How to hike in the Cinque Terre: The Essential Guide

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Only a few decades ago, the five fishing communities of the Cinque Terre remained as fishing villages. They are now very popular tourist destinations, where there is still some fishing.

In the past, the rough trail that ran along the cliffs between villages was used mostly by farmers to transport crops, mainly olives, grapes and nuts, as well as pilgrims on their way to the churches. Tourists now come by the thousands to hike the trail and then catch a train back home by nightfall.

The Cinque Terre is far from the quiet, peaceful area it used to be in the past. The area is a popular tourist destination. The pastel-colored buildings appear to have grown out of the rocks above the turquoise sea. Fishing boats can be seen bobgin in the waters just offshore. It is tranquil and beautiful, as you would expect it to be. However, it can get quite crowded at times.

It is a must-do when you visit Cinque Terre. Here are some things you should know to ensure a pleasant hike.

Find out more about the five Cinque Terre towns

Hikes between the Cinque Terre Towns

People who know the Cinque Terre well will be familiar with the hike that connects the five Cinque Terre towns of Riomaggiore (Manarola), Corniglia and Vernazza. The Blue Trail is also known as “Sentiero Azzurro”, or “Trail No. 2” in Italian. The trail network has 2 trails. It’s possible to hike all five towns in one day or just a few. Or you can split the hike over several days.

The Blue Trail is now part of Cinque Terre National Park. This means that there is an entry fee to hike it. I think it’s a fair fee and helps to maintain the trails, which are used a lot. You can also get park passes that include train rides, which is great if you stay in Cinque Terre for more than two days. This article contains more information about entrance fees and pass options.

Sometimes, the closure of a section of the trail can be due to weather conditions. This could be because the trail is too dangerous to walk during a storm or because the trail has been damaged by a landslide. It’s possible to track this information before you reach the Cinque Terre ( this page shows which trails are closed in red on the map). However, you might not remember anything by the time that you arrive. You should plan to visit a tourist information bureau when you arrive to learn about the closed trails and to plan your hikes from there.

The Blue Trail: What you Need to Know About Hiking

  • The Blue Trail is extremely popular and can get very crowded.
  • The trail runs along the cliff and bathes hikers in almost full western exposure. I recommend that you start your hike in the morning so that you don’t get too hot in the afternoon.
  • The trail can be narrow in some areas. There is often a steep drop off on the water side. It can be frightening if you are afraid of heights, as I am. This feeling can be more severe when hiker traffic gets busier. Another reason to get started early and stay ahead of day-trippers is that it is easier to feel the pain.
  • Appropriate footwear is essential. While this doesn’t necessarily mean hiking boots with a lot of traction, it does refer to sturdy hiking or walking shoes that have good traction. I’m sure you’ll be grateful later.
  • You should bring a water bottle to refill in every town you visit, as well as a small backpack containing snacks that will keep you going until you are ready to eat.
  • You don’t have to rush the sun. Take your time and explore each town before you move on. This is what I consider one of the best parts of the hike: stopping in every town to grab a bite to eat.
  • The Blue Trail markers are marked with red and white stripes. Although it may not be necessary between towns, it is important so you can locate the next section of the Blue Trail down a side-street. This is an example of the painted stripes. Here’s another.

I personally like to hike from Riomaggiore and Monterosso. This is the order I’ve listed below. This makes the last leg the most difficult. If you prefer to start with the hardest part and finish on a more manageable stretch, I recommend going in the opposite order.

Note The Via dell’Amore is still closed to all but a few sections of the Cinque Terre trail after the October 2011 major landslides that shut down large stretches of it. While some sections of the trail remain open, the remainder is being repaired. Some sections of the trail are still closed due to damage from the 2011 storm. The Save Vernazza website has more information about rebuilding efforts. It also contains a reasonably up-to-date list listing which trails are currently open.

Hiking from Riomaggiore and Manarola

This section of the Cinque Terre trail is often called “Via dell’Amore”, or “lover’s lane,” and many people follow their lead, especially in the evening.

It is flat and paved. You’ll see strollers being pushed on it. Although it’s not what you might expect when you hear “trail”, it is part the larger trail connecting the five towns. This is the one section you can do without difficulty, even if you don’t want to hike or aren’t interested in the more challenging sections of the trail.

The time required for this hike is Between 20-30 minutes unless you do a lot of lolly-gagging or dilly-dallying or – let’s just be real – smooching.

Hiking from Manarola, Corniglia

Stairs to Corniglia || creative commons photo by Karen

You’ll be walking along the tracks of the trains that run along the coast as you leave Manarola. This section of the trail will seem almost identical to the one from Riomaggiore. You’ll be amazed at how anyone could continue walking, stroller included. Until you reach the stairs.

Cornigia, the Cinque Terre town that is not directly on the water, sits high up on the cliff. This means you have to climb many stairs to reach it from the Manarola trail. One source online stated that there are over 360 steps up a staircase with many switchbacks. At the top, you will find Corniglia. If you don’t want to follow the stairmaster route, the shuttle bus departs from the base of the stairs.

The hike takes approximately an hour.

Walking from Vernazza to Corniglia

Hilltop Corniglia is a steep climb, no matter if you are coming from Vernazza or Manarola. And it requires a descent when you get out of town. The descent from Corniglia to Vernazza, unlike the vertical staircase from Manarola is more gradual.

This section has a few steps that are steeply cut into the ground. If you start in Riomaggiore, this will be the first indication you have of just how narrow and near-to-the edge the trail can get. You will find wider spots on the trail at semi-regular intervals where you can “pullover” for hikers coming from the opposite direction. This is important because this trail is a popular tourist attraction.

Vernazza will be visible in the distance. However, there are still steep switchback steps (some between buildings) that you need to navigate before you reach the town.

Duration of this hike: 1.5-2 hours depending on how fast you are and how often you have to stop for oncoming traffic.

Hiking from Vernazza up to Monterosso al Mare

The climb to Corniglia may seem difficult, but the Vernazza-Monterrosso al Mare trail is the most challenging of the four. There are steep ascents as well as descents. There are some trails that offer the advantage of hiking one way or another. There are often ups and downs, no matter which direction you take.

This is also where the trail narrowest is. This section is where you’ll feel the most secure. Although there are some points where railing can be used to prevent hikers from falling down the cliff sides of the trail it is mostly up to you. You’ll need to be more cautious about stopping hikers who are coming towards you, due to the increase in trail users over the years.

Duration of this hike: 2 to 3 hours, depending on how fast you are and how often you have to stop for oncoming traffic.

Additional Cinque Terre Hiking Trails

There are many trails that can be used to hike in the Cinque Terre, but they are not limited to the ones connecting the five towns. The majority of people visit the Cinque Terre to do a day trip, overnight or for short periods of time. They then go back home and continue their journey on the same trails. These two trails offer a different experience than most hikers in the area, and are great for those who enjoy more difficult trails.


It is recommended that you either get a hiking guide or a detailed map of the area. It is easier to lose these trails than the ones listed above.

Hiking the Cinque Terre High Trail

This trail, as you can see from its name, is higher up on the cliffside than the towns. It runs from Portovenere, south of Cinque Terre, all the way to Levanto, north of the villages. There are also trails that link the High Trail and the Blue Trail. If you know where you are going, you can combine the two trails.

Duration of this hike: Reports vary and indicate that it takes 6-10 hours to complete.

Hiking the Cinque Terre Sanctuary Trail

The trail’s name gives you an idea of what it is. Each of the Cinque Terre towns has sanctuaries or churches high up in the hills. There is also a trail linking them. You can walk up to each sanctuary by following the Blue Trail or High Trail. If you are not familiar with the area, you may need to get lost. This page is located on the official park website. It contains information about the Sanctuary Trail.

The time required for this hike is About 5 hours, not including the time spent visiting each sanctuary (see below).

  • Riomaggiore (Nostra Signora Di Montenero) – Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montenero
  • Manarola, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Health (Nostra signora della Salute).
  • Corniglia – Sanctuary of Our Lady of Graces / Nostra Signora delle Grazie
  • Vernazza – Sanctuary of Our Lady of Reggio (“Nostra Signora Di Reggio”)
  • Monterosso al Mare (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Soviore, Nostra Signora Di Soviore).

Cinque Terre National Park Visitor Information

Cinque Terre Card Options

There are two options: you can either get Cinque Terre cards for hiking only or you can also get a Cinque Terre Card for trains and trails that allows you to take the slow trains between the five towns. This card is great if you are visiting the area for several days and wish to see each town at a different time from when you hike through them. It can also be useful if your hiking gets tiring and you want to return to the starting point by taking the train.

Carta Parco is a trail-only card that can be used only for adults. It comes in 1-day and 2-day versions, suitable for children, seniors, adults, and families. The prices range from EUR7.50 for a one-day adult pass to EUR31.50 if you purchase a two day family pass.

Cinque Terre Treno MS is the name of the trails-plus trains cards. They are also available in 1- and 2-day versions for children, seniors, adults, and families. The prices range from EUR12 for a one-day adult pass to EUR31.50 if you are looking for a family pass.

This page on the official park website provides a complete breakdown of ticket prices. Scroll down to see all the Cinque Terre Card options.

Cinque Terre National Park website This is the official park website. Some parts are in English but not all.

Other Cinque Terre Resources. James from Wandering Italy has assembled a great collection of Cinque Terre hiking info and Slow Travel Italy has listed the times for each hike (even the High Trail and Sanctuary Trail hikes). If you need a map of the Cinque Terre or Portofino, this one can be used. It even has GPS compatibility. If you are planning to wander off the Blue Trail, you can pick up a good hiking guide when you reach the Cinque Terre.

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8 Responses to “Hiking the Cinque Terre: What you Need to Know”

  • Dennis Cumiskey:

    This is a great article. We will be there in October.

    I know what I will be reading this weekend!

    We are grateful.

    Dennis

  • Ana Clifton says:

    Hi

    We were just wondering where to stopover if we wanted to visit the 5 villages in two days.

    Many thanks

    Ana

    • Jess has the following:

      Ana, thank you for your question. Ana, I was wondering if you meant which Cinque Terre village you should stay in during the hike. You can read my humorous descriptions of each Cinque Terre town to find the one that appeals to you. You can hike the entire thing in one day, passing through all five villages.

  • Katelyn says:

    Hello! Hiking is something my husband enjoys and so do I. However, I’m not a thrill seeker. I was also a bit scared to read some of the reviews about trails with no railings and sheer drops. The majority of the blue path has been closed so the Sanctuary and higher paths seem to be our only options. Are you able to tell us if certain parts are more dangerous/easier? We are grateful!

    • Jess has the following:

      I am terrified of heights and the drops in the Cinque Terre were terrifying. But it was possible! If the trail is closed, I recommend that you hike as early as possible to avoid foot traffic. I would be very concerned if other hikers were to pass me on these narrow sections. I haven’t hiked the higher trails so I don’t know what they are like. However, they are far less crowded and there are fewer hikers. This means that you won’t feel rushed, or like you’re creating traffic jams if your pace is slow.

  • Michi Moi has the following:

    Hi …. We are going to hike fiveue terra over three days. It is a daunting task. We will need luggage

    This will be our first leg of the three-week trip. Do you need to store your luggage while hiking? Or do you just stay at one hotel, travel to each village, and then return to the hotel you were staying in? We are grateful! !

    • Jessica says:

      You can complete the hike between each village in approximately half an hour, depending on how far you want to hike. If you are staying in Cinque Terre, your bags can be kept in your room as you hike.

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