso
kayak next to cliff face
Can you see the kayaker dwarfed by those cliffs?
person on kayak in front of colored houses cinque terre
This kayaker is easier to see!
caroline and kalyra taking photos on boat
savannah swimming out to boat near shore
Swimming back to our boat
hotel on cliff face
Hotel on the cliff face
looking at monterosso beach and colored buildings from the ocean

FAQs About A Boat Tour of Cinque Terre

Here is what people usually ask us about a Cinque Terre boat tour excursion…

Can you get boat tours of Cinque Terre from Santa Margherita?

Yes, you can get boat tours from Santa Margherita to Portovenere in Cinque Terre.

Where do you catch the ferry in Monterosso?

Many of the bigger boat tours of Cinque Terre leave from the pier in the Old Town of Monterosso. Our small group boat tour of Cinque Terre left from Manarola.

What is the duration of a boat tour of Cinque Terre?

Sunset tours last about two hours, but you can get day tours and private tours that last a full 8-hour day.

Can you get boat tours of Cinque Terre from Florence, Italy?

You can get day tours from Florence to Cinque Terre, but they are usually by bus or train, and may include a small boat tour. Typically, if you are traveling from Florence, you can expect day tours to be by land.

Where to Stay in Cinque Terre

Each town in Cinque Terre is unique, but when deciding on where to stay it’s hard to go wrong. Note, these towns are small so accommodation options fewer.

Many people have raved about staying in Riomaggiore. There are apartments located in the marina, just steps away from the water! Rio, as the locals call it, has everything you need including several restaurants, cafes, shops, a post office, and a laundromat.

Since it is further south, it tends to be less crowded than the more popular towns. Watch out for the B&Bs and hotels saying they are in Cinque Terre but are not actually in the 5 coastal towns.

We almost booked an apartment in Cornigila but decided to rent an apartment in La Spezia, outside of Cinque Terre National Park and caught the train into the Five Towns. It’s an option if you can’t find somewhere to stay in Cinque Terre.

In hindsight I wish we stayed in Monterosso Beach. It seemed to have more accommodation options and it was our favorite of the Five Towns. You can scroll through the map below to help you find more accommodation options in Cinque Terre.

Final Thoughts

colored buildings of manarola on cliff face
Manarola

The two-hour Cinque Terre boat trip was over just as soon as it began. There was probably no reason to stay out any longer, as we saw and did plenty, but I easily could have cruised around for another hour singing songs with Cosimo and a glass of fruity local wine.

We alighted with a high five and headed back into the tiny town of Manarola for dinner and sunset views.

Cosimo turned back right around after dropping us off for his sunset cruise. We saw him cruise by from our viewpoint above on the clifftops! I swear I heard, “I did it my way” wafting up with the breeze!

Click here for more ideas on things to do in Cinque Terre and how to spend one day in Cinque Terre! You can also read our tips on how to plan a trip to Europe with kids and tips for visiting Europe with kids and our itinerary from Rome to Venice.

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