What to do in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy is a charming collection of five villages along the Mediterranean Sea.  Its kaleidoscope of colorful architecture from the Middle Ages, access to beautiful beaches, delicious dining and hiking trails make it a popular Italian vacation destination.

Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national park.  The villages of Cinque Terre are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. 

My family and I had an amazing time in Cinque Terre. It was so great that we are already planning our next trip.

*Quick tips: Cinque Terre’s season is March to November. It’s pronounced (Cheen Kwah Terra) and literally translates to Five Lands

Below are some of the things we think you should do and see in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Cliff Jump in Manarola

Manarola offers swimming options for all ages and thrill-seeking levels.  It is not a traditional beach.  It’s more like a collection of lagoons with large, natural rock structures rising upward from the water. 

Two guys stand on the rock cliffs in the village of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy at sunset.

The most popular of these is located right in the center.  It offers jump ledges for every skill and nerve level from one foot from the water to the height of a three-story building.  The water is deep enough, but only barely.  Many of the people who jumped from the highest ledge spoke of skimming the bottom. 

My daughter jumped from the two-foot height, I chose the four-foot ledge and of course my husband chose the highest.  It looked thrilling.  I was just nervous about the potential of skimming the bottom. 

We stayed here swimming and cliff jumping for hours…no exaggeration. This is not a relaxing swimming area, but it is definitely exciting and worth a visit.

Travel by Train or Boat

If you drive to Cinque Terre, park your car at your hotel and do not get back into it until it’s time to leave.  The roads connecting the villages are narrow and not easy to navigate. 

When we were driving down to Monterosso to our hotel, there were actually parts of the road that had eroded off the side of the cliff, making a nerve wrecking experience even worse. 

Trust me.  Use the train or a boat. 

The Cinque Terre Express connects the five villages, is easy and affordable to use and offers consistent and reliable schedules.  We bought a two-day pass for my husband and I.  They do not offer a two-day pass for children.  So, we just purchased two of the one day passes for my daughter.

The Cinque Terre Ferry has stops at Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  It is a beautiful way to see the villages from the sea.  We chose to take the ferry all the way from Monterosso and departing in Riomaggiore on our second morning.  We then used the train on our way back to Monterosso stopping along the villages we wanted to revisit. There is not a stop in Corniglia.  If you choose to use the ferry the whole day, be aware of the time because the last ferry pickup in some villages is 5:00 p.m., which in the summer, seems a bit early since there is so much daylight remaining.   

The large white ferry boat in Cinque Terre, Italy docked at the shore in Monterosso.

You can also book private boat tours.

Explore the Five Villages

Each of the five villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore) is charming with plenty of amazing photo opportunities, swimming options, historic architecture, and food.  Stroll through the narrow alleyways and, as hokey as it may sound, observe their stories. 

View of the village of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Because Cinque Terre is difficult to access by a major road, it has been left remarkably untouched.  Colorful fishing villages rising up from the Mediterranean Sea, perched precariously along the sloping edges of mountains.

Eat, Drink and Eat some more

If you leave Cinque Terre without eating seafood pasta, were you ever really there?  Obviously, I’m joking, but it’s delicious and a staple of every menu.  I mean it’s Italy…and you’re by the water. I think we had it three times. 

My next advice is super specific.  In Manarola, after exiting the train tunnel take a right and follow the main road up the mountain, keep going.  You will come to a small, non-descript restaurant…it is the epitome of “hidden gem.” It was one of the BEST places we ate at in all of Italy.  It’s called Cappun Magru and offers traditional Genoa recipes. 

Food from Cappun Magru.

The chef makes a limited number of each recipe per day and when the item is sold out, it is not replaced.  So, arrive early.  The recipes are perfectly flavored.  The restaurant is tiny – three tables inside with three high top tables on the patio.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Last food advice.  In Corniglia, up the main alley is the Alberto Gelateria, home to the most unique and delicious gelato flavors.  My husband and I had the Basil flavored gelato topped with olive oil.  Sounds weird, right?  But it tastes delicious.  My daughter had the Nutella gelato.  Getting to Corniglia by train is a beast because once you depart from the train station you must climb 377 steps to reach the city.  I would make the trek again and again just for the gelato…and the views.

Basil flavored gelato from Alberto Gelateria.

Hike from Village to Village

While I didn’t personally hike from village to village because it was July and the sea was calling to us, I wanted to let you know about the beautiful hiking opportunities in Cinque Terre.  If you want to check out hiking specifics, view Wandering Wanda’s hike.

Experience the Beaches

Beach at Monterosso in Cinque Terre, Italy.  Colorful umbrellas and beach chairs are lined up in symmetrical rows.

Each village in Cinque Terre has its own unique beach.  Here is a quick description of each.

  • Monterosso – Traditional beach, rent umbrella and chairs, easy access to refreshments, panoramic views.
  • Vernazza – Surrounded by beautiful architecture, safe bay for young children, open sea swimming and rock jumping for a thrill.
  • Corniglia, – No convenient beach access from village.
  • Manarola – Protected lagoons for swimming and plenty of rock jumping opportunities for thrill seekers.
  • Riomaggiore – Difficult spot for children, nice for adults, requires climbing onto rocks to lounge.

If you want more details about the beaches, visit my previous post: Best Beaches in Cinque Terre, Italy.

I love Cinque Terre, Italy.  It is a stunning, relaxing destination with so much character and history combined with delicious food, wine and fun.  I hope this post inspires you to plan your own trip to Cinque Terre. 

Published by Lex

Hi, I'm Lex! I moved to Europe in July 2019 and my goal is to seize every opportunity to explore this beautiful continent. I hope you will join me on this crazy adventure. Quick facts about me: I'm a mother of one and a wife. In addition to my husband and daughter, I also love coffee, wine, kickboxing, history, architecture, photography and reading.

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