Each village clings dramatically to the steep cliffs and offers it's own story. I recommend that you leave enough time to visit each one on your journey.
What I immediately loved about Cinque Terre, besides the view, is how quintessentially Italian it is. When I took a walking tour someone asked about a good place to eat pizza. The guide responded, “We don't have pizza in Cinque Terre.” Italy is very serious about food. And the same goes for Cinque Terre. They pride themselves on delicious seafood, sometimes fried, and taken on the go. Of course, you can also try the phenomenal focaccia bread, smothered in pesto and cheese. Just don't call it pizza, please.
The Cinque Terre is made up of five villages beginning with Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Each are nestled on the rocky coastline of the Rivera di Levante on the Ligurian coast. It's very easy to village hop. You can take the strenuous but glorious hiking trail, or you can simply jump on the train to go from town to town.
The hiking path is ancient and is known as the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path) and was once the only link from each town. In fact, these towns used to be extremely underpopulated and relatively unknown. The region that is now known as Cinque Terre became part of Genoa back when it was an extremely important trade market and center of power. It took two days to sail from Genoa to Cinque Terre. However, it was increasingly popular for its delicious wine. In the 15th century, the locals started to use the name Cinque Terre.
But it wasn't until the a rail line, finished in the 1960s that people started to come to Cinque Terre. And that's when the fascination started and tourism really took off.
In order to make the most of your time I recommend taking a hike to engulf yourself in enchanting Cinque Terre. There are multiple hikes that you can enjoy throughout the villages for different skill levels and interests. These trails offer some of the best coastal hiking and provide some of the most scenic views.
The Sentiero Azzurro trail spans the length of all 5 villages and takes 5-6 hours to walk along Cinque Terre's Ligurian coast. Unfortunately, the trail is still going under reconstruction and is still not accessible in some parts. The trail starts at either (depending on if you'd rather hike north to south or south to north) Riomaggiore or Monterosso and is one way.
Some other popular trails are Manarola – Volastra- Corniglia trail, this one is steep and goes up through the vineyards for picturesque views. There is also the Monterosso to Vernazza, called the Way of the Sanctuaries, and passes through the Ligurian churches. The easiest trail is between Riomaggiore and Manarola called the “Lover's Lane” and is only a half mile.