In this article we’ll share the best 10 things to do in Cinque Terre for first timers. The pretty coastal villages dotting the Mediterranean Sea are untouched by modernity. That’s the beauty of Cinque Terre an UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997; it takes you back in time. The Italian town allows you to immerse yourself completely in nature.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
How to get to Cinque Terre
If you are travelling from Milan you have a few different options, you could get a direct train to Monterosso which is the nearest town to Milan about 3 hours or La Spezia which is closer to Riomaggiore. If you are travelling to other villages like Vernazza, Manarola or Cornaglia you need to change in La Spezia, Levanto, Sestri Levante or Genova.
If you are travelling from Florence you need to get the train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella station to La Spezia and from there you can take the 5 terre express train that stops in all the villages along the riviera or alternatively you can use the ferry to visit the five villages along the Cinque Terre coast, info here
If Cinque Terre features on your travel bucket-list, our guide step by step guide will help you navigate this beautiful part of north Italy . It could be your holiday destination whether your looking for a romantic getaway, a relaxing weekend or an adventure trip. This short travel guide lists the must-see places and the must-do things when visiting Cinque Terre.
Situated in North-western Italy, Cinque Terre is actually a cluster of five smaller fishing villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Hence the name! The villages line the Italian Riveira coastline, extending from north to south. Till late, Cinque Terre was unheard of as a tourist destination because of its inaccessibility. However, of recent, it has become a much sought-after vacation spot with millions of tourists checking in each year.
The months of April through October are the best time to visit. If you are into hiking we suggest you come in April or May and then from September and October when the weather is not very hot. If you are looking to enjoy the beach from middle of May to the end of September you can still swim and enjoy activities like boat tours, snorkelling, kayaking etc.
What to do in Cinque Terre for first timers
Go Cliff Jumping
This one’s for the adventure junkies. Cinque Terre is noted for its rugged landscape; there are several cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Cliff jumping is a popular activity among locals when the weather is good and the sea is not too rough. If you are bold enough, you can go cliff jumping at the Riomaggiore or Manarola harbour. It is a trilling experience and no doubt a refreshing one.
Speaking of other adventure sports, one can also go paragliding in Monterosso or go kayaking in Riomaggiore, Monterosso and Vernazza.
Take A Dip or Choose Sunbathe
There are plenty of swimming spots along the coast in the villages of Manarola, Riomaggiore, Vernazza and Corniglia. You can go for a swim in the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, sunbathe on the rocks or simply sit back and take in the stunning views. A tip: The beaches at Manarola and Riomaggiore are not sandy, but rocky and pebbled. Carry the right footwear to avoid slipping and injuring yourself. If you love the typical sandy beaches, you should head to Monterosso or Vernazza. Here, you can rent a deckchair or laze around in the sand.
Learn to make pesto
A fan of pesto with your pasta? Pesto is a speciality of the region and Nessun Dorma, a restaurant in Manarola, offers pesto making classes. Enrol for a class and you can learn to make fresh pesto for your pasta. Just so you know, Nessum Dorma also affords some of the best views of the village.
Watch the sunset
Cinque Terre has several photo-worthy points spread across its five quaint towns. The beaches in Manarola, Riomaggiore and Corniglia are the best places to catch a glorious sunset. You can watch the sky go crimson as the sun sets behind the mountains.
Go Wine Tasting
Manarola, Cinque Terre is home to lush vineyards. If you are looking for some alone time, away from the crowds of the town centre, tour the wine estate in Manarola perched uphill. Here, you are guaranteed a one-of-a-kind wine tasting experience. You can also sample some of the finest wines at Monterosso and Riomaggiore.
Go Hiking and Trekking
The five villages are in close proximity to each other. While you can take a train or ferry to hop from one village to the next, they are connected by hiking trails. Hiking promises the best views of the Cinque Terre, but the terrain is slightly difficult and could pose problem for a few.
The 11km long Blue Trail connects all the five villages. It is divided into four sections. There is a trail between Vernazza and Corniglia, Manarola and Corniglia, Riomaggiore and Manarola and Monterosso and Vernazza. Inclement weather often results in closing of these hiking trails for safety reasons. The hiking trail between Manarola and Corniglia has been closed for renovations.
If you are physically able, challenge yourself with a hike up the 11th Century Doria castle. You will be huffing and puffing at the end of its steep, spiral stairway, but its only from up there that you get a panoramic view of the sea, the land and the terraced vineyards.
Explore the villages
There’s no better way to appreciate the beauty of a place than by wandering its streets. Among the five villages, Riomaggiore, Vernazza and Manarola have been touted as most photogenic. Manarola stands out with its pretty-pastel coloured houses while Riomaggiore is known for its steep stairs and tight alleyways.
The village Corniglia sits high above sea level and does not have a harbour. Tourists can arrive by train and have to take a hike up (that’s climbing 350+ steps) to reach the village. The view from the top is breath-taking. Due to lack of proper accessibility, Corniglia sees smaller crowds of tourists compared to Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Vernazza is tucked away in a cleft between the rocky cliffs. Like its neighbouring villages, the narrow streets of Vernazza are stacked with vertical, brightly-coloured houses. Monterosso al Mare has earned its reputation as the resort town in Cinque Terre with its impressive line-up of shops and restaurants.
Take a boat ride
Many tourists choose to take a boat tour to see Cinque Terre from the sea and to explore the incredible coastline. Tour operators organise guided boat tours with meals and entertainment. If this is something you wish to do we have more info here.
Gorge on Seafood
No trip is complete without a sampling of the local fare. Restaurants and eateries across the Cinque Terre offer a variety of lip-smacking dishes. Trattoria dal Billy in Manarola is one of the hot spots for seafood Cinque Terre. In addition to grabbing a bite at sit-outs overlooking the sea, it is also normal to spot people eating their food, on-the-move out of a cone. In Riomaggiore, Il Pescato Cucinato and Tutti Fritti are food favourite destinations. Il Fornaio Di Monterosso in Monterosso and Fuori Rotta in Riomaggiore are also known for the scrumptious platters they serve. While in Italy, enjoy the panacotta, bruchetta, pasta and salted anchovies.
Get a fair share of Gelato
Gelato, Italy’s creamy ice cream, is a relief after a tiring hike or on a summer afternoon. They are made in a variety of interesting flavours, using local ingredients. Nothing beats the Gelato served at Alberto Gelateria (Corniglia), Gelateria Vernazza (Vernazza), Old School (Riomaggiore), Gelateria 5Terre (Manarola) and Gelateria La Scogliera (Monterosso Al Mare).
With its breath-taking natural beauty, Cinque Terre is definitely not one to disappoint. A little advice, make sure to reserve at least 6 months before you travel as places and activities sell out fast, planning well ahead to get the best of your time in the magical Cinque Terre is crucial.