Not just trekking. Here are our insider tips for enjoying the Cinque Terre like a local and living an authentic Ligurian experience.
What to do on holiday in the Cinque Terre? Much more than just trekking.
Scroll through our list and find our tips for discovering this magnificent Unesco World Heritage site in the pure local style.
There is so much to see and do between hikes and walks along the paths of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Put your car aside: driving can be evilly tricky on certain intricate twists and turns (by the way, private vehicles are not allowed to enter the towns). Rather opt for trains or a boat trip. Put on your hiking shoes and... buon viaggio!
10. Dive into a hippy heaven
Every village has access to the sea, be it beaches or hidden small patches of sand and rock only accessible by boat—secret places surrounded by an extraordinary charm.
The beach of Guvano in Corniglia is a secluded and still wild paradise that experienced a moment of great popularity among the hippy community during the 1970s. Since then, this spiaggia has been consecrated as a naturist holiday destination.
Those who live in the area preserve bizarre memories and anecdotes about the beach's "golden years". It will not be difficult to hear quirky tales about the events of the time. Try asking for information.
Although not officially recognised as a naturist beach, Guvano is still frequented by nudists today. However, you can still enjoy a nice swim in your swimwear if you don't feel like getting naked.
Reaching Guvano beach has always been challenging, especially now that the two paths from Corniglia are no longer accessible. Perhaps, part of its charm consists in its being so sheltered and isolated. You can always reach it by sea: consider a kayak tour.
9. Photographing Vernazza's colourful houses
When seen up close, the famous Vernazza's houses reveal one indisputable fact: they are old. And yet, how charming!
The saltiness may have affected the plaster and bright colours of the facades but hasn't affected their allure. Indeed, its green-shuttered buildings' lived-in and worn look makes this village even more authentic.
Go to Piazza Guglielmo Marconi: it overlooks the harbour and is a quintessential romantic dreamscape. Take impressive photos with the famous coloured houses winking in the background: it's a perfect spot.
The skyline painted in pinks, reds, oranges and yellows is the trademark of the Cinque Terre, the most colourful place in the world according to a 2021 British ranking (compiled by Uswitch). So, what are the best places in Vernazza for the perfect panoramic shot? Here are two hints, both on the Blue Trail (Sentiero Azzurro).
Walk towards Corniglia at sunset until you find yourself admiring the entire small Vernazza peninsula.
Go towards Monterosso to come across an authentic postcard: the tiny harbour of Vernazza with its multicoloured buildings, the church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia and the Doria castle.
8. Enjoying a sunset from above
The view from the marina in Riomaggiore is magnificent, but if you prefer a bird's-eye view from above, then we suggest you head for the castle.
Point to the small road climbing from the port of Monterosso towards the Sanctuary of the Capuchin Friars and head for the statue of St Francis. There is a leg-weakening staircase to climb, but the view is incomparable.
In Vernazza, you will find a beautiful viewpoint by following the path behind the port church.
Corniglia, the smallest of the Cinque Terre villages, has many spots where you can see the sun dipping into the sea and a view near the station that spans the town.
The landscape of Manarola from Punta Bonfiglio is among the most photographed in the world. Climb further up via the path that opens behind the old hostel on the church square, and enjoy an even more superb panorama.
7. Making pesto
Learn how to cook like a true Ligurian and take part in a cooking class. That's definitely an experience not to be missed in the Cinque Terre.
The smell of freshly hand-pounded basil is inebriating, and you won't resist the temptation to prepare it on your own.
The locals hold all the secrets to making the perfect pesto, their most iconic dish. Let yourself be initiated into this ancient art by those who master it to perfection.
While you practise with mortar and pestle among pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil and Pra basil, take a look at the magical pastel-coloured mixture of houses, rock and sea peeping out of the window. Impossible to resist. So, why not repeat the experience?
This time, get your hands in the dough with a Genovese focaccia, a simple speciality with a rigorous procedure. Go for a cooking lesson in a bakery and learn how to prepare such a delicacy in pure Ligurian style.
6. Tacking part in an ultra trail
This event is for those brave enough to experience the Cinque Terre as they would never have imagined. Be careful because you need excellent athletic preparation.
Sciacchetrail is a 47-kilometre route, a complex, challenging, dirty race in the beauty that tests legs, breath and mind.
As the name suggests, this ultra-trail takes you along the roads of Sciacchetrà, the Cinque Terre wine produced thanks to peculiar viticulture appropriately defined as "heroic".
You will run along creuse (the ancient local mule tracks) and terraced vineyards to discover the most ancient and genuine face of the Cinque Terre. In such challenging and impervious land, the inhabitants have masterfully adapted to an evocative but demanding environment.
Well, that's not something suitable for all, but if you feel up to it, that's a unique opportunity to dive into Liguria's history and nature.
5. Reading a poem by Eugenio Montale
In Monterosso, slow down and relax. Take your time to find what's hidden around the corner of a small alley, at the top of a staircase, or beyond a fence.
That's a good chance to rediscover Eugenio Montale's poetry. The winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize in Literature had a special bond with Monterosso and used to spend the summers of his childhood in the family's villa.
Seat in the shade of a limonaia, the characteristic lemon orchards of Monterosso, and browse through the pages of a book full of the same smells, noises and sensations that vibrate through the village.
Since 2016, there has also been a Literary Park (Parco Letterario "Eugenio Montale") which proposes a dense itinerary through the most meaningful spots reminiscent of the Genoa-born writer.
You'll see places like the Art Nouveau building property of his family and Villa Pastine, a once-stately mansion near the Statua del Gigante that used to include a copy of the Statue of Liberty.
4. Drinking lemonade in Prevo
Along the Blue Trail, the most famous itinerary connecting the five towns of the Cinque Terre, you will pass through a miniature village with an irresistible view.
Prevo was founded as a shepherds' village in the 16th century and is part of Vernazza.
If you catch the right day, you'll be able to see Corsica, Capraia, Gorgona, and the island of Elba lined up on the horizon.
All the blue in between is part of the Cetacean Sanctuary, a marine protected area between Liguria, France and the Principality of Monaco populated by fin whales, dolphins and sperm whales.
The small hamlet is the highest point of the Cinque Terre National Park, standing 208 metres above sea level. Just below, you can catch the expanse of sand and pebbles of the Spiaggia di Guvano, the wildest beach on the coast.
A small bar stands out among the cluster of houses that make up Prevo. Go in, order a fresh lemon juice and enjoy it on the panoramic terrace. A must-do break!
3. Cycling along an old railway
Levanto is a very Ligurian town on the Italian Riviera featuring a lovely medieval centre designed with colourful palazzi, picturesque squares and carruggi (the region's characteristic alleys). Since the 80s, it has been a major attraction for surfers and one of Italy's best spots for surfing.
Rent a bike and pedal with the sea breeze in your hair along the 6 km of the Ciclopedonale MareMonti, an amazing route that goes all the way to Framura.
The trail passes through the tunnels of the old single-track railway network that once connected Genoa to Pisa and offers truly marvellous glimpses of the coastline.
The journey starts from the old Levanto station. Tunnel after tunnel, you will come across small beaches to stop for a refreshing dip and pleasant villages such as Benassola.
Once arrived in Framura, get off your bike and continue on foot (or e-bike): the five hamlets of the town all feature exceptionally steep roads and paths.
2. Visiting Porto Venere
A UNESCO heritage site just like the Cinque Terre but (for now) far less crowded with troops of tourists. After touring around the five famous borghi, head to Porto Venere. Same vibes, less chaos.
You get there by ferry from La Spezia, Lerici or Riomaggiore, by bus from La Spezia, or doing a four-hour trek from Riomaggiore.
The arrival from the sea is by far the most spectacular, with the Church of San Pietro stretching out over the Golfo dei Poeti like a Gothic castle.
Looking at the townscape, you can't but notice the impactful discrepancy between the tall and imposing Castello Doria, the "true" castle of Porto Venere, and the row of colourful buildings on the seafront.
A passage on the ancient defensive walls nearby leads to a poetic place: La Grotta Byron is located on the stretch of coast from the Doria Castle to the Church of San Pietro. Many marine species inhabit the cave, making it a true paradise for snorkelling and diving. It bewitched the cursed poet. It will captivate you too.
You can also visit it by joining a boat tour including a detour to the nearby islands of the Gulf of La Spezia, Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, all three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
1. Having an aperitif on a boat
Among the things to do in the Cinque Terre, you cannot miss an aperitif on board. The best thing is having your aperitivo at sunset, when the lights projected on the pastel-coloured buildings create a truly magical atmosphere.
The five fishing villages seem like giant painted canvas as you look at the coastline from the sea.
Boat tours usually cross the gulf from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, with the addition of Levanto and Porto Venere. You can dive and snorkel through secret grottos, unspoilt coves, and natural pools while enjoying drinks and snacks. You might even spot some dolphins.
Those who usually get seasick can opt for a tasty snack on the rocks. The anchovies of Monterosso are the local speciality and a real delicacy. Ligurians call them '"pan do mâ" (bread of the sea). Enjoy a cone filled with fried fish and a glass of Pigato wine for a perfect informal happy hour.