Cinque Terre National Park, locally known as Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, is located along the coast of northern Italy in the province of La Spezia. As the smallest national park in Italy, it covers an area of 14.9 square miles (38.6 sq km).
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is unique as a national park because of the number of permanent residents numbering around 5,000. The residence is found in five towns which include Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza.
The park is further unique in the way that it brings agricultural, cultural, historical, natural, and scenic significance together under the umbrella of Cinque Terre National Park. It would be fair to argue that it also represents vision and ingenuity with how these towns are intricately embedded into the rugged sides of the cliff.
Each of these five towns is connected through trails that travel along the coast. These trails provide access to the varied flora that exists including Aleppo pine, corks, chestnut, samphire, rosemary, thyme, lavender, and many different succulents.
Cinque Terre National Park is not known for its wildlife; however, it is present. The peregrine falcon and seagull are birds to watch for a while if you are lucky you might also see weasel, badger, fox, marten, and wild boar.
Highlights of Cinque Terre National Park
The Cinque Terre National Park is renowned around the world for its unique cultural and natural collective characteristics with approximately 5 million people visiting every year. One of the most coveted activities is the trek from the first to the last of the five towns.
If time allows, it is essential that you explore the towns internally and capture a more comprehensive understanding of what life is like here from this unique perspective of coastal living.
The Cinque Terre Card
The Cinque Terre Card comes in two variants: “trekking” and “treno”.
- Cinque Terre Trekking Card: This card gives you access to all the footpaths within the national park. You’ll need to purchase a trekking card to hike the Blue Trail.
- One day: €7.50
- Two days: €14.50
This card makes the most sense if you’re planning on hiking between the villages along the Blue Trail.
- Cinque Terre Treno Card: This card includes unlimited train rides on the Cinque Terre Express Trains.
- One day: €18.20
- Two days: €33
- Three days: €47
What to visit at Cinque Terre National Park
The 5 medieval cliff-side towns in the territory of Cinque Terre are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare and they’ve been included in UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
- Riomaggiore – the village located in southern part of the national park, famous for its bell towers. Riomaggiore also has an ancient stone castle so don’t miss the opportunity to visit it. The main street in Riomaggiore, Via Colombo, is the prototype of typical Italian lifestyle, full of of cafes, bars, restaurants and ice-cream shops. There are several food shops in Riomaggiore so you can stock up on food and beverages before hiking.
- Manarola – The next village is Manarola which is famous for its caves and underwater rocks. There is also a small swimming area and a pier from which you can dive into crystal clear blue sea. If you are a fan of fresh fish, try anchovies with lemon and olive oil, the specialty of Manarola. If you happen to visit Cinque Terre during Christmas holidays, make sure to check out, the biggest Nativity scene in the world.
- Corniglia – the smallest of 5 villages and the only one that doesn’t have its own port but it has a nudist beach Guvano which is quite difficult to reach since you need to walk through 1 km long tunnel with no lightning, so if you want to visit this secret gem, don’t forget to bring a torchlight. Considering the fact that Corniglia is situated on top of the hill, you can reach it only by climbing 365 steps from the train station, or by bus.
- Vernazza – many people consider Vernazza the most beautiful of all Cinque Terre villages because of its picturesque landscape. Don’t miss out on taking a swim on one of two beaches in Vernazza. You can also visit the medieval Belforte Tower for a panoramic view of the town and coast, but you will have to pay a small entrance fee of 1.50€
- Monterosso al Mare – the biggest and the oldest village divided into 2 parts: the old and the new village. The two biggest beaches are located in Monterosso, the first one at Monterosso Fegina (new part of the village) and it is the only sand beach, and the second beach is situated in the old town.
Cinque Terre National Park Trails
The majority of hiking or walking is around and between each of the five unique cliffside towns that are part of the cultural iconic nature of the national park.
How to get to Cinque Terre National Park?
It is recommended not going by car to Cinque Terre because it is the worst option and some of the villages are very hard to reach by car. So you should leave it parked on a parking lot or in a garage (Riomaggiore and Monterosso) which will cost you 23€/day.
- from La Spezia, take the A12 road and then turn to Levanto exit and follow the signs to Cinque Terre. The ride will take around 40 mins
- from Florence and Pisa, you should first go to the north side of La Spezia and then turn to Via Litoranea which will take you to the national park
Taking a train to Cinque Terre is probably the best option of getting there since the villages are very well connected by rail.
- From Genoa – there are numerous regional and intercity trains by Trenitalia which go to the villages of Cinque Terre every day and the ticket costs from 6,90€ to 9,90€, depending on the line
- From Pisa – there is direct intercity line to La Spezia and once you get there, take a train to Cinque Terre which is included in the price of the ticket to the national park (check the schedule of trains from La Spezia)
You can get to La Spezia from Pisa by bus for 10€ (one-way ticket) and from there take a bus to Cinque Terre included in the ticket for the national park (Cinque Terre Card).
If you don’t buy the card, the single bus fare costs 4€.
Entrance fee and prices
Visitors can buy the Cinque Terre Card. There are two types of this card:
Cinque Terre Trekking Card and Cinque Terre Train Card.
The entrance fee for Cinque Terre National Park – Cinque Terre Card (one day) is 7.50€ for the adults and 4.50€ for children and it includes:
- unlimited use of park buses; the one which includes use of trains costs 16€ (10€ for children)
- access to all trekking paths
- Wi-fi Internet connection
Top things to do in Cinque Terre National Park
- Hike the Blue Trail between the Cinque Terre villages
- Find a swimming spot and take a dip in the Tyrrhenian Sea
- Catch the sunset from a viewpoint overlooking one of the villages
- Enjoy an aperitivo at the cliffside Nessun Dorma overlooking Manarola
- Rent kayaks and get out on the water
Cinque Terre National Park has numerous paths intended for trekking and hiking (more than 120 kilometres!).
The most famous one is Sciacchetrail (named after famous dessert wine of Cinque Terre – Sciacchetrà), 47 kilometres long and it starts and ends in Monterosso, and it extends throughout the whole park. It is recommended for expert hikers only, so it is necessary to have proper hiking equipment.
The other, Blue (Sentiero Azzuro) trail is also very popular because it connects all the villages and it is built by the coast so you have the breathtaking view on Ligurian sea (hence the name of the trail).
The swimming path starts in town of Vernazza and it is 700m long and it is perfect for swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. During the summer, Cinque Terre Swimming organizes swimming competitions and non-competitive events, with the purpose of promoting the water sport activities of Cinque Terre National Park.
Don’t hesitate to explore the caves and waterfalls of Cinque Terre by kayaking since they are hard to reach and renting a kayak is the best option to visit these hidden nature gems. You can find rent a kayak services which offer them for 5€/hour.
Is it worth it to go to Cinque Terre?
It’s considered one of the most breathtaking parts of Italy and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Can you visit all 5 towns in Cinque Terre in one day?
Yes. However, if you choose to do this, I recommend having a solid plan. It’s a full day feat and you’ll only be able to get a taste of each village within a single day.
How to purchase the Cinque Terre Card
Either of the Cinque Terre Cards can be purchased in-person at a few locations: The tourist information offices at the train stations along the Cinque Terre Express Network or at the Blue Trail hike checkpoints as you enter or exit a village (using cash).
If you’re using the treno card, be sure to validate your card at one of the machines before you get on, otherwise you’ll be charged a fee. Look for the green machines in the stairs on the way to the platforms to get the date and time stamped onto your ticket.
How many days do you need in Cinque Terre?
You can see Cinque Terre on a day trip, but you really won’t be able to appreciate the area as you’ll be speeding through trying to see everything.
With that, I think 2-3 days is an ideal amount of time to explore Cinque Terre. It gives you plenty of time to be more thorough and relaxed in the villages and maybe get in a hike or two.
Do you have to pay to walk Cinque Terre?
Yes and no. Access to the Cinque Terre villages is free. However, you will need to purchase a trekking card to hike between the villages, including on the Blue Trail.
You can purchase this €7.50 card online, or at the checkpoints on the trails (with cash!).
How long does it take to walk the 5 villages of Cinque Terre?
Each of the trails between the villages is a bit different in length and difficulty. The shorter/easier routes are between Riomaggiore to Manarola, and Manarola to Corniglia. Since these trails were closed during my visit, I wasn’t able to time these out.
It took us 2 hours to hike from Monterroso to Vernazza, and 1.5 hours to hike from Vernazza to Corniglia.
You can expect it to take around 5 hours to walk between each of the villages if you are doing the full Blue Trail, not including the time you stop to explore.
Where to stay
Don’t worry of getting left without a room since there are numerous hotels, hostels, B&B’s and apartments throughout the whole national park. It is up to you which village you prefer to stay in.
Cozy studio (Airbnb)
Budget studio apartment: Cozy Studio
Location: Riomaggiore. This modern and clean apartment is on a scenic cliffside overlooking all of town. It’s in a historic building with stone archway detailing, a double bedroom, small kitchen area, and a relaxing terrace and garden. It’s the perfect place to unwind or get the day started.
Mid-range budget option: Villino Caterina
The location, intimate setting, and jaw-dropping views are highlights of this cliffside stay. It comes with everything you need for a comfortable stay: full-service kitchen, washer, private patio, workspace, free Wifi, and your own private backyard.
Mid-range budget: Locanda A Cà Du Gigante
Tips for visiting Cinque Terre National Park
Keep these tips in your back pocket when planning your trip and after you arrive to have a comfortable and stress-free visit to Cinque Terre.
- Hiking trails close frequently. This is due to landslides and other natural phenomena, so be sure to check all trail conditions before you set out.
- Start your days early. To avoid crowds and the heat of the Italian coast!
- Practice Leave No Trace. As with any natural place, leave it how you found it.
- Pack light and expect lots of stairs. Your accommodation will likely be up one, or many, flights of stairs. Keep this in mind when packing your suitcase.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. I cannot stress this enough. You will be walking a lot and there are lots of stairs and cobblestones to navigate.
- Book accommodations well in advance. Cinque Terre isn’t the off-beat gem it once was so book 6+ months in advance, especially for high season to avoid premium pricing and limited options.
- Book your Cinque Terre train pass online ahead of time to avoid standing in lines at the stations. This way you also won’t need to remember to validate your ticket each time you board a train.
What to pack for Cinque Terre National Park
To travel around the five villages comfortably, here are some essentials you don’t want to forget.
- Insulated water bottle
- Sun protection: sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses
- Microfiber travel towel
- Camera & tripod (this is our favorite one for travel)
- Day pack for exploring
- Sturdy hiking boots or walking shoes
- Hiking poles (optional)
- Dry bag – if you plan to do any kayaking or boating
Cinque Terre National Park celebrates the ingenuity of humankind and their vision for the development of the colorful mountainside towns. The protected area was established to protect the uniqueness and the cultural and hisitorical significance of this remote region. The enchanting nature and impressive architectural vision has earned the UNESCO World Heritage Site status as well.