Cinque Terre is a group of five seaside villages in Italy located along the Ligurian Coast that appear to be emerging from the cliffs. We are certain that you’ve seen the pictures of Cinque Terre at sunset. It’s an idyllic setting, sitting on your balcony with a glass of wine watching the sun set over the rocky cliffs and pastel colored buildings. Who would take a baby or energetic toddler there? Lots of people do, and you should too! It’s incredibly family friendly. It’s true what they say, the Italians really do love babies and children.
When we first started considering Italy as our next destination, we knew Cinque Terre would be on our list of places to go. It was suggested to us that it may not be the best place to take our toddler and preschooler, but we planned to go anyways. For us the opportunity to spend a week hiking was just too good to pass up. We knew we wouldn’t be able to do the full hike between all 5 towns in one day, given we were travelling with small children, so we compromised. We planned a full week in Cinque Terre and are glad that we did.
Where to Stay
As usual, the first part in our planning was figuring out where to stay. It required a little more research this time since we had to look into all 5 towns. After long days outside with a toddler and preschooler, we knew we wouldn’t be having wine and late dinners out, so we looked for an Airbnb apartment with easy access to a larger grocery store. Since we planned to spend each morning hiking, we also wanted easy access to spots where the kids could play and be kids in the afternoons. This meant the beach or finding playgrounds
Monterosso al Mare was the best choice for us. It’s the only town with a nice long stretch of beach, though you will find a small beach that’s good for kids in Vernazza. The other towns have beaches that are rocky or more difficult to access with small kids. We were in Cinque Terre in April, so the beach wasn’t a deal breaker for us in our planning stage, but we did make use of it several times. Keep in mind that a large portion of the beach in Monterosso is private and you’ll need to pay for it in the high season, but there are still free beaches.
We opted to forgo some of the charm of the other towns for easy access to groceries and playgrounds. With any luck, someday our kids will appreciate these compromises. Once we had decided which of the towns we wanted to stay in, it was just a matter of the availability of apartments with 2-3 bedrooms and price. We settled on an Airbnb apartment in the old part of Monterosso, right amongst all the shopping and restaurants.
Cinque Terre was our next destination after leaving the island of Elba. We had a 1 hour ferry ride at 7am, followed by two trains that took approximately 3.5 hours. The trains were a great way to travel with our small kids. They could move around and were pretty easy to entertain on the train. Once we arrived in Monterosso, we walked from the station to our apartment which took about 15 minutes.
While in Cinque Terre, we purchased several Cinque Terre Multiservice Rail 2-day cards which gave us access to the park area and access to all the regional trains from Levanto to La Spezia.
Six Days in Cinque Terre
We had planned 6 full days for our stay in Cinque Terre. This allowed us to take some time each morning to hike between all the 5 towns and still give our kids time to play.
We knew we would be carrying our children for long stretches of time, so we brought a structured backpack carrier for each of them. We had hiked with our kids previously in them and knew they would be comfortable and happy in them for 2-3 hours. This, along with plenty of snacks, allowed us to hike one section each morning of our stay.
We structured each of our days in Cinque Terre very similarly. We would start our day by giving the kids a little time to play. This was either exploring the streets of a new town or playing at playground. We would then do our planned hike for the day returning to our apartment for lunch and a nap for our 19 month old. We would either give our 3 year old some quiet time or take her out for a walk in Monterosso. In the afternoons, we either took them to the beach, a playground or explored a new area of Monterosso.
We opted to spend the majority of our time hiking, but here is what else you can do in each of the five towns (plus a bonus town):
Monterosso al Mare
Though it may not be the most charming of the towns, Monterosso has plenty to offer families. In the old town, there is a playground (which we frequented quite often) and streets that are fun to explore. There’s a large square overlooking a beach and the water. It’s the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon snack or let the kids play. For a fun, short walk in the old town head up to Convento dei Cappuccini and the cemetery. Both are situated on top of San Cristoforo Hill, which separates the old town from the new town. Our kids managed to walk the entire way up and we all enjoyed the great views of the town and the Ligurian Sea from up there.
In Fegina, the new part of town, there is a boardwalk along the beach. We had no trouble convincing our little ones to enjoy some gelato on the beach or to climb the big rock. For another option to give our little ones time to play, we followed the boardwalk down to the end to find a playground a little more suitable for young children.
Monterosso is mostly flat, aside from the stairs up to the Convent of Cappuccini, and could easily be navigated with a stroller. Keep in mind, the streets do get terribly busy in the afternoon, at least this was our experience in April and I imagine it to be much worse in the summer, so you will need to contend with this when pushing your stroller.
Considered the most beautiful of the five villages, we were fortunate we got to see Vernazza from a few different vantage points as we hiked to it from two different directions. There are such incredible views of Belforte Tower and Andrea Doria Castle from the hike from Corniglia. We always intended on returning to explore the tower one afternoon with the kids, but we never did. Both times we arrived in Vernazza, it was close to lunch time and the streets were packed, so we didn’t spend much time exploring.
Vernazza also has a beach that is easily accessible with small kids.
On our first morning of hiking, we started off in Corniglia. It’s the smallest of the five villages. After climbing the 377 steps from the train station up to the town, we found it was the perfect time to let the kids explore. The streets were deserted and they were able to run around without getting in anybody’s way. This little town is so picturesque and we were quite fond of being able to explore it when the streets were empty! Just as everyone was beginning to emerge for breakfast, we left to hit the trail.
If you plan to explore with a stroller, make sure to bring a lightweight one. You’ll definitely get your morning workout by carrying it up the stairs from the train station. Using a structured backpack carrier or a baby carrier would be a better option for visiting Corniglia.
Manarola is only 500 meters from Riomaggiore, and most likely the image you are familiar with when you think of Cinque Terre. Our visit to Manarola was again early in the morning before most tourists arrived or emerged from their warm beds. We found at this time of the day, there was a lot of vehicle traffic so it wasn’t as conducive to letting the kids explore.
This stretch of the SVA between Manarola and Corniglia is closed for repairs after a landslide. Despite this, we were still able to walk a portion of it to get the famous view from across the harbour. Though we didn’t visit it, there is a cemetery and little park with a playground in this area. The view we did get in the morning was well worth the time spent in this little village.
Riomaggiore is the first village you will reach by train from the south and is largest of the five. When you visit the village, you’ll pass through a long pedestrian tunnel beautifully decorated with a tile mosaic before you get to the main street. Our kids loved walking through this tunnel and pointing out the images in the tile. We did our usual early morning walk through town and let the kids play before continuing on with our hike.
The main street here is quite steep, so you’ll get a workout if you are pushing a stroller. Be aware that the well known stretch of the SVA from Riomaggiore to Manarola, Via dell'Amore or Way of Love, is also closed.
Though not part of the Cinque Terre, Levanto is still worth a visit for families and is found on the other side of Punta Mesco from Monterosso. You could even choose Levanto as your base for exploring the region as it is only 5 minutes away by train. It looks different (not as charming) than the rest of the villages, but the streets are still fun to explore. It also has a long stretch of beach and a boardwalk. Right behind the beach, you’ll also find a great square and playground for the kids.
If you are keen to do more hiking, you can also hike between Levanto and Monterosso. It’s a beautiful hike.
Perhaps our favourite part of visiting Levanto was trading in our hiking legs for biking. Getting on a bike was not what I had in mind when we planned our trip to Cinque Terre, but it was a unique experience well worth doing!
- Whether you are travelling with a baby or toddler, take your time in Cinque Terre. It’s the perfect place to just enjoy being together.
- If you plan on hiking, we recommend proper hiking shoes and a baby carrier that will keep both you
and your baby/toddler comfortable. Some of the hikes are quite difficult, so plan to trade off on carrying your baby if possible. Also, don’t forget plenty of snacks and water! We used
this hydration pack in our backpack carriers to keep us all hydrated.
- Some of the restaurants had high chairs, but not all did. Plan to bring your own or hold your baby
We recommend using a backpack or baby carrier instead of a stroller here. If you want to bring your stroller, make sure it is a lightweight one and bring a carrier as well. For a toddler, we recommend this carrier if you aren't using a backpack carrier.
- The grocery stores were small, but we had no trouble getting milk and diapers. We managed to make our own meals most of the time as well.
- It’s crowded here. Get out early in the morning to avoid the crowds if at all possible.
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