How to decide between the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre? Like the Amalfi Coast, they say. But Cinque Terre is more than a replica. So which one is better? This guide will help you decide.

Seaside villas in Portofino, Italy

Cinque Terre? Like the Amalfi Coast, people say. 

Well, not quite. Cinque Terre is more than a replica of that coastline in the Gulf of Salerno, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Indeed, its five colorful villages snuggled into almost vertical walls of rock bear some resemblances to the Amalfi region facing the Tyrrhenian Sea, but both have their vibes, foods, beaches, and attractions.

Here’s a guide that points out the differences, plus how to get there and around.

Things to do…

on the Amalfi Coast

Riding a Vespa along jagged cliffs tumbling into the glistening Mediterranean is second to none. Equally unique are hand-made flip-flops and the Museo della Carta with a gift shop, a paper mill museum representing seven hundred years of Amalfi’s paper tradition.

Another tourist draw is the Duomo di Amalfi sitting atop a set of stairs in the town center. The 13th-century bell tower, framed in pointed arches, plus the bronze doors nodding to the church’s Baroque and other styles, are intriguing.

As for places to visit on the Amalfi Coast, if you’re looking to get off the well-trodden tourist trail, head to Minori’s Piazza Centrale, a square in the little seaside town east of Amalfi. You’ll also find Roman footprints there at Villa Romana e Antiquarium.

in Cinque Terre

UNESCO included Cinque Terre in its World Heritage List as a cultural landscape. But rather than riding a scooter along the coast, Cinque Terre is more suitable for a trek through hillscapes because the coastal road is above the colorful villages.

Exploring the footpath between Monterosso and Vernazza, enjoying water sports, or tasting wines are the best things to do in Cinque Terre. You can also stroll through narrow alleys, gelato cone in hand, and revel in the dolce vita. Vernazza’s village bus takes you to the Black Madonna and Sanctuary of Reggio. And if you jump on Monterosso’s bus, you can visit the Sanctuary of Soviore, Liguria’s oldest Marian sanctuary on a plateau overlooking the Levanto valley and Vernazza.

The food…

on the Amalfi Coast

With the Tyrrhenian Sea on its doorstep and cliff-edge terraces behind, it’s little wonder Amalfi’s all about seafood and lemons. Order “Scialatielli ai frutti di mare,” a pasta seafood dish made with shrimps, octopus or mollusks, and you’ve got the sea on your plate.

But wait until you see those mouthwatering yellow lemons kissed by the Mediterranean sun. They ripen to perfection and add to the delicious taste of limoncello or ravioli with grated lemon peel.

in Cinque Terre

Since Cinque Terre sits on Italy’s northwest coast, locally grown veggies, herbs, and fruits are typical Liguria. Dig into olive-studded focaccia, a lofty cross between a pizza and loaf bread. While available anywhere in Italy, the crunchy yet fluffy, rosemary-sprinkled yeast bread glistening with olive oil was born in Genoa, a Ligurian city.

Just as yummy is pasta with Cinque Terre pesto, a scrumptious basil sauce mixed with olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and parmesan. Whether you tuck into gnocchi or risotto, you’ll notice the flavorful taste of Liguria-grown basil.

The beaches…

on the Amalfi Coast

Since the Amalfi Coast is rocky, with mountains dropping straight into the sea, you can’t find long stretches of pristine sands. Amalfi’s pebbled beaches hide beneath soaring cliffs, and sandy ones are squeezed between smaller sections like in Positano.

You’ll love Marina di Praia, a secluded stony beach between two rock outcrops. Another gravelly charmer is Fornillo under the watch of sweet-scented pines clinging to towering rocks.

in Cinque Terre

While most Cinque Terre beaches are stony or pebble-like, there’s Monterosso’s approximately 500m-long sandy Fegina beach. You can also find a tiny stretch of sand at Vernazza’s harbor, where small waves lap ashore, washing against your bare feet with soft liquid sounds.

How to get to Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast

These are popular routes:

Amalfi Coast

RouteTravel timeFare
Rome to PositanoAbout 4 hoursFrom $23
Rome to SorrentoAt least 3.5 hoursFrom $21
Naples to Positano1.5 hoursFrom $23
Naples to Sorrento1 hour, 10 minutesFrom $16
Sorrento to Positano35 minutesFrom $16
Rome to Naples3 hoursFrom $23
Naples to Amalfi1.5 hoursFrom $35

Since Capri is nearby, travelers like to travel from Amalfi to Capri and Positano to Capri when in the region. Some even head from Naples to Capri or Sorrento to Capri before exploring the Amalfi Coast.

Cinque Terre

RouteTravel timeFare
La Spezia to Riomaggiore1 hour, 10 minutesFrom $23
La Spezia to Vernazza7 hours, 45 minutes (stops in Portovenere)From $29
La Spezia to Monterosso3 hours, 45 minutesFrom $30
Portovenere to Riomaggiore30 minutesFrom $13
Portovenere to Vernazza50 minutes – 1 hoursFrom $18.50

There’s no “Cinque Terre” station; the five towns are:

  • Monterosso al Mare
  • Vernazza
  • Corniglia
  • Manarola
  • Riomaggiore

Each has a train station, but you’ll find more trains to La Spezia, a Ligurian transfer hub. Once in La Spezia, you can jump on a regional train to any of the Cinque Terre cities.

Alternatively, combine a train and ferry ride, or ride a bus to Cinque Terre via La Spezia or Portovenere.

How to travel the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre…

Amalfi Coast

The best way to get around the Amalfi Coast depends on your mood. You can explore the region on foot, ride by car or bus. When to visit the Amalfi Coast? We recommend May to mid-June before the masses arrive.

Cinque Terre

While each village has its bus, you can’t Cinque Terre-hop from one town to the next. Hiking through the Cinque Terre National Park is excellent to feed your adventurous side, but the treks are steep and challenging. Your reward is idyllic cliffside villages, sweet-scented pines, and panoramas of steep slopes tumbling into the ocean.

Whether you want to get from Monterosso to Riomaggiore or Riomaggiore to Vernazza, the best way to get around Cinque Terre is by using a local train running every 15 minutes from mid-March until November 1st. You can also ride a $14 ferry.

The city vibes…

on the Amalfi Coast

The secret to a pleasant stay is figuring out which Amalfi village fits your travel- and lifestyle. Would you rather experience Positano’s lively atmosphere or Conca Dei Marini’s laid-back vibe?

Do you feel comfortable on the packed, 930m-long Maiori beach or enjoy the seclusion of Sant’Agata’s mountains? There’s no hard-and-fast answer; the feel of the Amalfi towns varies like the Tyrrhenian Sea’s vagaries.

in Cinque Terre

When to visit Cinque Terre? If you like the hustle and bustle, come in July. Still, you find different vibes in the five towns. If crowds put you off, the best time to visit Cinque Terre is between May and mid-June.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

Young travelers like Riomaggiore’s lively atmosphere. Manarola offers romance by the bucketful. Corniglia is the quietest of the famous five because it sits on a rock outcrop with no direct sea access.

The most popular of all Cinque Terre towns is Vernazza. It epitomizes the Cinque Terre feel people expect. Monterosso – the only one with an actual beach and not snuggled into craggy cliffs – is the best town if you’ve got kids in tow.

The winner…

If you lack time, visit Cinque Terre; they’re smaller and easier to tour. The Amalfi Coast is family-friendlier, but you need more time. Cinque Terre’s food and hikes are on par with Amalfi, but the latter has better beaches. Cinque Terre’s houses are more colorful, yet Amalfi scores with old terracotta roof tiles.

There’s no winner. If you’re scouting Italy’s north, visit Cinque Terre. If Naples and Italy’s south suit your fancy – you get the picture.

Posted September 30, 2021
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Philipp Meier
Philipp Meier is a Phuket-based travel writer passionate about Thai culture and wandering off Thailand’s well-trodden tourist trail. His work has been published on the Nat Geo Traveller India, South China Morning Post, Culture Trip, BootsnAll, GoNOMAD, and elsewhere. You can find him at Writer Philipp Meier and LinkedIn.
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