When it comes to spectacular views and cute seaside towns, both the Amalfi coast and Cinque Terre of Italy make for excellent destinations. So deciding between them can be a little difficult, especially if you’ve never been before!
Trying to pick between the Amalfi coast and the Cinque Terre? Here’s help!
From Florence or Milan, the Cinque Terre; from Rome or Naples, the Amalfi coast
Here’s one easy way to decide between the two coastlines: the Cinque Terre is located on the coastline in northern Italy, while the Amalfi coast is in southern Italy. So one stretch of coastline might be much easier for you to access than the other!
From Florence, you can get to the Cinque Terre in about 2 hours, either by car or train. From Milan, you can drive to the Cinque Terre in a little under 3 hours, or get there by train in 3.5 hours.
The Amalfi coast, meanwhile, is better accessed from Rome or Naples. From Naples, it’s just an hour on the local Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento. From Rome, you either can take the train first to Naples and then switch to the Circumvesuviana train or to a ferry (the fast train from Rome to Naples takes only 1 hour 10 minutes). Or you can take the train directly from Rome to Salerno, on the other end of the Amalfi coast (the fast train takes just 2 hours). (Check out our blog post on why you might want to consider staying in Salerno as an alternative to Sorrento or other Amalfi coast towns!).
For warmer weather, the Amalfi coast
If you’re coming in the shoulder season—say, April or October—then remember that the weather will be balmier, and drier, the farther south you go… so the Amalfi coast might be a better bet. That’s also true because when it rains in the Cinque Terre, the famed hiking trails can get washed out.
If you’re coming at the height of summer, on the other hand, the Cinque Terre tends to be slightly cooler.
For hiking, the Cinque Terre (maybe)
The Cinque Terre is famed for the hiking paths that link the five towns, and with reason. They’re spectacular! With gorgeous views of the sea and even of the towns themselves (we love the path that comes into Vernazza, giving you a beautiful panorama of the village from above), they’re a must-do for any hiking enthusiast.
That said, there are a couple of caveats. First of all, these paths get very crowded in the high season, roughly from May through September. Secondly, they’re also extremely narrow, with steep, sheer drops to one side—so if anyone in your party is slightly unstable on their feet, or scared of heights, we don’t recommend them! (Instead, stick to the Via dell’Amore, the wide, flat, paved path that links Manarola and Riomaggiore).
The Amalfi coast, on the other hand, has some great hiking, too. We especially love the Sentiero degli Dei, or “Path of the Gods.” (And check out our blog post on hiking in Italy beyond the Cinque Terre for more ideas of where to hike and trek in Italy!).
For sightseeing and day trips, the Amalfi coast
Yes, both the Cinque Terre and Amalfi coast have spectacular, seaside views. But when it comes to “sights” of the historic or cultural variety, the Amalfi coast has the Cinque Terre beat. The list includes the gardens and villas of Ravello, the historic cathedrals of Amalfi Town and Salerno, and a number of (small) museums, including the ceramics museum in Vietri sul Mare, paper museum in Amalfi, and Roman villa museum in Minori. And that’s not to mention all of the attractions in Salerno alone, including its castle.
The Amalfi coast is also better-positioned, and better-connected, for day trips to other major sights. Depending on where exactly you’re staying, you can easily day-trip to Capri, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Paestum, and Naples, among other options. So when it comes to “sightseeing,” the Amalfi coast has our vote. (Don’t miss our post on five must-see sights on the Amalfi coast!).
For 5-star hotels and restaurants, the Amalfi coast; for a more backpacker-ish feeling, the Cinque Terre
The Amalfi coast’s history as a posh resort area means it’s chock-full of luxury hotels and 5-star restaurants. (Of course, you also can find economical B&Bs and a more laid-back atmosphere, especially in more off-the-beaten-path towns like Ravello, Vietri sul Mare, and Salerno). But the main centers definitely have a little bit more of a “resort” feel to them, especially Positano.
The Cinque Terre, on the other hand, has developed as a tourist destination in more recent years. So the establishments in the Cinque Terre tend to be cheaper, family-run B&Bs, rather than high-end, luxury resorts. That also means that, while there are just as many crowds in the Cinque Terre as the Amalfi coast, they tend to be of a different variety: There aren’t a ton of backpackers heading to, say, Positano any more, but you will still see them trekking the Cinque Terre.
For spine-tingling drives, the Amalfi coast
The road that winds along the Amalfi coast is world-famous for its gorgeous views, adrenaline-inducing curves, and sheer drops to the water. If that sounds great to you, head to the Amalfi coast—the Cinque Terre doesn’t have anything equivalent (in fact, it’s usually better to take the fast, cheap local train between the five towns).
Just remember that, while renting a car and driving the Amalfi coast road is recommended for confident drivers only, the SITA bus, which follows the same route, gets quite crowded (and hot) in the summer.
For super-authentic, non-touristy, small-town life, neither
We might not make friends by saying this… but if what you most want to experience is a slice of authentic, traditional Italy, then neither area is your best bet. It’s not that it’s impossible to find authentic, small-town life in these regions. It’s just that many other parts of coastal Italy are much less touristic, and therefore better for experiencing the rhythms of Italian life.
Of course, this isn’t that surprising. The Amalfi coast has been a major tourist destination since at least the 19th century. As a result, its most famous towns, particularly Positano, Amalfi Town and (even though it’s not technically on the Amalfi coast) Sorrento, are primarily resort towns.
Many people seeking out “authentic” seaside Italy, therefore, head to the Cinque Terre instead of the Amalfi coast. But ever since the Cinque Terre blew up in popularity a few years ago, that atmosphere has dissipated. Yes, these five little towns were once authentic fishing villages. And yes, many of the establishments there remain small, family-run operations. But the towns themselves are now almost completely reliant on tourism; fishing makes up relatively little of the local economy. The result?
The Cinque Terre villages feel a little more quaint than some of the Amalfi coast towns. But they’re just as full of B&Bs, restaurants, and souvenir shops—and especially in high season, you’ll hear much more English than Italian spoken.
If your top priority is getting a feel for authentic, Italian fishing villages, therefore, we recommend a different region altogether, like Puglia (here’s our list of reasons to visit Puglia, in pictures!), the Tuscan coast along the Maremma, Le Marche, or Sicily.
If you’re set on one of the two areas, though (and we don’t blame you—touristy or not, they’re both spectacular!), try going in the off season and heading off the beaten path. (Here’s more on what to expect in the Cinque Terre in the off season). On the Amalfi coast, we like towns like Vietri sul Mare or Salerno for their more local, authentic feel.
Have you visited the Amalfi coast or the Cinque Terre? Which one did you prefer? Let us know in the comments!