Plan your Cinque Terre holiday for 2023 with this comprehensive travel guide to magical Manarola Italy. Where to stay, where to eat, and the best wine bars on the piazza are all covered here. Explore the walking and hiking paths that are open now, where to swim and the best ways to get to Manarola, including parking options.
The five Cinque Terre villages can blur into one in the memory – such is their uniform beauty and style. But the truth is that each has its own individual character.
Monterosso is the largest of the five villages and has the biggest seafront along this stretch of the Ligurian coast. Vernazza has a harbor and the colorful houses around it are in a – relatively – flat portside village. Corniglia is a hilltop town, full of side streets and staircases. Riomaggiore has a tiny harbor, and its steep landscape makes the assortment of tower houses around the harbor look almost precarious.
So what is unique to me about Manarola? The sound of it.
A stream runs down the mountainside and can be heard as you climb the winding roads up from the seafront to the main square. You can’t see the water, but you can hear it, flowing somewhere under the streets.
I can’t bring that sound to you, but I will try to describe some of the magical things you can see in Manarola.
Marina di Manarola
The marina is an obvious place to start. Not only does Manarola make a good claim for the most photogenic harbor of all the Cinque Terre villages, but it is also a great spot for people-watching.
The large hunk of rock out in the middle of the harbor lures brave (foolhardy?) visitors into making daring jumps into the crystalline Ligurian sea.
Around them, the paths hewn out of the mountainside carry a constant stream of walkers, and sunbathers occupy unlikely spots on both the concrete and the rocks around the harbor.
While most prefer to have this enclosed area as their panorama, you can also take a walk towards the left (as you look out onto the ocean) and find a spot on the other side of the rocks if you would rather leave the village behind you and gaze out on to the open sea.
Out on the ocean
For those looking for a more active day, kayaks are available to hire and offer a great way to get away from the hordes of tourists.
For those with larger budgets, boats can also be hired, with or without skippers. This kind of activity becomes more economical if you are traveling with a larger party.
There are also private boat tours available – here are the best three:
Where to Stay in Manarola Italy
If you’d like a comprehensive article about accommodation in all the Cinque Terre villages, read Where to Stay in Cinque Terre: A Guide to Choosing Your Favorite Village.
With sea views and free wifi, these luxury apartments are only 150 m from the center of Manarola. The best rooms have air conditioning, large terraces, a kitchen, flat-screen TV and washing machine. They also have a paid shuttle service from Pisa airport.
This is a great option in the Cinque Terre which is not known for its high-quality and modern accommodation. The rooms and the whole hotel are modern, and fresh, with good wifi and excellent breakfasts. Only 5 minutes walk from the train station but right in the center and close to the marina.
An old renovated house that serves breakfast in the lemon garden. The rooms are larger than you normally find in the Cinque Terre, and they have balconies or terraces, comfortable beds, and great showers. Altogether, great value for the Cinque Terre and you only need to be walking for 5 minutes from the train station to arrive at this highly reviewed property.
They had me at the Marshall speakers but also the Nespresso machine and the hundreds of excellent reviews. Some rooms/ apartments have kitchens. There’s good wifi, air conditioning, and satellite and cable TV channels. Just wish they had sea views!
The old town
Once you have had your fill of the marina, you can begin your climb up through the village.
Here is where you can appreciate what I mentioned in the introduction – how in the midst of a solid seaside village, which looks like it has stood proudly by the Ligurian sea for centuries, you can hear the flow of water underfoot.
The first road up from the marina is Via Renato Birolli, where you will find both up-market and cheap-and-cheerful places to eat.
If you are only in the mood for takeaway, you have a good chance of finding a high-quality pizza or focaccia to fuel your ascent through the village.
Il Discovolo (Via Renato Birolli, 124) is one such option, offering a number of freshly-made pizzas, including options for vegans and vegetarians.
For seafood fans, Trattoria de Billy (Via Aldo Rollandi) is a popular destination in the street that runs parallel to Renato Birolli. With surprisingly reasonable prices given the excellent view, you will have to book in advance to get a table. Clams and mussels are the star dishes here.
Finally, for those who just want a nice dessert, Gelateria 5 Terre (Via Renato Birolli, 74,) stands out from the other ice-cream parlors for its vegan-friendly ice creams – a modern touch in a very homely joint.
Wine bars and the piazza
Or should the sound of the stream be making you thirsty, look out for any one of the various bars marked “Cantina” or “Cantine”.
Probably the most famous is Cantine Burasca, on Via Antonio Discovolo. This wine bar/wineshop boasts outdoor seating, a tasting menu, and the chance to buy a bottle of local produce so is an ideal one-stop-shop for sampling some local wares.
La Cantina dello Zio Bramante (Via Renato Birolli, 110) is another possibility. At lunchtime, they do simple-but-tasty bruschetta dishes, and later in the evening, you can expect a nice bustling vibe and even live music.
There are two very different local wines to try.
First, is the Cinque Terre DOC, a dry white made with a mix of Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino grapes. Straw-colored and delicately perfumed, this would be ideal to pair with seafood or pesto – both of which are guaranteed to be locally produced.
Secondly, the Sciacchetrà (sha-ket-ra) dessert wine is an altogether sweeter affair, ideal to match with panettone or local cheese.
Further up Via Antonio Discovolo, you will find the local church, Chiesa di San Lorenzo. For a village so small, it is surprisingly grand and well-maintained. It stands at one side of Piazza Papa Innocenzo, facing the village’s classical, lemon-colored bell tower.
If your interest in wine extends to how it is made, there are local vineyards to be explored around Manarola village!
Manarola Vineyard Walk
The Manarola Vineyard Walk is a twenty-minute walk that takes you through the village’s beautiful vineyards.
Begin your walk at the Chiesa di San Lorenzo and set the Cimitero di Manarola (Manarola Cemetery) as your destination.
This will take you on a long and winding path through the village, with the impressive vineyards, grown in formidably steep conditions, stretching above and below you.
Hike to Corniglia
Until recently, it was also possible to hike directly from Manarola to Corniglia along the centuries-old Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail). Sadly, the trail here has had to be closed off, after landslides and erosion created dangerous walking conditions.
However, there remains an alternative route, heading inland through Volastra, a pretty, colorful hilltop village that has a much closer relationship to the Cinque Terre villages than to its neighbors.
You can start at the San Lorenzo church as before and follow the endearing red-and-white signs for hiking trails 506/6p.
The hike is around 3.5 miles, so give yourself good two-and-a-half hours to complete it. It’s not particularly strenuous, but there are stretches where the inclines and declines can get a little steep, so it is more than a casual stroll.
Going from Manarola to Corniglia is more uphill than downhill if that is a deciding factor.
The 506 trail will lead you to Volastra, and then you take the 586 and 587 trails to Corniglia.
This may sound like a lot of effort – but it is worth it! Not only can you take in the terraced vineyards that encircle Manarola and Corniglia, but your high vantage point will also afford you breathtaking views of the Ligurian coast and the surrounding area.
Tracking down the Blue Trail
Should you be basing your Cinque Terre vacation in Manarola and want to hike at least some of the Blue Trail, all is not lost.
The trail may have been closed for visitor safety between Riomaggiore to Manarola, and Manarola to Corniglia, but it is still accessible elsewhere.
Take the train to either Monterosso or Corniglia, and you can pick up the trail there.
Note that accessing the trail comes at a price – tickets can be bought from booths at the trail entrances for €7.50.
The view from the hilltop
The ocean-side paths on both sides of the harbor are immediately appealing, and if you take the path on the right-hand side (as you look out to the ocean), it will lead you uphill to the village’s lookout point.
This will give you an opportunity for fantastic pictures of Manarola village from above – not to mention gorgeous shots of the setting sun towards the end of the day, but beware: you will not be the only one with this idea!
It is probably the most popular activity to do in Manarola, so brace yourself for crowds and be patient.
Similarly, the nearby restaurant Nessun Dorma is an obvious draw – and not only for fans of Pavarotti or Italia ’90!
A glass of local wine or a cocktail to accompany the amazing panorama of the sun glistening on the ocean and the constantly-changing palette of the buildings around the harbor is an obvious temptation – but, despite its considerable size, the restaurant is usually jam-packed.
There is a new app on iOS allowing you to join a virtual queue instead of a physical one, but even so, I would treat a drink in Nessun Dorma as a bonus rather than a must.
Getting there and away
Cinque Terre might look like some mystical land, but it is happily well-served by various forms of transport. Let’s take a look at your travel options and if you’d like a complete guide, read How to Get to Cinque Terre: Avoid the Crowds and Enjoy the Beauty.
There are a number of options within a reasonable distance of Manarola and the other Cinque Terre villages. The nearest airports are Genoa, Pisa, and Florence. From there, it will be a question of taking a train or hiring a car.
Public transport both to Cinque Terre and between the various villages is efficient.
Your route will differ depending on your starting point, but there are no direct trains from any airport to Cinque Terre. From your city of arrival (Genoa, Pisa, or Florence), you will take a train to a local hub (La Spezia Centrale to the south or Sestri Levante or Levanto to the north) and then catch a regional train.
To help you get your bearings, the order of the five towns from north to south is: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
That makes it a short journey from La Spezia – just two stops and roughly 10 minutes.
Levanto is a 23-minute ride away, but the advantage is that it will pass through the northern Cinque Terre villages, giving you an early sighter of them before you get off at Manarola.
Sestri Levante is further up the coast but is still just a 50-minute ride away.
Manarola train station is a 5-minute walk to the village center. The two are connected by a long pedestrian tunnel, which is something of a recurring theme in Cinque Terre towns.
The train is also a great way to get from town to town. A single ticket costs €4, and there is also a Cinque Terre Treno card available, offering unlimited travel for 1-3 days.
The 1-day pass is €18.20, and included in the price is access to the Blue Trail (normally €7.50) and unlimited use of local buses.
On your more active days – when you are making more than 4 journeys or three journeys plus a hike, it can definitely prove to be good value. And naturally, the 2-day and 3-day pass offer even better value per trip.
While for many travelers, the idea of navigating a foreign train network might be off-putting, car hire is not a particularly convenient option for visiting Manarola: the village is closed to non-resident cars!
Locals roads can also be vertiginous and treacherous, so unless you are familiar with similar terrain, take a look on Google Street View first.
If you do choose to come by car, there are options: there is a parking lot at the top of Manarola: Park Manarola Loc. Posella is just a few minutes’ walk from the main square.
A compromise solution is also available: you can drive to a larger village, park there and then take the local train to Manarola.
La Spezia, Levanto, and the first village of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare, all have larger parking lots where you might have an easier time finding a space.
Manarola is less crazy in summer than Riomaggiore and Vernazza, but close to all of the Cinque Terre villages, There are several lovely accommodation options, good food, and wonderful hiking and wine-tasting opportunities.