Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages on the north west shore of Italy along the Ligurian Riviera offering stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and a perfect place to unwind and enjoy an Aperol Spritz.
My favorite part about Cinque Terre is how difficult it is to access. It is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site because its inaccessibility has left the area untouched by modern department stores and mega builds and allows for a step back into a more peaceful time.
The five villages of Cinque Terre date back to the Middle Ages and are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. My family and I recently had the opportunity to explore these beautiful villages.
*Quick Tip: It’s pronounced (Cheen Kwah Terra) and literally translates to Five Lands.
Monterosso is the northern-most village of Cinque Terre and where we rented a hotel room. It boasts relaxing beaches, a historic city center with narrow alleyways, a robust nightlife and plenty of excellent restaurants. Speaking of restaurants, Monterosso has many delicious seafront options. Every morning we enjoyed cappuccino and pastries at Bar Gio’ with a view of the Mediterranean.
Monterosso is perfect for the traditional, relaxing beach day. You can rent an umbrella/chair combination at one of the cabanas and spend the day laying along the shore, swimming, and enjoying snacks and beverages at the café.
*Quick tip: Arrive early. The private beaches, which are the nicer ones with the most amenities, open at 8:30 and the umbrellas and chairs usually sell out by 10:00 each day during the peak season of June-August.
I don’t have a favorite place to eat in Monterosso because everything we had was delicious. We usually chose to have dinner along the shore in this village because there were many options with great views and the sunset here is beautiful. My favorite dishes in this area are the seafood pasta and the caprese salad.
*Quick tip: Make a reservation. Because of Covid-19, seating was limited. So, if there is a specific restaurant you really want to try, then make a reservation.
Vernazza is a beauty with great energy. Its protected cove offers the perfect spot to swim surrounded by historic seaside architecture. More confident swimmers can jump off rocks from this village into the open sea. Many people sunbath and relax on the half-moon shaped rock structure that protects the cove.
A tower on the cliff provides stunning elevated views of the Mediterranean Sea and a different perspective of the village.
All the villages are pretty, but to me this is the prettiest village of the five. We spent the morning of the first full day of our trip in Vernazza, swimming and exploring its narrow alleyways built in the Middle Ages.
Corniglia is a charming clifftop village with narrow alleyways and some of the best gelato I have ever eaten. It’s not easily accessible, but worth the trek to explore. From the train station, you have to walk about a quarter of a mile and then climb 377 steps to get to it. Not the most fun experience on a sunny day in late July, but well worth it.
Because of its elevated position, the views from this village are stunning.
Back to the gelato…Corniglia is home to the best gelato I have ever tasted…Alberto Gelateria. Try the basil flavored gelato topped with olive oil. I know, it sounds strange, but your taste buds will thank you. My daughter enjoyed the Nutella flavored gelato.
Manarola boasts beautiful and colorful architecture. Its main attraction for the adventure seeker is the cliff jumping opportunities for all skill levels. The swimming options in this village are picturesque and consist mainly of lagoons and protected coves.
We swam in Manarola for hours. Jumping off the rocks into the lagoon was my daughter’s favorite part of the whole vacation. My husband jumped from the highest rock, which is estimated at being as high as a three-story building.
Best food in Manarola is hidden gem of Cappun Magru. The flavors were so well balanced and the dishes are traditional Genoa recipes.
Riomaggiore is the southern-most village of Cinque Terre and offers great swimming for adults. This picturesque village is steep and the colorful houses slope up the side of the mountain wasting no real estate.
A steep, protected trail along the edge of the cliffs offers picturesque views of the sea and the colorful buildings of the village.
This village seemed quieter and less crowded than the other villages, but it may have just been our timing.
I hope this post helps you better understand the differences between the five villages of Cinque Terre, Italy. Each has its own unique beauty and is worth exploring. My top three were Vernazza, Monterosso and Manarola, but you may enjoy one of the others more.