The Best Time To Explore This Popular Italian Town And Avoid Crowds, Per Rick Steves

Hailed by some as the most picturesque village in the Cinque Terre, Vernazza is a dream destination for many. However, to fully enjoy its beauty, Rick Steves suggests visiting this popular Italian town after dark. This is the only time you can avoid the crowds and peacefully enjoy this quaint town — a very rare experience. To put this into perspective, the Cinque Terre villages have a combined population of about 3,500 people, with Vernazza accounting for 729. On average, these villages welcome about 10,000 tourists daily. For locals, this means the streets are filled with 3.5 times the number of people compared to their population, a level of unimaginable congestion you likely want to avoid.

But how could such a small Italian town get so popular? Naturally, one might think due to its idyllic beauty and unique history, of course! Vernazza, known once as Castrum Vernatio, has roots dating back to A.D. 1080. It served as a key naval base and played a pivotal role in Genoa's triumph over Liguria. Since then, the colorful village has been built below steep cliffs that encircle the harbor, with the nearly 1,000-year-old medieval Doria Castle and fortress standing guard to the sea on a stony bluff. Decades ago, Vernazza, now a UNESCO World Heritage site along with the rest of the Cinque Terre, was a serene, fairy-tale destination for travelers. However, the real surge in its popularity can be attributed to the massive, uncontrolled influx of Instagram tourists and cruise ship day-trippers.

Vernazza for the night owls

To combat the disruption caused by such an overload of tourism, listening to advice from travel experts like Rick Steves is wise. For starters, you'll want to skip town during the day, as this is when most people arrive for their day trip. Go for a hike or find somewhere out of town to enjoy. But when that historic bell tower of Santa Margherita D'Antiochia chimes, let it summon you into an after-dark special with Vernazza. As dinners conclude and restaurants begin cleaning up for the night, you will experience magic in the warm-lit streets of the town. On this Italian evening ritual of la passeggiata, you will find opportunities to give thanks at a tiny chapel or drop into a local bar, where Steves recommends enjoying some Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine.

Who knows where the night might take you? Allow your heart to steer you through one of Italy's most romantic little towns. Should your heart steer you toward the sea before 10:00 p.m., consider visiting Belforte, a family-owned restaurant with over 50 years of reputation. Its cliffside tables provide breathtaking views of the Ligurian Sea for an unforgettable dining experience. Alternatively, seek solitude by the beach, where you can enjoy the flow of the waves — a rare privacy in Cinque Terre. And, if you're really looking to maximize your quality time in Vernazza, consider traveling in April or November, as May through October is usually the busiest.

Dodge the crowds before 10 a.m.

If you aren't much of a night owl, Steves also suggests traveling to Vernazza before 10:00 a.m. when the village is still waking up, offering a serene start to your day. You'll feel like you have the town all to yourself, especially at a charming Italian restaurant with views of Cinque Terre's only natural harbor. Ananasso Bar, for example, welcomes early risers from 8:00 a.m., a contrast to many other establishments in Vernazza's old town, which typically open at 10:00 a.m. at the earliest. Remember, you've arrived ahead of the crowd! Take this moment to unwind and be present while savoring your morning cappuccino as you breathe in the rejuvenating sea air.

Once you have had your fill and snuck in a breakfast pastry (perhaps a cornetto or bombolone), walk to an artisanal market like La Bottega. Open at 9:00 a.m., La Bottega is a gold mine for goods such as local produce, handmade souvenirs, and more. Or, since you're ahead of schedule, it's an ideal opportunity to explore Vernazza's viewpoints before they become too crowded mid-day. Have your hiking boots handy and tackle Cinque Terre's renowned Blue Trail, which crosses through Vernazza and the other towns. But first, you'll need to purchase the Cinque Terre Hiking Card, available for 7.50 euros or $8 for a day pass or 14.50 euros or $15.60 for a two-day pass. So, don't get caught in the crowds, take Rick Steves' advice, and "keep on travelin'."