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Cinque Terre: A Bucket List Letdown

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I'm not sure about the rest of the world, but most when most Americans think of Italy, we picture that classic shot of Cinque Terre. We see the colorful houses on the side of the cliff with the ocean spraying against the rocks below. Usually the photo is taken at sunset. Gorgeous. Classic. But was this the reality when we visited? Yes and no.

I'm not sure about the rest of the world, but most when most Americans think of Italy, we picture that classic shot of Cinque Terre. We see the colorful houses on the side of the cliff with the ocean spraying against the rocks below. Usually the photo is taken at sunset. Gorgeous. Classic. But was this the reality when we visited? Yes and no.

Click to find out why my dream visit to Cinque Terre was not at all what I thought it would be.

During a recent visit with a friend, the two of us found out he had some unplanned days off that we could take advantage of together. We tried to decide where and how to best spend them. Athens, Tanzania, Crete — all my ideas were shot down because he doesn’t like to repeat destinations.

Finally, I remembered a previous conversation we’d had. Although we’ve both visited Italy before, neither of us had seen Cinque Terre– the five famous interconnected Italian villages.

I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but most when most Americans think of Italy, we picture that classic shot of Cinque Terre.

We see the colorful houses on the side of the cliff with the ocean spraying against the rocks below. Usually the photo is taken at sunset. Gorgeous. Classic.

But was this the reality when we visited? Yes and no.

Yes it’s gorgeous, and I was even able to get that iconic photo I was hoping for:

Click to find out why my dream visit to Cinque Terre was not at all what I thought it would be.

I also managed to capture a new classic version of the same photo that did quite well on Instagram:

But are there other parts of Italy that are as gorgeous? I would say yes.

But what you can’t see from that photo is that Cinque Terre is overrun with tourists. It’s difficult to get a decent shot of anything because of the unrelenting sea of selfie sticks. And we even visited in October, outside of peak season.

And yes I understand that I’m one of those tourists, essentially a part of the problem.

But the place was crowded to the point of being no longer enjoyable. We were packed into the train only to be let out like cattle leaving the pen.

Many of the best restaurants in town had long waits for a table. And since I’m talking about the restaurants, let me mention the food–it wasn’t that great. The restaurants seemed more geared towards tourists. The dishes we had, although beautiful, were poor versions of Italian food. The meals like we had in Pisa and Florence were nowhere to be found.

Click to find out why my dream visit to Cinque Terre was not at all what I thought it would be.

Admittedly, we did find some gorgeous, quiet spots when we ventured away from the main area. This small alleyway was thankfully free of tourists.

Click to find out why my dream visit to Cinque Terre was not at all what I thought it would be.

Frustrated and defeated, we sought out one of the few things you can always count on. My friend unknowingly snapped this shot of me. I feel it nicely sums up our Cinque Terre experience:

Click to find out why my dream visit to Cinque Terre was not at all what I thought it would be.

In the end, would I advise against going? No, it really is beautiful and definitely worth a visit. But I would recommend that you manage your expectations when planning the trip. Cinque Terre would make a nice day trip from Pisa. It’s also possible to visit Cinque Terre on a day trip from Florence, although it would be a long day and require changing trains multiple times.

I would, however, advise against visiting Italy just to see Cinque Terre, like I had once planned. I’m glad we also chose to see Pisa and Florence on the same trip.

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Click to find out why my dream visit to Cinque Terre was not at all what I thought it would be.

Click to find out why my dream visit to Cinque Terre was not at all what I thought it would be.


Practical Information:

Getting there:

From Florence: You’ll want to leave Florence as early as possible, as travel time is two-and-a-half to three hours each way. It also may not be possible to see all five villages in one day. Depart Florence to Pisa where you will change trains to La Spezia. When you reach La Spezia, you will transfer to a regional train, which will take you to Cinque Terre. Train schedules can be found here.

From Pisa: It’s possible to see all five villages in a single day trip from Pisa. I would advise starting with the northern most village (Monterosso) and working your way back towards Pisa, ending in the southern most village (Riomaggiore). Multiple trains depart from Pisa to La Spezia daily. The trip takes approximately an hour and a half. Schedules can be verified up to seven days in advance by clicking here.

Always be sure to validate your tickets before the train departs.

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amber

Sunday 4th of August 2019

So beautiful. I wonder if there is a certain time of day or year that would be better to visit. I would love to go there one day. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Nathan

Monday 12th of August 2019

If I went back I would go at sunrise before the tourists showed up!

Scott Kendall

Tuesday 7th of August 2018

So, you were in CT a day or two. How many restaurants did you go to?

I understand you did not have the best experience in your eyes, but how can you say out of the dozens and dozens of restaurants in CT that good food was "nowhere to be found." You only tried a few. I've been to CT twice and found several wonderful restaurants - as well as some so-so places, just like any touristy town.

"Many of the best restaurants in town had long waits for a table. And since I’m talking about the restaurants, let me mention the food–it wasn’t that great. The restaurants seemed more geared towards tourists. The dishes we had, although beautiful, were poor versions of Italian food. The meals like we had in Pisa and Florence were nowhere to be found."

Anyway, I don't mean to bash your article, but as a travel writer myself, I always hate to see someone stereotype a whole town or region based on just a few isolated experiences. Thanks for your blog - I enjoy it and always learn something new.

Laura Lynch

Thursday 2nd of March 2017

It is a sad reality for this area. We've hyped it up too much and now it's overrun by tourism. It's really too bad for the people who live there. It's time to move on now... there are so many other great places to go.

Sam | Alternative Travelers

Saturday 18th of February 2017

This is how we felt about Florence, actually. It didn't seem like an authentic Italian city anymore, it was so overrun with tourists, and expensive to boot. We had some great food there, no doubt, but I'll not be returning, that's for sure! And this is with us spending many hours/days traversing back streets, trying to find some semblance of local life. We didn't succeed, needless to say! I think because soo many people have such a romanticized notion of Italy that unfortunately many places there are just not what they used to be. I've heard friends say similar things about Venice and Rome as well!

Nathan

Saturday 18th of February 2017

That's so unfortunate! I had such a completely different experience in Florence. A fellow blogging friend of mine lives there and took us out for an amazing meal. It's true there were a lot of tourists but I was still struck by how gorgeous the city is. The architecture is stunning. I loved both Rome and Venice as well.

Sandy N Vyjay

Tuesday 14th of February 2017

Cinque Terre is really a dream kinda place. I have read many posts about it and I understand it has become too touristy. I also know that there are a few places near Cinque Terre which are as fascinating if not more and relatively secluded.

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