Would you like to find yourself in a place where little multicolored houses climb steep rocks, slopes are covered with vineyards and underneath there are emerald-green sea waves?
Where there are 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 sights of the coastline and also 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 during this time. You can also avoid the crowds and especially along with Trail #2 since these months are outside the summer peak season.
If you hike during the summer or winter make sure you 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 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 that’s not built along the sea but is instead on a cliff 100 meters above sea level.
It also has the smallest number of tourists, so it provides the most “real” experience among the villages. A train connection 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 Fegina. Shops and restaurants are also located in the old section of town.
Monterosso contains long and sandy beaches where you can rent chairs/umbrellas or kayak 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 that are grouped around a small harbor that’s been carved out between the area’s rocks.
This is considered as the most peaceful and quiet villages of Cinque Terre.
This town contains a natural pier that has 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, as well as a piazza lined with quality restaurants/bars.
Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail)
The “Blue Trail” is most popular to hike along Cinque Terre. It includes 4 paths on the Italian coast. The whole trail takes about 6 hours, but you can space out 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 heading south from Monterosso. It’s generally better to start from Riomaggiore since you’ll travel on foot along easier trails. If the challenging trails are too tough, you could stop and walk to the closest train station.
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 some extra stability, it’s recommended you use a walking stick or trekking pole for this stretch of the trail.
You’ll have to climb to the peak of Cinque Terre then return down again so you should expect lots of climbing/descending. It’s moderately difficult, but the sights are outstanding. During this stretch, you’ll see exotic flowers/plants and olive groves.
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 Trail #2 is the most popular one in Cinque Terre. However, there are other 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, then 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/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 Soviore
These paths are free but take note that they’re also tougher paths than Trail #2. So make sure you’re up for the challenge before you hiking 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 as a base for visiting Cinque Terre in 1+ days. Make sure you stay in towns that are on the Express train line for Cinque Terre.
You can search and book the 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 it means your hiking treks will be 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 the 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 make tweaks to 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 then cook your meals, or pick up pre-prepared items at delis for picnics.
If you want to save money on food at your accommodation, then consider “self-catering.” This provides you with facilities to prepare your home-cooked meals. Then you could buy meals from restaurants or delis while hiking during the day.
It’s critical to plan, and one way is to buy train tickets in advance, which can save you money. You can also avoid the hassles of buying your tickets during peak times in 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 it easier to plan your treks and transport between different towns.
9 Tips for Hiking Cinque Terre
1. Bring light baggage
Make sure to bring a day bag or backpack with all the essentials you need like water, snacks, and a first aid kit. Leave your suitcase at your lodging or a train station’s locker.
2. Refill water bottles at each town
You can refill your water bottles at each town’s public water fountains. This not only saves you money but also gives you access to fresh drinking water. Just make sure not to drink water from fountains that are labeled as “non-potable” (non-drinking quality) since they’re not safe.
3. Look for affordable/convenient lodging
You can find options like budget hotels throughout the Cinque Terre villages. These have basic accommodations yet can still 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 make adjustments 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 certain starting point for Trail #2 or even hike tougher trails/paths like in the mountains.
As always make sure to 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 a good thing.
7. Pack a swimsuit
You’ll likely want to take a dip during the spring or summer. For example, you can enjoy some swimming in the Ligurian as a reward to yourself after completing your hike along the trail.
It’s an excellent way to cool off after a day of 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 access to hiking, bus, and trains. 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 so you’ll have enough traction and ankle support.
Frequently Ask Questions
Why is air conditioning rare at 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 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. Keep in mind 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 you’re enjoying the Great Outdoors while Cinque Terre hiking.
Is car parking available in Cinque Terre National Park?
It is but can be as far as 1km from the village you’re staying at. 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 so you can avoid waiting in line for a long time.
Should I travel light when visiting Cinque Terre?
Yes, in general, you should. This will reduce how much luggage you have to transport 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 at all.
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 owners of rentals often live in a different area but have decided to rent out their homes to earn income. However, you can still have an enjoyable stay at Cinque Terre villages while hiking through the area.
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 it won’t be a problem.