Amalfi Coast

The Essential Guide to the Amalfi Coast

One classic visual that springs to mind when visualizing southern Italy is colorful houses spilling down cliffsides toward the crystalline blue water’s edge. This is the glorious Amalfi Coast to a T. Often referred to as the “divine coast” for its otherworldly panoramas, the area attracts thousands of visitors to its sun-soaked shores each year.

Situated on the southernmost part of the Sorrentine Peninsula between Naples and Salerno, the Amalfi Coast comprises approximately 55 kilometers of shoreline that treads its way through dozens of picturesque towns and villages. The area’s most famous spots — Positano, Sorrento, Amalfi and Ravello — are home to magnificent views, natural wonders, and food and wine that’re out-of-this-world delicious.

When you go

Positano, with its famous dome of Santa Maria Assunta
Positano, with its famous dome of Santa Maria Assunta

To avoid the throngs of travelers in the summer months —  not to mention the scorching temperatures —  spring is the perfect time to visit. By mid-April and May, the weather is usually warm enough to take a dip in the sea. Alternatively, September and October are also quite nice, and temperatures are often still comfortable enough for a swim. 

How to get there

Stretching between Sorrento to just south of Salerno, the Amalfi Coast isn’t the easiest destination to reach, but it’s well worth the effort. 

By air

The nearest airports are Naples’ Capodichino (NAP) and Salerno-Pontecagnano (QSR). From Naples you can arrange a private transfer or take a coach to Sorrento, then board another bus to Positano or Amalfi. From Salerno’s airport take the train to the city’s main railway station. In summer there is a convenient hydrofoil and ferry service to Amalfi. Buses run regularly, even outside of peak seasons.

By train

From Rome

Take a high-speed train from Rome’s Termini to Napoli Centrale. From there you can arrange a private transfer, rent a car or take the Circumvesuviana train directly from Naples’ main train station (Napoli Centrale) to Sorrento (see below).

From Naples

Connecting Naples and Sorrento, the Circumvesuviana train is pretty basic transport —  no restrooms or luggage storage, and scarce seating — but it does the job. Catch the “Circumvesuviana line” at the lower level of Napoli Centrale (there’s no elevator access) for a journey that takes about an hour.

By car

From Rome

The fastest and most direct route is taking the A1/E45 (autostrada) to Pompei, then merging onto SS145 and exiting at Castellammare di Stabia.

From Salerno

Get on the A3/E45 and follow it to Pompei, where you’ll take the SS145, exiting at Castellammare di Stabia.

By ferry

From the port of Naples (Moro Beverello), board a ferry to Sorrento, Positano or Amalfi.

By bus

Buses for the Amalfi Coast depart outside the Sorrento train station.

Getting around the Amalfi Coast

The marina and port at Amalfi
The marina and port at Amalfi

Train service is often spotty, buses may be crowded and timetables are often confusing. The most popular options are renting a car, booking a private driver or taking the train from Naples to Salerno, then a ferry to Amalfi or Positano (from April to October only).

Car

As with many areas of southern Italy, service by public transport can be unreliable (or non-existent), especially to the more remote Amalfi Coast towns and villages. Having a car allows you to set your schedule and travel at a leisurely pace. Traffic jams are not uncommon and an accident along curvy, one-lane highways can back up cars for hours, so plan accordingly.

Note: Parking is often hard to find and expensive. Many towns have zona a traffico limitato (ZTL) that restricts vehicles on certain roads at certain times. Fines for violators can be exorbitant. 

Ferry

The most pleasant way to get around the region’s coastal towns is by ferry. Operating from early spring to mid-fall, ferries (traghetti) and hydrofoils (aliscafi) shuttle passengers to and from the ports such as Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Capri. 

Boat

There’s no better way to see the coastline than from the bow of a boat cruising on the sparkling blue sea. Chartering a private boat is more affordable than you might think, especially during non-peak season. Prices vary, depending on the size of the watercraft, number of people in a group and tour duration.

Motorcycles and scooters

For those who are already experienced and competent on two wheels, a tour of the Amalfi Coast on a moto (motorcycle) or motorino (scooter) is the best way to see the sights and avoid parking nightmares. Many towns offer rentals by the hour or daily. 

Bus

This is an inexpensive way to get around the Amalfi Coast, but generally the least efficient. Area buses provide decent service, but are best for those traveling light.

Best things to do and see on the Amalfi Coast

shop in Positano
A shop in Positano / Photo by Antonio Sessa via Unsplash

Get behind the wheel and hit “L’Amalfitana” 

Widely considered one of the world’s most spectacular stretches of highway, the SS163, also known as l’Amalfitana, is 50km of zig-zagging, hairpin turns along dramatic cliffs plunging to the sea. It's not for the faint of heart — nor for those who suffer from car sickness — but if you have nerves of steel and are not in any particular hurry, driving the Amalfi Coast is a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed.

Though this list is far from exhaustive, here are some popular stops along the Amalfi Coast.

Sorrento

Founded by the ancient Greeks, Sorrento is located on the Sorrentine Peninsula at the southern end of the Bay of Naples. Cut into tufa stone formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, Sorrento has two small yet well-heeled beaches, Marina Grande and Marina Piccola near the port, both dreamy for dedicated sun worshipers. The main square, Piazza Tasso, is hemmed on all four sides with trendy restaurants and sidewalk cafes. Shop (or not) along the town’s oldest street, Via San Cesareo.

Positano 

Arguably one of the most beautiful — and certainly one of the most popular — resort towns in Italy, Positano is not a place to escape the crowds. Still, its unique vertical orientation keeps it (deservedly) topping many “must-see” lists. One of the town’s signature sights is the little church of Santa Maria Assunta, with its pretty dome of yellow, blue and green majolica tiles. Walk the pedestrian-only main drag, Via Pasitea, down to the sea for a relaxing cocktail or a meal of freshly caught seafood, but be prepared for a workout ascending back to the top as Positano is made up of stairs — lots and lots of stairs. 

Fun fact: Positano was one of the locations in the film, Under the Tuscan Sun (2003). It’s here that Diane Lane’s character “Frances” has a romantic rendezvous with Raoul Bova’s “Marcello”.

Santa Maria Assunta, Piazza Flavio Gioia

Amalfi

Once a powerful maritime republic, the town of Amalfi is slotted between the Lattari Mountains and the sea. The largest city on the Amalfi Coast, it’s known for its unusual architecture that blends Byzantine with Norman influences. The town’s cathedral, Duomo di Sant’Andrea, is a 9th-century church reconstructed in the Romanesque style in the 11th century. Just inland is the Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills) where a number of water-powered mills once produced the area’s famous paper. Don’t skip the Museo della Carta, which provides a fascinating look at the area’s traditional papermaking.

Museo della Carta, Via delle Cartiere

Ravello

One of the few towns on the Amalfi Coast not on the sea, clifftop Ravello is located between the towns of Amalfi and Minori along SS163. Built on the site of a Roman colony fleeing the Barbarian invasion, in the 19th century it became a retreat for artists and intellectuals. Today, it’s a favored spot for the glitterati. Erected in 1086, the town’s cathedral dominates Piazza del Vescovado. Villa Rufolo — once a watchtower — is considered an architectural masterpiece. Another place to get a bird’s-eye view of the coast all the way to Punta Licoasa is from the grounds of the five-star luxury Hotel Villa Cimbrone. Former guests include the likes of DH Lawrence, Gore Vidal, Virginia Woolf and Greta Garbo, who checked in when they “wanted to be alone.”

Hotel Villa Cimbrone, Via Santa Chiara 26

A taste of the Amalfi Coast

roadside fruit and vegetable stand
A roadside fruit and vegetable stand on 'L'Amalfitana'

What to eat

Colatura di alici is a sauce made with salted and fermented anchovies and is most commonly used to make a regional favorite, spaghetti alla colatura di alici.

Say cheese! Ndunderi is fresh ricotta that’s the principal ingredient in a type of gnocchi declared by UNESCO as one of the world’s oldest pastas. Find the best version in the town of Minori, the dish’s birthplace.

For those with a sweet tooth, sfogliatelle are shell-shaped pastries filled with sweetened ricotta and candied citrus.

What to drink

A chilled glass of limoncello is a pucker-inducing liqueur made of lemons grown in local groves.

Top events and festivals on the Amalfi Coast

gardens at the Villa Rufolo
Gardens of the Villa Rufolo, the site of the Ravello Festival

Regata delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare d’Italia

Held once every four years on the first Sunday in June, this is a traditional rowing competition between the historical maritime republics of Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice. The Regata race course extends 2,000 meters, starting at Capo di Vettica and finishing at Marina Grande. 

For information and race times, go to the Regata’s official website.

Festa dell’Assunta 

Held each year on August 15 (Ferragosto), Positano’s Festa dell’Assunta is a religious feast in which a Byzantine replica of the Madonna with Child is carried from the church of Santa Maria Assunta to the sea. The procession is followed by evening fireworks and concerts on the beach.

Ravello Festival (AKA Wagner Festival)

This classical concert series takes place in the spectacular gardens and cliff-edge terrace of Villa Rufolo each summer (June to October). The most popular event is the Concerto all’Alba, when a full symphony orchestra plays for audiences watching the sunrise over the bay.

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What others are saying about Amalfi Coast

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