Where to Stay in the Cinque Terre, Italy

Vernazza in the Cinque Terre, Italy, is famous for its colourful houses by the sea
Vernazza in the Cinque Terre, Italy, is famous for its colourful houses by the sea | © Visions from Earth / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Gillian McGuire
2 September 2021
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Five cliffside towns on the Ligurian coastline comprise the Cinque Terre, one of the most-visited areas in Italy. All five towns boast spectacular sea vistas and multicoloured houses, but each town has a different vibe and personality. Use this guide to help you decide on where to stay in the Cinque Terre.

You can enjoy a guided hike along the Cinque Terre coastal route as part of Culture Trip’s action-packed 10-day Northern Italy adventure, led by our local insider.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is the first of the five seaside towns that make up the Cinque Terre, starting from the south, and the second-largest in size. The railway line divides the town into two parts. Down next to the water is the Borgo dei Pescatori (fisherman’s village), where you will find painted wooded fishing boats bobbing in the clear green-blue water. There is also a small rocky beach. On the other side of the train tracks is the Borgo dei Contadini (farmers’ village), which rises steeply with terraced gardens and vineyards.

Riomaggiore is one of the five seaside towns in the Cinque Terre, Italy

Manarola

Manarola is the oldest town and the one with the strongest ties to the land. There are references to Volastra, which is a hamlet above Manarola that dates back to the Roman era. The steep terraced land above the town is planted with lemon and olives trees and grapevines. Climb up the path towards Corniglia for a view down on the harbour, fishing boats, rocks and water below. This is a great pick for the foodie traveller, with excellent places for a seafood meal and a gelato snack.

Manarola is the oldest town in the Cinque Terre | © Baarssen Fokke / Alamy Stock Photo

Corniglia

It is 33 flights, or almost 400 steps, up to this hilltop village, the only one of the Cinque Terre villages that is not by the water. The cool thing about Corniglia is that it is only from this height that you can get a view of the four other towns. Come here if you are looking for peace and quiet and don’t mind the trek uphill.

Corniglia is a hilltop village in the Cinque Terre, Italy | © Sorin Colac / Alamy Stock Photo

Vernazza

This is the town you have seen on a postcard or an Instagram post – the one that probably got you thinking about a trip to Italy. It is even designated as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It is the only village of the five to have a natural harbour, which brought security and wealth here centuries ago. There is a castle built on the hill, which you can visit. The heart of the town, Piazza Marconi, is full of cafes, where locals are catching up and tourists are perfecting their own Instagram posts to inspire.

Vernazza is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy | © Martin Molcan / Alamy Stock Photo

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso al Mare is the last of the towns and the largest of the bunch. There is a strip of sandy beach here, dotted with colourful umbrellas and a seafront promenade lined on one side with bars and restaurants. You can shop in the small shops in the historic centre and gather in the Piazza Garibaldi. This town is a great choice for families with small children or travellers who can’t climb a lot of steps.

Relax by the beach of Monterosso al Mare | © Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo

Before you start exploring the Cinque Terre, here are a few general words of advice.

Don’t bring a car

There is very limited parking, and the villages are all completely pedestrianised. It is much easier to walk, take the train or ferry between each of the towns. Make sure you check the train and boat schedules before you set out, so you don’t get stuck with a long walk back after diner.

Rethink your idea of a beach

There is plenty of gorgeous and inviting water. There are no empty stretches of sand. Most of the “beaches” are small coves with pebbles, like in Riomaggiore, or enormous rocks with flat spots for lounging and deep water for diving, like in Vernazza. Monterosso has the most traditional beach, most of which is filled with private beach clubs that charge admission and rent chairs and umbrellas.

Go diving off the rocks in Manarola | © Paul Rollins / Alamy Stock Photo

Don’t expect luxury hotels

Until quite recently, these were simple fishing villages and not jet-set destinations. Most of the available accommodation consists of private rooms in family owned buildings. This does not necessarily mean inexpensive.

Pack light

There are a lot of stairs. Where you stay will probably not have an elevator, and getting there from the train station will also likely mean at least a few flights of stairs or a climb up a steep slope. The smaller and lighter your suitcase is, the happier you will be.

Expand your horizons

You might want to look beyond the borders of the five towns and stay nearby. La Spezia is less than 10 minutes by train and is much more lively after dark than the Cinque Terre villages. Just to the north, Levanto is considered the gateway to the Cinque Terre but is remarkably different, with flat bike trails and sandy beaches.

Consider exploring Levanto, north of the Cinque Terre | © Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo

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