Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

Everything you need to know for planning a trip to hike the Cinque Terre in Italy. The good news is that it’s actually quite easy!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Hiking Cinque Terre, Italy

There’s something rather intoxicating about the notion of hiking the Cinque Terre. For many people – perhaps for you – it’s an Italian dream.

Walking along the cliffs, amongst the green forests and vineyards; stopping at the small coastal towns with their multicoloured buildings; sipping an aperetivo by the sea with the afternoon sun reflecting off the crests of the caves.

But how can you turn this dream into a reality? How do you plan a trip to Cinque Terre?

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

When I first started looking into it myself, I was a bit confused about the best way to approach a visit to the area. There seem to be a lot of options and I wasn’t sure where to start.

I had seen lots of photos of the cute villages on the rocks by the coastline but I had never really thought through the practicalities of seeing them myself.

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

Well, the good news is that it’s actually quite simple once you have a basic understanding of how it all works. Let me talk you through it and make some suggestions for the best way for you to plan your own visit to Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

What is Cinque Terre?

The first thing is to understand what Cinque Terre is. It is a national park that stretches along about 20 kilometres of the western Italian coast, south of Genoa. Cinque Terre translates into English as ‘Five Lands’ and it gets its name because of the five main villages along the coast.

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide
Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

However, it’s important to realise that there are more than five villages in the national park and that the famous five make up just a small part of the park. You’ll probably want to use your time (especially if it’s limited) to focus on the well-known areas – but it’s good to know how they fit into the surroundings.

Accommodation around Cinque Terre

One of the first things you’ll need to decide is where to stay. This may surprise you but I’m actually going to suggest you don’t stay in the Cinque Terre National Park itself. There’s a nearby city called La Spezia and it is a much more convenient base to use for your visit.

If you are committed to staying in one of the five towns (and I don’t blame you – they are so charming), you’ll find the best options in Riomaggiore or Monterosso al Mare.

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

But let me explain my logic for suggesting La Spezia.

Firstly, there’s a much larger range of hotels and accommodation options here so you’re more likely to find something that fits your needs (and it will certainly be more affordable).

Secondly, it will be more convenient with your luggage. For any of the Cinque Terre towns, you’ll need to change onto a train at La Spezia and, when you get there, potentially carry your bags up steep hills.

In La Spezia, you can just wheel them a short distance to where you’re staying. If you’re driving, you won’t really be able to take the car into Cinque Terre so you’ll probably need to park it in La Spezia anyway.

And, thirdly, La Spezia is a lovely city in itself and more convenient to explore other parts of the region from.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN SPEZIA

It may make sense to stay either near the train station or the ferry port, if you’re going to be using one mode of transport more than the other.

BACKPACKER

I think the best hostel, which is right near the train station, is the 5 Terre Backpackers City.

BUDGET

For a good value room, La Branda Brin Guest House is clean and safe with a homely atmosphere.

BOUTIQUE

With a very cool design, The Poet Hotel brings a bit of boutique hip to the city.

LUXURY

And for relaxing luxury, Miramare Apartments & Suites has an incredible pool and view.

Hiking in Cinque Terre

Most people spend their time in Cinque Terre exploring the different towns. There are a few ways to get between them – including bus, train and ferry.

However, for the purpose of this guide, I’m going to focus on walking. I presume if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll know that’s my favourite way to explore an area (and it’s also what Cinque Terre is famous for).

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

The first thing to understand is that you can walk between all five towns within a single day. There is no need to hike with your bag and stay for a night somewhere along the way. I’ve seen a few people doing that and I think it’s completely unnecessary (although possible if you really want to).

There are well-marked trails between each of the towns. I’ve included a map here so you can see the route that I’m going to talk about.

You’ll notice that the two trails between Monterosso – Vernazza and Vernazza – Corniglia are along the coast and the other two between Corniglia – Manarola and Manarola – Riomaggiore go inland.

That’s because landslides in recent years have led to the closure of the coastal options for those last two legs and there’s no indication they’ll open again soon.

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

Some people like to do the hike as a guided tour. The advantages are that someone does all the planning for you, a local will give you lots of useful information, and you’ll meet some other travellers.

I would recommend this guided hike, but there are some other options to consider here:

If you’re planning it yourself, I would suggest starting at Monterosso and walking towards Riomaggiore.

This is partly because it means you’ll be getting closer to your accommodation at La Spezia. But it’s also because the legs between the villages will get harder each time, so if you get tired or run out of time, you’ll skip the stretches that are best skipped.

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

Monterosso to Vernazza

This is the longest of the legs by distance but is one of the easiest to walk. For quite a lot of the time you’ll be amongst quite dense foliage and you won’t be able to see much. But when you do get views of the coast, they are some of the best.

In particular, the view back to Monterosso give you a wonderful sense of the coast and the perspective you get of Vernazza as you arrive is one of the most iconic images of the region.

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

Vernazza to Corniglia

This is also quite a long leg but is also quite an easy one to walk. You get a lot of wonderful views of the coastline as you go along this path. About halfway along, there’s a lovely terrace serving drinks and food, if you need a break.

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

Corniglia to Manarola

The inland path between these two villages has steep sections at both ends of it. Anyone with moderate fitness should be able to cope, though, because the steps are quite good.

The middle section is relatively flat and is some of the nicest terrain you’ll go through because the path cuts through gorgeous terraces of grape and olive plantations (passing through the small town of Volastra).

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

Manarola to Riomaggiore

This final stretch is really tough and you might want to consider skipping it. You will basically go up a very steep hill on one side and then go down another steep slope on the other side. There are steps the whole way but they are not all easy.

The view along the way are no better then anything else on the coast. The good news, though, is that it’s not a very long hike if you can handle the inclines!

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

Keep reading for some information on how you can skip sections of the hike.

Hiking passes for Cinque Terre

You need to buy a pass to be able to hike the trails of Cinque Terre and there are control booths along the way to check you have one. A one day pass costs €7.50 and you can buy it at one of the tourist information centres or at one of the control booths.

The other option is to buy the combined train/hiking pass. This costs €16 and includes unlimited use of the trains. The trains go between La Spezia and Levanto and stop at each of the five towns.

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

If you’re staying in La Spezia, it is worth considering. A train ticket each way costs €4 so you would end up paying €15.50 anyway.

If all you do is catch the train to Monterosso, hike to Riomaggiore, and then catch the train back to La Spezia, you actually end up paying 50c more than needed. But it is much more convenient than having to buy train tickets individually (and there’s usually a line at the station at the end of the day).

It does also give you the option to skip a section or go back to your favourite one for an afternoon celebratory drink.

Cinque Terre Hiking Guide

Other things near Cinque Terre

If you have time, I would suggest spending more than just one day in Cinque Terre. You can also buy a two day hiking pass and split the walk, giving yourself more time to explore – perhaps going on some of the lesser-used paths further into the park away from the coast.

But my top tip is to get the boat to Portovenere and have a look around the town and also do a hike on Palmaria Island. I have written a whole story about Portovenere and Palmaria Island, so you might like to read that to find out some more information.

Other than hiking, there are also some other ways to explore Cinque Terre and have some wonderful experiences on the Italian Riviera. Have a look at some of these options:

Cinque Terre is one of the most beautiful parts of Italy and has the wonderful combination of nature and culture. For this reason, it’s a popular place with visitors. It’s going to be busy during the peak summer periods and so try to come in the shoulder seasons, if possible.

Are there hiking tours in Cinque Terre?

As I’ve already mentioned, you don’t need a guide or a tour to hike along the main stretch of the Cinque Terre. The path is very well marked and relatively easy.

However, there are some options for guided tours that will help you appreciate the cultural landscape a lot more. Hiking with a local means you’ll hear all about the history, people and food of the Cinque Terre.

If you’re interested, I would suggest having a look at this hiking tour.

Why is Cinque Terre a World Heritage Site?

It’s not just about the nature, it’s also about the communities. Cinque Terre is partly a World Heritage Site because of the small towns along the coast and how they relate to the agriculture in the hills.

You might be interested in reading my story about Cinque Terre’s World Heritage Site status.

Regardless of when you visit, though, enjoy! I hope this guide has helped and please ask any questions you have in the comments section below.

38 thoughts on “Cinque Terre Hiking Guide”

    • There was no particular reason. Levanto is another good options for people. I went with La Spezia for two reasons, though. The first is that you can easily go straight by boat from La Spezia to Portovenere and Palmaria, so you’re a bit more central for that kind of stuff. And also I feel like the train connections are better for the journey to/from the south from there. I didn’t personally try Levanto – I’m sure it’s fine – but I wanted to recommend something I knew was a good way to do it.

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  1. Awe-inspiring post and the views you shared of the cinque terre. It’s wonderful with amazing information trip for the hiking, thanks.

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  2. I stayed 3 days in Manarola and loved every minute of it. I’d say 1 day would have been way too short for me – there isn’t a whole lot to do except wander the streets, sit by the water, soak up some sun and watch the boats and people go by. The hikes are lovely as well of course, and you can even go horse riding in the area. La Spezia looks like a pretty little town but given the choice I’d definitely prefer to stay in the village rather than La Spezia!

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    • Yeah, I know what you mean about preferring to stay in the village than La Spezia. I agree that it’s nicer to be somewhere like Manarola and if you’re going to spend a few days, that’s probably the best option. For s short stop, though, I still think it’s much easier (and probably cheaper) to go with La Spezia. But lots of options for people to choose from anywhere along the coast!!

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  3. Hey Michael. Great info. Thanks very much. I am heading there in June this year with my 18 and 16 year old daughters. Do you reckon I need to book or can I wing it with accomodation?

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    • Hi Elvia. Cinque Terre will be getting quite busy by June (although not as packed as July/August). If you don’t book in advance, there won’t be a lot of choice – particularly in the five coastal towns. You would probably be able to wing it and find something in La Spezia, but it may not be the standard/price you want.
      My tip is to book something in advance – even better if you can find something that will be refundable in case you change your mind. If you don’t want to do that, keep an eye on the availability so you’ll get a sense of when things are getting booked up.

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    • The weather is generally pretty good in May. In fact, it’s probably one of the best months – quite warm with a good chance of fine weather but not too hot. It’s likely to be quite crowded already, though. You would be between school holidays, which helps, but the nice weather means it’s going to be a popular time for travellers who don’t have to worry about that kind of thing.

      Reply
  4. We are heading there next month – mid April. How prepared should we be in terms of weather?
    We plan to get there by noon /early afternoon from Venice, stay two nights in monteroso and head to Florence the next morning. Is this time enough to cover cinque Terre AND portovenere? Or should we skip Porto? We’d like a relaxed pace. Thanks in advance for your suggestion 🙂

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    • The weather can be really beautiful in April. If the sun’s out, you’ll be hiking in shorts and a t-shirt. But you should also be prepared for potential rain that time of year.
      In terms of your timing, My recommendation would be to use your full day to do the main hiking route along the Cinque Terre (whether you go the whole way or not can depend on your pace that day). Portovenere town can be done in a short time if you don’t go across to the island, but you can’t really get there and back quickly. I would have a look at the ferry options for either the afternoon you arrive or the morning before you go to Florence and see if there’s enough time to do it then.
      Have fun!!

      Reply
  5. If a group of friends and I want to walk Chinqua terre, how could we get our luggage from town to town? We are all in our 60’s and would like to take a few days walking the trail. We would like to make reservations along the way, so we can enjoy the walk. Any tour groups available?

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    • This is my question also. I would like to take a personal pilgrimage along the trail of the Cinque Terre spending a couple of nights in each of the 5 towns. Is there a service that will transfer luggage from one city to another?

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      • Hi guys. There aren’t really any luggage transfer companies – but that’s because you don’t really need them. You can walk between the five towns in one day and catch a train between each of them in just a few minutes. Therefore, most people will choose one of the towns as their base and just do their hiking from there.
        Even if you wanted to spread the hiking over multiple days (which is actually a nice thing to do because it means you can spend longer at each stop along the way), you could still very easily catch the train back to your first accommodation, stay the night, then catch the train back to where you want to start walking again. Even people who want to stay in different towns will often catch the train back to the first night’s accommodation, grab their luggage, and get the train to the second night’s accommodation. Or they leave their large suitcase at the first accommodation and just take a small pack on their back for an overnight stay or two.
        I know it can be hard to picture Cinque Terre before you get there (I didn’t really have a good sense of it) but try to imagine five towns along a coast of cliffs that’s only 10 kilometres (5.5 miles) long with very limited access for cars. It would be hard to transfer luggage and so few people want it. It’s easier to transport the people back to the luggage!! 🙂
        I hope that helps – but please let me know if you have other questions.

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    • Hi Michael, I am heading to hike in Cinque Terre tomorrow and I was surfing and totally confused on which to do and found this blog from someone I know and trust! Will follow your advice and I had already booked to stay in La Spezia! Thanks, hope all is well for you! Pam (from Avalon)

      Reply
  6. Thank you for post! Great info! We are going early Sept and staying in Monterosso al Mare for 3 nights. We want to do the entire hike in one day and possibly take a boat back to Monterosso al Mare when we finish. Is this an option with the ferries and do we need to have tickets before hand? We also are really interested in your suggestion to explore/hike Palmaria Island. Can we get this boat from Monterosso? Thank you in advance!

    Reply
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    Reply
  8. Hi! How long does the walk from Riomaggiore to Monteroso al Mare take? I am considering to do it in one single day. I will probably require to take the train back to Riomaggiore, but the problem is that I am planning to go in Easter time and will Walk the trail on Easter Friday or Saturday. Is the train service the same during Easter Period?

    Reply
  9. Hi Michael,

    If I did decide to skip the portion of Manarola to Riomaggiore, can I travel back to La Spezia by boat, from Manarola? And if I do complete and end with Riomaggiore, can I go back to La Spezia by boat. Thanks.

    Reply
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    Reply
  11. I just returned from the Cinque Terra on September 22…. I am a 65 year old woman with bilateral hip replacements. The hiking trail from Monterosso to Corniglia is strenuous, and requires a great deal strength. The views are spectacular and worth every ounce of sweat and time. Your description of these legs of the trail I found inaccurate, and bordering on false information ….. leaving from Vernazza to Corniglia is straight uphill for at least an hour. My friend and I were moving a good pace, it was 2 hours and 20 minutes. I would never recommend doing the entire length in one day, at any age. I feel the views and the pure amazement of this area , requires several days. I have had the pleasure of this area twice in my life. I have stayed in Monterosso both times. The boat ride to Portovenere should not be missed except due to weather.

    Reply

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