The Italian Riviera on the Ligurian coast is packed with small, colourful villages perched on cliff edges. But there are some that are far more popular and picturesque than all the others; five to be exact.
Cinque Terre means “five lands” and it’s the collective name for the fishing villages of (north to south) Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Not only are they seaside towns, but they’re also surrounded by mountainous terrain and vineyards. This area is so special that the area even became Cinque Terre National Park in 1999 due to the area’s historical, cultural and agricultural value.
There are lots of things to do in Cinque Terre across the five villages, but even just walking around each one would be a great experience.
That might be enough to do if you’re only visiting Cinque Terre on a day trip. But if you’re spending two or three days in the Cinque Terre towns, there are some attractions, restaurants, and activities you should definitely seek out. Here are some of the best things to do in Cinque Terre to ensure you have a fantastic trip!
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Things To Do in Cinque Terre
1. Monterosso al Mare Public Beach
Monterosso is the northernmost of all the Cinque Terre towns. And, despite the fact that each village is directly on the sea, it’s the only one with a proper, sandy beach. All the others have rocky coves or harbours you can swim in but not much of a beach to lounge around on.
So if you want to top up your tan whilst visiting the Cinque Terre villages, this is the place to do it. Striped orange umbrellas and sun loungers line the entire stretch of sand in rows and these are all available for rental.
Shops and restaurants line Via Fegina, the road that acts as Monterosso al Mare’s beach promenade as you might expect in any European beach town. So you won’t have to go far to buy souvenirs or grab a bite to eat!
From the beach, you will see the Statua del Gigante which is the statue of a man holding up rocks. It fits in with the natural landscape so seamlessly that it looks like it was carved straight into the cliff.
2. St Francis of Assisi Statue in Monterosso
Exploring Cinque Terre means finding as many jaw-dropping, I-can’t-believe-this-is-real viewpoints as you can. One of the best viewpoints from Monterosso al Mare is from the Statua di San Francesco d’Assisi or the St Francis of Assisi Statue in English.
There are steps up to the viewpoint so it’s easy to reach (though there are a lot of them!) and it’s a beautiful statue of the saint with a dog. You’ll be able to see some of the beaches and far across the coastline in the distance.
If you have time, check out the Convent of the Capuchin Friars church which is the reason there is a statue of St Francis in this location.
3. Vernazza’s Harbour Viewpoint
Continue your journey south through the Cinque Terre towns and your next stop will be Vernazza. This village perhaps has the biggest harbour out of all five villages but that’s not saying much as they are all quite small places.
One of the best views of the town is from the end of the harbour so you can take in the entire town including the Ruins of Doria Tower. Many people think you always need to climb up high to get the best views.
While this thought process makes a lot of sense, it’s not always the case. If you were to walk up to Doria Tower, you would see far along the coastline but the view of Vernazza itself is obstructed.
4. Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church in Vernazza
In almost every famous photograph of Vernazza, you can see the Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church front and centre. It’s an old, small 14th-century chapel right on the harbour with a bell tower and a clock tower.
This church is a simple stone church without the intricate and lavish designs of other Italian churches and basilicas you see in big cities.
But when the heat and the crowds outside get too much (and Cinque Terre does suffer from over-tourism), you can head inside this medieval church for some respite.
5. Corniglia Cliffside Town (Borgo Storico)
Corniglia is the next village south and the middle Cinque Terre village. It’s perhaps the most unique because it’s not at sea level like the other four villages. Nope, you have to either hire a taxi or climb around 400 steps to reach this historic town!
But when you do finally reach Corniglia on top of the cliffs, you’ll be greeted by the most charming little village. Its tall, narrow cobbled streets offer shade from the sun with guesthouses, food markets, restaurants, and artisan shops lining every single one.
You’ll see brightly coloured shutters with flower boxes and washing hanging from every floor of a four or five-story building.
And you can’t forget those views. Most of Corniglia’s restaurants (La Scuna, for example) have terraces with phenomenal views of the sea and cliffs. Head to the Corniglia’s official viewpoint and you’ll even see the next town of Manarola which isn’t too far in the distance.
6. Manarola’s Scenic Viewpoint
When you see photographs of Cinque Terre in magazines and on Instagram, Manarola is usually the village that is featured.
It has one of the most iconic vistas out of all the five Cinque Terre villages. And when you know how much beauty there is in this national park, you know that’s saying something!
Expect to see crowds at Manarola Overlook Viewpoint but it’ll be worth it. Take your time to take as many selfies as you like and be sure to walk up and down the slope to find the best angle.
You might think you’ve found the perfect spot but head up a few steps and you might realise you can see more from higher up.
7. Aperitivo at Nessun Dorma Restaurant in Manarola
One of the very best things to do in Cinque Terre is to enjoy an Aperol Spritz or cold glass of white wine at the Nessun Dorma Restaurant in Manarola.
You can also order cheese and meat platters if you’re a little peckish. It’s just behind the Manarola Overlook Viewpoint so, as you can imagine, its outside terrace gets jam-packed during the peak season! And it closes during the off-season so it’s busy all the time.
Expect to queue for at least 30 to 40 minutes to get a table at Nessun Dorma. Or, you can “digitally” queue by downloading the Nessun Dorma app. It will alert you when they have a free table so you don’t have to waste precious time in a line when you could be exploring Manarola.
8. Castello di Riomaggiore
Onto the last Cinque Terre town of Riomaggiore! This is the largest of the five villages so there are lots more things to do in Riomaggiore than in the others. And one of those is to walk up to Castello di Riomaggiore.
This castle dates back to 1260 and was extended in the 15th and 16th centuries. It’s a beautiful sand-coloured stone building in its own right, but it also has a huge courtyard where you can look over the whole of Riomaggiore.
Castello di Riomaggiore does not have the best views for photographs as you’re almost on top of the village, but you can see the sea and it’s only €2 to enter.
9. Tasting Plate at Fuori Rotta in Riomaggiore
There are so many amazing restaurants in Cinque Terre that you should try as many as possible! Luckily, most trattorias offer tasting plates and smaller dishes so you can save your appetite and visit as many as possible. One of the restaurants you shouldn’t miss is Fuori Rotta in Riomaggiore.
On a platter, they serve local cheeses, meats like salami, and bruschetta all washed down with a glass of local wine. And not only is the food delicious here, but if you grab a table on the terrace then you can eat with gorgeous views over the harbour and out to sea.
10. Santuario di Nostra Signora di Montenero in Riomaggiore
So if Castello di Riomaggiore doesn’t offer the best views over Riomaggiore, where should you go?
Well, Vista Panoramica di Riomaggiore Observation Deck on the harbour is where you’ll get the famous, most iconic shot of Riomaggiore. But if you’re willing to head off the beaten path, find the trail to Santuario di Nostra Signora di Montenero.
It might be a mouth full to say but it’s an absolutely stunning remote church on a hilltop just outside of the village. You can wander around the complex and enjoy the serene views of the ocean in front of you.
11. Drink Wine Produced in Cinque Terre
Did you know that the wineries in Cinque Terre National Park produce their own wines? By tasting local wines in the restaurants and at the wineries here, you’ll substantially lower your carbon footprint.
Two of the most prominent wines made in this region are the Cinque Terre DOC (a dry white wine) and the Sciacchetra DOC (a sweet dessert wine).
One of the best places for tasting local wine in Cinque Terre is Terra di Bargon, a winery in Riomaggiore. You can book a wine tasting where you can try several different varieties and learn about the history of the region from an expert, local guide.
12. Hike the Blue Trail Between the Cinque Terre Villages
As you can tell by looking at the landscape and the fact that it’s a national park, there are lots of places to go hiking here. And one of the most popular and best Cinque Terre hiking trails is the Blue Trail.
You can start the trail in Monterosso or Corniglia and walk along the rocky, uneven land between each village. You need to buy the Cinque Terre card before doing so (€7.50 per card) and follow the rules to protect the landscape from erosion and other damages. You will need hiking boots and poles if you need extra support.
Part of the trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola, the Via dell’Amore, has been closed for so long that it almost feels like it will never reopen. However, it’s scheduled to reopen in 2023.
13. Eat Fresh and Local Seafood
Cinque Terre is right on the sea, it would be a huge mistake not to devour some of the best local seafood while you’re there! Monterosso anchovies are a delicacy recognised all over Italy. Tutti Fritti is an excellent fish takeaway spot in Riomaggiore and Trattoria dal Billy is a great seafood restaurant in Manarola.
14. Hop on the Cinque Terre Express Train
Only a fool would attempt to drive between the Cinque Terre villages. The best way to travel between each one is to buy a Cinque Terre Express railway ticket.
This is a special type of rail ticket that allows you to hop on any of the trains between the five villages and the main train stations on either side of Cinque Terre which are La Spezia and Levanto.
It’s cheap and easy as you can pick up the latest train timetable from the ticket office at any station.
15. Hike Other Trails in Cinque Terre National Park
One of the most unique things to do in Cinque Terre is to hike trails other than the Blue Trail. While this one is super popular, the others are virtually untouched by most tourists.
There are around 48 other trails in the national park. Some are short and leisurely while others are much longer (think 20+ km) which are better suited for those spending longer in the area.
16. Sail on the Cinque Terre Express Ferry
Not a huge fan of walking or trains? Luckily, you have another option! You can hop on a Cinque Terre boat tour and sail to all of the villages except Corniglia. This boat is called the Cinque Terre Express ferry and operates in a similar way to the express train.
Or, if you just want to take a leisurely cruise out to sea in a smaller boat for the experience, you can. Riomaggiore and Vernazza are the best towns to take a private sunset boat tour so you can witness a completely alternative view of the town than most other visitors.
17. Eat Gelato in All Five Villages
You find great gelato in every town across the country, but you’ll also find bad gelato. Head to Alberto’s in Corniglia and Gelateria Vernazza in Vernazza to avoid disappointment. Pistachio and hazelnut are two winning flavours in both gelaterias.
Recommended tours in Cinque Terre
- Kayak Experience with Carnassa Tour in the Cinque Terre-Punta Mesco + Snorkeling
- Cinque Terre Sunset Boat Tour Experience
- Private Cinque Terre Trekking Tours
- Cinque Terre Private Boat Tour
- Cinque Terre Pesto Making Class, Boat Tour and Lunch
- Share your Pasta Love: Small group Pasta and Tiramisu class in Riomaggiore
- Happy Hour kayak tour with the Giant and Monterosso Lagoon
- Cinque Terre Walking Tour with Food and Wine Tastings
- Sensorial wine tasting in Manarola, Cinque terre
- Cinque Terre Private Wedding Proposals on Boat