The coast south of Naples (Napoli) in Italy is known as the Amalfi Coast and has so much to offer. So as a first time visitor it is hard to know where’s the best place to stay on this scenic coast.
This was a question I asked myself during my vacation in 2017 and so I decided to stay a short time in all the towns. A form of coastal hopping I guess!
Alfred, the owner of Mancini Hostel in Naples, was amused by this and then threw another option into the equation. He suggested why not also experience the relaxed lifestyle and hot springs of the nearby island of Ischia. A challenge I could not refuse. So I booked in.
Then Alfred asked me to report back to him after completing all my stays and to let him know which i liked best. And so , my report transformed into this blog!
Naples (Napoli) is your starting point. Do consider having a two night stopover in Naples if you can afford the time. It has had a bad reputation for decades. Plus it’s a bustling port city that doesn’t have monuments like Rome. But with Alfred’s daily planning advice, I saw a completely different side of Naples.
Initially I wasn’t impressed as I arrived on the weekend and half the shops were closed. Then saw a whole new world when on Monday morning the streets burst into colour and activity when all the shops were open.
Castel St Elmo:
The views from Castel St Elmo is a must. Especially for the best panoramic views of Vesuvius, Amalfi Coast, Isle of Capri and other islands.
A walk down nearby Via Toledo, a shopping promenade, you can see and feel the Spanish influence in the area. End the day by joining all other holiday-makers taking an evening stroll along the seaside promenade.
I was sad to leave as I grew to love Naples over the three days.
Moving onward, you can reach the Amalfi coast by either train, bus or ferry. The option is yours. Obviously the ferry will give you great coastline views from the sea and the bus will give views from the high coastal road. But you only get partial views from the train. You do have views of Vesuvius until Pompeii station, then lots of towns and tunnels that obscure the coastal views from then on.
First major stop is Sorrento. It’s located at the last train stop on the Circumvesuviana train from Naples.
This town is a mecca for large and medium sized hotels on top of a cliff plateau overlooking the sea. Therefore, it basically attracts all the package type holiday makers.
It’s the largest of the Amalfi coastal towns (excluding Salerno) and therefore it is noisy with traffic and busy with tourists everywhere.
If you arrive by ferry, the port is located at the bottom of the cliff. To reach the town centre, you can either walk up the many stairs, take Bus Line B (bus stop is opposite the ferry ticket booths) for €1.20 or walk for 3 minutes towards the beaches of Marina San Francesco to the elevator (€1.00 per person).
It does have a nice shopping avenue on the main street Corso Italia and many souvenier/clothing/art shops in the cobblestone streets parallel to it. I bought some great Italian-made shoes here!
There are no typical beaches as such, therefore, making this destination great for people who want a ‘sit by the pool holiday’. You can find a sliver of grey sandy beach at Marina Grande (located in a boat harbour, so the water is murky and unclean) and at Marina San Francesco which is a larger marina with cleaner water (located next to the ferry port, Marina Piccola).
Beaches at both marina’s are majority privately owned, so they will be lined with sunbeds and umbrellas costing from €4.00 (at Marina Grande) to €15.00 (at Marina San Francesco). Both marinas also have sunbed platforms perched on rocks off the beach with ladder access into the sea. Both also have tiny, ugly public beaches that are overcrowded which is not an ideal way to spend your beach holiday.
Sorrento is also a good base on the Amalfi coast for touring. You can do a day trip to anywhere with the closest destinations being:
- Pompei, Mt Vesuvius and Herculaneum - all accessible by the Circumvesuviana train at Sorrento Train Station.
- Positano - accessible either by ferry (45 min - €16.00 each way) from the port at Marina Piccola or by Sita Bus (1 hour +15 min depending upon traffic) from the bus depot just outside Sorrento train station.
TG Tip: dont believe the Sita Bus ticket sellers that say you have to buy an Amalfi coast day pass of €8.00 if you want to go to Positano only for the day. Demand a return ticket only, which only costs €4.00 return instead.
- Bagni Regina Giovanna - a remote, rocky beach on Sorrentos outskirts. It's a 30-40 minute walk along the road or take bus Line A to Capo di Sorrento for €1.30 and then walk down the cliff to a lagoon and a rocky beach. It’s quite fun to manoeuvre over the rocks to get into the water but there are less people around. Alternatively you can follow the wooden boardwalk to Solara where sunbeds are placed on flat rocks and have easy access into the sea.
- Hop on/hop off ferry - Spend 2 hours in Positano plus 2.5 hours in Amalfi town and return back to Sorrento for €45. Purchase the tickets at the ferry port.
The prettiest and most scenic of all the Amalfi coastal towns. It’s quite striking to see the town built into both hillsides of a valley that opens up into the sea. I can see why it’s everyone’s favourite. But also quite expensive to stay.
It does feel quite upmarket and glitzy. People were dressed up for lunch! You definitely have to dress well/smart for dinner.
There are two long, meandering, beautifully paved streets that contains expensive clothing, shoes, art galleries and cafes/restaurants. Make sure you have extra cash with you!
Positano has the longest beach of all the Amalfi coastal towns. As usual, majority of the beach is privately owned and therefore lined with sunbeds and umbrellas, ranging from EUR15-20 per person, depending upon which row you choose! There is a decent sized grey pebbled public beach close to the ferry port but I found the water to be the clearest and cleanest here.
The closest touring form here:
- There are number of ticket booths at the small ferry port selling ferry tickets to destinations such as Sorrento, Amalfi Town and Salerno. Can do coastal town hopping for the day if you wish.
- Ferries are also available to Capri - slightly more expensive than from Sorrento - that’s because the journey time is double, about one hour. Alternatively, an all inclusive day tour of Capri including circling around the whole island plus free time on the island was comparable in pricing as from Sorrento.
- Regular buses area available to travel up and down the Amalfi coast, so you can spend the day in Sorrento (1hour & 15min away) or Amalfi Town (50min away). A great alternative to staying overnight in those towns.
- Take a bus down the coast to the next major village of Praiano to swim at their beaches located at bottom of cliffs.
Was disappointed to see foam scum on the water at Marina di Praia (not sure if it was just an off day), therefore I would recommend going to the town beach of Gavitella - follow the ‘to the beach’ signs as you head down the stairs from the main town church.
- Walk the Path of the Gods trail. This trail starts high in the mountains in a town called Bomerano and ends in Positano. I saw many people walking it in reverse but be aware it will be uphill for most of the way in the reverse direction!
Yes, there is a town a called Amalfi on the Amalfi coast! As soon as I stepped off the bus in this town I could sense the relaxed feeling of this town.
It is much more low key and relaxing than Positano and Sorrento. Consequently, it's also the quietest. To me, it felt the most authentic Italian village of all three towns. The vibe was low key, people dressed casually and the atmosphere was low key. It was most pleasant and enjoyable to stay in. It also has quite an impressive and shiny church overlooking the main piazza.
Actually I stayed in a hostel in the next town of Atrani. This village was even more low key, being the least touristy of them all. It looks run down from the outside but internally it’s hard to describe the feeling of walking through the maze-like streets, stairs and tunnels to get your accommodation. There is only one piazza with five restaurants which all of them are great. Amalfi Town is only a 10 minute away, so it was no bother to walk back and forth.
With no shopping in Atrani besides a mini supermarket and a swim shop, you can easily spend an afternoon shopping in the main street of Amalfi Town. Interesting shops were the card and paper shop and a paper mill museum is located nearby.
Amalfi Town beach is set up the typical mediterrean way, lined with sunbeds and umbrellas with a small public beach to the side. The water was ok to swim in. I still think that Positano had the cleanest of all the beaches.
- Can take the SITA bus to do day trips to Positano (50 minutes away) or Praiano Beach (25 minutes away). Refer to Positano section above for more details on these two areas.
- Alternatively, take a ferry to Positano (25min) or Sorrento and avoid the windy, hairy bus rides along the cliff roads!
- A visit to the town of Ravello is delightful and a must. It sits on top of the mountain above Amalfi Town. It’s quiet, peaceful and spacious. Breathe in the mountain air while sipping a cocktail in the main square or strolling through the gardens of two large villas. You can either bus it back or walk the 1000 steps back down to Amalfi (through the town of Atrani).
- For the hikers/walkers, Path of the Gods trail provides spectacular views of the coastline. Take a bus to Bomerano and follow the herd of hikers to the start of the trail. You really do feel like you’re in the heavens when you see how high up you are. Finish up in Positano beach for a much needed swim and then lunch.
- To lesser known towns, you can take a bus or ferry further down the Amalfi coast to Minori and Maiori which is becoming popular with the Italian tourists.
For something different, take a ferry (from either Amalfi, Positano, Sorrento, Capri or Naples) to the volcanic island of Ischia for some thermal therapy.
Ischia Porto and the north coast of the island is saturated with hotels and tourists, with limited beach space occupied by sunbeds and umbrellas.
Therefore, I recommend to venture out further and stay in the town of Forio or further south. Its lower key with plenty of beach space (sand or pebbles) if you don’t want to pay for sunbeds and umbrellas. Sant Angelo doesn’t allow cars or bikes at all in the coastal village!
The best thing to do here is take advantage of the natural hot water springs. You can either:
- Splurge in elaborate day spa centres, complete with therapies, pool, gardens and private beach. The two major ones are Negombo and Poseiden.
- Or do it the natural, rustic way and walk to Terme Cavascura (east of Sant Angelo). Located within a small gorge, this rustic spa centre is set up just as the Romans did. A natural sauna in a cave, thermal water baths, body mud masks and a range of half hour massages.
- Or for a third option, take bus to Sorgeto and walk down the cliff to sit in the warm waters of the beach - a natural hot water spring. I recommend going late in the evening to avoid the mass crowds and the heat of the day. The nearby restaurant/bar will serve you cocktails on the beach!
Ischia has a completely different feel than the Amalfi coastal towns. It definitely feels like island life with a Greek influence (white washed buildings etc).
To Sum up the Amalfi coast
Now that I have stayed in all towns, it brings me back to the question I was asked, which place do I prefer? In summary...
Difficult to choose as each town is unique and suit different types of travellers. So I can only speak for myself……..drum roll……………
I choose the relaxing Amalfi town, with Ischia as a close second!
What is your favourite Amalfi coastal town?