The five lands of Cinque Terre

Italy’s Cinque Terre is known for its natural beauty and beautiful towns. But did you know it’s also a World Heritage Site? I’ll tell you why.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

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


Cinque Terre, Italy

The charm of Cinque Terre is its isolation. This isolation is not measured in distance – the area is not far from main cities like La Spezia and the even larger Genoa. It is judged through connectivity.

Historically, Cinque Terre has been cut off from the rest of the region by a lack of transport. Even today, it is virtually inaccessible by car.

Somewhat ironically, it is this historical lack of transport connections that now means so many people want to visit every year, making Cinque Terre one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy.

Along this rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera, the five towns of Cinque Terre sit on the coast with long stretches of green separating them.

Because there have never been any major roads in this area, no major developments ever appeared. It was too difficult to do anything more than a slow expansion of the towns to respond to the natural growth of population over the years.

Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy

The land in between – rising up on hills, along cliffs and undulating through natural valleys perpendicular to the coast – is covered in either nature or agriculture.

The forests are thick in parts but hiking tracks cut through them in all directions. What’s more interesting is the agriculture.

Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy

Although you may think that fishing would have been a large industry for the residents of Cinque Terre, actually only those in Monterosso earned an income that way.

Traditionally, those from the other villages turned to the land. They grew olives and grapes and, to make that possible, they built terraces into the hills and planted their crops in them.

Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy

These days, tourism is by far the biggest industry for those who still live in Cinque Terre – but the olive trees and vineyards still exist and are still tended to. You can explore this side of local life with this excellent wine tour.

Here are some other suggestions for local tours to taste the local produce of Cinque Terre:

Go for a walk on one of the inland tracks and you’ll find yourself in the middle of plantations. Local wines are available at bars and shops in the villages along the coast.

Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy

The villages are the highlights for most of the visitors who flock to Cinque Terre.

Although roads may not have been built, there is now a train line that runs through tunnels and connects each of the villages with the outside world. Each day the trains are full of tourists, drawn largely by the images they have seen of colourful buildings.

Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy

The buildings are indeed colourful and it’s particularly noticeable at the village of Vernazza, the most picturesque of the five along the coast. From the walking track on the cliffs, you can look down from either direction and see the different hues of each building collect together like a kaleidoscope.

Hike down into the village and everything appears in technicolour up close. The view from the small harbour is particularly alluring.

Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy

Although you find a similarity in each of the five villages, they also have their own characteristics.

  • Monterosso has sandy beaches that make it feel more like a typical riviera town.
  • Vernazza, as I’ve mentioned, has the most colourful of the buildings.
  • Corniglia is set higher up on cliffs and has a more fortress-like atmosphere.
  • Manarola has a central promenade leading down the slope towards the water.
  • and Riomaggiore feels the largest, almost normal, you could nearly for a moment forget where you are.
Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy
Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy

It is extremely unlikely there will ever be any major development around Cinque Terre. The villages and the hills around them are protected as a national park.

The area is also part of a World Heritage Site (that includes nearby Portovenere and Palmaria island). It would take a major change in the attitude towards conservation of the area to allow anything dramatic to be built here.

Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy

But there is a need for constant vigilance of damage to the area. Like many parts of the world where tourism becomes the main income source, locals lose their interest in more traditional industries like farming. In Cinque Terre, that’s even more dangerous.

If people stop growing grapes and olives here, they’ll likely stop maintaining the terraces they’ve built on the hills. If they fall into disrepair, the possibility of landslides or similar events become a real threat.

Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy

Cinque Terre is no longer isolated, no matter how you look at it. Sure, there are no roads, but there may as well be with the number of visitors who come here each year.

I would recommend exploring some of Cinque Terre with a local guide, to get away from all the tourists and see some of the hidden gems. This guided hiking tour is a great option, or there are some other fun ideas here:

The villages are small and their streets get full quickly. Thankfully there is some respite on the hiking trails – enough of the tourists seem too lazy to do any walking that the paths aren’t overly busy – but that may not be much of a relief at the height of summer.

Cinque Terre world heritage, Italy

But the product of the historical isolation remains, and that’s what makes this stretch of the Italian coast so special. These villages and their positions on the coast are a living artwork… just more lively today than ever before.


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.


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


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


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


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


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

13 thoughts on “The five lands of Cinque Terre”

  1. Cinque Terre has been on my bucket list for a couple years now, but I still haven’t had the chance to visit yet. Kind of bummed that it’s become so overcrowded, but the photos are still gorgeous lol! <3

    • Well, it’s not too crowded in the off-peak season. If you’re interested in visiting, I would recommend you try to go around April or October. You still get great weather but there aren’t nearly as many people there!

  2. We went there and walked along the trails from one village to another. It is truly amazing and worth the visit

  3. Hi Michael, awesome pics of Cinque Terre!
    My question is: is it safe for a elderly woman (68) to hike the five villages on my own with no guide? I plan to go the first half of June. (hot). I do a lot of hiking with groups of hiking friends who are younger than me. What do you suggest?

    • Hey Jan,
      what kind of security worries do you have? In general I guess there’s enough people & civilisation around that even in case of an accident, you’d be found within the same day for sure.
      – too hot: well, you have to manage to drink and ask for water if no café is around. But that should be doable.
      – robbing: I don’t think this is happening there, it is a peaceful rural area. From my experience as a (young, wild 😉 ) female traveler I have no worries even sleeping out at night. I wouldn’t display most expensive cameras or jewelery, but I wouldn’t do that anywhere… So if you manage hiking which you say you do, I think it’s gorgeous there. 🙂

  4. Hello! I have been trying to decide between Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast for a trip with my mother and sisters. We are travelling in the week the crosses April to May. Do you think one would be better for a first trip to Italy? (For my mother and sisters) I am guessing a car is needed for Amalfi but not useful for Cinque Terre? My mother has bad knees so either way there won’t be any hiking. But they want to spend time overlooking the water. Maybe you have another suggestion? We are landing in Rome for a few days. The Italy is our oyster! We have a week. Any thoughts?


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