Amalfi: Planning Your Trip

Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Amalfi, a charming and historically rich town on Italy's scenic Amalfi Coast, lies at the mouth of a deep ravine and is surrounded by breathtaking cliffs that plunge into the Mediterranean Ocean. Centuries before the Papal dominance of the Italian peninsula, Amalfi was one of four powerful maritime republics and a trade bridge between Byzantine and western world. Today, Italian natives refer to this hillside city as "the pearl of the Mediterranean," with its ivory-colored buildings, complete with tiled terracotta roofs. This remarkably scenic town boasts narrow alleyways that wind through the city's center and up the slopes, connecting the sea to the mountains. A trip to Amalfi rewards visitors with a peek into the region's lemon cultivation and handmade paper operations, as well as tranquil beaches, historical sights, and luxury resorts and hotels. Here, you can experience breathtaking medieval architecture, artisan shops, and a plethora of authentic eating and drinking establishments that welcome you in like a warm hug, making it difficult to end your stay.

A Bit of History

Amalfi was one of the first Italian cities to emerge from the so-called "dark ages" after the fall of the Roman Empire. By the 9th century, it was the most important port in southern Italy. It's the oldest of one of four centuries-old maritime republics, including Genoa, Pisa, and Venice, and its strong military and robust trading power influenced the city's architecture, including the famous Amalfi Cathedral.

At its peak, the population base of Amalfi was 80,000 people strong, until it fell to an invasion by both Norman and Pisa forces, followed by a storm and earthquake in 1343, when much of the old town slid into the sea. Today, Amalfi is home to approximately 5,000 full-time residents. Yet, the population soars in the summertime when Italian and international travelers flock to its majestic coastline.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Amalfi is during the slack seasons of spring and fall, when the tourist numbers are low and the weather is comfortable. During this time, high temperatures hover between 70 and 80 degrees F (21 to 27 degrees C). The Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics, a historical boat race competition between eight-oared galleons, takes place in Amalfi every fourth May. It's a sight to see, if you can book your trip around the event.
  • Language: Being an Italian city, you will find most people in Amalfi speaking the Italian language. However, some locals prefer to speak the regional dialect of the Napoli region, so knowing a few Neapolitan phrases before you travel is helpful.
  • Currency: Amalfi and the surrounding coastal villages exchange the euro currency for all payments. You can easily find banks and ATMs scattered throughout the city.
  • Getting Around: Most people prefer to travel by foot when negotiating the town of Amalfi. However, a motorcycle or moped is the preferred means of transportation if you want complete freedom to adventure. You can drive your moped onto the ferries, traveling from town to town and take it up into the hills and countryside, as well.
  • Travel Tip: If you fly into Naples, consider taking the train to the Amalfi Coast. From there, you can rent a moped in Amalfi or explore the town by foot.

Things to Do

History buffs, foodies, and sun-worshippers will all get their fill in Amalfi. The area is known for its distinctive architecture, crystal blue waters, and local delicacies. Paper has been made here for centuries and can be purchased in local shops. A tour of the old mill provides a lesson in history, as well as a starting point for hikes that take you to pristine waterfalls and overlooks.

  • Go to the Beach: Amalfi's beaches are some of the best on the coast, complete with several top-rated bathing establishments that rent beach chairs, umbrellas, and changing rooms. The water is crystal clear and provides a great opportunity for those who long for adventure in the form of swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and boating.
  • Climb the steps at the Museo Diocesano Amalfi. The buildings and grounds here are excellent examples of medieval architecture with Moorish influence. The cathedral is reached by an impressive staircase of 62 steep steps leading up from the main piazza. Mosaics decorate the exterior of the church and its impressive bronze doors were crafted in 1066. Inside, the 9th-century basilica has Romanesque columns and frescoes. It also houses the richly decorated Crypt of St. Andrew in its Diocesan museum.
  • Visit the Paper Museum and hike Valley of the Mills. A thick, soft, paper, called “bambagina,” coveted by artists, has been made for centuries in Amalfi. It's currently used in the Vatican, and you'll find it sold all over town. Touring the paper museum gives you an inside look into this ancient production, as you step back in time. Once the tour is over, explore the adjacent stream bed set in between the cliffs. Some of the mills that brought water to the paper workshops are still in operation today. Continuing beyond town, walks in the steep wooded hills pass by waterfalls, springs, and occasional sea views.

For additional sights and activities, check out our guide of things to do on the Amalfi Coast.

What to Eat and Drink

Dining in Amalfi can range from a farm-to-table, home-cooking-style affair in a rustic, woodsy setting at Agricola Fore Porta, or high-end waterfront dining at modern Sensi, part of the Hotel Residence. With its seaside location, seafood is incorporated into most dishes found on local menus. Expect to find the classic spaghetti and clams in restaurants and a cup of fried mixed fish at street side markets. Lemons abound in this region and are incorporated into everything from delizia di limone, a lemon-scented sponge cake dessert, to limoncello di Amalfi, a famous lemon liquor. Head to the hills above the coast to find cheesemongers who make Fiori di Latte cheese, one of the main ingredients in the Neapolitan Margherita pizza. Scialatelli, a type of wide pasta used to soak up seafood broth, is typically plated alongside freshly-caught fish.

Additional Amalfi Coast delicacies can be found in our food guide to this region.

Where to Stay

Staying in Amalfi's town center puts you within walking distance of the ferry, the bus terminal, and the beach. For this reason, it's the best place to stay if you don't have a car. All the main sights are within the city's center and the beach is nearby, too. Check out L'Antico Convitto, a modest, in-town stay with a rooftop terrace boasting 360-degree views.

If relaxing by the beach is your thing, Positano has two town beaches, as well as many beachside resorts. This town is well connected by bus to the others along the coast, but it's extremely busy in the summertime. Hire a boat from the village docks in town to take you away from the crowds to a remote stretch of sand for the day.

A cliffside retreat, just outside of town, offers a more relaxing vibe, while also allowing easy access for day trips to Positano, Ravello, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, and Herculaneum, and Naples. Hotel Santa Caterina is just 15 minutes outside of downtown Amalfi on a cliff overlooking the sea. But you won't be stuck on the hill, as its elevator connects guests to an oceanside infinity pool and beach club.

Getting There

The town of Amalfi is located in the heart of the Amalfi Coast, southeast of Naples, between the town of Salerno, the region's transportation hub, and the resort village of Positano. The closest airport is in the city of Naples, where you can rent a car and drive the two hours to Amalfi, take the train, ride the bus, or catch a hotel shuttle. The closest train station is in Salerno, with buses that connect to Amalfi. Ferries run between Naples and Sorrento, Salerno, and Positano during the busy summer months. Additionally, buses connect all the towns along the coast.

Money Saving Tips

  • Avoid renting a car. You don't need one to travel to Amalfi and getting around from town to town is easy using public transportation. Additionally, the streets are narrow and winding, and car rentals are expensive.
  • Don't stay in Positano. While this resort town lends breathtaking views, it's also crowded and expensive. Instead, stay in Ravello or Minori; both have bus connections to Amalfi.
  • Book your accommodations way in advance. Booking ahead of time lands you the best deals, and last-minute bookings tend to be more expensive based on limited availability.