To be honest, for me Monterosso is the least exciting of the 5 villages. It is a bit more like an "average" summer resort with its long beach and several hotels. However, if you are an elderly person or travelling with kids, this might be the most comfortable village for you: there are less stairs, most of the area is flat and it is easier to get to the parking or the railway station. This village awaits tourists with a nice long beach, deck-chairs and umbrellas, hotels and some night life. Unfortunately you have to pay on most of the beach but there are some free areas: in front of the railway station, under the statue of the Giant and at the end of the beach towards Vernazza, near the historical center.
The promenade is very nice with oleanders, bougainvilleas and palm trees. Locals bike around, which would be impossible in the other villages. In 2006, Forbes Traveler listed Monterosso among the 25 sexiest beaches of the world, along with Hawaii, Mexico and the Maldives. This award goes not only to the beach of Monterosso but to the entire beauty of the Cinque Terre National Park and the five unique villages.
The history of Monterosso dates back to 643 when the people living in the hills moved down to the sea, hiding from barbarian tribes. The village is named Monterosso because the ruling family used to have red hair. "Monte dei rossi" means "Mountain of the ginger-haired".
The historical center of Monterosso has a really nice atmosphere with many small streets, pastel-coloured houses and artisan shops. The main square - Piazza Garibaldi - hosts the town hall and the statue of Garibaldi. If you walk a bit further towards Vernazza, you will see old men playing bocce, a traditional game with balls.
The old town and the new, modern area (Fegina) are separated by the San Cristoforo hill and are connected by a pedestrian tunnel. For a nicer experience walk along the sea, avoiding the tunnel. For the best view hike up the San Cristoforo hill, and admire the entire Cinque Terre coastline. Once you are on top, spend some time there, visit the Convent of Cappuccini, the Church of San Francesco and the cemetery.
As Monterosso was often under attacks by pirates and other enemies, a strong defense system was built to protect the village. In the 16th century, guards kept an eye on the sea from 13 watchtowers. Luckily you can still see the remains of the castle, the city wall, a watchtower and the Aurora tower.
Monterosso offers a little more nightlife than the other 4 villages, but do not expect loud party places and bars that are open until next morning. You can enjoy wonderful dinners and sit around drinking wine until late at night, but if you want to go out dancing every night, you'd better stay in Viareggio.
The statue of the Giant can be found between Fegina beach and the small harbour. The Giant is actually Neptune, the god of the sea and he is holding the terrace of an old villa on his shoulders. The 14-meter tall statue was made in 1910 by sculptor Arrigo Minerbi and an architect named Levacher. The statue was badly damaged by the powerful sea storm in 1966. According to plan, the Argentinian artist Silvio Benedetto will restore the monument.
There is a house not far from the Giant where Eugenio Montale, Nobel-prize winner Italian poet, used to spend his summer holidays. The villages of the Cinque Terre inspired many of his poems. Locals call the house "yellow pagoda".
The convent with the church can be found on top of the San Cristoforo hill. It was built in 1619 and during the centuries it was used as hospital and warehouse as well until it was returned to its rightful owners. Among other artwork, you can also see Van Dyck's Crucifixion inside. Next to the church, you will find the cemetery.
The 13th-century church is located in the historical center of Monterosso, and is another nice example of Ligurian Gothic style. Its beautiful facade is comprised of alternating strips of white marble and green serpentine. Its belltower was originally part of Monterosso's defence system, used as a watch tower. The Baroque altar dates back to 1744.
The 16th-century Baroque oratory can be found in the old town of Monterosso, near the church of San Giovanni Battista.
This oratory is located in the old town of Monterosso as well, behind the church of San Giovanni Battista. So within a few steps you can see three interesting sights. You should spend some time inside the oratory as well, the 19th-century organ is well worth seeing.
The 16th-century Aurora tower is located by the sea, at the foot of the hill of the Cappuccini. This tower is fortunately in good condition.
You can learn everything about anchovies and how they get from the sea to your plate. You can also do some tasting and buy a jar or two. When I visited the center, they had a black and white film on DVD, which showed life in the Cinque Terre in the 1940s. Very interesting, so worth having a look!