I have to admit; I have an OBSESSION with Italy! And it isn’t the big cities that have captured my heart but The Italian Riveria. It’s here that all my childhood dreams of what Italian life is like came to life. After visiting both The Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast, the most common question I get is which is better. There is, of course, no simple answer!
If you’re not familiar with these two incredibly picturesque areas, check out the images below you’ll become addicted! If you’re faced with the decision to choose between the two, I’ll lay out the key differences and let you decide for yourself!
The Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre consists of 5 villages that are centuries old; Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore in Northern Italy. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is rustic, rugged, and yet so adorable. While this area is a big tourist destination, traveling here you get the feeling of being off the beaten path.
The towns are practically inaccessible by cars leaving them quaint and preserving their historical charm. I would recommend The Cinque Terre if your planning to be in Northern Italy perhaps visiting Florence or Pisa, it’s just an hour or two away from either city by train.
Arriving in the Cinque Terre and seeing the small scale of things and the close-knit community, it immediately reminded me of Belle in the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast.
Little town. It’s a quiet village. Every day. Like the one before. Little town. Full of little people. Waking up to say. Bonjour! Bonjour!
If you’re more outdoorsy and like hiking, then you’ll get your fill in this region! Top of my to-do list while in the Cinque Terre was to hike The Blue Path, which links the villages. It’s a great partial or full day activity offering breathtaking views of the Italian coastline. The entire path between the five cities takes just over 5 hours. However, the section from Manarola to Corniglia has closed due to landslides a few years ago. The terrain is steep alongside cliffs, making some portions of the hike between the villages a bit challenging but your reward is postcard-worthy views.
We took the train to Corniglia to start the trail to Vernazza. While we weren’t expecting the 350+ stairs just to get into town to start the path, once we began there were plenty hundreds more! The hike was challenging (but manageable) especially mid-day in the middle of summer with lots of humidity. I felt better about all the bread and cheese I’d been consuming while in Italy and pretty sure I sweated out all of the wine from the night before. When we arrived in Vernazza, we found the cutest restaurant perched on the top of the hill called La Torre, with stunning views of the village below. It was the perfect spot to grab an afternoon cocktail and dessert to refuel ourselves after the hike!
So I’ve mentioned it once before, but it’s worth bringing it up again… I have never seen more stairs! Streets in these tiny towns are made of stairs. You can get lost in the little alleyways of stairs. I cannot reiterate stairs enough! Hauling my 50-pound suitcase up and down flights of stairs in the middle of summer with all the humidity wasn’t the highlight of my Cinque Terre experience. So if you’re planning a relaxing vacation with no fuss, this region may be a bit too rustic for your style. Otherwise just plan to pack light! 😉
It’s also easy to take the train from village to village; there’s only one train that stops at each village. You can hop on the train over to Monterosso al Mare to sunbathe at the largest beach in the area, or to Manarola to go cliff jumping. There is also a ferry that runs in-between the villages all day, offering unbeatable views from the sea.
While the towns are bustling and overcrowded with tourists during the day, once evening comes everyone heads out. If you’re lucky to be staying in town for the night, you’ll really get to enjoy this region for all that it has to offer.
We picked Manarola as our home base for the Cinque Terre. Vernazza is the more popular village but in my research everyone mentioned Manarola as the most picturesque. And I couldn’t agree more!
With a population of 450, you literally get to know your neighbor (we met ours at the bar!). There are no hotels in this town, so living like a local is the only way to go. We found a cute Airbnb with a great view right above the main street. But to get there, we had to climb a massive amount of stairs (but of course). It was worth it for the view and the very affordable price. There weren’t a whole lot of options for lodging so be sure to book your Airbnb or rental early!
Around 8 pm all of the restaurants fill up with everyone who’s stayed behind in the town. Every restaurant has fresh fish caught that day, so be sure to get your fill! And this region is also famous for its Pesto!!! Need I say more? Most restaurants serve the local wine grown in the vineyards scattered throughout the hills along the cliffs, which you walk by on the Blue Path. Everything is pretty cheap, but make sure to have cash on you as most places don’t take credit card, and the one ATM isn’t always working.
After dinner the only bar open late is Bramante, this little spot became one of the highlights of our time in Cinque Terre. The small bar overflowed with locals and tourists alike all dancing, singing, drinking, and socializing. Every night we came back to see the live music here, they played everything from Italian songs to American oldies; it was incredible! The owner Gabriel was an absolute sweetheart and gave us great advice for the area.
A few drinks at this bar might entice you into making friends and taking a midnight dip in the ocean… just be careful our skinny dipping adventure ended with a jellyfish sting! That wasn’t quite how we’d hoped our spontaneous adventure would go, but we were super thankful that a local brought us a tomato to reduce the swelling since everything else in town closes early.
It’s certainly not fast paced here; it’s small town living, and that is what makes it so unique. I felt like time stood still for just a little bit, I had to keep pinching myself to remind me this was real!
The Amalfi Coast
80 minutes south of Naples by train and bus gets you to The Amalfi Coast. This coastal region of Italy is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of all the towns perhaps the most well known is the resort town of Positano, although the entire area is a popular holiday destination.
First things first, while there are many similarities between the two regions with their landscape and colorful houses, the Amalfi Coast is bigger and has many more options in dining, lodging, activities and accessibility. Positano while still small has a population of 4000.
I would not describe the Amalfi Coast as off the beaten path; it’s much more chic drawing the jet-setting, wealthy and famous crowd. Here you’ll find extravagant hotels with impeccable infinity edge pools, upscale restaurants, expensive yachts, mopeds zipping along everywhere, and stunning views everywhere you turn.
It may be a destination of the rich and famous and a bloggers paradise, but it’s not one bit stuffy or pretentious.
Daily activities including sunbathing, kayaking, boating, day trips to Capri and the Blue Grotto, shopping, enjoying the region’s fresh seafood and hiking the Path of the Gods (one of my all time favorite hikes).
Positano has one narrow one-way road that loops through the town. You could get whiplash with all the mopeds, cars, and buses (that seem far too big to be on the road, to begin with) zip right by you missing you by inches while you try to dodge them at all costs. Meanwhile, all the Italians walk and drive with no fear whatsoever, it’s just another day to them. I think this must be the town where the saying Italians are crazy drivers must have come from…
Our hotel was near the top, so when getting picked up by taxi to head to the airport or to go to dinner, you have to drive the entire loop to get back up to the main road at the top, it can add an extra 10 to 15 minutes just to get through town. There are always shortcuts if you’re walking, we descended the 400+ stairs from our hotel to get us practically all the way to the city center. The way back up was brutal, my legs were shaking in exhaustion. For those not wanting to attempt the stairs, there’s a city bus.
During the day we headed to the water! From the city center its a short walk to the boardwalk and then to the beach. They have beach chairs for rent for a couple of euros, restaurants, shops, and water activities. But everything at the beach is overpriced! We got four slices of watermelon for 6 euros and a quarter of pineapple cost the same! There are ton’s of super cute mom and pop markets on the walk down to the water that are super cheap; I would recommend grabbing water and light snacks there instead.
We rented kayaks for a few hours and paddled out towards Praiano. We didn’t have to get far to find secret coves, secluded beaches, and cliff jumping! This is the perfect way to escape the crowds and get your time explore some of the smaller gems along the Amalfi Coast. If you don’t feel like kayaking, they have small boats for rent as well! The view of Positano from the water is gorgeous, just like a postcard.
At night the people migrate upwards and dine at the restaurants scattered along the hill; they are the perfect spot to watch the sunset. This time of day in Positano is my favorite. Just as the sun sets and dusk falls, the lights throughout town start to turn on creating a glimmering affect against the colorful houses. And the once cluttered Bay is now calm, with the boats docked and their lights looking like stars of the ocean. It’s truly whimsical.
Positano also has more to offer for nightlife, with two clubs Music on the Rocks and Africana (in neighboring Praiano). Since there’s not much else to do after dinner we decided to check out Music on the Rocks. It doesn’t even get going until after midnight and continues blasting electronic music till sunrise. If you’re looking for a place to dance the night away and meet some men, then this is it! As a girl, you may have to fling a few men off, as they are notoriously a little bit aggressive in Italy (but in my experience harmless). The ratio of men to women was practically 7 to 3.
Positano has a lot of upscale restaurants to choose from and if the restaurant is far from your hotel they usually will send a driver to get you. The great thing about this town is everyone is super helpful and the service is great! My favorite meal in all of Italy was at the family run restaurant Il Fornillo in Positano. I ordered the Seabass and Eggplant Parmesan; the ingredients were so fresh and so light, they practically melted in my mouth. And to boot, the homemade desserts are so delicious, that after having one we had to try another!
I have recommended this restaurant to so many travelers and have received nothing but great reviews back. I loved it so much that returning a year later I ordered the exact same meal, and it was every bit as delicious as I remembered! Also while in Positano be sure to try the limoncello, you will see lemons everywhere in this town!
So to sum it all up, if you’re looking for a uber classy resort town head to The Amalfi Coast. If you’re looking to soak up some Italian culture in a more outdoorsy secluded environment, then head to the Cinque Terre. Both towns will open you up to a side of Italy you can’t find in the hustle and bustle of larger cities. You’ll experience what the Italian Riveria is all about and never want to leave 🙂
Which would you choose? What’s your vacation style? What are your Italian Rivera recommendations?