Family Abroad

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Cinque Terre: A Guide for Families

Welcome to the enchanting world of Cinque Terre! Picture-perfect and oh-so-charming, this place is a dream come true. Nestled along the picturesque coastline of the Italian Riviera, this cluster of five colorful fishing villages is a true gem waiting to be explored. Get ready to uncover all the must-know tips to make your family adventure in Cinque Terre absolutely unforgettable.

What is Cinque Terre?

Cinque Terre is a scenic region located on the Italian Riviera coastline in the Liguria region of Italy. Translated as “Five Lands,” Cinque Terre refers to a string of five colorful coastal towns that are perched on cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The five towns of Cinque Terre are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

The colorful village of Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

What sets Cinque Terre apart is its picturesque beauty, with its charming pastel-colored houses, narrow winding streets, and breathtaking views of the sea. The region is known for its rugged coastline, terraced vineyards, and a network of hiking trails that connect the towns, offering stunning vistas along the way.

Cinque Terre is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also a national park, preserving its natural and cultural heritage. Visitors to Cinque Terre can explore the towns, sample delicious local cuisine, swim in the crystal-clear waters, hike through the scenic trails, and immerse themselves in the relaxed coastal atmosphere.

Because of its unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and authentic Italian charm, Cinque Terre has become a popular destination for travelers seeking an charming coastal experience.

How to get to Cinque Terre?

Getting to Cinque Terre is a breeze, with multiple transportation options available. The most convenient way is by train, as the region is well-connected to major Italian cities. The nearest airports are Pisa and Genoa, with direct train connections to the towns of Cinque Terre.

If you prefer to drive, there are parking areas available outside the villages, and you can reach the towns by shuttle or on foot.

When is the best time to visit?

To make the most of your trip, timing is key. The best time to visit Cinque Terre is during the spring (April to June) and autumn (September to October) seasons. The weather is pleasant, the crowds are smaller, and the landscapes are at their most vibrant. Summer months can be quite crowded, especially in July and August, so plan accordingly if you prefer a quieter experience.

What are the 5 towns of Cinque Terre?

Manarola village during sunset

Cinque Terre is comprised of five unique towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. Each town has its own distinctive charm, from the colorful houses perched on cliffs to the serene beaches and narrow winding streets. Exploring these towns is a delight, whether you choose to stroll along the scenic trails, relax on the beaches, or indulge in the delectable local cuisine.

  • Monterosso al Mare: This is the largest and most accessible town, known for its beautiful beaches, charming old town, and picturesque waterfront promenade.
  • Vernazza: Considered one of the most scenic towns, Vernazza boasts colorful houses nestled against a small harbor. Explore its narrow streets, visit the Doria Castle, and enjoy the stunning views from the waterfront.
  • Corniglia: Perched on a cliff, Corniglia offers panoramic views of the coast. It is the only town of Cinque Terre that is not directly on the waterfront, but it has a unique charm with its terraced vineyards and quiet atmosphere.
  • Manarola: Known for its iconic postcard-worthy views, Manarola is a favorite among visitors. Wander through its colorful streets, enjoy the stunning sunset from the harbor, and explore the vineyards surrounding the town.
  • Riomaggiore: The southernmost town of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore is characterized by its steep streets, pastel-colored houses, and picturesque harbor. Don’t miss the Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane), a scenic walkway connecting Riomaggiore to Manarola.

How to get around Cinque Terre?

Getting around Cinque Terre is a delightful experience, with various transportation options available to explore the charming towns and breathtaking landscapes. Here’s a guide to help you navigate this picturesque region:

  • Train: The train is the most popular and convenient mode of transportation in Cinque Terre. There is a well-connected railway line that runs through all five towns, making it easy to hop from one village to another. Trains operate frequently throughout the day, offering stunning coastal views along the way. The Cinque Terre Card includes unlimited train rides, so consider purchasing this for seamless travel.
  • Hiking Trails: Cinque Terre is renowned for its scenic hiking trails, offering panoramic views of the coastline and vineyards. The most famous trail is the Sentiero Azzurro, also known as the Blue Trail, which stretches along the coastline and connects all five towns. Other trails, such as the Via dell’Amore and the High Path, offer different perspectives and varying levels of difficulty. Make sure to wear appropriate footwear and check the trail conditions before embarking on your hike.
  • Boats and Ferries: Exploring Cinque Terre by sea is another fantastic option. Boats and ferries operate between the towns, providing a unique perspective of the colorful villages nestled against the cliffs. It’s a leisurely and scenic way to travel, allowing you to enjoy the coastal beauty and capture stunning photographs. Keep in mind that boat services may be seasonal, so check the schedules in advance.
  • Local Buses: Cinque Terre also has a local bus service that can be useful for reaching specific areas or exploring nearby towns. The buses connect the villages and run on designated routes. While not as frequent as trains, buses can be a convenient option for specific journeys or if you prefer to avoid walking or hiking.
  • Car: It’s important to note that driving a car within the towns of Cinque Terre is highly discouraged. The villages are small, with narrow and winding streets that are not designed for heavy traffic. Additionally, parking is limited, and some towns are entirely pedestrianized. It’s best to park outside the region and utilize other modes of transportation to navigate Cinque Terre.

Where to stay in Cinque Terre?

When it comes to accommodation, consider renting an apartment through platforms like Airbnb. Villas, guesthouses, and apartments are the primary options available, offering an authentic and cozy experience.

Riomaggiore and Monterosso al Mare are popular choices for their lively atmosphere, while Corniglia offers a quieter retreat. Vernazza and Manarola also don’t tend to be super busy, especially in the evenings.

The best way to decide exactly what town to stay in is by deciding on your preferences and looking at the map to find the ideal home base for your family.

What to do in Cinque Terre for families?

Cinque Terre offers a range of family-friendly activities and attractions that will make your visit memorable for everyone. Here are some top recommendations for things to do in Cinque Terre with your family:

  • Explore the Colorful Towns: Wander through the enchanting streets of each village, discovering their vibrant colors, charming shops, and picturesque squares. Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Monterosso al Mare each have their own unique character and are perfect for leisurely strolls and exploration.
  • Relax on the Beaches: Enjoy some sun, sand, and sea on the beautiful beaches of Cinque Terre. Monterosso al Mare boasts the largest beach in the region, making it an ideal spot for families to unwind and swim. Kids can build sandcastles, splash in the clear waters, and play beach games while parents relax and soak up the coastal ambiance.
  • Take a Boat Trip: Embark on a boat trip along the coastline of Cinque Terre. This allows you to admire the stunning scenery, rugged cliffs, and colorful houses from a unique perspective. Many boat tours also include stops at hidden coves and swimming spots, providing a fun and memorable experience for the whole family.
  • Hike the Family-Friendly Trails: While some of the hiking trails in Cinque Terre can be challenging, there are options suitable for families with kids. The trail between Levanto and Monterosso, known as the “Lover’s Lane,” is an easy and scenic walk that offers beautiful views. You can also explore shorter sections of the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail) that are suitable for children.
  • Visit the Monterosso Giant: In Monterosso al Mare, you’ll find the Giant of Monterosso, a monumental statue that has become a symbol of the town. Kids will enjoy marveling at this impressive statue and learning about its history. It’s a great spot for taking family photos and creating lasting memories.
  • Taste Local Delicacies: Cinque Terre is known for its delicious Ligurian cuisine. Don’t miss the opportunity to try local specialties such as pesto pasta, focaccia bread, and fresh seafood. Many restaurants offer kid-friendly menus and options, ensuring a delightful culinary experience for the whole family.

What are some helpful tips to know for your visit?

Here are some essential tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable visit to Cinque Terre.

First, consider purchasing the Cinque Terre Card, which provides unlimited train rides and access to the hiking trails within the villages, and even access to the public restrooms. It’s a convenient and cost-effective way to explore the area, and this card also supports the maintenance and preservation of the area.

Secondly, pack comfortable walking shoes. Cinque Terre is known for its steep and uneven terrain, especially on the hiking trails. Be sure to wear comfortable, sturdy shoes that are suitable for walking and hiking. This will ensure you can explore the villages and trails without discomfort.

Lastly, respect the local customs and environment. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s crucial to respect the local culture and environment. Follow the designated paths and signs, dispose of waste properly, and be considerate of the residents and their property.

Our Trip to Cinque Terre

We decided to base ourselves in the town of Vernazza. Our Airbnb, perched high up, provided us with fantastic views of the ocean and a large terrace to enjoy the surroundings. Although the weather was a mix of rain and sun during our stay, we were fortunate to explore the towns on clear and sunny days.

Us on the terrace of our Airbnb in Vernazza

Beautiful views from our Airbnb in Vernazza

Our first stop was Vernazza itself, where we wandered the charming streets and visited the iconic Santa Margherita church. We also walked to the harbor. We visited the harbor in the evening and it was quieter then. However, we could imagine the lively atmosphere that fills the plaza during the daytime.

The village of Vernazza, with the Santa Margherita church on the left

Ocean views in Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Next, we ventured to Corniglia, the smallest of the towns. As the only one not directly connected to the sea, we strolled through its colorful streets, reaching the main square, Largo Taragio. From there, a rewarding uphill hike led us to a spectacular viewpoint, revealing breathtaking vistas of the ocean and even offering glimpses of Vernazza’s coastline.

Manarola, the second smallest town, greeted us with its vibrant houses built upon a high rock. We happily wandered through its postcard-worthy streets, eventually finding ourselves on an uphill path. There, we discovered a panoramic spot where the colorful houses and the expansive ocean views stretched out before us, just as we had seen in countless Cinque Terre postcards.

The picturesque village of Manarola

Don and Edith in Manarola

Riomaggiore, the southernmost village, was our next destination. From a cliffside terrace, we admired the sweeping views, immersing ourselves in the mesmerizing beauty of the coastline.

Postcard-worthy views in Riomaggiore!

Edith in Riomaggiore!

Our journey concluded in Monterosso al Mare, the only town with a sandy beach. Walking along the shoreline, our kids, Nathan and Bethany, joyfully dipped their feet in the refreshing waters.

Nathan dipping his feet into the Monterosso ocean

Beautiful beach in Monterosso al Mare

We also got to see Giant of Monterosso, which is a monumental statue that has become a symbol of the town. Officially known as “Il Gigante” in Italian, the statue is a colossal figure of a sleeping sea giant carved out of stone. It was created by sculptor Arrigo Minerbi in the early 20th century and has become an iconic symbol of Monterosso. The Giant of Monterosso serves as a prominent landmark and a popular spot for visitors to take photos and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Giant of Monterosso

To capture a better view of the town, we climbed uphill and were rewarded with a breathtaking sunset over the harbor, a fitting end to our unforgettable Cinque Terre adventure.

The McClure family relaxing on the beach in Monterosso

As we boarded the train from Monterosso al Mare back to Vernazza, a mere four-minute ride, we reflected on our trip. Cinque Terre had exceeded our expectations with its postcard-perfect scenery, vibrant streets, and warm Italian hospitality.

We wholeheartedly recommend visiting this enchanting destination to create cherished memories with your own family. With its unique combination of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, Cinque Terre is a must-visit for anyone seeking an authentic and fun Italian experience.


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