How to Explore Cinque Terre National Park

How to Explore Cinque Terre National Park

Learn how to best explore the five seaside villages of Italy's Cinque Terre National Park.

Five towns made up of pastel-coloured houses, perched on steep coastal cliffs and surrounded by terraced vineyards. This is, in a nutshell, what you may expect from Cinque Terre on the northwest coast of Italy.

Cinque Terre National Park protects centuries-old landscapes that have supported the local population as well as provided them with many challenges. It is of such natural and cultural significance that it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Cinque Terre literally means Five Lands, which obviously refers to area’s five towns. From west to east, these towns are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The oldest town, Monterosso, dates from the 7th century, while the other four trace back their history to the Middle Ages.

cinque terre national parkImage credit: Daniel Stockman

Cinque Terre was once an unspoiled piece of heaven, hidden away on the rugged coast of Liguria. Now, however, it has become a massively popular tourist destination. We visited the park a couple of weeks ago and were astonished by the sheer number of tourists that crowded the streets of each of the five towns. I, personally, expected solitude and deserted hills and cliffs crisscrossed by hiking trails, but instead, I was blown away the amount of visitors.

Also read: 15 Little Towns in Italy Too Stunning to be Real

Nevertheless, tourists or not, Cinque Terre is as beautiful as ever—and visiting is surprisingly convenient. Although there are no main roads connecting the five towns, there is an old railroad that runs through every town, while hiking trails wind their way along the steep cliffs and over scenic hills. These two options for getting around makes it a great place to visit for active outdoor-minded travellers (hiking trails) and visitors who are simply looking to enjoy the beaches and some food (railroad). A combination of both is, of course, possible and even recommended.

cinque terre national park italyImage credit:  Marty Portier

People visiting for just one day may want to opt to buy a Cinque Terre Card, which costs 12 euros and includes train travel between the five towns and the neighbouring hubs of Levanto and La Spezia, bus services, access to the national park, WiFi in the park’s hotspots, guided tours and discounts to several local museums. It’s super convenient not having to buy a separate train ticket every time you hop one between towns—just make sure that you don’t forget to validate your Cinque Terre Card using the machines at the train station before your first ride.

Image credit:  Wei-Duan Woo

Arguably the best way to explore Cinque Terre National Park is by foot. There are several different hiking trails in the park, but without question the most popular and most scenic one is the so-called Blue Trail. This trail runs along the coastline and connects all five villages in four sections. Unfortunately, though, the sections between Riomaggiore and Manarola, and Manarola and Corniglia have been closed off—the trail got washed away by floods a couple of years ago and hadn’t been fixed when we visited (in the first week of September 2015). The two other sections are open, and take about three hours to complete, allowing for a sufficiently good impression of what hiking in Cinque Terre is like. You can still travel between Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia by train.

Also read: Top 12 Mind-Blowing World Heritage Sites in Europe

Image credit:  José e Marina

Make sure to give yourself enough time to visit each of the five towns. Train rides between towns don’t take longer than a few minutes; hiking between them takes between one to two hours depending on your physical fitness and the number of breaks you take.

Also read: Exploring Cinque Terre in 3 Incredible Days

All five towns can be visited in just one day, but I strongly recommend dedicating at least two days to visiting Cinque Terre—five days would be ideal, allowing for one full day in each of the towns. In addition to offering incredible sightseeing and wonderful hiking, Cinque Terre National Park is a fantastic place to laze around, sunbathe on sandy beaches and enjoy delicious Italian food. It’s this variety of characteristics that makes it so well worth visiting.

Just don’t expect to be alone!

About Author

Bram Reusen

Bram is a freelance writer, translator and travel photographer. He was born and grew up in a small town in Belgium and currently lives in a small town in Vermont, USA. He likes to try different travel styles and he has backpacked across Australia, cycled from Belgium to the North Cape and back, spent three months immersing himself in the Irish culture, hiked across England, climbed numerous mountains in New England, and visited many a handful of European cities. Besides writing and traveling, Bram spends his days reading, working out and trying to live a healthy life.


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