Would you like to find where little multicolored houses climb steep rocks, slopes are covered with vineyards, and emerald-green sea waves are underneath?
Where are there no cars but many boats? Where you can ramble through narrow streets for a long time?
If yes, then look no further than Cinque Terre!
This is among the top activities to include on your itinerary to Italy, along with Pompeii, the Coliseum, St. Mark’s Basilica, Roman Forum, Tower of Pisa, and Naples pizza.
Cinque Terre is arguably among the most scenic areas in Europe. It’s an outstanding way to experience the coastline sights and provides a good cardio workout after eating a hearty meal in Central Italy.
There’s no secret why Cinque Terre hiking is the most popular thing to do there.
Best Time to Hike the Cinque Terre
It’s highly advisable to hike along the trails during April/May and September/October since the temperatures are milder.
You can also avoid the crowds, especially Trail #2, since these months are outside the summer peak season.
If you hike during the summer or winter, take certain precautions to have the best hiking experience. Avoid hiking between 11 AM to 2 PM since it’s the hottest part of the day, and you’re most likely to suffer from conditions like dehydration.
During the winter, the weather is colder, and you’ll have fewer crowds to deal with. However, heavy rainfall can trigger issues like rock slides and wash-outs.
So if you’re planning to hike Cinque Terre during the winter make sure to watch the weather forecasts. The website of Cinque Terre Nat’l Park offers updates about issues like trail closures.
5 Towns of Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is a group of five towns along Italy’s coastline slightly north of the Tuscan city of Pisa. Each of the central Italian towns features stacked pastel buildings that tower above the harbors.
If you want to experience each of the 5 towns of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, then put hiking on your to-do list when visiting Cinque Terre.
This village is located in the center of the 5 towns. Corniglia is the only village not built along the sea but on a cliff 100 meters above sea level.
It also has the smallest number of tourists, providing the most “real” experience among the villages. A train and footpaths connect Corniglia with the Cinque Terre’s other villages.
This village has a small harbor and boat ramp, seaside-facing colorful houses, and a small piazza featuring seafood restaurants. The famous Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) starts at Manarola and provides a scenic path that leads to Riomaggiore in just 20 minutes.
It’s the largest of the 5 towns and also has the greatest number of amenities, including hotels in the newest section of Fegina. Shops and restaurants are also located in the old section of town.
Monterosso contains long sandy beaches where you can rent chairs/umbrellas or kayaks to check out the coast’s coves.
Riomaggiore is normally the first stop on many Cinque Terre for travelers. Riomaggiore includes a cascade of colorful Ligurian houses grouped around a small harbor carved out between the area’s rocks.
These are considered the most peaceful and quiet villages of Cinque Terre.
This town contains a natural pier with an interesting amphitheater shape that’s worth snapping some pictures of. Vernazza contains many B&Bs and private rooms but few hotels.
You can find colorful Ligurian houses around the tiny port and a piazza lined with quality restaurants/bars.
Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail)
The “Blue Trail” is the most popular hike along Cinque Terre. It includes 4 paths on the Italian coast. The trail takes about 6 hours, but you can space the route over one or two days if you want to take some breaks and truly experience the towns during your trek.
You’ll typically have to buy a Cinque Terre card that costs €5-7/day for both trail/museum access or €10/day for access to trail/museum/unlimited train.
You can begin your trek by heading north from Riomaggiore or south of Monterosso. It’s generally better to start from Riomaggiore since you’ll travel on foot along easier trails.
You could stop and walk to the closest train station if the challenging trails are too tough.
Via dell’Amore: Riomaggiore à Manarola
This Trail #2 section is from Riomaggiore to Manarola and features a wide/flat paved path. Via dell’Amore is renowned for its tunnel and kissing statue. The length of Lover’s Lane is 2km (1.2 mi.), so you can finish it in about 45 min.
Manarola à Corniglia
This path is moderately easy and features incredible gardens and sea views. The length is 2km (1.2 mi.) and takes about 1 hr. and 15 min. to complete.
Corniglia à Vernazza
This is Trail #2’s section that starts getting challenging. That’s because you’ll have to climb stone steps that are very steep and uneven. If you need extra stability, you should use a walking stick or trekking pole for this stretch of the trail.
You’ll have to climb to the peak of Cinque Terre and then return down again, so you should expect lots of climbing/descending. It’s moderately difficult, but the sights are outstanding. You’ll see exotic flowers/plants and olive groves during this stretch.
This stretch is 4km (2 mi.) and will take about 1 hr. and 45 min. to complete.
Vernazza à Monterosso
This is the longest and most challenging hike along Trail 2. The section has a myriad of stairs as well as narrow passages. You should also consider a trekking pole or walking stick for this section to help keep your balance.
The panoramic view will make the tough hiking worthwhile since you can view all 5 Cinque Terre towns. This section is 3km (1.8 mi.) and takes about 2 hrs. to complete.
There’s no question that Trail #2 is the most popular one in Cinque Terre. However, there are alternatives if you want to avoid big crowds and walk along the so-called off-the-beaten path. Here are some options to consider:
If you have an adventurous spirit, consider the mountain trails: #1, #4, #6, #9, and #10. These are probably the least liked trails but are also the most challenging.
They range from medium/to difficult, so it’s highly advisable to only hike along these trails if you’re an experienced hiker. You should also stock up on water, food, and gear so you’ll have everything you need to complete these rugged trails.
Trail of Sanctuaries
If you follow paths #3, #6, #7, or #8 you could visit the various sanctuaries of the region, including Nostra Signora:
- della Salute
- delle Grazie
- di Montenero
- di Reggio
- di Savior
These paths are free, but note that they’re also tougher than Trail #2. So make sure you’re up for the challenge before you hike along the Trail of Sanctuaries.
Cinque Terre Hiking: 5 Key Issues
1. Starting Point
There are some key issues to keep in mind. You’ll spend more time in the town where you stay, so it’s easier to hike around that area. On the other hand, it will also be tougher to haul your luggage from the village to more remote areas.
Yet another issue is you can’t take cars into any town center of Cinque Terre. The compact area isn’t very auto-friendly, so it’s something to consider.
Here’s another option: You could stay in a close town that’s easier to get to and use a nearby town to visit Cinque Terre in 1+ days. Make sure you stay in towns on the Express train line for Cinque Terre.
You can search and book a place to stay here.
Just keep in mind that not all trains always stop in each town. Check the train schedule. The whole process will require some research, but it is worth it if your hiking treks are more convenient and comfy.
2. Card/Train Card
The Cinque Terre Card gives you access to hiking paths and park buses. You’ll also get Wi-Fi service where it’s available. The wireless connectivity in the region isn’t the fastest in the world, but it’s good enough when your main goal is hiking in rural central Italy.
There’s also the Cinque Terre Train Card that includes the same perks as the basic card along with train service between Levanto and La Spezia from November to February. You can buy the cards at the train stations, but you might have to deal with long lines.
You could visit Cinque Terre Nat’l Park’s official website. Some trails close temporarily due to flooding, so it’s critical to learn about this so you can tweak your trips when necessary.
You can also get other info like maps for trekking between towns. This will help to guide you and make your hiking more efficient.
You can find restaurants in the Cinque Terre villages for all budgets. That includes cheap pizza, mid-range cafes, and fancy restaurants.
You can dine in at restaurants, buy ingredients at stores, cook meals, or pick up pre-prepared items at delis for picnics.
If you want to save money on food at your accommodation, consider “self-catering.” This provides you with the facilities to prepare your home-cooked meals. Then you could buy meals from restaurants or delis while hiking.
It’s critical to plan; one way is to buy train tickets in advance, which can save you money. You can also avoid buying your tickets during peak mid-morning and mid-afternoon. This can free up more time for hiking.
Besides trains, you can also take ferries. It’s important to determine where you can go by boat and consider that your trip can be affected by inclement weather.
Consider that trains don’t go to all towns, so in some cases, you’ll need to take a ferry for your Cinque Terre hikes.
You should also get the official train and ferry schedules for the current tourist season. This will make planning your treks and transport between different towns easier.
9 Tips for Hiking Cinque Terre
1. Bring light baggage
Make sure to bring a day bag or backpack with all the essentials like water, snacks, and a first aid kit. Leave your suitcase at your lodging or a train station’s locker.
2. Refill water bottles in each town
You can refill your water bottles at each town’s public water fountains. This saves you money and gives you access to fresh drinking water. Just make sure not to drink water from fountains labeled as “non-potable” (non-drinking quality) since they’re unsafe.
3. Look for affordable/convenient lodging
You can find options like budget hotels throughout the Cinque Terre villages. These have basic accommodations yet can offer several amenities and proximity to train stations. You’ll still be “roughing it” to a certain extent, but you’ll still have everything you need.
4. Wear layered/breathable clothing
This is especially important in the fall and winter, so you can adjust if the weather gets colder/warmer during the day. During spring/summer, make sure to protect yourself from UV rays by wearing sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen.
5. Plan hikes based on the difficulty level
When planning your Cinque Terre hikes, there are various ways to tweak the difficulty level. For example, you could pick a starting point for Trail #2 or even hike tougher trails/paths like in the mountains.
Bring the right gear, like water and walking sticks, to make your hiking as enjoyable and safe as possible.
6. Check for trail closes
The trails close quite frequently for various reasons, like rockslides. So always check information offices before hiking a particular trail to verify it won’t be closed that day. This can save you time, effort, and money, which is always good.
7. Pack a swimsuit
You’ll likely want to take a dip during the spring or summer. For example, you can enjoy swimming in the Ligurian as a reward after completing your hike along the trail.
It’s an excellent way to cool off after hiking along the Cinque Terre.
8. Find different options for Park Cards
You have several options when buying Cinque Terre Park Cards. For example, €7.50/person lets you take the trails and buses between the 5 towns.
Meanwhile, €16/person gives you hiking, bus, and train access. Multi-day passes are also available, so make sure to research the different options you have.
9. Pick the right footwear
These trails aren’t a walk in the park, so make sure you have the right hiking gear. Always avoid hiking in open-toe footwear like flip-flops, and absolutely, positively avoid wearing high-heels.
Sneakers are enough for Trail #2, but you should wear hiking boots for the other trails to have enough traction and ankle support.
Frequently Ask Questions
Why is air conditioning rare in Cinque Terre villages?
There are a few reasons. One is the thick insulating stone walls have been used in the region since medieval times, so there’s been no need for air conditioning. Also, the national park generally takes a “green” approach to energy.
Why are the beds smaller in Italy?
King and queen-size beds are much less common in European accommodations than in North American ones. The main options are Italian double beds (160cm wide) and “French” beds (140cm wide).
How’s the WiFi service at Cinque Terre?
WiFi service in the region has improved in recent years, but it’s often average at best. Remember that you’re in a rural area, so you shouldn’t expect city-like service. This isn’t entirely a negative since it gives you a reason to unplug while enjoying the Great Outdoors while Cinque Terre hiking.
Is car parking available in Cinque Terre National Park?
It can be as far as 1km from the village you’re staying in. Driving itself can be difficult due to factors like narrow roads. So it’s advisable to minimize your use of cars when you arrive at the village’s train station.
When traveling by train, make sure to buy your tickets in advance. You should also arrive at the station early during mid-morning and mid-afternoon to avoid waiting in line for a long time.
Should I travel light when visiting Cinque Terre?
Yes, in general, you should. This will reduce your transport of luggage as you trek through the 5-town region. If you have lots of luggage, the cost of porters can add up quickly, and some villages have no local porters.
What is self-catering?
Many accommodations offer this feature via cooking facilities. You’ll be required to buy meal ingredients at stores and supermarkets, but you can save lots of money. You’ll still have the option to dine out at restaurants from time to time if you’re too tired to cook.
Why are AirBnb owners not around?
The rental owners often live in different areas but have decided to rent their homes to earn income. However, you can still enjoy staying at Cinque Terre villages while hiking.
What kinds of adapters/converters should I use?
Italy uses 220 AC and 2-prong plugs. You’ll need an adapter to convert your devices to 220V. The caveat is they’re tough to find in the area, so you should consider buying them before arriving. Meanwhile, the 2-prong plug adapters are easy to find so that it won’t be a problem.