Cinque Terre Hiking

The Cinque Terre are five towns that appear to cling to the rocks along a small section of northern Italy’s Mediterranean coastline, and are famous for the mule trails that connect them: paths which attract thousands of hikers each year.  I worked as a hiking guide in and around the Cinque Terre, and if you’ve seen photos of the area and are thinking about hiking the trails, here are the things you should know.

Manarola Cinque Terre Liguria Italy

Manarola by Worlds in Focus


 You can hike the famous mule tracks that connect the five Cinque Terre towns in one day

When I guided in this area, we used to stay in the nearby town of Sestri Levante, get on the train in the morning and arrive in Monterosso al Mare – the northernmost of the five towns – about 9.30 am. We’d walk all four trails and visit all five towns, including stops for lunch and snacks and shopping, and we’d be done by late afternoon.


The Cinque Terre hiking trails are busy

“Exactly how busy are the trails?”, asked one of my Italy trip planning clients the other day. “Like Park Avenue in New York during the week before Christmas?”.  The trails are busy, but not Christmas-in-New-York busy. You won’t be walking shoulder-to-shoulder with other hikers; on the other hand, you won’t have the trails to yourselves. An added bonus: this is probably the only trail in all of Italy that I would say: you really don’t need a map because there are enough people on the trails that I cannot fathom anyone getting lost. However, if you’re looking for a great hike in the wilderness, don’t despair! There are many other trails nearby.


Cinque Terre trails are busy, but it’s easy to get off the beaten path

There are lots – lots! – of nearby wonderful hiking trails. Do the famous mule trails on one day, because they’re famous for a reason. Then, get a hiking map, and go explore. Read about other trails in the area on the Cinque Terre hiking website, or start with some of my favorite hikes near the Cinque Terre.


The Cinque Terre hiking trails sometimes close

The area is prone to landslides – as you might imagine in an area where towns seem to be precariously clinging to the sides of rocky cliffs. There have been some significant landslides in the past, one of which did some major damage to the towns of Monterosso and Vernazza – but not to worry, everything has been rebuilt and is once again visitor friendly. However, every now and then the trails need to be repaired or there is flooding or there are small landslides and the trails close. So check that the trails are open on the Cinque Terre hiking website. The red colored dots to the right of the trail indicate trails that are closed. Then, green or yellow or blue dots indicate the difficulty of the hike, but all of those colors mean the trail is open.


The Cinque Terre hiking trails are not all the same difficulty

There are five towns connected by four trails. The two northernmost trails are the most difficult, so I prefer hiking the trails from north to south, and get the more difficult trails done before lunch time.  If you are not dressed for hiking – like wearing flip flops or carrying a very heavy backpack, you can walk the two southernmost “trails” which I would describe as more of an easy amble rather than a hike.


The five towns are also connected by trains, boats, and buses

If you are a hiker but traveling with non-hikers, they can take trains or boats or buses between the towns and meet you at the other end. As the Cinque Terre is a national park, you’ll need to buy a park pass to use the trails, which you can do as soon as you get off the train. Your hiking pass also includes bus transfers between towns, or you can get the train card that includes train travel between the towns. I also recommend taking at least one boat ride, to see the views from off the coast. Non-hikers who are not using the trails do not need to buy a parks pass.


You can’t really visit the Cinque Terre as a day trip from Florence

I get this question so often that I thought I’d include it here. If you absolutely must visit as a day trip from Florence, be prepared for a very long day. It’s 2.5 – 3 hours each way by train, depending on which train you get. Arriving by train? Yes, absolutely. Arriving from Florence? Sure. As a day trip? Not ideal. Stay somewhere nearby – either in one of the five towns themselves or in La Spezia or in one of the pretty towns up the coast like Levanto or Camogli.


A couple Beyond the Obvious Cinque Terre suggestions

Did you know there is a secret nude beach? Shhh. It’s secret.

And finally, if you are interested in local culture and history or sustainable tourism, I recommend the movie Vendemmia. It’s about the local wine, Schiaccetra’, but also about the locals who are trying to maintain the traditions of their ancestors while dealing with mass tourism and the effects it’s had on local politics. Vendemmia “asks the essential question: is it possible to preserve the future without sacrificing the past?”


Italy Beyond the Obvious will help make your trip truly memorable. Take advantage of our Italy trip planning services for a customized itinerary, or get coaching assistance with our Italy travel consulting services. And if you like what you read, why not subscribe to the Italy Beyond the Obvious blog and get free updates?

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  1. Lenora Boyle
    March 19, 2014

    This such a good explanation of the hiking possibilities in Cinque Terre. I take my women’s group there every year but so far we have stayed on the usual trails. It’s time to start branching out now and explore some of the lesser used paths. It is such a breathtakingly beautiful area. Can’t get there often enough.

  2. Exploring the Cinque Terre | EUROKULTURE
    May 14, 2014

    […] There are also several free challenging  path options for more experienced hikers. Regardless of what path you take, your  guaranteed a beautiful view and it seems pretty difficult to actually get lost. This is great news to someone with a poor sense of direction such as myself! The Cinque Terre can be hiked in a day or leisurely spread out across a few days, giving visitors plenty of time to enjoy the towns and food they have to offer. For a personal look into the experience of bloggers who’ve hiked the paths visit Of Elephants and Castles blog or Italy Beyond the Obvious here. […]

  3. Jane Michaud
    April 28, 2017

    We are planning a cycling trip to Italy. I understand you can hike and take a train through the 5 towns but we are wondering if you can cycle from town to town at Cinque Terra?


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