Venice or the Amalfi Coast – Which Destination is Best?
Venice or the Amalfi Coast? If you’re thinking about traveling to Italy, you have probably wondered at some point which destination suits you best. While both destinations are utterly beautiful, they are distinctly different.
Located in the Veneto region in northeastern Italy, Venice sits atop a cluster of 118 small islands linked by 400 bridges spanning an intricate network of canals, lined with stunning palazzi and grand buildings. The Amalfi Coast is a 31-mile sprawl of rugged coastline dotted with sheltered coves, bustling marinas, towering limestone cliffs, and colourful seaside villages.
Which destination fits your travel style? Would you go for a gondola ride on the Venetian lagoon or a yacht cruise on the Tyrrhenian Sea? Would you wander around Piazza San Marco or a stroll in the gardens of Villa Cimbrone?
In this post, we will explore what makes Venice or the Amalfi Coast different in terms of architecture, history, cost, cuisine, and culture, and suggest which location is best for various types of travellers.
After the fall of the Roman empire in the 5th century AD, refugees from the mainland escaped to a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea and constructed what is to become the floating city of Venice. The city was the capital of the now-dissolved Republic of Venice until it became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
From the Middle Ages to the 17th century, Venice served as an influential maritime, financial, and commercial hub, trading precious goods such as grain, silk and spice. Venice’s prosperity gave birth to a wealthy merchant class who commissioned arts and artists, contributing to the rise of the Renaissance period.
Meanwhile, historical documents trace the origin of Amalfi to 596 AD, when the town served as a defensive port for the Byzantine Duchy of Naples. In the 7th century, Amalfi became an independent republic and dominated trade in the Mediterranean, reaching ports as far as Constantinople, Egypt, and Syria.
It bartered grains, salt and timber with its neighbours in exchange for gold dinars to buy Byzantine silks which it resells in the West. During its heyday, the region wasn’t only a maritime power. It was also the chief producer of a valuable paper called bambagina.
A tsunami in 1343, followed by the bubonic plague in 1348, destroyed much of the Amalfi. It came under the rule of the nearby Kingdom of Naples and once again became a sleepy fishing region until travellers rediscovered it in the 19th century.
There’s not much competition when it comes to which destination is best for history fans; whilst the Amalfi Coast certainly has an interesting backstory, Venice has a lot more to offer in terms of sightseeing.
Venice has been a cradle of artistic culture since the 15th century. It is the birthplace of the great artists Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and the Bellini brothers who developed the famed Venetian painting style.
Venice also produced prominent literary figures, including Marco Polo, Carlo Goldoni, and Giacomo Casanova, and inspired the works of William Shakespeare, Henry James, and Thomas Mann. It is also home to several noted composers, such as Giovani Gabrieli, Giovani Picchi and Antonio Vivaldi.
The city hosts the Venice Biennale, an international exhibition of art, architecture, theatre, film, contemporary dance and contemporary music. The prestigious Venice Film Festival, established in 1932, is also part of the Biennale. But no other event in Venice is as famous as the annual Carnival, known for its elaborate masks and ornate costumes.
The Amalfi Coast does not have as many Renaissance arts or grandiose festivals as Venice, but it is rife with ancient ruins and archaeological sites. Most famous among these are the nearby ruins of the ancient cities of Pompei and Herculaneum, both destroyed by Mount Vesuvius when it erupted in 79 AD.
In Pompei, you will find the lavish House of Faun, the Forum, the temple of Apollo, the Garden of Fugitives, and a brothel that features erotic frescos. The ancient city of Paestum is home to three of the world’s most well-preserved Doric structures, including the temple of Athena, the temple of Hera, and the temple of Neptune, which dates back to 450 BCE.
In contrast to its ancient sites, the Amalfi Coast has a handful of galleries that showcase contemporary art and a few quirky displays. La Caravella Art Gallery in Vietri sul Mare features hand-painted pottery, whilst Positano and Capri have Liquid Art System galleries. And every September, the town of Furore blossoms with colours as artists gather to paint murals.
Again, whilst the Amalfi Coast does have a good cultural offering, Venice is the clear winner when it comes to a legacy of art, history, literature and music.
Venice utilizes a diverse variety of architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. The most prominent of these is the Venetian Gothic style, marked by larch windows with ogee arches and showcased in a wide range of buildings around the city.
The Doge’s Palace, Hotel Danieli, and the Palazzo Santa Sofia are all prime examples of Venetian Gothic, while Ca’ Pesaro and Ca’ Rezzonico are Baroque. The most famous architectural masterpieces in Venice include Saint Mark’s Basilica and its bell tower, the Rialto Bridge, Santa Maria della Salute, and the Library of San Marco.
In contrast to Venice, the Amalfi Coast’s architecture is, in general, Italian Vernacular. This type of style uses traditional materials and adapts to the geographic features of the area.
In many seaside villages, you will find uniform white-washed or pastel-hued buildings clinging to hillsides. Balconies overlook the sea, terraced citrus gardens, and private sundecks.
However, the Amalfi Coast also displays influences from other regions, particularly Moorish and Greek. It is common to see colourful tile roofs, curved domes, vaulted windows, and arched pillars.
Some of the most famous landmarks in the Amalfi Coast are the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, Villa Cimbrone and its gardens, Duomo di Amalfi, the Cloister of Paradise, and the Benedictine Monastery on Mount Athos. There are also modernist structures, such as the Salerno Harbour Station and the Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium in Ravello.
The architecture on offer in both Venice and the Amalfi Coast is iconically unique. If you’re a fan of more classic styles then Venice is your best option, whilst those who prefer something a bit more quirky and colourful will enjoy the impressive cliffside structures of the coast.
Venetian cuisine combines local traditions with influences from other regions, creating a fusion of delectable dishes. Its most common ingredients are seafood and fresh produce, but it also uses rice, game, and polenta.
One of its most popular dishes is sarde in saór or fried sardines marinated in a sweet-sour sauce of vinegar, raisins, pine nuts and onions. Another local favourite is the appetizer baccala mantecato, dried cod that’s blended smooth and seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper.
Other beloved Venetian dishes include risotto al nero di seppia (risotto cooked in squid ink), risi e bisi (rice and peas), and fegato alla veneziana (calf or veal liver with stewed onions).
Venice loves its fritole; fried doughnuts with custard or chocolate filling, traditionally prepared and eaten during carnival. Baìcoli, which are golden oval-shaped cookies, also originated in Venice. As for wine, the Veneto region is known for its prosecco, a bubbly, mildly sweet, sparkling wine.
The Amalfi Coast cuisine uses seafood, citrus fruits, vegetables, homemade pasta, and cheese. The region is known for its buffalo-milk mozzarella and provolone del monaco, a semi-hard, slightly sweet and spicy cheese produced in the Lattari mountains.
It is also famous for its ndunderi, one of the oldest types of pasta in the world. One of its best-loved dishes is the local pasta scialatielli paired with seafood. Another favourite is spaghetti alle vongole or spaghetti with clams.
When it comes to desserts, delizia al limone is arguably the cream of the crop among the Amalfi Coast sweets. There is also Torta Caprese and the quirky melanzane al cioccolato or chocolate eggplant. The most famous beverage is limoncello, an alcoholic drink made from the lemons grown on the coast.
Both destinations are outstanding places to visit to enjoy Italian cuisine that isn’t just classic pizza and pasta dishes, with the coastal location of each meaning that seafood will be a speciality on any menu.
If you’re looking for a street lined with luxurious designer boutiques, you won’t find one in Venice. However, this doesn’t mean that Venice lacks good shopping spots.
The city has a handful of speciality shops tucked into its back alleys. Even Sas Ricami e Merletti sells hand-embroidered linens, Pied à Terre has floor-to-ceiling displays of elegant gondolier slippers, and Giuliana Longo offers hand-crafted hats and berets. For authentic Murano glass and antique glassware, there’s L’Angolo Del Passato, and Antonia Miletto Gioielli for unconventional jewellery.
Like Venice, the Amalfi Coast has some fascinating artisan workshops that feature unique items. It also has a few upscale boutiques that sell luxury brands.
The town of Sorrento sells anything lemon – from liquor to scents to gourmet delicacies. The Amatruda Store in Amalfi offers traditional handmade paper. Positano has boutiques of distinctive loose-fitting dresses and gipsy-style skirts and blouses, typically made of hand-dyed linens. Vietri is known for its brightly coloured ceramics, Cetara is famous for its anchovy sauce, Capri for its leather, and Paestum for its cheeses and yoghurts.
Neither destination is an outstanding spot for designer or commercial shopping, but both have plenty of options if you’re after unique gifts and artisan souvenirs.
Because of its popularity, Venice is pricey. Airfare can take a large chunk of your budget, and accommodation, especially from June to August, is expensive.
The city teems with fancy restaurants, but you can find affordable options if you eat away from the busy tourist districts or cook for yourself. The majority of the attractions charge fees, which can get pricey if you try and cram a lot into your visit, and travelling by water taxi can also add up.
Popular among the rich and famous, the Amalfi Coast is another relatively expensive destination. Luxurious hotels and resorts are plentiful which means that accommodation tends to be on the pricier side, although there are a couple of budget places to stay further inland.
The Amalfi Coast is known for its outstanding selection of restaurants and bars, but dining at these every night will see you racking up quite a hefty bill. If you enjoy walking and spending time on the beach then activities won’t cost a lot of money, although public transport between towns will cost you, especially in the high season for tourism.
Overall, the Amalfi Coast is a slightly cheaper option than Venice, but both locations are some of the pricier places to visit in Italy. However, as with any trip, careful planning and deal-hunting mean that you can enjoy a fantastic budget break to either.
THINGS TO DO
In Venice, ramble around Piazza San Marco and sit down for a cup of espresso at one of the cafés. Marvel at the majestic architecture of St. Mark’s Basilica, Torre dell’Orologio, and the Doge’s Palace, then climb up the Campanile for the best panoramas of Venice.
Cannot get enough of churches? Visit Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta and the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. Ride a gondola along the Grand Canal or a Vaporetto through the waterways. Watch the sunset from the Rialto Bridge and soak up the city views from the tragic Bridge of Sighs.
At the Gallerie Dell’Accademia, you will find the iconic Vitruvian Man by Da Vinci, along with the masterpieces of the great Venetian artists Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini, and Veronese. Venture outside the city centre and see the islands of Lido, Torcello, Murano and Burano.
The Amalfi Coast’s charm lies in its fascinating towns. Enjoy the chic and laid back vibe of Positano, shop and drink limoncello in Sorrento, visit the cathedral in Amalfi, stroll on mountain top gardens in Ravello, sail to the Blue Grotto in Capri.
The lesser-known towns on the Amalfi Coast are as beautiful but blissfully quieter. Lounge on the breathtaking beaches of Maiori and Minori, sample fresh seafood dishes in Cetera, admire the painted murals in Furore.
If you want to get a little bit active, hike the Sentiero degli Dei, trek to the waterfalls in the Valley of the Ferriere, or kayak around the Sirenuse Islands. For history, visit Herculaneum, wander around the archaeological park in Paestum, or take a tour of Pompei.
Venice is for art enthusiasts, history buffs, and romantics. Its history dates back to a thousand years and is fascinatingly deep and complex, making it one of the best places in Italy for cultural exploration.
Here, you can marvel at Renaissance masterpieces, discover diverse architecture, and immerse yourself in intriguing traditions. Enjoy the festivals, party at the carnival, cruise the canals, watch an opera, learn about glass-making, venture into back alleys to hunt for rare finds.
The Amalfi Coast is best for exploring scenic beaches, stunning towns, and spectacular landscapes. It is the perfect setting for a Mediterranean seaside holiday.
Here, you can swim, sail, canoe, hike, or simply lounge on a sheltered cove all day. If you’re looking for nightlife and luxury boutiques, the Amalfi Coast has some to offer. It also has some of the best seafood dishes and fascinating speciality items, such as ceramics, paper, and linens.
So, is it Venice or Amalfi Coast? Go to Venice for the architecture, arts and cultural experiences. For the scenery, nature, and cuisine, head to the Amalfi Coast.
These two destinations are strikingly different, yet they complement each other superbly. Whether you choose Venice or Amalfi Coast for your next holiday, you will undoubtedly have an unforgettable getaway. And if you have the time, why not visit both?