Cinque Terre, which means five lands, is comprised of the colorful seaside towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. It is located on the Italian Riveria. We spent 3 days at the end of June leisurely exploring, but found the small towns inunated with the summer crowds. If possible, try to plan your visit during the shoulder season when the weather is still nice, but the crowds more sparse.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Our journey begins once we land at Pisa international airport. We took the Pisa Mover to get to Pisa Centrale station to catch our train ride to Vernazza. The ride is just over an hour long and we arrived just in time for lunch.
WHERE TO STAY:
Many choose to stay in either Vernazza or Monterosso al Mare. We found an Airbnb in Vernazza, as we liked the smaller town feel compared to Monterosso.
The train connects each of the towns, with it being only a 15 minute ride to go the whole distance from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. Alternatively, there is also a coastal trail you can hike through all the towns. Many recommend starting south and hiking north. Buy the Cinque Terre card for unlimited train and trail access, just remember to validate it at the nearby machines!
Each town has a slightly different feel, but each has a main street filled with shops and restaurants. Here are the 5 towns starting from north to south:
MONTEROSSO AL MARE
The largest of the 5 towns with a beach resort vibe. There is a long stretch of beach that is great for sunbathing in the summer. The majority of tourists stay here as there are ample hotels and restaurants.
There is a popular trail connecting Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza. It is also the longest and most difficult trail with a lot of stairs and narrow passages.
WHERE TO EAT:
Pizzeria La Smorfia – we are slightly addicted to white pizzas, especially when they are topped with truffles and mushrooms.
Il Bocconcino – made fresh to order calamari and assorted fried seafood. There is usually a long line that is relatively slow moving, but you’ll be rewarded with hot, fresh seafood
Our favorite town due to the picturesque views and slightly less crowds compared to Monterosso.
WHERE TO EAT:
- Gelateria Vernazza – our favorite gelato in the Cinque Terre. This was at least a daily stop for us!
- Blue Marlin – right beside our Airbnb and a great place for morning cappuccinos. We never actually tried the food here
- Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre – great seafood pasta and tiramisu. We were offered complimentary wine while waiting to be seated at dinner
The hike from Vernazza to Corniglia is a relatively easy path that takes you behind the town of Vernazza and through the vineyards of Corniglia.
This is the only town without a harbor, and also the least crowded. The town sits above the train station, and is reachable either by foot or by bus. From the station, the bus is up and to the right, while the walking trail is to the left. You climb 365 steps to get to the town center via the walking trail.
“Via Dell’Amore”, also known as The Lovers Lane, is a popular trail connecting Manarola and Riomaggiore that has been closed since 2012 due to a rockslide injuring several tourists. We were able to walk on a portion of the trail before discovering that it was closed. Rumor is the projected re-opening date is Spring 2021.
WHERE TO EAT:
- Nessun Dorma – I highly recommend this wine bar, although it is quite popular on social media and the (fast moving) line reflects that. Dine with a view overlooking Manarola while enjoying good music and drinks.
Has more of a “gritty” fishing town vibe. The rocky beach is a good spot to watch the sunset before stopping by a nearby bar.
Though Pisa is not a part of Cinque Terre, it is included in this post as it is an easy day trip. There are direct trains from Monterosso to Pisa. Because we have already done the obligatory Pisa tower photos during our last visit to Pisa, we decided to make a quick stop this time.
You will likely end up at Pisa Centrale station regardless of your starting destination. From here, your options of getting to the leaning tower are by bus, taxi, or by foot. The bus takes about 15 minutes; buy tickets at the tabacchi (tobacco) shop at the train station. Walking takes 22-25 minutes. Once you get to the leaning tower, prepare for a crowd and everyone posing for the stereotypical shots.