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:
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.
Admittedly, we did find some gorgeous, quiet spots when we ventured away from the main area. This small alleyway was thankfully free of tourists.
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:
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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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.
Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.