Cinque Terre is a jaw-droopingly gorgeous vacation destination. This Italian destination is unforgettable with vibrantly painted buildings stacked on cliff sides, fresh pesto and seafood, and a soft sea breeze along these five coastline cities along the Mediterranean Sea. It’s time Cinque Terre steals a bit of the spotlight of the ever-popular Amalfi Coast. While Amalfi is also a stunning destination, Cinque Terre is perfect for those seeking a more laid-back and low-key adventure.
Cinque Terre is a region in northwestern Italy comprised of five gorgeous small villages. In Italian, cinque means five and Terre means land, so essentially, Cinque Terre = Five Lands. The Five must-see villages are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. As the inspiration for the adorable and heartwarming movie Lucca, Disney fans will surely recognize this area as the basis for the made of movie town of Portorosso. While just as dreamy as the movie setting (without the sea creatures), this destination is sure to blow you away. This guide is dedicated to the best things to do, see, and experience in Cinque Terre, Italy.
THE BEST PARTS OF CINQUE TERRE
- Sunset views from the cliff in Riomaggiore. Nothing can fully prepare you for how breathtaking the sunset views over the sea from this perspective truly are.
- Spending time wandering through the towns. Wandering doesn’t sound like a “thing to do,” but it’s one of the best things to do in Cinque Terre. Take it slow, enjoy some snacks and sips along the way, and enjoy the views!
- The fresh seafood! Seafood lovers rejoice, for the dining options are plentiful. When a restaurant in Cinque Terre offers the fresh “fish of the day,” they mean fresh from the sea, probably that morning!
NAVIGATING THE LANGUAGE
Italian is the national language. As a Latin language, some words might be able to be interpreted without previous knowledge of the language. We found most younger people and those who worked in hospitality spoke very good English. The only times where there was a lack of communication were among older Italian citizens or those further outside of the main tourist areas.
However, any language barrier can always be quickly remedied by using Google Translate. While you definitely don’t need to know Italian to enjoy Cinque Terre, here are a few words that are helpful to know while exploring this city:
KEY ITALIAN PHRASES TO KNOW
- Buongiorno – pronounced bwahn-joor-no – means Good day (said before sundown)
- Buonasera – pronounced bweh-nah-seh-rah – means Good evening (said after sundown)
- Arrivederci – pronounced ah-ree-vah-dehr-chee – means Goodbye
- Ciao – pronounced chow – means Casual hello/goodbye (Say only after someone says it to you first, otherwise, use the more formal greeting and goodbye of buongiorno, buonasera, and arrivederci)
- Grazie – pronounced graht-seh – means Thank you
HOW SAFE IS CINQUE TERRE?
We always feel safe when visiting Cinque Terre. While you should always use wisdom and caution in life and traveling, we felt at ease in the region. You’ll find the train stations and piazzas are crowded, so you should be mindful of your surroundings, but we’ve never felt unsafe in Cinque Terre.
Italy uses the euro. If you’re wondering if you should bring cash or card, the answer is yes – both! Most nicer restaurants and larger stores accept cards. Still, you’ll almost always need cash for more local shops and smaller purchases of less than $30. I recommend using my favorite currency converter app to check the exchange rate when you go. This tool was also helpful when visiting smaller markets and asking the vendor, “how much?” (quanto? in Italian) They can type the number into the app like a calculator, and you can easily see the conversation rate there.
A helpful note about taking out foreign currency in cash:
The best practice (and cheapest) for having cash on hand in a new country is to go to your bank 5-10 business days before your trip and ask them for the new currency. Depending on your bank, this transaction will either be free or just a few dollars.
If you’re like us and realize the airplane tires hit foreign soil that we forgot to do this, then find an ATM to take out euros in cash! Yes, you can do this even with an international debit card and even some credit cards. There will typically be a small transaction fee along with the exchange rate. It’s still cheaper to take out cash this way than to go to a money exchange or Western Union.
ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO
Cinque Terre is a beautiful coastal region made up of five uniquely charming towns. While there are must-see gems in each of the five towns, here are some of the best things to do in the area:
- Hike the Cinque Terre trail. Lace up your hiking shoes, for this is no casual walk in the park! This scenic hiking trail connects the five picturesque coastal villages. It offers breathtaking views of the sea and the rugged coastline. If this is up your alley, start early and commit the entire day to the hike.
- Visit each of the five villages. Whether you’re hiking or taking the train (the more relaxing route!) to each village, every one of the small towns is a must-see, with colorful houses, narrow streets, and scenic harbors.
- Take a boat tour of the coastline. There’s no better way to see the rugged beauty of the shoreline than by taking a boat tour from one of the five villages. This boat tour is our all-time favorite boat experience! The captain is so much fun, the Prosecco is free-flowing, the snacks are great, and the views are still the best part.
- Relax on the beach. Cinque Terre offers several beautiful beaches, but our favorites are Riomaggiore’s large rocky beach and Monterosso al Mare’s flat, pebble beach. While both are perfect for swimming and sunbathing, Monterosso offers the views and facilities for a quintessential beach day.
- Explore the Castle of Riomaggiore. This ancient castle situated at the top of the village of Riomaggiore offers a panoramic view of the sea and the village.
WHAT & WHERE TO EAT
One of the best things about Cinque Terre is the abundance of delicious seafood and local cuisine available in this beautiful coastal region. Head to Ristorante Belforte in Vernazza for an authentic seafood dinner on a cliffside overlooking the Ligurian Sea. Try the hearty Genovese-style pesto pasta at Trattoria dal Billy in Manarola for a traditional option. Stop by Tutti Fritti in Riomaggiore for a crunchy, salty Frito Misto snack for a quick bite or snack. What should you order while traveling in Cinque Terre? We’ve got you covered!
DRINKS TO ORDER:
- WHITE WINE – Specifically Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino wine which is local to the region. Order a glass or liter of this local specialty while visiting Cinque Terre.
- LIMONCELLO SPRITZ – There’s little more refreshing than a chilled citrus spritz by the sea. Limoncello was initially made and popularized around the Amalfi Coast. Still, as the climates are similar, a few places in Cinque Terre make Limoncello themselves out of massive lemons. You’ll even find small souvenir bottles at some of the local shops.
- APEROL SPRITZ – Speaking of spritz, the iconic cocktail of Italians during aperitivo (happy hour), we’re pretty sure it’s impossible to have a bad Aperol Spritz in Italy. Chin chin! (Cheers!)
- ESPRESSO – need a caffeinated pick-me-up? You won’t see Italians sipping on large coffees. Instead, the typical way to order coffee is to walk into a bar (not like the bars in the States!) and order an espresso or doppio espresso (double espresso) to sip on quickly while standing at the counter.
FOOD TO ORDER:
- FRITO MISTO – The perfect snack or easy lunch, this is a piping hot to-go cone full of fried mixed seafood that’s fresh from the sea. Order a cone and take a walk toward the water and enjoy!
- PESTO – Because pesto was invented in Liguria, the region Cinque Terre is located in, it’s a must-order for any dinner while visiting! (Unless you’re allergic to pine nuts, of course.)
- FOCACCIA – This famous bread is another glorious invention from Liguria. Whether you order it by itself or as a delicious focaccia pizza, this fluffy baked goodness will always hit the spot.
- GELATO – A no-brainer, nothing beats relaxing along on the Mediterranean with a gelato in hand. Need it dairy free? Order a sorbetto (sorbet). For tips on ordering the best gelato, check out our essential tips you need to know before visiting Italy!
WHERE TO STAY IN CINQUE TERRE
This is a friendly reminder to NOT schedule Cinque Terre as a day trip. If you see a guide that says otherwise, run. There’s simply no way to visit each town and enjoy your time without staying at least one, preferably two nights.
Hotels aren’t as common in these smaller towns, but there are plenty of reputable vacation rentals to choose from. After several visits and scoping out the best areas, we’ve curated here are some of our top picks: (All recs have AC, wifi and a view!)
- BEST FOR: quiet, clean, and comfortable airbnb with a cute balcony with great view (pictured above)
- LOCATION: Riomaggiore
- BEST FOR: cozy B&B with friendly staff and free breakfast located near the train station
- LOCATION: Manarola
- BEST FOR: spacious, modern apartment near the train station with incredible outdoor space
- LOCATION: Riomaggiore
HOW TO GET AROUND CINQUE TERRE
Get your walking shoes on! The only ideal way to navigate through each town is by foot as most are blocked off to cars anyway. However, you can easily hop on a train to get from one town to the next. We highly recommend getting a Cinque Terre Pass for the day, which can be purchased for about $18 in person at the train station – just make sure to pop it into one of those little validation machines before boarding – it’s the only thing that authenticates each ride. The best way to get to Cinque from other cities like Milan, Rome, or Florence is by train or car. If you’d like to rent a car, remember you will barely use it in the city. No matter which city you’re coming from by train, you’ll most likely have to transfer from a larger train to the regional train in La Spezia. From there, it takes only a few minutes to arrive at the first town of Riomaggiore.