Cinque Terre Towns: Ranked
It is with great strife and remorse that we still recommend a visit to Cinque Terre. These enchanting towns have become overrun by tourism, but glimpses of their secluded past can still be found, if you know where to look. Do yourself, and all other visitors, a favor and stay a few days in one of the 5 towns. With so many tourists flooding the towns by boat and train each day, the best times to experience the magic of Cinque Terre is before they arrive, or after they leave. For that reason, rent a room for a few nights. A place this magical cannot be captured with a quick tour and a couple photos. It has to be experienced. To do that, you need to invest some time.
The towns are small, with few, if any, hotels. Most rooms are just that, single rooms for rent by their owners, and can be found on common room rental websites. Due to this limited supply, and overwhelming demand, it is advisable to plan ahead, but don’t worry too much about not finding a vacant room in your first or even second choice of town. Staying at any one of these towns is a true delight. You honestly cannot go wrong, unless you decide not to stay at any of them at all. That is why putting this list together was so difficult. But be glad, because we persevered, and below is our ranking of the best towns to stay at in Cinque Terre.
When we began to put this list together, we initially had Corniglia at #4. It doesn’t have glamorous oceanfront like the other towns, which immediately gives it black-sheep status amongst its brethren, but it also means fewer tourists, making it quieter and more representative of its secluded past. However, when you arrive by train, which is the only real way to arrive, you have to climb up flights and flights of stairs to reach the town. Hauling your luggage up these stairs would be miserable. And for that, Corniglia drops to last place on our list.
The second time we visited Cinque Terre we stayed in Monterosso. This was due to the fact that this is the one town with a true beach, and we knew we would want some time devoted to sunbathing. The other towns have harbors, but limited real estate for actually spreading out a towel and soaking up some Mediterranean sun. That beach comes at a price, however, as Monterosso is also the town that most resembles a nondescript Mediterranean beach town, full of tourists and beach umbrellas. And that is not why you came to Cinque Terre. For that reason, it sits at #4 on our list.
The first train stop coming from La Spezia, if Riomaggiore was your first and only stop in Cinque Terre you would not be disappointed. The Via dell’Amore, the famous coastal trail where young locals used to sneak away for a romantic rendezvous, begins from its colorful, tiny harbor. The same harbor where weathered fishermen tell stories you can be certain have been passed down through the ages. Riomaggiore represents what you would expect from a classic Cinque Terre town, and is a must visit even if you don’t stay overnight here.
Initially, we wanted to group Riomaggiore and Manarola together as a tie for 2nd. They are both such beautiful, fun, charming little towns clinging to their seaside cliffs. There was little in my mind that truly vaulted one above the other. They are even the closest in proximity to each other amongst the other 3 towns. Finally, we concluded that Manarola’s harbor is just a little more picturesque, with its dramatic, rough coastline and unique crane for lowering fishing boats into the water. For that slight edge alone, Manarola takes the second spot.
The darling of Cinque Terre, Vernazza spills down the rocky cliff side and on to its own natural harbor, with an ancient castle still standing watch for invaders at sea. The harbor also has a small sandy beach, along with some rocky beds perfect for sunbathing. Each evening, as the day trippers begin to pack the trains back to their hotels in Florence and La Spezia, the locals begin their nightly stroll up and down the main street to share a drink and the latest gossip. The sound of the waves gently rolling in to the harbor, carried by a cool sea breeze, bring back the magic of Cinque Terre. This is why you need to stay a night, or two or three…
There you have it, our ranking of the best towns in Cinque Terre. What do you think? Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below.