When deciding where to stay in Cinque Terre it is important to understand that each village has its own beauty and character.
Your home base will determine what activities are on your doorstep, what the nightlife will be like (if any), and how much walking you will have to do (don’t underestimate the importance of this).
In this guide, we have summarized the key points for each destination to make it quick and easy to find the one that best suits.
In this post:
Does it Really Matter What Village I stay in?
You will have an amazing time no matter which village you stay in. But remember that once the sun goes down the trains become infrequent, and it is hard to get around.
Not all towns have access to the water either. If you are planning a lazy beach holiday then staying on top of a mountain village is not going to work for you.
A few questions to think about before you read on:
- How do you plan to spend your evenings?
- How much walking you are comfortable doing?
- Do you need access to a beachfront?
- What other activities are you planning?
Aside from that, you are guaranteed great food, wine, and views at every village.
We stayed in Varnazzo for our two day Cinque Terre stay and would recommend it to anyone.
Beware of the Steep Terrain
A quick word of warning, when looking at accommodation options in each village you will see some absolutely incredible water views! While very seductive, you could nearly ruin your trip if this is on top of a very steep mountain.
Make sure you check how far the walk is from the front door to the main street of the village. The terrain is steep and you need to be realistic about what you can, and want, to be doing each day.
Mountain top accommodation looks amazing, but the walk will be a massive pain in the butt and buses come infrequently.
Corniglia is also an example where the whole town is only accessible via a steep climb. But more on this later.
Guide to the 5 Villages of Cinque Terre
This list is in the order of the towns from east to west, and the order of train stations you will pass through if traveling from La Spezia.
- Our Ranking – 4th
- Best Village for Younger and Solo Travelers
The first time I visited Cinque Terre this is where we stayed, and if i was traveling as a young, single, 24yo again this would be my top pick.
This is one of the larger villages which means more options for accommodation, more restaurants, bars…. And of course more people.
You will find the streets bustling all day and into the evening, when many of the smaller villages become very quiet.
The majority of day travelers head straight down to the waterfront area, where you will find one of the better known photo backdrops in the region.
Does the photo above look familiar?
This walkway leads around to a fairly large pebbled beach. But this is not always accessible at high tide when the walkway gets cut off by income waves. So we didn’t make it….
Last time we visited the path and fence were damaged in some areas and you really have to watch where you walk.
On the opposite side of the small harbor is a path that takes you along the coast towards the train station. Next door is the Bar e Vini a Piè de Mà. It’s cliff top location is the perfect place to knock back a few cocktails.
- Our Ranking – 2nd
- Best Village for Hikers
This would have been an easy top choice if it were not for one thing – no beach!
You can still swim in the small harbor area but when the sea gets choppy this may not be so relaxing.
If this doesn’t bother you then this village would be my top pick.
The town is instantly recognizable when you come out of the long tunnel that links the town with the train station, and you see this lovely old staircase that takes you up to a platform where you can see directly down the main street.
A more Italian site you will not see (not pictured below – that is the end oft he hike detailed below)!
It is not the biggest village, but you are still spoilt for choice for places to eat or drink.
What I loved most about it were the surrounding mountains with vineyards and other fresh produce being farmed up and down these steep slopes.
There is a walking track that will take you to a few different vantage points depending on how much climbing you want to do.
It is an easy climb to the Manarola Scenic viewpoint, which overlooks the town from the western side.
But if you want to go higher there is a small pathway that heads straight up from this track which tracks the edge of the mountain along a narrow path in between farmland, and cliff faces.
You are treated to a clear view to Corniglia on the way, and when you reach the top there is a flat path that follows the mountain back to the center of Manarola where you will get the best view in Cinque Terre in our opinion.
The climb is manageable with moderate fitness, and we would encourage everyone to give it a go.
- Our Ranking – 5th
- Best Village for Mediteranean Views
Out of the five villages, this one ranked dead last for me. The main reason being the long and steep staircase that will greet you when you step off the train to reach the village.
It is just impractical for most when carrying luggage around.
However, that is not to say that the town does not have it’s charm. I just wouldn’t stay here.
The town has a different feel to others and reminds me of Dubrovnik with its medieval style walkways, narrow streets and old style buildings.
The whole town sits in an elevated position on top of a mountain which is unique for the area. No swimming here, but some nice views on offer if you walk to the end of the mian street where a small viewing platform is.
There is a bar there where you can hang out and take in the view, but there are only three tables. Which will give you an idea of how small and narrow it is here.
The walkway between Corniglia and Vernazza is one of the few that remain open. We arrived too late in the day to make it but I would love to do it another time.
- Our Ranking – 1st
- Best Village for Couple Travel
This is where we stayed on our most recent visit and if I was to come back I would likely stay there again.
It is one of the smaller villages and as the sun sets the crowds really clear out, leaving a relaxed but vibrant atmosphere.
There is a small town square at the waterfront with an old church on one side, and a castle on the opposite overlooking the town.
A small beach sits in the middle where the water is very calm and swimming easy.
There is a walkway that wraps around the beach area that is a nice spot to enjoy a glass of wine, and some of the local cheeses & cured meats from the deli in the main street.
This was something we did more than once.
Another highlight for us was the secret beach accessible through a cave that sits just off to the side of the town square.
They rope this off at night, but we were not alone when venturing down there at night for a glass of wine.
Unfortunately the hiking trails are closed to the west, but as mentioned earlier you can make your way back to Corniglia.
- Our Ranking – 3rd
- Best village for family travel
Monterossa has a feel that is similar to a more typical European beach destination. There are two main beaches, each with gelato stands scattered everywhere.
There are two large beaches with more space than you will find in the other villages. The available amenities and abundance of food options give a family holiday vibe.
The quality of food looked to be higher in this village. We only had time to sample one restaurant (which was the best meal we had on our trip)… And it was a tough choice picking that restaurant!
The town is split into two sections. There is a smaller beach, the ferry wharf, and a handful of streets with outstanding food.
The other side has the larger beach, train station, and is a bit more chaotic.
A pedestrian tunnel joins the two, or you can go the coastal route which involves a bit of climbing, but the views are worthwhile.
All five villages of Cinque Terre are close together and accessible by train, ferry and some by hiking trail. You will have the chance to explore them all, but choosing the right one for your home base will remove any small frustrations.
It does get hot, and some facilities are limited (like places to do laundry!).
If you are in doubt, then just stick to the larger towns of Riomaggiore and Monterossa. But we loved Vernazza and would not hesitate to stay there again.