How You Can Skip the Lines in Cinque Terre
Pointers on Where to Stay, When to Go, Where to Hike, What to Do for the Best Visit
|Manarola, Cinque Terre CC By Lorraine Tan|
You are going to love the Cinque Terre (CT), but you should realize these five small villages are very popular so they can get too crowded. We mean lining-up-to-walk-down-the-main-street crowded. Rick Steves and the New York Times have written about the Cinque Terre so many times, you need to visit the Cinque Terre places and activities that are less well known. We hope these tips will lead you in that direction. They are presented to inform, not to worry, not to deter you. Plan ahead for sure, but don't plan every hour, and remember you'll be in wonderful, fabulous Italy - the land that invented gelato and dolce far niente.*
Big News: New train service started in 2016, the 'Cinque Terre Express' is running every 30 minutes from Migliarina station in La Spezia to Levanto and vice versa. It stops at all five Cinque Terre villages and La Spezia's Centrale station. The extra service will terminate November 1. This is decreasing overcrowding on the trains overall, but some delays and crowding are still occurring as the kinks are worked out..
We've gathered the best 16 ideas from our own experience, from guidebooks and traveler forums, from both English and Italian websites, to insure you enjoy this enchanting part of Italy. Below are suggestions for Crowd Timing, How to Travel, Hiking, Activities, Where to Stay, When to Go, When Not to Go, and More Info. We hope they help you. Happy Trails.
|Vernazza, Cinque Terre Ferry Boat Arrival CC By Darren & Brad|
THE TRUTH ABOUT LIMITS. Misleading news stories in early 2016 screamed 'Cinque Terre to Limit Tourists' and 'New Tourist Ticket System for Cinque Terre'. These stories were not factual and your vacation is totally unaffected. The truth is there are absolutely no visitor restrictions on the number of Cinque Terre visitors and no tickets and no reservations are required to enter the Park or the villages. The well established ticket system for a few of the most popular trails has not been changed.
1. Get Up Early / Stay Out Late. Adjusting your day's schedule will greatly help you avoid crowds, keep you cooler, and the angled light will enhance your photos. The surge of short-term visitors on the trains and in the village centers is greatest from about 10 am to 4 pm. Schedule and route your activities to accommodate. Visit one of the lesser crowded CT towns in the middle of the day - Corniglia or Riomaggiore, or nearby Portovenere, Levanto, or La Spezia. Start your hike in the fresh morning, and stop for a picnic or up-slope restaurant lunch for midday. Enjoy the beach or rent a kayak when the sun is high.
2. Take the Boat. The ferry boats are a great way to see the Ligurian coast and reach the villages. While they are very popular, they are not as crowded as the trains (especially true of the 1st boat of the day). A full day ticket (with stopovers allowed) is about 30 Euro and they operate to the CT from La Spezia, Lerici, Portovenere, and Levanto. There are also excursions from the Portofino and Viareggio areas. See our Ferry / Getting Around Page for links to all our articles with complete schedules and prices. Ferries can sometimes be canceled due to wind & waves, but that's unusual in the high season.
3. Avoid Holidays. Holidays and weekends, especially in good weather, produce more visitors. If the holiday flanks a weekend, it can have an additive effect. The days to consider avoiding are Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, April 25 (Liberation Day), May 1 (Labor Day), June 2 (Republic Day), August 15 (Ferragosto).
|Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre 1890 August Alfred Noack|
If you are already in or near one of the villages you can use the CT Park minibuses to start a hike further uphill or reach other attractions -for example Riomaggiore to Telegrafo on the Red Trail. Plan ahead as some minibuses are infrequent and the schedule varies by season: CT Park Minibus Schedules. The routes are:
Riomaggiore – Monesteroli
Manarola – Groppo – Volastra
Vernazza – Santuario Reggio – Drignana
Vernazza – Fornacchi – S. Bernardino
Monterosso – Cabana – Vettora
Transfers between the Riomaggiore minibus, the Manarola minibus and Bus 29 from La Spezia are also possible - see the Route Finder.
On the ATC bus company ATC Website (EN) you'll find system wide schedules, an interactive map, and a Route Finder. The regular buses appear as a solid blue line, the CT minibuses as a dotted blue. CT Park Minibus Schedules (Feriale is Mon-Sat. (Mon-Fri if grayed). Festivi is Sun. & Holidays.) The La Spezia - Campiglia is bus 20 , the La Spezia - Biassa or Colle Telegrafo is bus 19, La Spezia to Bivio Riomaggiore is bus 19 or 29.
5. Take a Taxi Sure the train is quick and cheap, but you're on vacation and the fares are thinkable, especially for a group. The published taxi fare from La Spezia to Riomaggiore is 35E, to Manarola 40E, to Vernazza & Corniglia 70E, to Monterosso 80E. There may be a small charge for baggage and extra people, but drivers don't expect a tip. Link: La Spezia Radio Taxi (prices are under Tariffe).
|Portovenere Peninsula, Palmaria & Tino Islands. St. Peter's Church is visible.|
We took this on the Sentiero Rosso (AVG-1) 25 minutes south of Campiglia.
6. Don't Hike the Popular Trails. The Sentiero Azzurro and the Via d'Amore are very often conga-line crowded, and admission is charged (admission is included with a CT Carta Parco). However, most of the many, many trails in the Cinque Terre Park have very few hikers and they are free! Free and beautiful, although most are not easy. A trail which is of moderate difficulty and free is one of the most scenic trails in all of Italy, the Sentiero Rosso ( a/k/a the AVG Alta Via del Golfo or Trail 1 - see our photo). Read these travelers' trip reports about good hikes:
Mrs. Boffin's Visit & Justine28's Visit
Some routes to consider: Levanto to Monterosso (3 hours), Campiglia (or Telegraph) to Portovenere on the AVG-1 (2 to 3.5 hours), Corniglia to Manarola via Volastra (Trail 7a to 6d to 6) (2 hours). You can see more on this map which is widely on sale in the CT.
Link: A Used Good Cinque Terre Hiking Map 5MB
|Corniglia & trail, photo from Volastra on trail 6d in May.|
8. Rent a Mountain Bike You can rent a mountain bike from the Cinque Terre National Park at Montenero Sanctuary on the hill above Riomaggiore. The MTB network of trails roughly follows the AVG-1 (Sentiero Rosso) and the views will reward your effort. The terrain varies in difficulty from easy to challenging, but no one is watching if you walk the bike part way. A day rental is about four euros with the Cinque Terre card.
9. Go Kayaking or Boating If the water's calm and warm, rent a kayak and/or snorkel gear at the only authorized dive center, the 5 Terre Diving in Riomaggiore. Also known as Coop Sub 5 Terre, the experienced operators organize dives, group kayak trips for those who wish, and also rent kayaks. There are other kayak and boat rentals along the coast, such as Nordest in Vernazza or Cinque Terre dal Mare (By Sea) in Riomaggiore, so ask locally as well. It's just a 30 minute paddle between each village within the CT - and it's really beautiful. It's not a Marine Protected Area for nothing.
10. Do Stay in a Cinque Terre village. Since the day trip visitors are concentrated in mid-day, staying in a village gives a special feeling to the night and mornings, and the ability to adjust the timing of your activities. Also, not all the villages are equally crowded. Monterosso is the largest with the most hotels and a resort feel, and can handle the most visitors with the least stress. Corniglia is visited the least because it is not at sea level. Riomaggiore gets a good share of visitors but pretty Manarola gets more. The extravagant charm of Vernazza makes it the most visited. Links: Booking.com Cinque Terre HomeAway(Cinque Terre).
|Corniglia in Cinque Terre circa 1890. August Alfred Noack|
Part 1 Liguria Hotel Guide & City Selector Gulf of La Spezia - Lerici Portovenere La Spezia. South of Cinque Terre.
Part 2 Liguria Hotel Guide & City Selector Levanto, Bonassola, Moneglia, Sestri Levante, Lavagna, Chiavari. North of Cinque Terre.
Part 3 Liguria Hotel Guide & City Selector
Rapallo, Santa Margherita, Portofino, Camogli, Recco. Visit both the CT & Portofino.
Where the Heck are These Places?
Where the Heck are These Places?
Our Liguria / Cinque Terre Map showing the all the cities & towns in and around the Cinque Terre.
|From 2016 the 'Cinque Terre Express' train has meant much less crowding.|
Vernazza Train Station. CC By Kylie & Rob (and Helen)
14. Visit during the off-season. The Cinque Terre can be enjoyable for hiking and exploring in good weather all year. However, for ordinary travelers, we only recommend April & October as 'off-season' visits. See When To Go below for our advice by month.
If you do go in deep off-season, there are downsides to evaluate.
--Fall and winter rain storms can be quite windy, and last several days.
--The trails can stay wet and slippery for extended periods and the views are obscured.
|Historic Portovenere on the Gulf of La Spezia|
--Many businesses, hotels, and restaurants close off-season. The villages will feel and be empty.
--The buildings are old; accommodations that are open may be chilly when the weather's cold.
--The latitude is 44 degrees - like Minneapolis, MN or Hobart, TAS. so the nights are long. On Dec. 25, that's less than 9 hours of daylight.
Ergo, if you do go in deep off-season:
--Weather is not predictable until a week ahead, so reserve only a few days in advance.
--Have alternate plans ready and have notes on hotels or B&Bs suitable for last minute plans.
15. Visit other Ligurian towns instead Along the Ligurian Levante coast (south of Genoa) there are other enchanting towns that have a lot in common with the Cinque Terre and are well worth a stay or a visit. You'll see Ligurian architecture, landscapes, and historical sites that are very characteristic, and enjoy the Mediterranean ambiance. We recommend: Portovenere, Lerici, and Tellaro on the Gulf of La Spezia; Moneglia and Sestri Levante on the Gulf of Tigullio north of the CT and south of Portofino; and Camogli on the Gulf of Paradise. Camogli is also famous for its fish festival, and it makes a good base for seeing the Portofino Peninsula which lies to its south. See the Hotel & City Guide Links above and this Link: Liguria / Cinque Terre Map.
16. When To Go When Not To Go What's the Best Month To Go?
The Cinque Terre are about nature and hiking, seascapes and landscapes, the people and their historic villages & terraced vineyards. The weather varies from year to year, of course, but we hope our opinions, based on several decades in the area, will help you plan.
January, February Hiking can be a pleasure in good weather, but, sorry to say, no other reason to go.
March Enjoyable in good weather, but rainy periods fairly likely. Little greenery, sleepy towns, ferry only at month's end.
April In the first half the plants are starting and the weather mostly pleasant, perhaps a bit chilly. In the second half trees blossom and flowers appear, temperatures are good, rain less likely. Crowds are usually modest.
We recommend visiting between April 20 & June 10. Learn More: Spring Weather & Holidays in Liguria
May Heaven on earth. Mediterranean landscapes exploding with green. Sea still cool, any rain usually short-lived, heat unlikely, crowds are now a factor.
June Land and sea are wonderful, not usually hot. Swimming begins to be possible. Crowds are frequent. Vacation season truly begins mid-month and then crowding is unavoidable.
July, August Warm to hot, sometimes very hot. Very crowded most days. A good stay requires being adaptable to the weather and crowding. Hiking best in early morning for most folks on most days.
September Good weather, heat possible early in the month. Lively and enjoyable but usually crowded including lots of day trippers from cruise ships. Grape harvest usually in 1st half of month.
October First half of month usually has good weather. Autumn colors develop during the month. Chance of long rain storms. Ferry running, but weather dependent. Less crowded, but no shortage of mid-day visitors from cruise ships in the town centers.
November Hiking and exploring in good weather when autumn colors enhance the beauty. Rain and clouds likely. No ferry. Reduced train service. Not at all lively.
December Hiking only in good weather. Little to do & little daylight.Villages are hibernating except for a few Christmas festivities & decorations.
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Independent Car Rental Reviews for Italy
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We are Martha and Mike from Boston - recently retired photo editors who enjoy travel, food, and helping people as we've been helped. We have visited Italy for three decades, and we live in Liguria part-time. We have no connection to the car rental or hotel industries, and we receive no payments or free stuff for our writing or opinions. As is internet convention, we receive the standard commission for clicks on many of the commercial links that result in a purchase. Thus your clicks will help support this website.
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*dolce far niente: Literally 'sweet doing nothing', i.e. delicious idleness.
Photos with the credit 'CC BY' are used via a Creative Commons copyright license. They are not altered, and can be found on Flickr.