Hiking the Cinque Terre: What You Need to Know

Julie Italy 51 Comments

The Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a group of five towns perched on the dramatic coastline of Italy, just north of Pisa. The towns are easily recognizable, with their pastel buildings stacked on top of one another, overlooking the harbors below. Each town offers something a little bit different than the others, and part of the fun of visiting the Cinque Terre is picking your favorite one. Hiking the Cinque Terre is one of the best ways to explore these five towns.

Hiking the Cinque Terre

About the Trail

The towns can be visited by bus, boat, train, or by hiking trail. We chose the hiking option.

There is a 11 km trail (called the Blue Trail) connecting Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare. Some portions of the trail are very easy to walk, such as the paved section connecting Riomaggiore to Manarola, and other sections climb up and over hillsides with spectacular views along the coast. It takes about 5 hours to hike the entire distance, not counting the time to explore and linger in each town.

In order to hike the trail we had to purchase tickets.  There are various options for this, but the ticket is absolutely necessary. At every town we had to pass a checkpoint and show our tickets. We purchased the Treno Cinque Terre Card, which gave us unlimited trips on the trains for the day.

Distances and Difficulty Levels on the Blue Trail:
  • Riomaggiore to Manarola:  1.5 km, easy,  30 minutes, also called “Lover’s Lane”
  • Manarola to Corniglia:  3 km, easy, 1 hour
  • Corniglia to Vernazza:  4 km, moderate, 1.5 hours
  • Vernazza to Monterosso:  3.5 km, moderate, 1.5 hours

Town #1: Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore

Our day started off very warm, without a cloud in the sky. We chose to start in Riomaggiore, because we wanted to end with a swim in the ocean at Monterosso’s beach. Unfortunately, the first section of trail, the easiest section to Manarola, was closed because of a recent rock slide.  This was not a good start to our day.

We had the option to take the train to Manarola or hike a much more difficult trail (not the Blue Trail) to the next town. Anxious to get started and not thrilled about having to wait 45 minutes for the next train, we chose to hoof it over the mountain.

After some difficulty finding the trailhead, our hike finally started. The trail took us up a succession of stone staircases and steep hill climbs. Within minutes we were out of breath and very hot. Who’s idea was this?

High over the Cinque Terre

The trail on top of the mountain took us through vineyards. We were rewarded for our hard work with great views over Riomaggiore and the coastline. Since we were one of the only crazy ones who decided to make this climb we were almost on our own.

Hiking Cinque Terre Kids

During the descent into Manarola Tim had a wipeout. He turned to look back at Tyler, who was stumbling, and in the process Tim’s foot slipped off of the trail. His weight pitched him off the trail, he fell through some brush and landed on the hillside five feet below the level of the trail. Tim somehow emerged from this without a scratch on him, giving us all a good laugh.

Town #2: Manarola

We safely finished the rest of the hike into Manarola. It was still early in the day and already we were hot and tired.

We bought breakfast at a grocery store, spent a little time exploring the town, and then had to decide what to do about getting to the third town, Corniglia.

Again, the trail was closed. Would we ever get to hike the main Cinque Terre trail? Once again, we had the option to either hike up and over another mountain, this hike being twice as long as the first one we did, or take the train to Corniglia. We chose the train. We still had a long, hot day in front of us and Kara was already beginning to run out of steam.

Manarola

Manarola Cinque Terre

Manarola

Town #3: Corniglia

To get from the train station into Corniglia you have to climb this long series of wide steps into town. It still felt like we were hiking even though we had just taken the train!

Steps to Corniglia

In Corniglia, we only spent a little bit of time before hiking to the next town, Vernazza.

Corniglia

Walking through Corniglia

Town #4: Vernazza

Finally, the trail was open. By now it was over 90 degrees and the sun was incredibly hot.

To get from Corniglia to Vernazza we hiked on dusty, rocky paths, up and down endless stone steps, and through many more vineyards. The views were spectacular. This would have been much more enjoyable if it weren’t so crazy hot. Towards the end of this portion of the hike Kara kept warning us that her feet were going to explode.

Corniglia

Cinque Terre Kids

Finally, we made it to the most beautiful town of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza (with all feet intact).

Overlooking Vernazza

Vernazza is beautiful, and it was extremely crowded during the brief period of time we spent there. All of these towns can be explored in less than a half an hour, but be prepared to walk up and down some steep inclines.

We wandered away from the main street through Vernazza and went to Alberto Gelateria for a much needed break. This was the best gelato we had so far, and it was so good that we went back for seconds!

Vernazza

Vernazza

Town #5: Monterosso al Mar

Finally, we had the last section to hike to Monterosso. This is the most strenuous stretch of the Cinque Terre, another mountainous hike lasting 3 km. Fortunately, Kara got her second wind. Two hours later, a very sweaty, tired family of four arrived in Monterosso. It was time for that much deserved swim!

Almost in Monterosso

Monterosso al Mar

Monterosso

Once in Monterosso we plopped down at the beach for a much needed swim in the ocean. This was the perfect way to end our hike.

Thoughts About the Hike

So, what do we think about the hike now that it is over? It was a great experience, the views were incredible, and there was something very cool about hiking through the hillside vineyards. Cooler temperatures would have made the hike more enjoyable, but it was July, so it was going to be hot. It wasn’t terrible, and the heat just made the gelato and the swimming that much more enjoyable.

For anyone who wants to see the Cinque Terre and have an active, adventurous day, hiking the trail is a great option.

Julie Rivenbark Photographer

As for our favorite town, Monterosso was the winner. Monterosso is the largest of the five towns, and with its two beaches, multitude of water sports, and its wonderful energy, we loved it here. In fact, we spent our second day in Cinque Terre relaxing on the beach and renting the paddle boat/slide that Tyler and Kara loved so much.

Vernazza was the prettiest, Corniglia was the quietest, Manarola had a great harbor, and Riomaggiore was the best place to sit and watch the sunset.

In the past few years, the Cinque Terre has become one of Italy’s most visited destinations. From May through September, the cities and the hiking trails can get very crowded. If you visited or hiked the Cinque Terre during the summer months in 2017 or 2018, how was your experience? We would love to hear about your experience and it would help future readers know what to expect during their visit. Let us know in the comment section at the end of this article.

Tips on Hiking the Cinque Terre

For information on visiting Cinque Terre on a budget, read our post The Cinque Terre for Budget Travelers. We give tips and advice how to keep costs low but still enjoy the best that the Cinque Terre has to offer.

The hike can be done in either direction.  To get the hardest hiking over with first, start in Monterosso. Once you reach Corniglia, and assuming all of the trails are open, the easier sections will be at the end.

For those who are very ambitious, there are trails that go even higher into the mountains for some of the best views of the area. The Cinque Terre information points in each town have maps of these trails.

There are different options for buying the Cinque Terre Park Card.  For €7.50 per person you can hike the trails and take the buses connecting the 5 towns, and for € 16 per person or € 42 euros for a family of four, you can hike, take the bus, and take the trains from Levanto to La Spezia. There are also multi-day passes available.  For more information click here.

Water bottles can be refilled at the public water fountains in each town.  As long as the fountain does not say “non-potable” the water is safe to drink. We drank gallons of water out of the public fountains all throughout Italy.

As with our experience, trails close frequently.  The day before our hike the trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola was open. There was a rockslide during the night which covered part of the trail, making it inaccessible. Check with the information offices before starting any hike for trail closures.

Sections of the trail are true hiking.  Make sure you wear appropriate footwear, bring sunscreen, and don’t forget those water bottles.

And don’t forget your swimsuit! What better way to cool off than a swim in the Mediterranean Sea!


Where We Stayed:  We were traveling on a budget so we stayed in La Spezia at Hotel Birillo. This is a small, budget hotel. It was very basic, with small rooms, an interesting bathroom (you actually had to walk through the shower to get into the bathroom), but it was only a five minute walk to the train station. If you are traveling on a budget, consider staying in La Spezia to save money.


More Information for Your Trip to Italy:

Planning a trip to Italy? Read all of our articles in our Italy Travel Guide.

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Hiking the Cinque Terre
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Comments 51

  1. Hi, I am planning a trip with family from Aug 9-18. I plan to visit Rome, Florence, Tuscany and your above-mentioned trail of Cinque Terre. I am avoiding Amalfi coast as I read blogs about it being very crowded in Aug. What other offbeat things can I do around Florence/Tuscany? Aug 15 would be a national holiday and many things might be closed, so what should I be doing on this day?

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      Hello Shalini. You could rent a car and drive through Tuscany, visiting the small hill towns. We did this and loved it. Most shops and restaurants were closed in Pienza during our visit but it was still a nice visit. As for the Cinque Terre, you can contact your hotel to see if and what will be closed in August. I know that many Italians take their vacations in August so that more places might be closed, but that does not mean that everything will be closed. You can still walk the Cinque Terre, explore the towns, and go to the beach. Cheers, Julie

  2. Hi, loved re-living Cinque Terre through your blog. We visited in June 2018 with our 2 boys (4 & 7). We were worried how they would cope on the walks but they managed fine. The ladies in the Tourist Office at Levanto, where we stayed, were great giving us advice on the trails and the easiest direction to go with the kids. We did Cornigila to Vernazza one morning and Vernazza to Monterosso another morning. Definitely recommend starting early to avoid the crowds and heat, there’s narrow sections where it’s hard to pass. Going the direction we went had the added bonus of staying close to the cliff face rather then the cliff edge when passing people. The stairs into Monterosso would be very difficult going up rather than down. Our kids loved the slide paddle boat too but we loved swimming the best at Manarola and jumping off the rocks. Love reading all about your adventures.

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  3. Hi Julie! I’m in Corniglia now and tomorrow I’m heading towards Manarola and Riomaggiore. Can I expect the hike to be as strenuous going southeast as it was for you going northwest? July is an awful month for this with the heat and humidity but I am stubbornly going to hike it!

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      Hello Ali. If you are in Corniglia and will be hiking to Riomaggiore, that section of the trail is relatively easy (easier than Corniglia to Monterosso). But yes, the heat can be bad, and this year, with the heat wave, it has been even worse. We are currently in the Swiss Alps and even here it is warm. Have fun in the Cinque Terre! Cheers, Julie

  4. Hi Julie,

    Thank you for all your great posts, we have used your blog on numerous trips and then again just while daydreaming at work! I am hoping you can give me a little guidance. We are returning to Italy for a 12 day trip. Last time, we hung out in Venice, Rome, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast and loved every second.
    This time we are flying into Milan, thinking Florence/Tuscany area, Cinque Terre for sure, but then I was thinking of Lucerne and the Bernese Oberland, but now I am worried everything will be closed because we are traveling in mid April (school breaks). Thoughts/suggestions? Lake Como area was on the list too and it still could be, but in April, I wasn’t sure?
    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Jessica

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      Funny you should mention Lucerne and the Bernese Oberland. As I write this, I am in Zurich and heading into the Bernese Oberland tomorrow (for our first time). I don’t honestly know what the Bernese Oberland would be like in April, but Lucerne and Lake Como should be very nice. We were in Lake Como/Lugano the past few days and it was wonderful. I think things in that area would be quiet in April which might be nice. I recommend looking into ferry schedules for Varenna and Bellagio on Lake Como in April to see if they are running frequently. It might be best to save the Bernese Oberland and Lucerne for a visit between June and September, when more is open and you can do hikes and walks in the mountains. But you could stick with your Italy plan and include Lake Como. It’s an easy day trip from Milan or you can stay longer at Bellagio or Varenna. I will be writing about how to day trip to Como, but it might take several months (sorry) as we are traveling for the next 6 weeks. Cheers, Julie

  5. I share your enthusiasm for the magnificent views hiking Cinque Terre. We took a simplified version of the hike from Manarola to Corniglia, beginning with a shuttle taking us up to a point from where it was 3 km. to Corniglia. You describe the hike as an easy 1-hour hike, as do others. I’m not experienced, or in magnificent condition, but I found parts of the way very challenging (with two walking sticks), and, more unfortunate than Tim, I fell about 8 to 10 feet off the path towards Corniglia. Seven stitches and 7 broken vertebrae later, I’ve got some lovely photos and memories, along with some less compelling memories of helicopter evacuation and hospital emergency rooms, as well as several days on my back before it was safe to move on. By all means, do make the hike, but appreciate that the trail — even “easy” parts — can be unforgiving.

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      Wow, I’m so sorry this happened to you. Thank you for sharing your experience and I wish you a speedy recovery. Cheers, Julie

  6. Hi there
    Stumbled across your fantastic website whilst researching my forthcoming trip to the Cinque Terre in August.

    Also wanted to say what great photos you have taken. Just stunning!!! Can I ask which focal length would be best for the Cinque Terre or you found yourself using the most?

    Many thanks

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      The lens that I use is a 24-70 mm lens. Most of these shots were taken at or near 24 mm. Glad you like our pix! Cheers, Julie

  7. Thank you sooooooo much! What a great post! Very helpful information! I was so distracted planning my day trip to Cinque Terre until I came across this post! It made my mind. You did a great job. Thank you so much. And thank you to Tyler and Kara for being part of this adventure.

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