Amalfi Coast vs Cinque Terre – Which is Better to Visit?
Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast are two of Italy’s most popular coastal destinations, with both offering beautiful scenery and small, idyllic towns to travellers wanting an Italian seaside holiday. With spectacular views, quaint buildings and incredible local cuisine in both locations, the competition is fierce for which area is the best to visit.
The Amalfi Coast is a long stretch of coastline in southern Italy; a luxurious beach destination that is a very popular choice for those who want a relaxing Italian holiday by the sea. Cinque Terre, on the other hand, is a more rural destination on Italy’s northern Riviera coast that consists of five small villages nestled on the cliffs and linked together by narrow hiking trails.
Both destinations are picture perfect and full of different things to see and do, which means trying to choose between the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre can be a daunting decision. We’ve put together this guide of the two areas to help you choose which coastal location is perfect for you.
For a tranquil, seaside town, the Amalfi Coast has a lively history. First inhabited by the Romans, who built villas and small settlements along the cliffs, the town of Amalfi was originally a defensive point for the Byzantine province known as the Duchy of Naples. Declared an independent republic in 839 AD, the region was a prosperous hub of trading and culture until it fell under Norman control in 1073.
Sailors from the Amalfi Coast are credited with first creating and using a compass to navigate the ocean at the start of the 13th century; a revolutionary tactic that quickly spread across the Mediterranean. The invention is credited to a figure named Flavio Gioia, but even though there is a statue of this man in Amalfi it is thought that he is a fictional character invented to claim ownership of the compass.
The area remained successful until the 1300s, becoming one of the first places in Europe to manufacture paper. However, a plague and then a severe storm wiped out much of the Amalfi Coast’s power, and by the end of the century, it had come under the rule of the Kingdom of Naples.
It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th century that the southern coastline of Italy and its quiet fishing towns were rediscovered by travelling Europeans, who began to flock to the Amalfi Coast to enjoy its breathtaking scenery and tranquil atmosphere. Since then it has been a famous holiday destination, known for the incredible scenery and blissful atmosphere.
Cinque Terre’s history stretches back even further than the Amalfi Coast’s, with many archaeologists claiming that remains found in the Liguria area belong to the Bronze Age. This area was also occupied by the Romans, then the Islamic Saracens in the middle ages, and then was ruled by a noble Tuscan family in the 11th century.
It was in this century that architectural work began to shape the towns that remain today, as villagers built walls, terraces and houses on the cliffs, and began to cultivate vineyards. Cinque Terre translates to ‘Five Lands’, and it wasn’t until the 15th century that all five settlements had been built under the Genoan rule and this name was first given to the area.
These villages were in a prosperous position on the northern coast of Italy, and consequently suffered many attacks across the years from pirates or invaders from other countries. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that Italy became a unified country, and a railway line was built to reach Cinque Terre and connect it easily with other towns and cities.
Cinque Terre has always been famous for its vineyards and wine production, but it did not become a popular holiday destination until mentioned in a guidebook in the 1970s. Since then, it has become a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Park has been founded in the area, making Cinque Terre an ideal location for day trips or hiking holidays.
Both coastal regions have a diverse and interesting history, and whilst all of Cinque Terre is considered a historical site, the Amalfi Coast has more to see in terms of historic landmarks such as churches and a castle.
When it comes down to culture, the Amalfi Coast beats Cinque Terre because of its size and the diversity of its towns and villages. Both locations are fantastic for elements of coastal Italian culture such as the food, wine and laid-back atmosphere, but it is the Amalfi Coast that also brings elements of music and art into its cultural scene.
In the popular town of Positano on the south coast, you can visit the small Franco Senesi gallery to admire modern artworks by Italian painters and sculptors, or you can visit the Torre a Mare guard tower in Praiano to see the modern sculptural works of the famous artist Paolo Sandulli. Several music festivals take place along the Amalfi Coast as well, with genres ranging from choral to orchestral that are performed by musicians that range from local to world-class.
Both the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre have inspired numerous artists, writers and musicians that have discovered the different regions, and it is easy to see why as you admire the awe-inspiring landscape that truly feels like paradise. Whilst neither offers the same kind of cultural experience that you might get in Italy’s central cities, both coastal locations have a cultural charm that is all their own, and that draws travellers from all over the world year after year.
The Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are both made up of towns that are built on coastal cliffs, and so both feature very impressive feats of architecture in the winding steps and teetering terraces that line the coast. The buildings in each location maintain a rustic charm even though both areas have been done up for tourism, and each is full of hidden streets and unique discoveries.
The colourful buildings in Cinque Terre are iconic, and seem to fit perfectly into the area’s rugged landscape. Each of the five towns and villages in this area has a similar pastel colour palette and steep streets and paths wherever you go, but is incredibly pretty and full of charming houses and shops.
The architecture you will find along the Amalfi Coast is more varied, with similarly bright coloured buildings but also a host of more historic structures. You can visit the remains of Roman villas and temples in some of the towns, or the medieval Arechi Castle in Salerno to admire the archaeological ruins.
Perhaps the best architectural marvel in the Amalfi Coast however is the spectacular 13th-century Cathedral of Saint Mary right in the centre of the town Positano. The design of the cathedral is neoclassical, with an iconic tiled dome and a Byzantine icon housed inside. This beautiful location is very popular for weddings, but is open to the public most of the time and is a truly stunning building.
If you’re looking for pretty and photogenic architecture then Cinque Terre will be right up your street, whereas if you want to see a range of different historical styles and building designs then the Amalfi Coast has a much wider variety of architectural marvels that are perfect for sightseeing.
Whilst both Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast will have restaurants and cafes selling classic Italian dishes like pizza and pasta, the coastal location of both areas means that it is the fresh, local seafood dishes which stand out.
Cinque Terre and the Liguria region are famous for their delicious pesto alla genovese, and are also credited with the creation of focaccia which is sold almost everywhere and best enjoyed warm from the oven. You can expect incredible fish and pasta dishes from this area, all flavoured with the fresh herbs that grow in the surrounding countryside.
The Amalfi Coast is known for its five-star food and luxurious dining experiences that include several Michelin star restaurants, and you can expect to find more experimental cuisine here alongside the local specialities. The best lemons in the world are said to come from the Amalfi Coast, so make sure you sample both sweet and savoury dishes that include the ingredient and finish off your meal with a small glass of tart limoncello.
You will find very high-quality cuisine in both locations, but the Amalfi Coast has more established restaurants and chefs than Cinque Terre and is the best choice for those who are serious about their food.
The rustic aspect of both the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre means that neither location can be described as exceptional for shopping, and you are more likely to find small, independent shops in both places than large stores dedicated to popular brands. Positano on the Amalfi Coast is known for being particularly luxurious and is home to several small boutiques, so if holiday shopping is a must for you then you will fare better in this area.
Cinque Terre is a more popular destination for backpackers or those travelling on a budget and is slightly cheaper overall than the Amalfi Coast. However, accommodation in Cinque Terre can still be expensive because options across the five small towns are quite limited, although the area does have some hostels. You also need to purchase a pass to access the popular hiking trails that connect the villages of Cinque Terre and cannot just explore the area for free.
The Amalfi Coast is known for being a luxury holiday destination, and some accommodation in the area will reflect this in the high prices. Restaurants and bars in busy areas may also be expensive, but this is countered by the fact that the majority of outdoor activities in the Amalfi Coast are free to enjoy.
Both Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast will be cheaper if you visit in the off-season, but neither location is a lot more expensive than the other.
THINGS TO DO
The Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are both full of unique architecture, classic coastal attractions and wonderful countryside, and there is a wide variety of things to do in both areas.
Hiking is the most obvious choice if you are in the Cinque Terre region, with many designated trails leading between the villages and plenty of dramatic scenery to admire.
The Amalfi Coast is more suited to those who want to spend their time relaxing by the sea, with a good number of beaches to visit and plenty of bars and restaurants to spend your evenings in. The area is also home to several historic sites such as the villas and gardens of Ravello, several small cathedrals and a castle in Salerno.
Each of these wonderful Italian seaside regions has a lot going for them, and you will be able to enjoy beautiful coastal towns, unique architecture and amazing scenery whichever you pick.
The Amalfi Coast is better for those who want hot weather for the beach, as temperatures in this area are higher on average than in the north. Those who enjoy sightseeing will find more to do on the Amalfi Coast as well, along with a more modern atmosphere that is reflected in the luxury hotels, shops and restaurants.
If you want a more authentic and rural experience of the Italian coast then Cinque Terre is perfect, with its small string of villages and winding coastal paths that are particularly popular with backpackers and younger travellers. Whilst there aren’t many good beaches in Cinque Terre, the cooler weather in this area is ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, sailing and swimming, making it a better destination for more adventurous travellers.
Ultimately, it may come down to whether you are wanting to visit any other parts of Italy during your stay, as the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are on opposite sides of the country. If you want glamour, beaches, and easier travel between towns then the Amalfi Coast is perfect for you, whereas if you’re looking to get more off the beaten track and explore some incredible coastline then Cinque Terre is your best choice.
Whichever area you decide to visit, the stunning Italian coastal towns and beaches will guarantee you an unforgettable experience. To help you make your decision, contact Italy4Real today and speak to one of our experts for more advice on whether to visit Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast.