Cinque Terre: How to Decide Which Village to Stay In

by Kiiri @ Italian Fix

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For as long as I’ve been working with Bianca, the founder of Italian Fix, there has been one question we’ve been asked more than any other about the Cinque Terre — which village should I stay in?

That’s because the Cinque Terre isn’t one single place. As you might have guessed from its name (Five Lands is the direct translation), the Cinque Terre is a collection of five small towns along the Italian Riviera:

1. Riomaggiore
2. Manarola
3. Corniglia
4. Vernazza
5. Monterosso

If you’re going to stay here, you’ve got to choose one.

But which Cinque Terre town is the best Cinque Terre town?

Well, considering I’ve been living in the southernmost village for the last 15 years, you might think my quick answer would be Riomaggiore. I did decide to make it my own home, after all.

But the truth is that there is no best town to stay in in the Cinque Terre. In fact, the one you choose has a lot more to do with you and your travel wants and needs than with any ranking from coolest to lamest.

Each of these five villages has its own character, its own charms, its own pluses and minuses.

Cinque Terre: Which Village to Stay In

I’m going to walk you through each here, so that when you actually walk through them as part of your next Italian vacay, you’ll know you’ve made the right choice for you.

Riomaggiore — The Fun One

Which one is it?
Riomaggiore is the first village you hit when you’re coming from the south. It’s seven minutes away by train from La Spezia, which is the biggest nearby hub for train travel from the rest of the country.

What’s it like?
Picture one long main street lined with shops, restaurants and bars, at the top of which is a parking area and at the bottom of which is a marina and a small, rocky beach.

What’s the vibe?
Social. Of all of the five towns, Riomaggiore has been the best one for nightlife and events the last few years. Keep in mind, though, that on some nights this means loud music and partying out in the piazzas or in the marina until midnight or later. If you want guaranteed peace and quiet, don’t stay here. Or make sure your accommodations are away from the main drag and marina.

Is it the town for me?
The main street you just pictured? It’s on an incline. And all of the laneways and stairways that emanate from it are also on an incline, some of them quite steep. So this is not the place to stay if you have mobility issues or just plain hate climbing. Because you’re going to be climbing here. Everywhere you go. A lot.

On a budget? You won’t find any hostels in Rio anymore, but there are still some basic private rooms in the 50- to 60-euro-a-night range available, which is generally less than what you’ll spend in the other towns.

Manarola — The Classy One

Which one is it?
Manarola is the second town in if you’re coming from the south, just two minutes by train from Riomaggiore. About twelve minutes by train from La Spezia.

What’s it like?
Like Riomaggiore, Manarola’s basic layout is a long main street lined with shops, restaurants and bars, with a parking area at the top and a marina at the bottom. There is no beach in Manarola though — people lounge on the rocks and boat ramps by the water.

What’s the vibe?
Manarola is like Riomaggiore’s more mature older sister. They look alike, but this town is more chilled out, more… “grown-up” somehow. Fewer (if any) events and late-night parties, and a more sophisticated energy.

Is it the town for me?
Manarola too is all about the climbing, though the inclines here are slightly less steep. Still, if you don’t feel you can comfortably walk up a couple of flights of higher-than-you’re-used-to steps, you might want to stay elsewhere. Also, if you want a beach you can walk to, choose another town (like Riomaggiore, Vernazza or Monterosso).

Really budget travelers can check out the hostel here, which also has a few private rooms for cheap.

Corniglia — The Quiet One

Which one is it?
Corniglia is smack dab in the middle of the Cinque Terre, the third town in. It’s a three-minute train ride from Manarola, five minutes from Riomaggiore.

What’s it like?
The smallest of the five villages, Corniglia is also the least accessible — you have to either climb 382 steps to reach it, or take a local bus from the train station. Perched high up on the cliffside, this is the only town that isn’t right on the water.

What’s the vibe?
Quiet and old-school. If you’re the kind of person who will take peaceful over action-packed any day, Corniglia is your best bet. You’ll also get a lot closer here to what the Cinque Terre once was, especially in the evenings when the day trippers have cleared out. Because of its size and relative inaccessibility, fewer tourists stay here, so there’s more of a local feel.

Is it the town for me?
If you don’t want to do a lot of climbing, and also plan to spend your evenings close to home, Corniglia might be the place for you. Once you’re actually up in the village, it’s relatively flat. But keep in mind that the bus that shuttles between the train station down below and the town itself doesn’t run 24-hours, so if you’re eating out late in another town, you’ll have to walk those 350+ steps to get back to your digs.

Also, if you’re all about the beach, choose another town (like Monterosso!). Corniglia does have two, but one can only be safely accessed these days by boat and the other requires a bit of a downhill hike to get to (and an uphill climb to get back).

Vernazza — The Popular One

Which one is it?
Vernazza is the fourth town in when you’re coming from the south. It’s a four-minute train ride from Corniglia, seven minutes from Manarola, and ten minutes from Riomaggiore.

What’s it like?
Vernazza is much smaller than Riomaggiore and Manarola, though not quite as small as Corniglia. Unlike Rio and Manarola, though, it’s relatively flat, so getting around here is much easier. That being said, almost anywhere you stay here will have several flights of stairs to contend with. Most of the restaurants, shops and bars are concentrated along the main drag and in the seaside piazza, and there are two small sandy/gravelly beaches here too.

What’s the vibe?
Busy. We adore Vernazza, but we tend to recommend to our friends not to stay here just because of the sheer volume of people that descend on it every day during the high season. That being said, if you love being right in the middle of the action and thrive on the hustle and bustle of a lively atmosphere, then Vernazza is the place for you.

Is it the town for me?
Yes, if you love quaint, pretty little towns, but don’t mind crowds. Vernazza is picture perfect, and so it’s long been the darling of Cinque Terre guide-book writers who have sung its praises to the point of attracting their followers here by the thousands.

This truly is a heartbreakingly beautiful town, but because of its small size, its streets and train station can get incredibly congested during the high season. If you’re willing to put up with that during the day, you’ll be rewarded with all of its gorgeousness in the much less busy evenings.

Monterosso — The Beachy One

Which one is it?
Monterosso is the last of the five towns when you’re coming from the south (or the first from the north). It’s four minutes by train from Vernazza, eight from Corniglia, fifteen from Manarola and close to twenty from Riomaggiore.

What’s it like?
Much bigger than the other four towns, Monterosso is made up of two sections — the Old Town and the New Town — which are connected by a long boardwalk and a great big swathe of sandy beach.

What’s the vibe?
Beachy, sunbaked, very “Italian Riviera.” When you head up into the village’s narrow streets, you’ll get the character and color that you expect from the Cinque Terre, but come down to the sea and it’s all sparkling sunshine and gorgeous views of one of the prettiest bays you’ll ever see.

Is it the town for me?
Because Monterosso is almost entirely flat, this is the place to stay for anyone who has mobility issues or just doesn’t want to do a lot of exercise while they’re on vacation. It’s great for families with small kids too because there are long stretches you can walk easily with a stroller, and a few playgrounds to choose from.

And of course, if you’ve come to the coast because you want to spend your time on the beach, then this is the town for you too. Monterosso has by far the biggest beach in the Cinque Terre, and the walk into the water is gradual and easy (unlike, for example, Riomaggiore’s beach, which can have you staggering into the sea as you navigate the unsteady stones beneath your feet).

Which Cinque Terre village sounds like the best fit for you? Or if you’ve already been, which was your fave and why? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

We hope this post has helped a bit in planning your trip to the Cinque Terre — which village to stay in is often the biggest hurdle when it comes to organizing your holiday here!

With love + lemon granita,

xx
Kiiri @ Italian Fix

Image credits: Leela Cyd, Azzurra Biagi, Caroline White.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

cindy

I love reading about this special part of the world – one day soon I will get there! The towns all sound amazing but I think I am leaning toward staying in Vernazza:)

Reply

Monique @ Italian Fix

We hope you do Cindy!

Thanks for being here and keep us updated 🙂

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Jo

Alas, I will never get to see this beautiful part of Italy! I had booked 3 nights in Manarola then my knee started acting up so will stay in Verona after my cruise from Venice.

Reply

Monique @ Italian Fix

Ciao Jo,

Venice and Verona are marvelous. We hope you are doing better now. Perhaps back to the Cinque Terre on another Italian getaway? 🙂

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Beth

Planning a trip next April! Which one has the restaurants with best views/do you have any recommendations? I think I will choose either Vernazza or Manarola to stay, so I can try to spread my hikes out over two days (weather permitting). This page is very helpful thank you!

Reply

Bianca @ Italian Fix

Thanks Beth!

We have another great post about Restaurants in the Cinque Terre here: https://www.italianfix.com/restaurants-in-cinque-terre/

We also have a City Guide with all of our best recommendations for the Cinque Terre with a complete list of accomodations, restaurants, things to do and local secrets. Check out http://www.gigiguides.com

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Marie

My daughter and I will be visiting Cinque Terre in September and will be staying in Monterosso. Your description of the town sounds lovely. We can hardly wait to get there.

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Bianca @ Italian Fix

Ciao Marie!
Lucky girls! We hope you have an amazing mother daughter trip (you will).
Happy travels 🙂

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Linda

This has been a very special find , absolutely love your info on the Cinque Terre .
We are from NZ and have been touring in a Campervan through Croatia and Italy and found a fantastic little sosta just up the hill from Monterosso . . And right this very minute @ 2-58 pm on Thurs 5 July we are lying on the beach . . Soaking in the Italian Sun and the fantastic atmosphere in this village . . We had intended staying 3 days but instead of going to the other parts of Italian Rivera we are thinking of staying more . . Following your lovely itinerary and taking it all in 😀 we took your advice and went and bought local beer , cheese , salami and other cold meats and just enjoyed that in the sun . . Thanks for sharing your very special world with us . . . Come visit in New Zealand ( a different beauty ) 🌸 I am enjoying “Belle far Niente

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