Is Cinque Terre worth it or too busy?
Though enough has been written about Cinque Terre, there aren’t many truthful, behind the scenes blog posts about the crowds to expect at Cinque Terre. How busy is Cinque Terre during summer? Is it still worth it, despite the crowds? Below is a real, honest account of a visit to Cinque Terre during high season including real photos, not just the pretty pictures. This way you can make up your mind whether or not you’d like to go.
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Pro tip: Start at your favourite town to beat the crowds
The best tip I can give you is: go to the town you’d like to see at its prettiest first! The later in the day, the busier Cinque Terre will get. Like many tourist attractions, start as early as possible to beat the crowds. Other than that, just be prepared for crazy crowds so it will be better than anticipated.
We went to Vernazza (2nd town from the north) first, so we would have the least crowds there.
An overview of the five towns
Cinque Terre consists of the following 5 towns (ordered from north to south):
I skipped the first town but visited the other four towns.
Vernazza: best panorama of Cinque Terre
If you only visit one of the five towns, visit Vernazza. It has the best panoramic view. We went to Vernazza first and spent about 2 – 2,5 hours there, between 10:00 – 12:30. The crowds weren’t too bad at this time in the morning.
Viewpoint #1 in Vernazza: harbour view
Location: Where can you find the Instagrammable Vernazza view of the harbour?
Here are the exact coordinates for the famous Vernazza photo spot: (44.136534, 9.681409). It is not marked on Google Maps, but you’ll find it if you take the hiking trail from Vernazza and head north towards Monterosso.
How crowded is the ‘Insta famous’ Vernazza viewpoint?
The viewpoint at Vernazza is definitely in the category ‘Instagram hotspot’. It is not marked on Google Maps, but you’ll find it if you take the hiking trail north towards Monterosso (1st town from the north). We were at the viewpoint at around 12:00 (noon) and there we did not need to wait in line to use the viewpoint for photos. There were people using the viewpoint photo spot directly before and after us, but with no waiting time involved. Below is a photo impression of how crowded Vernazza viewpoint can get. To be honest, the photos make it more crowded that it actually was. This was the situation when I was there in mid August, obviously the level of crowds may differ depending on many factors.
Viewpoint #2 in Vernazza: ocean view
To reach the second viewpoint in Vernazza, walk up towards La Torre restaurant. This is the hiking trail heading south to Corniglia (3rd town from the north).
Can you swim at Vernazza (Cinque Terre)?
Yes you can swim at Vernazza. Vernazza has a microscopic pebble beach, further out there are some places with a strong current. For better swimming head to the village of Manarola.
Photos of the crowds at Vernazza
The photos below give an indication of the crowds to expect.
Corniglia: Town on the cliffs
I can be short about Corniglia. It can easily be skipped during your visit the Cinque Terre. The views of this town just aren’t as good as the others. We were there briefest but decided to hop back on the train again soon after arriving.
It’s 20 minute walk from the train station to town, uphill (one way), which is much longer than the other towns. There the train station is right in the towns’ center.
If you do decide to go to Corniglia make sure to check when the trains leave. There isn’t any shade or refreshments at the train station. If you are unlucky up to a 30 minute wait until the next train departs.
Corniglia is the only town you can’t reach by boat because it’s perched up on the rocks.
Tip: Cellphone service can be bad at Cinque Terre, depending on your provider. Make sure you’ve downloaded any maps you’d like to access from Google or Maps.me. Don’t worry, you can easily navigate the towns of Cinque Terre without a map.
Where to find the Insta famous viewpoint in Manarola
When walking from the train station to the bay, walk right (north) and up to the viewpoint. On Google Maps it’s labelled as ‘Manarola Scenic Viewpoint’ and/or ‘Vista Panoramica di Manarola’.
Best swimming of Cinque Terre is at Manarola
Manarola is the best town of Cinque Terro to go swimming because it has a big bay with lots of calm water. You will see people diving off the cliffs, which is entertaining. There is no sand here, so you’ll have to put your towel on the rocks.
You’ll recognise Riomaggiore from Instagram or advertisements for Cinque Terre. The harbour is quite small, making it harder to take photos than at Vernazza or Manarola. None the less, it’s a pretty town.
Can you swim at Riomaggiore (Cinque Terre)?
Yes, you can swim at Riomaggiore. This colourful town has calm waters in the harbour to take a dip and there is space on the rocks for a towel.
Getting around: Cinque Terre by train
How to navigate the train at Cinque Terre (which is harder than you think)
You’d think one of Italy’s most visited tourist attractions would be easy to find and signposted at the train station. Well, not in Italy. Below are some pointers to make your train trip smoother than ours was.
To save time, buy your Cinque Terre train ticket online! You can only pay online with a credit card. If you wish to buy a ticket at the station, don’t use the machines! At the machines at La Spezia station it is not possible to buy the Cinque Terre rail cars. You must wait in a separate cue where it says ‘Cinque Terre Card’ above the entrance.
Now that you’ve managed to buy your ticket, it’s time to navigate the busy train station at La Spezia. At the train station La Spezia go to platform 4 and take the train headed towards Levanto. The train stops at all 5 villages, so hop off the train at your desired first village.
How busy are the trains along Cinque Terre?
During my visit in mid August, the trains varied from almost empty to almost full. With almost full meaning almost all seats taken and some people standing near the doors, nothing crazy like sardines in a can. Generally the trains were more full in the afternoon after 14:00.
Pro’s of using the train at Cinque Terre
- Train travel is cheap. A ticket costs 16€ pp person (1 full day, unlimited use).
- Trains run every 8-30 minutes, depending on the time of day. Travel time between stations is very short (2 – 10min between towns). This allows you to cover lots of ground and see a lot in one day.
Getting around: Cinque Terre by boat
Pro’s of exploring Cinque Terre by boat
- You will see the villages from the water which gives a different perspective
Cons of exploring Cinque Terre by boat
- Boat travel along Cinque Terre is more expensive than the train. For the boat expect to pay €39 pp person (full day, price 2023) or €28 pp (afternoon, price 2023). On the Cinque Terre website you can find up to date prices and timetables for boat travel.
- Boats only start operating at 10:00, so an early start isn’t an option when using the boat
- Boats run every 30 minutes. Also docking and offloading passengers takes some time, making your itinerary slightly less flexible.
- Boats can’t access Corniglia as this village has no harbour, though you can easily give this town a miss.
Parking at La Spezia
You cannot access Cinque Terre by car. You’ll need to park your car and continue by train or boat.
- There are are a few places in La Spezia with free parking.
- We used the free parking below the train station. We were there around 09:00 and had the second to last parking spot available. So be on time if you want to park for free!
So, is Cinque Terre worth it despite the crowds?
Well, the afternoons at Cinque Terre get pretty busy… but if you go in the mornings you’ll escape the crowds a bit. Hopefully these photos give you an honest insight into a visit to Cinque Terre during high season. That way you can decide for yourself if you’ll enjoy it.
For me it was a fun day with pretty scenery so I’d say Cinque Terre is worth a visit!