Cinque Terre or Amalfi Coast: A Guide to Help You Decide

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“Should I visit Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre?” Sooner or later, if you are planning a trip to Italy, you are going to be asking this question.

Similarities abound between Italy’s two most famous coastlines. Both feature impossibly picturesque villages of pastel edifices perched on cliffs high above the Mediterranean. They’ve both got legendary hikes, quaint harbors, trattorias you’ll never want to leave, incredible sunsets, the freshest seafood, limoncello to take home, and romance galore.

Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands”, is both a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Northwest coast of Italy. Amalfi Coast, also UNESCO designated, lies on the southwest coast, a quick skip from Naples, Pompeii, and mighty Mt. Vesuvius.

Look into either one and I guarantee you‘ll be equally drawn. We first fell in love with Cinque Terre on our honeymoon, then a few years later return to Amalfi Coast with our kids. I don’t think we could choose a favorite, so ideally, you should try to visit both in your lifetime (and I can almost guarantee, if you go to Italy once, you‘ll be back again).

But similarities aside, there are also some key differences between Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast. In this article, I‘m going to cover a number of points of comparison to help you decide which one is better for you, Cinque Terre of Amalfi Coast. 

Cinque Terre Vs. Amalfi Coast: Obvious Differences

Cinque Terre Vs. Amalfi Coast
Cinque Terre on the left and Amalfi Coast on the right

First of all, so we are on the same page here, these are some of the most obvious differences between Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre.

Location-wise, Cinque Terre is in Northern Italy (La Spezia province in the Liguria region, part of the Italian Reviera coast) while Amalfi Coast is in Southern Italy (Salerno province in the Campania region). Cinque Terre is relatively close to Florence and Milan, while Amalfi Coast is very close to Mt. Vesuvius and Naples.

Both are on the country’s west coast, but Cinque Terre faces the Ligurian Sea and Amalfi Coast faces the Tyrrhenian Sea (both seas are part of the Mediterranean). The villages of Cinque Terre mainly face to the southwest, while those of Amalfi Coast face more directly south.

In terms of size, Amalfi Coast is more than twice as large. Cinque Terre is 39 square kilometers, while Amalfi Coast occupies around 113 square kilometers. Cinque Terre’s coastline is about 18 kilometers while that of Amalfi Coast is around 40 kilometers.

Cinque Terre has, as the name suggests, five main villages, while Amalfi Coast has 13. Cinque Terre’s permanent population is roughly 1500, while more than 5000 people call Amalfi Coast home.

In Summary: Amalfi Coast is larger, most populous, and has more villages than Cinque Terre. Amalfi Coast is in Southern Italy and Cinque Terre is in Northern Italy.

The Villages

Cinque Terre has five main villages (hence the name Cinque Terre or “Five Lands”), while Amalfi Coast has 13 main ones and several smaller ones.

Cinque Terre

Manarola, Cinque Terre
Manarola village, the classic view of Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre’s five villages are, from north to south, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

La Spezia is a medium-sized city just south of Cinque Terre, and is point of access for the coast.

Amalfi Coast

Is Amalfi coast suitable for kids?
Positano, the most famous village on Amalfi Coast

The 13 villages of Amalfi Coast are typically considered to be, from west to east, Positano, Praiano, Furore, Conca dei Marini, Amalfi, Atrani, Ravello, Scala, Minori, Maiori, Tramonti, Cetara, and Vietri sul Mare.

Some of the above are not right on the coast (Ravello, Scala, Tramonti), while some smaller coastal villages (such as Erchie) don’t make the list.

Though not technically on Amalfi Coast, Sorrento is a very popular seaside resort northwest of Amalfi Coast. East of Amalfi Coast, Salerno is a major city and capital of Salerno Province.

Which one is Easier to Get To?

Both Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre typically involve one or more connections to reach. Which one is easier to reach depends on where you are coming from in Italy.

Cinque Terre

Manarola Train Station, Cinque Terre
The single railway line that connects the five villages of Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is more easily accessed by train from destinations in Northern Italy. Getting from Bologna, Pisa or Florence to Cinque Terre, you’ll need to get the train to Spezia then transfer to the local train heading north. From Turin, Milan, or Venice, you’ll catch a train to Genoa and transfer on onto the local train heading south. You can even visit Cinque Terre on guided day tour from Florence.

Getting between the villages of Cinque Terre, most people rely on the train, as there is no major road connecting the villages. There are also hikes and ferries between villages, and some very limited mini/electric bus routes.

Amalfi Coast

A ferry stopping at an Amalfi Coast town
The ferry is the best way to travel between the villages of Amalfi Coast.

Amalfi Coast is easier and faster to get to from Rome because it usually requires fewer connections. If you don’t mind a long day, you can even get to parts of Amalfi Coast or nearby Pompeii as a day trip from Rome.

For places on the coast west of Amalfi village, you’ll get to them via Sorrento. There are also direct high speed ferries from Naples to Positano, the most famous village on Amalfi Coast. You can even visit Amalfi Coast as a day tour from Naples, including a stop at Pompeii.

For places east of Amalfi Village, you’ll get to them via Salerno, which has direct connections on the high-speed train to Rome. As you can see Amalfi Village is a transportation hub in the middle of Amalfi Coast. All buses and ferries coming from either direction terminate there.

The villages of Amalfi Coast are connected by regular ferries and SITA buses plying the notoriously winding Amalfi Drive. Unlike Cinque Terre, the village you choose to stay in on Amalfi Coast can have a big impact on how long it takes to get there.

The Bottom Line

While getting to either one usually involves one or more connections, Cinque Terre is easier to get to from places in Northern Italy, while Amalfi Coast is easier to get to from Rome, Naples, and other places in Southern Italy.

Which One is More Beautiful?

Both Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast are stunningly gorgeous. Is it possible to choose a clear winner?

Cinque Terre

The pastel colors of Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre’s five villages are the stuff of dreams: cliff-hanging pastel-colored homes, expansive views of lapis-blue seas, quaint fishing ports, and verdant hills with lemon orchards as a backdrop.

Being a national park, there are restrictions on development, and the lack of cars is especially notable.

Amalfi Coast

Visiting Ravello with kids

The views in Amalfi Coast are undeniably comparable to those in Cinque Terre, while the village of Positano is particularly dramatic. But being quite a bit larger and having more villages, Amalfi Coast perhaps offers a larger diversity of landscapes and views.

The Bottom Line

Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast are equally drop-dead gorgeous. They have similar scenery but different views. It’s impossible to choose one over the other.

Which one is Better with Kids?

People visiting Italy with kids will be attracted to Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast for similar reasons, but also find similar challenges (i.e. tons of uphill staircases) in each of them. So which one is the smarter choice?

Cinque Terre

Some kids runnign up a staircase in Cinque Terre

The ease and quickness of getting between the five villages of Cinque Terre by train is a major plus. With very young kids, you’ll probably be limited to Vernazza, the flattest village. You may also consider Monterosso, which has the only sandy beach.

There are no attractions aimed specifically at kids, but families who consider themselves backpackers rather than tourists may prefer the vibes at Cinque Terre. 

Amalfi Coast

Our kids on the Amalfi Coast, Italy
My kids on Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast without a doubt has a wider range of luxury and family-friendly accommodations. Sorrento, which is not on Amalfi Coast but is an access point to it, is a mecca of kid-friendly resorts, most of which have pools. Many families choose Maiori village due to its flatness and very long beach.

Riding the ferry between villages can be fun, but avoid the super winding bus at all costs. Our kids really enjoyed learning how paper was traditionally made at the kid-friendly Museum of Paper in Amalfi village. Read all about our trip to Amalfi Coast with kids here.

The Bottom Line

Amalfi Coast is the winner when it comes to family-friendly accommodations, but Cinque Terre is more compact and quicker to get around. If you plan to take your kids to Pompeii, then Amalfi Coast is a clear choice, while Cinque Terre is a better choice if you’re visiting other destinations in the north.

Which One Has More Things to Do?

You surely won’t get bored in either Cinque Terre or Amalfi Coast. But for people who can’t sit still on vacation, which is the better choice?

Cinque Terre

La Scogliera, Manarola, Cinque Terre
We did a lot of this in Cinque Terre…

Since we visited Cinque Terre on our honeymoon, we found it to be a highly suitable place for doing pretty much nothing (besides lots of eating and drinking, of course). It is romantic and low-key.

Having said that, there are some great hikes, kayaking, and you can easily pass your days by hopping on the train and exploring each of the villages. Moreover, because the villages are closer together, you can actually visit more of them in a short period of time than you might on Amalfi Coast.

Amalfi Coast

My wife and kids at Amalfi Cathedral
Amalfi Cathedral, one of the must-see attractions on Amalfi Coast

Because it is larger and has more villages, Amalfi Coast definitely has more things to do for activity-seeking visitors. The famous island of Capri, including the stunning Blue Grotto, is a short boat ride away.

There are more beaches, such as the long ones at Maiori and Vietri sul Mare, as well as some secret “hidden”” ones. Ravello has unbelievable clifftop garden villas, Amalfi Cathedral in Amalfi village is unmissable, and Vietri sul Mare is the go-to place for pottery and ceramics.

Shopaholics will also find more places to spend their money on Amalfi Coast, and food-lovers will find more restaurants to choose from.

The Bottom Line

Amalfi Coast has more things to do overall, but those sights are more spread out. Cinque Terre is more low-key and conducive to doing nothing, but still has enough to keep energetic visitors occupied.

Which One has Better Food?

Italy being one of the world’s great culinary destinations, we can’t leave out the food. So where will your tummy be happier, Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre?

Cinque Terre

Focaccia Bread in Cinque Terre
Local focaccia shop in Cinque Terre

On our honeymoon in Italy, we loved the food in Cinque Terre more than anywhere else we visited on that trip. Both pesto sauce and focaccia bread are thought to have originated in the area. As budget travelers, we loved the focaccia shops, where you could buy a slice with a variety of toppings. The area also makes its own olive oil, as well as limoncino from those huge olives growing behind the villages. There is also, of course, lots of seafood and gelato on offer.

Overall, because Cinque Terre is smaller, you won’t find as many restaurants there, especially upscale ones. We did however LOVE the gourmet meal we had at Dau Cila, a cave restaurant in Riomaggiore.

Amalfi Coast

Anchovies on toast, one of the most famous Cetara foods
Anchovies, one of the specialties of Amalfi Coast

On Amalfi Coast, we loved the food just as much as Cinque Terre, but there were different specialties. Like Cinque Terre, there was loads of seafood and pasta on offer, but the pizza on Amalfi Coast was especially good (no big surprise, as Naples is just around the corner). Lemons are also used to make a limoncello, which you’ll see everywhere.

Amalfi Coast definitely has a wider selection of restaurants than Cinque Terre because it so much bigger and sees so many more visitors, especially big spenders. Because of this, there are more five-star restaurants, but you’ll also have to pay a lot more for them. We also found the gelato shops in the major tourist centers like Positano and Amalfi to be especially overpriced.

On the flipside, because my wife and I are seafood-obsessed, we stayed in the off-the-beaten-track fishing village of Cetara on Amalfi Coast. Cetara is famous for its tuna, anchovies, and colatura di alici, a flavorful fish sauce that dates back to Roman times. If you are a seafood lover, I would highly recommend staying in this village.

The Bottom Line

Both regions have amazing food, especially seafood. Amalfi Coast has more restaurants overall to choose from, especially upscale ones, so it probably wins in the food department. Amalfi Coast excels at pizza, while pesto and focaccia are especially associated with Cinque Terre.

Which One Has the Best Beaches?

Both Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are known for their rocky coasts, so proper beaches are something of a rarity. There are still some, though. Let’s talk about which ones are the best.

Cinque Terre

Lack of beaches is a bi difference in Cinque Terre vs Amalfi Coast
Monterosso al Mare has one of the only beaches in Cinque Terre

Because the coast of Cinque Terre is rocky, it is not known for its beaches. Only Monterosso has a proper sandy beach. There are a few more that are hard to get to or outside of the national park. See more info about those here.

Amalfi Coast

Hotels along the beach in Maiori, Amalfi coast
Long stretch of beach at Maiori

Most of the villages of Amalfi Coast have their own small beach, but they are made up of pebbles, not sand. Maiori and Vietri sul Mare have proper, long, sandy beaches. There are also some amazing hidden beaches on Amalfi Coast. It’s also worth noting that because it is further south, the beach season is longer on Amalfi Coast.

The Bottom Line

If beaches are a top priority for you, then Amalfi Coast is the undeniable winner here.

Which One Has the Best Hiking?

Dramatic cliffs meet the sea in both Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, and so hiking opportunities abound in both regions.

Cinque Terre

Looking down on Corniglia from the Manarola to Corniglia hike, Cinque Terre
Hiking between Cinque Terre villages on our honeymoon

There is a gorgeous hiking trail connecting all five villages of Cinque Terre, called the Blue Trail. It takes about five hours from one end to the other, not counting stops.

However, the sections between Riomaggiore and Manarola, and Manarola and Corniglia, are presently closed due to landslides and set to reopen in 2022. There are numerous other smaller hiking trails in the national park. 

Amalfi Coast

Path of the Gods, the most famous hike in Amalfi Coast
Path of the Gods, the most famous hike in Amalfi Coast

There is also no shortage of hiking possibilities on Amalfi Coast. But rather than connecting villages along the coast, which have more distance between them, many of these walks take trekkers up into the hills backing the towns. Il Sentiero degli Dei, or “The Path of the Gods”, is the most famous one.

The Bottom Line

Both regions offer dramatic hiking opportunities, but we especially loved being able to hike between villages in Cinque Terre and then taking the train back.

Which One is More Touristy?

The final point I want to address is the overall vibes of Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast. If you’ve already read up to this point, then you probably won’t be too surprised to find out which of them is more touristy.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre sunset
A few visitors taking in the sunset in Cinque Terre

Both Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast are very touristy. We visited both in the shoulder season (May in Cinque Terre and late September in Amalfi Coast), and I would have to say that Cinque Terre felt way more low-key to us.

Many people say that Cinque Terre has more of a backpacker’s vibe, and I would have to agree with that. Accommodations tend to be family-run guesthouses & B&Bs like these, appealing more to the budget-conscious and those who would rather not even see, let along stay in big resorts.

If you come at the peak of summer, though, you will still find Cinque Terre overrun with tourists.

Amalfi Coast

Is Amalfi coast family friendly? These are the typical crowds in Amalfi village
Crowds of tourists on a shopping street in Amalfi Village (not even high season!)

Amalfi Coast is without a doubt more touristy. The towns of Positano and Amalfi village feel more like a hangout for the rich and famous, and package tourist central, respectively. Things are also priced accordingly. We visited in late September, and couldn’t believe how many tourists were there. I can’t even imagine what summer is like.

There are way more luxury resorts and accommodations, too (trying search for the best ones here). If you want a fancy pool with an insane view, you won’t be short of options.

Having said that, Amalfi Coast is really big, and parts of it are not touristy at all. When we stayed in the fishing village of Cetara, we felt we were the only tourists in town, and nearby Erchie was even more off-the-grid.

The Bottom Line

Both are touristy. But generally speaking, Cinque Terre has backpacker vibes while the main villages of Amalfi Coast are ultra-touristy. However, it’s very possible to get off the beaten track on Amalfi Coast.

And the Winner is…

Choosing Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre for your trip to Italy is certainly not an easy decision to make.

Because both of them are so rewarding in so many ways, I would say that the easiest way to make a decision is this: Plan out the other places you intend to visit in Italy first. If your trip is focused on the north, then adding Cinque Terre makes sense. If you’re going to Naples or other places in the south, choose Amalfi Coast.

If you’re short on time, Cinque Terre is smaller and easier to explore. With kids, Amalfi Coast has more family-friendly accommodations and things to do but takes more time to explore. Both have amazing food and hikes, but Amalfi Coast has better beaches.

Last but not least, Cinque Terre will appeal more to backpackers and Amalfi Coast to upscale tourists, but it is also possible to get off-the-beaten-track on Amalfi Coast.

I hope this has helped you to decide which one is the best for you, Cinque Terre or Amalfi Coast. I’m sorry if you came here hoping that I would declare a winner. Life (and traveling in Italy) just isn’t that simple!

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