1. Soak up the view
Each of the five villages has its own distinctive character, but they all have one thing in common – photogenic appeal. The sweeping views from cliff top Corniglia along the coast to Manarola are especially beautiful, which is no mean feat in an area which has set the bar high. Vernazza's harbour, with its waterfront restaurants and tiny beach draws tourists by the thousand, and the people-watching is equally good in summer in Manarola when the fishermen compete for space with the kids diving from the harbour walls.
2. Take a hike
There are two walking trails that link the villages of the Cinque Terre from Monterosso in the north west to Riomaggiore in the south east. The lower trail is called Sentiero Azzurro and there is also a high trail. Some of the former is under renovation following devastating storms in 2011 – each rail station has a dedicated tourist office which will give you information about what's currently open. The two steepest sections of the trail are to the north west, between Monterosso and Vernazza, and also from Vernazza to Corniglia. The trails get flatter towards Riomaggiore, and in fact the final stretch is mostly along a tunnel.
3. Relax on a boat trip
Ferries ply the coastline regularly in summer and although the train is conveniently fast, you should take at least one boat trip during your visit. Due to its lofty setting, the only village where the ferries don't call is Corniglia, but the others have jetties that disgorge passengers right in the centre of the action. The craggy coastline looks stunning from the water and, with the sun shining and a breeze in your hair, it's the perfect way to recover from your energetic hike.
4. Eat ice cream
It wouldn't be Italy without ice cream, and the Cinque Terre villages are no exception. Each of the villages has its own gelato parlours and there's such a variety of flavours that you can easily justify having a different one in each place. Make sure you check it's real, though, and not whipped up from a powder – the way to tell the difference is that the genuine item will never stand higher than the rim of its container.
Getting there by train
Most people arrive via the port town of La Spezia, which is well-connected to the cities of Florence and Milan by train. From La Spezia, take the Cinque Terre Express operated by Trenitalia and you can stop in Monterosso, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza. Each station has a range of maps and printed timetables for tourists to take away, making it easy to plan your time.
Need to know
It is possible to visit the Cinque Terre as a day trip from either Monterosso or La Spezia, but most people stay at least overnight. The village of Monterosso has the widest selection of accommodation and has more of a resort feel than the rest of the villages. If you're only there for the day, plan on hiking just one or two of the sections, using a boat or train to hop between the rest to see each village centre. It's a steep climb up to Corniglia from the station but there is a bus that will take you to the main square if you're short of breath or time.