Julie Italy 78 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

Important Update:  One of our readers just informed us that the trail between Riomaggiore and Corniglia is permanently closed until 2021 for restoration. 

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 (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 Cinque Terre


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.


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.


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.



Town #5: Monterosso al Mar

Finally, it was time for the final 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


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. 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 2019 or 2020, 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 (sturdy walking shoes are sufficient and hiking shoes are ideal), 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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Comments 78

  1. We returned last week from hiking in the Cinque Terre. Being August it was of course very hot, and although we are keen walkers, we found some of the steep uphills rather a struggle. We walked from Monterosso to Vernazza and then on the Corniglia. (Tip: on the latter section there is an isolated bar at the top of the climb – most welcome!) The stretch between Corniglia and Riomaggiore is sadly still closed.

    We did the walk as part of a self-guided one-week walking holiday ‘The Cinque Terre and Portofino’. We started in Camogli, a beautiful town, and did a day walk from there to Portofino (ditto) with interesting stops on the way. Next stop was Bonassola (OK) but a walk from there was of little interest. And then we hiked on to Monterosso! We realised that it would have been better to organise the trip ourselves – more flexibility to choose the places we wanted to see – and the paths are clearly marked, so the elaborate route notes were unnecessary.

    One more thing. Because the Blue Trail was closed, we visited Manarola and Monterosso by boat. On the same day we also visited Portovenere, which is not one of the five towns, but just as good, interesting, beautiful and lively. Well worth a visit or even an overnight stop.

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      Wow, lots of great tips here. Thanks so much! I’m beginning to wonder if the blue trail between Riomaggiore and Corniglia will ever reopen. Sounds like you had a cool trip, walking from town to town along the coast. Cheers, Julie

  2. Julie, Excellent site. Thank you so much. I have never traveled Italy. We ( my husband, and another couple ) 4 adults are traveling May 2020. After Rome, Tuscany, Florence we will be in CT 2 nights, staying in Manarloa. We have decided to drive since we are heading to Lake Como and Switzerland after and a car seems most convient. I have three questions. 1. We would like to do part of the hike. We are staying in Manarloa. What part do you recomend, it seems like several parts are closed. 2. Are there boats you can rent, i cant seem to find any information on that, and that seems like a fun option to see the towns from a differnt view. 3 Is there a public parking area, i know we will need to walk to our hotel but where can you park in Manarola? Thank you for your help.. Also if anyone has driven through various countries, i would love your option. I know the trains are popular but i feel like having a car would be best for us. I just dont know about crossing borders. We are going to Switzerland, Germany and Austria afterwards.

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      Hello Pamela. I’m glad you like our site! The best sections of the trail, in my opinion are between Corniglia and Vernazza, and Vernazza to Monterosso. Check the trail closures before you go and fill in the gaps with the train. I don’t know much about the boats since we did not do this, but you could look on Trip Advisor or Get Your Guide for companies that run boat tours here. Check with your hotel for advice on where to park. Some hotels offer parking, for free or at an extra charge. There is no issue crossing borders for the countries on your list. No checkpoints, no passport control. It will be just like driving between Florida and Georgia. If you drive on a motorway (highway) in Switzerland, you will need a vignette, but they sell these at the border. As for having a rental car in Switzerland, it really depends on where you are going. For places like Zurich, Lucerne, Interlaken and the Bernese Oberland, and Zermatt, no car is necessary…the trains are much more convenient. But having a car in Lugano or Luasanne is helpful for day trips. If you have any other questions, let us know. Cheers, Julie

  3. I love your comments! We are a family of 7 (4 adults, 9,13,15 kids) planning a 10 day trip to Italy in April 2020. We fly into Florence, and tentatively plan to stay in Lucca, then Venice then back to Florence. I have researched tours and it is going to get pricey. Do you recommend any specific tours? We have read it’s difficult to drive…and won’t find a vehicle for 7 very easily. It looks like trains are best for city to city travel. Any advice on how to best plan our trip?

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      Hello Ronnie. We don’t have any specific tours to recommend, but if you are looking for day trips into Tuscany from Florence, there are some good options on Get Your Guide. We have some links on our Tuscany post. As for driving, it’s fine. I wouldn’t call it difficult. However, parking can be, particularly in cities and the small towns. If you have a big van, then it will be even more challenging. In Italy, we typically recommend traveling by train because it is cheap, easy to use, and you get dropped right in the city centers. I think that most people can visit Italy just fine without joining a packaged tour. We have tons of info to help you budget your time, learn the best things to do, and book your tickets in advance. You can start with our Italy Travel Guide, but more specifically, our articles on Venice and Florence should help you out a lot. Take a look at these and let me know if you have more questions. Cheers, Julie

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  4. Gorgeous!! I saw your update, with the first part of the trail closed is it still worth a visit? Should we still just take the trains and see those first few towns and then do the hiking trail starting at corniglia ending at monterosso? Thanks for your advice

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      Hello Natalie. Yes, all of the towns are worth it. They are each slightly different and so much fun to walk through. It’s up to you if you want to take the train to connect the first few towns or hike the higher trails. For us, it was nice getting those panoramic views from the higher trail that connects Riomaggiore and Manarola, but it was very strenuous. I would do it again, but it’s not for everyone. If you want a leisurely experience, take the trains to skip over the closed main trails. If you like the idea of leaving the crowds behind and getting unique views that many people miss, consider hiking section of a higher trail between 2 towns. Cheers, Julie

  5. Hi Julie – we are at the Cinque-Terre now staying at Riomaggiore and have just finnished a days hiking. We enjoyed your post and i have read some more of your Italy posts as we are also doing Capris and the Amalfi coast in coming weeks. FYI – The coastal paths between Riomaggiore and Corniglia are both permanently closed until 2021 for major repair works. It was beautiful weather today, but due to rain earlier all of the coastal traks were closed today. So we caught the train to Manarola and then hiked the inland route to Cornigula. The first bit was steep but the views were spectacular and were really worth the effort. Only took us an hour and 45 minutes so emboldened by that we had a coffee and a bite to eat and then hiked the inland route to Vernazza. This was a bit harder as the route was not as well marked as the first section, and there were hardly any other people walking this section to ask directions. But we managed to find our way and got some even better views of the coastline. The last bit of the track down to Vernazza is particularly steep, but with a bit of care we got down safely. After reading your blog we decided we had to try “Alberto’s” Gelato, but after searching high and low we could not find it. Finaly resorted to a google search and the only “Alberto’s” Gelato shop we could find on the Cinque-Terre is in Cornigula. So not sure if he has closed up shop or just moved towns? We found another shop so we still got our Gelato fix! Tomorrow we will train it back to Cornigula and hike the Coastal paths to Monterosso as they should be officialy open then. Thanks again for your great blogs and I hope you and your family enjoy many more great holidays!

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      Hello Andrew. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. And thanks for the update on the trail closures. I hope you have a wonderful time for the rest of your stay in Italy. Cheers, Julie

  6. We are heading there in the morning and we can’t wait! I remembered that I enjoyed your Scotland post so I took a quick look before heading to bed and appreciate your review and honesty about the hikes! I will post about the experience when we get back!

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  7. Hello, i am travelling to Cinque Terre next year and i was wondering can you please advise where i would get a map for the treks and also where was the photo taken with your 3 children, this is the photo opportunity i am looking for 🙂
    Many Thanks in advance

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      Hello Winnie. The cover photo for this post was taken at Manarola. Here is a link to a Cinque Terre website that has a bunch of different maps. This link is for online maps. If you want a paper map, you can buy one on Amazon. Search for “Cinque Terre map.” Cheers, Julie

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