Salerno is a lively seaport on the southeastern edge of Italy's Amalfi Coast. Though the region is typically known as a jet-setters' paradise, less-glitzy Salerno has become a popular destination for travelers seeking a more tranquil, but nonetheless fascinating place to discover ancient historical sights, sparkling beaches, nature parks, and authentic southern Italian cuisine.
Salerno has seen a succession of inhabitants and rulers, including the Etruscans, Romans, Lombards, Normans, Arabs, French, and Saracen pirates. It suffered a deadly plague and several earthquakes in the 17th and 20th centuries before being heavily bombed during WWII — it was the site of the 1943 Allied invasion of Italy. Fortunately today, Salerno is a thriving modern metropolis with ancient origins and plenty to keep visitors engaged for a few days.
Here's a list of some of our favorite things to see and do in and around Salerno, Italy.
Visit the Salerno Duomo (Cathedral)
Originally erected on this site in the 11th century, the Duomo di Salerno has been rebuilt and renovated a number of times. In the 1930s it was finally restored to its Neapolitan Baroque and Rococo style. Gorgeous and imposing, its most notable elements are the Byzantine bronze door, the 12th-century bell tower, the atrium with columns procured from the nearby ruins of Paestum, and a tomb holding the relics of St Matthew (circa 954) — the patron saint of the city to whom the cathedral is dedicated.
Marvel at the Ruins of Paestum
Paestum, one of the most important ancient Greek sites in southern Italy, is comprised of three temples: the Temple of Hera I (6th century BCE), the Temple of Neptune (5th century BCE), and the Temple of Ceres/Athena (circa 6th-century BCE). The adjoining museum displays an extensive collection of finds that tells the story of the city and its mystical cults and rituals.
Get a Bird's Eye View From Arechi Castle
Perched nearly 985 feet above sea level, there's some dispute whether parts of this medieval castle (Castello di Arechi) were constructed in the late Roman period or in the 6th century. What everyone does agree on, however, is that it has the most stunning views of the Gulf of Salerno anywhere.
The Museo Archeologico Provinciale of Salerno has a huge collection of archaeological finds unearthed in and around the province of Salerno, beginning from the prehistoric period through the late Roman era. The museum frequently hosts children's workshops and special events — check their website for more information.
Nature enthusiasts will appreciate this natural area with its four hiking trails: Sentiero Natura (nature trail), Sentiero del Falco (falcon trail); Sentiero del Bosco (woods trail), and Sentiero dei Due Golfi (trail of the two gulfs), from which you can see both the gulfs of Salerno and Naples. Managed by WWF Italia, the park also didactic areas with information about the region's flora and fauna.
Stroll the Promenade Trieste
A lovely spot for a leisurely evening walk, Lungomare Trieste (Promenade Trieste) is a pedestrian path that parallels Salerno's picturesque seafront. The two-kilometer path, one of the longest in Italy (and ever expanding), stretches from the city's historic center to the Piazza della Concordia at the harbor.
Salerno's botanical garden, the Giardino della Minerva, was the first of its kind in Europe to cultivate plants for therapeutic purposes. The garden was built in the 14th century by Matteo Silvatico, an esteemed physician at the nearby medical school, it contains 382 species of plants, a variety of fountains, and shady terraces beneath vine-covered pergolas.
Get a Tan on an Area Beach
There are several nice, smallish beaches near Salerno, reachable by public buses that ply the twisty, curvy coastal roads. Any one of them makes a great half- or full-day trip from Salerno. La Baia is one of the only sandy beaches on the Amafi Coast, while La Crespella overlooks a 15th-century tower and the sea stacks. I Due Fratelli (the Two Brothers) at Vietri sul Mare looks out on two rock formations jutting out of the sea.
The Scuola Medica Salernitana — a medieval medical school — was once the most important source for medical knowledge in Western Europe. Today, the museum uses the latest audio-visual technologies to provide visitors with a fascinating and fun way to tour the museum. It's located in the restored Church of San Gregorio in the old city center.
Buy Majolica Pottery at Vietri sul Mare
Artisans in this pretty little fishing village have been producing handmade majolica ceramics in vibrant greens, blues, and yellows since Roman times. You can see their handy work everywhere, but most notably lining the dome and bell tower of the church of San Giovanni Battista. Learn more about the history of pottery making by visiting the ceramics museum in nearby Raito.
When it comes to cheese, none is more revered around these parts than mozzarella di bufala (water buffalo mozzarella), a soft, velvety fresh mozzarella. Just a short distance from Paestum, you'll find Tenuta Vannulo: a farm where you can witness first-hand the cheese-making process, meet the animals, and end your tour with a tasting of products made from their buffalo milk, such as chocolate, yogurt, and gelato.
Sample Salerno's Gourmet Treats
Sample local delicacies like colatura di alici, a fish sauce made with anchovies, or pick up salted tuna or mackerel preserved in a jar to take home as a souvenir. On hot days, cool down with a tangy lemon granita (shaved ice and sugared lemon juice), or if you're in the mood for something sweet, try chocolate-covered citrus peels, a flaky babà pastry or a nut-filled praline.