Italy has thousands of kilometers of gorgeous coastlines. Most popular and best-known among international travelers are the stunning coastal areas of Cinque Terre in northwestern Italy and the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy.
They’re both absolutely beautiful and well worth a visit. But how do you decide which one to see if you only have time for one – either Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast?
In this guide, we compare the experience of visiting the Amalfi Coast vs. Cinque Terre. You’ll get a good idea of what to expect when visiting each place, what there’s to see, how much time you need, the cost, and the pros and the cons of each destination.
In addition, we also include practical information and tips to help you plan your visit. Find out!
Cinque Terre is a beautiful coastal area consisting of five small towns (thus the name which means ‘5 lands’). Best known for the picture-perfect colorful cliffside villages and jaw-dropping coastal sceneries, Cinque Terre also has vineyards and nice hiking trails. In summer, you can also go swimming or kayaking here.
The Amalfi Coast is also characterized by steep cliffs, azure-blue waters, and picturesque villages perched between the mountains and the sea. However, the Amalfi Coast covers a much bigger area than Cinque Terre and has 13 towns. It also has a much bigger population.
Amalfi Coast is mainly known for the three most famous towns Amalfi, Positano, and Ravello. In summer, it’s a popular vacation destination with lots of lively beach bars and restaurants along the coast. This area also has numerous hiking opportunities and interesting historic sights. It’s also famous for its lemon trees. You cannot visit the Amalfi Coast without tasting limoncello, and in Cinque Terre, they have a very similar lemon drink called limoncino.
Amalfi Coast vs. Cinque Terre – the main difference
As already mentioned, both areas have spectacular cliffside towns and stunning coastal sceneries. Both areas are extremely popular with tourists and both are very busy in the high season.
The main difference between the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre is the location and the size of these areas. While you can see all the main points of interest in Cinque Terre in a day, with one day on the Amalfi Coast you will just cover a few of the ‘musts’.
Furthermore, Cinque Terre is located close to some of the most popular towns in Italy, and it’s often easier to include a visit here in your itinerary than a visit to the Amalfi Coast.
Below, you can see the exact location, map, and all the practical information for your visit to both – Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana). Read on!
Location, Map & Getting There
First, you should know that the two areas are located in different parts of Italy, and so the choice of which one to visit – Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre – might depend on your overall trip itinerary.
Cinque Terre is located on the Ligurian Coast, about 3 hours drive south of Milan, 2 hours northwest of Florence, and 1-hour drive from Pisa. Some other popular places to visit nearby include the Ligurian Coast, Genoa, and the most beautiful towns of Tuscany.
Because of its location, Cinque Terre can easily be visited on a day tour from Florence. A day tour from Milan is also possible, but keep in mind that the journey itself will take up a big part of your day.
Many first-time visitors usually opt for the itinerary visiting the most famous Italian cities and towns. The majority of the most popular towns are located in the northern part of the country. So it’s often easier to include Cinque Terre in your trip itinerary rather than the Amalfi Coast. On the other hand, Amalfi is closer to Rome and can be done as a (rushed) day trip.
Good to know: If you plan your itinerary well, it’s definitely possible to see both – Cinque Terre AND the Amalfi Coast in one trip. See our suggested 2-week Italy itinerary for one way how it could be done. But ideally, you would add a few days extra to give yourself more time to explore deeper.
First, you should know that it is not recommended to visit either the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre by car.
In Cinque Terre, you cannot drive at all and on the Amalfi Coast the traffic is so bad and parking almost impossible that it will just leave you frustrated. The only time I’d consider visiting the Amalfi Coast by car is in the low season – November to March.
In Cinque Terre, the best way to visit the towns is by taking a train and/or a boat between them. Hiking between several towns is also a nice option. The fastest/ cheapest way is to take a train. Guided tours are available too, and they also use train/boat to travel between the five villages. Read also our guide with practical information and tips for visiting Cinque Terre.
The Amalfi Coast can be visited by car, public bus, taxi, or – in high season – by boat. The most comfortable way to travel around is undoubtedly by boat. The cheapest – by public bus. Private boat tours are also available, just as tours by Vespa, by car, etc. – see all the private tour options here and organized group tours here. Here you can find all the information about the best ways to get to the Amalfi Coast from Naples as well.
Good to know: Both areas have towns built against steep coastal cliffs, so you should expect to do at least some stairs everywhere you go. However, it’s also possible to see and do quite a lot without having to hike or walk far. It really depends on your personal interests and what you feel comfortable with.
Both – Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast – can be visited with organized tours (with a group or private). If you only have a day in the area, going with a guide is probably the most efficient way to see as much as possible in a short time.
Below, you can find some of the best tour options for each area. There are literally hundreds of available tours for each area, so we only selected a few of the very best options.
Suggested Cinque Terre tours:
- Cinque Terre day tour from Florence. This is the most popular day tour. It includes all the best places on Cinque Terre and also gives you the possibility to do some hiking if you want to.
- Cinque Terre + Pisa from Florence. This is a great option for those who are really short on time and want to make the most of your trip.
- Shore excursion from La Spezia. This is the best day tour for those visiting Cinque Terre by cruise.
- Kayak tour or sunset boat tour. These are great local excursions for those who are staying in Cinque Terre for more than a day.
Suggested Amalfi Coast tours:
- Amalfi Coast from Naples or Sorrento. This is the most complete and best-rated Amalfi Coast day trip.
- Amalfi Coast tour from Sorrento by boat. This is a great-value BOAT tour that allows you to see the best places in the area in just a day.
- Amalfi Coast Vespa tour. This is a nice option for those who want to explore the area ‘as a local’. However, be prepared for some very busy traffic.
- Amalfi Coast + Pompeii from Rome. This is a popular option if you are short on time and want to make the most of your trip. You can also opt for a similar tour with a small group.
Things to Do & Scenery
The best thing to do on the Amalfi Coast or in Cinque Terre is simply to visit the picturesque towns and coastlines. Of course, there are also boat tours, hiking possibilities, beaches, shopping, and dining…
In Cinque Terre, must-sees include the towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Vernazza. Monterosso al Mare and Corniglia are both very nice too, just like the hiking path between several towns.
On the Amalfi Coast, must-sees include Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello. If you have extra time, the Path of Gods hike is well worth it too, but because of the practicalities of getting there, it’s something I’d recommend if you have at least two days in the region.
As far as the scenery goes, both places are equally impressive. The main difference is that in Cinque Terre the towns are located closer to each other and many of the best views can be seen without too much effort and in a shorter time.
There’s also not that much to see in terms of landmarks in Cinque Terre. It’s mostly interesting for its picture-perfect coastal scenery.
Whereas the Amalfi Coast is more spread out, and also the towns themselves are bigger. In addition, they also offer more interesting options in terms of places to see, gardens, villas, cathedrals, museums, etc.
But this also means that you need more time to appreciate it all… Which brings us to the next point.
How Much Time Do You Need
As already mentioned, you can see the best of each area in just a day. So yes, it is possible to visit Cinque Terre in a day, and the Amalfi Coast is also doable as a day trip. And that’s exactly what most tourists do.
But while you can see ALL the main highlights of Cinque Terre in one day (and even do some hiking), one day on the Amalfi Coast will just be enough to cover the main highlights. If you want to explore the Amalfi Coast deeper and do the Path of Gods hike as well, plan at least 2 days here. Plus you should really explore the wider surroundings here.
Of course, you can spend more time in both – Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast – and you’ll find plenty to do as well. Still, even in summer, 2-4 days will be plenty for the Cinque Terre, whereas you can easily spend a week or even two on the Amalfi Coast.
TIP: With more time in Cinque Terre, check out Portovenere! This beautiful town is often referred to as the 6th town of Cinque Terre. Also, there’s so much more to see in this part of Italy. Take a look at our guide to the best towns of the Italian Riviera and Tuscany itinerary for more ideas for places to see nearby.
TIP: With more time on the Amalfi Coast, explore the lesser-visited coastal towns, such as Praiano or Atrani, and do more hiking, such as e.g. the Valle Furore hike. Also, be sure to visit Capri island, Sorrento, Pompeii, and Mt Vesuvius… The nearby Naples is worth a separate trip as well! See our Amalfi Coast itinerary for suggestions on how to visit all these places.
There are many more (and nicer) vacation accommodation options on the Amalfi Coast compared to Cinque Terre.
While Cinque Terre mostly offers smaller hotels, B&Bs, and privately-rented apartments, on the Amalfi Coast, you’ll also find bigger hotels, including some of Italy’s most luxurious hideaways.
Visiting Cinque Terre should be cheaper than the Amalfi Coast. Of course, so much depends on your choices – how you travel around, where and how long you stay, which restaurants you dine at, etc.
But in general, the Amalfi Coast is a much more expensive destination than Cinque Terre.
Good to know: It is possible to visit both destinations on a lower budget as well. For that, use public transport and stay in the bigger towns nearby. So for Cinque Terre, stay in La Spezia and travel by train, and for the Amalfi Coast – stay in Sorrento (or even in Naples) and travel by public bus.
If, on the contrary, you are looking for a more luxury experience, opt for the Amalfi Coast. With some of the most luxury hotels and countless private tour possibilities (by boat or by car), it’s a destination that is better suitable for a romantic luxury vacation than Cinque Terre.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit either the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre is in the high season between April and October. That’s when the weather is best, everything is open, the boats are running, etc.
Although – especially early or late in the season – the weather conditions might be unstable. This sometimes means that boats won’t operate, so keep this in mind if traveling in early April or late October. At the same time, these shoulder periods will also have fewer crowds than the peak months.
By far the VERY BEST months to visit Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast are May – early June and late September – early October. This is when the weather should be at its best and the crowds are still somewhat manageable.
If you’re traveling in the low season and have to choose one of the two regions to visit, I think I’d opt for Cinque Terre over the Amalfi Coast. First, it’s easy to travel between the Cinque Terre villages by train (so you don’t have to rely on a boat). But most importantly – some of the nicest views here (Riomaggiore, Manarola, and even Vernazza) can be appreciated in any weather (unless the mist would totally cover everything).
You can also visit the Amalfi Coast in the low season. In that case, I would probably consider renting a car since it gives you more flexibility where to go depending on the weather.
Amalfi Coast vs. Cinque Terre – Conclusion
So now that you have a better idea of what to expect when traveling to the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, what’s the conclusion? Which is best? And which area should you visit if you have to choose just one?
The answer of which place to visit – Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast – depends on a few factors such as location, season, how much time you have, and what kind of experience you are looking for.
If you are looking for a nice vacation destination for a longer stay, visit the Amalfi Coast – there’s more to see and do and the beaches are better. Whereas if you only have a day, Cinque Terre is a better choice since you can see all the best places in a short time.
However, this also depends on where you are traveling from. If you are touring southern Italy or are coming from Rome, you can also visit the Amalfi Coast for a day. Whereas if you are traveling in northern Italy, opt for Cinque Terre.
Further below, you can find some frequently asked questions that might help you decide where to go.
Yes, the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are two totally different areas. While Cinque Terre is located in northern Italy, the Amalfi Coast is located in the south of the country.
Both areas – Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast – have equally gorgeous scenery and lovely cliffside towns. So it’s really difficult to say which one is more beautiful. We find that the coastal landscapes are somewhat more impressive on the Amalfi Coast, whereas the villages are more colorful and more picturesque in Cinque Terre.
Both – the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre – are stunning places and each is worth a visit. The easiest way to decide which one to see is depending on your overall travel itinerary. If you are traveling in or south of Rome, go to the Amalfi Coast, whereas if you are traveling in Tuscany and northern Italy – visit Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast are among the most popular tourist destinations in Italy. So if you are traveling in the high season, expect it to be very busy in both areas. However, Cinque Terre is more compact and everyone goes to the same 4 or 5 towns. Whereas the Amalfi Coast is much bigger and you can avoid the crowds by visiting the lesser-known areas. However, the main towns of the Amalfi Coast are just as busy as the Cinque Terre villages.
In general, Cinque Terre is a more budget-friendly destination than the Amalfi Coast. The prices of accommodations, restaurants, and activities are somewhat lower in Cinque Terre. The Amalfi Coast (and the nearby island of Capri) is known as one of the best destinations for a luxury vacation on the Italian coast.
So, this is our comparison between two of Italy’s most-loved coastal areas – Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast.
I hope that this guide gives you a good overview of what to expect and helps you make an informed decision. Of course, if you have time, we highly recommend visiting both areas. But if you have to pick just one, you really can’t go wrong with either.
Both – Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast are worth a trip even if you are traveling from the other side of the world.
READ ALSO: Best Places to Visit in Italy
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More travel inspiration for your trip to Italy:
- Where to go: Best cities to visit in Italy
- How to plan your time: Italy itinerary for 2 weeks
- Rome: Best of Rome & Hidden gems of Rome & Rome in 1 day & 2 days in Rome & 4 days in Rome
- Venice: Best of Venice & Tips for Venice Gondola Ride & Venice in 1 day & 3 days in Venice
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- More… for more information and inspiration for a big variety of destinations, please check our Italy travel guide.