Is Cinque Terre worth visiting? We honestly don’t think you’d be asking that question if you’d ever seen a postcard or a travel brochure featuring this corner of Italy. Yes, yes, and yes again is the answer. But don’t just take our word for it – stats show that this is actually one of the most-visited destinations on the boot after mainstay draws like Rome and Naples.
We can see why. Glorious villages colored pink and yellow and red drop to a Ligurian Sea that’s clearer than glass. Hiking trails weave around ancient wine terraces, past lux B&Bs and trattoria with stunning 180-degree views of the Med. What more could you want?
This guide will focus in on seven of the things that we think really make Cinque Terre stand out. It will charm you with mentions of pebble coves and salty seafood dishes, but also the chance to visit central Italian mountain chains and UNESCO-tagged cities.
Because getting there should be easy
Cinque Terre is now one of the bucket-list draws of Italy. It’s no secret, being up there with Rome and Milan and Florence when it comes to coverage in the travel brochures. That might be bad news when it comes to the peak-season crowds. But it’s good news when it comes to traveling there yourself, because it means there should be loads of transport options.
The best way to get in is to fly into Pisa. That’s about an hour’s drive to the south of Cinque Terre proper but it has one of the best arrays of flight arrivals in the region – including budget links to London and a whole range of other European cities (we’ve paid under 30 euros to get there in July!).
The other option is to get to Genova City Airport. It’s a growing base for low-costers like Ryanair and Wizz, and a touch further north from Cinque Terre. However, the drive down along the sparkling Ligurian riviera is pretty darn fantastic. Beach picnic, anyone?
It’s no secret that it’s the sheer beauty of the whole Cinque Terre region that keeps travelers coming back for more. Running across nearly 30 miles of the Ligurian coastline, this cut-out of national park is a patchwork of lush, green forests that spill off steep cliffs straight into a glinting Mediterranean Sea.
The landscapes have been shaped and altered by human hands over the years. Notice the amazing wine terraces that have been carved into the rocks. Some of them date back centuries. We think they look a whole load like the cascading rice paddies of Bali or Luzon in the Philippines, only right here there the Italian coast!
And that’s before you’ve even come to the towns and villages. We’ll wax lyrical more about those later but suffice to say they are true beauties. There are five of them in all, each sporting pastel-painted mansions and boat-bobbing marinas worked seamlessly into the nooks and crannies of the shore. You’ll want the camera at full charge!
While Italy isn’t as well known for its beaches as other corners of Europe – Greece, Portugal – there are some spectacular stretches of coastline to be had on the boot. Cinque Terre is most certainly in that category. It’s peppered with more come-photograph-me coves than you can shake your slice of pizza at.
We think the best of the beaches in the area include:
- Monterosso Fegina Beach – This is one of the most popular places to laze in the summer months. It’s one of the largest beaches in the Cinque Terre area, with two separate runs of pebbles that are marked in the middle with a rock.
- Vernazza Port Beach – This is our favorite of all the town beaches in Cinque Terre. It’s just below the village of Vernazza, with a harbor wall to one side and multicolored homes rising overhead.
- Bay of Poets – Famously visited by a certain Lord Byron back in the 1800s, this beach is one of the most romantic on the stretch. It’s also easy to access, so a great pick for families.
One thing we would note if you’re heading to Cinque Terre for the beaches: Don’t come expecting the long sweeps of golden sand that you get in other European hotspots like the Algarve. This isn’t about that. This is about secluded coves of pebble stone backed by high cliffs and washed by super-clear waters.
The Ligurian coast will welcome foodies with a whirlwind of salty seafood and fish. That’s what this part of the boot really excels in, and Cinque Terre especially, since it’s all about the charming and age-old fishing villages in these parts. Most of those will have a clutch of seriously top-notch trattoria and taverns that sell uber-fresh produce straight off the boats.
Some of the things that you simply have to try are:
- Anchovies – Of all the regions in Italy, this stretch of the Ligurian coast is most famous for its anchovies. They are best served fried or cured and doused in local lemon juice and olive oil.
- Fritto Misto – A handful of euros on the Cinque Terre will score you one of the region’s iconic paper cones filled with fried fish, shellfish, prawns, and potatoes. It’s sort of an Italian version of fish and chips, if you will.
- Focaccia – We’ve never met anyone that didn’t like Focaccia. A fluffy and cushiony sort of bread that’s baked with olives and salt, it actually originated from the city of Genoa that’s just north of Cinque Terre.
The gorgeous villages and towns
The verdant cliffs and the lovely beaches aside, what Cinque Terre is really famous for is its little towns. It counts five main ones in all, starting with Riomaggiore in the south and going all the way to Monterosso al Mare in the north. The nearby villages of Porto Venere and the city of Levanto are also downright lovely, but they do draw you officially out of Cinque Terre territory itself.
The one we love more than all the rest is charming little Manarola. A jostle of pink and yellow and orange townhouses that’s draped over a rugged shoulder of rock, it’s the second village you come to as you hike north along the Cinque Terre. It’s hard to leave, what with a stunning sunset viewpoint, a small marina beach, and umpteen charming B&Bs on the menu.
But leave you should, since the likes of Corniglia – a soaring village of just 150 people with stairs cut through towards the beach – and Vernazza – one of the most historically rich of the bunch – await further along.
Just like the rest of Italy, Cinque Terre has a Mediterranean climate with hot (sometimes very, very hot) summers and cool winters peppered by extra rain. However, the bonus of being on the coastline is that said scorching summer months are often tempered by cooling sea breezes, plus the ever-present cooling powers of the Med itself.
The upshot? You can vacation here in June, July, and August and not have to worry all that much how high the thermometers might creep. You’ll always have the saltwater and the beaches to help you chill a touch. The only time that might not be the case is when you head out hiking (as many do). Our advice? Hit the trails early so you can laze around in the afternoon when the heat of the day picks up.
The day trips
A trip to Cinque Terre doesn’t have to ALL be about Cinque Terre, you know? There’s plenty to see once you’re done with the sun-splashed beaches and the pastel-painted towns – as if you’ll ever be done with that!
But, just in case you are, you can look forward to planning all manner of day-trip outings throughout the northwest of Italy and even down to Tuscany. Popular options run the gamut from jaunts to bustling and historic cities to check of UNESCO sites from the top of the bucket list right down to off-track hiking sessions in the Apennine Mountains.
Here are some of our top suggestions:
- Genoa – The sailing mecca of Italy and one of the most gorgeous Renaissance cities on the boot awaits to the north. It’s home to a lovely old town and one of the best aquariums in all of Europe.
- Pisa – The chances are that you’ll get to Cinque Terre via Tuscany’s UNESCO town. Fly in and spend a day or come back on a planned trip, it’s up to you. Whichever way you do it, the legendary Leaning Tower of Pisa should still be there. You know, leaning.
- Apuan Alps – The Apuan Alps aren’t in the Alps. They’re in the Apennine mountains, which dash just by Cinque Terre to the east. You can drive into see incredible marble quarries that date back thousands of years, and to hike trails to unknown peaks that soar nearly 2,000 meters above sea level.
Is Cinque Terre worth visiting?
Is Cinque Terre worth visiting? You bet it is! This string of handsome towns and villages on the southern side of Liguria isn’t famed around the planet for nothing. It beckons with seriously glorious beaches and see-through sees fit for snorkelers. It’s got historic centers and wild swimming spots in old marinas. And it’s romantic to the T!