Sicily or Amalfi Coast

Written by Rem Malloy, since 1995 Rem has been guiding and designing trips to Italy and all of Western Europe and is considered an expert in his field for over 30 years.

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Sicily and the Amalfi Coast are two different parts of Italy that offer a unique experience of the country, both bringing together a variety of different cultures and historical influences. The beautiful island of Sicily has long been a top choice holiday destination, offering beaches, towns, history and beautiful landscapes, and the Amalfi Coast has recently established itself as a top spot for a glamorous coastal holiday filled with the finest food, drink, and scenery. 

Both locations have a lot to offer any traveller, and trying to choose which is best for your holiday can be a difficult task. To make your decision easier, we’ve compared which part of Italy is best for factors such as food, culture and cost, helping to break down whether Sicily or the Amalfi Coast is the right choice for your next trip.

HISTORY

We’ll begin with Sicily, the famous island floating at the ‘toe’ of Italy’s boot and the largest of all of the country’s regions. Sicily has a long history of different rulers and inhabitants, but the first significant colonizers were the Greeks who invaded the island in the 8th century B.C.

The Greek rule of Sicily ended in 212BC when Roman troops invaded and took control of much of the island. After six centuries of Roman rule on the island, Sicily was invaded again and fell under both Byzantine and Arabic rule.

In 1071 Sicily became an independent kingdom ruled by the Normans, and enjoyed many years of economic and political prosperity. The influence of both Arab and Byzantine inhabitants was still a big part of the island’s culture, which can still be seen in much of Sicily’s art and architecture.

Sicily fell under the rule of several different other countries over the next century, eventually becoming a Spanish island until the 1700s. Naples and Sicily merged together as a kingdom during Bourbon rule, and this lasted until 1860 when the unification of Italy began. In 1946 Sicily was established as an autonomous region of the country of Italy, but it remains an island with more of a Mediterranean and Greek influence.

The Amalfi Coast is another small part of Italy that has a very colourful history, with wealthy Romans being the first to build villas along the coast and into the cliffs. The area declared itself an independent republic in 839 AD and grew from a quiet Mediterranean fishing village into a prosperous trading hub. 

The towns along the coast grew rich economically and culturally, influenced by the traders visiting from the Mediterranean, the Greek Empire, Africa and the East. Sailors from the Amalfi Coast are credited with being the first people to invent and use the compass at the start of the 13th century as a method of navigating the oceans, which was quickly adopted all over the world.

The good fortune and prosperity of the Amalfi Coast continued into the 1300s, as it became the first place in Europe to produce paper and thrived as an intellectual hub on the coast as well as an artistic one. However, disaster struck when a plague hit in 1306 and 1348, and by the end of the 14th century, the area was ruled by the Kingdom of Naples.

For hundreds of years, the Amalfi Coast remained a quiet and isolated part of the world until wealthy Europeans began the tradition of The Grand Tour and started to rediscover more remote parts of Europe. Writers, artists and musicians flocked to the coast along with regular travellers to enjoy and get inspired by the area’s wild coastal beauty, which put the Amalfi Coast firmly on the map as a beautiful holiday destination.   

Whilst the Amalfi Coast’s history is fascinating, and there are plenty of remains that show traces of past civilizations, Sicily is the better choice if you’re a fan of history and want to see a huge range of ancient monuments, archaeological sites and ruins. 

CULTURE

Sicily is known as being a part of Italy with a truly unique culture, thanks to its variety of historical inhabitants and its position in the Mediterranean Sea. You’ll find several similarities and differences between the mainland and the island’s culture, with changes in the language being one of the most significant contrasts. The easy-going, close-knit way of life that Italians are known for is prominent in Sicilian culture, although one cultural difference is that the Mafia still plays quite a strong part in the running of the island.

A big part of the Sicilian culture is festivals and annual celebrations, particularly religious ones such as Easter and Christmas, so if you’re on the island at a festive time you’ll be in for a treat. The cultural legacy left by generations of artists and musicians who visited the island is still pretty strong, but Sicily doesn’t have the same offering as other places in Italy like Florence or Rome.

The Amalfi Coast has a traditional coastal Italian culture, centred around a laid-back way of life that celebrates good food, drink, and the natural landscape. The smaller size of the towns and villages on the coast means that there are less cultural attractions than Sicily, but the legacy of art, music and poetry inspired by the area still makes the Amalfi Coast a great place to visit.

Neither Sicily nor the Amalfi Coast has the same kind of cultural offering as more central regions of mainland Italy that boast impressive numbers of galleries, theatres and monuments, but both have quite distinctive local cultures that offer a more unique Italian experience. In terms of quantity, you’ll find more cultural things to do in Sicily, although the Amalfi Coast does have some lovely galleries and hosts multiple music festivals every year. 

ARCHITECTURE

The Amalfi Coast is famous for the towns and villages that are built into the cliffside along the coast; an impressive architectural spectacle that is almost dizzying to look at when you travel past the settlements on the water. There are also several more historic examples of architecture dotted around the area, and the famous 13th-century Cathedral of Saint Mary in the town of Positano which is a particularly beautiful spot. 

Sicily’s architectural offering is vast and unique, with Byzantine, Arabic, African and Norman buildings all over the island as well as Ancient Greek ruins. There are also spectacular Greek and Roman ruins dotted around Sicily that make it a prime spot for fans of ancient architecture. 

The Valley of the Temples is the most impressive archaeological site in Sicily, home to numerous temple ruins, but there are also temple and acropolis ruins at Selinunte, the Taormina amphitheatre, a huge variety of Roman ruins in Tindari, and the Sicily Archaeological Park which is home to the largest Greek amphitheatre in the world.

When it comes down to architecture, Sicily is the clear winner over the Amalfi Coast simply because of the huge variety of different building styles and archaeological ruins featured across the entire island. 

FOOD

If you’re a big foodie who loves gourmet dishes, then the food of the Amalfi Coast will be right up your street. Local ingredients produced in this area have always made it a top location for wonderful Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, but many towns are also now home to specialist chefs and even several Michelin star restaurants.

A speciality of the Amalfi Coast is its lemons, which are said to be the finest in the world and are included in countless sweet and savoury dishes. Its coastal location also means that the seafood is sensational and always incredibly fresh, so make sure you try at least one local dish during your stay.

Sicily is another part of Italy that is known for its distinct, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and is just as good a location for big fans of food as the Amalfi Coast. The variety of restaurants and eateries in Sicily is much greater than the Amalfi Coast, including options more suitable for those travelling on a budget, and the island’s size means that there are also a lot more local ingredients to sample during your trip.

Highlights of Sicily’s food scene include arancini; balls of rice filled with other ingredients and fried, sfincione; a whole new spin on the traditional Italian pizza, and two of the island’s famous desserts known as cassata and cannoli, which both feature ricotta as their signature ingredient.

Both the Amalfi Coast and Sicily offer a brilliant range of specialist Italian cuisine that is far more interesting than your traditional pizza and pasta dishes, so both are good locations to visit if you’re someone who travels to enjoy new food experiences.

SHOPPING

The Amalfi Coast is a very remote part of Italy, and whilst it is becoming more developed as its reputation grows as a luxury holiday destination, the amount of shops on offer is still quite limited. The town of Postinato is your best bet if you’re looking to shop whilst in the area, but is only home to several luxury boutiques along with a couple of typical souvenir shops and supermarkets.

Sicily’s size means that it is a far better location for shopping, although the selection of stores on offer still isn’t fantastic. However, you are more likely to find bigger brands and a wider selection of products across the island, particularly in cities such as Palermo. So if it’s shopping you’re after on your Italian holiday, there’s more to discover in Sicily.

COST

When it comes down to cost, Sicily is a clear winner as a holiday destination if you are looking to travel on a budget when you are visiting Italy. Whilst there are many expensive and luxury accommodation options across the island, overall it’s a relatively cheap part of the world to travel to and explore. 

You will have to pay an entry fee if you are planning on visiting the famous sightseeing spots across Sicily, but the island’s lovely landscape means that you can easily keep yourself occupied without having to pay a cent. Eating out is also very inexpensive in most places, particularly if you dine in small, locally run restaurants (which will undoubtedly serve nicer food than chains!).

The Amalfi Coast offers quite a contrast to budget-friendly Sicily, as the location is known for being a luxury holiday destination and this is reflected in the price of many hotels, bars and restaurants. There are some cheaper accommodation options available, but overall it is a more expensive place to visit than Sicily. It is redeemed however by the fact that most activities on the coast are free to enjoy, so it’s only food, travel and accommodation that will leave you out of pocket if you visit.

THINGS TO DO

If you’re planning a holiday that you want to be filled with sightseeing, beaches, visiting historic locations and a jam-packed itinerary, then Sicily is your best option as an island that is full of things to see and do. You’ve also got the option of day trips to nearby islands from the coast of Sicily, and it is possible to visit Rome or Naples directly by train as well. 

The Amalfi Coast is more suited to those who want a holiday that moves at a slower pace, although there are still plenty of good opportunities for sightseeing and visiting places such as ancient churches or gardens. It’s also the best destination for a beach holiday out of the two, with many picturesque stretches of sand and secluded coves that are lined with restaurants and bars perfect for spending a whole day beside the sea.

BEST FOR…

When you’re choosing whether to visit Sicily or the Amalfi Coast on your next trip to Italy, factors such as your budget, the length of your trip and the size of your party will all affect your decision.

If you’re after more of a luxury holiday, are travelling on your own or as a couple, and are looking to escape somewhere quiet and relaxed, the Amalfi Coast will be best for you. The beautiful coastal towns in this area are ideal for those who want to spend their days by the beach and their evenings enjoying fresh local food, without the stress of trying to cram lots of bucket-list items into a holiday.

If you prefer your trips to be filled with a range of activities and experiences, are travelling with a family or as part of a group, and are on a together budget, then Sicily will be perfect for your holiday. With a huge range of historic and cultural attractions, a varied landscape that is perfect for outdoor pursuits, and many towns and cities that are easy to travel between, it’s a great spot to enjoy an Italian holiday with a difference.

If you still need help choosing between visiting Sicily or the Amalfi Coast, or want to find out more about how we can create a bespoke Italian holiday itinerary for you, get in touch and speak to one of our experts for help and advice.

About the Author

Rem Malloy started Italy4real back in 1995 with his mother, Deborah de Maio.

He specialises in Italian tours as well as customised tours to France, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. He was also featured in the Travel Channel show Mysteries at The Museum in 2016.

Rem has family in Italy and his mothers home town is Cava di Terrani, near the Amalfi Coast. The family has a street named after them in Sorrento, Via Luigi de Maio; a relative who was mayor of Sorrento.

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