Italian Riviera Sampling

Looking at Riomaggiore from the marina


  • Cinque Terre – Riomaggorie, Manorola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare
  • Portofino
  • Camogli
  • Genoa
  • Santa Margherita Ligure
  • What the weather was like

Time of Visit:  September – October 2023

Duration of Visit: Nine Days 

Cinque Terre


Cinque Terre is one of the well known destinations in Italy.  “Cinque” translates to five and “terre” translates to lands.  In reality, these are five villages or communities that are located within the national park that bears the same name.  The communities, starting from the south and moving northwards are:  Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.  Riomaggiore and Monterosso are about nine kilometers apart and take about 15 minutes by train. 

The draw of these five communities are the pastel colored structures, i.e. houses and buildings, clinging to the side of the mountain directly facing the sea (actually, structures all along the Italian RIviera are pastel colored). Being on the side of the mountain, the structures appear to be stacked on top of one another. 

Being part of the national park, the communities are connected by a railway system and by walking trails.

We visited Cinque Terre in late September 2023 and described here what we experienced.

Exploring Each village

Avoid the hours between 10 AM and 4 PM.  This is when the tour groups are out as well as other tourists.  Trains can be full and the line can be backed up to get train tickets as well as making your way to the train station passageway.  Expect the streets to be busy with people.

Most people that visit Cinque Terre are there for the photos.  The best photos are those taken from the sea looking into the colorful pastel buildings on the side of the mountain.  You would not see many photos of narrow streets within Cinque Terre because they are no different from any small communities of villages in the Italian Riviera.  

Since not everybody has access to a boat, most visitors hang around by the marina and the many walking paths that connect to it trying to look for that perfect vantage point.

After taking the precious photos, the tourists venture inwards to explore the village and its narrow alleyways.  Others would just find a bar or restaurant by the sea to have their favorite meal and drink.

All communities start to wind down around 7PM.  The shops would close first.  By 7:30 PM some restaurants would turn away patrons because they start cleaning the kitchen.  They may still serve drinks though.  You may have to search for a while to find restaurants that remain open for dinner after 8 PM.

We explored Cinque Terre mainly in the afternoon, after 4 PM.  This way, the sun was less intense and not as crowded as in earlier times.  This also provides some amazing photos as the sun sets on the Italian Riviera.


View of Riomaggiore from railed area

To us Riomaggiore is probably the best of the five communities to take a picture of.  It just comes alive in the afternoon photo.  Maybe it was because of the time of day or the viewpoint location or combination of both.  Whatever it is, Riomaggiore just looks good in photographs.

The best place to take a photo is just to the left of the marina as you are facing the sea. When you get off the train and through the pedestrian underpass, hang a right and follow the signs pointing to the city center.  Then follow the sign going down to the marina.  Before reaching the marina, tilt your head up and look to the left and you will see a railed area.  Head towards the railed area and find your Instagram spot.


Manarola at sunset, viewed near the Nessun Dorma restaurant

The village as a whole does not show well in the photos.  Maybe it’s our camera or maybe that is just how it is.  Regardless, we liked the photos we took of Riomaggiore better.

One famous destination in Manarola is Nessun Dorma.  Nessun Dorma is a restaurant nestled up high on the side of the mountain.  It serves brochettes, cold cuts, cheese and a few more italian dishes.  Absent from the menu are pastas and pizzas.  Their outdoor dining area has a nice view of the sea and the Manarola buildings below.  It is just a nice place to have a meal during sunset. 

Having good food and good scenery, the place is highly sought after.  They do not accept reservations but they have an online system where you can get your place in line.  It’s like falling in line to get a ticket but it is done using their app. The app will assign a number based on when you signed on.  Then the app will tell you how many parties are ahead of you.

The restaurant opens at 3:30 in the afternoon. This is also when the app starts allowing patrons to sign on.  We signed on around 6 PM and we were assigned number 273 and there were 84 parties ahead of us.  We managed to get in around 7:20 PM.  It is a good thing that they allow take outs so we ended up having our appetizers while waiting for our number to come up.


The stairs to Corniglia. The train station is just before the tunnel.
Corniglia’s main plaza

The village of Corniglia is impossible to take photos without a boat.  There is no marina as the village is perched on top of the hill.  This is the highest village among the five.  There are two ways to reach the center of Corniglia from the train station.  We did the walking option and tackled around 377 steps and a lot of switchbacks. Fortunately, the stair treads are wide and made of bricks so it feels like climbing in an exposed stairwell as opposed to hiking on a mountain.  It took us about 20 minutes to reach the village center. The other option is to pay and ride the shuttle bus.

Head on over to the Belvedere upon reaching the village.  The Belvedere provides a commanding view of the Ligurian Sea below and the coastline.  There is a restaurant at the Belvedere that is perfect to just be sipping your favorite drink or chowing on your favorite meal while watching the sun go down the horizon.


Vernazza marina and village at dusk
Hard to beat the sunset view at Vernazza marina

This is our favorite village.  It has a marina where you can take a seat at the edge of the dock or sit on one of many boulder barriers and look towards the horizon to view the sunset.  But do not forget to occasionally look  behind you to watch the pastel colored buildings glow as it is hit by the afternoon sun.  

The village is very walkable also.  The main street from the train station slopes slightly towards the marina.  The only stairs you will encounter here are the stairs from the train station to get down to the main street. 

Monterosso al Mare

Looking at old town Monterosso al Mare
Looking at new town Monterosso al Mare and the beach area between old and new towns. Train station on the right of photo.

This village is made up of an old town and a new town.  The two are separated by about a 10 minute walk. The train station is located at the new town.  You have to go down a flight of stairs to get down to street level.  There is a street that connects the new town to the old town.   

This is the only village which you can reach by vehicle, beside the train.  There is a large paid parking area by the marina.  This is also the only village that has a beach.  The beach is gray but the water is clear and enticing on  a hot day.  There are several sunbrellas and lounge chairs for rent to enjoy a nice day on the beach.  Best of all, the water was calm on the days we were there, meaning there were no waves to speak of.

Old town has narrow alleyways to explore.  The middle part of the old town is on a slight incline but no steps.  You will encounter steps if you start venturing away from the middle part of the old town. 

Where We Stayed

Initially, we wanted to spend three nights in Manarola and three nights in Vernazza.  We would use Manarola as our base to explore Riomaggiore and Corniglia.  Same reason for using Vernazza as our base.  We could go to either Corniglia or Monterosso from Vernazza.  However, we firmed up our dates of stay only about a month out and were not able to get reasonably priced accommodations at the two communities.

We ended up staying three nights in the city of La Spezia and three nights at Monterosso al Mare.

Getting To Cinque Terre

Trenitalia interior. Some cars have two levels (background) and others are single level (foreground).

The easiest way to reach the five communities is by train.  Trenitalia has multiple trains during the day and night that run between the cities of La Spezia and Levanto.  The train that runs between these cities stops at all Cinque Terre communities.  At the time of writing, the train ride was 5 Euros per person whether you get off at the next train station or at the last one.  It is not a hop on and hop off train ticket.  You have to purchase a train ticket for each ride.

The train ticket has to be validated before getting on the train.  There are green colored validation machines at the train stations.  All you have to do is insert the ticket, bottom end first and face up, so that the date can be stamped on the ticket.  Your starting and ending points are printed on the tickets.  You have to get off your ending point or you will get fined if you get caught.

Manarola is less than a 15 minute ride from La Spezia.  We actually left Manarola around 8PM on our way back to La Spezia.  So the train provides a great equalizer to experience all communities at night even if you are not staying in any of them.

The three and five day Trenitalia passes are not valid on the route between Levanto and La Spezia.  There is a separate multi day Cinque Terre National Park train pass that includes the cost of the hiking trails.  Which one is more economical, i.e. purchasing a Cinque Terre National Park train pass or buying individual train rides,  depends on how often you need to ride the train and if you plan to hike.  We skipped hiking because we could not wake early enough to avoid the heat.

Do Not Bring Big Luggage

Do not bring any big luggage if you are staying in an accommodation in one of the five Cinque Terre communities.  You will be going through stairs, a lot of stairs.  As soon as you get off the train, you have to tackle the stairs to get into the passageway under the train tracks that leads to the village. 

Depending on where your accommodation is located, you could end up going through more stairs to get there.  We would suggest getting clear walking directions to your accommodation ahead of time.  We met a couple in Riomaggiore that were struggling with their suitcase after tackling a flight of stairs only to find out that they went the wrong way and had to go back down again.

At each village, the trains emerge from tunnels that go through the base of the mountains.  So the train stations are much closer to the sea than the top of the mountain.  What we are trying to get at here is that, you will be faced with a long uphill walk or stair climbing if you book an accommodation that is far from the train station.

However, the newer area of Monterosso al Mare (northern section) is more flat compared to the old part of town and the other four communities.  We stayed at Miachi guestrooms and it was a pretty much level walk after getting down from the train station.




This is a small coastal town that is one of the popular tourist destinations.  The horde of visitors rivals Cinque Terre where you will hear a lot of non-Italian speaking people.  Portofino is like Vernazza except that it feels more upscale, probably because of the nicer looking restaurants and shops by the marina.  And by the marina you will see a lot of boats and an occasional yacht or two.

Portofino also has colorful pastel buildings.  But what Portofino has that the Cinque Terre villages do not have, besides the upscale shops and restaurants are the high vantage points you can walk to take a photo of the town and the marina.  There are some stairs to climb in Portofino, but not in abundance like Corniglia, Manarola or Riomaggiore. 

How to Explore Portofino

If you are going to visit Portofino, avoid the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM. This is when it gets really busy and crowded.  Most of them are from cruise ships that docked at nearby port cities like Genoa.  It may seem daunting to see all these people descend to the town but they do spread out rather quickly from the marina.

Getting to Portofino

There are three ways to get to Portofino.  One is to drive yourself there.  If you are driving from the town of Margherita, the five kilometer seaside road is narrow and is carved on the side of the mountain.  The road has no steep uphill or downhill but is still treacherous nonetheless especially if you encounter the public bus going the other way.

Speaking of public buses, this is the second way to get to Portofino from Margherita (there is a train stop at Margherita).  The bus leaves around every 15 minutes not too far from the train station.  You can purchase your bus tickets from the tabaccheria and costs 3.50 Euros per person per ride at the time of writing.  These are small buses so it can navigate the winding and narrow road.

The third way to get to Portofino is by boat.  The boat schedule is limited (about every hour) and can get filled up.  We wanted to ride the boat back to Margherita from Portofino but the entire afternoon was already booked.



While Cinque Terre and Portofino get a lot of visitors, Camogli is a nice change of pace from all the madness of mass tourism.  We visited Camogli the same day we visited Portofino and we could say without a doubt that the place was quiet and the streets were almost empty.  It is just a few train stations away from Margherita.

Camogli may not have the glamor of Portofino nor the notoriety of Cinque Terre but it is a nice town to visit nonetheless.  Pastel colored buildings abound.  It also has a marina, though mainly filled with fishing boats rather than expensive yachts.  It also has a beach with calm, clear water where local people indulge themselves happily on a hot day. There are also shops and restaurants that would cater to your shopping and gastronomic needs.

Overall, it was nice for a change to only hear Italian speaking people around us as it felt very authentic.


Genoa’s Piazza de Ferrari
Genoa’s Cattedrale di San Lorenzo


Genoa surprised us!  This city is full of architectural features that are pleasing to the eyes.  We are not fans of the humanities or history but we were amazed by the intricate relief features of many buildings.  Another blessing of Genoa is that it is low on the tourist radar unlike Cinque Terre which is only a couple of hours away by train.  It is a welcome relief to just be walking among the locals and hearing Italian conversations rather than being surrounded by fellow tourists. We only saw one tour group in Genoa and it was Italian speaking.

Hopefully, the pictures will suffice for you so you can judge for yourself if Genoa should be on your list of places to visit in Italy.

Inside Chiesa di San Luca
Inside Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

Getting Around Genoa

Most of the tourist attractions in Genoa are along the Metro (subway) route.  It is free to ride the Metro from 10 AM to 4PM and from 8PM to 10 PM.

What to See in Genoa

Here is a picture of the tour map we saw near the Christopher Columbus House.

Genoa’s walking tour map

Santa Margherita Ligure

Piazza Caprera in Santa Margherita Ligure

If you are visiting Portofino by public transportation, you might as well set aside some time to stroll the streets of Santa Margherita de Ligure or Margherita for short.  This nice town has fewer tourists but also has the same pastel colored buildings.  And it has a walking promenade along the coast and a beach as well.  There are also several restaurants and shops.

What Was the Weather Like

It was warm in late September to early October.  The temperature was in the 80’s during the day then cooled to about 60’s in the evening.  It can be scorching under the midday sun especially if you are walking.  It was humid near the ocean.  People were sweating, including us.  We did not get rained on during our entire visit.  There were a couple of partly sunny or partly cloudy days but it did not rain.  


The Italian Riviera is a long coastline that spans from the border with France to the west and swings over to the east towards the western shore over to La Spieza.  The recurring theme on the Italian Riviera are the coastal communities with pastel colored buildings.  And there are many of them.  Of the many communities, most visitors make a V-line towards the five villages that make up Cinque Terre and the upscale coastal town of Portofino.

Certainly, these destinations are popular for a reason.  Whether it is social media and the desire to experience what other people have experienced or just plain curiosity, Cinque Terre and Portofino undoubtedly get most of the attention. 

But there are other places on the Italian Riviera that have their own unique beauty and do not see anywhere close to the number of visitors seen by those popular destinations.  Margherita, Camogli and Genoa are just three of the many communities out there that offer the same beauty but without the crowd.  You may even find it refreshing to be around just Italians as opposed to being surrounded by fellow tourists.

Boccadasse, less than a 30 minute bus ride from Genoa, is one of the many pastel colored communities spared from mass tourism

We went in late September and early October and the weather was still warm and humid.  Later in the month or probably early November would have been better temperature wise though swimming in the sea may be out of the question.  

Whichever and whatever your desire is in visiting the Italian Riviera, we would encourage you to venture beyond Cinque Terre and Portofino.  Who knows what other colorful, picturesque and sleepy villages are out there waiting to be the next hot spot.