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Cinque Terre without the crowds?

Is such a thing remotely possible?

We've been to Italy before. But we skipped Cinque Terre for reasons too complicated to get into here. Now thinking about a quickie trip there, but...well, I have this problem. I have trouble sharing my special vacation moments with thousands of strangers. I know, it's selfish of me. I guess I'm just a misanthrope - being surrounded by crowds of idiots waving selfie-sticks really bums me out (and even clumps of Ricknics all clutching blue books kinda depress me, too). So I'm a bit leery of CT (and other very popular tourist places, too - it's not just CT). I know, CT is popular for a reason (well, several reasons - they're nice, and they've been heavily promoted, too). Still, I know I'll be happier if I can see the place without crowds. If that can be done.

So, my question: is it possible to ever hit CT during "shoulder season" (or maybe the edge of winter?) and experience the place without crowds?

Posted by
9452 posts

We have enjoyed the Cinque Terre four times in October, but still there were crowds sometimes and in some places. The worst crowds are between about 10:00 and 17:00 in the towns themselves adn especially on the trains and the boats. They were much worse in 2014 than on our first trip in 2010, presumably due to the cruise ships docking at La Spezia. We get away from them by

A) staying several nights because in the evenings and the mornings it is quieter

B) hiking in areas other than Trail #2 the Sentiero Azzurro which turns into a conga line

C) getting the first boat out if we are taking one. (I highly recommend Porto Venere!)

We are thinking of going back again in October and staying in one of the small Ligurian towns outside of the actual 5 villages.

Posted by
11683 posts

It was several years ago ( 2010) and we went in late June. We stayed in Manarola and honestly, the only time we were bothered by crowds was in Vernazza, where we hiked from Manarola, and on the train coming back. Vernazza was. . . Scary crowded, and we were sorry we went. And the train---packed to the gills. But once we got back to Manarola it was fine.

Posted by
5010 posts

...staying in one of the small Ligurian towns outside of the actual 5
villages

Such as? (shhhhh...it's OK, I won't tell...) ; )

Posted by
981 posts

We went first week of October and I must have missed these massive crowds everyone talks about. Maybe we missed the cruise ship days? We had some walks all to ourselves, walked right up to most of the stands lining the streets and ordered food, got seats on the trains, found a seat overlooking the ocean to eat our fried fish. There were people but not wall to wall like I hear people talking about. I guess we just got lucky?

Posted by
31055 posts

David,

I'm not sure you'll be able to avoid the crowds completely, but your best bet to minimize the problem is to travel either very early or very late in the season (ie: beginning of April or end of October). Hopefully the cruise ship and other tours groups will be minimal then. The one disadvantage of those times of year is that weather could possibly be an issue.

Choosing which town to stay will also help to avoid crowds. The least popular town is Corniglia, as it's perched high on a bluff and more difficult to reach. Visitors either have to hike up about 400 stairs, or use the local Shuttle (small fee is charged). The most popular town is likely Vernazza, so I'd suggest avoiding that unless you go there in the evening for dinner when the day trippers have left. My suggestion would be to base yourself in either the old town area of Monterosso, Manarola or Riomaggiore (in that order).

You could also consider staying in Levanto, which is only about four minutes by train from Monterosso. It's a larger town with a very large beach, so easier to find some quiet places far from the madding crowds.

Unfortunately, you'll find the selfie-stick morons everywhere in Italy (and other parts of Europe). I lost count of the number of times I encountered them on my trip in September.

Posted by
14016 posts

There is a way to know in advance which cruise ships will be in port around the time of your visit, but I don't know where. Berths are booked when the cruise lines plan their itineraries, 2-3 years in advance. These ships can carry 2000-3000 passengers or more. When they dock along the Italian Riviera, there aren't a lot of day trip options, so the CT is liable to be flooded any day there is a cruise ship in a nearby port.

My impression is that there are more cruisers in recent years, so that shoulder season is often crowded in the CT. My only visit was in mid-October 2008 and there were very few tourists.

Posted by
11706 posts

There is a way to know in advance which cruise ships will be in port
around the time of your visit, but I don't know where.

These links may be helpful, although I see that the 2nd one doesn't provide a lot of info at this time. I would expect both to be more complete in another month or two.

http://www.cruisetimetables.com/cruises-to-la-spezia-italy.html

http://ports.cruisett.com

We escaped the worst of the midday masses by exploring the areas in the higher parts of the towns the majority of tour and ship folks are less likely to make the climb to. The cemeteries up there are peaceful spots and provide expansive views, and we had the church of San Cristoforo in Monterosso all to ourselves. We also 'did' Corniglia early in the morning so we could get out of there before it got really busy; while less visited than the other four, it's so tiny that it doesn't take much to overwhelm it. I love that one, though, and it has two very pretty churches.

Staying overnight definitely has its advantages as things are much quieter in the early mornings and evenings before and after the day-trippers arrive/depart.

Posted by
715 posts

Well, not to be a PITA, but by visiting CT aren't you part of the crowd creation problem? Accept the fact that you are also part of the problem. Honestly, I read these reviews by people about visiting the Cinque Terre and they complain about all the tourists, as if it should be theirs exclusively. I just don't get that logic.

I have been to the Cinque Terre a couple of times in mid - late May and the crowds were a non-issue. I stayed in Vernazza and I was rarely bothered by the crowds. When I was, I accepted it, after all I was that crowd. I rented a place up off the main streets and the crowds sure as heck did not follow me to my place. Were there tourist there besides me? Sure. Was it crowded? I imagine it was but there is a way to ameliorate this. Wake up, eat some breakfast, go for a hike. The crowds don't generally go on hikes. Okay, trail number 2 is an endless conga line, although not too bad in May, but, if you choose the higher trails you will have them mostly to yourself and escape the crowds. Come down out of the hills around 4, have a snack and a drink, retire to your place for a brief siesta, go out to dinner in the evening. Those terrible tourists who also want to see the Cinque Terre are just about all gone by then, except for those who elected to stay the night. It is quite peaceful at night.

I see no need to stay some place outside of the 5 villages to escape the crowds.

Posted by
707 posts

David, we went there several times during 2005-2010, when it was busy, but before all the cruise ships, so not slammed. Once, in mid-March, we drove over for the day from Lucca, and had the place practically to ourselves. We parked in an almost empty beachside lot in Monterossa, and must have traveled by train between there and Vernazza, because I'm sure there was no ferry that early in the season. Shops looked to be just opening for the season. Some were still closed, but enough were open to make it interesting. I wouldn't recommend a one day trip there, but we were traveling with a toddler and working out of an apartment in Lucca to make life easier. It was a perfect blue sky day and a memorable trip.

I totally understand your trying to get there without the crowds. That's what's kept me from going back. I don't know how you plan far ahead for a March trip and consider the weather. We day tripped on a day we knew would be perfect. On a grim wet, windy day, I don't think it would be much fun. Hope you get a good trip there too.

Posted by
1018 posts

We were in the Le Cinque Terre in August, 1994 when they were sleepy little quaint places and we were the only tourists. We were back there in August, 2013 and the place was JAMMED wall-to-wall with American and Italian tourists. The towns now contain souvenir shops selling the usual schlock.

I do not want to down play their opportunity to earn a nice living, but this isn't the place for me. We had train reservations from Pisa to La Spezia to Vernaza and the train at La Spezia was so crowded we had to take a later train. All of the cars were crammed with tourists.

Personally, IMHO, there are nicer places to visit in Italy.

Buon viaggio,

Posted by
3841 posts

I found a huge difference between our first visit in 2008 and our 2nd in 2012. Maybe part was because it is more 'discovered' now and the cruise ships.

I feel part of it may have been the days of the week we were there. We were there the same dates in Sept (22/23) both times, but the first visit (2008) was a Mon/Tues and the second (2012) a Fri/Sat. Perhaps a visit thru the week would be a little less crowded? If our first visit (quiet, pleasant, not too many people) had been like the 2nd visit (crowds, trains packed to overflowing) we never would have returned the 2nd time. (Yes, I know we were part of the problem, but my pleasent memories of our first time were dashed by the mobs the 2nd).

We stayed in Corniglia both times - if memory serves, the shuttle bus cost was included in the trail pass (or whatever you call the CT pass you purchse to hike the trails). But my memory could be wrong. It was only a few euros anyways. Specifically stayed in Corn as it was the smallest and least crowded. The only bad things that happened was trip 2 the shuttle was out of commission for a few hours and we had to get down to the train stn to leave, so we had to hoof our luggage down all those stairs! Thank goodness it was down and not up, and that we travel with carry on size only!

Posted by
11706 posts

We stayed in Corniglia both times - if memory serves, the shuttle bus
cost was included in the trail pass (or whatever you call the CT pass
you purchse to hike the trails).

You are correct, Nicole: the bus fare is covered by the CT trail pass. Otherwise, it's only 2.5 euro or so. The bus schedule (between the town and train station) can be found here:

http://www.atcesercizio.it/index.php/en/tickets-and-regulations/cinque-terre-en
http://www.atcesercizio.it/cinqueterre.pdf

Posted by
1102 posts

The increase in crowds has occurred over the past couple of years. My trip in 2010 had a normal amount of crowds. My 2015 trip had crowds packed like sardines (during the day). I have just seen pictures from friends (locals) who live in Vernazza, in January 2016, and the crowds look like summertime. I do know the CT is trying to work on this situation.

Posted by
1589 posts

We have found that late March & early November offer only moderate crowds. I say moderate since the CT always has a number of folks in a rather small area.

Posted by
62 posts

I'm going in February - I'll report back how it was then! I imagine Vernazza will be pretty slow, which will be fine by me. I visited in 1994 and it was amazing. Ten years later it was a little disappointing and now it's insane. But I still love it and there are some lovely shop-keepers who appreciate people who stop for a bit instead of just buzzing in and out of town.

Posted by
31055 posts

lcarter,

You may not find many of the shops and hotels open in February. Also, the weather may not be the most pleasant. However, you likely won't have any "crowd" problems.

Posted by
166 posts

I was there in November/December. Stayed in Levanto. Few places were closed but we had the whole place to ourselves!

Posted by
48 posts

I was in CT the last week of September and the first week of October. Hiking this beautiful area had been #1 on my bucket list for way too many years and I was delighted to finally get the opportunity. Was it crowded? Yes - wall to wall people on the couple of days that cruise ships were in port as previously noted. We felt it most acutely going from town to town on the train. Did it detract from the experience? Not a single bit. CT was everything I thought it would be and the multinational crowds actually played a part in that. I have to be honest and say that the touring we did on non-cruise ship days was more pleasant but the whole experience was just beyond belief. I wouldn't want to miss it on account of an issue with crowds.

We stayed in Levanto at Park Hotel Argento. Our hosts were gracious and knowledgeable about the area, even recommending a couple of additional hikes for us. The food was excellent, rooms were spacious and clean and the location right above the train station was perfect.

Posted by
166 posts

Like everyone says...Levanto is a fun town.only 4 minutes by train from.CT. It's pretty nice and makes for a good base.

Posted by
11981 posts

David
What's the problem with summer crowds?
I love crowds especially when the crowds wear skimpy bikini and give pleasure to my eyes, or, as we Italians call it, orgasmo oculare.
I must however acknowledge that the hordes of cruseiders and traineders invading the place lately, may not give you much pleasure.
If you want to minimize your ophthalmic pain, I suggest you stay in Bonassola or Framura or even further out in Moneglia, a village listed in Italy's most beautiful villages in the Borghi d'Italia website.
From any of those villages, you are still just minutes away by train. Avoid Vernazza during peak day hours at all costs. Get there with the earliest train from the aforementioned villages and get out of there as soon as the cruiseders arrive. Or get there later in the evening just before dinner. Spend the daily hours, when the villages are full of cruiseders, walking along the trails. The harder the trails, the less likely the cruiseders will be there. They must make it back on time to the ship.

Posted by
31055 posts

David,

One other tactic you can use to avoid crowds is to take the boat from Monterosso to Porto Venere for the day, perhaps touring the three small islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. Spend some time touring the Church of St. Peter and then have a fine meal along the waterfront, returning by boat in the late afternoon (the photo was taken from the patio of a restaurant). You could also disembark in Riomaggiore or Manarola on the return trip, have dinner there and then return to your home base town via the local trains.

While the boats may be packed at the start, not all of the passengers will travel all the way to Porto Venere. Travel by boat provides a great perspective to see the five towns from the water. There will be other tourists in the small alleys of Porto Venere, but it won't be nearly as crowded as the towns of the C.T.

Posted by
788 posts

I enjoyed Levanto as well when the Village Italy tour stayed there in early October 2011. While many tour members hopped the train to visit the trails, a few of us selected the beach instead: chairs, umbrellas, young families visiting after school let out, water that was just bearable (not too, too cold). Perhaps it was due to the season, but it was not too crowded, and most visitors seemed to be Italian.

Posted by
33 posts

We visited the Cinque Terre the first week of November 2015. The cruise ships were gone, the train and towns were not crowded and the weather was phenomenal.

Posted by
8293 posts

Ah, yes, blame all the over crowding on the cruise ship people. Those who arrive by train, tour bus, especially RS tours, or rental car, are superior in every way to the ones off the ships, more discerning, less " touristy", if you catch my drift. How wonderful to be so grand and able to appreciate the beauty of the Cinque Terre so much more than those Philistines off the cruise ship. I do so envy you your good taste.

Posted by
11706 posts

Norma, I don't think any of us can argue that wherever we go and however we do it, we are adding our own bulk to the mass so we need to just suck it up.

The problem with the CT - as with the historic center of Venice - is the sheer amount of that bulk that a ship can unload at one time, and especially so where there are multiples involved. It's simply not built to handle those sorts of numbers en-masse. It's certainly not the fault of the passengers themselves but some sort of controlled staggering of tours might ease the pain when more than one large ship is in port?

I don't have a good answer - and, apparently, locals who are feeling overwhelmed don't yet either - but we're experiencing much of the same over-visitation issue in the more popular of our National Parks. Granted, that one is mostly caused by private-vehicle traffic jams/parking problems but the concerns regarding the quality of the experience for one-and-all and conservation of fragile environments are very much the same.

It's a tough one.

Posted by
8293 posts

Kathy, I was mainly responding to a snotty post, which has now disappeared, about not only cruise ship people ( which the poster called "cruiseiders" ) but the fat cruise ship people who had been pigging out on the ship buffet, and made it impossible to enjoy oneself with all those fat people blocking the way. It was a vile post and I am glad it is gone.

Posted by
11981 posts

I added the traineders to the cruiseders to be more politically correct and not discriminate against any type of invaders of the five lands.
Some people have scarce sense of humor.

Posted by
11706 posts

O dear, Norma. Glad that it poofed off to cyberspace somewhere!

Roberto, I've never thought of myself as a "traineder" but I like it!

Posted by
6092 posts

Personally, I thought Roberto's post was hilarious. Some people just can't tell 'tongue-in-cheek' humor from serious denigration or insults or sarcasm that misses the mark, which we see quite a bit of on the forum.

I've been a cruiseder (and a traineder) and I took no offense, even at the reference to all the food on the cruise ships - hey, that's why a lot of people take a cruise.

Posted by
48 posts

The truth is that if you're looking for solitude, people in mass are going to interfere with that quest no matter how they arrive. I grumble every March when I can't easily get around Phoenix because of all the spring training fans. And yet my taxes stay relatively low because these bothersome tourists spend millions each March in my home town - and I don't complain about that!

There are so many great suggestions here about how to enjoy CT - with crowds or not. It would be a shame if the original poster gave it a pass just because of that.

Posted by
161 posts

hellO!

I was thinking of making a 3 night trip to CT from Paris and leaving CT to Venice afterwards. My trip would be near the end of May. Do you guys think that that is when the crowds will fill the place up :(.. Not sure if it is worth my 5 hours traveling time there and to Venice if I will see a Disneyland version of CT. I understand I am also a tourist but I wasn't sure if this trip would be worth it for my Honeymoon.

I will see Santorini after Venice and though I know both CT and Santorini are different kinds of beauty. I am hoping if I cut CT out I wont regret as much because I get to see beautiful Santorini at least.

Posted by
11706 posts

Panda, the decision to go or not to go is entirely up to you. Will it be very busy? Yes, but between this thread and the other you've posted, several methods of avoiding the worst of the masses have been suggested. Visitors who stay in the region versus just go for the day also have the advantage of early morning and evening hours when the day-tripper crowds have not yet arrived or have departed.

The CT is no plastic and papier-mâché Disneyland. This stretch of the Ligurian coast is a UNESCO designated cultural site for a reason, and that reason is apparent if one chooses to see it underneath any commercial shortcomings or annoyances. A dose of the tenacity required for people to survive, to thrive, on their precarious, isolated perches for a 1000 years is advised for the visitor willing to discover and appreciate those efforts!

Posted by
607 posts

Panda

We were on a cruise last May and we did a shore excursion of CT. With the travel involved and the need to return to the ship, we spent a maximum of 1 hour in each of the 3 towns that we visited. So if you are staying in one of the towns, there may be a couple of hours late morning to early afternoon when it will be busy. In the middle of all this we did not have any problems finding an outside table at a decent restaurant for lunch in Vernazza without any lineup. And if you take a train during this time, it will be packed. But the ride between towns is only about 5 minutes so it was short and fun. The cruisers all have to leave to get back to the ship before it departs, so those with the privilege of accommodations should have the towns to themselves the rest of the time.

We used a private tour, Joe Bananas Limo, with a van for 6. I believe our driver kept us just ahead of the ship's large tour buses so we had an enjoyable time.

Posted by
2235 posts

Well, you only need one room in one functioning hotel or inn, you only need a couple of restaurants or cafes to meet your needs and I'll bet many or most visitors never get on the boats at all. I imagine the CT towns are very quiet and beautiful today.