The saying goes, the best things in life are free. I’m not entirely sure I believe that the saying is always true, but when it comes to hiking in Cinque Terre, it most definitely is. During my four full days in Cinque Terre, I walked and hiked a combined 47 miles (76 km). So I feel pretty confident when I say that the main two* hikes pale in comparison to the three free Cinque Terre hikes I’m sharing with you today.
*The most popular part of the Cinque Terre trail, “Lovers’ Lane,” was closed after four tourists were injured in a 2012 landslide. At the time of this writing, they are scheduled to reopen in April 2021. You can check the website to see up-to-date conditions for all trails in the area.
I honestly feel a little torn about posting this because I slightly fear these gorgeous hikes will become overcrowded like the main hikes. But I’m very thankful to the people who suggested them to me, so I feel guilty not paying it forward to other travelers who are also looking to get off the beaten path. (No pun intended!) Just promise me you won’t go tagging these locations on Instagram and Facebook, OK? *winks*
ARE THE PAID CINQUE TERRE HIKES WORTH IT?
If you’re not normally at least a casual walker back home, I honestly say no. I saw so many tourists (many of them fellow Americans…) in obvious discomfort while hiking the popular Cinque Terre trails. They were people who clearly had never been on a hike in their lives and who were only hiking because heaven forbid you skip out on a “must-do” activity. Many were heaving with each step, clasping onto the rails or cliff sides for support, and complaining out loud. It was clear these trail walkers simply do the trails to scratch it off their list and get a chore out of the way. They were not enjoying themselves whatsoever.
So, my advice is, if you are not even the least bit a casual walker back home, skip the hiking. You are here on vacation, so don’t waste your precious hours suffering on a hike you won’t like! There is plenty of beauty to enjoy in Cinque Terre. Relax at the beach instead.
Now, if you know you can handle the hikes, I think the paid hikes are only worth it to satisfy your curiosity. If going home without seeing the most popular trails will have you feeling FOMO, then definitely just do them to avoid any regrets. But if you are interested in just seeing the best views and not spending time on tourist traps, then I highly recommend any of these three free hikes over any of the two paid ones. Any local will tell you the same.
So, without further ado, let’s get to these free Cinque Terre hikes I keep going on about!
Recommending Reading: How Many Days to Spend in the Cinque Terre
FREE HIKING TRAILS IN CINQUE TERRE
Levanto to Monterosso al Mare
For the first two-thirds of this hike, I was seriously questioning why my hostel reception desk recommended this. It was allllllll uphill, and it was tough. Though the views of the Ligurian Sea to my right the entire time were nice, they didn’t justify the
pain my legs were feeling effort… Or so I thought! Once I got to the top, I was eating my words. I could see every single one of the five Cinque Terre villages, PLUS all the way across to Portovenere! All in one view!
I literally was amazed such a complete view of the Cinque Terre even existed. This was also my very first morning in the area, so by seeing a layout of the land right away, it gave me a lot to look forward to.
Monterosso was the closest of the five towns, and it looked so inviting through the trees. I could tell how great its beach would be, as the light sand and glistening waters reflected brightly off the sun. Drenched entirely in sweat, there was nothing I wanted more than to rush down to Monterosso and relax in the sea. But I didn’t have my swimsuit. Major fail. So take it from me: always be sure to wear a swimsuit under your clothes when in the Cinque Terre! There is nothing you will want to do more after this hike than jump in the sea.
After Monterosso, I found Vernazza. Then Corniglia. Then Manarola. And though I didn’t know it at the time, Riomaggiore, too. I stayed up at the top for a few minutes snapping pics like crazy, until deciding I better get down to Monterosso and eat.
You can do this hike in reverse from how I did it, starting in Monterosso and ending in Levanto. But I highly recommend starting in Levanto. This way, you can enjoy the great view as you walk down, rather than having your back to it as you walk up. Either way, the hike will take you three hours. If you don’t want to do the full walk, you could also start in Monterosso and simply head back the way you came after getting to the view point. This part of the hike is all steps, and I would suspect this would take you 90 minutes or less round trip.
How to Hike from Levanto to Monterosso
Start at the Levanto beach. Walk almost to the south end of the beach, close to Villa la Pietra. Before the villa, there will be a stair path to Castello S. Giorgio (map below). Walk up the path, past the castle, and follow signs for SVA path 591.
Continue following signs for SVA path 591 for at least two hours, until you reach the main viewpoint (map below). From this viewpoint, it will be obvious how to get down to Monterosso. Follow signs for path 590 if you have any confusions.
Corniglia to Manarola
After that grueling hike up from Levanto, I thought the rest of the hikes should be easier on my legs. Well, I was wrong. Starting from Corniglia, this hike started out as forty straight minutes of uphill steps. And when I say steps, I do not mean normal-staircase-sized steps. I mean huge makeshift rock-and-dirt steps. And unlike the hike up from Levanto, where I had views of the sea to my side, this was entirely through forest, with little views to get me by. Maybe that was for the best, so I had nothing to focus on except getting to the top of this mountain ASAP!
Let’s just say, by the last portion of this hike, I was literally massaging my thighs as I was walking down to Manarola. I’m not even exaggerating. At all. Eventually (thankfully!!) the uphill leveled out into flatness and the forest cleared. Soon enough, just like with the first free hike, what I gave up in effort, I was rewarded for by insane views. I relaxedly strolled through the bright-green vineyards, with views of Corniglia behind me, Manarola ahead of me, and the Ligurian Sea to my side. It truly was something else.
After a while, I hit an unexpected town (Volastra), which was a bit confusing. But luckily it had plenty of signs directing hikers to the rest of the trail. Past this town, it was all downhill straight to gorgeous Manarola.
The views at the very end were, in my opinion, the best of the hike. For that reason, I recommend to do the hike in the direction I did, starting in Corniglia. This way, you will have the best views of Manarola in front of you as you walk downhill, rather than behind you as you walk uphill. All in all, this hike took me 2.5 hours. Right after I finished, I headed straight for the sea!
Looking to avoid the toughest part of this hike? Some people take a shuttle bus (free with your Cinque Terre Pass) up to Volastra from Manarola. Then they walk through the flat vineyards and downhill to Corniglia. Personally, though, I could never recommend someone to miss the walk down to Manarola!
How to Hike from Corniglia to Manarola for Free
Start at the Chiesa di San Pietro church in Corniglia. Walk up behind it, looking for a wide, uphill staircase to your left. Follow this path all the way to Volastra (map below).
Once at the small village of Volastra, keep on the west-most side of the town, following signs for Manarola (map below). The road is entirely downhill from this point.
Recommending reading: The Complete Liguria Travel Guide – there’s a lot more to Liguria than just Cinque Terre!
Biassa to Portovenere
If you haven’t heard of Biassa, definitely check out my guide on alternative, cheaper towns to base yourself in while visiting the Cinque Terre. It’s a serene place, and it connects to a few hiking trails. One of them is this awesome hike to Portovenere. Unlike the other two hikes, this one was not strenuous at all, which was a relief. However, I wouldn’t categorize it as “easy,” either. It requires steady footwork on sections of large rocks along the edge of the cliff, so definitely wear proper shoes.
This hike took me around three hours from Biassa. It starts as slightly uphill through a forest, passes a couple villages, and eventually becomes a mostly-flat hike along the side of the mountain. Towards the end, the path changes to downhill straight into the center of Portovenere. This place apparently was once the main attraction in the area until Cinque Terre got “discovered” and stole the show. After your hike, I highly recommend spending some time in Portovenere, eating and swimming.
You can also start this hike from Riomaggiore, which should add another three hours. But if you’re not too keen on hiking six hours one way, just take a bus from Riomaggiore to Biassa. This will set you back €1.50 each way. I’d catch this bus from right outside the tourist information center at the top of Riomaggiore, past the parking lot. This way, you can buy your tickets inside (otherwise, I believe it will be €2.50 if purchased on the bus) and ask any questions on timetable and pick up point.
There is no train station in Portovenere, so have a plan on how to get back to the Cinque Terre afterwards. The easiest and most glamorous way is to take a boat ride from Portovenere to Riomaggiore. This will set you back €14 each way. If you’re on a budget, like I was, you can take bus P from Portovenere to La Spezia for €2.50. Then, take the train from La Spezia back to whichever town in the Cinque Terre. Make sure you buy the “extraurbani” (suburban) ticket fare for the bus. I’ve provided a map below for the bus stop location. It’s actually more in front of Ristorante del Pescatore than the map depicts. But just get to the location on the map below, and you’ll figure it out. The ticket machine is under the covered walkway, a little bit past the bus stop.
How to Hike from Biassa to Portovenere
Start at Ostello Tramonti in Biassa (map below). The safest thing to do is pop your head into the hostel and ask the reception desk for directions. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t have all the points I need to highlight, because the paths aren’t main roads, so bear with me! But I try my best to highlight the parts of the hike that I can for y’all.
Right across the road from the front of hostel is a downwards staircase. Follow that staircase path.
In a minute or less, you’ll make a right turn up an overgrown, staircase path
that I can’t locate on Google maps!!!.
Eventually, you’ll pass a view of La Spezia to your left. Then, you’ll start the real hike uphill through a forest. Keep following the trail marks for AVG5T painted on the trees trucks and building sides. Follow the red-white-red marks, NOT the orange dot marks, though they frequently overlap.
You’ll pass this random church with a water-refill spout nearby it (map below). Continue onwards past here.
Aaaaaand that’s unfortunately all I am able to piece together on Google about the start of this hike! That’s why I recommend popping into the hostel I mentioned before starting. Otherwise, once you locate the red-white-red paint marks, you’ll be fine.
BUT, for the second half of the hike, I was able to piece it all together on Google for y’all (map below)! For the very, very final portion down into Portovenere, you’ll follow hiking path 1.
Cinque Terre is full of hikes. In my opinion (and in the opinion of many locals!) the free Cinque Terre hikes are so much better than the paid ones. The free hikes are also more difficult, but they’re absolutely worth it. If you want to avoid crowds, save money on the Cinque Terre trail fees, and enjoy better views, definitely do the hikes I shared with you today. But remember – you promised not to tell too many people, right?!
CINQUE TERRE HIKING TIPS
- Always have enough water before you start. Some trails have water refill spots at the start. Others don’t. Always be prepared.
- Wear real shoes. These are hikes, not strolls. There is no regulation on the free trails, but on the paid trails, flip-flops are actually forbidden because the area has gotten sick of helicoptering out stranded tourists.
- Bring snacks. Again, these paths are all through remote villages or no village at all. Either eat right before and plan to eat right after, or bring snacks.
- Always pack a swimsuit. Especially for these free hikes, which are tougher than the paid hikes, you’ll want nothing more than to jump in the sea right after. Luckily, each of these hikes ends at a lovely beach.
- Bring a hat and sunscreen. Much of the trails are not shaded.
SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you hiked in Cinque Terre? What did you think of the two paid hikes? Did you do any of the free Cinque Terre hikes I’ve mentioned? Or do you have some more hikes to recommend me for my next visit? I’d love more hidden-gem suggestions!