Italy

Which Italian Coast: Cinque Terre vs Amalfi Coast

October 11, 2016

If we got to pick one country in Europe to explore for another month, it would probably be Italy. But, since most of us are working with limited time and budgets, we have to make hard decisions. And one of the hardest decisions when traveling to Italy is Cinque Terre vs Amalfi Coast. Both are stunning coastlines with delicious food, jaw-dropping views, amazing hiking, and crystal clear aquamarine water to dive into. We managed to squeeze in both these past few months, so we’re breaking down the pluses (and a few minuses).

Positano, Italy | Beautiful views on the Path of the Gods

1 Location

Amalfi Coast (AC): The Amalfi Coast is in the Campania region, with Naples as its closest major city. The train ride from Naples to Sorrento, the northern gateway to the coast, is about an hour. From Rome, add another one to three hours depending on which train you take.

Cinque Terre (CT): The Cinque Terre is in the Liguria region in the northwest of Italy. It’s about an hour train ride from Pisa and about two from Florence.

2 Atmosphere

AC: Positano is a place to be seen. As we hiked into town down from our path on high (Il Sentiero degli Dei, or the Path of the Gods), I felt severely underdressed in hiking shorts and tennies as I trailed an older lady in a crisp white crepe pant suit and Ferragamo loafers. It didn’t get much better as we hit the boardwalk and a young lady was flip flopping in Valentino’s.

Positano and Ravello are posh, but the smaller towns have a much more laid back feel. We loved exploring some of these less visited towns, like little Cetara, where we seemed to be the only ones not fluent in Italian.

CT: None of these coastal towns are the remote fishing villages they once were, but the Cinque Terre has much more of a relaxed, backpacker feel. You’re more likely to be following someone in hiking boots than high-end Italian shoes.

3 Beauty

AC: Italy is beautiful. Its coasts are beautiful, its towns are beautiful, and the Amalfi Coast is a crown jewel. The towns are more whitewashed than colorful, and my favorite part was the domed churches decorated with majolica tiles. For twenty stunning photos of the Amalfi Coast, check out our post here.

CT: The Cinque Terre feels more quaint and more colorful. The towns have distinct endings and beginnings, perfectly nestled into their spot in the cliffs. For a photo guide to the five lands, see our post here.

Positano, Italy

Vernazza, Italy | The Cinque Terre

4 Beaches

AC: While the Cinque Terre is more popular for hiking, the Amalfi Coast is more popular for swimming, or more accurately, lounging. Most of the pebbly beaches are covered in sun beds and brightly colored umbrellas, which you can rent for about €10 a day. The water is warm and clear, perfect for swimming as the water is typically quite calm.

CT: Monterosso features the best typical beach, with a large stretch of soft sand and bright blue waters. Other places to enjoy the water include the harbor area in Vernazza, Guvano beach, a nude beach just outside of Corniglia, a small, sheltered swimming cove in Manarola, and a rock beach just a few minutes away from the harbor in Riomaggiore. If you’re looking for more sand to stretch out on, Levanto, one train stop north of Monterosso, also has a large beach and boardwalk.

Beach in Positano, Italy

Monterosso, Italy | The Cinque Terre

5 Hiking

AC: The main hike in this area is Il Sentiero degli Dei, or the Path of the Gods. The path starts in Bomerano (which is great, because the little bakery near the center of town, Panificio, has the most delicious pastries). It winds through Nocelle, and then leads you down 2,000 steps into Positano. There’s a number of other hikes too. One of the coolest walks was going down the mountain from Ravello to Minori on a stair path through the houses that hug the steep hillside.

CT: The Cinque Terre has some of Italy’s best hiking, with so many options beyond the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path). All of the trails we trekked along the cliffs offered breathtaking views of the deep blue Italian sea and the colorful towns that dot the coast. For more information on hiking in the region, check out our post here.

Amalfi Coast, Italy | Beautiful views on the Path of the Gods

Cinque Terre Italy Corniglia Italian Riviera trekking Sentiero Azzurro or blue path

6 Food

AC: Italy is one of those countries where it seems you can’t really go wrong with the food, as long as you’re not in a total tourist trap. As part of the Campania region, you’ll find DOP buffalo mozzarella for pizza margherita, large, juicy lemons for limoncello, and the freshest seafood and pasta for spaghetti alla puttanesca. The Amalfi Coast, and especially Positano, is known for its five star hotels and fine dining. With plenty of Michelin star restaurants to choose from, you’ll be sure to have an amazing dining experience. But, you can still find plenty of good eats if you’re on a budget. With our serious sweet tooth, we loved the regional pastries like sfogliatelle, flaky pastries filled with sweetened ricotta, and pasticciotti, warm custard and cherry encased by buttery pastry dough.

CT: The five towns that make up the Cinque Terre are part of the Liguria region of Italy. It’s know for pesto alla genovese, focaccia, and being on the coast, seafood. After hiking the first leg of the Sentiero Azzurro, we indulged in every little osteria in Vernazza, snacking on amazing focaccia, bruschetta and fritto misto. In the evenings, we dived into simple but flavorful dishes, like giant bowls of clams cooked in butter and lemon and gnocchi with pesto.

Seafood Pasta on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Focaccia in the Cinque Terre, Italy

7 Transportation

AC: Getting around the Amalfi Coast is kind of an ordeal.

Train

Trains only reach the edge towns of Sorrento in the North and Salerno to the South, so on land you’re stuck dealing with the roads in a bus, car, or scooter to reach the towns in between.

To get to Sorrento from Naples, use the Circumvesuviana trains. The Circumvesuviana station is just beneath the Naples Central Train Station (Napoli Centrale), and it takes a little over an hour to get to Sorrento. You’ll need a NA5 Ticket – €4,50 (valid for 180 minutes). You can also use the 3 day  Campania Arte Card Tutta la regione for transport. In the Campania region (which includes Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Amalfi Coast) this card covers buses, the metro, funiculars and the Circumvesuviana trains.

If you’re coming from Rome, you must first take a train from Rome to Naples, then the Circumvesuviana train from Naples to Sorrento.

To get to Salerno from Naples, use the TrenItalia trains from the Napoli Centrale. Tickets cost around €4, and you can also use the 3 day Campania Arte Card .

SITA Bus

Once you’ve reached Sorrento or Salerno, your only option for public transit on land to reach the towns in between, like Amalfi Town, Positano and Ravello, is the SITA Bus. The roads are narrow and windy with sheer cliff on one side. Before whipping around a curve, the local SITA bus drivers only give a quick honk and glance in the mirror before plowing through. There was no way I was driving on those roads, so we stuck to the bus, which was inconsistent and overcrowded. There were several times when the bus was simply too full, so we had to wait for the next one to come.

The buses from Sorrento and Salerno both end in Amalfi. This means that if you want to go from Salerno to Positano, you must first take the bus from Salerno to Amalfi Town, then another bus from Amalfi Town to Positano. Due to the irregularity and overcrowding, this can make travel along the coast very time-consuming. If you’re planning on exploring the Amalfi Coast by bus, the most convenient home base is Amalfi Town as it’s the main connection for the buses.

Car

If you drive (and heaven help you), you’ll have the added nuisance of trying to find parking, which I’ve heard is extremely difficult even in the winter.

Scooter

A scooter would’ve been a fun option, but wasn’t practical for us with a baby. I just hope you have fast reflexes to dodge the buses zooming through!

If you want to opt out of the roads entirely, you can rent a boat or take a ferry.

CT: Compared to the Amalfi Coast, transportation in Cinque Terre is a breeze.

Train

There’s a train that shuttles you through the cliffs to connect all five towns, sandwiched by La Spezia to the south and Levanto to the north. For more information on which train pass to buy, check out our blog post here.

Trains come frequently from Florence and Pisa to La Spezia, where you can make a quick transfer and head off to the tiny town of your choice.

Ferry

Cinque Terre also has a convenient ferry option, that stops at Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore and Portovenere. It skips Corniglia as this village is on top of the cliff. A daily ticket for the whole line is €30, while roundtrip fares between villages start at €7.

8 The Weather

AC: As the main draw in the Amalfi Coast is the sea, the best time to visit is April through September. We visited in the middle of August, when almost every Italian hangs up their “in vacanza” sign and heads to the beach. Despite the crowds, we were still able to find a spot on the pebbly spiagge and enjoy the views from up above while hiking.

CT: If you’re visiting for the water, then mid-May through mid-September is ideal. If you’re there for the hiking, you can stretch it from mid-March to mid-October. Both regions have a Mediterranean climate, but the northern coast tends to be a few degrees cooler than the south.

The region swells with visitors in the summer months, and is largely a ghost town (or 5 little ghost towns) during the winter months. We visited the Cinque Terre in May, which was a great combination of being cool enough to hike yet warm enough to jump in the water (though it was a bit chilly). Plus, it was not totally overrun with tourists yet, which makes for a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience.

9 Day trips

AC: There are almost an endless number of amazing day trips from the Amalfi Coast. While Capri may be touristy, we could easily forgive the crowds to enjoy the beautiful views, great swimming, and the absolute best gelato we’ve had in Italy at Gelateria Buonocore (and we’ve eaten a LOT of gelato in Italy). The other islands of Ischia and Procida are also fun to visit. If you feel like adding in a bit more history, Pompeii, Vesuvius and Herculaneum are reachable. We think Naples deserves more than a day trip, but still worth a visit if you’re short on time.

CT: Cinque Terre tends to be a place to day trip to instead of a place to day trip from. It’s worth spending a few days there, and if you want to explore other parts of Italy, you’re probably better off finding a more convenient base. That said, close day trips that aren’t technically Cinque Terre are Levanto, with its large beach and boardwalk, and Portovenere.

See more of our photos here: Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast


Amalfi Coast or the Cinque Terre? We managed to visit both, so we're breaking down the pluses (and a few minuses).Which Italian Coast? Cinque Terre vs Amalfi Coast | We've been to both, so here are the pluses (and a few minuses) of each stunning coast.

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21 Comments

  • Reply Lucy October 12, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Great article, Kelly! Absolutely loved this post! The pictures are amazing, you have me daydreaming of Amalfi, one of my favourite places!

    • Reply nomanbefore October 12, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Thank you, Lucy! We can’t wait to go back!

      Love your blog. You share so many beautiful and interesting places in Italy that you don’t hear much about. We’re always finding more and more reasons to go back. 🙂

  • Reply Harry & Nancy November 28, 2016 at 4:11 am

    Thank you for your post. We have been to AC twice over the past few years and love it. We will visit CT for the first time in early May. My sister has been to both and she likes CT better. I find it hard to believe but will visit with an open mind. If CT can come close to my love of AC we will have an amazing trip. We are spending five weeks in Italy going north to south trying to get the travel Italy bug satisfied. Enjoyed your pictures and envy your new location for travel.

    • Reply nomanbefore November 28, 2016 at 4:37 am

      Hi Harry & Nancy, Thanks for your comment. Wow, five weeks in Italy sounds incredible! May is a perfect time to visit the Cinque Terre, before it gets crowded with too many tourists. We really loved both, so I can’t imagine how your trip will not be amazing. 😉 Safe travels!

  • Reply Our Favorite Travel Experiences of 2016 January 2, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    […] between the five seaside villages in the Cinque Terre was beyond picturesque. And cooling off afterwards with a dip in the ocean and indulging in […]

  • Reply The Cinque Terre in 20 Photos: A Guide to the Five Lands of Italy February 9, 2017 at 8:15 am

    […] Check out our guides for the best place to stay and hiking in the Cinque Terre. If you’re debating between the Amalfi Coast and the Cinque Terre, see our comparison here. […]

  • Reply Nicole February 9, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Which of the two places was easier to navigate with the baby in tow? We are heading to Italy in early October with family and will be bringing our then 7-month old. Spending a few days in Rome and then heading to either CT or AC for a few days. Thoughts? Thanks!

    • Reply nomanbefore February 9, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Hey Nicole, great question! Getting from town to town along both of these coasts is probably the biggest logistical challenge, so it depends on what kind of traveler you are.

      If you’re planning on relying on public transit, the Cinque Terre is much easier. The train connects the five towns plus Levanto to the north and La Spezia to the south, so you can hop on the train and you’ll be to the next town within a few minutes. The train schedule isn’t always dependable, but you’ll find that issue with any public transit throughout Italy (running on Italian time ☺ ). We usually carried our baby everywhere, but you could use a stroller in most of the towns. If you’re driving, cars can go into Monterosso, so you could base yourself there and just take the train to visit the other cities. You should still be able to hike the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path) in October, which was one of our favorite hikes to date.

      If you are driving, then the Amalfi Coast is probably your better bet. The roads are winding and a bit hair-raising, but if you’re comfortable with that then you’ll definitely get places faster. We had family go in January and they still had difficulty finding parking, so even with a car getting around could be a pain. Because you’re going in October, the main public transit (the SITA buses) won’t be as packed, which was honestly downright awful at times, especially with a baby who did not like buses. To get between a few towns sometimes requires a change of bus and can take over an hour. Overall, we ended up spending a lot more time getting from place to place in the Amalfi Coast, so it wasn’t as relaxing. Another transit option is the ferry, which runs through October. If you do end up going to the Amalfi Coast, I would recommend staying as centrally as possible (in Positano or Amalfi Town).

      I personally would go to the Cinque Terre for the hiking in October. The main drawback is that it’s about 6 hours from Rome, whereas the Amalfi Coast is only about 3 hours. Sorry for the novel, but I hope it helps. If you have any more questions, please let me know!

      Congrats on your baby, and I hope you have a wonderful trip!

  • Reply The Amalfi Coast in 20 Stunning Photos February 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    […] If you’re grappling with which famous Italian coast to visit next (the Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast), see our post here. […]

  • Reply Robin Gesuelli February 15, 2017 at 6:41 am

    Great Post – this is super helpful (actually makes my decision more difficult, but more info is always better!) Although my heart has always been set on seeing CT, I’m starting to think AC might be the more practical option for us given our parameters (summer time, would like to actually experience it vs herded cattle).

    I’m trying to plan a trip for my husband and I this summer ~10-14 days and was hoping to get either AC or CT in there. I’ve read COUNTLESS warnings about traveling in summer and the crowds, but we don’t have the luxury of being picky enough (I work in a school, so End of June/July/August is the only option), and also – we’re tourists, so I can’t complain about it being crowded with other people doing the same thing…

    We’ve both lived in Spain for a bit, so super familiar with European travel, however my husband has never been to Italy before. We were hoping to visit Rome, Venice/Florence, and perhaps a bit of Wine Country as well… so leaning towards AC just location based, but wondering if you had any suggestions (any suggestions at all!) in general before we get down to the nitty-gritty of starting to book/finalize travel plans. We’re all about maximizing experiences and culture – I’d rather see architecture than the inside of a museum, taste amazing food, rather than the highest rated restaurants, and meet locals.

    We’re thinking July, although it’s height of tourist season, I’d rather that, than an abandoned coast due to all the italians partying it up vacation style :D!

    Would love any feedback/suggestions/words of advice! Your blog is beautiful and I love the knowledge you have about Italy!

    • Reply nomanbefore February 16, 2017 at 10:27 pm

      Hi Robin, Thanks so much for reading! I really appreciate your comment. Deciding between these coasts really is such a difficult decision. Hopefully you’ll just be picking which one you visit first, and then you can plan another trip to see the other one. 🙂

      Here’s my bit about the crowds. We went to CT in May. During the week it was great, but once the weekend rolled around, we definitely started to feel like herded cattle, especially on the trains. The towns are tiny, so can easily start to feel overwhelmed. My solution is usually just to get up earlier, which gives us at least an hour our two where it doesn’t feel crowded and before day trippers arrive. You can also go on less popular hikes, or rent a boat and enjoy the coast from the water.

      We went to the AC in August, so peak season for both Italians and those from abroad. The towns and beaches were busy, but not overwhelmed. Some of the smaller towns, like Cetara, didn’t even feel that busy, and it was pretty much all Italians on the beach.The main issue here was getting on the SITA buses, where you were packed in like sardines. If it had just been me and my husband (sans baby), we would’ve loved to rent a scooter which would’ve made getting around the coast way more fun. If I were to do it again, I would stay in a more central town, like Amalfi or Positano (we stayed in Salerno on the southern end of the coast).

      If you do head to the Amalfi Coast, I highly recommend a stop in Naples. Delicious food, lots of locals, and it’s basically an outdoor museum with much of the city built on ancient ruins. I also wouldn’t miss Capri; I thought it was going to be hyped up and touristy, but it’s so beautiful!

      I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with either. I would go with whatever logistically fits into your trip better so you can spend more time enjoying the places than traveling to them. And hopefully you can plan a trip back soon! I hope that helps at least a little. If you have any other questions, please let me know. Have a wonderful time and safe travels!

  • Reply Shelby Scott February 17, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this post. This really helped to narrow it down for us; We are going to CT mid-May!!! I really appreciate that you took the time to write this, and that I am not the only one who has debated between CT or AC. I think we will enjoy the CT as a young couple, and save AC for when we have a few more dollars to throw around in our later years. Now, to dig out those hiking boots… 🙂

    • Reply nomanbefore February 17, 2017 at 7:42 pm

      Hi Shelby, I’m so so glad you found this helpful! I think May is the perfect time to visit CT; great hiking weather, but still warm enough to jump into the water (let’s call it refreshing 😉 ). Ha, we’re totally going to have to go back to the Amalfi Coast when we have a few more dollars to spare too, though it’s such a beautiful place it can really be enjoyed on any budget. Hope you have an awesome trip!

  • Reply Michelle Heng March 18, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    Thanks for the great write up! I’m trying to figure out where to go. A couple of conditions — I’ll be traveling alone, slightly craving warmer weather, open to walking, and want to relax/eat/explore (I will only have three days as well). Would you recommend one over the other with those conditions? Thanks again!

    • Reply Kelly Barcus March 19, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Hi Michelle, thanks for reading! This really is the eternal question. On average, April temperatures will be in the low to mid 60s in both areas, so it’s hit or miss with the weather. It’s probably better hiking weather than beach weather, but it’s still fun to take a refreshing plunge! Personally, my experience in Cinque Terre sounds like it fits in more of what you’re going for with relax/eat/explore. It was easy to take the train or hike between the villages, there are lots of little osterias with cheap and delicious food, and the villages are small and easy to wander. That said, neither area should be overcrowded as it’s still early in the season, so getting around the Amalfi Coast may not be as much of a hassle. If you head to Amalfi, the ferries are a great way to get around (and get to islands like Capri and Ischia), and there’s a lot of towns to explore along the coast. You’ll have the exciting but difficult decision of narrowing down where to stop! Safe travels, and I hope you have an amazing time!

  • Reply Michelle Heng March 18, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    ^^ traveling in mid-April

  • Reply 5 Tips for Hiking in the Cinque Terre, Italy May 16, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    […] For more information about the Cinque Terre, see our posts on why we loved staying in Corniglia, and how the Cinque Terre compares to another famous coast in Italy, the Amalfi Coast. […]

  • Reply Simin July 11, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    thanks a lot for this post, i was trying to decide between amalfi and cinque terre and your post gave me exactly what i need. i guess i ll be heading to cinque terre 🙂

    • Reply Kelly Barcus July 11, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Simin, I’m so glad to hear that it helped. Have a wonderful time in the Cinque Terre!

  • Reply cindy August 15, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    Hi – great post thanks – I am still undecided and wondered if I could get your thoughts if you have a minute? We are travelling next September (husband/myself and 14 year old daughter). I have two itineraries I am trying to decide between.
    1) Barcelona 5 nights, CT 3 nights, Florence 3 nights then Rome 5 nights
    2) Barcelona 4 nights, Amalfi 4 nights, Florence 2 nights, CT 2 nights and Rome 4 nights.

    We are interested in wondering around and soaking up the culture/atmosphere rather than spending heaps of time in museums and art galleries – thought we could maybe skip Florence for this reason but have heard the atmosphere is great even if you are not into all the art etc. We plan to see the very main tourist sites but to tell you the truth I would prefer seeing people, eating good (not expensive) local food, I love cobbled streets and little shops and markets. I want to be able to walk out of our accommodation and straight into the thick of it on some days as well as having some days that are a little more full with site seeing etc.
    Any thoughts on itinerary will be greatly appreciated (ps have been to Venice so dont need to add that into itinerary). PS, I will be celebrating my 50th birthday on our trip and would love any suggestions for an amazing experience/dinner venue etc to celebrate that! Thanks in advance:)

    • Reply nomanbefore August 28, 2017 at 10:39 pm

      Hi Cindy, thanks for your comment and sorry for the delayed response. Your trip sounds like how I want to celebrate every birthday!! Those all are pretty great places and it really is a matter of preference. I know a lot of people that love Barcelona, but personally it wasn’t my favorite place, so I would choose to spend less time there. You may go and end up loving it! I think adding both Amalfi and CT gives you a great mix of cities and more laid back coastal towns, so part of your vacation will be relaxing too. If you’re going to Amalfi, you’ll be so close to Naples that I wouldn’t miss it! As far as people, culture and food, it’s top notch and has some incredible history as well. I loved Florence too; it’s a beautiful city and there’s so much to see just walking the streets. Even the most simple dinners I’ve had in Italy have been incredible. If you’re looking for something more upscale, the Amalfi Coast has a few Michelin star restaurants that I’m sure would be quite the experience, but unfortunately I haven’t been to any. Have fun planning the rest of your trip!

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