Traveling in the off season is becoming more popular as travelers look for ways to avoid crowds of tourists and save money. The busy or peak season for visiting the Cinque Terre can start as early as Easter week and extend into October making the winter months the off season.
While there are pros and cons to visiting a tourist location like the Cinque Terre during the off season, the ultimate decision is up to you to decide what kind of experience you want to have on this enchanting part of the western Italian coast.
Pro: Less Crowds
As one of the most desirable locations to visit in Italy, the Cinque Terre draws millions of visitors to its gorgeous seaside villages along the coast every year. Travel and Leisure reported that 2.5 million people traveled there in 2015 alone.
That means crowded restaurants, hiking trails, train rides, and just about anywhere you walk can be filled with people. Years ago the Cinque Terre was a string of quiet fishing villages, but news of their beauty spread along with it being an added stop on many cruises and now the Cinque Terre is one of the most visited places in Italy.
While there are ways to avoid the crowds during the peak season, like noting that most people visiting the villages are day-trippers. This means that the evenings and early mornings are the best times to explore the romantic cobblestone streets that attract others to the region. One of the best ways to avoid the crowds of Cinque Terre altogether is to visit during the off season. This is normally during the winter.
In the off season, there are drastically lower numbers of tourists and there are fewer cruises that pass through the villages. If you want to avoid people and have the villages to yourself, this is the perfect time to vacation to the Cinque Terre.
Con: Fewer Locals
However, the downside of fewer crowds means that there’s also fewer locals. Since business is slower, many locals take the opportunity to take time off, revamp their businesses, and go on their own vacations leaving the towns to feel a little empty.
It’s still possible to see fisherman out in the morning and sitting in the few open bars later in the evening. It is probably even more possible to strike up a conversation with them without all the tourists crowding them for a photo (also depending on your level of Italian!).
Of course, a few shops, restaurants, and other services are still available for those who choose to adventure to the Cinque Terre in the off season.
Pro: Lower Prices
While train tickets to the Cinque Terre from nearby major cities and towns may remain the same, flight prices to nearby cities tend to be cheaper during the off season.
Not only can transportation costs be slightly cheaper, it’s definitely easier to find cheaper accommodations within the villages. Typically the cheapest places to stay during the peak season are within La Spezia, but during the cold winter months, it can be possible to find cheap accommodation in one of the five villages. Airbnb and other housing rental sites post lower prices to attract customers to fill their empty rooms that are normally booked out during the summers and busy season.
Con: Fewer Open Businesses
Again, because of fewer crowds, locals tend to close down their businesses for the season for remodeling and to take their own well-deserved vacations.
While all the closed businesses can make the streets feel more empty, there’s also a certain enchanting or magical quality to walking down the alleyways and walkways without the hustle and bustle of tourists. You will still see locals going about their daily life and get to see the charm of a true Italian village without the flashes of a million cameras.
It should be noted that each village’s restaurants have a rotation so that at least one restaurant is open every day and night to accommodate locals and travelers food needs.
Pro: Holiday Decorations
One major reason to visit the Cinque Terre during the off season, especially in the winter, is to see the colorful light displays for the holidays. Each village has its own display in the streets and individual apartments.
In the village of Manarola, the hillside comes alive at night with a full-scale nativity scene lit up with all the usual and even some added characters. Seeing this and the other four villages celebrate the holiday season is worth the trip in the off season alone.
Con: Cooler Weather
One of the major draws of visiting the Cinque Terre during the summer is to have clear, sunny days with full views of the cliff-side villages and to be able to jump into the crystal, clear waters for a refreshing swim after hiking all day. During the winter, this is almost impossible. Although for those with thicker skin, a swim is still definitely available!
It’s very important to check the weather before visiting the Cinque Terre in the winter or off season. There is always a chance of rain (or a rare chance of snow). It is still possible to have clear, sunny days but be aware that the temperature can be cooler and slightly windy. If you prepare for your adventure with a good jacket and warmer clothes, it’s still possible to have amazing views of the Cinque Terre in the winter.
Overall: It’s Up to You!
In the end, the decision is up to you. If you’re looking to take a glimpse of life in a small Italian village, it’s still possible in the Cinque Terre depending on the time of year you visit. The off season provides an opportunity to avoid the crowds and take advantage of lower costs but at the price of fewer offerings and cooler temperatures.
It’s up to you to evaluate your options and make the decision for the experience that you want to have during your time in the Cinque Terre.
Would you consider visiting the Cinque Terre during the off season?