A few years ago when the opportunity to visit Cinque Terre presented itself, I jumped in immediately. I am a moderately avid hiker and everything I read said it was not a big deal. Tourists (and presumably some locals) hike between the villages regularly – it can’t be hard, right? Well, let me tell you, there are some things I wish I had known before I took off. Being a planner, I researched heavily before I visited. I read blog posts, travel guides, solo-female travel articles, and asked friends. However, as with most things, I also learned some tips while I was there. In this post I’ll share the things to know before you hike Cinque Terre.
I had a limited amount of time and only walked Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza. This section is not the longest but it is the most strenuous portion of the Azure Trail. The biggest mistake I made was underestimating the level of exertion! I don’t think anything I read mentioned that this was a hike. Not a stroll between villages, not a walk on a paved trail – a real workout. As you’ll see in the photos, though – it was ten thousand percent worth it for the views!
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About Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre – literally translated “five lands” – is a group of five villages in Northern Italy. They sit on the cliffs over the Tyrrhenian Sea and are nearly 1,000 years old. North to South, the villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomagiorre. Historically, the only ways to travel between the villages were via footpath or boat. In the late 19th century, a railroad connected the villages to Genoa. However, to this day car traffic is restricted to residents only and cars are rare!
Cinque Terre today
Although tourism has really picked up over the last 10 years, Cinque Terre retains an old world feeling. The streets (many are pedestrian-only) are cobblestone, the buildings are weather-worn, and the people are kind. As you would expect, grapes and olives grow all around the villages. Seafood is also abundant and delicious, but don’t sleep on the pesto and the focaccia! When I arrived on the earliest train I could get (I came in from Florence for a day trip), I grabbed two huge focaccia and ate on them all day!
In 1999, Cinque Terre National Park was created to protect the ecology and the culture. It has also been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Once you visit, it’s not difficult to see why.
Getting there and around
Train is the easiest way to get there from any major city in Italy. You can get a train to La Spezia or Levanto then transfer to the Cinque Terre line. The Cinque Terre regional train runs frequently between. You can also take a ferry from Levanto or La Spezia. Note that the ferry does not stop at Corniglia due to the steep cliffs the village is perched on.
My assumption is that if you’re reading this, you’re at least partially interested in hiking between the villages! You can take trails between all five villages, but mudslides sometimes close the lower most-commonly walked trails. There are others higher up in the cliffs, so if you’re set on hiking you can typically find a path open.
What to know before you hike Cinque Terre: wear comfortable clothes and the right shoes
It is well known that Italy is a fashionable destination. In the cities, I highly recommend you do not wear athletic gear. However, the first thing you should know before you hike Cinque Terre is to wear what you would when hiking anywhere else. The good thing is that workout clothes can be super fun and cute these days. You can find some great yoga pants and yoga/bike shorts on Amazon. If you want to splurge a bit more I love the Aerie Offline Real Me leggings. I also refuse to compromise on having pockets – no reason not to have pockets these days!
I do not advise trying to hike in flip flops, but you don’t need boots either. Any comfortable shoe will work, tennis shoes or hiking sandals. These Tevas have been with me all over the world and they were perfect. It was pretty warm when I visited (mid-October), but in the winter you may want something closed toe. Just make sure you wear something comfortable and with traction.
What to know before you hike Cinque Terre: the weather can make or break your hike
Autumn in Tuscany is often rainy and cool – but Autumn on the Italian Riviera can be toasty warm! Be sure to check the weather forecast before you pack and bring layers. When I arrived in the morning it was still cool, about 60℉. However, by the time I reached the peak of the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza it was close to 85℉! I always suggest bringing a rain jacket, even if there is no rain in the forecast.
If it does rain while you’re hiking Cinque Terre, the trails may close. The trails linking the villages are susceptible to mudslides and can be dangerous when muddy. You should be prepared with a contingency plan just in case. Luckily, the train still connects all the villages even in the rain – so you can continue your adventure.
What to know before you hike Cinque Terre: don’t underestimate how strenuous the trails can be
If you don’t listen to anything else – this is what you should know before you hike Cinque Terre. I have to admit, I was not prepared for the ascent from Monterosso al Mare. As I mentioned, I was in pretty good shape but it is a steep climb up rough-cut stairs. Even once you’ve reached the top, parts of the trail are very narrow. There is a rock face up one side and a cliff leading to the sea on the other side. At points, passing others was a game of balance. Definitely not for the faint of heart!
Something that blew me away was the amount of older folks, small children, and dogs! I swear it was alarming enough to just have me but thinking of bringing a child or a dog to keep track of – no thanks. Although difficult, I do think nearly anyone who can walk 3-5 miles can do it. Take your time and know your boundaries. There are several places to stop and have a seat, take in the view, eat a snack, and rest. In fact, even if you aren’t overly exerted, I suggest stopping to soak in everything!
Don't forget to pack the essentials
These aren’t backcountry hikes, but you should still pack some essentials to be prepared. Regardless of the time of year, many parts of the trail are not shaded and the sun can be brutal. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen…and actually put it on!
Similarly, a refillable water bottle is invaluable. Nothing can ruin a perfect day like getting a headache from being dehydrated! Keep your water bottle filled up and don’t forget to actually drink it.
Lastly, you should definitely bring a swimsuit and towel! Although not all traditional beaches, there are several places to jump in for a swim. After a sweaty hike up and back down the cliffs, hopping into the cool Tyrrhenian Sea is so refreshing. I am a huge fan of this tiny microfiber towel. I took it on a weeklong camping trip to Yellowstone and it was all I needed. It is so small and dries out quickly – and still dries you completely off after a shower or swim!
So when are you going to hike Cinque Terre?
I visited Cinque Terre alone and only spent one day there. Ever since my train pulled away from Riomaggiore toward La Spezia I have been thinking about when I can return. There is something magical about the quaint villages, rugged landscapes, and friendly people. Although I shared what I think you should know before you hike Cinque Terre, there is so much more to do. The restaurants, the swimming spots, the adorable shops – you could spend a week and not soak it all up. Everything about Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore is slow-paced and makes for a relaxing destination.
If you’re interested in my experience traveling alone, you can read my guide to solo female travel. When you’re ready to visit Cinque Terre, read how to find the cheapest flights using Google Flights. Sign up for my newsletter to get some fun and random inbox content!
Have you ever been to Cinque Terre? Did you hike between the villages? Is Cinque Terre on your bucket list? Leave a comment below!