If you are looking for a place to spend a few days in total peace, where you can focus only on taking 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 information about when to visit, what to pack and everything you need to know about the best photography locations in the Cinque Terre.
The magical landscapes of Cinque Terre in Italy. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Do you know what “Cinque Terre” means in Italian? It translates to “Five Lands”, which is 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 have probably already heard of some of the towns that make up the Cinque Terre: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. These tiny villages were all built upon steep cliffs lining the edge of the Ligurian coast. Back in the day, the towns thrived on fishing, though now the main source of income is tourism. Fishing is still in practice, but nowadays is mostly to serve restaurants and tourism activities in general.
The colourful houses of Cinque Terre. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
The colourful houses that you will spot whilst wandering around these towns, together with the breathtaking views that you can enjoy from the harbours and the viewpoints, are just a couple of reasons why the Cinque Terre have become so famous.
The best way to explore these places is to get there by car or train. Most people will often find it quite difficult to drive all the way to the Cinque Terre, due to the narrow roads and the traffic in some points. However, this is the best way to travel the Cinque Terre so that you can take your time to visit each single town and stop over until late without having a strict schedule to follow.
The trains in Cinque Terre are well-connected with the city of La Spezia. There is 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.
Cinque Terre is very easy to visit! Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
There are certain times of the year when it is best to visit the Cinque Terre for landscape photography. Let's go through each season now together as we take a look at the pros and cons.
Summer is considered the 'high season' in Cinque Terre (and generally in Italy), so you will probably find many masses of tourists wandering around.
It’s not the best time of the year to travel to the Cinque Terre for photography, because you won’t get any interesting sky and you’ll barely see a wave in the sea. However, it's a great time to visit if you are looking for a relaxed trip with friends or family with a lot of sunbathing and swimming involved.
In addition, the sun rises early and sets fairly late during summer, making it difficult to get any sleep overnight if you're doing photography!
Summer is a great time to vacation in Cinque Terre. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit if you want 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. While there is no foliage or lush green fields to shoot here, you will likely witness some great weather conditions together with the raging sea.
During spring and autumn, the chances of dramatic conditions are much higher than during summer! Passing storms are more common during these seasons, so with a little bit of luck, you will be able to capture some incredible seascapes, for sure.
The sunrise and sunset times are also way more reasonable in autumn and spring than during summer. Most of the hotels and restaurants will still be open and the temperatures are just perfect from morning until evening. You will find way fewer tourists around too, which is not a bad thing!
Spring and autumn are the best times for photography. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
The winter season is also a good choice for photography in Cinque Terre, since the chances for you to capture some great landscape photos are still high. You will have to deal with colder temperatures though, together with many activities (including restaurants) being closed for the low season. In addition, there will also be higher chances of rain. The days will be quite short with the sun setting around 5pm in the afternoon, so you will also have less time to do sightseeing and to visit the towns.
On the other hand, you’ll have the chance to wander around with absolutely no tourists getting in your way, just a few locals chatting outside a cafè. This is the only time of the year where you will 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.
Winter is dramatic in Cinque Terre. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Now that you know which time of the year is the best to explore Cinque Terre, I'll go over what is absolutely necessary for you to bring with you, what is highly recommended and what is not going to be useful so that you can leave it at home!
Clothing depends on the season you'll be travelling in. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
The kinds of clothes that you’ll need to bring with you on a trip to Cinque Terre will depend highly upon the season that you’ll be travelling:
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 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 the 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 pack at least a good weatherproof jacket and some warm sweaters, since low temperatures and wind can make you feel cold if you don’t dress for the season. A pair of jeans or long pants and some comfortable winter shoes will be fine. Rain is a possibility, so be sure to have at least the outer layers waterproofed.
Make sure your clothes are waterproof. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
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 your equipment to the test, but there are a few factors to be taken into consideration when we talk about shooting in Cinque Terre.
Saltwater can cause a lot of damage to your camera in Cinque Terre. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
In a place like the 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 well.
However, you should take into consideration one thing: saltwater. If you go close to the sea, you’ll want to be really careful not to get any saltwater in your camera, because it will cause a lot of damage to the electronic components, even if just a few water drops manage to get inside. If your camera is not weather-sealed, you will have to pay even more attention to keep your equipment safe.
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 or back elements, as well as inside the lens.
These are the lenses that I recommend 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 shoot these towns generally from up close and you’ll want to capture as much of the landscape as you can, so you'll need a really wide lens to be able to do that.
A standard zoom lens is great for shooting in Cinque Terre. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Standard Zoom Lens: I highly recommend that you bring at least a standard zoom lens when shooting in Cinque Terre. 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.
A telephoto lens allows you to capture abstract details. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
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 lenses that can fit into your backpack easily without adding much weight, then by all means take it with you. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother. You will hardly ever mount it onto your camera. Trust me.
A tripod is essential for shooting at night. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
I would never recommend leaving 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 will be impossible for you to shoot in low light conditions like the blue hour or twilight, to make some long exposures to capture the sea or clouds in movement and to get creative in general.
You won’t need a huge, heavy tripod for Cinque Terre though: the weather conditions allow you to take whatever tripod you have got. However, it should be sturdy and stable enough to avoid blur and camera shake.
Filters allow you to achieve creative effects. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Neutral density (ND) and graduated neutral density (GND) filters are especially important in a trip to the Cinque Terre. Consider that you are going to find yourself mostly shooting with the sea in the frame and you’ll want to get some silky water effect; you can have that effect at twilight without filters, but if you are aiming to make your best shots during the golden hour, then a good set of ND filters should always be in your backpack.
Sometimes they are not necessary, whereas sometimes they may transform your dull shot into a beautiful one. If in doubt, take them with you!
Other accessories can help you to expand your creativity. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
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 also have at least one spare battery, in case you are using the live view mode of your camera a lot (it drains batteries really fast!).
Lastly, a remote control so that you can avoid shaking the camera while you click the shutter button is a great accessory to have, especially during long exposures.
These are the accessories that I always have with me when I travel in Cinque Terre!
The beautiful lights of Cinque Terre. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
In this section of the article, you will find all the information you need to capture the best shots at each of the most popular locations in Cinque Terre, such as when is the best time of the day to be there, where you need to stand to capture those famous photos that you saw on the Internet and much, much more. So, keep reading and take notes!
Manarola. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
I guess that you may have seen a couple of shots of this place before, especially if you have already done a bit of research about Cinque Terre.
Manarola is by far the most famous and popular town, and probably the most beautiful for photography.
You can capture the classic view (like in the photo above) from the path that starts at the marina and goes to the right (if you are watching the sea); this path originally led to the town of Corniglia until a few years ago, when a big flood completely destroyed a large part of the trail. It’s not accessible anymore, so the path is just a nice 5 minute walk that leads to this viewpoint and the local cemetery.
You can get another composition (like the one in the photo below) from the lower part of the marina. Instead of following the path that leads to the viewpoint I was talking about before, go straight down to the sea instead and you’ll find these beautiful rocks, which are perfect as a foreground.
The best time of the day to be here is sunset, since you get the last light of the day hitting the town; the late blue hour also is magical, especially when the town starts to light up, so be sure not to leave right after the sun has set – stand there for an hour more and you’ll be rewarded!
If there are some interesting clouds in the sky, then sunrise is also an option, since the sun will rise from behind the hills.
Riomaggiore. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Riomaggiore is really close to Manarola, not more than a 10 minute drive or a 5 minute ride with the train. If you don’t have much time to spend around there, you can try to visit the two towns in one single day; an option can be to shoot the golden hour in Riomaggiore, then to take the train to Manarola and shoot the blue hour there. It’s a rush, but if you don’t have time then it’s a valid option.
In Riomaggiore, you will find the most popular shot by going all the way down to the marina and then following the stairs on the left. When you reach the top, you will be at the viewpoint from where you can take a composition like in the photo above.
Another possible composition is down on the rocks, like in the photo below. To arrive there, just return down to the marina from the viewpoint and start walking on the rocks until you reach the point you prefer. Lately though, the local administration has closed that part to the public (probably to renovate the wall above those rocks) and nobody knows yet when they will open it again.
Like in Manarola, the best time of the day to shoot is sunset, since you will get a nice side-light in autumn or spring and winter. During summer, it is possible to catch a sunstar behind the buildings.
Vernazza is another town of the Cinque Terre: it’s a 15 minute drive from Manarola or a 10 minute ride if you take the train. This town should be, without any doubt, on your “to go” list, no matter how little time you have in the area.
Vernazza. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Talking about photo compositions, you can go really crazy here: to start, the most famous take on this place is the one from above the town centre, like in the picture above. You can arrive at this viewpoint by following the signs for the trail that leads to Corniglia (if you are following the main road to the marina, the trail should be on your left; from the train station, you return up a little bit and you should start to see the signs); you will walk through vegetable gardens for 5 minutes or so, with some steep ascents, but then you’ll arrive here and all the effort will be repaid.
Another composition is from the very bottom of the town, from the marina of course! Once you are there, start walking on the right and you should see a path that is skirting the houses; follow that, and you’ll be in the exact place where I took the shot below. It’s a nice spot to play with long exposures to get some movement in the shot.
As for the other places, sunset as well as blue hour is always the best option for all the compositions. If you’ll be there for sunrise, then I suggest you go down to the marina rather than at the viewpoint at the top of the town, as you'll get a better shot.
Portovenere. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Portovenere technically is not part of the Cinque Terre. It lays at the end of the “Golfo dei Poeti” (“Gulf of Poets” in English) and it’s a 50 minute drive from the Cinque Terre or a 40 minute ride by train.
Even though this small village is not one of the Cinque Terre, it is nothing short of beautiful. It is definitely worth a stop if you are travelling in the area!
The shot that you see above is probably the most famous composition of this place. You’ll have to walk all the way to the church that you see in the photo (there’s only one way to go there when you are at the start of the town, you can’t go wrong) and from the church, you can follow the path that leads up to the top of the town. On the way up, you’ll encounter a viewpoint from where you'll be able to photograph the famous view. It feels complicated to explain by words, but it’s actually easy to find!
There’s one more composition here which you can see in the photo below. This perspective is even easier to achieve because you’ll find it right in front of you when you are at the church.
Like in all the other landscape photography locations on this list, it’s best to be there at sunset, since you'll have the sun setting right in your face. I highly suggest playing with some long exposure effects – you’ll be amazed by the results!
Portovenere. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
In the last part of this article, I want to give you a bit of general information about travelling in Cinque Terre hassle-free – tips that will hopefully save you some time when you are shooting on-location.
The official language of the Cinque Terre is Italian; however, since these places are famous all around the world, you won’t have a hard time finding someone who speaks English. However, don’t expect the locals to speak fluent english, especially the elders.
In Italy, the local currency is the Euro (€). Credit and debit cards are commonly accepted in restaurants and hotels, but you won’t be able to pay for everything with cards. Small expenses are usually paid in cash here (coffee, breakfast, even in small grocery stores), so be sure to always have some cash with you.
Cinque Terre is a beautiful place to visit for photography. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
3G/4G connections are pretty much available everywhere in the Cinque Terre, so if you have a phone plan that allows you to roam with accessible costs abroad, then go for it.
If you have to rely on WiFi connections, then you’ll find them mostly in restaurants and hotels. However, many of them though won’t work well or they will be really slow, so I really recommend that you come here with the roaming option activated on your Internet plan.
The Cinque Terre is a unique place for photography! Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
Now that you've got my top tips for visiting the Cinque Terre, I really hope you'll have a great time when you come here for photography! You’ll be enchanted by these small villages, trust me; I live one hour away from Cinque Terre and I have been there a bazillion times, but I still get excited every time that I visit. The thing that captures my heart the most is the overall atmosphere, the mood that you'll feel while you are there. Even if you are not in the wilderness, it’s a great place to slow down, relax and enjoy life!
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