Cinque Terre: How to Escape the Crowds

An empty Cinque Terre beach before the crowds arrive.

The calm before the tourist storm.

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.

A sea view from the trails in the Cinque Terre

Peace and quiet on the Cinque Terre trails

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. 

Colourful buildings in Portovenere near the Cinque Terre

Portovenere is a must-see if you like taking photos of gelato-striped buildings.

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.

An empty beach in Levanto near the Cinque Terre

You might have the beach to yourself in Levanto, just 4 minutes on the train from Monterosso.

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.

An empty trail in the Cinque Terre

It is possible to find solitude in 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.

 

A record 2.5 million people visited these five tiny villages in 2016. That's busy! Here are my top tips on how to get away from the crowds.
A record 2.5 million people visited these five tiny villages in 2016. That's busy! Here are my top tips on how to get away from the crowds.
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4 Comments

  1. April 13, 2017 / 11:36 pm

    I’ve always wanted to visit Cinque Terre, but I really don’t enjoy crowded places. These are really great travel tips. I will bookmarke this for my next trip to Italy. Thanks for sharing!

  2. April 25, 2017 / 12:48 am

    Such great tips! Many of the same ones I wrote down during my visit there too – I miss it terribly. Hope to return one day!

  3. September 19, 2017 / 2:18 am

    One of my favorite places in the world, and I’ve definitely been bummed by how crowded they’ve gotten in recent years. These are really great, REAL tips for avoiding the worst of the crowds. My #1 to my friends is always to stay overnight (in Riomaggiore, my preference, but anywhere but Monterosso) and slightly off-season. Thanks for this!

    • October 5, 2017 / 10:24 pm

      I love how everyone has a different favourite 🙂 Can you imagine what it must have been like before the mass tourism?

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