Vernazza is one of the five historic villages that make up the Cinque Terre region in Northwest Italy. The village is known for its colorful buildings, terraced olive groves and natural port. One of the most notable features of Vernazza is that there are no cars. This makes exploring the village particularly pleasant!
Walking around this old village along narrow streets absent of cars makes it feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Many describe Vernazza as a quintessential Italian Riviera fishing village and one of the most beautiful places in Italy and I certainly can’t disagree. My sister and I visited during a trip to the Cinque Terre region. We hiked there from Monterosso al Mare once, but we also spent more time on another day, when we got there by train.
So, here’s a selection of the best things to see and do in Vernazza, Italy, and some practical information to help you plan your visit.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Things To Do In Cinque Terre.
What To See And Do In Vernazza, Italy
Check out the tiny beach
The beach in Vernazza is actually tiny, pebbly and not exactly comfortable – especially if you are use to the long, sandy beaches of South Sardinia like I am. To be fair, there was a larger beach in the area, but the floods and mudslides of 2011 pretty much destroyed it. Alas, if that’s the only option you may as well make the most of it.
The beach – which is free to access for everyone – can be reached via a small cave in the center of the village. Keep in mind the current here is quite strong so you may want to avoid swimming on windy days.
Another beach that you may want to check out is the small stretch that lines the small, protected harbor. The waters are usually calm so it’s a great place to go for a swim.
Wander around Vernazza Harbor
Vernazza is home to the only natural harbor in the Cinque Terre region. The waterfront has a small stretch of sand where there even is a lido – perfect to hang out and have a swim on hot summer days. However, keep in mind that since the beach is right inside the harbor the area gets quite a bit of boats and ferries traffic, so it may not be ideal if you are looking for peace and quiet.
The surrounding area is packed with restaurants and bars and a trail along the shore will take you in front of the church. The trail goes around the church, up a flight of stairs and back up to give you access to the village, but when we visited it was blocked with small fishing and rowing boats and we had to walk over them (or simply walk back from where we came).
Take in the views of Vernazza
One of the most popular attractions in Vernazza is the Doria Castle, which is a lookout tower that was built in the 11th century to help protect the village from pirates. While the castle itself is nothing special – literally just the circular tower and the main fortifications remain – the views of Vernazza from up there are impressive.
For more views, consider walking to the Sanctuary of Madonna di Reggio (it’s a steady one hour walk uphill) or to the Belforte Bastion, which is a bit easier to reach from the center of the village.
Visit Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church
Located in the harbor area of Vernazza, Santa Margherita di Antiochia is a prime example of Ligurian-Gothic style. The church was built in the 14th century, supposedly following the finding of the bones of St Margaret at a nearby beach. Its most striking feature is the octagonal tower. The view of the church from the ground is impressive, but the one you get as you approach Vernazza from the Blue Trail, coming from Monterosso al Mare, is simply breathtaking.
Hike the Blue Trail
Speaking of views, for the most iconic views of Vernazza you will have go hike the Blue Trail that connects Vernazza with the other villages of Cinque Terre. The section of the trail that runs from Vernazza to Monterosso is absolutely impressing and features stunning coastal views. This is where you’ll find the popular viewpoint that looks over the colorful village.
The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare is a moderate 2.2 miles (about 3.5 km) along a very easy to follow trail. As it is part of the Cinque Terre National Park, to access the trail you will need a Cinque Terre Card. This costs €7.50 and you can get it and any Cinque Terre point in one of the villages or in La Spezia, or online here.
For a guided hiking tour of the Cinque Terre, click here.
Make sure to read my posts A Useful Guide To Monterosso Al Mare, Cinque Terre, A Quick Guide To Manarola and A Guide To Hiking In The Cinque Terre.
Walk around the village
While these attractions are all worth checking out, don’t leave Cinque Terre without taking an evening stroll through the main part of the village where you’ll see beautiful old buildings (make sure not to miss the Chapel of Santa Marta, located on the village’s main street), engage in the lively everyday life of the vibrant heart of the village and enjoy access to a range of restaurants and cafes.
Admire a gorgeous sunset
The sunsets in Vernazza are incredible too so make sure you take some time in the evening to find a spot along the coast to take in this event!
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Vernazza, Italy
How to get to Vernazza
Cars are not permitted in Vernazza so the only two ways to get to the village are by car or ferry. If you’re driving a rental car to Cinque Terre and would like to visit Vernazza, it’s best to leave it parked in Monterosso, Levanto, or La Spezia. The village’s lower parking lot is for residents only. But you can park there for a short period while you unload your luggage and move your car to the upper parking lot where you’ll pay €12€ a day.
There’s a ferry that services the coastal villages of Monterosso, Manarola, Riomaggiore and Vernazza so you can easily travel between the villages. Traveling by ferry is a great way to travel to Vernazza because you’ll be able to enjoy the views from a boat which is something you might otherwise not have a chance to do and the views are fabulous!
The ferry departs La Spezia every hour during peak times. The price of tickets vary depending on your departure and arrival points. Since you’ll likely be exploring the other villages in the Cinque Terre region, it might be in your best interest to purchase an all-day or half-day ticket that allows you to travel as much as you like between the villages.
You can buy your ferry tickets at the ticket counter located at each departure point but make sure to arrive early so you’re not rushing around at the last minute! If the weather is very bad on the day you plan to sail, be prepared for cancellations as the ferries don’t operate in dangerous sea conditions.
The train station in Vernazza is located above the village in between two tunnels. Upon arrival, you can reach the village proper either by walking, which takes about five minutes or – if you have luggage – by shuttle bus.
If you’re traveling from the La Spezia Centrale Train Station, expect a 20-minute ride to Vernazza over a distance of only seven miles (11 kilometers). Trains are run by Trenitalia and the route is direct so you won’t have to switch trains along the way.
Early birds can catch the 4:18 am train but there are trains departing along this route every 17 minutes right up to 1:00 am. A ticket for this route starts at €5.
The train ride from Levanto to Vernazza takes about ten minutes and is also a direct route. On weekdays, the earliest train departs very early at 4:50 am and the last one departs at 12:37 am. Trains depart roughly every 20 minutes and tickets cost €5.
From Pisa, the journey to Vernazza takes approximately 1.5 hours over a distance of 46 miles (74 kilometers). This route isn’t direct so you will need to change trains in La Spezia. The first departure of the day for this route is at 5:42 am and the last departure is at 10:53 pm and trains depart every 18 minutes throughout the day. Tickets start at €12.20
If you are traveling to Vernazza from Florence, Milan or Rome, you will have no direct trains but will need to change in either Pisa, Sestri Levante or La Spezia. Expect rides of up to 5 hours depending on how many changes and the time of day you are traveling.
The best places to stay in Vernazza
Although Vernazza is small, there are quite a few great places to stay in the village and there’s something for everyone regardless of taste or budget.
Albergo Barbara is a harborfront property with air-conditioned rooms that are equipped with free Wi-Fi and traditional decor. Some rooms have private bathrooms while others are shared. Every room has beautiful views of either the sea or the mountains.
Santa Marta Rooms
Santa Marta Rooms is situated in an ideal location in the village center only two minutes away from a beautiful beach. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available and the lovely guest rooms are air-conditioned.
La Casa di Frida
At La Casa di Frida, you’ll enjoy a self-catered experience with access to a full bathroom, kitchen and dining area. Other amenities include laundry facilities and a central location close to restaurants, shops and the beach.
Fivestay Casa Gabriella
The air-conditioned apartment at Fivestay Casa Gabriella is equipped with three bedrooms, a kitchen, two bathrooms, a flat-screen television, laundry facilities and free Wi-Fi service. A shared lounge with town and sea views is also available.
Hotel Gianni Franzi
The views you’ll enjoy from the Hotel Gianni Franzi are a selling point in themselves but you’ll also enjoy cozy rooms with private bathrooms and free Wi-Fi. There’s a terrace that overlooks the sea and an excellent breakfast is served each morning.
At Pensione Sorriso, you’ll enjoy a convenient location close to the scenic harbor and train station, a balcony and a daily breakfast buffet. Guest rooms are air-conditioned and feature complimentary Wi-Fi service.
La Polena Camere Vernazza
La Polena Camere Vernazza features a shared terrace with amazing views. The guest rooms feature air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, flat-screen televisions and private bathrooms.
Make sure to also read my post Where To Stay In Cinque Terre.
Only have a day to spare in Cinque Terre? Check out my post How To Plan The Perfect Day Trip From Florence To Cinque Terre.
Where to eat and drink in Vernazza
Looking for fresh seafood? How about a range of pasta dishes? Care to try some traditional regional dishes or local wines? Whatever it is you crave, you’ll find something to satisfy your hunger at the many restaurants in Vernazza.
Belforte has been around for more than 50 years so the staff has plenty of knowledge and experience when it comes to preparing delicious, traditional Ligurian cuisine. Take a seat at a table atop a cliff overlooking the sea and enjoy a range of dishes including seafood and pasta dishes made with fresh, local ingredients. A small wine list featuring local wines is also available.
Trattoria Gianni Franzi
At Trattoria Gianni Franzi, most of the dishes are based on local traditions and many of them are seafood based. Enjoy a range of tasty options such as stuffed anchovies, stuffed fish ravioli, stuffed mussels, Vernazza tian (pasta cooked i n a traditional pot called tian) and Genovese soup. Outdoor seating with sea views is available so you can watch the sunset while you wine and dine.
You can’t spend time in Italy without trying some traditional artisan gelato and at Gelateria Vernazza, that’s exactly what you’ll get. The gelato available at this establishment is made with the freshest organic ingredients available. Some of the flavors you can choose from include chocolate and pears, white chocolate and coconut, ricotta and figs and Cinque Terre organic lemon juice with honey.
Ristorante La Torre
Beautiful views of the sea, delicious food, local wine and friendly staff are what you’ll find at Ristorante la Torre and what more could you ask for in a restaurant? Squid ink pasta with shrimp, trofie al pesto, seafood spaghetti and octopus are some of the items you’ll find on the menu.
Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre
Il Pirata Delle Cinque Terre is a great place to enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Seafood risotto, ravioli, caprese, gnocchi and spaghetti ai frutti di mare are some of the dishes you’ll find on the menu. If you go there for breakfast, the Sicilian cannoli pastries are a popular item.
Trattoria da Sandro
Trattoria da Sandro serves a variety of dishes made with fresh local ingredients including stuffed mussels, ravioli and pesto lasagna. This eatery is also known for its delicious homemade desserts.
Il Gambero Rosso
Il Gambero Rosso looks out over the picturesque harbor in Vernazza and serves delicious, traditional Ligurian cuisine. Fish ravioli, grilled octopus and lobster tagliolini are just a few of the dishes available on the menu. There’s also a great selection of wines and homemade desserts available.
Il Gattaccio – Acciugheria & Street Food
If you didn’t know it was there you would miss the tiny eatery known as Il Gattaccio – Acciugheria & Street Food. This unique place serves delicious street food such as fresh oysters, octopus panini, trofie al pesto and focaccia sandwiches. The prices are great, the staff is friendly and you’ll get a delicious meal expertly prepared in half the time.
Cinque Sensi is a wine bar that also sells mouth-watering small plates. Wine tastings are available with knowledgeable servers and pesto classes are available from time to time. Make sure to try the famous white Cinque Terre DOC (a blend of local grapes which include Vermentino, Albarola and Bosco) and the local dessert wine Schiacchetrà.
For a wine tasting tour in Cinque Terre, click here.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Restaurants In Cinque Terre.