Vernazza may be the most beautiful of all, set perfectly in a tiny valley on the edge of the sea, with colorful homes built one on top of the next and framed by a couple of churches and towers. It’s a little bigger than Corniglia and Manarola, and yet it is still very, very small – so small that you could walk from one end to the other in about 10 minutes, but you’ll want to slow down and get into the local pace.
There’s no rush here. Locals are just hanging out. They are enjoying life as much as the visitors do. The buildings have been standing for many centuries and they’re not going anywhere, so take your time, explore the little side alleys, and yes, there are going to be staircases. After all, these are hill-towns, so there are hardly any flat, level surfaces here, but it’s easy enough.
In ancient days there were frequent invaders and pirates who would come in from the sea. Now it’s all fun and games and very peaceful. There is so little level land that the kids use the beach as their soccer field, and sometimes they use the main pedestrian lane for an extension of the game, so watch out for flying soccer balls as you walk through the streets.
At Vernazza there is one very distinctive landmark: a stone tower that was part of the medieval wall that went around the village to protect it from invaders. Climb those many steps up to the tower for a wonderful, panoramic view. You will be snapping away no doubt, capturing nice memories to remind you years hence about what a joy this was, but no picture can equal the visceral thrill of being in such a stimulating place, so don’t let that camera get in the way or divert you from fully experiencing the moment. Spend a few minutes just looking, and nothing else.
A stone jetty here forms a bit of a mini-harbor. There were no natural ports in the area, so the residents had to make do and build their own, with the resulting shelter very small. Boats pull in to the dock briefly, just long enough to tie up and let people walk on and off the bouncy gangplank. Still, Vernazza is a nautical place, like all of Cinque Terre. You are within a stone’s throw of the water no matter where you stand.
There is another special viewpoint that makes the entire visit worthwhile, walking up the trail on the north side of Vernazza in an easy 10-minute climb, where you reach a ledge looking straight down into the pastel-colored village wrapped around its tiny harbor. The first lookout you reach is lovely but keep going up another few minutes to a much better vantage.
It can be a little tricky to find the entrance to that staircase to the view, but the above circle shows where that path leaves the main lane. This picture-book setting with a spectacular view all around will be a highlight of the tour, and very easy to accomplish. It is a pity that nearly all visitors here don’t know about it or think it is too difficult to walk up there. They are missing out big time.
You will be snapping away with your camera, no doubt, but no picture can equal the visceral thrill of being in such a stimulating place, so don’t let that camera get in the way or divert you from fully experiencing the moment. Spend a few minutes just looking, and nothing else.
And the food -- there are several fine restaurants in this village. You can have a table by the seaside with a spectacular view or enjoy the old-fashioned ambiance inside these characteristic restaurants.
You could also stay in the little village at one of the few bed and breakfasts. Depending on your schedule, it might be time to return to Monterosso for the evening and resume the rest of this trip tomorrow, or to carry on directly to your next destination.
Consider taking the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso. This is one of the nicer trails of the region, so it would be a shame to come all the way here and not experience this walk.
Regarding routing: I remind you our suggestion is save Vernazza for last, because the ideal itinerary is to begin at Monterosso, take the boat to Riomaggiore and work your way back to Vernazza. See the intro for further explanation.
if you insist on driving, it is possible to drive from Monterosso to Vernazza, which would take 30 minutes, requiring a long detour up and down the mountain, and parking is far above the town, so you need to do some walking. Much better to take the train, a 5-minute journey, or 90 minutes walking.