Italy Travel Guide: Best Town to Stay in Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre, five picturesque villages located on the Ligurian Sea, and its surrounding hillside create the Cinque Terre National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You guys, you guys, I loooooooved my visit to Cinque Terre. The poetic and salt scented harbors, colorful homes splashed into rocky hillsides, gourmet seafood dishes. All of these details created a magical place fit for any tourist exploring Italy. It was amazing. I had a wonderful visit.
So, needless to say, Cinque Terre is one of the most popular tourist destinations for visitors coming to beautiful Italy! And that doesn’t surprise anyone. I mean, you seriously see these villages on Instagram and travel magazines all the time. Additionally, easy train access from nearby cities, such as Genoa and Pisa and even Milan, make Cinque Terre even more attractive to both long term travelers and day trippers.
Lots of people come to Cinque Terre for a few hours. It’s possible to see all five villages in a single afternoon. However, if you have room in your itinerary, I advocate staying in Cinque Terre overnight for more reasons that I will discuss later in this post.
But, hmm, where to stay when visiting Cinque Terre? It’s a good question! I know I always have a hard time deciding where to sleep at the end of a long day of sightseeing.
This guide will break down all the Cinque Terre villages and (hopefully) give you a clearer idea where to stay for the duration of your trip. Happy reading! I promise you will fall into deep love with Cinque Terre. Your camera will thank you, too.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre: Pick the Five Villages
The five “Cinque Terre” villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare – aren’t the only towns located on the peninsula. There are lots of other places to book accommodation. For example, some my budget minded readers out there might be thinking, “Why are you recommending staying in Cinque Terre? It’s so much easier and cheaper to take the train in from La Spezia!”
Here’s my opinion on staying in La Spezia or another nearby city. If you’re on a strict budget, and I mean a “if I spend too much money, then I can’t pay my electric bill” type of budget, then okay, maybe you should pass on staying in the five villages themselves. Bankruptcy is never a good idea even for traveling, haha.
However, should you have the money to spare, I personally think you should aim to stay in Cinque Terre itself. The benefits outweigh the potentially high prices.
What’s the Best Town to Stay in Cinque Terre?
Now it’s time for the hard decision: which is the best town to stay in Cinque Terre?
As I’ve said, you have five villages to choose from, and although these villages share some characteristics, your personal preferences will still come into play when it’s time to decide where to stay in Cinque Terre.
To help you make a decision, I’ve listed all the villages in this post and described them for you. I think you’ll have an incredible time in Cinque Terre, regardless of what village you select, but still make sure that you’re honest about your travel needs upfront and always read reviews before reserving a room.
Finally, it’s essential to book early during high season such as Easter week and summer vacation. As you already know, Cinque Terre is insanely popular and the villages aren’t very large, which means accommodation is limited (alas and woe). Don’t lose out on a great place due to poor planning! For example, I booked my room in Corniglia five months in advance, and I doubt I would have been so lucky if I waited much longer.
Onto the five villages!
The first village, closest to La Spezia, is Riomaggiore. The southernmost town of the Cinque Terre is well known for its wine, which is produced in the nearby vineyards, overlooking the town way up in the hillside.
Additionally, Riomaggiore is the largest of the villages, and hosts the main park office. If you’re a new traveler, then you might want to base yourself in Riomaggiore since it’s super easy to get information from the office. Less stress is always a good thing. Since its also larger than the other villages, Riomaggiore has plenty of great restaurants for sampling the local cuisine, as well as shopping options.
I thought Manarola was one of the most lovely villages in all the Cinque Terre. Particularly, I loved Manarola for its famous harbor. I mean, let’s be real. We’ve all seen the above photograph in various forms, right?
These houses look as if they may slip into the sea, and it’s remarkable to think that they’ve stayed the same for decades. The most well known site at Manarola is the 14th century Church of Saint Lorenzo. Don’t miss it!
Personally, I would stay in Manarola if I was a photographer. There are so many scenic viewpoints, and snapping photos without tons of tourists blocking your camera lens would be a real treat.
Are you ready for my favorite village in the Cinque Terre? I hope so! Welcome to Corngilia. I. Loved. This. Place.
Fair warning: Corniglia is the smallest town, and it’s the only one not situated directly on the water. You need to either take a shuttle bus or climb many stairs (many, many, many stairs) to reach Corniglia. If you arrive in the afternoon, Corniglia’s shuttle bus gets packed with visitors and lugging your bags up those stairs isn’t a task that you should lightly accept. It really isn’t a simple climb.
However, despite its isolation, I adored Corniglia. It felt a lot less touristy than the other villages, and an ideal place for reflection. More on that later!
Now for the fourth village on our list. Vernazza has a small marina, much like the other villages, but one of its unique sites is Doria Castle. This stone structure is the oldest surviving fornication in the Cinque Terre. Climb to the top and feel as if you’re searching for pirate ships.
Vernazza is one of the most popular villages in all Cinque Terre. By staying here, you have the advantage of seeing the marina in the sunrise’s early pink glow without tour groups mobbing the small streets. And, like I said, staying in the smaller towns provides ample opportunities for reflection.
5. Monterosso al Mare
Ready for fun in the sun? Then don’t miss Monterosso al Mare! The last village in Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare, is known for its long pebble beach. A suggestion for all my beach lovers out there. If you want to swim, bring water shoes with you so your feet don’t die a painful death, haha.
Now it’s time for me to be a little blunt. Personally, I thought Monterosso al Mare was the least charming of the five villages. It had much more of a “resort” feel rather than a “tiny rugged” feel if that makes any sense to you. However, lots of people come to the Italian Riviera for beaches and relaxation.
So, if you want to spend part of your visit in Cinque Terre soaking the rays, then you definitely want to base yourself in Monterosso al Mare.
Best Village to Stay in Cinque Terre: My Opinion
So, if you’re reading my blog, I’m guessing you want my opinion for where to stay in Cinque Terre. I’m incredibly biased giving this answer, but I thought Corniglia was the best village to stay in Cinque Terre. It was my own base for two nights, and I’m so happy that I made this choice. Yup, without a doubt, I loved Corniglia the best.
Sure, it’s the smallest village of the five, but don’t let Corniglia’s size turn you off. You can still find delicious bars and cool shopping options. I also had the best gelato in Cinque Terre in Corniglia at a place called Alberto Gelateria. Drools.
Now I also know that Corniglia is the most difficult to reach of the five villages, given how far up it is in the hills. Climbing the stairs is brutal. Yet I actually liked Corniglia’s isolation from the rest of Cinque Terre. The peace and quiet gave me plenty of time to reflect on my travels (and life in general). I felt as if I had been transported into another dimension, one the complete opposite of New Jersey, and recollect my thoughts at the end of the day.
However, don’t let my opinion sway your travel decisions. Go for another village if your heart is already set on it.
Tips for Staying in Cinque Terre
Finally, I want to wrap up this post with a few tips for staying in Cinque Terre. These tidbits are just as important as the best town to stay in Cinque Terre. It’s truly a beautiful place, so I don’t want you to make any mistakes or visit with misguided expectations. Here are three important things you need to know.
1. Be Respectful of the Fragile Environment
Cinque Terre is heavily visited. Too much so, in my opinion. In 2016, there was a discussion rumbling about limiting tourists in Cinque Terre, but as far as I know, nothing ever happened.
Be respectful in Cinque Terre. Don’t litter, wear proper footwear in the hills, support local businesses. Ethical tourism is deeply important. Don’t impact the local wildlife in any way. Your presence has meaning. Be responsible on your trip to Cinque Terre so other travelers can enjoy these villages for years to come.
2. Don’t Expect 5 Star Resorts
Due to the size of the villages, you won’t encounter huge hotel chains such as Hilton or Best Western, and I think that’s a good thing. It keeps even more tourists from swamping these villages into the abyss.
What kind of accommodation to expect, then? You’ll mostly see “rooms for rent” in all of the villages. These rooms are nice. Mine had a sea view and a private bathroom, but more budget-minded options are available. However, you won’t find the same amenities that are common in hotels.
So, if you’re the type of traveler who needs room service and an Olympic size swimming pool, perhaps staying in the five towns isn’t suitable for you.
3. Take Advantage of Exploring in Mornings & Evenings
Time for me to be super blunt (again). Afternoons in Cinque Terre are overwhelming and kind of stressful. Why? They’re the prime hours when day trippers, pouring in from surrounding cities and cruises, pack the villages to their full capacity. I know I’m babbling about the tourist hoards a lot, but staying in the five towns gives you advantages. I promise.
You don’t want to limit your sightseeing to afternoons in Cinque Terre. Otherwise you probably won’t have a great experience. Honestly, there were times I was close to panic attacks in the train stations, because the platforms and train cars were so uncomfortably mobbed, and it was impossible to move. Wanna know how bad it was? I’ll give you an example. I’ve never even experienced such suffocating feelings on the New York City subway at the height of rush hour. Seriously, the level of overcrowding at Cinque Terre isn’t a joke. Thankfully, you can limit your stress by staying in the five villages rather than in a nearby city.
Have you ever visited this beautiful part of Italy? What do you think is the best town to stay in Cinque Terre? Share all your thoughts in the comments.
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