Sprinkled along the rugged Ligurian cost in Italy lay five charming villages. Famed for their colourful houses and quintessential Italian charm, Cinque Terre is a popular tourist spot for visitors all over the world.
During the summer, the entire coastline becomes filled with hikers, selfie stick carriers and instagrammers all wanting to take in the splendour of the area and get that perfect photo (can you blame them!). With around 2.5 million people visiting every year, is it even possible to avoid the bulk of the other tourists?
The answer is yes! Our visit took place during late December, when the hiking paths are empty and only the locals remain within the maze of alleys contained within each village. There are certainly pros and cons to visiting in every season, but let me explain why our visit in the winter was oh so special.
Not sure where to stay in Cinque Terre? Check out my full guide here
Pros to visiting Cinque Terre in the Winter
Empty hiking paths
One of the top things to do in Cinque Terre is to complete the hiking trail that runs between the five villages. Don’t panic if you’re not a keen hiker, there’s also a very frequent train!
During the summer, sections of the hiking trail have an entry fee and the whole place becomes a lot more regulated to deal with the swarms of people wanting to use the same narrow footpaths. We completed the 15km trail over the course of 2 days and saw maybe a total of five other groups along the way. I think that speaks for itself!
World’s largest nativity scene
Something you’ll absolutely not get at any other time of the year, for obvious reasons, is a glimpse at the world’s largest nativity scene!
Spread across the hills above Manarola are a whopping 15,000 lights, giving life to a striking nativity scene by retired railroad worker Mario Andreoli.
There are some quintessential photo spots across the Cinque Terre. You’ve all no doubt seen them over on good ol’ insta. One of the highlight spots for me was the viewpoint over Manarola at sunset, which you can reach by heading towards the famous Nessun Dorma restaurant. Now visiting in winter gives you two additional benefits:
- Less people (that’s a running theme here).
- The sun sets way earlier, meaning you don’t need to hang around all evening in this spot waiting. I’m talking go catch the sunset and then off for dinner and enjoying the rest of your night.
Depending on your viewpoint you can argue this as either a pro or a con. We all know Italy as a gorgeously hot destination in the summer, but do you really want to go hiking up and down hills for 15km in 30 degree heat? No? Me neither.
We were blessed when visiting in December that the weather was a very pleasant 12-14 degrees. This meant that we could both complete the hike without too much sweat and also stay outside long enough to watch the sunset without getting too cold.
I had one goal when searching through Airbnb for this trip: I wanted a cute apartment with a balcony overlooking one of the towns.
In the off season you have an absolute tonne more options available to you and, better yet, they’re probably around half the price that they would be in the summer months.
We ended up staying in an old traditional Italian apartment spread over three floors with views out over Riomaggiore from the balcony for £72 a night. The very same apartment in mid July goes up to £133 a night so you really are saving quite a chunk! You can check out where we stayed here.
What about cons?
Of course it’s called the off season for a reason, if everything was perfect everyone would visit at this time of the year!
There are only really two main points I’d say for this section:
Restaurants are closed
Each one of the Cinque Terre is absolutely full to the brim with different bars, restaurants and cafes. In the summer this is a necessity as otherwise there simply wouldn’t be enough spots for people to grab a bite to eat.
In the off season the only people that remain are the locals (and the occasional tourists like us!). To give you a sense of scale, the resident population of all five towns added together is 4,000. It’s estimated that around 2.5 million people visit each year, so it makes sense that in the winter mostly everything would be closed.
Now don’t get me wrong, there will still be things like small supermarkets open so you can opt to stay in an apartment with a kitchen and cook meals for yourself. I also heard that the ‘unwritten rule’ among locals is that at least one restaurant in each village will stay open in the colder months, so it wont be impossible to go out to eat – just far less choice!
We managed to eat out in Manarola, Vernazza and Riomaggiore (where we were staying) and went with a mixture of eating out for lunches/dinners and cooking in the apartment. This worked well for us, but it really depends on your preferences with these sorts of things!
Yes, I have already mentioned this as a plus but hear me out. As I said, we were lucky to have very pleasant weather which was perfect for what we were there to do.
In the colder months the weather can get a lot more unpredictable so do factor this in – you may be caught in the heavy rain and it’s worth having a think of what you’d do if that happens. Generally the activities in Cinque Terre are focused around being outside and exploring the towns/local hikes, if the weather took a turn for the worse I’m not too sure what there is to do other than wait around and hope it improves.
It’s also worth mentioning that the sea temperature will vary drastically when compared to the summer, so unless you’re a fan of cold water swimming (shout out to Wim Hof) then don’t expect to be taking a dip. In summary: it won’t be a time for sunbathing!
And there we have my pros and cons to visiting Cinque Terre in the Winter. Is it worth it? I certainly think so!
Lots of love,
The Chaos Diaries