Exploring coastal Italian villages is a must-do for a first-time traveler to Italy. Your destination of choice will often come down to either Cinque Terre in the north or the Amalfi Coast in the south.
Both are amazing places to visit in the summer months and have some similar characteristics. Especially the colorful houses built into steep waterfront mountains.
There are also a number of differences that can change your vacation experience.
So in this article, we will be exploring 11 different points of comparison so you can decide if the Amalfi Coast or the villages of Cinque Terre will best suit your next Italian vacation.
Table of Contents
If we had to summarise our comparison in one sentence we would say the following:
- Check out Cinque Terre if you only have a few days to spare and want a smaller, more convenient, and cheaper region to explore.
- Check out the Amalfi Coast if you have at least 3-7 days and want to explore a large area with more variety, and are happy to spend more time traveling between villages.
We have also run through the same comparison in the video below for those that prefer to watch, than read. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel.
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Cinque Terre vs Amalfi Coast
We have covered 11 points of comparison to determine whether the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre has the broadest appeal as a summer vacation destination.
Some are subjective and what matters to you may differ from our assessment. So grab a pen and paper and tally up your own score as we go for the best results.
1. Cost of Accommodation
Both locations have budget and premium options, and many with amazing views. We have tried to put together a comparable sample of accommodation so that we can provide a useful comparison for the average traveler.
However, for those at the higher or lower end of the budget spectrum, we can at least say the following:
- The Amalfi Coast has more premium accommodation options.
- Cinque Terre has more budget options with multiple hostel equivalent and lower-cost accommodation choices.
For our mid-budget test, we have put together our comparable sample through the following steps. Note, this was done in early March 2023 which is four full months before the booking date. So there should be good availability:
- One week stay in the busy season of July.
- 3-star accommodation only.
- Sorted by highest ratings as per booking.com.
- Excluded the highest-priced option (in both cases it was a massive outlier >100% of the cost of other options).
The results are as follows (clicking the links will take you tp the same search on Booking.com):
As you can see, Cinque Terre was 23% cheaper than the Amalfi coast and also had the cheapest option available.
There are obviously flaws in this approach and you could do the same search on any given day to get different results. It is intended as a general guide rather than a scientific conclusion.
2. Transport Between Villages
If you wanted to explore all 13 villages of The Amalfi Coast you would have to travel 37 kms from Vietri Sul Mare to Positano.
Add in Sorrento and Capri and you have a large region to cover!
Compare this to the five villages of Cinque Terre where the distance from Riomaggiorre (east end) to Monterosso (west end) is less than 15kms!
But does the Amalfi Coast have superior transport options to account for the longer travel distance required? The answer is a flat NO!
You have a limited bus network that is painfully slow due to a narrow road that is shared by cars, buses, and bikes that frequently grind to a halt as they all try and pass each other.
Ferries are often a faster and more pleasant option, but can be expensive, crowded, and are unlikely to take you anywhere near your accommodation.
So travel between villages will eat up a lot of your time every day! In fact, we split our stay in two and moved our home base to Sorento so we were closer to Capri and transport links back to the major cities.
What really gives Cinque Terre the edge on this point is the train line that runs between each town.
It is not the prettiest feature along the coast, but it is amazing for convenience! The train is cheap, frequent, and can move a lot of people between the villages quickly.
It is only 14 minutes from one end to the other which is an amazing convenience in a region famed for being old…
There are ferries connecting each village of course, which is a must-do!
It is a nice, relaxing ride, that gives you some incredible views of the villages perched on the mountain tops.
This is an extension of the previous point with the train line discussed also providing easy access to Cinque Terre from all major Italian cities.
You may have to change trains a few times but overall it is an easy experience.
Accessing the Amalfi Coast is much more complicated! If arriving by air you will have to take a bus, train, another bus… Or a bus, ferry, bus combination to get anywhere.
A word of warning, all of these services run within a limited schedule and if you arrive in the afternoon you may get stuck.
This happened to us in the middle of a taxi strike which led to us being stranded in Salerno and having to sleep on a train platform.
So this is another easy win for Cinque Terre (but don’t worry, Amalfi will make a comeback).
Cinque Terre has a long-established reputation as a place with a number of famous hiking trails.
Everything from beginner-friendly walks, to challenging mountain hikes. However, following a period of bad weather, a number of these trails have been damaged and have been closed for some years.
Due to the instability of the area other trails are closed down without notice due to an increased risk of landslides. So any historical edge Cinque Terre had has been eroded in recent years.
Repairs are planned for the future and we may update this in due course.
The Amalfi Coast has higher mountains and a much longer stretch of coastline. You are only limited by what your legs can handle!
Well-known hiking trails like the Path of the Gods, or the beginner-friendly Sentiero dei Limoni are freely available and there are no closures as far as we are aware.
So the Amalfi Coast gets a point back.
There are two considerations to determine which region has the best coastal views.
- Which is more beautiful; and,
- Are they accessible?
Cinque Terre has a unique character and is best viewed from the sea on a passing boat or ferry.
There are some amazing views from the mountain tops but you will often have to hike your way up there (some buses available)!
We have already discussed the higher mountains along the Amalfi Coast. Something that we appreciated is the bus network that allows you to access many of these areas.
We stayed in the mountain village of Ravello and were able to get a bus to the top of the mountain and enjoy the incredible views, while also being able to walk downhill to our accommodation (which also had amazing views!).
The towns of Positano and Amalfi have a similar look to the Cinque Terre villages from the sea and I would struggle to pick one over the other.
I would describe the views in Cinque Terre as cute, and the Amalfi Coast as epic! I would pick epic every time!
6. Variety of Experience
This is probably the most subjective point of comparison because what everyone wants in a vacation will differ.
If you are an explorer then you may judge each region differently to someone who is content to sit on the beach day after day relaxing.
All of the towns of Cinque Terre have their own unique characteristics and personality. But are all a variation of that Italian coastal village theme.
We found the Amalfi Coast to have much more variety.
Positano and the town of Amalfi are similar to that Cinque Terre vibe, but if you head to the mountaintop village of Ravello you will experience something that feels more like the Italian countryside.
The Island of Capri is totally different again. So the Amalfi Coast gets the point here to even the score at three points each.
There is a huge difference in the number of annual visitors each region receives:
- Amalfi Coast – 5 million
- Cinque Terre – 2.5 million
However, the Amalfi Coast is also a much larger region and should be able to handle the extra tourist traffic right?
The issue here comes from two factors. One we have already discussed in the transport links to get to the coast, and traveling in between the villages.
It is inferior to Cinque Terre and has to handle more people!
The second is that a huge portion of visitors descend on the two most popular villages of Amalfi and Positano.
Both get very busy, and Positano especially we found to be quite abhorrent with the narrow alleyways and overcrowded beach.
Cinque Terre is also busy during the day but nowhere near the level of Positano. The crowds also thin out fast late in the day and it can be very relaxing at night.
So Cinque Terre gets a point back on this one.
If you are looking for a beach vacation in Cinque Terre then the town of Monterosso is your only real option.
The other villages have somewhere to swim but you would hardly call any of them a relaxing beach.
Riomaggiore has a rocky seaside area that is often cut off by tides, and a dodgy walkway to get there. We often saw people choosing to hang out on coastal rocks instead.
Manarola has a harbor area you can swim, but no beach.
Vernazza has a small water entry in the harbor that maybe counts as a beach? And a second area that you can access via a tunnel… But it isn’t somewhere you would spend the day.
The Amalfi Coast has beaches everywhere!! The larger towns all have a main beach that will always be busy, but there is usually a smaller beach at another end of town that is spacious and relaxing.
So if you want a beach vacation it is no contest that Amalfi Coast should be your destination of choice.
Both regions have a very similar offering of watersports and boat tours, wine tasting, Italian cooking classes, hiking, and village hopping tours.
The only difference that is worth mentioning is that the Amalfi Coast has a wider selection of museums and old Roman structures.
However, this may be a very low priority for most visitors enjoying a vacation on the Italian Riviera and not a strong point of difference.
Generally, you can fill your day with a very similar selection of activities, but Amalfi gets the point only just.
The regions are around 700kms (~450 miles) apart which only allows for minor variations in climate.
The average temperatures are very similar with the Amalfi Coast slightly warmer:
|Amalfi Coast||19.6° (67.4°f)||23.7° (74.7°f)||26.4° (79.5°f)||27.0° (80.5°f)||23.3° (74.0°f)|
|Cinque Terre||18.3° (65.0°f)||22.4° (72.4°f)||24.9° (76.8°f)||25.1° (77.2°f)||21.4° (70.6°f)|
However, what may be more important than a 1-2 degree difference is the likelihood of rain. On this measure, the Amalfi Coast has a clearer edge!
If we take the summer months month of July again (the middle of summer) the average rainfall is 40% higher in Cinque Terre:
- Amalfi Coast – 18mm-30mm
- Cinque Terre – 36mm-61mm
The best thing you can hope for on a summer holiday is more sunny days! Because of this Amalfi Coast gets the point and is now out to a 6 – 4 lead!
11. Can You See It in a Day Trip
Our final point is worthy of consideration for planning purposes only. It does not necessarily make one better than the other.
I think we have well covered that the Amalfi Coast is far too big to fully enjoy in a single day. Yes, some people do it and there are organized tours that will take you there for a day.
But, you will only be able to see a fraction of what is on offer and you will not have the best experience possible. You need a minimum of 3-5 days and could easily spend a week or more here.
In my opinion, this makes the destination more worthwhile.
Cinque Terre is a smaller region and has superior transport links. So it is possible to see all five villages in a day.
But, do you really want to do this? There is a certain magic to Cinque Terre in the evenings when the crowds clear out and you can sit near the water enjoying a pizza, pasta, and wine.
Having said that, if you only have one day to spare then I would absolutely go to Cinque Terre. It will be a big day but better than nothing.
If you have two days, even better!! If you organized activities in each then you could easily fill five days across the five villages at a slower pace.
This final point doesn’t change the scoring. It is intended to help you match the destination with your available time more than pushing a case for one over the other.
Should I Visit Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre?
I am tired of bloggers answering these questions with it depends… You should absolutely visit the Amalfi Coast first if you; 1. Have enough time, and 2. It is within your budget.
The diverse experiences on offer cannot be matched by Cinque Terre. You will also have an amazing time taking a day trip to Capri, Salerno, Sorrento, and Pompeii.
I mentioned earlier that we split our visit in two so we had a home base at either end of the coast to minimize the time traveling.
If you have less time, a lower budget, and just want a more relaxed and easy-going time then visit Cinque Terre.
Should You Visit Amalfi Coast AND Cinque Terre
If you have the time and the money then yes absolutely!! You may not want to do this back to back as there are similarities.
But, between each location, you have a long list of amazing cities that are no doubt on your bucket list already.
Or better yet, visit one on separate Italian vacations (this is what we did). This gives you a great excuse to come back and have a more immersive trip in the north or the south.
In recent years there has been a growing number of people online promoting content that these destinations are overrated, not worth your time, etc.
Don’t listen to them! Both Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast are both incredible places and I hope that everyone gets to experience them at least once in their life.
In this article, we have commented on a number of shortcomings that you may experience. But you can solve most of them through planning.
Don’t like crowds? Visit in a quieter month. Worried about transport problems? Plan ahead and give yourself more time before it gets dark.
Enjoy the unique experiences that Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast offer and you will have an amazing time no matter which one you visit.