If you’re planning on visiting the Cinque Terre region, absolutely do it. It’s fantastic. You will, however, enjoy the region much more if you follow these tips.
1. Go in the off-season.
We went in August, but this was mainly because it coincided with the rest of our trip (and my vacation from work). If we had the choice, we’d love to go in May or September. It’s a little less crowded (from what we hear) and the weather is still nice. Cinque Terre is not exactly mainstream Italy, but it’s becoming quite popular among tourists, from tour groups to backpackers. Some may consider it touristy during the high season, but even if that’s the only time you can go, don’t let that deter you. It’s still a very worthwhile destination. I felt like I could settle in there for a week or two.
2. Stay in one of the villages for a few days.
Or better yet, spend a week, and go from town to town, staying in 2-3 of the villages. Even if you’re there in the middle of summer, you will be able to enjoy some tranquility. During the summer, most people who go to Cinque Terre are on one-day tour groups or cruises. Once they clear out (around 4-5 pm) you have the whole town to yourself, a few other travelers, and the locals. It’s beautiful. That’s when you can really settle in and enjoy the true Cinque Terre.
3. Stay in Manarola or Riomaggiore.
We really recommend Manarola. Even in the high season, the crowds were manageable. It’s small and does not offer a beach, so people don’t flock to it like they do to Monterosso or the larger Vernazza. It’s visually the most attractive of the villages (in my opinion). So go there! Riomaggiore was also quite picturesque. The only village we didn’t go to was Corniglia, which looks like the most tranquil of the five – but its location makes it a little bit less accessible. If we had time, we definitely would have made it there, as well.
4. Eat lots of seafood.
I don’t care if you don’t like seafood. Get it anyway. It’s so fresh. We ate so much delicious seafood here, and we didn’t even have enough. We recommend Il Porticciolo in Manarola. Very reasonable prices for excellent seafood.
5. Try the wine.
Cinque Terre is not exactly Tuscany in terms of wine, but it offers some pretty decent options. We love to try local wineries and breweries wherever we go, and the Cinque Terre wine was enjoyable. You’re probably not going to be able to get it in many other places, so it was pretty cool to experience some local flavor.
6. Get some gelato.
You’re in Italy. Duh!