Cinque Terre vs Florence: How to choose where to go

Cinque Terre vs Florence – How to choose where to go for your next vacation? Both are both fabulous destinations that I would recommend to anyone, so if you are stuck between the two – don’t worry here is a comprehensive guide on what each destination offers, But be assured that whichever you choose, it’s going to be a holiday full of beautiful places, lovely food and bags of culture.

Quick answers and general tips

Florence has been dubbed the “cradle of the Renaissance” and packs an amazing cultural offering into a pretty compact city.

Early morning sunshine on the Duomo, Florence, Italy
Early morning sunshine on the Duomo, Florence, Italy

As the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, you also don’t have to go far to find rolling hills and vineyards.

Cinque Terre literally means “Five Lands” and refers to five impossibly picturesque villages on Italy’s northern Riviera coast.

An ideal destination for hiking or hopping on and off the local train and exploring the idiosyncrasies of each village, as well as joining the sunbathers on the beaches and harbors.

🧳 Go to Florence for art, sightseeing, history and culture.

🧳 Go to Cinque Terre for landscapes, romance, and photos.

Florence vs Cinque Terre – Overview


🎨 Historic city – once the hub of the Medici empire, with its cathedral and art a testament to its influence

🎨 Home of Michelangelo’s David and other masterpieces

🎨 A very picturesque city full of squares, bridges, and breath-taking architecture

🎨 Compact and walkable with good transport links

🎨 Cheap compared to other European capitals

🎨 World-class museums, galleries, and events available year-round

Trip Anthropologist
Torre di Arnolfo, Florence, Italy

Good for

  • History and sightseeing
  • Museums, galleries, and culture
  • Fantastic gastronomy
  • Beautiful countryside in the vicinity
  • Experiencing a real Italian city

Not good for

  • Visiting in August – can get very hot and crowded
  • Nightlife – other Italian cities are rowdier at night

Cinque Terre

🏖️ A very unique destination, unlike anywhere else you will visit

🏖️ Ideal for photos with a change of scene just a short walk away

🏖️ Gorgeous coastline and ocean views

🏖️ Ideal for Romantic getaways and luxurious weekend breaks

🏖️ Best avoided during the peak season (July and August), gets too crowded.

View on roof landscape and castle of Vernazza, village in the Cinque Terre, Liguria Italy Europe
Roofs, Castle of Vernazza, and the Ligurian Sea, Cinque Terre, Italy

Good for

  • Romantic getaways
  • Gorgeous coastal landscape and beauty
  • Sailing trips
  • Wonderful hiking opportunities
  • Boat tours and diving

Not good for

  • Summer visits – hot and busy!
  • Museums and culture (compared to Florence)

Location and how to get there

Both Florence and Cinque Terre are located in the north of Italy and are well connected to the world with nearby international airports.

Getting to Florence

There are three immediate options for Florence. The city has its own airport, Amerigo Vespucci (FLR). From the airport, you can catch the T2 Tram or the VolaInBus to the city center.

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The very boring-looking Florence main train station, Florence, Italy

✈️ Pisa Aiport (PSA) is about 80km (50 miles) from Florence.

✈️ The Pisa Aeroporto train takes you from the airport terminal to Santa Maria Novella, Florence’s beautiful main train station, in around 60-90 minutes. There are also coach services run by Terravision and Autostradale.

Finally, if local flights are not an option for you, the journey from Rome is viable.

🚄 From Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO), you take the Leonardo Express to Roma Termini, where you catch a high-speed train (Frecciarossa or Italo) to Florence.

🚄 Despite the greater distances, the speed of the train means you get there in 90-120 minutes.

Getting to Cinque Terre

✈️ Similarly, you have several options when you go to Cinque Terre. As with Florence, both Amerigo Vespucci and Pisa airport are an option, as is Genoa.

✈️ From the airport, you make your way to the city center in question and then take a second train to a local hub.

manarola station cinque terre in Italy
Manarola train station, Cinque Terre, Italy

🚄 Florence and Pisa are to the south of Cinque Terre, so you would catch the train to La Spezia Centrale, and from there, a regional train takes you to your village of choice.

🚄 Genoa is to the north, so your initial destination would be Sestri Levante or Levanto before catching the regional train from the other end of the route.

🚄 That might sound like a lot, but the final leg of the journey is short: from La Spezia, it’s a ten-minute ride to the southern-most of the villages, Riomaggiore, while from Levanto it’s a 5-minute ride to the northern-most village, Monterosso.

Florence and Cinque Terre – can you even compare them?

Scenery & Natural Environment

Is Florence or Cinque Terre better for beautiful scenery?

Both places are beautiful but in very different ways.

The lure of Florence is that it looks as it has looked for hundreds of years. The city is steeped in culture, and all around you are testaments to the city’s wealth and elegance.

Florence from the Giotto's Bell Tower, Italy
Florence from the Giotto’s Bell Tower, Italy

The TV series Medici was filmed on location, and it’s clear that very little digital effects would be needed to remove the modern elements from the skyline and transport the viewer back to the 15th century.

However, as well as the normal touchstones for a city’s beauty – streets, squares, cathedrals, bridges – the Tuscan countryside that rises on either side of Florence gives it another source of beauty.

Cinque Terre’s beauty is altogether more curious. Vernazza is the kind of destination you might have stumbled across while Googling the most beautiful places in the world, or the world’s strangest-looking villages!

Seeing the villages from the water at Golden Hour is one of the best tours to take of the Cinque Terre.

Riomaggiore harbor, Cinque Terre, Italy

The history of the villages’ unusual architecture comes historically from a need to defend the coast from attacks.

And while in recent years their beauty has made them an undeniably touristy location, they provide the visitor with innumerable angles of the ocean, the coast, and the Ligurian countryside.

Best for scenery: split decision – it all depends on your tastes.

Historical Sites & Culture

Is Florence or Cinque Terre better for history, museums, and culture?

Here there is no split decision: if you are a culture vulture, Florence is not just more of an attraction than Cinque Terre, it can go toe-to-toe with any city in the world!

Michelangelo's David, Galleria Accademica, Florence, Italy
Michelangelo’s David, Galleria Accademica, Florence, Italy

The entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you can certainly soak up the city’s culture without entering a single museum.

That would mean missing out on genuine masterpieces, though! Michelangelo’s David is found at the Galleria dell’Accademia, while the Uffizi Gallery also houses some of his works alongside those of Da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael, and Caravaggio.

On the religious side of things, the city’s cathedral, the Duomo, is known worldwide and is genuinely iconic. Climbing the dome, and the Terraces, and touring the inside of the Cathedral is a very memorable experience and a must-do Florence adventure.

Ceiling of the Baptistry, Florence, Italy
Domed ceiling of the Baptistery and The Last Judgment mosaic, Florence, Italy

The Medici family funded the Duomo, and they also had the Medici Chapels built in the Basilica of San Lorenzo, one of two churches in Florence to be designated basilicas by the pope.

For science fans, this is the city that brought Galileo to the world’s attention.

At the Museo Galileo, you can see his telescopes, which literally challenged our concepts of the universe – and led to Galileo being under house arrest until his death.

Cinque Terre’s cultural offering is, let’s say, much more typical of a Mediterranean coastal destination.

The villages had economies based on fishing and wine which, while not as big of a draw as Michelangelo’s David, have their charms as well!

As well as sampling the local produce, cultural visitors to Cinque Terre can also find historic churches, such as the San Lorenzo church in Manarola, or take tours of local vineyards to learn about how centuries of agricultural experience were honed to get the best out of the land, leading to those eye-catching terraces vineyards.

Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church Vernazza
Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church, Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Finally, it’s worth remembering that the whole area is designated as the Cinque Terre National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage site.

Best for historical sites & culture: Florence is one of those destinations where your stay is punctuated by the question “Was HE here as well?”

It’s a total cultural powerhouse of a town – but Cinque Terre has a proud history to go with its natural beauty.

Food and Wine

Is Florence or Cinque Terre better for food and wine?

I love Italian food perhaps more than any other cuisine, so I feel like this is a no-lose situation.

Wherever you go in Italy, you have the local specialties, true, but you are also guaranteed that locals’ expectations about what constitutes good coffee, good wine, good pizza, good pasta, or good seafood filter down throughout the culture.

So that means even in an average place in the wrong region, you are likely to get something decent.

Simple pasta lunch at Florence's main market, Italy
Simple pasta lunch at Florence’s main market, Italy

Florence certainly has more famous local dishes.

Perhaps the most famous dish is Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a T-bone or porterhouse steak season and grilled until it is charred on the outside and tender on the inside.

Elsewhere, Florence’s food is, surprisingly, more inspired by historically humble dishes than Medici-style extravagance.

Ribollita and Pappa al Pomodoro are two soups that utilize Tuscan bread, which is unsalted and can often seem hard or stale to the outsider.

Elsewhere trippa (tripe or offal) is used in both trippa alla Fiorentina and Lampredotto, forming part of a recurring theme in Europe of a culture that uses every part of the animal giving way to a culinary favorite.

In terms of pasta, tagliatelle at tartufo (tagliatelle with truffles) and ravioli burro e salvia (ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach and topped with a sage and butter sauce) are the classic dishes.

For dessert, the most Tuscan options would be cantuccini (almond biscotti) or schiacciata alla Fiorentina, an orange-flavored cake.

In terms of wine, there’s a reason Brits call Tuscany Chiantishire! One of Italy’s most popular reds, chianti pairs well with meat, cheese, and pasta.

Gheme wine tasting bar and restaurant, Riomaggiore, Italy

Being on the coast, Cinque Terre’s specialty is undoubtedly seafood, notably its anchovies. Acciughe sotto sale are cured anchovies, extremely strong in flavor, which is used as a condiment or topping.

Elsewhere, regional cuisines are given a local twist. Pesto is from up the road in Genoa, and Cinque Terre has a good reputation for its version. Pesto-making classes are popular along the Cinque Terre. The most popular is this one in Levanto.

In terms of street food, you will find the local version of focaccia alongside less famous dishes such as panissa, a chickpea fritter.

Talking of fritters, Ligurian frittata is something like an omelet and is popular along the Ligurian coast, as is Ligurian minestrone, which is given a local twist with a dash of pesto.

In terms of alcohol, the Cinque Terre DOC (region-protected) is a dry white ideal for seafood and sciacchetrà is a sweet dessert wine, perfect to pair with panettone or cheese.

Best for food and wine: Florence. I can’t vote against the capital of Tuscany in a wine contest, but no one eating out in Cinque Terre will be disappointed either.

Family Holidays

Is Florence or Cinque Terre better for family holidays?

This is a tricky one because it really depends on your children’s age and interests.

Florence is an amazing city for anyone with a passing interest in art, so if your kids are a little older and have an interest in sculpture or being creative, Florence’s charms might not be lost on them.

A child snapping a photograph of statues outside the Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy
A child snapping a photograph of the Fountain of Neptune, Florence, Italy

And even though it has wonderful Italian landmarks like the Duomo, Florence isn’t a funky city like London or New York where they can show off selfies in front of world-famous monuments to their followers on social media!

It is, however, a totally walkable city, so if your idea of family-friendly is not so much captivating to the kids as finding a place you can enjoy without exhausting your kids and yourself in the process, Florence is a good option.

My kids – tweens and teenagers, fell in love with Florence – leather accessory-making classes, cake and biscuit cooking classes for kids, pasta-making classes, pizza and gelato cooking classes for families, art classes, markets of all kinds, pizza, pasta, and gelato!

As for Florence accommodation, Florence hotels are not cheap at any time of year!

Cinque Terre is a mixed bag for families. One of the glories of the region is being able to hike from village to village, and this won’t be possible with small children (and older ones might whine about it too, but many love the hiking, beaches, and scenery).

Monterosso al Mare beach, Cinque Terre, Italy
Monterosso al Mare Beach, Cinque Terre, Italy

However, an advantage Cinque Terre has is the ocean, which means you can have plenty of fun and games in the water, and give your kids the chance to blow off some steam (like on this wonderful kayaking tour or by renting kayaks in Riomaggiore).

Sailing trips along the Ligurian coastline are brilliant at any age!

The local train stops at all of Cinque Terre’s five villages, so even if hiking is out of the question, it’s not hard to explore each village with the frequent village train schedules.

Sometimes families choose to stay in La Spezia because of the greater choice of hotels. Cinque Terre Hotels are generally smaller and charming, but much less in the way of chain hotels.

Best for families: I’m going to give this one to Cinque Terre for the beaches and boating, although Florence will be great for any young budding artists.

Best for Weather

What’s the weather like in Florence and Cinque Terre?

Despite both being in the north of Italy, the climate in Florence and Cinque Terre has some important differences.

Spring rain on the Ponte Vecchio and River Arno, Florence, Italy
Spring rain on the Ponte Vecchio and River Arno, Florence, Italy

Florence has four genuine seasons, with highs in the summer of 30-35°C (86-95°F) and lows in the winter of 3-10°C (37-50°F).

Spring and autumn/fall are both pleasant, and the city is also likely to be less crowded. Just check the weather, I’ve spent very wet periods in Florence in early to mid-May.

Being on the coast, Cinque Terre escapes the extremes of Florence’s temperatures. In the summer, highs average 25-30°C (77-86°F) while in the winter it doesn’t average below 10°C (50°F).

Early May, Cinque Terre,, Italy
Early May, Cinque Terre, Italy

Like Florence, spring and fall/autumn are pleasant, and, bearing in mind these are small towns, the possibility of avoiding the crowds is even more attractive.

One final tip if you are planning to hike: the spring months are arguably the most beautiful because a lot of local flowers will be in bloom. October to April can be grey and gloomy in the Cinque Terre.

Best for weather: Cinque Terre, especially in late Spring and summer, but both destinations make for a pleasant stay during spring and autumn/fall.

So, which is better – Florence or Cinque Terre?

The two destinations offer wildly different experiences, but as long as you go with your expectations clear, I doubt very much you will be disappointed by either.

If your idea of an Italian adventure is bound up with culture, history, and art, there is only one possible choice here: Florence.

Santa Croce Square, Florence
Santa Croce Square, Florence

The only place you will hear the names Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello more frequently is in a Ninja Turtles movie.

However, if you are more into natural beauty than culture and want a seaside summer holiday or spring hiking holiday, Cinque Terre offers a beguiling mix of mountains, coast, vineyards, and uniquely beautiful seaside ports.

Via dell'Amore cinque terre italy
Via dell’Amore, Cinque Terre, Italy

Both destinations are well connected by transport, although Florence is probably a little easier to get to.

The really good news, if you can’t decide, is that a whistle-stop tour of both in one holiday is not at all unfeasible and a private tour day trip to the Cinque Terre from Florence is easy and super popular.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Cinque Terre or Florence Better for Couples?

Both destinations are great. Florence to me is a beautiful city that is all about Tuscan restaurants, romantic strolls through the city, and the inspiring sight of world-class art.

Cinque Terre is a knock-out destination where you will really feel the romance of sunset walks, boat trips, and discovering small wine shops and vineyards.

Is Cinque Terre or Florence Better for Nightlife?

Neither destination is renowned for its nightlife. Cinque Terre perhaps edges it, with some beautiful restaurants offering late-night dining and cocktails, but if you are looking for nightclubs or a thriving bar scene, I would think more about Milan or Rome.

Should I go to Florence first or visit Cinque Terre first?

I would opt for Florence simply because it would make your initial journey from the airport more straightforward, and maybe you will be able to take in the city’s culture and history better if you haven’t spent the previous week on hiking trails around Cinque Terre.

How many days in Cinque Terre is enough?

If you are really just there to take snaps and selfies, Cinque Terre could be a manic day trip! Otherwise, I would recommend at least three days so you get a feel for each of the five towns and sample some local specialties.

How many days in Florence is enough?

I would say the absolute minimum in Florence would be two days, which would give you a chance to make a beeline for the Duomo, Michelangelo’s David, and the Uffizi and watch one of Florence’s amazing sunsets.

A longer stay would allow you to see more of the city’s cultural highlights, and to cross the river to Boboli Gardens.

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