Boosted by its popularity on social media and a new ferry terminal at La Spezia, the number of tourists visiting the Cinque Terre reached a peak of 2.5 million people in 2016. That’s a crazy number for five such tiny villages!
Such popularity comes at a cost, and I don’t just mean inflated prices. As well as putting a strain on the already-fragile trails, infrastructure is inadequate for such numbers – yep, I mean public toilets and garbage disposal as well as transportation. Pickpocketing is on the rise at the overcrowded train stations. Small wonder then that locals have been petitioning for a visitor limit. Word on the street (or internet) is that a ticketing service is in development, which will limit numbers to 1.5 million people annually.
For now, hiking and train passes can be bought on arrival in the area – see my Cinque Terre Travel Guide for all the practicals. Proceeds of the passes are used to support the farmers and upkeep of the land, provide vital tourist services, and promote eco-compatible development. Spread out a bit, stay longer, travel slower, and you can do your bit to support this effort. And you’ll have a better trip. After all the Cinque Terre is not just the five villages, it’s a whole National Park.
Thankfully, as the majority of day trippers tread the same route, there are plenty of opportunities to find your own little piece of paradise.
MY TOP 10 TIPS FOR GETTING AWAY FROM THE CROWDS
1. Stay longer
At least 3 days will give you enough time to get off the beaten path (quite literally).
2. Forewarned is forearmed
Did you know you can check the ferry schedules for Genoa and La Spezia online? Ferries will decant a large number of day trippers onto the Coastal Trail and the main villages. If your schedule allows, head up to the hills or out of the Park on these days.
The train and ferry timetables will also help you find the quietest time for lunch or dinner.
3. Out of order
Most people visit the villages in order from west to east (Riomaggiore to Monterosso), or vice versa. Try hitting them out of order for a very slight improvement.
4. Use the bus
Nearly everyone uses the train, making the stations an hourly hotspot of angry tourist rage. Thankfully there is now an alternative: the new Explorabus service (€22 for an unlimited day pass) travels hourly between the main villages as well as additional stops in the hills, is air-conditioned, and altogether more pleasant than the train.
5. Timing is everything
Enjoy the five villages early in the morning (before 10am) or in late afternoon (after 4pm), before and after the daytrip pack descends. For midday, the busiest time in the villages, take the ATC electric shuttle bus (free if you’ve already bought a Cinque Terre Card) up into the hills for lunch, then join a trailhead to walk back down.
6. The sixth village
Portovenere is not one of the Five Lands but just as pretty and still part of the National Park. Quieter in part thanks to the lack of train connection, so you’ll have to get the ferry. It’s a larger than the main villages and absorbs crowds better; a good choice for lunch and some relaxed shopping.
7. Further afield
The Italian Riviera is bursting with day trip options ripe for exploration. There are endless beach resorts along the coast – each one as pretty as the last – ideal for lunch and a swim: Levanto, Bonassola, Camogli, Chiavari, Lerici. But my top tip, if you want something equating the Cinque Terre experience minus the crowds: take the bus from La Spezia to the incredibly pretty Tellaro, along the Gulf of Poets. With a bit of advance planning, you can walk from Tellaro to Lerici, then ferry to Portovenere and back to the Cinque Terre.
8. Walk the line
Another excellent day trip is the old rail line between Famura, Bonassola, and Levanto, which has been repurposed for walkers and bikers. It’s flat, paved and easy so a great alternative for those looking for gentle walking whilst the Via Dell’Amore is closed. Take the train to Framura, five tiny picturesque hamlets, for some peace and quiet before walking back towards Levanto in the direction of the Cinque Terre.
9. Coastal trail bonus
You can hike along the coast from Levanto to Monterosso (2 hours) without needing a Cinque Terre Card for access. It’s not part of the official Coastal Path and is slightly more strenuous so attracts fewer crowds, but is every bit as spectacular. Another good alternative to the Coastal Trail is the hike from Riomaggiore to Portovenere via Telegrafo (4 hours). The upper trails are even more quiet.
10. Visit off-season
Pick the right time and you won’t have to worry about the crowds at all! Winter months can be hit and miss as heavy rainfall is likely to close trails for a while. The best months are April-June, September-November.
Do you have any tips on avoiding the crowds in the Cinque Terre? Leave them in the comments below.