Just the name "Amalfi Coast" conjures up images of pastel-colored towns clinging to seaside cliffs, idyllic beaches and coves, luxury hotels, gorgeous Mediterranean sunsets, and a slice of the good life, Italian style. And the Amalfi Coast, the irregularly-shaped promontory between Sorrento and Salerno in Italy's Campania region, delivers on all those promises. From charming and interesting small towns to boat trips along the coast, rugged hikes, archaeological sites, and more, there is no shortage of ways to enjoy the area. Starting with the best towns to explore, here are the top 14 things to do and see along Italy's idyllic Amalfi Coast.
As the starting point of the Amalfi Coast and the closest city with direct train connections to Naples, Sorrento makes a solid base for discovering the rest of the coast, especially if you intend to visit the Pompeii archaeological park. The city has a charming old town defined by Via San Cesareo, which is lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. Sorrento's clifftop public gardens allow visitors to take in sweeping views of the coast. At the seaside below the cliffs, there are piers, rather than beaches, where visitors can pay for a lounge chair and umbrella, swim, and get some sun. Ferries and larger tour boats leave from Sorrento's Marina Piccola to connect to Naples, Capri, Positano, and other towns along the coast. Nearby Marina Grande still retains the authentic feel of a traditional fishing village.
Possibly the best-known town along the Amalfi Coast, Positano is famous for its pastel-colored houses, abundant, colorful flowers, and its dramatic cliffside location—the town almost seems to tumble down the cliff into the sea. Top things to do here include shopping along Via Cristoforo Colombo, climbing the network of stairs that connect different levels of the town, and swimming in the clear waters off Positano's handful of beaches. There's seaside dining along the Spiaggia Grande beach, and in Positano's Church of Santa Maria Assunta, there's an important 13th-century icon of the Black Madonna. If you can afford its upscale ambiance, Positano is a great central base for exploring the whole Amalfi Coast.
Escape Crowds in Praiano
At just 10 kilometers past Positano, sleepy Praiano may be the Amalfi Coast's best-kept secret. As one of the few coastal towns that sit below the cliffs instead of over them, Praiano feels perhaps more connected to the sea. It's still a fishing village, but it also has some fine hotels and excellent restaurants severing local seafood—mostly without Positano prices or crowds. Excellent hikes depart from here, and swimming in the deep, clear Mediterranean waters, in the shadow of those mighty cliffs is a surreal experience.
Amalfi is famous for its lemons and limoncello liqueur, so shops in town are stocked with plenty of the strong, sweet "digestivo," sold in artfully shaped bottles, as well as ceramics, clothing, and even shoes adorned with lemons. Peruse the shops or stop into a bar to taste the liqueur.
Explore the Culture of Ravello
Despite being set back a few kilometers from the sea, Ravello still manages to draw the tourist crowds. It's famous for its gardens and villas, many of which are open to the public and offer tremendous views of the sea and coastline. Ravello is also known for the performing arts, with an important summer music festival and the Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium, an ultra-modern concert hall that seems to hang over the sea.
While much of the Amalfi Coast has an air of stylish exclusivity, down-to-earth Salerno gives tourists a taste of everyday life along the fabled coast. It's a strategically located and busy port town, but with enough history and attractions to occupy visitors for a few days. If you're interested in exploring both the Amalfi Coast and points south, like the Greek ruins at Paestum or the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, Sorrento is where you should base. You'll find many more affordable hotels and restaurants here than in other areas of the Amalfi Coast.
Although they're not technically on the Amalfi Coast, the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both destroyed by the devastating eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, are on most travelers' must-see lists for southern Italy. From Sorrento, the Pompeii Archaeological Park is a 30-minute train ride, with trains departing every 30 minutes. In another 20 minutes, the same train reaches Ercolano (Herculaneum). Dozens of tour operators run escorted trips to Pompeii from Sorrento, Salerno, and other towns along the coast.
You've probably heard legends or horror stories about the Amalfi Coast road—with its sheer drops, flimsy-looking guardrails, and hairpin turns. Having traveled the road, we can say that unless you have nerves of steel (no, really) or fancy a white-knuckle drive in your rental car—let someone else do the driving. SITA public buses ply the coastal road, or you can hire a private driver or take part in a small group tour to see highlights of the coast. It's fun to gasp at how close the passing buses and cars get to one another, and at how low those guardrails seem—at least when you're not the one driving.
Row Through the Grotta dello Smeraldo
The Grotta dello Smeraldo, or Emerald Grotto, is near Conca Dei Marini, about midway between Positano and Amalfi. It's a dazzling sea cave that's partly underwater. Light coming in from an underground passage gives the cave its otherworldly green glow—though it can also appear blue depending on the time of day and weather conditions. It's a popular stop for boat tours of the coast, or you can go directly to the grotta, take an elevator down to sea level and then tour the cave in a guided rowboat.
Visiting the island of Capri is a highlight for most travelers to the Amalfi Coast. The island is famous for its Roman ruins, its Blue Grotto sea cave, and for its reputation as a playground for the rich, famous, and infamous. While high-capacity ferries from Sorrento go back and forth to the island of Capri all day long, it's a more intimate and far less hectic experience to visit Capri on a private or small-group tour. Tours by Locals is one of the dozens of companies that offer trips to Capri departing from different points along the Amalfi Coast, with stops for swimming and snorkeling along the way.
Shop for Amalfi Coast Souvenirs
Like every region of Italy, the Amalfi Coast has handicrafts, textiles, food, and other products that are unique to the region and even, in some cases, different from town to town. Amalfi town and Sorrento are both famous for their lemons, which are crafted into soaps, perfumes, candles and, of course, limoncello. Vietri Sul Mare, located near Salerno, is a center for hand-painted ceramics—look for the words "Vietri” or “Vietri sul Mare", plus the term CAT stamped on the bottom of the real stuff. Amalfi is also famous for handmade paper, while Positano and Capri are known for their astounding variety of handmade sandals. Fine linen resort-wear is sold up and down the coast.
Hike the Valle dei Mulini
For a switch from sand and sea, the Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills) hike between Amalfi and the even smaller town of Pontone, winds through thick woods and past cascading waterfalls that once powered the mills that made Amalfi's famous paper. The trail is dotted with the crumbled ruins of several mills, and starts, aptly enough, near the Paper Museum in Amalfi. The uphill climb is gradual, and the round-trip hike is about 6 kilometers total.
Kayak Among Caves and Coves
Kayaking along the Amalfi Coast is a splendid way to get close to the region's dramatic landscape, as a nimble kayak allows you to paddle close to cliffs, into some sea caves, and onto deserted beaches in hidden sea coves. Most of the bigger Amalfi towns have kayak rental outfitters, many of which offer guided tours, as well.
Get Away From Everything on Punta Campenella
For a rare stretch of undeveloped shoreline, head to the Punta Campanella Marine Reserve, which occupies much of the coastal land and surrounding seas between Sorrento and Marina del Cantone. Boats from Sorrento and smaller area towns explore the park, or you can drive or bus in and check out scheduled activities at the park office. Swimming, diving, hiking, and cliffside walks are all options.