The 5 villages of Cinque Terre, Italy, with their pastel-colored houses appeal to many travelers from across the world. And with good reason. The 5 towns dot the Ligurian coastline, the trails meander across the hills and the views are breathtaking from every angle. If you’re set on hiking in Cinque Terre, here are 10 essential things should read before you can start this World Heritage Site.
Short introduction to hiking Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre is not one village or town in Italy, but there are five villages. in the Italian Riviera. Cinque means 5 in Italian and Terre is earth or ground. The area known as Cinque Terre is made up of the Cinque Terre National Park and consists of the five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. I came over from Bologna, but it is easy to get here from anywhere in Italy.
232 km (144 miles) south of Milan and 112 km (70 miles) north of Pisa and 201 km (125 miles) from Florence, Cinque Terre is often visited on a day trip. Most people arrive by train from either La Spezia or Levanto and visit for a day. But if you wish to hike in Cinque Terre, I highly recommend to stay longer.
Essential Things to know before hiking Cinque Terre
But before you set out on your hike, there are certain things to know about Cinque Terre and vacationing here. You need to be prepared. Although distances between the villages are not big and you don’t have to climb mountains, it is important to be well-prepared. Especially during high season, when Cinque Terre is overrun by day trippers and holiday makers.
1.Where to hike
The fame of the Cinque Terre hiking trails comes from the 1990’s and early 2000 when all 5 villages were connected by hiking paths and trails. You could walk the whole stretch in one day or divide things up and stay overnight in each village. In 2011, a huge landslide damaged big stretches of the Cinque Terre trails and although repair work is scheduled, the trails have still not been restored to their former glory.
Sentiero Azzuro – Cinque Terre Blue Trail
The main trail, connecting the villages of Cinque Terre, is the Blue Trail.
It is important to know which stretches are open and where you can do your Cinque Terre hike:
- Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza: 4 km/2.5 miles long, with 257m (843 ft) altitude gain and 258m (846 ft) altitude loss.
- Vernazza to Corniglia: 3,5 km/2.2 miles, with 230 km (755 ft) altitude gain and 196m (643ft) altitude loss.
- Corniglia to Manarola: closed.
- Manarola to Riomaggiore, the famous “Via dell’ Amore (the lovers lane)” is also closed. Rumour has it, that this part of the Cinque Terre trails will reopen in 2021 but this has been postponed already more than once, so I’d love to see it first.
It is worth it to walk a tiny portion of the trail on the Manarola end, where you have stunning views on the bay and Corniglia in the distance. From Manarola train station, you can also walk a tiny part of the hiking section until a bar and restaurant (300m), which is particularly popular during sun set.
Other hiking trails in Cinque Terre National Park
Besides walking from one of the 5 villages in Cinque Terre to the next, the Cinque Terre National Park offers plenty of other great hiking options. You’ll walk further inland, away from the coast but you’re still in the Cinque Terre National Park. Check at the local tourist offices for maps and guided hikes.
2. You need a permit
The Cinque Terre hiking trails are protected by the Cinque Terre National Park. You can visit the different villages free of charge, but if you wish to walk from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza and from Vernazza to Corniglia (or vice versa), you need a permit. Luckily, permits are easily obtained and widely available, so you don’t have to be worried about missing out.
3. How to get a permit
Getting a permit for the Cinque Terre National Park couldn’t be easier. You can buy the Cinque Terre pass, that allows you access for the number of days in the park.
You can buy the Cinque Terre Pass:
- Online, by simple clicking here
- At the railway stations in Cinque Terre and La Spezia and Levanto
- At the tourist offices in the Cinque Terre National Park
- Some accommodations offer them too, check the best accommodations in Cinque Terre here.
- At the entrance of the National Parks
Don’t be fooled by the leisuresome attitude of the Italians. You will get checked a few meters into the trail and they won’t let you pass without a Cinque Terre Card that is validated.
Check for more details about the Cinque Terre Pass here.
4. How to get to the trail heads
The best way to get around Cinque Terre, when you’re not hiking, is to use the train. There are different passes for hiking, that include unlimited train travel in the region for the day.
From the train stations of Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza, the Cinque Terre trails are easily marked. In Corniglia, there is a free shuttle bus included in the Cinque Terre Pass or you can walk up the village by stairs where the trail starts and ends in the main square of Corniglia.
If you plan to take a boat or kayak tour, you can easily dock in one of the tiny harbours and go to the train station to pick up the trail from there.
Driving in Cinque Terre is possible, but absolutely not practical. There are not many roads in Cinque Terre and between the villages. And parking is an expensive nightmare. Much easier is to park the car in La Spezia or Levanto and take the train to Cinque Terre.
5. What to wear
Although 4 km (2.5 miles) doesn’t sound like a whole lot for a day hike and the altitude gain isn’t that much, don’t be fooled. The Cinque Terre hike is absolutely no walk in the park. Many ignorant tourists attempted to walk part of the trails in flip flops and this is now officially banned by the Cinque Terre National Park. They will check for this, so be prepared.
- Wear appropriate footwear. I prefer hiking shoes and I definitely needed them.
- Take comfortable clothes. I saw ladies hike in flowy dresses with a cosmopolitan floppy hat and heeled sandals. They seemed to be alright, but I was happy to wear my hiking tights, moisture wicking merino top and good hiking socks.
- Cover your head. It is Italy and the Ligurian coast catches an abundance of sunshine. Although some parts are covered by lush, shady trees, other parts are quite exposed.
6. What else to pack
At that time, I didn’t have any hiking poles yet, but since I discovered them, I wouldn’t do the Cinque Terre trails again without them. I was struggling with the steep steps and loose underground and lost my footing quite a few times.
I’d recommend to take hiking poles if you can, especially if you have weak knees. I have the Black Diamond trekking poles with adjustable height which are super easy to bring with you on holiday. If you prefer the same trekking poles as me, but with cork handles, then check the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Poles here. You can easily store them away when you don’t need them anymore. By boyfriend uses the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z trekking poles which are 1 size, but can be folded and are ultra-light weight.
I also recommend a small day pack. Maybe for some extra socks, your camera and a refillable water bottle like my LifeStraw Drink bottle or if you’re really thirsty, consider to take a water bladder.
And don’t forget your swimsuit! There are only a handful of bays along the trail but Monterosso al Mare has 2 perfect sandy beaches to refresh after a day of walking.
7. Best time to hike
I hiked the Cinque Terre trails at the end of April. Although the day started out with storm and rain, it soon became hot and sweaty. Our second day was filled with sunshine from the outset and I lost a million liters of sweat.
Summer months in Cinque Terre (June, July and August) have temperatures ranging from 26 to 29 degrees Celsius (78-84 F) on average but also 35 degrees (95F) and upwards are not uncommon. As these are also the most likely time for people from abroad to visit Cinque Terre, my advice would be to set out as early as possible. You can access the paths from sunrise to sunset, so there are plenty of options to choose the cooler hours of the day to hike it.
April and May are particular nice months to hike in Cinque Terre as spring is blossoming in Italy. September will have the hills filled with harvest activities. Weather can be unpredictable at these months, but still very nice.
From October to March, trails can be muddy, rainy and even closed. Always follow local advice about the conditions of the trails.
8. How much time do you need
I’d say: as much time as you can spare. We spend 3 full days in Cinque Terre and used 2 days to hike the trails. We could have spend another week and not be bored. If you take it easy on your hiking days, then you’ll have enough energy to explore the rest of Cinque Terre or take a sunset boat cruise.
But I get it, you wonder because you’ll probably visit on a day trip or have less time.
Can I hike both sections of the Cinque Terre trails in one day?
Yes, you can. It would only be 7,5 km (4.7 miles) and this can be done in 5 to 6 hours if you’re reasonably fit. But this would mean that you cannot spend a lot of time in Vernazza, one of Cinque Terre’s best places for food, aperitivo and gelato. And that you can’t linger too long for endless picture-taking and have less time to admire the view and coast line.
If you only have one day, I’d recommend to only hike one stretch (so either Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza or Vernazza to Corniglia). This way you get a taste of hiking the Cinque Terre coast line and can visit the other villages by train or boat.
2 days hiking Cinque Terre
We stayed in Cinque Terre and took the train early in the morning to Monterosso al Mare. We started our hike to Vernazza here. It took us 2,5 maybe 3 hours to reach Vernazza but I was (and probably still are) very out of shape. There are plenty of photo opportunities along the path, but especially walking towards Vernazza and seeing the town for the first time offers epic panoramic views.
On the second day, we returned to Vernazza by train and set out for the 2nd part of the trails. We walked from Vernazza to Corniglia. Along the way, we found even more secluded bays, sweeping views and a lovely place to stop for a drink, so it took us 5 hours to reach Corniglia.
In 2 days, we could hike the two open sections of the Cinque Terre trails and enjoy some of the five towns, without being too tired from walking and without any sort of travel guide. We took our time for drinks, lunch, gelato and just enjoying the lovely views.
9. How much money you need
Hiking is a fairly cheap activity but I was surprised at how expensive Cinque Terre is really. Although one gelato or espresso doesn’t cost the world, it quickly adds up.
On the trails, there are not many options to spend any money. That is why I recommend to bring a day pack with some snacks and plenty of water for a hot day. But on the rare occasion that you do encounter a local agriturismo or bar, you want to take full advantage.
Depending on where you’ll stay, what you’ll eat and where, your budget might be different than mine. Some costs we made while hiking in Cinque Terre:
- Cinque Terre Pass incl. unlimited train travel for 2 days: €29 per person
- Lovely Lemonade right before Corniglia with impressive views + cake: €13
- Ice cream and gelato. Loads of it. Approximately €3 to 3,50 for a 2 scoop ice cream.
- Entrance to Vernazza Castle: €3 for 2 persons
- Train ticket purchased at the machines: €4
10. What will your experience be like?
I probably never would have begun our Cinque Terre hike, if I’d know what the trails looked like and how hard it was (for me). But I did it and absolutely loved it. So there is a bit of a downfall to knowing everything in advance which might cause you to miss out on one of the greatest hikes in Europe! But here are some things to consider:
- The trail is not long but cannot be underestimated. Wear appropriate footwear and be reasonably fit.
- There are stairs. Especially the part from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza starts with what seems like endless stairs. The other parts also have stairs, steps and altitude changes.
- Although the path follows the Cinque Terre coast line and there is some altitude gain, I don’t think it is difficult to hike for people with vertigo. There is one small stone bridge that might be a bit scary to cross, but other than that, the trail is wide enough.
- The trails can become very busy. Especially in high season, Cinque Terre is overcrowded. Leave early and hike your own hike. It is not a race.
- The path is really easy to follow. There are signs, but you really don’t need them.
The short hikes in Cinque Terre were one of the most beautiful and rewarding hikes I’ve ever done in Italy. We slowly made progress across the mountains and saw the next village in the distance. It was an amazingly scenic way to discover one of the most beautiful regions of Italy. If you like the outdoors and are reasonably fit, you should definitely hike in Cinque Terre if you can!
Bonus: Cinque Terre Accommodation
There are plenty of amazing places to stay in Cinque Terre, so many that the question of where to stay in Cinque Terre is whether you want to stay in a great hotel in nearby La Spezia, a mid-range hotel right in one of the five villages, or a great AirBnB location in the area.
Luxury Hotels near Cinque Terre
Grand Hotel Portovenere — This is an amazing, and expensive, 5-star hotel right on the waterfront and a great place from which to explore the Cinque Terre villages. If you are wanting to splurge even more, ask for a room with a balcony overlooking the water. You won’t be disappointed in the level of service, the food and drink, or the willingness of the staff to accommodate all your needs in this luxury hotel.
Golfo dei Poeti Relais & Spa — This luxury hotel is a great base from which to not only enjoy the Cinque Terre walk, but also to explore the entire region. The three-floor hotel looks out on the sea and it is designed to blend seamlessly into the landscape. Protected by vegetation, it fits perfectly to the slope over Punta Corvo beach, beautifully following the cliffs and nature with a hanging garden on the second level. there are obviously lounges and umbrellas for some relaxation time and the spa is amazing.
Mid-Range Hotels near Cinque Terre
Hotel Firenze E Continentale — Set in an early 20th-century building, this polished hotel is a 2-minute walk from La Spezia train station and 7 km from the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre. Rooms come with free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and minibars. Upgraded rooms add terraces and the views from this hotel are incredible.
Ghironi Hotel — The relaxed rooms with simple furnishings and wood floors provide free Wi-Fi, satellite TV, desks and minibars. Many have private balconies. Upgraded rooms add garden views.
Mid-Range Hotels right in Cinque Terre
Giovanni Rooms Manarola — Located right in Riomaggiore, you can’t beat the location. The area’s natural beauty can be seen at Vernazza Beach and Monterosso Beach and WiFi is free in public locations of the hotel.
Hotel Il Saraceno — One of the more simple and better priced hotels in Cinque Terre, it is also located in Riomaggiore near the train station.
Have you been to Cinque Terre? Is visiting Cinque Terre on your to-do list? I hope I was able to offer you some essential information before your hike.
If you liked this story, share it on social media! And if you are a fan of longer hikes in Europe, you should also check out a self guided tour of du Mont Blanc.
This is a guest post by Naomi from Probe around the Globe. Naomi is infatuated with Roman Ruins, road trips and railway journeys. Discovering Italy when she was only 18 year old, started a deep love for Italy and different parts of the country. Cinque Terre is redoubtable part of that love story.
Love Cinque Terre. I think it’s a great thing that they have permits for the walks. Otherwise it would be so crowded, like so many other popular places in Europe
Loved reading about your insights to a hike I’ve heard nothing but positive things about. Thank you!