A Cinque Terre Alternative: 5 less touristy Italian Riviera destinations

Italian Riviera Destinations

Looking for a Cinque Terre alternative? Check out these five Italian Riviera destinations to get away from the Cinque Terre Italy tourist crowds.  

I fondly remember my first trip to the Cinque Terre in 2010. I was solo traveling through Italy. As you might expect, wine was my focus. But, the Colorado girl in me just had to hike the magical five fishing villages I’d heard so much about.

Today, I steer clear of the Cinque Terre Italy, not because the aesthetics bore me, but because I find the crush of tourists claustrophobic. It’s hurting the natural beauty and the way of life for those who live there. Preservation efforts are being explored in the form of visitor limitations. But, another way to offset the pressure is talking about the other incredible places along the Ligurian Sea. And, that’s just what I plan to do with this starter list of Cinque Terre and Portofino alternative destinations.

Cinque Terre Italy Reflections

I loved every minute of my solo trip to the wonderful Cinque Terre in Italy’s Liguria region. I spent four nights in the northernmost village of Monterosso al Mare hiking two full days, befriending fellow travelers, and soaking in the raw beauty. But by the final day, I realized that nearly every person I met was from the U.S. 

When I moved to Italy and planned a return Italian Riviera trip, I realized I needed a Cinque Terre alternative. I knew the crowds had increased since that first visit and I wanted to explore lesser known parts of Italy. So, I booked a holiday rental in Rapallo – just outside Cinque Terre Italy with a hiking excursion in Levanto, just north of Monterosso. 

About The Italian Riviera: Italy’s Liguria region sits between the south of France and Tuscany. Liguria is a crescent-shaped strip of the Mediterranean coastline centered by port city of Genoa. Running to the east is the Riviera di Levante, the coast of the rising sun,  defined by rugged cliffs, turquoise coves and pastel seaside towns featuring the popular Cinque Terre fishing villages, Portofino, and Santa Margherita Ligure. Further west is the Riviera di Ponente, the coast of the setting sun, which moves up from Genoa to the border of France.

cinque terre travel
Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Liguria.

Day trip to Portofino

The Cinque Terre isn’t the only Italian Riviera destination that is popular with the tourist masses and that’s why if we explore, we get various Cinque Terre alternative options as well as a Portofino alternative.

Portofino is a heavenly escape and a day-tripper must. Just prepare for hefty prices for things like bottled water, sandwiches, etc. Luckily, it’s in a cove, so while it gets a lot of daily visitors it isn’t as intense as the Cinque Terre.

Read More: Portofino, Italy – Believe the Hype!

cinque terre alternative

Efforts to Preserve the Cinque Terre Italy 

At last review, the Cinque Terre sees close to 2.5 million visitors a year. That’s 2.5 million people in these five small, teeny fishing villages with a population estimated at 2000. The tourist number is just a bit less than the population of my beloved former home of Denver, Colo. Granted, that’s not all at once, but tourism is not year-round, so it makes for close quarters in this natural treasure no matter how you spread it out.

Visible wear and tear on the cliffs and beaches tell us that the tourist traffic is taking its toll. Back in 2010, I struggled with the litter on the trails. As a Colorado girl, where we adhere to a strict hike-in-hike-out policy, I couldn’t believe that waste was just left on the breathtaking route.

In an effort to preserve the Cinque Terre it was announced that Italian officials are restricting visitors in hopes of shaving the tourist numbers to 1.5 million. Plans remain in process, but regulations plans include pre-purchased tickets and possibly a mobile app. The initiative may take several seasons to complete full integration.

I am all for it. But, I also think it’s worthwhile branch out to other Italian Riviera destinations. Without further ado, here is my list of five Cinque Terre alternative spots to consider when making your Italy travel plans.

Italian Riviera Map

Alternative #1 as a perfect starting point – Camogli to Cinque Terre

After time in Cinque Terre, we moved Camogli inspired by Steve Coogan’s The Trip to Italy, a hilarious BBC show about two comedians who eat their way through Italy. The pair spends a night at Hotel Cenobio dei Dogi with incredible sea views from a pretty sweet looking hotel terrace.

cinque terre alternatives
The name Camogli is believed to be short for “casa delle mogli”, “house of wives”. It was named for the women who watched over the village while their fishermen husband were at sea.

Camogli is a fantastic Cinque Terre alternative as it is a wee fishing village that caters to a tourist crowd, so they are ready for travelors. But, it’s an Italian tourist crowd, so it feels a bit more authentic. The sun-drenched beaches and village shimmer with pastel colors, glorious boardwalk eateries, and picture perfect views.

If you are into an Italian Riviera destination for the hiking, that’s another reason that Camogli is a fantastic Cinque Terre alternative. It’s an hour drive from Camogli to Cinque Terre. Camgoli offers a myriad of hikes along seaside trails, ranging from 30 minutes to 4 hours. Click for Camogli Hiking Trails.

Read more: A Weekend Guide to Visiting Camogli

And, don’t miss La Sagra del Pesce, “Fish Festival”, one of Camogli’s most popular – and, tasty – events. Each year on the second Sunday of May the village celebrates the patron saint of fishermen, San Fortunato, with a massive fish fry. At the inaugural event in 1952 residents used six small pans for the fry-up. By 1954 they were replaced with a single large skillet that is now the symbol of the event. Today, the stainless steel pan measures 4 meters in diameter with a 6-meter handle, weighs 28 tons, and holds up to 2000 liters of frutta di mare.

Find it! Camogli is an hour drive up the Ligurian coast from the Cinque Terre. It’s connected to the neighboring villages via hills and cliffs along the sea.

  • Camogli by train: Get to Camogli by train via the Camogli – San. Fruttuoso train station.
  • Camogli by car: Use the A12 Autostrada from Genoa to Livorno or take the picturesque route from Rapallo to Ruta. Parking can be difficult as much is reserved for residents. Find free parking at Piazza Matteotti and Via San Rocco. Paid parking is available in Via Cuneo and Piazza Matteotti. If all else fails, head to the pay lot near the Gulliver shopping center (direction Genoa), which offers regular shuttle service to the town.

Alternative #2 Levanto to Cinque Terre

I learned of Levanto from my younger brother during a hiking weekend along the Ligurian Coast. So, we decided to first reach Levanto then to Cinque Terre to explore the beauty.

Levanto is a great Italian Riveria vacation destination for hikers. It is about 4 miles / 6.4 km from the northernmost Cinque Terre village of Monterosso al Mare. If you want to move from Levanto to Cinque Terre, it takes around 20 minutes by car. 

Levanto is widely loved for its long sandy beach. Italians love their beach time and is home to some of Italy’s biggest waves, making it a popular destination for surfers from all over Europe.

The city also has a diving center right on the beach.

Find it! From Levanto, you can also easily reach the Cinque Terre by boat, train and car.

  • Levanto by train: Take the local train service that connects all the nearby villages from Genoa to the north and Pisa to the south.
  • Levanto by car: As with most all of the seaside towns along the Ligurian Coast, roads into the region are narrow and winding. But, Levanto has a lot of parking options.
  • Levanto by foot: There are a few different trails that will lead you to Levanto from the Cinque Terre – or vice versus. Get details at the tourist office and read Hiking the Cinque Terre and Levanto for details on terrain, distance, difficulty, and more.

Alternative #3 La Spezia to Cinque Terre

La Spezia may be the original Cinque Terre alternative with budget travelers have been using this primary port town as a base camp to explore the Ligurian Coast and surroundings.

La Spezia has great train access, economical lodging, and beautiful scenery. In the 19th century, the city received a charge to its economic and industrial development when the Count of Cavour ordered the building of the naval dockyard.

cinque terre alternative
The city is blessed with temperate warm conditions of mild winters and long summers days. It is an ideal destination for all seasons.

La Spezia is the main city along the Riviera di Levante, situated at the heart of the Golfo dei Poeti, the Gulf of Poets. The Gulf was named in honor of poets Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and the other famous poets, writers, and artists who spent holidays or parts of their lives in the beautiful villages and towns that dot the gulf.

Read more about Golfo dei Poeti and another Cinque Terre alternative, Portovenere. My Girl’s Gotta Drink pal Georgette of Girl in Florence has a great 36 Hours in Portovenere itinerary. 

The city itself has plenty to explore, from the various parks and gardens to a host of museums. There are plenty of delicious seafood options for dining and tons of wine bars for aperitivo. Enjoy local drink and try the lovely white Pigato that is indigenous to Liguria. A perfect pair with all the fish options.

Find it! 

  • La Spezia by train: La Spezia is serviced by the La Spezia Centrale, a frequent stop for visitors heading to the Cinque Terre and other Italian Riviera destinations.
  • La Spezia by car: Take Autostrada A12 exit to La Spezia or Autostrada A15, exit La Spezia. After the exit, follow signs to the main town.

Alternative #4 Rapallo to Cinque Terre

Rapallo, one of my go-to Cinque Terre alternative choices. I’ve done a few trips there now and one of the things I like best is how central it is to other Italian Riviera destinations. From Rapallo, quickly and easily reach Santa Margherita, Portofino, and Camogli. All accessible by ferry, car, or on foot. By train, visit the Cinque Terre, Levanto, and more.

Cinque Terre Alternative: Rapallo
Rapallo. Just outside of the main hustle and bustle of Rapallo’s Centro Storico, you will find many holiday rental options and parking. Fiat 500 not required (just fun!

The picturesque resort town is the largest along the Italian Riviera. It offers a host of seafood restaurants, the Rapallo Castle, a lovely seaside promenade for leisurely walking, plenty of museums, and numerous lodging options for all price points. Rapallo’s boardwalk is a favorite visitor attraction. It looks out over the water to the large harbor and is flanked by a small medieval castle, now mainly used for exhibitions.

Read about my first holiday there with tips on where to eat and visiting nearby Italian Riviera locations: The Italian Riviera: Rapallo.

Find it! Rapallo can be found along the Ligurian Coast on the Tigullio Gulf. It’s situated between Portofino and Chiavari.

  • Rapallo by train: The Rapallo Train Station is centrally located and accessible via many major train stations and other Italian Riviera destinations.
  • Rapallo by car: Use the A12 Autostrada and take the Rapallo exit.
  • Rapallo by boat: Ferry access to / from Rapallo via Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, and San Fruttuoso. Some ferries routes run to Cinque Terre, Portovenere, and Sestri Levante from July to September. Check the Tigullio Ferry Schedule for details.

Alternative #5 Finale Liqure to Cinque Terre

A mountain biker’s paradise! And, hikers like me won’t be disappointed either. I first visited Finale Ligure when some friends came out for their honeymoon. It’s just under 2 hours from Alba and the furthest north Cinque Terre alternative on this list.

An Italian Riviera destination for those looking to break a sweat – hiking, biking, and climbing give you amazing views of the area and the Italian Riviera. While Jeff hit the trails on his rented mountain bike, Carrie and I did a 6 mile / 10k hike. It was labeled as a difficulty level of easy, but these two active Colorado gals agreed, that was hard.

finale ligure travel
Most beaches along the Italian Riviera are rocky, but Finale Ligure offers a resort-style setting with sand and palm trees dotting the waterfront.

Cinque Terre alternative of Finale Ligure is made up of three small villages: Finalmarina, Finalpia, and Finalborgo. In the first two, you will actually find sandy beaches as well as resort amenities – sandy beaches aren’t so easy to come by in these here parts. It’s usually rocks, rocks, and more rocks. The inland portion of Finalborgo – about 1k (.6 miles) from the sea front is a medieval walled village complete with shopping and dining.

High above in the lush, exotic countryside of deep, narrow valleys and caves you find the hiking and cycle trails.

Find it! Finale Ligure is located about 65 km / 40 miles from Genoa. Finale Ligure by train:

  • Finale Ligure by train: Finale Ligure Marina Train Station is located in Finalmarina. Direct train connections run from Genoa  and Milan. 
  • Finale Ligure by car: Take the A10 Autostrada that connects Northern Italy and France.

Liguria Experiences: Plan your Italian Riviera vacation! 

Now that you have your list of Cinque Terre alternatives, start planning your Liguria experiences!

My services go beyond Barolo! Here are three favorite Liguria travel experiences with Girl’s Gotta Drink clients, but there are a ton more I can organize, as well a logistics! For more options, pricing, and availability, click here.

Trek & Taste: Cinque Terre Wine Tour

A private 7-hour Trek and wine tour in Cinque Terre Italy led by your private guide, visit the picturesque fishing villages, wander the tiny squares and alleys framed by the seaside.

Visit Cinque Terre vineyards overlooking the sea to understand the soul of the land. Get up close and personal with the ancient terraced vineyards that shape the magical seaside landscape. The experience includes a visit to well-known local winery for a tour and tasting with the winemaker. Visit his cellar, vineyards, and taste local wines with traditional snacks. 

Private Boat Ride: Portofino, Believe the Hype

Discover Portofino and its surroundings aboard a private motorboat. Admire breathtaking cliffs, explore secluded coves, and if you choose, swim in the clear blue water. The experience includes a visit to the shimmering San Fruttuoso cove with its medieval abbey built right on the beach. While snorkeling, see the “Cristo degli Abissi”, a famed underwater statue. Finish in the charming fishing village of Camogli. Other boat experiences available on request. 

Genoa Food Market & Pesto Making Class

Private 4-hour walking tour exploring Genoa’s biggest food market followed by a pesto-making class under frescoes at a private noble palace. Spend the morning in the port city’s largest – and lively – food market. A food lover’s paradise: breath in the fresh-baked focaccia, local cheese and meat stalls, and bakeries. Explore handmade pasta stands, rows of fresh fish, and colorful local produce. Enjoy the wine from Italy expert travel agency – Girl’s Gotta Drink.

Your sensory immersion continues with a pesto-making class led by a local culinary expert using traditional pestle and mortar. After the lesson, enjoy a light lunch with traditional specialties. Optional: Ligurian wine tasting & education.

Book your Liguria experience now! 

Got a Cinque Terre alternative or two to share? Please, let us know below! We are always looking for an excuse to venture to the seaside! 

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