Hiking in Cinque Terre takes you through five gorgeous villages along the Italian Riviera. The colorful terraced communities have become quite popular over the years thanks to their picturesque setting and distinctly Italian flare. We had wanted to visit this area since reading that hiking the Cinque Terre is one of Rick Steve’s favorite things to do in Europe. So, while on a road trip through the French Riviera we found ourselves a mere 3-hour drive from Italy’s Cinque Terre and knew we had to make a detour to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The drive was jaw-dropping. We soared above the clouds on high winding roads and could not see even a glimpse of the sea below. With great anticipation, we knew we were about to see something special. Once the clouds lifted and we started our descent, we witnessed unobstructed sea views of one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the Mediterranean.
No cars are allowed in the five towns, so we made our base in nearby Levanto located just 8 minutes by train from Vernazza, the most famous of the Cinque Terre towns with a seaport and beach. There is parking and it was very convenient. Check for car rentals in Europe here.
Hiking Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre’s five towns consist of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The villages are connected by boat, bus, train, and walking trails along the coast.
A hiking trip to the Cinque Terre is one of the most scenic hikes a person can do in Italy. We’re going to break down how to best explore the hiking trails that go through historic villages, terraced gardens, citric orchards, and olive groves with incredible vantage points to take in the sea views. So pull up your hiking boots and let’s get started.
Where to Stay Near Cinque Terre
We stayed in Levanto when visiting Cinque Terre. Levanto is not one of the 5-Villages but it is a gorgeous little town on the Mediterranean Ocean that is conveniently located on the train line that takes you right to the beginning of the Cinque Terre hike. The ferry and train also stop frequently at Levanto so it was a great base for a more reasonable price than staying in one of the five villages. There is a campground here with great facilities. We stayed at Camping Acqua Dolce
That said, there is nothing better than staying right in the heart of the action, so if it is in your budget, by all means, stay in the villages.
Hotel Porto Roca – Hotel Porto Roca is a beautiful hotels overlooking Monterosso and at the start of the 5 Terre path. It has a swimming pool and restaurant overlooking the Meditteranean Sea. If you can splurge this is highly recommended. See reviews and availability on Booking.comStellio Affittacamare – Located in Riomaggiore this highly rated guesthouse has stunning views. See rates and availability on TripAdvisor / Booking.comRiomaggiore Vacation Rental – The 3 bedroom, one bath rental sleeps five people and is located in Riomaggiore. It is near Riomaggiore Station, and other ammenities.Monterosso Vacation Rental – Locatesd in Monterosso, this apartment rental has two bedroom, one bath with gorgeous views of the sea. It is locted high on a hill so be prepared to climb, but the view is worth it. Close to trains station and central in Monterosso.
Cinque Terre Hiking Trail
There is 120 km (74 miles) of hiking trails inside Cinque Terre National Park so you could spend days exploring the area, but the most popular hike is along Sentiero Azzurro (Translated The Blue Pathway or Blue Trail). The Blue Trail connects the villages from Riomaggiore to Monterosso and can be hiked in a day.
We took the train to Riomaggiore and worked our way back to Monterosso but you can hike it in either direction from Monterosso al Mare to Riomaggiore as well.
When we hiked the Cinque Terre it was only 12 km / 7.5 miles long but with trail closures, you now need to take a different route. In 2022, the Cinque Terre hike is approximately 14 km. (8.6 miles) There are five portions of the Blue Trail that vary in difficulty. You can walk the entire route or hop on the train whenever you want.
Portions of the Blue Trail
Many trails in the Cinque Terre have been affected by flooding, rock slides, and erosion and are currently closed for repair. However, you can still hike the entire five towns, it just requires a bit more effort. But with great effort, comes great reward.
Riomaggiore – Manarola – (Closed) Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane or transated Way of Love) was the most popular portion of Cinque terre at only 1.5 km. However, this portion of the trail is closed until 2024 – you can walk 200 meters back from Manarola towards Riomaggiore to see some views, but you now need to take another route. Riomaggiore – Manarola (via trail 531) – 1.4 km – This portion is what is now open. It was the original connection of the villages so even though it is more dififcult, you will be enjoying a more historic route. Manarola – Corniglia – (Closed) this used to be an easy portion along the water but it is closed until 2025.Manarola – Corniglia – 5.5 km (3.4 Miles) Now tourists must climb 1200 steps straight up and then walk to Corniglia. Or you can take the bus to Volastra and hike from there. (you can still walk out 300 meters to the viewpoint)Corniglia – Vernazza – 3.5 km (2.17 miles)Vernazza – Monterosso al Mare – 3.3 km (2.05 miles)
Portions of the trail are quite rugged taking you from sea level to 250 meters (820 feet) above sea level. While it’s not a technically challenging hike, you should have a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots. And some people even chose to use walking sticks. We didn’t find it too challenging but closed-toed shoes are mandatory. But we recommend carrying your flip flops in your backpack for well-deserved beach time at the end of the hike.
Cinque Terre Pass
To hike the Cinque Terre trail there is an entrance fee and you need to purchase a Cinque Terre Card.
The Cinque Terre Trekking Card gives access to all trails and bus services. The Cinque Terre Train Card includes access to all trekking paths and unlimited train travel between the towns.
We recommend the Train Card as with trail closures, you may find that you will want to hop on a bus to a village or catch the train back to the village where you started. For 18€ it is worth having the flexibility to see as much as you can in a day. Plus the train route not only stops in the small towns it includes travel between Levanto and La Spezia.
Note: Make sure to stamp your train ticket at one of the machines. Anyone caught on the train without a stamped ticket will be given an automatic 50€ fine.
We made our base in nearby Levanto when hiking the Cinque Terre. The trains travel frequently from town to town (including Levanto) and we hopped on the 08:38 am train for a short train ride to Riomaggiore where we started our hike along the Blue Path. Riomaggiore is the farthest village out on the train line and from there, we hiked in one direction back to Monterosso where we caught the train back to our starting point in Levanto.
At Riomaggiore, had our Cinque Terre Card checked at the information booth. Note: You need your card to hike the Blue Trail and they check at each village to make sure you have paid your way. So, make sure to have it on you at all times.
Riomaggiore to Manarola
The hiking trail starts in Riomaggiore so this is a pretty busy town. Many people stay in this town and there are plenty of amenities as it is the closest town to La Spezia. From here it winds its way along the Italian Riviera’s Mediterranean coast between the Five Villages. All we had to do was follow the crowd. Did we mention the Cinque Terre is crowded?
The Five Villages will definitely remind you of the Amalfi Coast. With pastel buildings stacked upon one another reaching up from the Ligurian Sea, it truly is a beautiful sight.
If you have time in Romaggiora hike to the Sanctuary of Montenero where you’ll walk through pine forests and terraced vineyards to views the Shrine of our Lady of Montenero. It is a 3.5 km hike in the opposite direction and will take you about an hour out of your way. But the sanctuary dates back to 1335.
The Way of Love (Via dell’Amore)
When we hiked this portion of Sentiero Azzurro we were lucky. Via dell’Amore (The Way of Love) was an easy flat section of the Blue Path. It was a very short and easy hike to Manarola. We were surprised when we made it to Manarola in record time and we felt that we hadn’t even started. It had only been about 10 to 15 minutes hiking from Riomaggiore to Manarola. We wondered how on earth this hike was going to last for a day. At this rate, we will be done before the morning is even over.
Unfortunately, Lover’s Lane is closed until 2024 so you now need to take a different part of the Blue Trail. It takes you up and around making the route much longer and more strenuous. It is steep and rugged but on the bright side, you will have it mostly to yourself as most people now skip this portion of the trail.
Cinque Terre Experience
We walked up to the main square by the church and it was everything that you would expect from Italy. Elderly men were sitting on a bench waiting for the local bus as locals darted about the streets. As we sat and enjoyed a cappuccino and chocolate pastry, we took in the view of the olive groves, vineyards, and citrus orchards.
The energy was intoxicating for first thing in the morning. The men from the bus stop bench came into the café with a chorus of friendly and hearty, “Ciaos, Grazies, and Pregos.” as they helped themselves to a pastry.
We then realized that hiking the Five Villages isn’t as much about the hike as it is the experience. Traditional Italy is alive and well in Cinque Terre. You don’t want to rush through the towns or through the trail. You want to absorb the culture and energy and take in the views from high above the Meditteranean Sea.
The views along the Cinque Terre are too perfect to speed through and the towns are too beautiful and inviting to not take the time to enjoy every moment. I think that is why the Five Villages Hike became so popular. You will see vineyards and orchards during your entire walk and witness a culture that is surviving the way it has for generations. Only now with a few more tourists looking on as they do.
Manarola to Corniglia
This trail too is under construction and you need to take a different route. During our Cinque Terre Hike, we were once again very lucky and the short route was open. We had a short and easy walk at the beginning ending only with a climb up 382 step climb up to the highest town in the region.
Today tourists need to take a high trail to Corniglia. It is a much longer route that takes about 2 1/2 hours and climbs 1200 steps. We found the 382 to be a challenge! Therefore, unless you have time and want a good workout, it is recommended that you use your Cinque Terre Card and take the bus from Manarola to Volastra which will do a lot of the climb for you. This will shave an hour off your time.
The climb will make you huff and puff a bit but the payoff is worth it. Corniglia is the highest village in the Cinque Terre with unparalleled views. You’ll have worked up quite the appetite, so this town is a good place to grab some lunch. Restaurants and cafés are aplenty.
It was here that we enjoyed our first taste of deep-fried anchovies, one of the region’s many specialties. Other specialties of the Cinque Terre region include olive oil, Pesto, lemons, and wine. And we enjoyed them all!
Corniglia to Vernazza
The hike to Vernazza from Corniglia, the path is wilder and rugged. We walked through high forested paths offering incredible panoramic views. The wide paths give way to narrow dirt walkways with roots and trees covering the trail.
It is steep and we felt for the people hiking in the opposite direction. While we enjoyed our downward climb many were struggling to hike uphill. Passing through olive groves, lemon groves and vineyards, it felt like a little slice of paradise.
Vernazza is the busiest of the towns and where many tourists make their home base. It is very central to everything, but it is very busy. If you want to buy pasta or olive oil, pesto, or wine to take home here is the place to do it. It caters to tourists and hikers of the Cinque Terre. After tasting their pesto drenched over pasta you will find it hard to resist taking a jar home for yourself.
While you are in Vernazza stop and enjoy a mouth-watering delicious triple scoop of gelato. It is a great way to break up the hike and to get some energy for the next stretch.
Vernazza to Monterosso
This is probably the most popular stretch in Cinque Terre National Park and many people hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. Since so many people stay in these two villages, you’ll find a lot of people walking along this route each way. To us, this was also the most rugged terrain of the Cinque Terra Region. The rolling slopes of the trail take you through a series of steps, pine forests, narrow pathways, and farmland.
The hike from Monterosso to Vernazza is a little more difficult with 500 steps to climb. I’m glad we were going to other way because the up and down was already enough for us. This portion of the Blue Trail offers the classic views that we have all come to know of the Cinque Terre. So give yourself time to take it all in. You never know when you’ll be back.
After a fun day of hiking the Blue Trail of the Cinque Terre, we chilled out in Monterosso for a couple of hours. We were able to lay on the beach and work on our tans with the other sunbathers. I can’t believe I am sunning myself on the Italian Riviera on the Mediterranean Sea! It’s definitely a bucket list item checked off the list.
The trains were packed at the end of the day, but we still had our stamped ticket and unlimited travel through the region. It was back to Levanto for sunset dinner at yet another reasonable and delicious restaurant.
We loved hiking the Cinque Terre, but we were happy to escape the crowds and spend the night in Levanto.
The crowds of the Cinque Terre were large as tourists flock to the region. But the views of the Mediterranean Sea are definitely worth putting up with the crowds, and the villages are set up well for tourists. There are shops and restaurants along the way to eat, enjoy a glass of wine, and pick up some souvenirs.
What we love about the Cinque Terre is how the Italian government is trying to control tourism and keep it green. The Cinque Terre is a designated national park and traffic is limited to the towns. No modern buildings are allowed to be built here and you won’t find any giant resorts ruining the coastline.
How to Get to Cinque Terre
Most people travel to the Cinque Terre by train, and cars are not allowed in the towns. Some villages are not even accessible by car. We drove from France while on a road trip and found staying in Levanto easy and convenient. There is parking in Riomaggiore and Manarola but we found taking the train everywhere was best.
The main train station is La Spezia Station. The Cinque Terre Express train route runs between here and Levanto and runs every 20 minutes. The first stop from LA Spezia is Riomaggiore where the hike starts. We took the train from Levanto to Riomaggiore and then worked our way back during our hike.
The closest international airport is Pisa International Airport. Other nearby airports are Genoa Cristoforo Colombo Airport and Giuseppe Verdi Airport.
When to Hike the Cinque Terre
Peak Season is July and August and can be very crowded on the hiking trails. We suggest avoiding this time. Plus it is very hot.
Shoulder season is always a good time to travel and a pleasant time to hike the trails in September and October. The weather is still good and most of the crowds have gone home for the summer. Spring is also a good time for less crowded hiking trails.
You can hike all year round and trails are open during the winter season. However, expect less shops and accommodation to be open and some hiking trails will be closed. If you want the best deals, this is the time to go. Just be sure to dress in layers as temperatures can dip.
No matter when you go, it is sure to be beautiful. If you happen to find yourself on the French or Italian Riviera, a trip to Cinque Terre is a must-stop on your itinerary.