You could dedicate one afternoon to visiting Cinque Terre National Park, but you could just as easily choose it as a destination for a two-week vacation. I suggest going for the latter.
Situated on the rugged coast of northwestern Italy, Cinque Terre National Park consists of five villages—the “cinque terre”—, coastal cliffs, uniquely steep vineyards, narrow sandy beaches and sheltered bays and inlets. It’s a spectacular stretch of coastline, without question among the most beautiful in Europe.
Cinque Terre National Park: One Day Is Not Enough!
When Caroline and I spent a couple of weeks in northern Italy last summer—you can read more about that trip in the blog posts about Venice, Florence and Pisa—we dedicated a full day to visiting Cinque Terre National Park and walking a section of the main coastal trail. There are more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) of hiking trails along and near the Cinque Terre coast, interconnecting all five villages, making hiking a hugely popular, and recommended, thing to do.
Besides hiking, the ideal way of getting around in the national park is by train, as access by car is limited at best. Cinque Terre National Park is conveniently reached by train from nearby La Spezia, which connects to Pisa and Genova. A railroad through the heart of the national park stops in each of the five villages—Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Neighboring villages are only a few minutes apart.
It’s not a particularly expansive park, not covering more than 39 square kilometers (15 square miles), but it’s filled with beauty. All five villages are gorgeous, the vineyard-covered coastal cliffs are unique in the world, the beaches are warm and soft, and the gelato is delicious.
It’s the perfect destination for a one-day visit or a two-week holiday. However, although it is possible to visit all five villages and also do some hiking in one day, I would suggest dedicating two or more days to visiting Cinque Terre National Park. We were there for only one day and our visit was a bit crammed. We sometimes had to hurry to catch the trains between villages, which took away from the immense relaxing potential of this place. So, make sure to set aside at least two or three days if you want to thoroughly explore everything Cinque Terre has to offer, including enjoying the superb local cuisine and wines, hiking along the spectacular coastline, and hitting the beach.
Wine-making has been a major activity on the Cinque Terre coast for centuries, which resulted in a unique system of terraced wineries on the sheer cliffs that rise up out of the Mediterranean Sea. This striking landscape with both natural and cultural features is extraordinary—the national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.