1. Visit each of the 5 towns and note the differences! My recommended order is Monterusso, Vernazza, Riomaggore, Manarola then Corneglia, going from busiest to most relaxed towns. The train and water taxi are priced similarly, so I recommend both options.
2. Move base camps, staying a few nights in each town, in addition to day tripping to Portoverne, by water taxi. We adored our Aria di Mare room with a patio in Manarola. I highly recommend staying here.
3. All the vino bianco (house white wine) is shockingly good, but consider splurging on the single vineyard Cinque Terre white wines, to try the difference. While in Vernazza, try the Vineria Santa Marta. They have 3 Cinque Terre wines in their tasting and the brushchetta is wonderful too!
4. Try the fresh anchovies, since it’s a regional specialty, however, it’s unlikely to win you over canned anchovies, if you’re not a fish person.
5. At most restaurants, pasta is the supreme choice and secondi (entrees) are not given as much priority or presentation. You must try the spaghetti al pesto and if you’re adventurous, try the spaghetti nero (squid ink black pasta with seafood!) We thought the best presentation was at Trattoria dal Billy in Manarola.
(Side note: it would be very difficult to be gluten free and eat well in Cinque Terre, unless you exclusively ate seafood and only had coffee for breakfast. I rarely saw fruit and yogurt as an option for breakfast. Eggs are not an Italian thing.)
6. Always try restaurants off the beaten path and with more Italians than tourists eating inside. We had a great experience at Osteria Baracco, near Cinque Terre in Portoverne, and were super happy we ordered in Italian!
7. Try stuffed mussels and all the fresh seafood that you can!
8. Swim in the Ligurian Sea especially in Monterusso and Manarola! Bonus points for swimming in all 5 towns! We swam in 4 of the 5 since Corneglia isn’t directly on the water but one could swim near the train station.
9. Hike between at least two towns. We hiked between Manarola, Volestra and Corneglia and it was a vigorous hike for us, with our 35-40 lb backpacks. Via Della Amore between the towns was closed but I hear this is a less strenuous hike and shorter too!
10. If you’re busy and you want lunch on the go, the Ligurian region is the birth place of focaccia. It’s thinner and more varied than anything I’ve had in the US! We frequently grabbed a focaccia with different toppings, or piece of pizza mid-day, or for a snack!