The Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful natural areas of Italy with several small villages perched on cliffs and hillsides of the rocky coastline along a winding coastal road between Salerno and Sorrento, south of Napoli. The coastal region takes it name from one of the most famous of the top four villages (listed below), Amalfi. Amalfi is situated in the center of the region and in medieval times it was one of the four major ports of Italy. Today, Amalfi and the other villages of the coast are famous tourist destinations during the spring and summer months (high season starts at Easter and runs until the end of September).
With small rocky beaches (some accessible only by boat), hiking paths, stunning views over the gulf, delicious food from the famed mozzarella di bufala to the Amalfi lemons, and picturesque villages it’s no wonder that people flock to the seaside here during the summer. However, the narrow winding roads can be problematic with traffic during the high season to get around. So if you prefer the quiet and want to avoid the crowds, plan a trip during the off season and you’ll enjoy walks on the beach in relative solitude. Though, be prepared that many shops, restaurants, and locations are seasonal so there may not be much to do for nightlife during the winter months without driving to a bigger city such as Salerno (from Positano it’s at least 1.5 hours driving time during the off season) or Sorrento (at least 50 minutes by car from Positano with light traffic).
Located in approximately the center of the coast between Vietri sul Mare and Positano this historic village gives its name to the 50-km coast stretching from Salerno to Sorrento on the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula. Once an important shipping port of the middle ages, there you can visit the maritime museum, the beautiful cathedral with a nice display of artifacts, a museum of the traditional papermill where they still produce the high quality paper that was once famous here, and reach some beautiful hiking trails. Tourism is an important industry in the village now and there are many shops for souvenirs, clothing, ceramics, jewelry, etc. along the main streets.
There is a regular ferry boat schedule throughout the year to reach the village from Salerno. The SITA Sud bus line travels through the village and it is here that you will switch buses if you are traveling further along the coast to/from other villages. Public parking is limited and expensive (5€/hour is expected) if you go by your own car.
Perhaps the most picturesque of all of the Amalfi Coast villages, Positano is highly frequented during the high season by travelers from around the world, many of them English speakers. The colorful buildings of the resort village, which stretch from the beach all the way up the steep hillside, are connected by a loop road around the two sides of the village and by many alleyways and stairs. There you can enjoy plenty of shopping for the high-end resort style fashions that are typical of the region along with souvenirs, local products, ceramics, art galleries, jewelry, etc.
If you choose to stay in this village, be warned that you’ll likely climb a lot of stairs each time you want to head to the beach. The views are magnificent, but it’s the kind of place where you stay to relax and enjoy one spot rather than making it a base point for daily excursions around the region as the commuting can be difficult. Similar to Amalfi, the SITA service stops here as well as the ferry boats. Parking is also limited and expensive. There are several private lots which vary the rates depending on the season and availability. If you use one of these lots, you’ll be expected to leave your keys with the attendants who will move your car into place as needed.
Ravello is a resort village perched high on a cliff above Amalfi. The village has many similar shops as those that you can find in Positano. There are two famous villas with beautiful gardens and view over the coast that you can visit and there is a modern theater for live concert performances such as those during the summertime Ravello Music Festival which honors Richard Wagner who used to frequent this village. It was here that he was inspired by its beauty to write a scene to include it in his last completed opera, Parsifal, based on an Arthurian legend.
In this village, much like the others, parking is limited and expensive. The best place I have discovered is a park yourself lot located under the theater where you will pay by the hour ahead of time and place the ticket on your dashboard. There is a coin changer in case you come with only bills and want something smaller.
It is beyond this village, higher up on the mountain where you must go to reach the start of the famous hike called the Sentiero degli Dei (Paths of the Gods), one of our VIP hiking services. You can do this hike on your own, but without a car reaching the starting point by bus is very difficult or you will add lot of extra time hiking up to the start of the trailhead from the main coastal road.
Vietri sul Mare
Vietri sul Mare is best known for their ceramics craft and being the first village on the southern end of the Amalfi Coast highway. It’s the only village of the Amalfi Coast that you can reach by train. This creative village is also where I call home.
Perched on the mountainside of Mt. San Liberatore, the village overlooks the city of Salerno to the southeast with views of Raito and Cetara towards the west. At Marina di Vietri there are two beaches comprised of black sand mixed with pebbles and clear water. Here you will find many beach services during the summer months and a quiet, nearly private beach during the off season.
The village is easy to explore and is, in our opinion, the best place to purchase ceramics to bring back home. Artisan ceramics made in our village are certified MADE IN VIETRI and the prices here are far better than you will find elsewhere along the scenic coast. The artisans of the many shops here all have distinctive and varying styles. Some feature the traditional Vietri naive style which depicts daily life and is often whimsical. The traditional colors of Vietri are bright and the motifs are meant to evoke happiness. Other artists in the area also explore more contemporary scenes and explore very creative approaches that mix the traditional with modern ideas.
At Raito, a borgo of Vietri, you will find the Museum of Ceramics at Villa Guariglia. Entrance is free at the museum where during the summer they also host some free concerts for the community in the evenings. The museum is closed on Mondays.
For a private guided tour of the village in English please contact me for prices and availability.
Other villages along the coastal drive
On the southern end of the Amalfi Coast along the seaside you will find Cetara, Maiori, Minori, and Atrani situated between Vietri sul Mare and Amalfi. Cetara is known as a fishing village and it is here that they still produce an ancient Greek recipe called Colatura di Alici, which is an extracted sauce made from the anchovies which are caught in the local waters. Maiori and Minori are rival neighboring villages. Maiori (the larger one) has one of the largest beaches of the Amalfi Coast. Minori (the smaller one) is a bit more artistic and is one of the only places along the coast where you can see some ancient Roman ruins. Both of these villages are the perfect location for joining the famous Lemon Tour which hikes through several of the lemon farms of the area. Atrani is perhaps the smallest village in all of Italy and is basically next-door to Amalfi. Although small, it certainly has an interesting history and architecture from a haunted tower to landscapes that inspired M.C. Escher.
From Amalfi to Positano you will find Conca dei Marini, Furore, and Praiano as other notable villages along the Amalfi Coast highway. Conca dei Marini is famous for the Grotta dello Smeraldo (Emerald Cave). Furore boasts the only “fjord” found on the Italian coastline which is, in fact, technically not a fjord, but rather a ria. A “ria” is a very similar sort of geological effect not formed by a glacier, but instead was created from a flooded river valley. Praiano is more of a cliffside village, much like Sorrento, in that it doesn’t really have sandy beaches to walk down to except for a small one at either at the far ends on either side of the village.
More notes on getting around the coast
There are many other small villages dotted along the coast, but are situated higher up on the mountains than the ones mentioned here. Public transportation to these other villages is even more limited than the ones which are accessible by the SITA Sud service along the main coastal highway.
Hiring a private driver is really the best way to get around on the Amalfi Coast. Renting a car is also good if you want your own freedom to come and go when you want, but trying to find parking is often very difficult and expensive as I’ve mentioned a few times already. Taxi services are limited and expensive too.
Public buses are usually crowded and don’t run very late into the night. During the summer you could get stuck waiting for a bus that won’t stop because they are too full by the time they reach your stop. If you are the type to become car sick easily, don’t take the bus, seriously. If you must, bring motion sickness medication. The roads are very windy and the traffic backs up often so there is a lot of stop-and-go momentum happening throughout the drive. If you have a tendency for bad road rage or are a nervous driver, don’t drive yourself – hire a private driver and just enjoy the views instead.
During the summer you can find more ferry services and boat shuttles between some of various villages, but not all and the services usually stop by sunset. The seas during the low season limit these services, as well as the lack of tourism to support the smaller operations.
Planning your trip
The nearest major airport to the Amalfi Coast is in Naples (NAP). Many travelers also arrive by train if they are already in Italy before coming to the area. From Rome, you can reach Naples or Salerno within 2-3 hours by a high-speed train. Travel tip: booking train tickets 3-weeks or more advance will have lower prices much like booking your airfares. Depending on the dates, some train schedules do sell out in advance and may not be available at the last moment.
Hopefully you’ve found some value in the information here to help you decide where to go or stay along the coast. For help with accommodations I recommend checking out AirBnB.com or Booking.com if you want to find a private room or apartment to feel more autonomous and at home where you can select the features you need in their search options. Many B&Bs also list their availability on these sites.
If you prefer to find a hotel or resort, then TripAdvisor could be a good place to start your search or by consulting with a travel agent to narrow down the best choices for you within your budget. A travel agent (like my friend in this link) usually works with a host network which has access to many perks or specials you can’t find on your own. They also act as an advocate for you if something should go wrong during your trip and you need to make a change or cancellation due to unforeseen events.
Go to my Recommendations post to find some of these links and other useful info for traveling around Italy and beyond.
To book a private driver in Campania (or Rome) and guides for tours or to schedule other activities we offer, contact me for information and availability.