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The Ultimate Photo Location Guide to Cinque Terre

Introduction

Do you know what “Cinque Terre” in italian means?
Literally, it translates as “Five Lands”; not that romantic anymore, eh?
These so-called “Five Lands” are actually five small fishing villages located on the italian coast, just a bit south of Genova and 2 hours north-west from Florence; the name of this region is Liguria and it borders with Tuscany, another famous part of Italy. You probably already heard some of these towns names: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore (from west to east).
These tiny villages are all built on some steep cliffs of the Ligurian coast and while, back in the days, they were living just on fishing, now the main source of income is tourism for sure; fishing is still in practice, but nowadays is mostly to serve restaurants and tourism activities in general.
The colorful houses that you can spot wandering around these places, together with the breathtaking views that you can enjoy from the harbours and the viewpoints are just a couple of reasons about why the Cinque Terre became so famous nowadays.
The best way to explore these places is to get there by car or train; most of the tourists will have quite an hard time driving all the way to Cinque Terre, mainly for the narrow roads and the traffic in some points, but in this way you’ll be able to take your time to visit each single town and stop there till late (or sleep there) without having a strict schedule to follow. The train, as I was saying before, it’s also an option: they are well connected with the near city (La Spezia), and there’s a train stop in every single town, so if you don’t feel like driving you can always use the train to move around between the Cinque Terre.

Big waves of a storm clearing at sunset in Cinque Terre photo tour

1. MANAROLA

manarola cinque terre photo tour

I guess that you may have seen a couple of shots of this place before, specially if you already did a few researches about Cinque Terre.
Manarola is by far the most famous and popular one, and photography wise probably the most beautiful.
You can capture the classic view from the path that starts at the marina and goes to the right (if you are watching the sea); this path was originally leading to Corniglia till a few years ago, but then a big flood completely destroyed a big part of the trail and now it’s not accessible anymore, so the path is just a nice 5 minutes walk that leads to this viewpoint and the local cemetery.
You can get another composition from the lower part of the marina; instead of following the path that leads to the viewpoint I was talking before, you go straight down to the sea and you’ll find some beautiful rocks, perfect as a foreground.
The best time of the day to be here is sunset, since you get the last light of the day hitting the town; the late blue hour also is magical, specially when the town starts to light up with all the lights, so be sure not to leave right after the sun has set, stand there for an hour more and you’ll be rewarded! If there are some interesting clouds in the sky, sunrise is also an option, since the sun is rising from behind the hills.

2. RIOMAGGIORE

Riomaggiore is really close to Manarola, not more than a 10 minutes drive or a 5 minutes ride with the train; if you don’t have much time to spend around there, you can try to visit the two towns in one single day; an option can be to shot the golden hour here in Riomaggiore, take the train to Manarola and shot the blue hour there. It’s a rush, but if you don’t have time it’s a valid option.
Anyway, in Riomaggiore you get the most popular shot by going all the way down to the marina and then by following the stairs on the left: when you will be on the top, you are at the viewpoint from where you can take the composition like in the photo.
Another possible composition is down on the rocks; to arrive there, you just return down to the marina from the viewpoint and you start walking on the rocks till you reach the point you prefer. Lately though, the local administration closed that part to the public (probably to renovate the wall above those rocks) and nobody knows yet when they will open it again.
Like in Manarola, the best time of the day to shot is sunset since you get a nice side-light in autumn/spring or winter, while you can get a sunstar during summer.

Riomaggiore at sunset in winter photo workshop
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Explore the Cinque Terre with us with this 3-days photography tour!

3. VERNAZZA

vernazza photo tour cinque terre summer

Vernazza is another town of the Cinque Terre: it’s a 15 minutes drive from Manarola or a 10 minutes ride if you take the train. This town should be without any doubt on your “to go” list, no matter how little time you have.
Talking about photo compositions, you can go really crazy here: to start, the most famous take on this place is the one from above the town center. You can arrive at this viewpoint by following the signs for the trail that leads to Corniglia (if you are following the main road to the marina, the trail should be on your left; from the train station, you return up a little bit and you should start to see the signs); you will walk through vegetable gardens for 5 minutes or so, with some steep ascents, but then you’ll arrive here and all the effort will be repaid, trust me.
Another composition is from the very bottom of the town, from the marina of course! Once you are there, start walking on the right and you should see a path that is skirting the houses. Like I’ve done, it’s a nice spot to play with long exposures to get some movement in the shot.
As for the other places, sunset as well as blue hour is always the best option for all the compositions, but if you’ll be there for sunrise I suggest you to be down at the marina rather than at the viewpoint at the top of the town.

4. PORTOVENERE

Portovenere technically is not part of the Cinque Terre. It lays at the end of the “Golfo dei Poeti”, “Gulf of Poets” in english, and it’s a 50 minutes drive from the Cinque Terre or a 40 minutes ride by train.
Even if this small village is not one of the Cinque Terre, it is nothing short of beautiful honestly. It is definitely worth a stop if you are travelling in the area!
The shot that you see above here is probably the most famous composition of this place, and you’ll have to walk all the way to the church that you see in the photo (there’s only one way to go there when you are at the start of the town, you can’t go wrong) and from the church you start to follow the path that leads up to the top of the town; on the way up, you’ll encounter a viewpoint from where you get the famous view. It feels complicated to explain by words, but it’s actually easy to find!
There’s one more composition here, way less popular than the first one, which is even easier to achieve because you’ll find it right in front of you when you are at the church.
Like in all the other landscape photography locations on this list, it’s best to be there at sunset, since you have the sun setting right in your face. I highly suggest to play with some long exposure effect, you’ll be amazed by the results!

portovenere during a stormy day landscape pictures
Want to know more about Cinque Terre?

We wrote a guide about the perfect time to visit Cinque Terre and other useful tips!

Conclusion

Cinque Terre are one of the truly unique places of my homeland Italy; so, if you are looking to travel in the country, be sure to spend a couple of days visiting these picturesque towns if you want to capture some incredible pictures!
One recommendation: avoid to travel there in summer. During high season the spots are packed with tourists, and you wouldn't probably enjoy them as you should. Spring and autumn are much better, also considering the milder climate and the higher chances to get some stormy skies and some big waves, while in summer chances to get interesting conditions for photography are scarce to say the least.
Have fun in the Cinque Terre!

Leonardo Papèra

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