While the Cinque Terre would be a lovely romantic getaway or solo adventure, visiting Cinque Terre with kids is also a perfect family holiday.
This area is part of the Italian Riviera made up of five towns. At one point the Cinque Terre villages were isolated from the rest of Italy except via the sea and Cinque Terre walking trails that connected the towns to each other. Today, all of the towns are easily accessed via train, boat, and even car (although parking is a little tough).
Four of the towns, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, and Monterosso start at the sea and move vertically up steep hillsides, nestled in deep canyons. It’s really quite incredible to see. Corniglia is the one Cinque Terre town not on the Mediterranean Sea, but rather perched above it on high cliffs.
You’ve probably seen photos of the picturesque Cinque Terre villages with their brightly colored buildings and turquoise water. Rick Steves made this part of Italy famous with his PBS show and multiple books. We had already decided to go when we watched his show and it made us very excited for touring the Cinque Terre with kids.
Kid-Friendly Guide to the Cinque Terre
There are many things to do in the Cinque Terre with kids. Most of them are the same as you’d do as an adult. You know, Cinque Terre hiking, drinking wine adjacent to breathtaking harbors, eating anchovies and pesto, climbing through narrow streets up endless flights of stone stairs, riding the Cinque Terre train….
We visited the area in the off season, but from what I understand, it is packed with tourists from June through August. I mean packed. The best time to visit the Cinque Terre is September when the crowds have thinned and the weather is still warm. We went in November and it was lovely, but we weren’t swimming in the sea or sunbathing. We had the trails mostly to ourselves and it was the perfect walking temperature.
Hiking the Cinque Terre
If you know me, you know this was the highlight of our visit for me. I was picturing this trip as a hut-to-hut type outing. Due to rain, we didn’t hike as many sections as I wanted, but we did walk two of the four sections.
Since you don’t have to hike all the sections of the Cinque Terre trails, I’d encourage you to try at least one with your little buddy. None of them are especially long, and it’s an great way to see the family vineyards, the “wild” side of Italy, and endless views of the ocean. The steps are fun to climb on and keeping an eye out for the wine train or treninos (and imagining riding that steep contraption) keeps everyone’s attention.
I recommend starting in Riomaggiore, one of Italy’s many fairytale towns, as we did because then you are going up the more gradual side of the mountains and down the steeper side. “Gradual” is a relative term, because the two sections we did were steep both ways, just less steep on the way up.
Riomaggiore to Manerola – 1 km
Trail #2, Via dell’ Amore or the Lover’s Lane, has been closed for years and there is no opening date in the near future. That would have been a super mellow walk along the sea. (Find out more about the status of that trail here.)
We took the Baccara Trail #531 up a long set of stairs, through small vineyards, past wine trains, to an overlook of the Mediterranean Sea. I imagine this is very hot in the summer as it is totally exposed, but the 60-degree F November day was perfect! The boys cranked up the hill, with Henry and I huffing and puffing behind. Fortunately, there are so many photo ops on the way up, that we wanted to stop and take pictures anyway.
(Locate the trailhead in Riomaggiore here.)
Manerola to Corniglia – 2km
After lunch and dessert in Manerola, we decided to take the train to Corniglia. Trail #2 is closed between these towns, too, so we would have had to go up to Volastra and then to Corniglia. There are some great photos of that hike on this blog.
Corniglia to Vernazza – 4km
From the train station to the town of Corniglia it’s a pretty decent climb—nearly 400 steps in a switchbacked staircase. (Remember when I told you it sat high above the sea?) We walked up to the town, to the church where the trail leaves and it started raining. A local told us it was a “death mission” or something equally alarming, to try to walk to Vernazza. I kind of wanted to go anyway, I mean, it’s rain not acid, but the rest of the family thought the train was more prudent. Plus, the sun sets early this time of year, so it was probably a good choice.
Vernazza to Monterosso – 3km
We spent the night above Vernazza in San Berardino and walked down to Vernazza the next morning. After breakfast, Anders and I decided to walk to Monterosso while Henry and Finn took the train.
This trail was gorgeous. As we left Vernazza, we kept turning around for that famous view of the pastel houses above the turquoise harbor. It was beyond stunning. The trail climbed up stone steps, through vineyards, past a feral cat sanctuary, across old stone bridges, with views of the sea much of the way. This is the Cinque Terre walk at its finest. I wish we had covered all the Cinque Terre hiking trails (you could do it in a day), but I am glad we didn’t miss out on this one.
Find out where to eat in the Cinque Terre towns.
All the Cinque Terre trails are in Cinque Terre National Park. In the busy, summer season you need to buy the Cinque Terre Card or Trekking Card. The card gives you access to buses and the train. It also allows you to use wifi hot spots in the park and grants access to certain museums. The card was not required when we were there. You can pick it up at any of the Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre offices. You can get a Cinque Terre hiking map there, too, but you don’t really need one.
More for Kids in the Cinque Terre
- Eating sweets with a view of the Mediterranean was tops on our kids’ list. It doesn’t hurt that there is good local wine for parents, too.
- Play in the playground in Monterosso near the old town.
- Go to the beach. Monterosso is the only town with a proper, sandy beach, and it will be crowded in summer, but it’s a beach.
- Visit the Cinque Terre by boat. Instead of taking the train from town to town, take the ferry for one section. The ferry runs from the end March until beginning of November.
- Climb to the Doria Castle in Vernazza – a lookout tower to protect the village from pirates.
- Play by the harbor in any of the towns (except Corniglia).
- Get lost on the countless staircases and narrow pathways of the Cinque Terre towns.
- Watch the sun set. The Cinque Terre is in good company on this list of stunning sunsets.
- Eat anchovies and pesto and drink local wines. Ok, that’s mostly for adults, but the kids loved the pesto and had fun trying the anchovies.
- Even more things to do in the Cinque Terre.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
You could easily stay in one town and through a combination of walking, train, and ferry, spend your days exploring. We stayed one night in Riomaggiore and the second in Vernazza, which is the most expensive town. It’s also the prettiest and most central. Both of our rentals had small kitchens so we could prepare meals and save a little money. We ate both out and in.
Make your reservations: You can check TripAdvisor for the best deals on lodging in the Cinque Terre. Be sure to put your dates into the search field to get the most accurate information.
Need more info? Here are Ten Tips for Visiting the Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre Resources
In this compact guide, Rick Steves covers the essentials of the Cinque Terre, including Corniglia, Vernazza, and the nearby towns of Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino.
If you are going to get a map, get a good one. The one they hand out at the tourist center isn’t super helpful.
Read about a love affair that started in the Cinque Terre while you fall in love with the Cinque Terre.
Summer or winter, you are going to need sunscreen. This is my favorite.