In our old neighborhood in Chiswick, there was this small Italian restaurant that was our favorite on the high road. It was never particularly busy and the food was delicious (I mean, is there such a thing as bad Italian?), but what I really enjoyed was that most of the staff actually were Italian and always friendly and talkative with us if we were in the mood for a chat. There was a giant mural on the wall at the restaurant’s entrance of a fairytale-like town with multi-colored houses built on top of each other on the side of a cliff. I admired it every time we were there, thinking somewhere so picture-perfect couldn’t possibly exist, and eventually asked one of the waiters if it was just a figment of some artist’s imagination or if it was indeed a real place, and he surprised me by saying, ‘Oh, yes. That is Positano on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.’ And I was all, ‘Cool. Can you please spell that for me so I can move there and never leave?’
And that is how we found ourselves spending the good part of a week on Italy’s gorgeous Amalfi Coast during our second summer in Europe. It was our first time in the country and, oh man, did it leave us wanting more. The Amalfi Coast is a hugely popular tourist destination, especially in the summer, so how I didn’t know about it prior to finding it in our little Italian restaurant, I don’t know. Thankfully, despite its popularity, the Amalfi Coast still looks very much in real life as it did in the painting that originally sparked my interest in this part of the Mediterranean. The dramatic scenery and natural beauty of the coast have not been spoiled by high-rises or other major development, and so the most disappointing part of your trip will be realizing that, most likely, you will have to leave this magical place before you are ready to. You could easily spend a full week or more exploring the many towns and beaches along the coast, but if you’re like us and the majority of your holidays are restricted to less than a week’s time, this is how we suggest you spend an amazing five days on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.
Where to Stay: Sorrento
While not technically on the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento is one of the best places to base yourself if you don’t plan to spend your entire vacation in the same town. More trains, boats, and buses leave from Sorrento than from any of the other towns along the coast, so if you will be spending each day somewhere new (which I definitely recommend doing to make the most of your trip), staying in Sorrento will make getting from place to place much quicker and easier. It’s also the more economical choice, so unless you’ve got the cash to splash out for one of the luxury hotels in Positano, you’ll probably feel a lot more comfortable in Sorrento.
However, this is Italy, so Sorrento is still far from what I’d call a budget destination. We were having a difficult time finding a hotel that fit our budget for a 5-night stay, so we decided to try something new and stay in an Airbnb for the first time. (For the record, I wish we’d been doing this a lot sooner in our Europe travels!) We stayed at Casa Filly, which at the time was new to Airbnb. We had a good deal of trouble staying here in the beginning as the owner was on holiday herself, and as luck would have it, we were completely without power for our first two days meaning no hot water for showers, no WiFi, food spoiling in the fridge, and even worse, no way to charge our phones and camera batteries. It’s a miracle we ever tried Airbnb again after that. (But I’m so glad we did!)
Except for our electricity troubles, which a look through the current reviews shows hasn’t happened recently to anyone else, Casa Filly couldn’t have been more perfect. The apartment was located close to Sorrento’s main square, Piazza Tasso, and was only a 10-minute walk from the train and bus station. The apartment itself just looked so perfectly Italian, I fell in love with it the minute we walked in the door. Definitely give this place, or at least this area, a look if you end up staying in Sorrento!
Day One: Sorrento
It’s your first day on the Amalfi Coast and since you just flew into Naples and then took the train or bus down to the coast, you probably only have a half day at best to do some exploring, so I suggest using whatever time you have on your first day to see Sorrento. Sorrento does have beaches, so if you’re anxious to soak up some Vitamin D, by all means, head straight there! But if you’re content to spend your beach days elsewhere, the town of Sorrento is a fascinating one to explore. Because it’s a bigger town and not just a tourist destination, you’ll see things here that you won’t in some of the more popular beach locales along the coast. People actually live in Sorrento, so here is where you’ll be able to see (and photograph, if you’re into that) Italian daily life.
Tips – I recommend checking out the Marina Grande for views across the water of Mount Vesuvius, the Piazza Della Vittoria for beautiful cliffside views, the Marina Piccola and surrounding area for beaches, Piazza Tasso for shopping and restaurants, and the Piazza Sant’Antonino and adjacent side streets for a less-touristy glimpse of Sorrento.
Day Two: Positano
Let’s be honest, the main reason you’re probably coming to the Amalfi Coast is to see Positano, so it only makes sense to go there for your first full day! It takes about 40 minutes to reach Positano by bus, so I recommend trying to catch an early bus to make the most of your time. Plus, the earlier you get there, the longer you’ll have to enjoy the beach before it gets super crowded around mid-day. Even if you’re not a photographer, you’re going to want your camera for this one!
Positano is unbelievably beautiful. If you arrive by bus, the bus will let you out at the top of the cliff. From here you’ll have one of the best views of the whole of Positano from the houses on the neighboring cliffside to the beaches down below. There is just one narrow road that winds down to the village below and most likely you will be stopping every few feet to take a photo because everything is beautiful here. (Tip: Take most of your photos on the way down. Trying to take photos after a long, hot day on the beach as you walk up the side of a cliff is not an easy task.)
If you’re visiting in the high season, the first thing you’ll want to do is pay the daily rate for a sun-lounger under the umbrellas as close to the water as you can. The cost is €12.50 per person on Spiaggia Grande – the main beach. If you’re fine not to have the traditional “Positano view”, sun loungers are cheaper and the beach less crowded on Fornillo Beach, a 10-minute walk from Spiaggia Grande. (If you’re facing the sea, Fornillo is to your right. Just ask someone where the path is!) After you’ve gotten settled on whichever beach you’ve chosen, the rest of the day is yours to relax and enjoy the ocean! There’s not really much to do in Positano, but there are quite a few shops and boutiques, and no matter which beach you’ve settled on, I still recommend walking the path to check out the other, too, as they’re both beautiful.
Tips – The beaches in Positano are made of pebbles, not sand, so you can leave your sand castle-making tools at home. But bring your flip-flops! After a few hours in the sun, those pebbles get hot and unless your sun lounger is on the first row and you can jump to the water, your feet are going to be burning if you’re barefoot! Eating in Positano is not cheap, but we liked Paradise Lounge Bar – really delicious, reasonably-priced pizzas with a view overlooking the main beach. Also, make sure you stick around to watch the sunset in Positano. You might not have a clear view of the sun itself, but the famous Positano cliffside framed in sunset colors is something you won’t want to miss. It’s best viewed from up high, so where the bus let you off in the morning is a good spot to be. Most other day-visitors will have the same idea, so getting on a bus back to Sorrento may take some time, but it’s worth it!
Day Three: Pompeii
If you’re like me and prefer to break up the beach days with days where you’re actually doing something, visiting Pompeii is the perfect way to spend your third day. To reach Pompeii, you’ll need to buy a train ticket to Pompeii Scavi. Trains run every 30 minutes, so you don’t really need to plan ahead for this one. Just arrive at the station and buy your ticket. The journey takes just half an hour and the entrance to Pompeii is only a few steps from where the train lets you out.
Pompeii is enormous, so depending on how in-depth you want to get and whether or not you want to see everything there is to see, you will probably spend anywhere from 3 hours to all day inside the ruins. We hit all the major highlights and a few of the more obscure areas and spent a total of four hours inside, not counting the time we spent getting lunch at one of the cafes.
Group tours covering the Pompeii highlights are available or you can splurge for a private guided tour that will take you around to whatever you like, or if you want to go the more economical route, you can purchase a guide book from the same place you buy your entrance tickets. I highly recommend you do one or the other because there isn’t a whole lot of information provided as you walk through the ruins. It would be a waste to go through without really knowing what you’re looking at.
Tips – Do not forget to bring plenty of water, especially if you’re visiting in the summer. There are free faucets to fill up your bottle throughout the ruins, but not knowing exactly how safe that was, we were glad we’d brought plenty of our own. Bring protection from the sun – a hat, sunscreen, and a shirt that covers your shoulders is best. It gets super hot here in the summer and there is zero shade anywhere in Pompeii. You will be miserable if you’re not prepared. Plan for more time than you think you’ll need. Pompeii is a busy place, and we ended up having to wait to see some of the most popular areas. Plus, we saw lots of extra things in our guide that we hadn’t planned on seeing and we were glad we didn’t have anywhere else to be for the rest of the day so we could take our time! If you finish earlier than expected, you can always take the train the short distance to Herculaneum, another ancient town destroyed by Mount Vesuvius that is even better preserved than Pompeii.
Day Four: Amalfi
On day four, it’s back to the beach for you! You deserve it after all that walking at Pompeii! Besides Positano, one of the most scenic beach destinations on the Amalfi Coast is the town of Amalfi itself. At an hour and half away by bus, it’ll take a little bit longer to reach than Positano, but it’s a beautiful (albeit somewhat frightening around those cliff-side curves) ride and it goes quickly. (Try to sit on the coastal side of the bus each way. Otherwise, the views aren’t nearly as spectacular.)
The bus will let you out pretty close to Amalfi’s Spiaggia Grande, but I suggest walking a little further down to Atrani Beach for an even more scenic (and certainly more low-key) beach day. Amalfi is a much bigger town than Positano, so the main beach gets a little louder and wilder than it does in Positano. If this is what you’re after, then great! But if you’re traveling with kids or just want a little more peace and quiet, Atrani is the better choice. (If you’re facing the sea, just walk down the road to your left.)
Tips – Get lunch at Le Arcate on Atrani Beach. They offer eat-in or take-away and their pizzas and pasta are pretty much Italian perfection, but one of the best parts is watching them cook from the open window! Also, even if you don’t set up on the Spiaggia Grande, make sure you head over there and the Marina Grande for some pretty spectacular pictures. Walking out on the pier provides the best panoramic view of the whole Amalfi area.
Day Five: Your Choice!
When planning your trip, I recommend leaving your last full day on the Amalfi Coast open, just in case you want to return somewhere you loved on your first few days (which there is a strong possibility of). We were glad we hadn’t made any particular plans because we loved Positano so much that one day just wasn’t enough and we went back for a second!
If you want to check out something new, catching the bus to the town of Ravello, a UNESCO world heritage site along the Amalfi Coast, is a great idea. This town was my original choice for how to spend our last day – pictures I’d seen of Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone had me convinced it was worth a visit – but getting there requires traveling to Amalfi and then taking another bus the rest of the way and we just didn’t feel like spending so much of our last day on a bus. If you’re looking for something active, hiking the Path of the Gods from Bomerano to Positano is a great way to see the Amalfi Coast. (It’s an 8km hike and will take approximately 3 hours, so be prepared!) Another good option would be to take the ferry out to Capri for the day. Ferries leave frequently from the port in Sorrento during high season and the journey only takes about half an hour, so getting there is easy. Hit the Blue Grotto first thing before it gets too busy and then head over to Anacapri to take the chairlift (or hike!) to the top of Mount Solaro for some gorgeous views of the island and ocean.
Unless you’ve got your own car and are brave enough to make the hairpin turns along the Amalfi Coast on your own, you’ll be at the mercy of public transportation to get you from place to place. Luckily, both trains and buses on the Amalfi Coast are reliable and super easy to use! No advance purchase is needed. Just show up before the scheduled time you want to leave and purchase your ticket.
To get from Naples airport to Sorrento (or wherever else you might be staying on the Amalfi Coast), you’ve got two good options. The first is to take a taxi (€20) to the central train station in Naples and then catch the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento (€3.50 per single ticket). The journey takes about an hour and the train will let you off near the center of town. The bus station is located just outside the train station, which is super convenient if you need to catch a ride to somewhere else along the coast. The other option is to take the Curreri bus straight from the airport to the Sorrento bus station (€10 per single ticket). We tried both ways and I definitely preferred the bus since taking one form of transportation is almost always easier than two!
To get from Sorrento to Positano or Amalfi (or any number of other towns along the Amalfi Coast), you’ll need to buy a ticket at the bus station for the SITA bus. For a return ticket to Positano, it’ll cost about €3.50 per person. To Amalfi, a return ticket is a little more at around €5 per person.
The SITA bus typically only goes to the more popular tourist towns along the coast, so if your final destination is one of the smaller or less frequented villages, you’ll take the SITA bus to the closest bigger town and then hop on a local bus to take you the rest of the way. You can pay the driver as you get on, just make sure you’ve got coins on you.
To get from Sorrento to Pompeii, you’ll get on the Circumvesuviana train again. A return ticket costs about €4 per person.
Eating All the Food
I think it goes without saying that when in Italy, any diet you may have been sticking to before is going to go right out the window as soon as you arrive. While I’m sure you can eat healthy in Italy, why in the world would you want to? Some things you absolutely have to try – pizza (Naples is known for making the best in the world, but what we had in Amalfi was pretty amazing, too!), pasta and seafood (bonus points if you have them together!), all the gelato (like seriously, you need to try at least one flavor every day), and local fruits and veg.
It’s not cheap to eat in restaurants on the Amalfi Coast, but I do have a few tips to make eating here a little more budget-friendly. First of all, if you’re staying in a hotel, try to find one that includes breakfast. If you’re staying at an Airbnb, even better! You can pick up breakfast (and lunch if you don’t mind packing it) essentials at outdoor markets or the grocery for really good prices. If you don’t pack your lunch, some sit-down restaurants offer a take-away menu that’s cheaper than their restaurant menu. Also, we discovered lots of the local groceries have take-away pastas and sandwiches that are perfect to eat from the comfort of your sun lounger. Dinner will be a little more difficult to find cheap, but it’s not impossible. Plus, if you saved on breakfast and lunch, it’s a little easier to splurge on a good dinner!
Best Time to Go
Here’s the kicker. The absolute best time to visit the Amalfi Coast weather-wise is definitely the summer months (July and August). The water is the perfect temperature for swimming and sunny days definitely outnumber the rainy ones, but holy crowds! The beaches along the Amalfi Coast aren’t especially long or wide, so it can get a little cramped during high season. If you’re wanting a quieter, more peaceful experience then I’d recommend going in either of the shoulder seasons. May and June are perfect if you’re wanting to see the Amalfi Coast in bloom and September will be your best bet if you still want swimming weather, but fewer crowds. And bonus, both of these options also mean lower prices for accommodations!
But honestly, regardless of what time of year it is, if you’ve got the opportunity to go, then I say go! The Amalfi Coast will be gorgeous no matter the weather and memorable regardless of how many other people you’re sharing the beach with!
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