Our full family guide to visiting Cinque Terre with kids: practical tips on the best family friendly towns and hotels in Cinque Terre, transport options and family friendly hiking opportunities.
Cinque Terre is one of the most visited parts of the whole of Italy. Here, colorful houses cling onto rock promontories plunging in the blue expanse of the Mediterranean, fishing boats grace small natural harbors and hiking path offer unrivaled views over the sparkling sea.
All this attracts countless visitors to this area all year round but doesn’t immediately strike the family traveler as a place to visit with children. Indeed, visiting Cinque Terre with kids can be tricky!
The question about how family friendly Cinque Terre is and how to visit with kids comes up often in Italy with kids travel groups and the answers are always the same: visiting Cinque terre with kids is great but you need to know where to go and plan in advance.
I believe visiting Cinque Terre as a family is worth it and all you need is the right info to have an unforgettable holiday.
This guide is written on the basis of first hand knowledge of the area will enable you to plan a great family trip to Cinque Terre with kids. We wrote this on the basis of our own experience (Liguria was our first destination with a baby and a toddler!) and the expert updated advice of a local friend.
What is Cinque Terre? Where is Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre is a series of 5 villages perched on the rocky coast of Liguria, the curved coastal region in the North West of Italy between France and Tuscany.
Their names means literally ‘5 earths’ (cinque= 5; terre is the plural of terra, earth) and these five villages are:
- Manarola and
The getaway towns to Cinque Terre is La Spezia and Levanto, respectively at the two ends of this stretch of land, but usually international tourism gets here from cities as far away as Milan and Florence, which are well connected to this area by train and served by many day tours.
To give you an idea of the distances:
- Milan – La Spezia by train takes approximately 3 hours
- Florence – La Spezia by train takes approximately 2 and a half
- Venice – La Spezia by train is over 4 hours
What is Cinque Terre famous for?
Cinque Terre own their notoriety to two main factors: the beauty of their landscape and the peculiar way in which their inhabitants built villages and agricultural lands in the area, adapting to the challenges of the terrain.
The mix of nature and human presence here is striking and it awarded to this area the honor of being listed in 1997 as one of Italy’s Unesco Work Heritage Sites as well as making them the first Italian National Park.
The first thing that strikes the traveler, when visiting this area, is the steep and rugged coastal landscapes.
Here the Italian coast is exceptionally high and over the course of the centuries locals had to adapt to the challenges of this peculiar environment, which resulted in many houses being built on almost vertical coastlines, in what look like a precarious and unlikely position.
The second thing you notice and the one that probably most of all attracts people here is that these high perched houses are painted in the most bight of colors, creating a wonderful rainbow effect.
There are several stories on why each house had each color but the usual explanation that these were fishing villages and the bright colors allowed fishermen to recognize their home even from the distance (a similar explanation is given about the colors in Burano, near Venice)
Why is Cinque Terre Unesco world heritage site?
Unesco listed this area as world heritage site not just because of its beauty but also because of the peculiar way agriculture developed here. To make the most of the vertical land, locals came up with an ingenious system of terraces that can still be seen when walking along the famous Cinque Terre hiking paths.
UNESCO included in its list Cinque Terre proper proper but also other areas nearby such as Portovenere, which was an important commercial and cultural centre dating back to the Roman period and the three islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto.
The islands are noteworthy not only for their natural beauty but also for the many remains of early monastic establishments that they contain.
How much time to see Cinque Terre?
The area of the famous Cinque Terre spans over 15 km only and this means it can be visited in one day.
Thanks to excellent train connections it is possible to start at one end in the morning, see all the towns and even get back to your local home base by evening, all without exhausting yourself or your children excessively.
If you plan a full day, this is an excellent time span to see the area even, with children in tow.
If you are interested in hiking, you need at least 2 days in the area to fully enjoy it, 3 days being the perfect length.
What it is also possible to do but I do not recommend, especially with children in tow, is to go to Cinque Terre as a day trip from Florence or other faraway locations.
While I do understand that it can make sense if you don’t want to change hotel each night, I believe a day trip Florence to Cinque Terre is too long and too tiring, especially with kids, and robs you of the mos beautiful of all the moments in this area: sunrise and sundown, when the crowd of day trippers leave the towns and you get a glimpse of real local life under the shiny rays of the setting sun.
Best time to visit Cinque Terre?
You can visit Cinque Terre any time of the year but there is no doubts that some seasons are better than other.
At a glance, the best time for visiting Cinque Terre is:
The best time for visiting Cinque Terre for weather and hiking opportunities is the spring. At this time the weather is mild, the views stunning and the paths, usually, open. The downsides about visiting at this time are the crowds, especially if coming during Easter holidays, and the fact that it is too cold to swim (kids may be disappointed if this is what they expect).
The best time to visit Cinque Terre for sea and sun fun with kids is the summer (June – August). The downside of this season is that the heat is intense and hiking not recommended. This is also a very busy time for tourism and prices are at a premium.
Fall and winter
The worse time to visit Cinque Terre is the autumn and the winter. October and November are rainy season, hiking paths are closed and temperatures tend to be rigid. A better option at this time is to wait for the weeks before Christmas when Manarola in particular showcases an incredible nativity scene.
How to get to Cinque Terre with kids: easiest access
There are 3 main ways to reach Cinque Terre, some more suitable for families with kids than others.
Cinque Terre by train
By far the best way to reach and discover Cinque Terre with kids is traveling by train.
The two getaway towns to Cinque Terre are Levanto on one side and La Spezia and the whole area is very well served by frequent regional trains.
The distance between the cities is tiny and it only takes 3 to 5 minutes to hop from one to the other by train. Kids under 6 go free, which is a definite plus!
You can get train tickets on the day at any train station and the are valid on any of the regional trains, giving you maximum flexibility in term of when to get on and off.
Before boarding, make sure you stamp the ticket at the machines located at all platforms: train tickets in Italy are a little bit like bus ones: they are only valid if they get the stamp for the day of your journey and checks are frequent.
Each ticket is valid for 75 minutes so if you are planning on taking several trains in one day you may want to consider the Cinque Terre card instead.
This card allows you to get on all the trains connecting the 5 towns during one day (or three, depending on the card you get) and also allows access to the National Park Hiking paths.
You can get the card and find the most convenient solution for your traveling party on the day at any train station in the area.
Cinque Terre by boat
A fun way to visit Cinque Terre with kids and one that will give you wonderful photo opportunities is to explore the area by ferry. You have two main solutions, if your kids are sea lovers:
One is to get a ferry from Genova’s Porto Vecchio and reach Monterosso by sea.
The excursion doesn’t’ stop in all the towns and only foresees a prolonged stop in Monterosso (the most family friendly town in Cinque Terre) at about lunch time but can be a good choice if you have small kids and prefer not to have to lug strollers and carriers up and down the train all day.
This option is available during the summer season only and can be very handy also for families who want to avoid the premium prices of accommodation in Cinque Terre themselves and plan on visiting the wonderful Genova city aquarium too.
The other option is to get the local ferry service: this option sees ferries going from Levanto and La spezia and connecting all the towns in the area, including Portovenere and the islands. You can find detailed time table here.
Cinque terre by car
I add this option for completeness but to be honest, visiting Cinque Terre by kids, may it be with kids or without, is not a good idea.
The main issue you have in Liguria in general and in Cinque Terre in particular is parking: if you come here by car, you will be hard pressed to find a parking spot pretty much any time of the year and the risk of spending the whole day in the car looking for one is very high!
If you do decide to come by car anyway or you have no option due to rental constraints, a good option is to leave the car in Levanto.
Here you have several parking options including some convenient to the train station: come early for a chance to get a reasonable chance of getting a spot.
Cinque terre with kids in one day: how much can you see
Because of the short distances between the towns and the good train connections, you can easily see all of the Cinque Terre towns in one day.
The best way to do so is to start from the farthest place from your accommodation and work your way back to your base stopping at each train station for a wander.
Cinque Terre towns: what to expect in each town
The 5 villages of Cinque Terre may all seem similar when you look at photos in the area but they all have distinctive traits that make them worth an individual stop.
Monterosso is the biggest of the 5 villages and the most popular with families visiting Cinque Terre for several reasons. Unlike other towns. Monterosso has a nice sandy beach for kids to play and swim, it is reasonably flat and has a wondeful playground!
For these reasons, Monterosso is the best place to stay in Cinque Terre with kids overnight.
Vernazza is probably the most scenic of all Cinque Terre villages and the one you see in photos depicting colorful houses perched on top of a small harbor.
Vernazza is gorgeous and a must see but it hasn’t god much for families as such: the best thing to do here is to watch the boats and have a snack, while the adults take an endless number of photos!
At he time of writing, there is no playground in Vernazza.
Corniglia is the only town out of the five not to be on the sea.
It is perched inland and if you want to get from it to the sea, you need to go down (and then back up) 400 steps!
Corniglia is wonderful and has maintained its authenticity more than other towns in Cinque Terre but is probably the least kid friendly of all Cinque Terre due to the difficulty of access especially if traveling with a toddler or with a stroller.
Manarola is a wonderful child friendly location in Cinque Terre stealing the heart of adults with incredible views over the Mediterranean sea and the hearts of children thanks to its beautiful playground!
This is one of the best and newest in the area and is likely to stay as a highlight for children: this is the type of place that shows Cinque Terre are for kids after all!
Lats but not least, lovely Riomaggiore. This town is famous for its wonderful church and stunning views and is a good one for a play- stop for families thanks to its small playground.
The best place to stay in Cinque Terre with kids
Overall, and taking into account accessibility and services, I believe the best places to be in Cinque Terre with kids is Monterosso.
The town is well served with hotels, restaurants and shops (other towns have B&B more than hotels), it has easy access to the beach and has a playground ideal for small kids.
The best family hotels in Cinque Terre
Make sure you book in advance as availability is scarce and prices can go very high. Here you have a good selection of hotels and guesthouses, some of the best rated among families are:
Hotel La Colonnina, Monterosso al Mare, offering lovely family rooms in a wonderful, handy location
MaDa Charm apartment in Vernazza, in one of the most sough after locations in the whole of the town
Hotel Marina Piccola in Manarola, offering family rooms in an easy to reach location with wonderful views
Best places to stay near Cinque Terre for families
If you have no luck with accommodation in one of the five towns, it is worth considering locations nearyy and in particular:
Levanto: This is a good getaway for Cinque Terre and is a good place in particular if you have the car and want to leave it parked for the day while exploring the area.
Rapallo: not one of the Cinque Terre but in the area, Rapallo is gorgeous and good for kids thanks to the many services and (small) beach
Charming Portovenere is another lovely location in the area with good accessibility and several accommodation options (apartments and guesthouses)
Cinque Terre info points: where to get updated info
Cinque Terre is very well equipped with tourist information points, located in the towns train station.
They have up to date information about hiking opportunities, train timetables and they are equipped with toilets – always good to know!
This is also where you can get your permit to hike the National Park paths.
What to do in Cinque terre with kids
Cinque Terre famous for beautiful scenery more than actual ‘things to do’ and the best things to do here as a family are a mix of sightseeing, hiking and of course eating!
Go sighseeing in Cinque terre with kids
The best way to go sightseeing in this area is to take your time and wander around the meandering streets of each of the Cinque Terre towns.
While I highly recommend you explore in our own time and peek into each church, some attractions are especially worth seeking out.
I suggest in particular Villa Montale (Monterosso, where the Montale the poet used to spend his summers), San Lorenzo’s church (Manarola) and San Giovanni Battista church (Riomaggiore).
None of these attractions are interesting for kids as such but the towns are pleasant for a stroll and the visits can happen quite casually as you explore: there is no need to get tickets or endure long queues here.
Go Hiking Cinque terre with kids
Cinque Terre is famous for the hiking path connecting one town to the other and if you have outdoorsy kids and some of these paths are kid friendly.
Unfortunately, the conditions of the path change year after year and season after season so it is necessary to always check at the local info points (there is one in each train station) which ones are open at the time of your visit.
Please note that to access some of the paths you need a permit: one more reason to stop at the info point first!
These are the Cinque Terre Hiking paths at a glance:
Hike Riomaggiore to Manarola (easy)
The most family friendly path in Cinque Terre is the one between Riomaggiore and Manarola. This is an easy path that can be waked in about one hour and a good one for accessibility if open. Unfortunately, this path was subject to a landslide and large parts of it are currently closed.
Check with the local info point for updated information
Hike Manarola – Corniglia (easy)
another family friendly hike, this path brings you from Manarola to Corniglia in about 45 minutes. Like the rest of the path above, it is currently closed: check with local info points for updates.
Hike Corniglia – Vernazza (easy)
This path bring you from Corniglia to Vernazza in about 1 hour and a half. The path is easy but not stroller friendly as it has steps.
Hike Vernazza to Monterosso (hard)
More sporty families may want to tackle the path between Vernazza and Monterosso. This is a longer hike but it is lovely as it mixes some sea views with more rural landscapes. While more tiring, you can entice older kids to tackle it with the promise of swimming in the sea on arrival!
Taste the local specialties (many child friendly!)
Liguria has some of the most delicious foods in the whole of Italy and Cinque Terre are full of restaurants and family friendly eats.
In terms of food, make sure your kids taste real pesto and have a munch over the local cheese focaccia (warning: they will never want to eat any other focaccia ever again!) and of course let them indulge in gelato to their heart content.
In terms of family friendly addresses, check out L’osteria in Monterosso and the friggitoria in the center of Riomaggiore.
For pic-nics, I recommend you stop in the local deli to stock up on freshly baked breads, prosciutto and mozzarella for maximum flexibility.
Watch the boats
Ok you are not going to keep them entertained with this for very long, but with small kids, it works! In some towns like Vernazza, where there is no playground, watching the beats can be fun and a good way to slow down while mum and dad sip coffee on the seafront!
Sporty families with older kids may enjoy seeing Cinque Terre from the sea with a kayaking experience.
Local companies offer the option of renting kayaking gear and join an guided tour of the area. In summer, this can be a wonderful activity do do with teens in the area: you can check prices and details here
Tips for visiting Cinque Terre with toddlers
You don’t need a special packing list for Cinque Terre but some items come exceptionally handy here:
- Baby carrier: especially if planning on hiking, go for a lightweight one to avoid excessive strain to your back
- Walking shoes: bring good walking shoes if tacking the paths. This is a safety measure and rules are getting strict: make sure you are well equipped to avoid fines
- Wipes (for the train)
- Sun hat, sun screen in summer
- Insect repellent and post bite (for mosquitoes) in summer
I hope you found this guide to visiting Cinque Terre with kids useful and it made planning a family trip here a little easier. Safe travels!