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Cinque Terre is a Northwestern Italian region that offers crystal clear waters, laid-back coastal towns with picturesque, colorful homes, amazing hikes, and great food.
It’s famous for its centuries-old villages that are surrounded by rugged cliffs and sit on steep terraces. The Italian Riviera hugs the coastline, offering tranquil beaches and a historic harbor full of sleepy fishing boats sleep and lively trattorias.
The area is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves and hiking trails with incredible ocean views.
Needless to say, there are many things to do in Cinque Terre that offer a welcome break from the sometimes-rushed sightseeing in Rome and other cities in Italy.
But what are the best attractions in Cinque Terre and what are the top things to do? This guide will tell you what to add to your itinerary.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre is a term for a group of 5 coastal towns in northern Italy that are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They include (from north to south) Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
Each town is unique, but when deciding on where to stay it’s hard to go wrong. We stayed in Riomaggiore in an apartment located in the marina, just steps away from the water!
We were booking last minute and reached out to Martha to rent her apartment. It was already booked, but she arranged for us to stay at another Cinque Terre apartment nearby.
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.
Editor Note: We recently visited Cinque Terre and stayed in an apartment in La Spezia and caught the train in to 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.
Getting Around Cinque Terre
It is very easy to get from village to village in Cinque Terre. There is a train that is simple to use and comes regularly, and the fare is usually quite cheap. There are also ferries that go from village to village.
Hiking from town to town is also possible (more on that later), but to do so you need the Cinque Terre card, which is essentially a hiking permit.
This area is not car friendly, but if you do hire a car in Cinque Terre, plan to leave it parked wherever you are staying.
The closest airport is Pisa, which is about 84km from Cinque Terre.
Things to do in Cinque Terre, Italy
Now you know a little bit more about where to stay and how to get around, it’s time to introduce you to the top attractions in Cinque Terre and things to do. Let’s take a look…
1. Go on a boat tour of Cinque Terre
One of the highlights of our 3-week Europe trip was our boat tour of Cinque Terre.
We scheduled a 2.5-hour tour with Daniele, the owner and tour guide at Enjoy Cinque Terre for 60 euros including drinks. We departed on a small boat with three other couples in a small, but sufficient boat from the Manarola marina.
We lay on the bow of the ship as Daniele showed us all five towns and shared the town’s history and customs while keeping us laughing with one-liners and funny stories.
Along the way back, we stopped at two places to swim. This is a perfect time to ask for recommendations or information about the areas since Daniele has lived there all his life.
This is a great way to see the five towns of Cinque Terre from the sea.
Since this post was first published, our family has also visited Cinque Terre and did a boat tour. It was also our favorite Cinque Terrre thing to do! I have written a full review of our Cinque Terre Boat Tour.
2. Swim at the Beach
I think I was a fish in my last life, so the first thing we had to do after checking in was to head to the beach.
While we were there, we went to four different Cinque Terre beaches that were all very clean with amazingly clear water.
The beach in Riomaggiore is just south of the marina. It is very rocky, but we really enjoyed it. From the marina, you’ll walk south along the coastal path to get to the beach. It’s the second-best beach in Cinque Terre.
Monterosso has two different beaches. They are both public beaches where anyone can lay down a towel and enjoy the water.
Private beaches are also present, where for a cost of 20 euros a day or 15 for a half day you can take advantage of a beach umbrella, two beach chairs, and access to showers, changing rooms, and bathrooms.
Vernazza has a sandy beach on the opposite coast of the marina that was created after a catastrophic flood in 2011. There’s also a rocky area to the north of the harbour where you can swim and jump off small rocks. Our, daughter, Savannah loved it!
3. Eat gelato
If you have not tried Italian gelato yet, it is denser and sweeter than ice cream, creating a more concentrated flavor that’s hard not to love.
We enjoyed gelato both in Riomaggiore at a small Gelato place in the marina at sunset and in Monterosa at a place right outside the train station on a hot day.
Honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong wherever you choose to get Gelato.
4. Enjoy the food
One of the best things to do in Cinque Terre is to eat. Cinque Terre is full of great seafood and traditional Italian food.
Just walking down the street you will find large cones of fried seafood that make a great snack or small meal. Not only is the seafood fresh, but also pretty cheap.
Our favorite meal was at Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre located in Vernazza.
But Cinque Terre doesn’t just have fresh food, but its own regional cuisine – Ligurian Cuisine. It’s most famous for its pesto, made from locally grown basil, parmesan cheese, olive oil and garlic.
Another regional favorite is fried anchovies. Of course, you can find great pasta dishes and pizza in Cinque Terre too.
5. Do some shopping
Sprinkled throughout all of the towns in Cinque Terre are local shops with all sorts of things to buy.
If you are a fan of truffles, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, wine, or other typical Italian products this is a perfect place to pick a few things up.
I was surprised at the reasonable prices that were half or a quarter of the price I was used to paying in the US. I left with balsamic glaze, truffle salt, and a refillable oil and balsamic vinegar pourer.
Monterosso has the most shops, but Riomaggiore has several as well.
6. Go for a hike
One morning we hiked from Riomaggiore to Manarola, the next town over. The hike took about an hour, and it was not easy.
There was a very steep hike up and a very fast descent, but the views made it worth it. Not only do you have a great view of Riomaggiore as you leave the town but also take you past some stunning viewpoints of the Ligurian Sea the entire hike and terraced vineyards along the way.
This is just one of the many hikes available to you in Cinque Terre.
Collectively, the paths that link the five Cinque Terre towns are known as the Sentiero Azzurro or in English, simply the Blue Trail (or Trail 2).
You can hike them all in one day (if you’ve got the stamina for it) but if you only have time for one, I recommend the top-rated hike in Cinque Terre from Monterosso to Vernazza, which will take you around two hours or more.
Regardless of the trail, make sure you take water, a snack, and wear walking shoes.
I also recommend contacting where you are staying to ask them for recommended hikes based on the town you are staying in.
Several outdated websites recommend hiking from Riomaggiore to Manarola saying it is an easy 10-minute hike. The trail they are talking about is actually closed and the hike we took is not for the faint of heart.
If you are going on one of the trails considered part of the Cinque Terre National Park, you will need to buy a pass at the entrance or train station.
Editor Note: Note, as of July 2023, several sections of the Cinque Terre hiking trail are closed due to renovation work because of landslides. Check current conditions here.
7. Taste the local White Dessert Wine
No trip to Cinque Terre would be complete without trying the local wines. One of the rarest wines in the region is Sciacchetrà, which is in limited production.
Sciacchetrà is a white dessert wine that has been produced in Cinque Terre since the Middle Ages.
It’s a sweet wine made from Bosco, Vermentino, and Albarola grapes and is very expensive…that’s because it’s expensive to make. It can only be made using manual labour – from the picking and selection of the grapes to the production.
One bottle takes 18 months to make, but it will last 20 years in the bottle.
If you’d like to try this wine but don’t know if you want to fork out for the whole bottle, you can taste it on a wine tour with the local winery, Nessun Dorma!
8. Head over to Levanto
Levanto is a commune in the nearby province of La Spezia. It’s located about 11km north of Cinque Terre and 90 km southeast of Genoa.
The town is nestled on the coast and is the perfect place to visit if you enjoy sitting on the beach and relaxing. The waves are strong enough to do a spot of surfing if that’s your jam!
It also sits at the mouth of a river valley, nestled amongst hills covered with olive groves and pine trees.
Many people come here to hit the hiking trails, which connect to Cinque Terre National Park.
9. Take a Boat tour to Porto Venere Regional Natural Park
Porto Venere Regional Nature Park is just outside Cinque Terre but carries on the stunning natural beauty this region is famous for.
It’s located just 30 minutes away from Riomaggiore by boat, or 70 minutes from Monterosso.
The park is famous for its well-preserved, 19th-century fort which stands proudly on the edge of a rocky peninsula. It is also home to several Portovenere Islands, which have several hidden coves and sea caves waiting to be explored.
Aside from the fort, the area is made up of rugged outcrop and wild terrain, offering a truly natural escape from the liveliness of the villages.
10. Take a day trip to Florence
If the slow-paced, relaxed lifestyle of Cinque Terre is leaving you restless, it wouldn’t be difficult to take a day trip to Florence.
Florence is the Renaissance capital of Italy, well that’s the name we give to it, and is one of the best places to visit in Tuscany because of its beauty.
It’s known for its incredible works of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, basilicas filled with fresco paintings, and some world-class art museums.
It is here that you will find the original Michaelangelo masterpiece, the Statue of David, as well as original works by Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael to name a few.
Be sure to check out the iconic Duomo cathedral and the Ponte Vecchio, shop for leather products in the markets and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the lively piazzas.
11. Embark on a kayak tour from Monterosso
If you’re looking for more active things to do in Cinque Terre that aren’t hiking, then perhaps you’d like to rent a kayak and explore the coastline, or if you’d like a guide to take you around, enjoy a kayak tour.
The kayak tours take you to the charming villages of Cinque Terre by kayaking along the Italian Riviera coastline. You go from Monterosso to Vernazza, whilst passing hidden coves, the beach of Guvano, and the beach of Corniglia.
If you love staying active but want to give your legs a break, this is the best exercise and experience you can do in Cinque Terre!
Best Time to Visit Cinque Terre
The best time to visit Cinque Terre is in the Spring and Autumn seasons as this is when the weather is at its finest and there are fewer crowds.
April and May can be unpredictable with the weather and it’s common to see some Spring showers, but it usually clears up by the end of May to early June.
July is the peak season in Cinque Terre and is when you will see the greatest number of tourists. August and September are also busy because of the school holidays but come late September and early October, you’ll see the beautiful summer weather still lingering but the crowds dispersing.
November until February is considered the low season and has the fewest visitors, but the weather is cold during these months.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Cinque Terre
So, there you have it, those are the best things to do in Cinque Terre! As you can see, there’s a lot of great activities to do in this picturesque destination.
Cinque Terre is really one of the best places to visit in Italy if you’re looking for sun, history and stunning nature.
We hope this guide helped you plan your trip to Cinque Terre and gave you some inspiration on what to add to your itinerary! Click here to read how to spend one day in Cinque Terre, including many of these things to do!
Author bio: Dan Bagby is an avid traveler, majored in International Studies at the University of Utah, and has a slight obsession with digital marketing. He currently works as the SEO Analyst for Whole Foods Market and has started to combine his love for digital marketing and travel on his blog, HoneymoonAlways.com. You can connect with him on Twitter and follow the evolution of his blog on Instagram
Tours of Cinque Terre
More Information for your Trip to Italy
- ITALIAN LAKES: To help you with your trip to Italy’s largest lake, read our suggestions for things to do in Lake Garda and for Italy’s most famous lake, a guide to things to do in Lake Como.
- TUSCANY: Don’t miss these stunning places to visit in Tuscany and a guide to Chianti towns.
- ROME: There is something incredibly special about Rome. Here is our list of memorable things to do in Rome, a food walking tour in Rome, and what to do with kids in Rome in 72 hours, and our guides to the Vatican and the Colosseum and Roman Forum; and essential things to know before visiting Rome.
- VENICE: Is it a trip to Italy without exploring these best things to do in Venice?
- FLORENCE: For one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, here are 16 amazing things to do in Florence and enjoy this food and wine tour of Florence.
Do you have any tips on things to do in Cinque Terre? Please share in the comments below!