Travelers often rush through the Cinque Terre in a day or two and don't spend a longer summer holiday here, as they think there are no good beaches in this area. Well, it's true that the Cinque Terre is not famous for its long sandy beaches, but for me, the sea around here is so much more exciting. The coastline is varied, full of small bays and beaches, some of them in the middle of nature, others just below the colourful houses of a fishing village. The wonderfully turquoise Ligurian Sea is all around you, so you can enjoy sightseeing, hiking or eating, then jump in the water wherever you feel like it. If you prefer more ordinary but still breathtaking beaches, you will find many close to the Cinque Terre so you can enjoy them doing short day trips. Once you see the photos below, I am pretty sure you will bring your swimsuit with you. I recommend spending more days in the Cinque Terre, so once you have walked around the five towns and hiked the blue path or some other hiking trails, enjoy a relaxing beach day and choose one of the best Cinque Terre beaches.
Riomaggiore has a beach with big rocks and pebbles. You can find it if you follow the path to the left from the little fishing harbour. It's in a beautiful natural environment, just rocks and sea. Don't look for locker rooms, beach clubs or ice cream vendors here. Can be a bit difficult to walk around the big rocks but it's a nice place for a swim if you are staying in Riomaggiore. There is also a hidden beach south of Riomaggiore, the Canneto beach. You need to rent a boat to go there, it's a wonderfully wild, secret spot.
In the small harbour of Manarola, you can sunbathe on the rocks, and dive into the sea (or use the small ladder). The water is deep, so for good swimmers only. This is one of my favourite swimming spots in the Cinque Terre, especially late afternoon. I just love floating on my back and looking at the vivid colours of the houses of Manarola right above me.
Corniglia can be found 100 meters above sea level so many believe that the village does not have a beach. Well, there are actually 3 areas for swimming around here. My favourite is the hidden little bay behind and below the village. You can reach it following the Marina sign. Of course, you have to walk down many steps, for about 5 minutes. To me, this is paradise. The water is beautiful and clean, and while you are swimming, you can enjoy the view of the green terraces in the background. The water is deep, so for good swimmers only.
You can find a beach below the railway station of Corniglia. You have to go down the steps at the station and start walking towards Manarola. When you get to the end of the row of old cabins on your left, you will find an entrance to an underpass. It's kind of hard to notice first, so look for it. The steps will take you down to the beach. You will also see some directions written on the ground. Alternatively, you can keep going and you will find some steps on your right going down to the beach. The last time I was there, the bottom part of the steps was missing but it was replaced by a wooden ladder. So it's a bit of an adventure to get there but you will find a nice relaxed beach with big stones, many of them are beautifully shaped by the elements of nature.
If you are even more adventurous, visit the secluded Guvano beach between Corniglia and Vernazza. You can reach it through an old railway tunnel. (Update: currently closed, but you can always check.) Walk down the Lardarina steps from Corniglia, turn right and walk towards the lonely house there. You will find the tunnel entrance near the house. The tunnel is completely dark, so take a good flashlight with you. You'll be walking in pitch dark for about 20 minutes and at some points you will feel that it's just an endless tunnel. Someone even called it a "horror tunnel". But don't worry, it will end and you will find yourself on the other side of Corniglia, in a beautiful oasis of olive trees. From here, you can descend to the beach on a steep path. If you are scared in the dark or feel claustrophobic but still would love to see this beach, just rent a boat and get to Guvano from Vernazza or Corniglia. Another way to reach Guvano is by joining a guided kayak tour.
Guvano used to be a cultic nudist beach in Italy, and a favourite spot of hippies. It's a "clothing optional" beach so only go there if nude people do not bother you. There are usually not too many people around so you can surely find a peaceful corner for your towel. If you are looking for a secret, wild beach, totally immersed in nature, don't miss Guvano beach. One warning though: I was told that sometimes there are weird people around. So don't go alone as a woman, and don't take valuables with you. Otherwise, don't worry, just enjoy this magical place.
And here is another photo of Guvano beach for you, as seen from San Bernardino.
In Vernazza, there is a small sandy beach (good for kids as well), and you can also swim at the end of the pier, among the boats. (The water is deep here, so this area is for good swimmers only.) This is one of my favourite places; it is a fantastic experience to swim among the colourful boats with Vernazza's beautiful main square in the background.
During the horrible flood of October 25, 2011 Vernazza was devastated. At the same time, the forces of nature have created a new rocky beach. You can reach it from the main street, crossing a small tunnel. (Update: it's closed, but you can always check.)
In Monterosso, there are two long beaches with sand and pebbles, Fegina beach being the most famous one, in the new town. You have probably seen hundreds of photos of this beach, with the large rock in the sea and the green and orange umbrellas. Most of the area is private with lidos, sunbeds and parasols, so you have to pay for it. However, there are also free beaches, for example in front of the train station, or at the right end of the beach, towards the statue of the Giant. (La Spiaggia del Gigante.) There is also a quieter beach by the old town. In front of the station, you can also use the locker rooms for a couple of euros. You can also rent watersport equipment in Monterosso. In the low season the entire beach is free. There is also a beautiful promenade along the beach of Monterosso, which gets busy in the evening with people walking around or enjoying an Aperol in one of the beach bars.
For the best swimming experience along the Cinque Terre coastline, just rent a boat or book a boat tour from Manarola or Monterosso. When we went on the "Cinque Terre from the sea" tour we swam under a small waterfall, in a cave and stopped at a hidden beach, which was the smallest beach I have ever seen. It was a fantastic experience, the water had amazing colours and there was nobody around us. If you love swimming, you should not miss this experience, and this way you can also visit secluded beaches like Guvano or Canneto beach.
If you are looking for traditional beaches with sand and pebbles, you can find many of them between the Cinque Terre and Genoa. They are all suitable for the whole family. Just hop on the train and go to Levanto. If you rent a bike and ride along the coastal bike path, you can enjoy the beaches of Levanto, Bonassola and Framura in the same day. Deiva Marina, Moneglia and Sestri Levante all have nice beaches perfect for kids.
If you do a day trip to Portofino, another popular town on the Italian Riviera, you can swim in many bays between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino. Also, three of my favourite swimming spots are around there. Paraggi is an absolute highlight, the water looks like in an exotic sea. This protected marine area is full of fish so take your snorkeling equipment and some bread with you. San Fruttuoso is another must, with its 10th-century abbey right at the beach. To finish a wonderful trip around the Portofino peninsula, go for a swim in Camogli and watch the colourful palazzi glowing in the lights of the setting sun.
Another day, discover the Gulf of Poets. Go to Portovenere, you will also find some beaches along the way. You can take the ferry or water taxi to Palmaria island and swim on Gabbiano beach. On the other side of the gulf, marvellous sandy beaches are waiting for you around Lerici, Tellaro, Fiascherino and San Terenzo.
There is no such thing as the best beach of the Cinque Terre. It all depends on what you like. If you are looking for comfort, sunchairs, umbrellas and shower, then Monterosso's Fegina beach is your best bet. But if - just like me - you prefer tiny rocky bays, then jump into the water in Manarola or in Corniglia's marina, or rent a boat and ask your skipper to take you to some hidden beaches.
Again, there are so many amazing bays and beaches, so I can only tell you my personal favourites: Paraggi, San Fruttuoso, Camogli, Sestri Levante, Framura and Fiascherino. From Fiascherino you can rent sea kayaks and discover the amazing rock formations, tiny beaches and caves between Lerici and Tellaro. This area is mainly visited by locals and Italians, and relatively quiet, unless you are there in July and August. If you are not an experienced sea kayaker, it's better to rent a boat from La Spezia to discover this area.
If your kids can swim and enjoy jumping off the rocks, then any rocky bay will make them happy. But with smaller kids you probably want a proper beach with umbrellas and some sand. So go to Monterosso, Levanto, Bonassola, Deiva Marina, Moneglia, Sestri Levante, San Terenzo or Fiascherino for some family fun.
OK, this is not the Red Sea, but you can still have some fun snorkeling and chasing fish. My favourite spots are the bay of Manarola and Paraggi near Portofino. Also a great idea to rent a small private boat, and ask your skipper to take you to the best snorkeling spots. They know the area better than anyone else.