Hiking the Cinque Terre in Italy

Julie Italy 12 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

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 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.

Town #1: Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

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 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.  Tyler and Kara coined a new term from Tim’s mishap, “doing the Daddy.”

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.

Manarola

Manarola Cinque Terre

Town #3: 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.

Steps from the train station into Corniglia.

Steps to Corniglia

Corniglia

Walking through Corniglia

Town #4: Vernazza

After spending a very short time in Corniglia, we hiked to Vernazza, the fourth town of the day. Finally, the trail was open. By now it was over 90 degrees and the sun was incredibly hot.

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

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, with 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

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.

 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 5Terre 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!

Post updated June 2017.


Continue the Journey:


Want to learn more about traveling in Italy? Check out our Italy Travel Guide.

Comments 12

  1. Hi, thank you so much for all the info! Just a few questions:
    1. We are coming from Milan. Do you know if we have to buy our ticket passes in advance or can we buy them the day of?
    2. Is the trail easy to find when you get to the town of Monterosso? (that is where we are starting)
    3. Any helpful tips for what to pack on the hike?
    4. If you did this all in one day, what time did you get there? If we get in around 11:05am, can we still do the whole trail or would it be more ideal to only do some of the towns?

    Thank you so much for all your help! I’ve been using your website and it is awesome 🙂

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Savannah. You can buy your ticket passes the day you arrive in Monterosso to start your hike. In Monterosso, you can buy your pass at the railway station. It’s just a few more euros to buy the pass that allows you to use the trails and take unlimited trips on the train. This is a good idea just in case some of the trails are closed, forcing you to use the train, or if you get short on time. In Monterosso the trail starts just in front of Hotel Ristorante Porto Roca. If you look on Google Maps, you will see a dashed line…that is the trail. Bring sunscreen, hiking shoes or sturdy walking shoes, euros, your camera, a bottle of water per person, and your smartphone so you can use Google Maps if you need it. At each town you can buy food and drink. Starting at 11 am is a bit late day but it’s still possible to hike it all, if you are fast. It also depends on what time the sun sets. That’s why it’s a good idea to have the Treno Card so you can ride the train between towns if necessary. I love the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza…you get such great views of both of these cities. Have fun! Cheers, Julie

  2. Heading to Italy tomorrow, and finding your blog has really helped with some plans! Your writing is very honest and from the heart. Clear and concise. Many thanks for the great info and tips!

    1. Post
      Author
  3. Hi Jules, love all the colorful pictures & especially your tour with all the best descriptions. Tuscany has always been on my bucket list to see. We want to take a cooking class. The cliffs along each coast are amazing! The Blue Grotto looked so interesting, & yes worth it! We miss you so very much, keep posting, & Tyler too, great writer, hmm, wonder where he got that from. Tell Tim to stop doing the “daddy show off stuff” I believe Kara needs more time in the cool water at the beache! She needs her feet!! Maybe a bathing suit too! Stay safe!!! Leslie:)

    1. Post
      Author

      Hey Leslie. I miss you too. Italy has been great, just arrived in Germany late tonight. You will love Tuscany. The food and wine is very good. Keep in touch!
      Julie

  4. Hi Julie,
    I am so thoroughly enjoying reading about your trip. Your photos are spectacular! Those in Italy take me back to our trip a few years ago. We loved everything about Italy, so glad you’re having such a wonderful experience.
    Linda

  5. Hi Julie

    Beautiful pictures. I was not aware of this area till now. I will bookmark this place for a potential family trip in future. Look forward to your next location report.

    Vinod

  6. Hi! I love the amount for detail you include in your descriptions. I feel like I’m there with you. I’m sure it’s hard to keep up with all the documenting but it’s so wonderful for us!

  7. I’m really enjoying following your world tour via your blog. Great pics! Thanks for sharing your adventure. Safe travels!

  8. Cinque Terra is in the top ten of my travel wishlist! I was hoping it would be a stop in your trip. 🙂 Thanks for sharing all of your photos and thoughts on the hike. And I’m with the kids…the paddle boat with slide is AWESOME! Happy travels!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *