The five towns of the Cinque Terre have long been on the well-trodden tourist path, despite how much they still get described as “little fishing villages.” Sure, fishing still happens off the Cinque Terre coast, but the main source of income for locals is tourism – and it’s a pretty good income, indeed.
Without a doubt, the main thing that draws visitors to the Cinque Terre is the famous hike between the five towns. You should absolutely have that on your Cinque Terre itinerary, and I’ve included it on my list of things to do below – but it’s not the only thing to do in the Cinque Terre. Most of the attractions involve the great outdoors, but there are a few non-outdoorsy things to do in the area, too.
I’ve certainly got my preferences for how I’d spend a couple days in the Cinque Terre, but you are not me. Your priorities may be different. What you’ll find below, then, is a selection of Cinque Terre attractions and activities. Use it as starting point to figure out what to do in the Cinque Terre villages and the National Park that surrounds them – including some of what I think are off-beat attractions that, I find, always add some interesting color to an itinerary.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it will get you going on your own travel plans. And don’t forget to check in with the local tourist information offices when you arrive to see if there are any special events happening while you’re there!
Cinque Terre’s Top Attractions
Looking back at Vernazza from the Blue Trail || creative commons photo by teldridge+keldridge
- Hiking the Blue Trail – The trail connecting the five Cinque Terre towns is called the Blue Trail, or “Sentiero Azzurro.” It’s by far the most popular reason for visiting, and can get very crowded during high season days. It’s also inside the National Park, so you’ll need a hiking pass to get in. Learn more about all the hiking options in the area in my article on hiking in the Cinque Terre.
- Hiking the Sanctuary Trail – This series of trails connects each Cinque Terre town with a sanctuary – a shrine or small church – above it in the hills. It’s not as heavily trafficked as the Blue Trail, is a bit more challenging, and offers something of a goal (the sanctuary) at the end of each trail. Having a guide for these hikes can be a good idea.
- Hiking the High Trail – This trail is highest up in the hills above the water, and it’s more challenging than the Blue Trail. It’s also not quite as well-marked, so it’s good to hire a guide (or get a really good map) for this one.
- Main Beach in Monterosso – The Cinque Terre really doesn’t have great beaches, but the biggest one (and probably the best) is in Monterosso al Mare. That beach is a mix of public and private, while the smaller (but nice) beach in Vernazza is entirely public. Learn more before you go with my article on the different kinds of beaches in Italy.
- Swimming – The beaches in the Cinque Terre aren’t just for sunbathing – lots of locals spend time swimming and cavorting in the water. Even in the towns that don’t really have beaches (Riomaggiore and Manarola end sort of abruptly at the water, where big rocks or concrete “piers” are the only things between you and the sea), people leap off the rocks into the water on hot days. Suit up and join the fun.
- Fishing or Sailing Trip – Most people either hike between the towns or take the slow train that connects all five, but you can also hop from town to town via boat – or spend a day on the water for sailing lessons, a fishing excursion, or just to relax and see the Cinque Terre from a different angle. Here are some options for boat tours in and around the Cinque Terre.
- Wine – As vertical as the hills around the Cinque Terre are, they’re still covered in vineyards. Try the local wines with a meal or go on a wine tour. Just know that most of the best local wines are white, not red. Here are some wine tours in the Cinque Terre.
- Anchovies – One of the main fish caught off the Cinque Terre coast is anchovies (“acciughe” in Italian), and the tiny fish are on many a local menu. They are nothing like the oily, salty, canned things you might be used to. In the Cinque Terre, they’re served fresh, often simply dressed with lemon and olive oil, or even included in a pasta sauce. And they’re delectable.
- Doria Castle Tower in Vernazza – The tower overlooking Vernazza is in so many photos of the town, but far fewer people visit it than photograph it. It dates from the 11th century and was part of a castle intended to fortify the town against pirates.
- Convent of the Capuchins in Monterosso – The Church of San Francesco and the Convent of the Capuchins overlooks Monterosso from a hill above the harbor. You can visit the church, and the views from up there are also wonderful.
- Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia in Vernazza – The church sits unassumingly at one side of Vernazza’s popular main square, with a much-photographed bell tower.
Guided Tours in the Cinque Terre
Weird Attractions in the Cinque Terre
Neptune statue in Monterosso || creative commons photo by giomodica
- Neptune Statue in Monterosso – At one end of the main beach in Monterosso is a 46-foot-tall statue of Neptune jutting out of the rock. It’s made of concrete, and was built in the early 20th century to hold up a giant shell that was used as a dance floor by the residents of the villa for whom the statue was made. The shell and some of Neptune were destroyed by Allied bombs during WWII, but he’s still quite noticeable.
- Guvano Beach – Beaches aren’t really “weird” attractions, except that this is one of the beaches in Italy that is clothing optional. If that sounds like your kind of thing, then make your way to the very secluded Guvano Beach between Corniglia and Vernazza. Signs will point you in the direction of the “Spiaggia Libera” (public beach), and there’s a relatively long trail from the main Blue Trail down to the beach itself. You actually have to pass through a tunnel on private property to get to the beach, ringing the buzzer and paying a fee to pass through the gate.
- Harvesting Methods – When you’re hiking through the Cinque Terre on the Blue Trail, you’ll walk beside (and through) some of the vineyards and olive groves that cover the hillsides. Be on the lookout for some of the machines locals use to harvest grapes and olives on such a wicked incline – tiny railroad tracks and little cars that climb up and down the terraced hillsides, laden with fruit. It’s pretty impressive dedication to farming.