Bottom line up front – I won’t be back.
Now the rest of the story ….
Cinque Terra is absolutely stunning.
The photos of the ocean and the colorful seaside towns you’ve seen on Instagram are not edited. It is gorgeous.
There is some wonderful (and difficult) hiking.
There are a range of activities to do.
The food was outstanding.
The locals were friendly.
There were people everywhere.
It was crowded.
It was hot.
But most disappointing is there was no depth … it felt like Disney Land for adults. Regardless of transportation, you got to a town, took a ton of photos, ate a meal, maybe went to the beach or another activity and then were off to another town.
These weren’t “living cities.” Almost all of the locals were part of the tourist trade. The authenticity has been gone for decades. The region has not been turned into a large outside museum.
If you decide to go…
We stayed in Vernazza and I would recommend it most out of the 5 villages. It was large enough that it had a variety of shopping and restaurants but still charming. Monterosso was too large. We really liked Corniglia and it would have been a great place to stay but the stairs to and from the train station would have been rough. Especially with a bag! Riomaggiore and Manarola are bigger than Vernazza and Corniglia but less so than Monterosso. They were busier during the day but had more evening options.
The hiking provides some spectacular views. If you don’t go hiking, at least find a high spot in the town you are staying or visiting.
Get out on the water. Either take the ferry at least once or take a boat trip that allows you to see all 5 towns from the water.
I recommend getting the train / trail pass. I think we lost money in the deal but it was worth it not to have to continuously wait in line for tickets.
We both really really enjoyed Porto Venere. While it is not one of the 5 towns, it is still on the ferry route and worth the trip. This has the charm of Cinque Terra but still feels like a living city. We saw kids on a field trip, a group of teenage guys hanging out eating pizza and fishing boats coming into the harbor.
I made a dinner reservation months in advance at Bellefonte. It was worth it! The food was fantastic, the view was amazing and our waiter Andrea was charming.
We wanted to eat at Nessun Dorma but it didn’t work out. But it gets rave reviews from everyone so put it on your list. Note that they don’t take reservations and have an app for their waiting list.