Colourful houses hugging the cliffs, beautifully blue water and spectacular panoramic views make the Amalfi Coast one of the world’s most iconic destinations. The area has long been a favourite among the rich and famous, and it’s easy to see why. From every town and village, the coast’s vibrant turquoise ocean shimmers. Coupled with its indulgent cuisine and laid-back feel, the Amalfi Coast offers an idyllic retreat and a unique opportunity to step back in time. Everything you need to know about the Amalfi Coast is here in this handy guide, ready for you to read before a cruise to the Mediterranean.
Towns and villages
Each town and village on the Amalfi Coast has its own unique charm. From the historic architecture of Positano to the quaint fishing town of Maiori, it’s worth venturing along the coast to discover these hidden treasures. Laura Thayer, writer and photographer at Ciao Amalfi, said: “While the three big towns – Amalfi, Positano and Ravello – get a lot of the attention and definitely should be on your must-see list, it’s also fun to explore the smaller towns like Atrani and Scala. Both of these are very close to Amalfi and Ravello but have a completely different, much quieter feel.
“If you’re visiting the area for more than just a day or two, be sure to wander a bit off the beaten path and you’ll discover another side of the Amalfi Coast!”
With crumbling pastel-coloured buildings seemingly tumbling into the sea, Positano is undoubtedly one of the most photographed towns on the Amalfi Coast. Its steep streets are lined with beautiful restaurants and boutiques, perfect for an afternoon of browsing and tasting some of the Amalfi Coast’s finest cuisine. This vibrant town has inspired many artists and was even a muse for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards when writing ‘Midnight Rambler’.
People are drawn to Ravello because of its panoramic vistas. In the summer, the well-kept grounds and gardens around hotels and restaurants are in bloom, adding a tapestry of colour to the already spectacular view. The famous composer Richard Wagner found inspiration in Ravello and the town celebrates an annual festival in his honour. Don’t miss the breath-taking gardens of Villa Cimbrone and the Terrace of Infinity, as well as the 13th century church, Duomo di Ravello.
It’s easy to see why tourists have flocked to Praiano from as early as the 10th century. Set between Amalfi and Positano, this imposing town is set into the side of a steep cliff. Admire its grand architecture including the churches Chiesa di San Giovanni. Head down to Marina di Praia beach for a dip in the crystal clear water and a bite to eat at Bar Mare Petit.
The Amalfi Coast’s namesake town is a must-see, and not just for that reason. Backed by towering tree-lined cliffs, Amalfi offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and history. An example of the town’s medieval architecture is the 11th century Cathedral of Sant’ Andrea, also known as Amalfi Cathedral. The town also has a spacious beach.
With a population of just 800, Furore is a small, little-known village between Amalfi and Positano. The sprawling village stretches out over a vertical hillside above the shimmering blue sea. Be sure to visit the fiordo (or fjord), where a pocket of old fishermen’s houses cling to a rocky gorge. A beautiful arched bridge passes over the sea and a small beach, perfect for a quiet swim. The 30-metre high bridge is the location for an international high diving championship.
Although it’s only a short stroll from Amalfi, Atrani has a completely unique identity. This pretty town offers a chance to get away from the crowds and its pastel architecture is worth making the trip for. Look out for the Collegiata di Santa Maria Maddalena, a striking church in the town, built in 1274. At the heart of the Atrani is Piazza Umberto, where you can stop for a coffee and watch people go about their day.
Seafood lovers must not miss a trip to Cetara, the world tuna capital. Don’t be fooled by this seemingly quaint Mediterranean village - Cetara’s tuna is famous all over the world. Tourists visit the village to feast on this popular fish. The area’s beaches are perfect for a quiet dip, including Marina di Cetara which is just a stone’s throw from the village.
Vietri sul Mare
Vietri sul Mare, translated as ‘Vietri on the sea’ is a pretty town just west of Salerno. The town is famous for its polychrome ceramics, a long-standing tradition that is very much alive today. Vietri sul Mare is considered to be the gateway to the Amalfi Coast and is brimming with beautiful architecture. Don’t miss the Church of St. John the Baptist, built in late Neapolitan Renaissance style, featuring a dome covered with majolica tiles.
Minori is a sprawling village, covering the valley with beautiful architecture. Famous for its delicious pasta and for being the quieter, more traditional side of the Amalfi Coast, Minori is for those who want to escape the usual glitz and glamour the region offers. Foodies won’t want to miss the “Gusta Minori”, held in the first weeks of September, celebrating Minori’s delicacies. The village’s pretty, sandy beach faces south, so it’s the ideal place to catch some sun any time of the day. Stop for a snack at Salvatore De Riso pastry shop.
Neighbouring Minori, Maiori has one of the largest beaches on the Amalfi Coast, stretching 930 metres. The Castle of San Nicola de Thoro-Plano towers over this quaint fishing town and is open to the public. If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, head to Torre Normanna Restaurant to enjoy a meal in an ancient watch tower. Nearby, the tiny village of Erchie has another small beach.
Grand churches, cathedrals and monuments line the Amalfi Coast, giving visitors the opportunity to delve into its fascinating history. For those seeking an adventure, the hike to Valle delle Ferriere Nature Reserve should be high on the list, while others may wish to simply admire some of the coast’s finest views.
“A visit to the Duomo of Amalfi is an absolute must!” says Laura of Ciao Amalfi. “After you climb the grand staircase you can visit the peaceful Cloister of Paradise, admire the artistic treasures in the museum and then explore the crypt of St. Andrew and the majestic cathedral. Also in Amalfi is the Museo della Carta, a museum set in an old mill that is dedicated to the paper-making tradition. It’s fascinating to see how paper used to be made and even try your hand at it.”
The Emerald Grotto is a mysterious cave in Conca dei Marini, which takes its name from the ethereal emerald colours that come from the water. Discovered in 1932 by fisherman Luigi Buonocore, the impressive cave has columns of stalactites and stalagmites formed over thousands of years. In 1965, a crib was placed on the bottom of the Emerald Grotto. Now, every Christmas, a religious ceremony takes place which sees divers laying flowers at the foot of the cradle. You can catch a boat or ferry to the Emerald Grotto from Molo Pennello.
Overlooking the sea in Ravello, the gardens of Villa Cimbrone have become an iconic feature of the Amalfi Coast. This historic building dates back to the 11th century AD and welcomes visitors to admire the Terrazzo dell’Infinito, the Terrace of Infinity. “Villa Cimbrone in Ravello is my favourite viewpoint on the Amalfi Coast.” said Laura. “The name says it all – it’s as if you’re looking out over a heavenly blue panorama that stretches on as far as the eye can see.”
Church of Santa Maria Assunta
In an unusual position right by the sea in Positano, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta is difficult to miss on a visit to the town. The church has played a huge part in shaping Positano’s cultural, religious and architectural landscapes. According to local legend, the church was built in honour of a Byzantine icon representing the Virgin Mary.
Valle delle Ferriere Nature Reserve
This little-known nature reserve can be found among the mountains of Scala. As it is protected from cold north winds, the reserve has over time maintained a microclimate keeping plants from many years ago intact. Visitors can walk into the Valle delle Ferriere, but it’s a fairly challenging three-hour hike with a drop of 500 metres. It is well worth the effort, as the route passes through forests, springs, waterfalls and the rapids of the Rio Canneto. Start the trail in San Lazzaro.
With miles of blue water and rugged, tumbling cliffs, the Amalfi Coast is a haven for swimmers. But due to its unusual structure, it’s difficult to find a spacious beach on the coast. Laura of Ciao Amalfi said: “Most of the beaches have sections that are free, which is where you’ll find most of the locals. This means you can just throw down a towel and soak up the sun. That’s fine for a quick swim, but since the beaches on the coastline are rocky, it’s not the most comfortable option. For a leisurely beach day, opt instead to pay a small fee to rent a sunbed and umbrella for the day. The hardest part is choosing which candy-coloured umbrella you like the most!”
Enclosed by soaring rocks, Castiglione Beach sits below the spectacular cliff-top town of Ravello. This small but sandy beach sees the best of the sun before the early afternoon due to its position, but is perfect for swimming. As with most of the Amalfi Coast’s beaches, there are a few steps to traverse, 186 to be exact. The steps are close to the SS163 road before the junction for Ravello.
Atrani, considered to be one of the most fascinating historic towns on the Amalfi Coast, has a charming beach. Divided by the estuary of the Dragone River, only part of the sandy beach is free as the majority is used by bathing establishments. But with the backdrop of Atrani’s beautiful, crumbling buildings, this is an excellent way to spend time lounging in the sun while getting a taste of the area’s history.
Set below the Amalfi Coast’s namesake town, this spacious beach is one of the region’s most popular. If you’re looking for peace and tranquillity, you might not find it on Marine Grande. But it’s very safe for swimming and has a section to enjoy free of charge. If you’re visiting in the summer, make sure you get there early to find a space.
Looking down at Duoglio, as well as noticing its azure water and peaceful surroundings, you may also be a little daunted by the climb. There are 400 steps down to the beach, but it’s all worth it to take a dip in some of the Amalfi Coast’s cleanest, clearest water. On Duoglio, the Lido degli Artisti rents out equipment for wind surfing, scuba diving and canoeing, if you’re feeling adventurous. As it is enclosed by towering cliffs, it’s best to visit in the morning to get the best of the sunshine. The entrance to the steps is at kilometre 28 on the state road, one kilometre after Amalfi if you’re travelling from Vietri.
From delicious pastas laden with garlic, chilli, tomatoes and olives to decadent chocolate and almond cakes, the Amalfi Coast is the place to go for good food. Italy is renowned for its tasty dishes and traditional ingredients, and the Amalfi Coast has a vast array of its own local delicacies.
Lori Sorrentino at Travlinmad has strong family connections with the Amalfi Coast and is inspired by Italian cuisine. She said: “The Amalfi Coast is known for its citrus such as lemons, oranges and grapefruit. Many dishes incorporate these flavours into their meat, pasta and risottos, as well as salads, making this Mediterranean-style cooking light and refreshing. Citrus is also used to make aperitifs like limoncello and arancello, the delicious sweet liqueur found all around the Amalfi Coast.”
This part of Italy is also famous for its seafood. Lori recommends polpo (octopus), calamari (squid) and tonno (tuna), as well as fresh buffalo mozzarella. She said: “This creamy cheese is made along the southern Amalfi coast and enjoyed everywhere with fresh tomatoes, basil and good olive oil.”
Top local dishes
Lori’s passion for Italian cuisine has fuelled her travels through southern Italy and the Amalfi Coast. Here are her favourite local dishes:
Braciole: Pork or beef folded thin, stuffed with cheese, fresh herbs and breadcrumbs, typically rolled and simmered in tomato sauce.
Pasta fagiole: Soup made with beans and pasta.
Deep-fried squash blossoms: These are typically stuffed with herbed cheese, battered and then deep-fried.
Campania tomatoes: An integral ingredient in making a popular dish, spaghetti al Pomodoro (spaghetti sautéed with Campania cherry tomatoes).
Sfogliatelle: A delicious shell-shaped filled Italian pastry native to the Campania region. Italians pronounce it “sfoo-ya-del”. Hard to say, but delicious to eat!
With hundreds of eateries lining the coast, it can be difficult to decide where to dine. In the maze of restaurants, look out for Lori’s top three:
Ristorante Michel’angelo, Capri: Excellent authentic food in a beautiful setting.
Donna Rosa, Positano: An authentic, home-style Italian restaurant high in the hills above Positano.
Pizzeria da Michele, Naples: The iconic pizzeria was made even more famous when it featured in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ starring Julia Roberts. This place exceeds the enormous hype around it.
Amalfi’s Top Tipple
Limoncello is a zesty liqueur that is thought to have initially been made by convents or monasteries. Both Campania and Liguria claim it as theirs. The recipe is simple, using only lemon rinds and 95 per cent alcohol, but the key to a fine limoncello is the Amalfi Coast’s extraordinary large lemons.
“The lemon is the prized delicacy of the Amalfi Coast,” says Laura of Ciao Amalfi, “and it appears often in traditional dishes. Don’t miss the chance to try limoncello, a strong lemon-infused liqueur that is served after dinner as a ‘digestivo’. It packs quite a lemony punch!”
Once you’ve hopped off the ship on your Mediterranean cruise holiday, one of the easiest ways to get around the Amalfi Coast is by bus. The area’s bus network is SITA and offers comfortable journeys between towns and villages. Make sure you buy your ticket at a local ticket station or tourist office, as they don’t accept fares on board. If you’re thinking of travelling around by train, Vietri sul Mare is the only town with a train station, other than Salerno.
Laura added: “During the busy summer season, driving along the twisty and narrow Amalfi Coast road isn’t for the faint of heart! The most enjoyable way to take in the incredible views while getting around is to book a taxi transfer. Just remember that the rates are quite a bit higher than you might expect compared to getting around by taxi in a city.
“Another excellent option is to take the ferry along the coast or to Capri. It’s the best way to get around since it avoids the traffic and gives you a gorgeous view of the coastline from the sea along the way.”
August offers the most hours of sunshine on the Amalfi Coast and has the best sea temperature for swimming at 26 degrees. The high temperatures from April to June range from 18 to 26 degrees, making it a pleasant time to visit if you’re doing lots of walking. September and October are also great times to explore the Amalfi Coast, with temperatures sitting comfortably between 15 and 26 degrees.
When it comes to dining out, it’s important to remember that Italians are on a slightly different schedule. Lunch (pranzo) is the main meal of the day, so restaurants are open around 12-3pm. In the evening, restaurants are open at around 7.30-11pm, but bars offer light snacks between 5-8pm.
Lori of Travlinmad said: “Tipping is not expected in Italy, as many restaurants automatically add 10% gratuity to the bill. But you should check whether or not a gratuity has been added to your bill just in case and be sure to add extra euro for exceptional service.”
Have you visited the Amalfi Coast on your travels? We’d love to hear your top tips! Share them with your fellow travellers to help them discover the best of the Mediterranean.
Image credits: Lori Sorrentino at Travelinmad, Alin Ene, Laura Thayer at Ciao Amalfi