Cinque Terre vs Amalfi Coast: Which destination to visit?

written by Cliona Elliott February 4, 2024
The colourful town of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy

Daydreaming of balmy evenings and sipping bellinis at a cliffside bar? Me too. But choosing where to fulfil your Italian dreams can be tricky.

You’ve picked Italy for your next holiday (molto bene), and you know you want to be by the coast – did someone say sunset Aperol spritz? So, naturally, you’ve gravitated to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast. But now you must make the ever so tricky decision of choosing between them.

Meaning ‘five lands’, Cinque Terre comprises five fishing villages dotted along the dramatic Italian Riviera in northwestern Italy. It’s best known for its colourful cliffside villages, terraced vineyards and cliff-hugging hikes. The Amalfi Coast is further south on the Sorrentine Peninsula in the Campania region; it’s made up of 13 towns and is also famous for its vibrant villas that cascade down cliffs, along with glamourous beach clubs and limoncello.

Ideally, you’d visit both destinations – but if your annual leave or budget only allows for one, which should it be? Whether you want to spend your days hiking, splashing around in the Med or feasting on every pasta dish you can find, you should have a better idea of where to go for your Italian adventure by the end of this blog.

If you’re into hiking

Hiking is one of the best ways to see why Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast are often regarded as Italy’s most romantic regions. The best part? Refuelling with pasta and pizza, of course!

Hiking in Cinque Terre

Two hikers admiring the view on the Cinque Terre's famous Blue Trail

Cinque Terre National Park boasts over 120 kilometres of hiking trails that run along the coast and into the hills. For centuries, these ancient mule tracks were the only way in and out for villagers. There are more tourists than mules these days, but tackling these dusty paths will give you a great appreciation of what a mighty feat it would’ve been to build a community on such extreme terrain. Like eating in Italy, hiking in Cinque Terre is best done when you take your time to savour the views and local culture.

You could spend days walking, but the ‘must-do’ trail is the Sentiero Azzurro, or ‘Blue Trail’ (12km)* which connects the villages from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. Famous for its diverse scenery, this coast-hugging (and mostly dirt) track takes you past hillside hamlets and weaves through terraced vineyards and citrus groves. You must purchase a Cinque Terre Card to access this hike (the pass also gives you access to local train travel).

The trails in Cinque Terre can be super steep and narrow with sheer drops, so bear this in mind if you’re not great with heights or aren’t too steady on your feet – especially during the high season when it’s very busy.

*The Blue Trail is currently closed for maintenance due to landslide damage in 2022 and is scheduled to reopen in July 2024.

Related: Why you should do a guided walking tour in Europe (something I learned the hard way)

Hiking the Amalfi Coast

Two travellers hiking the Path of the Gods trail on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast also boasts abundant hiking trails that zigzag the coast and carve into the surrounding forests and hills. The most famous is Sentiero degli Dei, or ‘Path of the Gods’ (7km). Connecting the towns of Bomerano and Positano, this ancient route takes you past hillside villages, orchards and vineyards, and up to spine-tinglingly tall cliffsides where the views sweep the entire coast.

The Path of the Gods involves climbing over 1700 stairs, so if your knees could do without the strain, this trail might not be for you. That said, the uphill struggle is easier when a plate of seafood linguine is waiting for you on the other side.

The verdict

Hikers will be in their element in either region, but having the option to walk between all villages in Cinque Terre and get the train back if you have one too many aperitivos is very handy.

Related: Little-known secrets of the Amalfi Coast

If you’re a beach lover

The winner of this category may be clear depending on whether you prefer hiking to secluded coves or having direct access to spritz from the comfort of a sunbed.

Beaches in Cinque Terre

Monterosso Beach in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre isn’t world-renowned for its beaches, but if you like the sound of hiking down to small, craggy coves where crystalline water beckons you to take a dip, you won’t be disappointed. You won’t find long stretches of sand, but there are plenty of harbour quays and rocky outcrops where you can slip into the water for a swim. Favourite spots among locals include Manarola, Corniglia (note: it involves MANY steep stairs), Canneto (only reachable by boat) and Riomaggiore.

If you want a ‘proper’ beach with a bit more of a Riviera vibe, head to Monterosso – the one where iconic orange parasols stud the shoreline.

Beaches on the Amalfi Coast

Orange parasols on Arienzo Beach in Postiano, Amalfi Coast

With a backdrop of jagged cliffs dotted with pastel-hued buildings, lolling on the beach in Amalfi feels like you’re on a movie set. Many of the beaches here have locker rooms, sun loungers and snack bars so you can make a whole day of it. The weather is also warmer, making the water even more inviting. It does tend to get quite crowded, but waking up early to get a lounger is a small price to pay when the beaches are this pretty.

Top spots include Arienzo, Marina Grande, Santa Croce, Atrani, Fiordo Di Furore and Cavallo Morto (only accessible by boat).

The verdict

The Amalfi Coast wins this category purely because it has more beaches.

If you’re a foodie

As coastal regions, seafood dominates the menus in both Cinque Terre and Amalfi. From mussels to swordfish, squid to tuna, fresh seafood is plucked straight from the sea every morning. But if you’re not a fan of seafood, fear not. There are plenty of other dishes to try. This is Italy, remember?

Food in Cinque Terre

A group of travellers eating fresh seafood dishes in Cinque Terre, Italy

The Liguria region is world-renowned for its pesto Genovese. Traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, it tastes nothing like the stuff from your local supermarket. Focaccia with taggiasca olive oil is also famous, along with anchovies – specifically those from the village of Monterosso. If you’ve never been an anchovy fan, prepare to be converted.

Don’t forget to try Sciacchetra. It might not be as well-known as Amalfi’s limoncello, but this sweet dessert wine made primarily with Bosco grapes pairs beautifully with strong cheeses and fruit tarts.

Related: What you should see, eat and drink in Cinque Terre

Food on the Amalfi Coast

A traditional Naples-style pizza on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast is world-famous for its juicy lemons… and when life gives the Campanians lemons, they make limoncello! The citrus fruit is also used in many savoury dishes including scialatielli al limone, a local pasta that’s shorter and fatter than spaghetti in a creamy lemon sauce. Or, for something sweet, try delizia al limone (lemon delight), a cream-filled sponge doused with a glossy lemon glaze.

The pizza in Amalfi is also excellent, which is to be expected when Naples is only down the road.

The verdict

No matter which destination you choose, you’re guaranteed to be well-fed in Italy. Period. However, serious foodies may prefer Amalfi as it has more upscale restaurants than Cinque Terre where the dining scene is more rustic. But honestly, your stomach will be more than happy in either region.

Related: 7 delicious Southern Italian foods that’ll make you want to travel right now

If you want to beat the crowds

Neither Cinque Terre nor Amalfi Coast are great options if you’re looking to get off the beaten path. They’re two of Italy’s most touristy regions (for good reason), so crowds are inevitable during the high season between May and September. That said, Amalfi is much bigger so it’s a bit easier to escape the crowds.

You could choose to plan your trip in the low season, but ferry services are limited, some restaurants may close and there’s not as much of a buzz about town.

The verdict

Crowds are inescapable in summer, but because Amalfi is bigger, it feels slightly less congested.

The logistics

Now, on to the fun stuff: logistics (only joking). Logistics might not be the most exciting thing about planning a trip, but it may help you decide where to go depending on your flight options and how much time you’re willing to spend travelling from A to B.

Getting to and around Cinque Terre

A group of travellers listening to their Intrepid leader as they walk up a cobbled street in Cinque Terre

The closest international airports to Cinque Terre are Pisa, Genoa and Florence. While you can drive to the entrance of each village and walk from there (driving is banned in the villages themselves), it’s not recommended. The drive there is beautiful, but you probably wouldn’t get to appreciate it as you’ll be too busy focusing on the steep, windy roads that have room for only one car in places. It’s much better to take an InterCity train from Pisa to La Spezia or Genoa to Levanto (both take about an hour).

Walking is the best way to get around Cinque Terre. The villages are connected by a 12-kilometre trail, which takes about five hours (excluding stops) and showcases some of Italy’s most iconic scenery. You can also take the Cinque Terre Express which connects La Spezia in the south to Levanto in the north via a series of coastal tunnels. Or, for the best views, hop on the ferry (March to November) – it stops at all the villages, bar Corniglia which doesn’t have a harbour.

Getting to and around the Amalfi Coast

A coast-hugging road along the Amalfi Coast, Italy

The closest international airports to Amalfi are Naples and Rome. The region is also a stone’s throw from Capri and Pompeii if you fancy adding these iconic destinations to your trip. 

Like Cinque Terre, driving to the Amalfi Coast isn’t recommended. The roads can be hectic, especially during the summer, and trying to find parking can be a nightmare. In other words, you’ll probably need a holiday after your holiday! However, if you don’t mind soul-crushing traffic and parking prices, you’ll get to drive one of Europe’s most scenic roads, the Amalfi Drive – a 50-kilometre road that snakes the coast.

The easiest way to get there is to take a high-speed train to Salerno from Naples (1 hour) or Rome (2.5 hours). From here, take a regional train to Vietri sul Mare (the region’s only train station) where you can transfer to a local bus or ferry along the coast. You can also access the Amalfi Coast via Sorrento on the northern side of the peninsula.

There are no trains along the Amalfi Coast, so the ferry is the best way to get around. For hill towns like Ravello, Tramonti and or Bomerano, you must take a bus or taxi.

The verdict 

Both regions are well connected to Italy’s major airports, so this one’s 50/50 depending on where you fly to. 


Both regions are ridiculously charming, have a similar climate and offer endless opportunities to experience la dolce vita. Cinque Terre is smaller with more family-run guesthouses and backpacker hostels, making it a better option if you’re short of time or have a lower budget. On the other hand, Amalfi might be more up your street if you enjoy higher-end resorts, beach clubs and restaurants.

Ready for an Italian adventure?

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