Tips for Visiting Christo’s Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy.

Crowd at Floating Piers-1

Crowd Entering Re-Opended Section at 7:45AM

June 24, 2016 – Just saw on the Floating Piers Facebook page that they are now closing the piers between midnight (last entrance 10PM) and 6AM. I imagine this will create quite a queue in the morning.

Written June 23, 2016

This quick post is for those planning on visiting Christo’s Floating Piers running through July 3, 2016. Since I found very little practical information on how best to reach the installation or manage the crowded conditions I thought I would outline our experience.

I’ll skip the information about what the project is, you can find that here, and focus on the logistics of how to best manage your experience.

We had a hotel room (which we had booked back in mid- January) in Iseo, about 4 kilometers south of Sulzano, the main entrance to the piers. Consequently the information here is mainly based on observations of the transportation between Iseo and Sulzano.

When should you go: We found that the piers were the prettiest in the early morning light when the fabric on the walkways shimmers  gold as if an extension of the surrounding lake.

The piers are supposed to be open 24/7. It’s very busy at most hours except very late, after 10PM or so, or very early, before 7AM. It is best to get there as early as possible. Sunrise is around 5:30 and this is not too early if you are looking for a little space on the piers. The evenings are quite busy as people go to enjoy sunset (about 9:15) or for an evening stroll.

When portions of the walkways are closed due to weather or repairs the front section becomes more crowded and I believe they limit access in general to the installation. The back triangle, i.e., from the island of Monte Isola to the little island, which is at least 2/3 of the project, was closed for repairs from the evening of June 21st until nearly 8AM the next morning. At 7:30 AM there was a mob waiting at the entrance of this section for it to re-open. When everything is normal this back section does seem to have more breathing space even at the busiest times. You can find their Facebook page here for updates on closures.

Transportation to the Piers – Official information can be found here. This is the biggest headache. Once you get to Sulzano there are a few queues but it seems to go relatively quickly.

The local roads leading to Sulzano are closed to regular traffic. Those coming by car are expected to park at one of the many lots around the lake and take a shuttle or train to Sulzano. Here is a map of the parking options. I can’t really offer much advice on parking. Traffic in Iseo was not too hectic and we had little difficulty driving to the hotel.

From Iseo and the other towns around the lake there are 4 options to reach the piers – shuttle bus, train, ferry and by foot.

The shuttle bus has the best schedule, running from Iseo every 10 to 15 minutes between 7AM and 11PM and every 25 minutes at other times, including all night. That is the posted schedule. The reality is the buses don’t seem to run that frequently and are often full by the time they reach the north end of Iseo, the side closest to Sulzano. We tried to take a shuttle around 5:30AM waited for 30 minutes as an empty bus and then a full bus passed us by. As more and more people arrived at the bus stop, we decided to walk instead.

The trains from Iseo to Sulzano are supposed to run about every 30 minutes, but there is only one track between the towns so they too were backed up with long delays. We sat on one train for over an hour before it finally left Iseo. Our friends coming from Bresica at 7AM on June 22nd stood in line while several trains left, finally getting a place on one that eventually reached Sulzano around 11:00. A total of 4 hours for the trip. They were told that their train was the last that would stop in Sulzano and subsequent passengers would have to get off either before or after the town and take a shuttle in.

Ferry seems to be the most reliable form of transport. They leave more or less on time. The ferry from Iseo runs directly to Peschiera on Monte Isola island starting at 9:30AM and running every half hour to every hour and half depending on the time of day. You can make online reservations here for departures but they must be made at least 3 days in advance. 70% of the seats are open to reservations while 30% are held for walkups. Passengers with reservations have priority when boarding.

In Iseo we noticed that at busier times, which is most of the day, there is a queue for the passengers without reservations. Not all of these people made it on the first ferry they were waiting for and had to wait for the following ferry. Returning from Peschiera to Iseo it seemed there was less of a queue and we were able to board on the next departure both in the early afternoon and at around 9 in the evening.

Walking is also a possibility. It’s about 4k from Iseo to Sulzano but they have the road closed to pedestrian traffic near Pilzone, about halfway there. If you want to walk from where it is blocked off you have to climb up a good trail that bypasses the road. If you are used to hiking and walking it’s not so difficult. The initial steep climb takes about 10 minutes. After that the trail is relatively level with a few short additional climbs. This is also an opportunity to see the piers from above although they are pretty far away for a really good view.

My advice is if you are a walker or hiker walk to the piers early, preferably arriving before 7AM, and then take the ferry back. This way you will encounter the fewest crowds and see the Floating Piers in the best light.

Services: Once out of Sulzano town and actually on the piers there are limited food and drink options. On Monte Isola there are a few cafés, generally full, and a larger “food court” past the ferry stop towards the walkway leading to the small island. Toilets are also available near here.

Sun and Heat: There is very little shade and the walkway fabric is very reflective, intensifying the sun’s rays. Therefore sun protection and water are essential.

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28 Responses to Tips for Visiting Christo’s Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy.

  1. Jo Evans says:

    Thank you so much for this, REALLY helpful. We got a bit carried away and booked a day trip from London … It’s totally doable but my main concern is getting back to Milan in time for the return flight. I’m planning this thing to miltary precision! So, I have two questions, how long did it take you to walk between Iseo and Sulzano? We have booked parking at Iseo ferry port and ferry tickets to Peschiera but no return tickets as we couldn’t get the one we needed. How long did you stay there and are the streets of Sulzano as packed as the piers? Would be so grateful for your advice.

    • baidanbi says:

      It took us a little over an hour to walk between Iseo and Sulzano, but we did stop to take a few photos. You should be able to take the ferry back. We took a 1:30 ferry back to Iseo without a reservation. Everyone in line got on. Also, at Peschiera they boarded people who had tickets first and were not checking times. You can try buying a return ticket in Iseo or on board the boat. In in Sulzano it’s a short distance from the train and bus to the piers. That area can be pretty congested, but I dont think the rest of the town is. As for the time on the piers, early in the day we walked the piers in an hour and a half to two hours at a leisurly pace. At busy times, later in the morning, it can get congested in spots, especially around Monte Isola and really slow you down. Starting at Peschiera, if you are short on time, you can skip the walkway to Sulzano and just head towards the smaller island. It’s the nicest section, anyway. I hope all goes well.

  2. baidanbi says:

    Just saw on the Floating Piers Facebook page that they are now closing the piers between midnight (last entrance 10PM) and 6AM. I imagine this will create quite a queue in the morning.

  3. haroldandjoe says:

    Yeah, I saw that too. I think we’ll get the ferry from Iseo then walk back, I’m hoping that will be against the tide of the majority of people (!). We have about 4.5 hours there, so we should be fine… I hope?!

    Thanks so much for your help, really appreciated.

  4. ShaunO says:

    How did the ferry work out from Iseo. We are in Milan now and because of your suggestion will be trying very early tomorrow morning.

    • baidanbi says:

      The first ferry isn’t until 9:30 and without a reservation you may not be able to make the first one. If you want to arrive early and dont want to walk, your better option is to take a shuttle bus.

      • haroldandjoe says:

        We were just there for the day and our plans were to military precision… Which is useless when the car hire company keep you waiting an hour and a half!
        The roads are blocked from Iseo so Iseo is the closest you will get and the Shuttle Bus queue was mental. We missed the ferry we were booked on but thought we’d chance it anyway… The lady checking the tickets turned back the people in front of us witht the wronf time on their tickets but miraculously just sighed at us and let us through. I almost kissed her.
        It was baking hot on Sunday and we planned to walk back to the car at Iseo, which would take an hour +, if you have time to play with, I strongly recommend walking. Far less stressful than the buses.
        So our flying visit was well worth it, if a little stressful… but it all added to the excitement. Definitely an experience. And the Piers are truly wonderful, well worth it.

      • baidanbi says:

        Very happy to hear that you made it to the piers. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience.

  5. haroldandjoe says:

    Sorry, meant to say that our plan was to walk back but it was so hot, we couldn’t face it. I sweet talked a guy in a shop to take us by car for €20.

  6. Christina says:

    Hello! Your post is so helpful. I am planning a trip for my boss and his wife and I am trying to pre-book parking in Iseo. Any advice? Can you let me know how you do it prior to arrival?

    • baidanbi says:

      Thank you Christina. Unfortunately I don’t know anything about pre-booking parking. If anyone does know please comment.

    • haroldandjoe says:

      If you manage to book the ferry, they send you a link to book parking. The car park is not the one at the dock, they are also keeping cars out of the main part of town. There are police and wardens directing you but if you don’t have the printed booking, they’re not keen on helping!

      P.s. I’m a PA too and I feel your pain!

      • haroldandjoe says:

        This is the only way to book it in advance, as far as I know.

      • baidanbi says:

        Thank you Haroldandjoe for the quick reply!

      • Christina says:

        You’re so helpful!! I’m glad someone feels my pain 😉

        So I just went to book the ferry and it appears as tho they’re all sold out. What else would you recommend? Do you think they could get to Pilzone and park there? Any chance you could email me? My email is christina.frankel@2m.com— this is such a difficult one to figure out because I feel like it is constantly changing, day by day. I’m now trying to find a private boat for hire!

      • baidanbi says:

        Hi Christina, I’m going to make this public in hopes that someone can help you. As far as I know you cant drive to Pilzone as they have the road blocked off at Iseo. Other than walking or hiring some sort of private tranport I dont know of a way to avoid the queues at the ferry or shuttle. haroldandjoe what would you suggest?

  7. ShaunO says:

    Ok, Just back to Milan from the Floating Piers. This is what we did and how we were successful. My first bit of advice would be to go as early as you possibly can. We left Milan around 7am and headed to the Capriolo Parking (CAP2) just off the A4. Parking was easy and we purchased our bus tickets and crossed the street jumping on a bus. The drive to the Sulzano drop off spot where you enter the Floating Piers takes about 30 minutes from the CAP2 lot. We had to stand on the bus, but it wasn’t that bad. Next we jumped in the queue and that was probably the most difficult part as It took about 1:50 minutes to enter the piers. You are really packed in there and move through the queue like cattle. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, maybe an umbrella and light clothing. It is very hot and the wait is long as you circle around and then descend to the entry area.

    Once on the pier the fabric is hot as you walk and be mindful of that and hydrate often. My dad almost had head stroke. The bathroom situation is a bit sketchy and not ideal, but we found a small restaurant called “Hosteria Milago” that had cold drinks and AC and you could use the restroom if you bought something. We actually ended up having a delightful three course meal with a couple of beers. We walked the entire pier and then headed back to grab the bus to the parking. It’s a little bit chaotic when looking for your bus pickup area. When the bus arrives it’s a bit of a free for all. Grab a seat if you can as it’s worth it. The bus AC won’t hurt ether after walking those 14,000 steps. Have fun. Be patient, it’s all pretty incredible.

  8. haroldandjoe says:

    Sorry Christina, only just saw this.

    You definitely can’t park at Pilzone, I had planned that but the cops won’t let you through.
    I would advise trying any which way possible to get to the island without starting at Sulzano. The entrance to the pier there is very narrow. I’d check all boat services – not only is it a lovely way to arrive, you’d be starting at the opposite end of the piers to Sulzano. Good luck!

  9. Gert says:

    Thank you for this terrific info! I initially planned a leisurely trip finding my way to Iseo by mid-morning. Thanks to your blog I left my (inexpensive and wonderful) hotel at Bergamo at 5.30 am (Ouch!) on the 29th, took the tunnel road around Iseo with exit in the direction of Pilzone which brought me at the very end of where cars are allowed on the road. There’s a massive parking lot with space for several hundred cars operated by someone who gets immensely rich in these two weeks charging 20 euros per car, but it was worth it. When I got there at 6.15am the lot was already half full. For the more adventurous people: if you drive down from this Galleria Iseo tunnel road down to the lake there are about 40 free ‘illegal’ parking spots along the road that the police doesn’t care about. At 6 am there were only a handful of cars. At 2.30pm this area was packed.
    Since the sun stays behind the mountain up to about 9 am you can take a relaxed walk of just under 4km to the Piers, which should take much less than an hour. It is little use trying to get in line for a bus at this spot, because by the time the buses reach this parking lot they are already filled up to their maximum capacity so its a waste of time standing in line for tickets.
    Arriving at the site at 7am it only took a 10 minutes wait to access the piers. In the mean time, I noticed that the hundreds of people arriving by train had to wait much longer because they weren’t allowed to cross the road.
    From that point onwards everything went smooth. One item I can recommend is to take a short hike up a mountain path to the right just after the second pier landing at Sensole (above the ferry landing). The path has wonderful views of the Piers and ends at a relaxed and moderately priced cafetaria with great lake view. Please note that it quickly gets hot when the sun gets over the mountain, so take a cap and/or some sunblock.
    i did not want to wait for any of these rather irregular ferries so I walked back over the piers to Sulzano and jumped at 2pm on the first shuttle bus heading back to the parking lot. Nobody seemed to worry about buying a ticket (everyone probably bought a return ticket) so I did not insist on getting one.
    The bus took less than 15 minutes to bring me back to the parking lot and few minutes later I was back on the road heading towards Milan Linate airport. At that time the traffic from the direction of Brescia to Iseo was backed up for at least 10km so there’s a good chance that some of these people never got to the Piers that day…
    Only two more days till te end of the event, so if you are still planning to go: get out of bed really early and make sure you get to any of the parking areas before 6am.
    Cheers

    • baidanbi says:

      Thank you Gert for the great tips!

      • Gert says:

        All credits to you for these excellent tips, baidanbi! Thanks to your blog I had a unforgettable and indeed military planned 24-hour trip from Amsterdam to Iseo and also experienced a splendid local ‘capretto with polenta’ (crunchy roasted young goat with two flavors of the polenta that is so popular in Lombardia) at a restaurant in the old town of Bergamo.
        If you love food and hiking I recommend ‘my’ Bussana Vecchia area near Sanremo, just across the French/Italian border. Besides having tho world’s best taggiasca olives and oil and spectacular and inexpensive local food, it has perfect hikes along the French/Italian border (Mercantour) at 2000m altitude and less than an hour from sandy beaches.
        Cheers!

      • baidanbi says:

        Thanks again. Looks amazing from the google images. I will definitely keep it mind for a future visit!

  10. Gert says:

    Oops, one more tip: Check out the webcam at Monte Isola here:
    http://baudoku.1000eyes.de/cam/lineacom/ACCC8E4A7CBC/
    It allows you to do a time lapse of all construction work on the Piers from end of May until today. Nice to store a copy together with your photos.
    For those who are still planning to go and want to get a feel for how busy it is at the entrance of the piers: Here’s the address of the Sulzano webcam:
    http://baudoku.1000eyes.de/cam/lineacom/ACCC8E4A7CBB/

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