If you're looking for a slice of heaven on earth, look no further. Cinque Terre truly encompasses the beauty of Italy — from the crystal clear waters, small streets, worn-walls, and drastic views. Five villages set along the turquoise Mediterranean waters, once only connected by walking a difficult trail, now serves as one of the most visited places in the world. So popular, that local government is considering to controlling how many people can be on the trails.
I was weary of the crowds well in advance of going, yet staying there I felt like we still were able to enjoy it without too much of the hustle and bustle. With a bit of strategy, we spent most of our time almost crowd free.
So to break down how we chose to visit Cinque Terre, I want to explain idea behind how we would combat the crowds, where we decided to stay, and all of the fun logistics.
The Nutshell Guide to Cinque Terre, Italy
What to Know Before Visiting Cinque Terre:
- First and foremost, there is almost no car access, so ditch the car and arrive by train.
- Each of the five towns is connected by a fast train that runs around every 20 minutes. You can buy a pass for multiple days, or by the leg.
- You may choose to walk from one town to another, but be aware the crowds are beastly by 11 am, and it's not a hike for the faint of heart. It requires hiking shoes, a large bottle of water, and be prepared to sweat it out a bit. With that said, it is beautiful and a must-do, and be mindful of closures along the trail as often certain portions are closed for repairs.
- You need to buy a park pass to walk the trails, and they do check.
How to Beat the Crowds in Cinque Terre:
- Why are there crowds you ask? Because it's beautiful, and the cruise ships port a short 20 minutes from Riomaggiore. So when the cruisers clear out in the late afternoon, the towns are rather quiet. To get the empty streets and the peaceful moments, you have to plan around the cruise ships. Most of the time, they disembark and arrive into the towns by 10 am or so. Wake up before this, the town is yours. Perhaps a few day trippers from surrounding towns, but nothing like the rush of the noon cruise passengers.
- The second strategy is to do things the cruise ship passengers are not doing. The rocks around the corner the ferry in Riomaggiore (a few hundred yards south fo the main harbor) could not be more peaceful in the afternoon as the cruise ship passengers are usually bouncing through the towns. That is one option to have a bit of peaceful time.
- The third strategy is to go out more at night. Some of the towns quiet down, though the restaurants are busy by passing by travelers, it is still nothing like the noon crowds.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre:
- We chose to stay in Riomaggiore, as it came highly recommended. A small AirBnb up the central road, landed us a local feeling to the town. Riomaggiore was our favorite town to be based as it was quieter, and incredibly picturesque.
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The Five Towns of Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore: The town where we chose to stay, was small and quaint. We spent almost every afternoon sunbathing on the rocks around the corner from the ferry near the rock beach. Jumping into the water to cool off, a bottle of wine, and some snacks made for postcard afternoons.
Where to Eat: Grab drinks at A Pie' de Ma' for a great view, a good bite at Enoteca Dau Cila, and do try the fried seafood at Il Pescato Cucinato (the freshest one on the street by a local fisherman).
Manarola: The postcard town from atop the wall, this place is small fishing village with great rock jumping.
Where to eat: Our favorite and best meal in all of Cinque Terre was here at Trattoria dal Billy.
Corniglia: This was a cute village to walk through and hop into shops, with beautiful views.
Where to eat: Dinner at Il Pirun or Cantina de Mananan
Vernazza: I didn't spend as much time here, but enjoyed walking through and it's where we started our hike to Monterosso (the more picturesque portion of the hike).
Monterosso al Mare: Hosting the largest beach, the iconic bright umbrellas line the clearest waters around. Rent a lounge chair for the day and kick back!
Where to eat: Lunch or dinner at Ristorante Milky or San Martino.