Things No one Tells you about Cinque Terre

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It’s not that I hate Cinque Terre; there are just parts of it that I hate. I actually enjoyed the time we spent in the 5 Italian villages. The views are UNREAL and the towns are charming as ever. As a photographer, it was paradise; so many photo opportunities and places to grab that perfect photo.

But out of all the Italian cities we’ve been to, it’s definitely not my favorite. Maybe I didn’t have the right set of expectations or we chose the wrong Cinque Terre town to spend the night in (we opted for Riomaggiore but if we were to do it over, we would pick Vernazza) but Cinque Terre certainly wasn’t a I-could-stay-here-for-a-month type of place for me.

Because I love Italy in all of its entirety, and I still think there are many great things about Cinque Terre, here are the best parts of it first:

  • AMAZING VIEWS. I mean just look at these photos.
  • Cute streets.
  • Awesome train system.
  • A beautiful ocean.
  • Did I mention the views?
  • The concept of 5 cities built into the hills. So cool.
  • Easy to add to your Italy itinerary
  • Super charming

What I hated About Cinque Terre

The hike is closed. If I had to pick one thing that bummed me out about Cinque Terre, it’s this. I had been looking forward to hiking the paths between the cities and in fact, this was probably the thing I was most excited about. When we travel, I always like to find unique hiking trails to walk. It’s a nice way to get away from crowds and to explore the path less traveled. It’s also great for photos and especially in this destination where you are met with gorgeous views the entire trail(s).

I had it all mapped out, which towns we would take the train to and which ones we would hike between. In fact, my first plan was to hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola. We walked up to the hiking path only to find out that it was closed. Disappointing is putting it mildly. From what we could understand, portions of the trail are closed due to trail erosion caused by the weather. Thankfully, the train system is amazing and made it easy to travel between the villages, though perhaps not quite so scenically.

If you’re headed to Cinque Terre, make sure you read *current* articles on the hiking trail; this website seems to have the latest updates.

things no one tells you about cinque terre

It’s overcrowded. But so is Rome, Positano, Venice right? Yes, but those cities have a lot of square footage for the gazillions of tourists to shuffle into. We found a lot of solitude in both Venice and Rome and were able to capture quite a few photos without people in them because we found hidden spots. Not so much in the Cinque Terre. There just isn’t much space for all the visitors the towns see every day.

We tried waking up for sunrise and were surprised to still see a handful of people out and about taking photos. I’m sure if you spent a week there, you would be able to learn the best spots to head to for some peace but most people opt to see this destination in a 1-3 days.

Our worst experience was getting off the train that we took from Riomaggiore to Manarola. I get a little claustrophobic around crowds and this was certainly not my cup of tea. We disembarked and immediately hit a wall of people. Everyone moved slowly, understandably so, but there was literally no room to inch past people. You had to politely wait, clutching your belongings and walking behind the person in front of you while you were elbow to elbow with two others. I think it took about 15-20 minutes to fully emerge from the station, something that normally would take 4 maybe 5 minutes. In all fairness, the remaining trains/stations we took weren’t quite this bad.

It’s expensive. I’m sure you could’ve guessed that the Cinque Terre is expensive. Because of this, I’d recommend booking your accommodations way in advance. Otherwise, your first choice town (Vernazza in our case) will completely book out or you’ll be left with crappy hotels and Airbnbs that you don’t really love. So book early to make sure you snag that awesome place for your stay.

Food is also expensive so prepare to pay hefty prices for mediocre quality. Instead of choosing a restaurant close to the water, try walking further into the village. Usually those places will have much better food!

It’s dingy/dirty. I’m used to the dirtiness of Rome but I didn’t expect the Cinque Terre to be this dingy. The towns are old and really have not been cleaned up so expect the overall vibe to be a bit less clean. Graffiti covered the walls of the train station and the streets needed a sweeping. I’d liken it to parts of Rome; typical of old towns perhaps but not something I’d expect from a coastal destination.

things no one tells you about cinque terre

It’s not a foodie destination. In our opinion, you don’t come to the Cinque Terre for the food. You come for the views. That being said, I would say that Monterroso al Mare and Vernazza probably had the biggest selection of good restaurants, Riomaggiore the least. However, you will find cute-looking cafes everywhere so just enjoy the scenery and moment!

ALSO.

If you are in Riomaggiore, look for the bakery run by a middle-aged lady (Panificio Rosi). She has some of the best cakes and baked goods around. We had some for breakfast in the morning and it was delicious!

things no one tells you about cinque terre

It has a major pickpocket issue….at least according to all the signs posted in the train stations. Maybe they were just preventive measures taken by the town but there are so many signs warning of pickpockets that we decided we had better take them seriously.

And it’s pretty obvious you will want to once you see just how many people are there. Even though the Cinque Terre are not a city, you’ll want to treat them as such and be mindful of your surroundings like you would in Rome or Milan.

It’s HOT. I couldn’t believe how warm it was in October. I can’t even imagine visiting in July so if you choose that month to go, make sure you’re prepared for the constant sun and lack of shade. Most of the towns have little to no shade so I’d bring hats and sunscreen along and plenty of water to stay hydrated.

things no one tells you about cinque terre

It’s easy to see in a day (and a half). While most of the famous Italian destinations are really hard to see in a day, Cinque Terre is actually doable. You’ll definitely be exhausted but you’ll get great photos and be able to experience its charm. I’d plan on spending one night and a full day; if you can do a day and a half, that’s even better as you’ll be able to experience a gorgeous sunrise and sunset.

things no one tells you about cinque terre

Corniglia is not to be missed. And last but certainly not least, do not miss out on Corniglia. This is the least known Cinque Terre probably because it’s the only one that does not overlook the water. I’ve chatted with several people who commented they never visited it and I really think it’s because it doesn’t receive the same amount of fame as the other four. Admittedly, it’s not as “beautiful” as the others and it doesn’t sit on the water but I think it does deserve some attention. The streets are super cute and it’s much quieter.

*Note* You do have to climb a lot of stairs to get to the top from where the train drops you off so it’s not handicap accessible; hopefully someday it will be.

Update: A reader has kindly informed us that there is a small bus that takes you from the train station to Corniglia so you can avoid those stairs!

And that’s 9 things no one tells you about Cinque Terre, facts that I wish I knew beforehand which would have gone a long ways in helping me keep my expectations on the right level. These reasons are not meant to dissuade you from going but rather serve as tips to help you plan and know what to expect before you go.

Grace

A travel photographer and writer with an insatiable desire to explore the world and inspire others to see it for themselves.

16 Comments

  1. Teresa
    May 24, 2019 / 5:42 pm

    You mention there not being much good food, however there are 2Michelin starred restaurants in Riomaggiore that would be a positive addition to your post. I think it would be helpful for people to know there is a small bus that takes you from the train station to Corniglia so you don’t have to walk the 300+ stairs.

    • Grace
      Author
      May 26, 2019 / 7:37 pm

      Thanks so much for your note Teresa! We’ve added the part about the bus – that’s so helpful!

  2. July 22, 2019 / 9:57 pm

    I was there in October 2018. The things you’ve noted were not a surprise to us due to an extensive amount of research. I can’t stress enough how much more enjoyable the villages are in the evening after the day-trippers have left.. Two full days for us was enough.. We stayed in Levanto, and trained down into the villages each day. It’s less expensive staying there.

    • Grace
      Author
      July 23, 2019 / 3:13 pm

      We knew a few things going into it but definitely didn’t have the best set of expectations. And I agree – evenings were much calmer. Great idea about Levanto!

  3. July 23, 2019 / 4:44 am

    Uh oh, now I’m a little bit worried. We’re headed to Cinque Terre at the end of September with our moms. I didn’t think it would be as crowded or hot in September but I guess that was naive thinking. Will have to prepare ourselves for that!

    https://teaspoonofadventure.com

    • Grace
      Author
      July 23, 2019 / 3:15 pm

      Hopefully you guys will be blessed with amazing weather! Either way, it’s all about expectations – if you know going into it that there are going to be crowds and it’ll be hot, then I fully believe you’ll enjoy it more because your expectations are in check 🙂

  4. July 24, 2019 / 2:24 am

    some of the places are just over advertise but amount of influencers going there and posting beautiful “fake” pictures because they cannot get to the place and bitch about it. Thank you for writing the truth and your feelings

    • Grace
      Author
      July 25, 2019 / 10:07 pm

      It was a tough article to write because I loved the area so much but just wish I had known some things beforehand to prepare me 🙂

  5. Meg
    July 24, 2019 / 8:20 am

    I was in Cinque Terre in July 2018 and stayed in Corniglia for a week and didn’t want to leave. A much less busy centre that’s for sure. We did carry 16kg bags up the stairs though! A real workout. I would go back, but definitely stay in Corniglia. We had breakfast each morning at the same cafe, and by day 3 they knew our order without us saying a word. Beautiful local people.

    • Grace
      Author
      July 25, 2019 / 10:06 pm

      Yes! Corniglia is a hidden gem; so cool you felt that way too!

  6. Linda Rademacher
    July 24, 2019 / 1:28 pm

    HI, we trained from Florence to Montorosso. We only picked the one village, with the idea of a beach day. We arrived at 12:30 train station wasn’t packed, easy trip across the road to the beach. Purchased shade and loungers for the day. We had an extremely fresh seafood lunch on the beach, so amazing. We had dinner reservations nearby for the evening. Very laid back and beautiful village. The streets and sidewalks were very clean and landscaped nicely. We were there July 10th 2019.

    • Grace
      Author
      July 25, 2019 / 10:06 pm

      So great to hear you had a great experience and lucky you had it uncrowded!

  7. Forrest Dunton
    July 27, 2019 / 5:36 pm

    Couldn’t disagree more. Cinque Terre was absolutely our favorite place in Italy on our two month trip this summer. I’d disagree with every single one of your points to be honest except for the train being closed. It wasn’t hang as busy as Venice of Florence. There’s plenty of great food and Riomaggiore has more Michelin started restaurants than any of the other towns, there are lots of things to do if you research ahead of time, easy day trips to take. The problem with social media is people see edited photos of somewhere and then are shocked when it doesn’t actually look like a photoshopped picture..

    • Grace
      Author
      July 30, 2019 / 10:59 am

      I do think it depends on the time you visit. I wrote this specifically with our experience in mind which was expensive, overcrowded, hot, etc but the lovely part about travel is that everyone has a different experience. This is why I made sure to state the positives and to encourage people to visit if they still find themselves wanting to go 🙂

  8. Ebrenn
    August 2, 2019 / 10:32 am

    We went in May and the weather and lack of crowds were great. We also did our research on what is open and closed. Everything in Europe is more expensive than it is here. Kinda sounds like planning ahead and for everything would have been a better option for you. We loved it there.

    • Grace
      Author
      August 2, 2019 / 1:45 pm

      Perhaps that was part of the issue! It’s fun to read through other people’s experiences, even though they are different to my own! 🙂

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