What the guide books won’t tell you about the Cinque Terre



Cinque Terre is one of our favourite places in the world. Here is our unique guide to the Cinque Terre, to help you avoid the crowds.

What is the Cinque Terre?

Italy’s Cinque Terre is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. If you’ve not visited, I’m sure you’ve seen the photos plastered across the internet. Yep, the Cinque Terre is the village with the brightly coloured houses on a rocky outcrop jutting into the sea. It trully is spectacular. But, as you know, in this day and age the spectacular tend to get ruined by mass-tourism. For the tiny villages of  the Cinque Terre this excessive tourism can take away from its charm – think hundreds of coach-loads of tourists swarming narrow streets, loading onto already overcrowded trains and queuing to take selfies.

Despite the crazy levels of tourism the Cinque Terre attracts, it remains one of our favourite places in the whole world, and the special place we married in August 2019. In this piece I will offer all my insider knowledge so that you can enjoy the Cinque Terre and avoid the crowds!

Our experience visiting the Cinque Terre

We’ve been to the Cinque Terre three times now  -the first time in 2014, then in June 2018 we went back to the area to plan our Wedding, and finally for our wedding in the Summer of 2019.

Anyways, back on topic – here’s our guide to Cinque Terre. This list will help you make the most of your visit to the Cinque Terre (scroll down for more detailed information):

  1. Stay the night
  2. Book your accommodation in advance to avoid disappointment
  3. Avoid getting the train at ‘peak’ time
  4. Locate the best spot for sunset (I’ll give you my recommendations)
  5. Eat where the locals eat
  6. Find the best bars in the area
manarola at night
The ‘famous photo’ that inspired my trip to Manarola (via Getty Images)

1. Stay the night in the Cinque Terre

For the love of god unless you really have no other choice  – please don’t be a day-tripper to the Cinque Terre! If you can, stay here for a few nights I highly recommend you do. The locals will thank you for it, nearly all of the hotels and B&B’s in the area are locally owned. Plus, the villages are a completely different place at night.

The Cinque Terre moves at a slower place when dusk falls. The edges and stresses of the busy day before are softened. The locals come out with their families and all of a sudden the place recaptures its magic.  You will say to yourself “yes, this is the real Cinque Terre”.

2. Book your accommodation in advance

While I’m on the subject of accommodation, if you do plan to stay  – book in advance! There are just over 3,000 rooms in the Cinque Terre, and with the area being on most peoples’ bucket list, accommodation tends to sell out quick.

Top travel tip – a lot of the accommodation options in the Cinque Terre are small with many having less than 10 rooms. Not many have swimming pools and last time I checked there are no all-inclusive resorts in the Cinque Terre. Another great option for a place to lay your head is airbnb – it’s becoming more and more popular in the Cinque Terre of late and there are some great options.

Why not, check out our list of the best places to stay in Monterosso.

shower with a view monterosso al mare
airbnb in Monterosso

3. Avoid getting the train at ‘peak times’

Avoid walking or getting the train between the villages during the hours of 11am – 4pm as this when the day-trippers are out in full force. Instead, rent  a beach bed at Monterosso – the only village in Cinque Terre with a beach.  

Top travel tip – there are two beaches in Monterosso;  in the new town or ‘Fegina’ and the old town. The beach at Fegina is the nicer one in my opiion. The other villages just have Pier’s which you can jump off into the ocean or sunbathe on (albeit a little awkwardly)

Monterosso beach
Courtesy of Pure Wedding Photography

4. Find the best sunset spot

You don’t need to go to a waterfront bar to watch the sunset, in fact some evenings we grabbed a few bottles of beer from the supermarket and walked to the bell tower at the top of Manarola village. We sat on the stone wall and watched the sun sink into the ocean. And there wasn’t a soul around.

The best place to watch the sunset in the Cinque Terre is in Manarola – on the walkway just below Nessun Dorma or in the restaurant itself if you can get a table. FYI- Nessun Dorma doesn’t take bookings, it’s a case of ‘first come first served’. 

cinque terre, manarola sunset
Dusk in Manarola, this is the view from Nessun Dorma

5. Eat where the locals eat

The absolute best restaurant in the Cinque Terre is Billy’s in Manarola – primarily serving seafood and the freshest seafood at that. We’ve eaten here a total of four times across two trips. There are two seating’s a night and we recommend asking for a table at the very front – which overlooks Manarola village.

I’m a big fan of the wine from the Cinque Terre too, which is mostly of the Albarola – Bosco – Vermentino variety. My favorite wine to drink in the Summer is Italian sparkling wine – belissima!

trattoria dal billy, manarola, cinque terre
The view of Manarola village from close to Billy’s Trattoria

6. Nightlife in the Cinque Terre

If you’re the type of person who likes to party into the small hours, then the Cinque Terre may not be for you. There are no nightclubs in the area and the only bar open “til late” was Fast Bar in Monterosso which stays open until 2am. Please don’t take my word as gospel, we were here in June and it was relatively quiet. It may stay open  later in the busy months of July and August.

Will Cinque Terre start limiting visitors soon?

Back in 2016, the word on the grapevine was that the Cinque Terre was going to start limiting the amount of tourists it allowed in daily. “Hallelujah” I said to my partner. Having visited the area three times, each time we were stunned by it’s beauty but more stunned by the sheer amount of day-trippers generally being a nuisance. But alas, this limitation of day-trippers hasn’t happened yet but its something that’s been discussed frequently within the Government there – you can read more here

 sunset, manarola, italy

“These tourists arrive in droves, follow their leader through three or four towns, and take the train in between. An area with 4,000 residents now sees 2.4 million tourists per year. With only 3,000 beds available, the majority of these are day-trippers.”

Travel and Leisure, April 2017

Should I take a day-trip to the Cinque Terre?

We thought, with all these day-trippers the cafes and restaurants in the Cinque Terre must be making an absolute fortune.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. According to a few business-owners we spoke with, a lot of these groups are on a strict schedule so it’s hop on the train to one town – get off and take a few photos and repeat times five. Some groups barely have time to grab lunch.

So, while the businesses in town are definitely not “struggling”, they should be flourishing considering the sheer amount of footfall through the area on a daily basis. Which is why we think it’s so important to spend the night in the Cinque Terre if you can.

 corniglia sea view
Relaxing in the most authentic village in the Cinque Terre – Corniglia

Best time of year to visit Cinque Terre

High season in the Cinque Terre is from mid-April to beginning of October, with the busiest months being July and August. Personally, my favorite month to visit the Cinque Terre is September – the weather is still warm and there are just the right amount of tourists meaning all restaurants and bars remain open.

So, there you have it our short but sweet guide to the Cinque Terre. We hope you learned something new!

READ NEXT | our list of unique activities available in the Cinque Terre.

Will you visit the Cinque Terre?

Despite the day-time madness and the expense of staying here, especially during the Summer months. Despite all of the other insignificant things that frustrate me. The fact is the Cinque Terre is one of the most special places in the world to me.

How does the saying go – sometimes you’re harder on the people you love. Well, that can be true about a place too.  I think I’m harsher in my criticism of the Cinque Terre because I love it so much. I expect perfection, when in fact it’s those annoying quirks about the place that add to it’s charm.

PIN IT FOR LATER!

Cinque Terre is one of our favourite places in the world. Here is our travel guide to the Cinque Terre, to help you avoid the crowds. #cinqueterretravel #cinqueterreitaly