Travel to Cinque Terre: 15 Surprising Things you did NOT expect

The beauty of Cinque Terre in Italy is well known. Who doesn’t recognize those famous iconic houses edges on the cliff of a tiny bay? La dolce vita in its purest form. There are many travel guides about Cinque Terre and hiking in Cinque Terre. But what is it really like? I had many expectations and ideas about what it would be like, but traveling the Cinque Terre surprised me more than anything. Here are 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy.

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My tongue in cheek travel write up with 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy all based on my own experiences and expectations

When you travel to Cinque Terre, then don’t expect to….

#1 Be able to park your car anywhere for free

The villages are built upon cliffs and hilltops. Most centers are car-free and pedestrian zones only. If you’re on a road trip or plan to hire a car: DON’T! Your car will be useless and car parking outside the villages (a steep climb uphill) is limited and very expensive. Think of €24 a day.

TIP: As we had a car, and needed to park it somewhere, we opted to leave it at a free “park and ride” in La Spezia. We walked 5 minutes to the train station and within 6 minutes were in Riomaggiore. After 5 days in Cinque Terre, we were able to pick our car up again. Total parking costs: €0,00. I used this website to find free parking in La Spezia.

#2 Hiking in Cinque Terre from village to village

Most people travel to Cinque Terre because of the hiking trails between the villages. As there are 5 villages, there are 4 trails between them. But don’t expect to hike from one village to the next. At the moment 2 out of 4 stretches are closed and you’re not able to walk them. You can only walk from Monterosso to Vernazza and from Vernazza to Corniglia. Corniglia-Manarola and Manarola-Riomaggiore are closed. Read more about hiking the Blue Trail here.

What about the famous “Via del Amore”? This is the fancy marketing name for the trail between Manarola and Riomaggiore. Unfortunately: closed. When the trails will be repaired and reopened is unknown and has been more than once postponed. Find the latest information on the trails on the website of the national park of Cinque Terre.

Did you know that Cinque Terre will now ban tourists hiking the trails on flip-flops? Read all juice details here (it is really true). Basically, they want to prevent having to call a helicopter to airlift you from the trails because you’ve sprained your ankle while walking on flip flops. Cinque Terre will start by warning and providing information and they will not enforce this new ‘law’ immediately, but to me, it’s common sense to wear sturdy footwear when hiking on these trails.

My tongue in cheek travel write up with 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy all based on my own experiences and expectations
Looking out on the trail ahead

#3 Travel in Cinque Terre and stay on budget

Are you a budget traveler just like me? Yea, forget about it. Italy is expensive and Cinque Terre is the godfather of expensive. I kept track of all my expenses and didn’t do anything out of the ordinary but I blew away a whole wad of cash in 5 days Cinque Terre. Ugh.

TIP: You can save money by not staying in Cinque Terre but, for example, in La Spezia or Levanto. But I don’t recommend that. We had a lovely time exploring the villages once the crowds had vanished. There are small supermarkets and you can make your own breakfast, bring lunch or even cook yourself dinner. But hey..! You’re in Italy. If there is any place where the food is divine, it is here. We stayed in an apartment in Riomaggiore which I rated with a 10! Great place!

Read more: Where To Stay In Cinque Terre? – Accommodation in Cinque Terre

 Find more amazing italian Riviera cities to visit.

My tongue in cheek travel write up with 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy all based on my own experiences and expectations
Riomaggiore at night

Don’t expect to pay for everything with your credit card either!

I love my credit card(s). Not only have I been racking up traveler rewards with them but I also hate to pay with hard cash. So I was a tad disappointed that plastic is not the best way to pay in Cinque Terre. Expect to pay for your espressos and gelatos with Euros.

#4 Think you’ll be the only traveler to Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is popular but how busy could it be at the end of April? Very busy! I was amazed at how long the trains were but turned out, they needed every wagon. Don’t think you’ll be alone during the day because you will not.

It is busy.

TIP: You can get lucky at 7.00 am in the morning or at 1.00 am at night.
With all those people around, it is hard to take a unique picture without the rest of the world in it.

I blame Instagram! I think the popularity of traveling to Cinque Terre has massively increased with the introduction of Instagram. Those lovely colorful houses, a girl seen from the back with her hand on her hat (ugh) the sea and the vibrant sun shining down on them. Cinque Terre is among the most photographed places in the world so it will be darn hard to come up with a unique picture with no one else in it. See how I did with iconic Cinque Terre images and my try at a unique angle on my Instagram account.


#5 Stick to your diet when you travel to Cinque Terre

Don’t expect to be able to stick to your diet. Too many temptations await you. They are disguised as gelato (fruit!), focaccia with pesto (herbs!) and homemade lasagne (hellowwww 3 pounds more!).

Or only eat 1 gelato per day

The gelato is cheap (one of the only things in Cinque Terre) and delicious. What more do I need to say? How many ice creams a day is too much?

TIP: To save money and calories, I skipped on lunch and had many gelatos instead. Why? Just because…!

My tongue in cheek travel write up with 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy all based on my own experiences and expectations
Nomnomnommmm foccacio

#6 See Matt Damon in Cinque Terre

My boyfriend is the biggest film geek ever and he was ecstatic to see the movie location of the Talented Mr. Ripley with Matt Damon. Turns out: he is not there!

TIP: You might see Emma Thompson instead. I swear I saw her on the trail. I swear it was her!

#7 See anything from the train

I had this vision in my head of a scenic train ride from village to village. As we embarked on our first train ride to the villages, I was surprised the window seat doesn’t do you any good. You ride from tunnel to tunnel and will not be able to see much of Cinque Terre from the train.

TIP: If you’re stubborn, sit on the left side if you travel from La Spezia to Levanto and you might be able to catch a glimpse of the sea.

My tongue in cheek travel write up with 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy all based on my own experiences and expectations
The train station of Corniglia shows some views of the sea.

#8 Or expect the trains to be on time

5 Villages, one train, and hordes of people. You’d think the trains would be able to run on time but hey, welcome to Italy! Don’t be alarmed when a train gets canceled, usually, there is another one within half an hour.

For actual information on trains in Italy, check the trenitalia website.

#9 Be able to pick a favorite village

When we first arrived in Riomaggiore, I loved ‘our’ village. We saw Manarola in the rain and I didn’t like it that much. Bloody Corniglia was a 1,000 steps uphill so not my favorite and should we go back to Monterosso because it wasn’t that much fun…?

Luckily, we had 5 days so we went to each of the 5 villages in Cinque Terre multiple times at different times of the day. And it turns out: it is impossible to pick a favorite village in Cinque Terre!

#10 Bring your wheelie suitcase when you travel to Cinque Terre

Did you buy one of those fancy pink wheelie suitcases that fit all your dresses, high heels, and lovely Instagram famous hats? Forget about it! You’ll not be able to drag your wheelie suitcase around when you travel to Cinque Terre because.. Uhm, did I mention uphill walking?

My tongue in cheek travel write up with 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy all based on my own experiences and expectations
Happy I’m not wheeling around Cinque Terre.

And don’t forget the authentic old streets of the villages (=bloody cobblestones where you’ll break your neck and your wheelie suitcase).

TIP: Bring a backpack. Even if you’re not a backpacker, you can still carry your stuff in a rucksack. I absolutely adore my Vaude 25 liter pack which I bring on every short trip. While we’re shopping, make sure to pack your sturdy hiking boots. I love my Lowa Renegades but any good solid hiking boot will do.

#11 Spend time on the beach

When you think of 5 seaside villages in Italy, you might expect to work on your tan. I have to disappoint you. Only Monterosso has a beach (2 even!) but the others you’ll have to do with a harbor walk or stretching yourself on the cliffs outside the village.

My tongue in cheek travel write up with 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy all based on my own experiences and expectations
The beach of Monterosso.

#12 Only find Basil in your dinner

Did you ever have Basil ice cream? Did you even know this is an actual gelato flavor? It sure is in Cinque Terre. The silky green substance is rather yummy, so I recommend to at least give it a try (once!).

#13 Find blue houses

Watching the sun go down on the colorful houses in Manarola; I was thinking about how lovely the houses were. Pastel orange, pink and yellow are the main colors, but bright red, brown and green are no exception. As I was looking at the colors I realized something was missing: there isn’t a blue house among them!

TIP: Looking for blue houses? Consider Santorini, Greece or Chefchaouen, Morocco.

My tongue in cheek travel write up with 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy all based on my own experiences and expectations
Sweet sweet Manarola

#14 Find a selfie stick/umbrella salesmen when you need one

I’ve been to quite some places in Italy and one thing you can always count on is a selfie-stick salesman or an umbrella man when you need them. They just magically pop up when the rain comes out. As we had quite a down poor in Cinque Terre, we were in need of an umbrella, but alas.

No such salesmen in Cinque Terre. We only found some people selling plaids at the beach in Monterosso but other than that, no street salesmen.

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#15 Be glad you can go home again

Have you ever traveled to a place and thought: I’ve seen it all, I’m ok that my trip is over and I’ll go home again tomorrow?

Yea, me neither.

But definitely, don’t expect this to happen in Cinque Terre! I found myself already looking at property to rent/buy and daydream what it would be like to have my own yellow house on that cliff and travel to Cinque Terre as much as I wanted.

Which of these 15 things did you NOT expect about travel to Cinque Terre? Are you surprised? Let me know in the comment section below!

You read so much about Cinque Terre in Italy, you have your ideas ready what it will be like. But what is it really like? Read my 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy all based on my own experiences and expectations.
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My tongue in cheek travel write up with 15 things NOT to expect when you travel to Cinque Terre, Italy all based on my own experiences and expectations
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  1. Karen Forleo

    I loved your article. It spoke the truth. Thank you for your honesty and facts people are not expecting. My husband and I just came back last week (May 29), from a month in Italy exploring all the highlights and then quiet under the radar places which we always love. We were quite disappointed in Cinque Terre. Even after all my prepping and research and excitement, it’s not all magical as advertised. We already knew not to stay in the five towns. We chose Moneglia. No one goes there… yet!! . It was extremely clean, quiet, beautiful beach , with lovely dining and shops. The people were towny’s and lovely. We visited 4 of the 5 towns (we thought we should) to check them out and found wall to wall hikers and dirty streets and toilets. It turned us away within 30 minutes of our arrival. We went back to our beach! These towns are extremely beautiful with locals thinking tourism will save them but they can’t handle the masses in such tight quarters and I also feel people were not buying their goods, because they are hiking. If I were to go back, it would be November and shop for holiday gifts on empty streets like we do in Maine. I hope more articles tell the truth as you about tourism so less people are disappointed, prepared and the villages are not ruined. ❤️ Thank you. K

  2. Claudien

    The train that has no scenic views and are overcrowded in Jule does not sound that nice. Is renting a boat then a better option? And which company would you then recommend?

  3. Rachel

    Going in early June with my aunt and 13 year old son. Staying at an apartment in Manarola. This is the tail end of 3-weeks in Europe so the hiking will be needed to work of crepes, fish and chips, and pasta galore! Any tips on great restaraunt she that won’t break the bank?

    1. That is a great way to finish your Europe trip. My advice would be to scope things out during the day, see what you like and make reservations for that evening. All restaurants have tourist prices but a plate of delicious pasta won’t break the bank. In Manarola we dined at la scogliera. A family run restaurant. We took the plate of the day which was super fresh and delicious. I’d recommend to check it out.

    2. Kirsten

      San Martino in Monterosso al Mare!!! It was recommended to us by a local and my only regret is not eating there every night. It’s not fancy but it is inexpensive and the meal was one of the best in my life!

  4. Lisa Scale

    Dreamed of visiting for years, now I have my chance this summer. I have the option of renting a place for a month, can I entertain my kids 10-18 years old for a month there or should I just book for 2 weeks and see a different area of Italy? I can eat gelato all day long!

    1. Wow what a marvellous opportunity Lisa! Depending on where you’re staying, the kids can go to the beach, walk between the villages or play in the water. The area is rather small and expensive. Maybe 2 weeks would be more then enough to explore and relax and then 1 week in Pisa and 1 week in Toscany can be a good option. Italy is so beautiful, it seems like a waste not to explore more. On the other hand, it would be a dream to live in the villages for a month and just ‘be’. Either way, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!!

  5. I must admit I have been keen to visit Cinque Terre after seeing pictures on Instagram. I can imagine the frustration though if it’s so busy it’s hard to take people free photographs (Photography is partly why I travel). I had actually planned to visit a few weeks ago but cancelled my trip for now. Shame some of the hiking trails are closed as well, I was keen to hike between the villages, maybe when I finally make it there it’ll be ok. Any idea how busy it is in September-October?

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