Summary. At the risk of saying that everything on our list is a "must do," we will say it again here. Between the 5 towns are trails through terraced vineyards, with beautiful views of the Mediterranean. We did the Manarola - Volastra - Corniglia, which is approximately 1.5 hours at a relaxed pace. From there, we explored Corniglia before setting out on foot to Vernazza (~ 1.5 hours), where we enjoyed appetizers and a glass of wine as a reward for our efforts. Except for the climb up and out of the towns, the trails are relatively flat and easy.
Manarola - Volastra - Corniglia. The first leg of our Cinque Terre hiking experience started in Manarola, where you will need to climb out of the town and up to the relatively flat ridgeline trail. Here you will pass a sign indicating a town of Volastra before continuing on the trail. Views from the trail become breathtaking before too long, with portions that are literally between the rows of hillside trellised vineyards. Arriving into Corniglia, the trail turns into a switch back of stairs (see photo below). In Corniglia we window-shopped a bit, then ate a picnic lunch at a vista point before heading back on the trail. If you want to call it at day from here, simply take the train from Corniglia to your next stop. For us, we were ready for more and so we set off to Vernazza.
Corniglia to Vernazza. The next leg of our hike was the trail from Corniglia to Vernazza. Slightly more difficult but still relatively easy and also about 1.5 hours at a leisurely pace. This portion of the trail had many more tourists but the hike wasn't interrupted or anything. Coming down into Vernazza, there are several photo opportunities to take photos of this seaside, cliffside village. In Vernazza, we enjoyed a glass of wine and some appetizers before catching the train to Monterosso.
About that Wine: In Vernazza, we ordered 1 Liter of wine from a small café. Our server asked us twice if we were sure we wanted a Liter. We said, "yes please!" without realizing that this converted to seven glasses of wine. Even if it weren't blazing hot at the time, there was no way we would be able to drink that much in an afternoon sitting. Not wanting good wine go to waste, we discretely poured the balance into one of our opaque water bottles and took it to go. I mean, why have it go to waste? Okay, it's probably not legal so we wouldn't necessarily recommend this move, but in the moment it seemed like a great solution!
Hiking the Cinque Terre's is a bucket list item for good reason. It's beautiful beyond words. To top it off, your hike concludes in a gorgeous Italian village with readily available to-die-for Italian cuisine. As both legs of the hike were relatively easy, the hike is accessible to younger kids and anyone with enough fitness to walk a couple hours.