The Best Time to Visit Cinque Terre
(and a bunch of other useful tips!)
If are looking for a place to spend a few days in total peace, where you can focus only to take some beautiful pictures, enjoying some spectacular sunsets with the sun “falling” into the sea and where your biggest problem will be to choose whether the next glass of wine will be red or white, well.. Look no more, because the Cinque Terre is exactly the place you were looking for.
In this comprehensive guide to the Cinque Terre you will find many useful tips and informations about when to go, what to bring there and a description of all the best photography locations in the area.
1. Some Background Infos about Cinque Terre
Do you know what “Cinque Terre” in italian means?
Literally, it translates as “Five Lands”; not that romantic anymore, eh?
These so-called “Five Lands” are actually five small fishing villages located on the italian coast, just a bit south of Genova and 2 hours north-west from Florence; the name of this region is Liguria and it borders with Tuscany, another famous part of Italy. You probably already heard some of these towns names: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore (from west to east).
These tiny villages are all built on some steep cliffs of the Ligurian coast and while, back in the days, they were living just on fishing, now the main source of income is tourism for sure; fishing is still in practice, but nowadays is mostly to serve restaurants and tourism activities in general.
The colorful houses that you can spot wandering around these places, together with the breathtaking views that you can enjoy from the harbours and the viewpoints are just a couple of reasons about why the Cinque Terre became so famous nowadays.
The best way to explore these places is to get there by car or train; most of the tourists will have quite an hard time driving all the way to Cinque Terre, mainly for the narrow roads and the traffic in some points, but in this way you’ll be able to take your time to visit each single town and stop there till late (or sleep there) without having a strict schedule to follow. The train, as I was saying before, it’s also an option: they are well connected with the near city (La Spezia), and there’s a train stop in every single town, so if you don’t feel like driving you can always use the train to move around between the Cinque Terre.
2. When to Visit Cinque Terre?
Let’s see now when is the best time of the year to visit the Cinque Terre; we’ll go through each season together, highlighting the pros and cons.
- Summer: I’ll start by saying that summer is considered high season in Cinque Terre (and generally in Italy), so you will probably find many masses of tourists wandering around.
Photography wise it’s not the best time of the year, because you won’t get any interesting sky and you’ll barely see a wave in the sea. It’s a good time if you are looking for a relaxed trip with friends or family with a lot of sunbathing and swimming involved, not at all instead if you want to capture some dramatic landscape shots of these towns. Sunrise and sunset times are really early/late too, so it’s also going to be exhausting to follow your photography schedule for many days.
- Spring/Autumn: now, this is the time you should come if you aim to get some epic shots of the Cinque Terre. I’m talking about these two seasons together since photography wise conditions are pretty much the same. Of course there is no foliage or lush green fields to shoot here, what are you looking for are great weather conditions together with the raging sea; during spring and autumn the chanches to get these conditions are much higher than during summer! Passing storms are more common during these seasons, so with a little bit of luck you will capture some incredible seascapes for sure.
Oh, sunrise and sunset times are way more reasonable than summer, most of the tourism activities (hotels, restaurants, etc) are still open and temperatures are just perfect from morning to evening. You will find way less tourists around too, which is not bad!
- Winter: the cold season is also a good choice since the chanches to capture some great landscape photos are still high. You will have to deal with colder temperatures though, together with many activities (specially restaurants) that are closed for the low season and higher chances of rain. The days will be quite short with the sun setting around 5p.m. in the afternoon, so you will also have less time to do some sightseeing and visit the towns.
On the other side, you’ll have the chance to walk around with absolutely no tourists, just a few locals chatting outside a cafè probably. This is the only time of the year where you get to see the real essence of Cinque Terre, so if your travel motto is “to live like a local”, this is the season you should be here for sure.
Come with us.
If you want to really explore Cinque Terre, then you should follow us in our Classic Cinque Terre Photography Tour!
3. What to Pack
The kind of clothes that you’ll need to bring with you on a trip to Cinque Terre will highly depend on the season you’ll be here:
- In summer temperatures will be really high (around 30 Celsius degrees/90 Fahrenheit degrees during the day and always more than 20 Celsius degrees/70 Fahrenheit degrees during the night), so you can travel really light and pack just a few shirts and short pants; be sure to pack also some comfortable shoes even if you don’t plan to do any hiking.
- In autumn and spring temperatures will be colder of course compared to summer, but still warm enough to walk around with some jeans and a sweater (around 20 Celsius degrees/70 Fahrenheit degrees during the day and around 10/15 Celsius degrees/50 Fahrenheit degrees during the night); in case of rain, take a waterproof jacket with you so that you won’t get wet.
- In winter you’ll need to bring with you at least a good weatherproof jacket and some warm sweaters, since temperatures and wind can make you feel cold if you don’t dress for the season. Some pair of jeans/long pants and some comfortable winter shoes will be fine. As for spring and autumn, rain is a possibility, so be sure to have at least the outer layers waterproof.
3.2 Camera Gear
The worst kind of weather that you can get in Cinque Terre is a little bit of rain with some gusts of wind; not exactly the conditions that put to test your equipment, but there are few factors to be taken into consideration when we talk about shooting in Cinque Terre.
In a place like Cinque Terre you won’t need a high-end weather sealed camera body to battle the elements, so any D-SLR reflex, mirrorless or micro 4/3 camera will do the job greatly.
Anyway, you should take into consideration one thing: salt water. If you go close to the sea (please, pay a lot of attention if you plan to do that) you’ll want to be really careful not to get any salt water in your camera, because it will cause a lot of damages to the electronic parts if some water drops manage to get inside. If your camera is not weather sealed, you will have to pay even more attention of course.
The lenses are even more fragile than the camera body, so you’ll need to be really careful when you are close to sea about not getting any water splashes or water drops on the front/back glasses or inside the lens.
Let’s see now what lenses you should always have with you when travelling in Cinque Terre:
- Wide-angle Lens: this is going to be your workhorse for most of the trip. A lens that will cover the 15mm-30mm focal range is fundamental in Cinque Terre: you’ll shot these towns generally from up close and you’ll want to capture the more of the landscape as you can, so you need a really wide lens to be able to do that.
- Standard-Zoom Lens: I’d highly recommend to bring with you at least a standard lens, something in between 24mm and 105mm is perfect. Sometimes you want to zoom in a little bit from the whole scene to capture some smaller details, and you’ll need a lens like this to do that.
- Telephoto Lens: to be honest, a telephoto lens is not really useful when travelling in Cinque Terre.
If you have something small and light, like one of the newest 70-200mm f/4, that can fit in your backpack easily without adding much weight I would take it with me, otherwise I wouldn’t bother. You will hardly ever mount it on your camera, trust me.
I would never recommend to leave for a place like this without a tripod. You should pack your tripod even before your camera, because it’s going to be essential during the whole trip.
Without a tripod, it would be impossible for you to shot in low light conditions like the blue hour or twilight, to make some long exposures to capture the sea/clouds movement and to get creative in general.
You won’t need a huge, heavy tripod for Cinque Terre though: the acceptable weather conditions allow you to take whatever tripod you got. It should be sturdy and stable though to avoid blurry or shaking pictures, always remember that.
I won’t even bother to tell you how much ND/GND filters are important in a trip like this. Consider that you are going to find yourself mostly to shot with the sea in the frame and you’ll want to get some silk water effect for sure; you can have that effect at twilight without filters, but if you are aiming to make your best shots during the golden hour a good set of ND filters should always be in your backpack.
Sometimes they are not necessary, sometimes they transform your dull shot into a beautiful one; if it was for me, I would have no doubt about taking them with me!
3.2.5 Other Accessories
Just in case you get some water drops or splashes on your lens, it’s always good to have a cloth to clean it up quickly; remember to take at least a couple of those with you.
It’s nice to have also at least one spare battery, in case you are using a lot the live view mode of your camera (it drains batteries really fast!).
Lastly, a remote control so that you avoid shaking the camera while you click the shutter button, specially during long exposures.
These are the accessories that I always have with me when I travel in Cinque Terre!
A Quick Getaway.
If time is not on your side, we have the right option for you: a day photo tour where we’ll shoot from sunrise to sunset!
4. Other Useful Tips
The official language is the italian; however, since these places are famous all around the world, you won’t have an hard time to find someone that speaks english in hotels, restaurants, etc.
Anyway, don’t expect the locals to speak fluid english, specially the elder ones.
In Italy the local currency is the Euro (€); credit/debit cards are commonly accepted in all the tourist activities like restaurants, hotels, etc, but you won’t be able to pay everything with cards. Small expenses are usually paid in cash here (coffee, breakfast, even in small groceries stores), so be sure to always have some cash with you.
3G/4G connections are pretty much available everywhere in the area, so if you have a phone plan that allows you to roam with accessible costs abroad, go for it. Instead, if you have to rely just on wifi connections, you’ll find them mostly in restaurants and hotels; many of them though won’t work well or they will be really slow, so I really recommend to come here with the roaming option activated on your internet plan.
Want to know the best spots?
We wrote an article to list all the best photo locations of Cinque Terre. You’ll thank us later.