Bursts of sunlight punctuate the darkness as the train hurtles through the rocky tunnel, expertly carved into the steep cliffs. Within just 10 minutes from bustling La Spezia, you explode into Cinque Terre: a collection of coloured houses perched precariously along the Ligurian coastline of North-Western Italy.
Below you lies the impossible blue of the ocean; to your right, a cluster of rustic, picture-perfect buildings, which snake upwards, disappearing into the lush green hillsides.
Composed of five small towns, each more charming than the last, Cinque Terre is quickly becoming a favourite holiday destination among visitors. Known and loved for its vibrant colour palette and striking natural beauty, this part of Italy is celebrated also for its rich cuisine, based mainly around a staple diet of seafood and gelato.
Read on for our ultimate 3-day itinerary to Cinque Terre, and discover how to make the most of your trip!
The closest airport to Cinque Terre is located in Genoa; from here, take a one-hour train journey to La Spezia.
From La Spezia, a direct train line will then take you to every town in Cinque Terre, each only roughly 5 minutes apart.
I would recommend buying a Cinque Terre Card for €16 per day, which not only allows you unlimited train and bus rides between each town but also grants you access to the breathtaking hiking trails which pass along the cliffside and through the steep vineyards of the surrounding landscape.
Hike From Riomaggiore To Manarola
What better way to introduce yourself to the stunning scenery which surrounds Cinque Terre than by hiking through its lush, rolling vineyards?
Make sure to bring your camera, and take plenty of water – the hike is steep, but the views are so worth it.
From Riomaggiore’s Piazza Rio Finale, the trek takes roughly an hour to complete and guides you over the jagged hill which separates Riomaggiore from neighbouring Manarola.
Enjoy A Long Lunch At La Scogliera
Located at the heart of vibrant Manarola is La Scogliera: a traditional trattoria celebrated for its unbeatable seafood dishes.
Settle yourself at the terrace, which overhangs the lively Via Renato Birolli, and order their signature seafood spaghetti. Wash this down with a glass of wine, and soak in the atmosphere around you.
Lounge By The Water In Manarola Marina
Framed by a cluster of rocks and boulders, Manarola Bay is an oasis of unimaginably clear water, set against a dramatic backdrop of steep cliffs and bright buildings.
Clamber onto the rocks and spend an afternoon cooling off in the crystalline sea, swimming among the shoals of colourful fish which pepper the bay.
Catch The Sunset At Manarola Scenic Viewpoint
For one of the most iconic and well-recognised views of the Cinque Terre, head to Manarola Scenic Viewpoint as the sun begins to dip below the horizon.
The houses, which seem almost to tumble into the water, are bathed in an orange glow; boats gently slice through the water; the sea morphs and glitters as the light changes. Make sure not to miss this spectacle.
For more great photo spots, be sure to read our Top 5 Best Places To Take Photos In Cinque Terre article!
Evening Aperitivo At Nessun Dorma
Boasting arguably the best view of any bar in the area, Nessun Dorma is perched just above the infamous Manarola viewpoint and makes the perfect spot from which to enjoy an aperitivo.
Offering a range of light snacks and, of course, Aperol Spritz, this popular haunt hangs precariously over the bay, making it one of the most picturesque spots in Cinque Terre.
Take The Train To Corniglia
Dangling above the sharp cliffs, Corniglia is the only town in Cinque Terre with no beach in its historic centre.
From the train station below, a tall set of winding stairs awaits you; from the top, the view is decidedly worth the climb.
Corniglia, like its neighbouring towns, is dappled with colour, shaded alleyways forming a labyrinth of cool stone streets. Spend an hour or two wandering among its bright houses.
Try A Traditional Focaccia At A’ Càneva
One of the most traditional dishes in this region is focaccia: a bread which is known for its crisp, salty exterior and soft, doughy texture.
In Corniglia, A’ Càneva is one of the best places to sample this recipe. Settle yourself at one of their outdoor tables, which cascade down the shaded staircase of Via Fieschi, and choose from a range of delicious fillings.
Following the coastline along from Corniglia lies the vibrant Vernazza: a village whose main square frames the gently-lapping water of the bay.
Under a canopy of bright umbrellas, as colourful as the houses which surround it, Piazza Marconi is lively yet laid-back, each bar blending into the next.
From here, you can admire the striking, unusual bell tower of the Chiesa di Santa Margherita di Antiochia.
Relax On The Beach
Although compact in size, Vernazza’s beach is one of the only sandy beaches in Cinque Terre, making it a favourite among visitors.
Head here for an evening dip as the sun begins to set: this west-facing harbour is the perfect place to watch the daylight fade, casting the hills around you in dazzling gold.
Discover The Colourful Port In Riomaggiore
Another iconic location within Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore’s port is tiny, bustling, and wonderfully chaotic.
The houses almost seem to trip over each other, rushing towards the water in a cacophony of pinks, reds and yellows; wooden fishing boats are crammed into every nook and cranny, ready to be taken out to sea.
Follow the rocky pathway of Via San Giacomo for a postcard-perfect view of Riomaggiore.
Go For A Swim On The Rocky Beach
Bookended by clusters of jagged rocks, Riomaggiore’s beach is rustic, untarnished, and beloved by visitors. Its stony surface means the water is sparkling and transparent, shimmering in shades of deep blue.
Spend a few hours here, soaking up the summer sun, or snorkelling along the base of the steep cliffs.
Wander Up To Riomaggiore Castle
Keeping watch over the haphazard buildings of Riomaggiore is its castle: a bright stone fortress dating back to 1260, whose ramshackle walls are set against a backdrop of the endless turquoise sea.
From the castle esplanade, which is punctuated by gnarled trees and elegant benches, you are greeted by a breathtaking view along the swelling hills of the national park.
Walk Along The Via Dell’Amore
Indisputably one of the most romantic locations in Cinque Terre is the aptly-named Via dell’Amore: a pathway which links Riomaggiore and Manarola, hugging the cliff face and overhanging the crashing waves.
In the evening, this walkway comes to life, basking in the impossibly beautiful glow of the disappearing sun.
Cinque Terre Wrap Up
Cinque Terre is one of the most beautiful destinations in all of Italy, if not the entire world! Between the beautiful views, amazing food, and relaxing beaches, there is something to do for everyone in Cinque Terre.
I hope this 3 day itinerary helps you plan your trip and make the most of this amazing seaside town!
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