Updated: Oct 1, 2015
Amalfi Coast Vacation
- Amalfi Coast Highlights
- Sample Amalfi Vacation Itinerary - How Many Days?
- What to do and see along the Amalfi Coast
Having visited Italy many times over the last 25 years, I realized I had never been south of Rome before. Not that there is anything wrong with all the stunning spots to visit in the North.. But having heard glowing reviews about the Amalfi Coast region of Italy, I decided that would be the next region to explore. Below you will find our Amalfi Coast vacation travel itinerary and suggestions - trust me, we spent many, many hours researching and reading to figure out where to go, what to see, how many days we needed, etc. Now that it is complete, we hope it helps in planning your own vacation to Italy.
Amalfi Coast MapLet's start with the basics - where and what is the Amalfi Coast? As you can see in the map below, the Amalfi Coast is along the western coast of Italy, close to Naples, and south of Rome. It is named after the town of Amalfi, which is one of the cities along this dramatic stretch of coastline. You can zoom in a bit to see that this horizontal section of coast, the Amalfi Coast, stretches from Sorrento (which is really on the Bay of Naples) in the west, to Salerno in the east. Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius are just to the north, and the island of Capri is just off to the west.
Here's a closer look:
Day 1 / Day 2 - ROME
Day 3 - Travel to Positano
Since we started in Rome, we took the 3hr train ride (7:25AM) to Salerno (south of Naples), and from there caught the 1hr ferry (10:40AM) to Positano. Dealing with luggage, this seemed easier than taking the 2hr Rome-Naples train, and then the crowded 1hr Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento, and then another bus or ferry to Positano. We definitely made the right decision - getting to see Amalfi and Positano from the sea as you arrive is a great way to start your trip. I'll take boats on this coast over crowded buses any day!
Where to stay on the Amalfi Coast? Without having visited and experienced these towns close up, this was a tough decision. Should we bounce between a variety of towns to see more? Split time between two towns? Is Sorrento better as a travel hub? Is Positano too small and touristy? What about Amalfi? Some people say that is the best spot. Ravello, high in the hills? We even heard some say Salerno was a good choice. So after reading countless reviews, looking at pictures, watching videos, we opted for staying in Positano - all 5 nights of our stay. Why Positano? It's kind of in the middle, with the option of taking buses or boats to visit neighboring towns (no train runs along the Amalfi Coast between Sorrento and Salerno). It's amazingly beautiful, quiet. It's romantic. That's what we thought in advance..
And when the week was over? We couldn't have made a better choice. We much preferred Positano over all the other towns we visited, and there was plenty to keep us busy during the days and nights we spent there. If you are trying to choose between Sorrento (big no), Amalfi (still no, but smaller no), and Positano, absolutely go with Positano.
We stayed 5 nights at Villa Rosa (see view from terrace!) for 220E per night. This was a great hotel, with spectacular views from room terraces. Not a super fancy hotel, but perfect location, and probably the best front desk help I have ever had. Very good people, very helpful. Would return in a heartbeat.
After finding porters to take our luggage up to the hotel (yes, Positano is built on a hillside and that means some walking up and down every day.. from the harbor, follow the path that leads up the hill, you will go past the church and through a covered arbor lane before hitting a real street - we turned right and walked the remaining 200 yds to our hotel.. it takes about 5-8 minutes to walk down from halfway up the hill..), we had our most amazing lunch of the trip at a newly opened restaurant across from Villa Rosa called Covo dei Saraceni (it had been a parking lot until a few weeks prior - a parking lot with this view!!??), not to be confused with place of the same name down by the harbor. This spot is just past Hotel Ancora and Franco's as you walk up the hill. Best pasta we had all trip and best view I have ever had (see photo). We had time to settle in, walk around town, sit on the rocky beach, and generally relax in the afternoon after a long morning of travel.
Day 4 - Amalfi and Ravello
Amalfi is only about 10 miles from Positano as the crow flies, which means about 45min via the local SITA bus. You can take a ferry as well, but they don't start as early or run as often, so we took the bus to Amalfi. Ravello is literally "above" Amalfi, situated on a hilltop with a sheer face that looks down over the coast. Getting to Ravello requires switching to another bus, and then about 20 minutes more up the hill. The town itself is small, quaint, and picturesque, but most everyone visits Ravello for its famous two villas and gardens, Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo. We spent more time that we thought we would here (4+ hours), wandering, shopping, eating, and taking in the magnificent views, especially from the Terrace of Infinity (see photo) at Cimbrone. Really liked this town!
Then it was back down the hill to Amalfi. It was later in the day and we were taking the ferry back to Positano, so we had limited time. The waterfront area is busy with traffic and buses. The main road winds up through the town, past the church, which we explored. We probably could have spent another hour or two in Amalfi, but the highlight for us on this day was Ravello.
Day 5 - Island of Capri
Everyone has heard of Capri ("CAW-pree" if you want to sound like a local, not "cuh-PREE"), but like most people, I didn't really know much about it before my trip. Capri is located just off Sorrento, barely 10 miles away. You can get there via ferries from Sorrento, Naples, and most other towns. For us, it was from our base, Positano. We booked a trip a day in advance at one of the booths down by the harbor. Departing after 10am, we got there after 11am, and had just over two hours on the island to explore the two main towns, Capri and Anacapri. Capri is a dramatic island, with sheer rocky cliffs and amazing views. The actual town of Capri is located above the main harbor - you can walk, take a funicular, or take a cab up to the town, which sort of sits on a saddle low-point between higher mountains. Down the backside of the saddle are the Gardens of Augustus.
The town of Anacapri is a short bus or cab ride away, and from there you can take a chairlift to the highest point on the island, where again, the views will delight. Also in Anacapri is Villa San Michele, with still more views over the harbor and Capri (see photo). As a group, we rode a private charter bus around the island. Consider paying for a cab, as the public buses can be crowded and slower. After rushing around the island and grabbing a quick lunch, we went back to our boat in the harbor and then cruised around the island, with stops at the Blue Grotto and another stop for a refreshing swim. The Blue Grotto requires paying a fee and switching into a small row boat to get into the small cave. It's pretty touristy and can take a while, but it was spectacular inside and worth doing.
Seeing Capri from the sea is a great experience, and we were glad our trip included so much time on the water. We returned to Positano on the same boat around 5PM. We really loved Capri, and felt very rushed with just 2 hours on the actual island. Next time, I would like to spend a night or two here and really see everything. Capri stands out as another highlight of the trip, not to be missed!
Day 6 - Pompeii and Sorrento
As a big fan of Italy and Roman history, Pompeii had long been on my list of places to visit. I figured for this day, a couple of hours at Pompeii in the morning, and then the afternoon in Sorrento on the way back to Positano. So it starts with a SITA bus ride from Positano to Sorrento, where you catch the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii (really the only way to get there unless you have a car) - luckily the train station is right next to where the bus stops. The buses run early, so we were on a 7am bus and in Sorrento by 7:40, and then on a train to Pompeii (it's more like a subway or commuter train, not like the larger Italain train lines), arriving in time for an 8:30 opening, although of course today it opens at 9am for some reason, so we sit around and wait. Not much at this train stop - a shop and cafe or two, turn to the right to walk the 100 yards to the Pompeii entrance.
Many people opt for taking a tour or hiring a private guide to show you around Pompeii and explain everything. That would help - it is a big site, and there is not a lot of stuff explained. You basically wander if you are on your own. There are only a handful of buildings that are open and restored - it is mostly block after block of foundations and small walls from the houses and shops that were there. And an amphitheater WAYYYY in the back corner... And it is mostly exposed and hot if it is summer-time. There are a few restored buildings and sites that were impressive, and the plaster body-casts of the victims were very moving.. But having now seen it, I would seriously consider skipping this if you have limited time here. A day spent on Capri was 10X better than a day at Pompeii. Watch a good documentary about it, you'll learn more and probably see more, since so many things are closed. Somewhat glad I went, but underwhelmed... :((
After about 2.5 hours here, we were ready to jump back on the train and head back to Sorrento for lunch and exploration. Unfortunately, the train was not ready. First train, somehow there was a sign up saying it just wouldn't show up today. OK. Next train, just didn't show up. Now there are 400 people in the station waiting for a train, which means a very crowded train when we all try to board finally... welcome to Italy. Crowded ride back to Sorrento, then off into the streets of Sorrento. Sorrento is a busier town, but still quaint, with a nice pedestrian shopping area. A few blocks further takes you to the cliffs overlooking the sea below (see photo), swarming with floating docks filled with sunbathers and swimmers (no beach really), far below. You can walk or take an elevator down, where there are restaurants, and for us -- lunch.
We spent another hour or two after lunch wandering around, but we couldn't find anything resembling the charm of Positano, so it was back on the SITA bus and back to Positano (NOTE: heard lots of horror stories about crowds in summer and packed buses.. We were there middle of July, busy season, but never had a problem getting on a bus. In fact we were the only ones on the 4PM bus leaving Sorrento, so don't be terrified about the bus scene in Amalfi coast.. It's not glamorous, but worked fine for us.).
Day 7 - Positano Leisure
Part of being in Italy is relaxing - the Dolce Vita, right? So we set aside a day to just hang out, no traveling, no buses. Sun, water, food, drink.. where do I sign up? We signed up with Da Adolfo, a well-renowned little beach and restaurant location about 5 minutes from Positano. It's about as informal as Italy gets.. a little boat with a red fish on a sign picks you up at the dock in Positano and deposits you on the beach, where you can swim or relax in the sun until lunch is ready, around 12:30 or 1pm. Eat, drink, relax, head back to town after 3:30 or 4pm sometime.. Even throw in a siesta. Have your hotel book in advance and ask to reserve a beach chair and an early lunch time if you are hungry, otherwise you may not eat until 3pm. There is no food prior to the first lunch service -- you can ask, but the kitchen isn't open yet.
The menu of mostly fresh seafood is listed on a blackboard - ask for help if you need to translate Italian and order from your server. Grilled mozzarella on lemon leaves is a standard, but get whatever fresh grilled fish is available that day.. Drinks are available as soon as you arrive, and the peach sangria is the highlight, served by the little ceramic pitcher (which admittedly came home with us, but it had a broken handle and was on its last legs..). So you lounge, you drink, you swim, you drink, you eat, you sunbathe, you drink, and then you go home! If we had more days, we would have done more of this, get on a boat and visit some of the smaller towns, swim, snorkel, cruise the coast. That's what life here is all about. Shopping and dinner back in Positano for the evening, but a day that lives in our memories..
Day 8 - Paestum
We had run out of time here in the Amalfi Coast.. Our trip included a few more days in Matera and Puglia region before heading back to Rome, but first we had to hit Paestum (pronounced kind of like it looks - "PASTE-um"), just 10mi south of Salerno, home to the finest Greek temples outside of Greece.. We were renting a car out of Salerno for the rest of our journey - you could just as easily take a train or rent a car for a day trip, but it is not super easy to get to Paestum so it is sadly missed by most visitors.
To get an early start, we again opted for the SITA bus instead of ferry to Salerno (with luggage this time - you have to open the bays on the side of the bus yourself and stash your bags inside). Slow, scenic bus ride (it really does take an hour on these roads to go 15 miles sometimes..) to Salerno, then a long, leisurely wait at Avis in town right across from the train station - are they driving these cars in from France or something? Took over an hour for car to show up.. Then we headed down to Paestum and had lunch and walked around the ruins. We had it almost to ourselves, some of the most majestic ruins I have ever seen.. Really beautiful and highly recommended if you can fit this half-day trip into your schedule. And that was our time on the Amalfi Coast.