They are one of the most picturesque coastal villages in the World, included in UNESCO's Heritage Sites. Here are some important tips before you to keep in mind.
What is Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre is in Liguria region of Italy. It means five villages, which are Monterosso, Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Manarola and Corniglia. They are spread along the coast so you have to travel to get one to other. From Genoa, the regions capital, the closest village is the biggest sister Monterosso al Mare and Riomaggiore along the other end is close to the another coastal city La Spezia.
Monterosso al Mare is my favourite. It is more horizontal and perhaps not similar looking as the other villages but there are simply more things to do here including eating, shopping and enjoying beaches.
Riomaggiore is my second biggest another favourite. It is vertically spread houses with an alley leading to the sea, as colorful and photogenic as you expect. Simply beautiful.
Vernazza may be the most picturesque one out of all. It is small, if you are eager you can finish the sightseeing it in 1hour or so. The photos you've seen on instagram are mostly Vernazza are taken at the beginning of it's hiking trail towards Monterosso.
Manarola is the second smallest village and as picturesque similar to Vernazza but smaller. The cafes located at the side of the cliffs give you great views when you are sipping your drink.
Corniglia is located above the cliffs, does not have access to sea. I actually skipped this one because heard it is less impressive and had the picture from the rest of the villages
Where to stay?
The five towns are too crowded, expensive and hence uncomfortable to stay at. Nearby cities like Sestri Levante, La Spezia or Santa Liguria are bigger, cheaper and give you the chance to learn more about the local and Italian culture there.
I stayed at Sestri Levante with my family, 20 min away from the closest village Monterosso. People in town are mostly Italian families who are making use of their summer home there. The views and architecture strongly resembles Cinque Terre but it is spread around more spaciously throughout the town. It was incredible, the food everywhere was amazing.
How to get there?
I chose from Genoa as it is a big city with airport and the main train station there can get you straight to Cinque Terre villages in 1h 15min. Pesto is Genoa speciality, don't forget to eat pasta pesto before you leave.
How to travel?
By train. We had the mistake of going to one villages by car. It took us 1.5 hours to get one village to another which normally takes 15-20 minutes by train on incredibly curvy roads and a journey filled with car sickness. Avoid cars. Take the train. If you are still eager to take the car, parking is also a problem in some cities, as they are not allowed inside the city for some of them, so go for Monterosso there is parking spaces there.
Important point, in Italy when you get the train ticket you must put it in a stamp machine before you hop on. Ticket checks are frequent and they will fine you if they don't see stamp. It is a common tourist mistake, that happened to me and saw it happen to a lot of tourists on the ride.
Monterosso al Mare has one of the biggest coastal space and beaches. You can pay for 2 sunbeds with 1 umbrella for the day. The beach staff comes to you to collect the money or simply you can go to them straight to pick your sunbeds. Other towns don't have beaches, although you can jump straight to water if you want in Vernazza and Riomaggiore.
What to do?
You can hike or chill at the beach in Monterosso. There are trails between the towns you can hike but be careful and prepared. I, not knowing how demanding the trails are, went from Monterosso to Vernazza I thinking it would take 30 minutes or so. It took 3.5 hours. Most trails are deep, rough and very challenging. Carry water, pack some snacks beforehand.