Riomaggiore, one of the villages of Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre: What you should know before visiting

Cinque Terre, they are five easy-going Italian fishing villages turned to one of the most famous coastal landscapes in the world. The Cinque Terre has been through a few changes, but it still looks every bit as gorgeous as you’d imagine. It is a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site; with up to 2.4 million people a year visiting the Cinque Terre. They go there to walk, boat and train their way through its dramatic cliffs and pretty coastal villages.

What and where is the Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre National Park is the smallest and oldest National Park in Italy from 1999. It covers an area of only 15 square miles but packs plenty of gorgeous scenery into a small space, with a mix of rocky cliffs, scenic coves, clear blue waters, terraced vineyards and olive groves linked by a network of footpaths.

The Cinque Terre is located just south of Genoa in northwest Italy. It’s within easy reach of the airports at Genoa, Pisa, Rome, Florence and Nice by mainline train, and there’s a local train between La Spezia and Levanto which stops at each of the villages.

People often talk about the Cinque Terre like it’s one place, but it’s actually a stretch of Italian Riviera coastline with five separate villages.

Running from north to south the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each one of the five is a beauty, with pastel buildings tumbling down the hillsides and sparkling sea views, but each has its own different character.

How long should I stay there?

If you’re really tight on time you could ‘do’ the Cinque Terre in one day by starting early and walking straight through from one end to the other. There are a lot of day trips available from other Italian cities like Florence, Pisa or Milan which include travel. Or you could take the train or boat from one village to the next and spend around an hour in each.

But you wouldn’t be really doing it justice, and you’d be missing out on the best time of day. Between 10am and 4pm villages are rammed with day-trippers. But come the evenings things calm down and there’s much more of a relaxed feel.

Ideally you’d want to spend three or four days visiting the Cinque Terre to give you time to explore each village, do a couple of half-day walks and a boat trip along the coast. The villages have a different atmosphere at different times of day, so staying for a few days gives you time to decide on your favorite and go back for sunset or dinner.

And if you’ve got more time, there are plenty more walks you can do, or you could travel further afield and visit the neighboring towns of Portovenere, Levanto or La Spezia.

Best time to visit Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre’s never exactly quiet – peak season runs all the way from Easter until October. But to avoid the worst of the crowds, steer clear of July and August. Accommodation gets booked up really far in advance in the summer. It can be really hot and dry, with average highs of 29ºC/84ºF, so isn’t the best time for walking.

Shoulder season – May and September – is a good time for visiting the Cinque Terre, with warm days around and fewer people than in peak season. Spring sees average high temperatures around 17–21ºC/63–70ºF and is mostly dry. October and November are the wettest months and there’s a risk of heavy thunderstorms causing landslips.

During the off-season you can get a bargain and have the paths to yourself in December and January. Though some restaurants and accommodation closes down in winter. And you risk boats being suspended and hiking trails closed in bad weather.

For centuries, the only way you could get between the Cinque Terre villages was on foot. And it’s still the best way to get around, with a constant stream of gorgeous sea views. There’s a mix of coastal and hillside paths to choose from.

Don’t miss trying the local seafood, with cones of fried calamari, shrimp and anchovies available everywhere. It goes brilliantly with the local white wine. The hills behind the villages are covered in vineyard terraces. You can do a tasting at some of the wineries.

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