To my surprise we did see people swimming in the harbour of Vernazza - locals and tourists alike! There is a small beach type entrance from Piazza Marconi, but you will also find ladders leading to the water from the pier.
The water is very clean and you can also see jellyfish and other fish there!
In the harbour of Vernazza there were lots of small boats and we did see people taking them for some fun boatrides. I so not know if you can rent any of them or if they are all private, but I am pretty sure that this should be possible.
Hiking is what the Cinque Terre is all about! The five villages are connected by trails - all of them in the National Park of Cinque Terre! You will have to pay an entrance fee to the NP (which was 3 € for a day pass in 2006) and you can do the whole trail in one day or just do parts of it!
Equipment: Be sure to have good footwear, sun protection and take plenty of water with you!
Obviously as you have probably red in my other descriptions, hiking is what makes this town so neat. The vistas and exercise will make the foccacia that you eat afterwards taste so much better. There is a real sense of travel when you are out of touch with the entire world out on those trails. Pure Freedom.
Equipment: Comfortable hiking tennis shoes. I wouldn't even recommend boots, unless you want to lug them around everywhere with you. A comfortable pair of trail rated Running shoes like New Balances or Merrell's will do the job just well.
Oh yeah- bring at least a liter of H2O per person per leg of trip.
The highlight of a trip to the Cinque Terre is a hike between the 5 villages. The distance from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare is 12kms, and a lot of the trail is steep and rocky.
The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the easiest. It is paved all the way, and the hardest part is probably the flight of stairs from the station at Riomaggiore up to the start of the path. Other than that the path is fairly flat and suitable for prams and high heels. This section of the trail is called the Lovers Lane. The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is 1km long and takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on how long you stop to gaze at the view!
The next section of the walk is from Manarola to Corniglia. This section is 3km long and takes about 1 hour. Parts of this trail are again pretty easy, but it is steeper and at times the ground is uneven under foot. The most exhausting part of this section is at the end, once you arrive at Corniglia train station. The station is located at the bottom of the hill, by the ocean, but the town of Corniglia is located on top of the hill....and there are approx 365 stairs to climb up to get up to the village!!
My favourite part of the hike is the section between Corniglia and Vernazza. This is the most scenic part, through varied landscapes - you walk through olive groves and forest, and then along the cliff edge, with spectacular views coming into Vernazza. This section is 4km long and takes about 1.5 hours to complete, though we found ourselves stopping quite a bit to admire the views - not because we were tired or anything ; )
The section between Vernazza and Monterosso is the most difficult. It is 4kms long and has lots of ups and downs and steep stairs. It is little less scenic than the others, but you do get a good view of some of the local vineyards. The beauty of Monterosso makes up for it all, plus the availability of a gelato or refreshing vino bianco at one of the many bars helps to ease those weary legs!!
Equipment: Good walking shoes, water and your camera!