Cinque terre stands for “five lands” and we like to call them magical lands. It consists of five of the cutest, quaintest, little Italian towns on the coast that are known for their colorful, cliffside buildings. If you love Italian cities like Florence or Venice but want to get away from all the hustle and bustle of tourists, Cinque Terre is the perfect getaway. Come here for a more relaxed seaside Italian experience.

When we visited these five Cinque Terre towns in 2015, we felt more at ease: less stress about being pick pocketed, less need to walk quick and see all the sites, and less worries about getting things done. It allowed us a few days to stroll the streets hand in hand and gaze upon the beautiful coastline.

[Consider going during low season as recommended by Emma at Gap Life Diaries]

Each of the five Cinque Terre towns has similar style but each has something special to set it apart.

In today’s guide, we are going to share the best of the best of Cinque Terre. This will include what makes each town unique, the best things to do in each, and the best foodie spots to checkout. In addition, you won’t find many hotels in this region of the country.

Your best bet is finding an apartment rental on Airbnb. We stayed in a rental in Riomaggiore and absolutely loved it! It made our time there feel more authentic. So we will share with you the best Airbnb’s in Cinque Terre as well. ​At the end, we go into more detail about hiking Cinque Terre because that is what draws most people to this part of the country.

We will start from the most eastern town called Riomaggiore and move west to Monterosso. Pick one town to stay in for a few days. Then to travel between the five towns, we recommend you use the ferry. It’s the transportation you pay for but it feels like a beautiful boating tour and grants you gorgeous views (and photographs) as you pass by each town. The ferry runs all day long and is easy to use as it just runs up and down the coastline.

Take a look at 37 incredible photos of cinque terre to inspire you to wanderlust here.

The best of Cinque Terre is here! Hop on board!

#1 Riomaggiore

What makes Riomaggiore unique is that it was built into a river gorge. That’s why it was named Riomaggiore which means “major river”. The view from the harbor is so beautiful- surrounded by alabaster and marble and then a steep street that runs up through the center of the town.

Things to do

-Fossola beach: Take the stairs to the left (southeast) of the harbor to find this tiny little beach.
-Church of San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist): Up the hill through the center of town is this old church built in the 14th century.
Places to eat
-A Pie de Ma: For Italian food with amazing views of the sea, stop here for dinner at sunset.
-La Lampara: We ate here for a scrumptious Italian dinner and it was conveniently located near the entrance of town.
-Veciu Muin: A small pizzeria that was excellent for people watching too.
-Vento di Mare Apartment: We stayed here and were astonished by the service by Martha. We had arrived late due to the train delay and she was still waiting there for us in the pouring rain. Our check-in was smooth, she had a map and great recommendations for us, and the apartment was cozy with a cute outdoor patio. We loved the Libeccio room!

#2 Manarola

Manarola is unique in that it was built on black rock. What makes it very admirable is its wine and olive oil growth. There are many olive trees and vineyards here so the local shops sell fresh products for you to partake in (sip sip!)

Things to do

-Winery tour at one of the local vineyards
Places to eat
-Trattoria dei Billy is the most popular and well rated restaurant in town with great views.
-Trattoria il Porticciolo is another great Italian restaurant we tried known for its amazing seafood, but go early before it gets crowded due to the nearby firework show.
-La Linea d’Acqua Apartment
-Manarolavistamare Apartment
-Villino Caterina Luxe & Relax Apartment

#3 Corniglia

Corniglia is the smallest and least popular town possibly due to it not having a harbor. You have to climb 365 steps to get to the town from the train station. But if you like less crowds, choose Corniglia.

Things to do

-Chiesa di San Pietro: Go see this 1334 Gothic church which has a beautiful altar and Carrara marble that must have taken quite some effort to get there for construction back then!
Places to eat
-Bar Terza Terra Corniglia: This terrace bar located at the highest point in town guarantees you great views!
-Sea View Apartment

#4 Vernazza

Vernazza is the richest town because it’s the only one with a natural port. So the architecture is more elaborate and there’s more marble work.

Things to do

-Church of St Margaret of Antioch: Visit this 14 century church that has some of the best views of the sea.
-Watchtower: Climb up this watchtower fortress where the town kept guard against pirate attacks.
Places to eat
-Ristorante Belforte: This is the best restaurant in town which is located way up in an old stone tower and offers great views. You’ll need a reservation here.
-MB Sisters Glam Rooms Apartment
-The Rock House Apartment

#5 Monterosso al Mare

The largest of the five towns, this is where the beach life is at! The long expansive beaches and turquoise water are a big draw here. They also have many festivals throughout the year if you’re lucky.

Things to do

-Beach: Pay for beach chairs and umbrellas at one of the many stations and relax all day with your toes in the sand. There are snack bars around to keep your belly happy.
-Shop: There are more shops and markets in this town, so spend a little time shopping around.
-Kayaking tour  ​
Places to eat
-La Cantina di Miky: the best restaurant in Monterosso al Mare. Their specialty is seafood and they have a little garden out back too. Reservations are important here.
-Unico Apartment
-Private Entrance Apartment

Hiking Cinque Terre

Hiking is a must here among the cliffs due to the seaside and coastline views. While hiking you’ll get to stop in each of the five towns and can even get access to secluded beaches along the way.

The most popular path is the blue trail number 2 or “Sentiero Azzurro”. It is 8 miles long and takes you to all five villages in about five hours (not including the times you stop).

Most people start in Riomaggiore and hike northwest to Monterosso al Mare. If at any point you need a break or want to skip part of the trail, you can catch the ferry or the train instead.

Parts of the trail can get pretty steep and demanding. Get your Cinque Terre card for this trail because it costs 4-12E to hike it, depending on if it’s a weekday or weekend. Some of the other smaller trails like “Lovers Lane” or “Via dell’ Amore” are free. (See: Cinque Terre Hiking Trails)

Wrap Up

If you’re in central Italy and want to escape to some smaller, romantic Italian towns then keep Cinque Terre towns at the top of your list. The small town feel here allows for a more unique and memorable Italian experience. The best of Cinque Terre is some of the best of Italy!