Italy has some unrivaled exquisite landscapes, and The Amalfi Coast may top the charts for one of the most beautiful coastal towns in the world. The Amalfi Coast is what dreams are made of; narrow winding roads give way to jaw-dropping views as cliffs jut straight up from a glistening sea. Fishing boats bob about in the soft, rippling waves, and pastel-colored villages lay perched atop seemingly precarious crumbly-looking cliff sides, whist locals wobble up steep stairways, fresh bread and tomatoes sticking out of their bag from their visit to the local market. It’s enough to quite literally take your breath away as you breathe out “mamma mia“, eyes wide with amazement and soul filled with wonder and warmth…or was it that delightful plate of orecchiette pasta you just consumed for lunch making you feel so warm?
In this blog post, I’ll cover what you need to know for a first-time visit to the Amalfi Coast, including where to stay, how to get around, great beaches and hidden gems along the coastline, and the best day trips. Even if you’ve visited the Amalfi Coast before, this may be a helpful guide and perhaps you’ll discover something new! There are so many delightful villages along the coast, it’s easy to understand why this is such a popular and well-known destination in Italy. But the Amalfi isn’t just for tourists! With so many local villages and lesser-known hidden swimming holes, the Amalfi is great for Italians to get away as well.
WHERE IS THE AMALFI COAST?
The Amalfi Coast is located just beneath Naples on the Southern coast of the Sorrento Peninsula. It’s approximately three hours Southeast of Rome by driving, and three hours Northwest of Puglia, where we spent two weeks prior to visiting Amalfi.
If you’ll be visiting Puglia, check out my post on 10 Unmissable Villages & Beaches in Puglia.
And if you’ll be traveling through Italy, don’t miss my helpful and entertaining read on 40 Things You Need To Know Before Traveling in Italy.
Sasha and I have spent a cumulative total of two months in this beautiful country, from North to South. For more on planning your trip to Italy, check out my Italy Archives.
WHERE TO STAY ON THE AMALFI COAST
Depending on how you want to spend your holiday, I can recommend a few regions of the coast:
If you plan to just relax in and around your hotel and visit the same beach every day without a rental car, then Sorrento is a good base.
If you’re looking for a more authentic local feel without the high prices of the famous Positano, then Scala, located above the town of Ravello (also recommended by one of our favorite guides, Rick Steves) is a good option.
If you want to be price-gouged and around thousands of other tourists, then the famous Positano may be acceptable.
And lastly, if you’re adventurous travelers like us and are keen to do your own exploring by car, and especially if you love history and visiting historical sites such as The Ruins of Pompeii and the Greek Ruins of Paestum, then Raito is your best bet. We based ourselves in Raito for just under two weeks in the month of August, and it was by far our favorite village out of all the ones we visited along the coast.
HOW TO GET AROUND THE AMALFI COAST
I don’t mean to offend anybody by this next comment, but you should have realistic expectations; the Amalfi Coast is hilly, everywhere. If you’re out of shape or have difficulties walking up stairs, you may want to consider giving the Amalfi Coast a miss, as it simply is not possible to visit without having to climb steep sets of narrow stairs. Stairs and hills are a part of life on the Amalfi Coast, and it’s par for the course for visiting.
BY CAR: If you’re comfortable driving on winding roads, often with narrow lanes of traffic and Vespas whizzing past you along cliff sides, then renting a car is your best bet. However, keep in mind that parking for many of the beaches and villages can be a challenge. In August we didn’t have any problems finding parking, but I feel like the parking Gods frequently smile upon us, because we always seem to get lucky with someone who is just leaving.
BY BUS: There is a public transportation bus (SITA), but if you get carsick, it may not be ideal unless you’re going a short distance.
BY BOAT: There is a pedestrian ferry that goes from Positano to Raito back and forth. The Travelmar Ferry will connect with ports in Positano, Amalfi, Minori, Maiori and Salerno.
Bear in mind that transportation schedules vary greatly depending on the season, so be sure to check the ferry timetable to plan your days.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THE AMALFI COAST?
High season runs from April – October with peak season in July and August. The low season is November – March. The 15th of August is an Italian holiday called Ferragosto, so this will be THE most busy week of the entire year along the coast (and this goes for just about any popular Italian coastline city), so I would avoid visiting in mid-August. The temperatures are also very hot and humid (high 30’s C / 90’s F, often with humidity above 60%)
SWIMMING IN THE AMALFI COAST
Unlike places like Hawaii, where I’m from, not all beaches are public spaces, so you must pay to use the umbrella and chair beds. And they’re not cheap! Because the prices are only for all-day rentals (rather than by the hour), it’s only worth it if you stay for a while; bring your book, enjoy an aperol spritz, and kick your legs up. Prices range from €20 – €45 for two bed chairs and an umbrella, or they rent them separately.
At (most but not all) beaches, there is a “free” section where you do not have to pay, but it’s best to bring your own umbrella and towels because the sun is very strong and there are usually no shaded areas. These free “slices” of beach are usually tiny because they encourage you to spend money!
TOP PLACES TO VISIT ALONG THE AMALFI COAST
- Heights of Ravello
- Charming town of Furore – visit Fiordo di Furore
- Marina di Praia
Ravello is in between Raito and Positano, and a good place to stop to stretch your legs and take some photos from high up on the mountainside.
Fiordo di Furore is a lesser-known swimming hole with stairs leading down to crystal clear waters with a bridge above. Unfortunately we weren’t able to find parking, so we had to move along, but I recommend you to check this place out if you can get there.
Marina di Praia is another lovely little swimming hole with a rocky beach.
Sorrento is famous for its limoncello production, so be sure to try it here! Granita, a non-alcoholic lemon slushy drink, is also a popular drink that can be found along the roadside.
Salerno is a relatively big and noisy city, but if you base yourselves in Raito like we did, this will be the closest “big city” (15 minutes by driving), where you can find larger shops and restaurants. Our favorite village was by far, Raito where we stayed, because it was comprised of 100% locals; we didn’t hear a single language other than Italian, which we loved. The prices were cheaper because of not catering to tourists, and the beaches were lovely. Below is a panoramic sunset shot from the rooftop terrace of our Airbnb.
Positano I’ve saved for last, but not because it’s the best. We were underwhelmed with our visit to Positano. Out of all the places along the Amalfi Coast, Positano is by far the most famous and well-known. Sasha and I joked that whomever did their marketing many years ago, did a brilliant job, because in our (albeit, biased) opinion, Positano had nothing unique that makes it better than other villages along the coast. The beach was crowded with unclear, murky water, it was filled with mosquitoes, and overly crowded with tourists. But what turned us off most, was the gouging prices. Because only tourists stay here, restaurants and shops can get away with charging over double what other (local) villages along the coast, charge. Parking is €10 per hour (!!)
The other undesirable trait about Positano, is how unpleasant it is to walk along the road. Positano is extremely hilly, and the pedestrians share the road way with cars, which is only one-way (so if you miss a turn, you’ll be sitting in slow traffic, trying not to hit people walking along the road on the narrowest of passageways, until you reach the other side, as it’s one large loop.)
Of course, you should take our opinion with a grain of salt, as it is just our opinion. We have been fortunate enough to travel all throughout Italy for two months and experience some really great local villages, so our set of expectations is very different than a first-timer traveling to Italy. If you’ve never seen an Italian cliffside coastal town in your life, and Positano is the first Italian village you see, of course it’s going to be stunning and exquisite and you’ll probably fall in love with it and not even mind (nor notice) the expensive prices or the fact that only tourists are there and not locals. And that is a perfectly acceptable first-time visit.
In Between the towns of Amalfi and Positano, there is a lovely restaurant with a beautiful terrace overlooking the sea, called Baglio. This restaurant is run by a married couple named Albino and Serena, and they are the sweetest! The food is delicious and the views are perfection. Enjoy a mimosa with fresh-squeezed orange juice, and fresh local seafood.
BEST DAY TRIPS FROM AMALFI COAST
- Ruins of Pompeii
- City of Naples
- Paestum Greek Temple
RUINS OF POMPEII
Even if you’re not a history buff, the Ruins of Pompeii cannot be missed if you have an entire day to dedicate to visiting this fascinating historical place. If you don’t want to hire a guide to take a tour, I highly recommend downloading the free Rick Steves app, and using his Guide To Pompeii to navigate your way through this massive site. Though short (only 38 minutes), this was an excellent (and entertaining with good humor) guide that literally walked us through all the main sites with excellent context on what we were seeing. I do not recommend trying to navigate through Pompeii on your own without a guide, as it is overwhelming and will look just like a pile of rocks, and you’ll walk away not having learned anything.
As you enter this colossal ruins, take a look at the sidewalks, which contain pieces of broken pots (even the Romans recycled!), which contain white shiny marble; these pieces of marble acted as natural reflectors and helped the Romans navigate at night.
August 24, 79 AD was the fateful day of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, located just five miles to the North. It hadn’t erupted for 1,200 years, so Romans had no idea that they were living beneath a volcano. 2,000 of the 20,000 citizens were entombed.
The ruins of Pompeii were not discovered until the 1600’s, but excavations began in 1748. The last time Mount Vesuvius erupted, was 1944, and it is still an active volcano today.
CITY OF NAPLES
Naples is arguably the culture capital of Southern Italy and once had its glorious heyday. Current day Naples (Napoli in Italian), is grungy, noisy, busy, and gets a bad reputation for being dangerous. Do I recommend visiting Naples? Absolutely! But I would only recommend a day trip and to leave once it’s dark. Sasha drove like a champ, navigating crazy intersections with aggressive drivers and mopeds coming at you like astroids from every which direction. Driving in Naples is extremely stressful, so if you can get into town via public transportation or hire a private guide, I recommend to do that so you avoid driving in the city and looking for parking.
We listened to Rick Steves’ guide to Naples audio tour, which is approximately 90 minutes, and it gave an excellent overview and history of the city and its main sights. The start of this free audio tour, begins at the Naples Archaeological Museum and takes you through the main part of the city center.
PAESTUM GREEK TEMPLE
When I posted the above photo on my Instagram, I joked that Sasha and I had flown to Athens for a day, which is easily believable with how close Greece is to Italy! But nope, this Greek temple is right here in Southern Italy. The drive from where we were staying in Raito, was only one hour, and it was a lovely drive with parts of it along the coast and out into the countryside; a nice reprieve from all those winding mountainous roads! We didn’t actually pay to go inside the ruins because the queue was so long, but it’s completely possible to view the ruins from the other side of the low gate, and you can take photos here.
This part of Italy is where bufala di mozzarella comes from, and you can actually visit the buffalos and see the cheese-making process. Whilst in this area, I highly recommend enjoying lunch at Casa Coloni Ristorante inside the Tenuta Duca Marigliano Boutique Hotel. The Chef is known for his unique twists on food fermentation and pairing modern techniques with traditional ingredients and flavors found in the region.
Bread is made daily, using 30% acorn flour from acorn trees that provide the shade over the outdoor terrace of the restaurant. It was a phenomenal foodie experience, and one of our highlights in Southern Italy!
Now you know the best places to visit, swim and dine in and around the Amalfi Coast! Happy traveling!
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