So you want to hike the Cinque Terre. But where do you start with the planning? For first-timers, planning how to get around and hike the Cinque Terre can be really confusing… but with the right preparation, you can do it with full confidence. That’s why I’ve put together this guide– to give you all the information you’ll need to navigate this awe-inspiring region of Italy.
What is The Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre National Park (Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre in Italian, or 5 terre) is a cluster of five colorful and picturesque villages nestled along the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. Given its beauty and uniqueness, this place is easily considered one of the top attractions in Italy. The five remote fishing villages of Cinque Terre– Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso– are marked by colorful houses built along seaside cliffs, and each has their own distinctive characteristics.
No doubt, hiking in the Cinque Terre is one of the best things to do in Italy. Its hiking trails are among the most beautiful in Europe and if you enjoy nature, fresh seafood, focaccia and pesto, good wine, or photography, it is one of the most rewarding trips to take while in Italy.
What To Expect
You already know you’re going to see amazing sights. What about the food? Being in the Ligurian region of Italy, you can expect fresh pesto and lemon everything. Expect pizza and pasta served with the most authentic pesto you’ll ever have (pesto originates from Genoa, which is in Liguria), freshly baked focaccia, dry white wine, and lemon flavors in a vast array of foods and items. Did I forget to mention the seafood? There will be fried seafood stands and plates of seafood pasta galore.
How about the weather? In the summer, it’s nice, warm, and mildly humid. The weather is absolutely beautiful, much more temperate than other non-coastal parts of Italy. Also since you’re on the coast, you never know when the clouds or fog are going to roll in. Bring a light jacket, even if it’s summertime.
And for hikers: the trail. Make sure to bring a pair of sturdy hiking boots or runners. There were so many instances of tourists who had underestimated the trails and were wearing straight up sandals or slippers, completely struggling. Don’t be that guy! Your feet will thank you if you prepare and bring hiking boots for the trail.
Now let’s discuss the tourist factor– expect them. It’s universally such a beautiful place to visit, so many other foreign travelers, as well as Italians, will flock here on their time off.
Given this, September would be my pick for the best time to go, followed by April or May. Summertime is also good, just know you’ll be sharing the trails with many others.
How Long To Stay
If you have time, I would suggest spending more than just one day in Cinque Terre. Hiking all the legs of the trail in one day would mean rushing through all the towns. You came this far, why not savor the moment and make the trip out there more worthwhile? I’d recommend slowing down and spending more time in each of the towns so you can really soak in their personalities. I stayed in the Cinque Terre for 2 days (just a weekend trip from the Emilia-Romagna region), spending 1.5 days hiking and exploring the five villages and half a day in Levanto.
How To Get There
You can drive, but parking will be super tough and roads will be windy. This option is generally not recommended.
The best option is to train! Assuming you’ll already be in Italy, you can catch a train to La Spezia Centrale. La Spezia is the first town you’ll reach before encountering the Cinque Terre. When you’re looking for trains (train schedules can be found here), use La Spezia and the name of the village you want to go to, not the name of the 5 villages. From La Spezia, you can then transfer to the local train heading to Levanto, which is the last town after the 5 villages.
You’ll likely leave the same way you came, from La Spezia Centrale.
Chances are if you’re going to the Cinque Terre, you’re going to want to hike the Blue Path Trail, or Trail #2 (when you’re in Italy, it’s not going to be called the Blue Path Trail, it’s actually “Sentiero Azzurro”, which is its Italian translation). This portion of the park costs money. The current price for 2018 just to hike the Blue Trail is €7.50 for one day. Two-day passes cost €14.50.
There’s another option though. If you get the Cinque Terre Card, you are allowed to take the trains between the villages (but not ferries) and covers your hiking day-pass. A 1-day pass is €16. A 2-day pass is €29. Yes, there are actually control booths along the way to check you have one with you.
If you’re hiking any portion of the Cinque Terre, which I highly recommend, you’re already going to pay ~$8. You’ll likely take the train at some point, either to get back to your accommodation or because you’re forced to due to trail closures (more about that in a bit). FYI, train tickets between the towns cost €4.00 per trip (as of 2018), so if you’re going to be taking the train more than twice a day, the card is worth it. You can work out the math and see what’s best for you.
Read More: The Ultimate Packing Checklist for Europe
Where To Stay
Staying in the Cinque Terre villages is not cheap, it’s doable. There’s also not one town that is more beautiful than the next, they are all amazing. Some are quieter than others, so if you’re looking for a more bustling experience, go with Vernazza or Riomaggiore. Whatever you choose, remember to book as soon as you can because these villages are relatively small so the B&Bs usually reach full capacity at some point. When I was in Italy in May 2018, I decided to do a last minute trip here. One week prior to my trip, I had looked into accommodations and for the most part, only the extremely pricey options of $250+/night were left.
If you’re looking to stay multiple nights, it’s okay to book at the same place. You may be thinking that you should pack up and move to the next town for the next night, but that’s not necessary. The towns are a 3-5 minute train ride from each other. You can easily catch the train or hike to each town you want to explore and train back to your “home base” for the night.
For budget-minded travelers, I would recommend staying in Levanto (northernmost town) or La Spezia (southernmost town). You’re not going to be in the action, but you’re also not going to be paying a leg and an arm. Plus, the train ride from these towns to the first of the five villages is less than 10 minutes. I stayed in Levanto, a place that I had read nothing about during my research, and ended up dedicating half a day exploring there! Pro tip: From what I’ve read, it’s better to stay in Levanto (cutesy little village) and skip La Spezia (bigger, grungier).
How To Hike Cinque Terre
- Distance: 12 km / 7.5 miles
- Stops: Riomaggiore – Manarola – Corniglia – Vernazza – Monterosso (or the other way round)
- Note: You can walk between all five towns within a single day. There is no need to hike with your overnight bag or luggage and stay the next night elsewhere along the way.
You’ve got options here. You can head downwards from Monterosso to Riomaggiore or the other way round, moving up from Riomaggiore up to Monterosso. First-time hikers are recommended to start from Riomaggiore and hike north. This is what I did, and I found that the portions of the trails get harder the more north you go. By starting at Riomaggiore, you have the option to skip certain paths and hop onto trains as the difficulty level increases. The hiking guide below will be outlined assuming you start in Riomaggiore.
Very important! Please take a look here to determine which trails are currently open. When I went in Summer 2018, the first two portions of the Blue Trail were closed from Riomaggiore to Manarola and from Manarola to Corniglia. This includes the Via dell’Amore, a 20-minute romantic walk along a flat, well-paved trail along the coast.
Riomaggiore to Manarola (the Via dell’Amore)
- Also known as The Blue Path (#2). Being the most famous leg, it is visited by 95% of tourists coming to the region.
- Unfortunately, this portion of the trail was closed when I visited. You’ll have to take a longer, harder path up the hill to get to Manarola, or simply take the train. See below for all the complicated closure information.
- Alternative: Take the Beccara Trail (#531), a very steep ascent on one end and then another steep descent on the other side. Riomaggiore – Manarola (Beccara): The trail is temporarily inaccessible (expected to open in November 2018)
- As of 9/2018: Via dell’Amore closed approximately until April 2021.
Manarola to Corniglia
- This leg has steep sections at both ends of it. The middle section is relatively flat and is noted to have some of the nicest terrains due to the views of grape and olive terraces (passing through the small town of Volastra).
- Also closed due to trail maintenance when I went. As of 2018, you’ll have to take the train or take a longer, harder path up the hill to get to Corniglia.
- Manarola – Corniglia: The trail is closed for a long period (approximately until: 2019).
Corniglia to Vernazza
This is a long leg but is quite an easy one to walk. You get a lot of wonderful views of the coastline as you go along this path. At about the halfway point, there’s a little restaurant serving drinks and food, a great place to take a break and soak in the coastal view. You’ll head down some steep stairs during the descent into Vernazza. Honestly, with a view like that, you won’t even notice the stairs.
Vernazza to Riomaggiore
This is the longest of the legs but it really isn’t too hard either. For quite a lot of the time you’ll be amongst dense foliage, but as you inch closer to Riomaggiore, views of the coast return and they are some of the best of the hike.
When you begin this leg, don’t forget to turn around! The views as you leave Vernazza are absolutely stunning and you’ll catch a glimpse of one of the most iconic views of the region. Once you reach Riomaggiore, you are done– hooray!
Hiking Gear: The Hiking Essentials
Daypack | a 35-45L backpack will do for this day hike. I used the Osprey Daylite Daypack on the trail, which was perfect in size for the amount of gear I had.
Hiking Boots | My favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boot. I swear by these for ANY hiking or backpacking trip I go on (I’m on my second pair and they haven’t disappointed me once)! Durable, waterproof, and out-of-the-box comfort. They make these for both men and women.
Rain Shell/Jacket | Depending on the season, it might be necessary to be prepared for rain. I’d go with a rainshell, as it’s more lightweight and can protect you from chilly coastal winds. I like this Marmot rainshell, it’s lightweight and pretty breathable. For a more affordable option, I’d go with this one by Columbia for women. This one, for men, is a bestseller.
Water Reservoir | Bring a reservoir with a bite valve and stick it in your backpack for easy access to water while hiking. A 2-liter reservoir will do just fine as there are always places to refill water in the towns.
Wondering what to do specifically in each village? Visit my Cinque Terre Village Breakdown here!