A trip to Italy is a frequent choice for many travelers. Looking at Italy from the outside, we romanticize about Italian culture, the ancient ruins of the Coliseum, the wine regions of Tuscany, the glitz and glamour of Milan’s fashion, and the jaw dropping views of the Amalfi Coast.
The Amalfi Coast has been a popular destination for thousands of travelers. These travelers are attracted to the towns along the coastline not only for its breathtaking postcard views, but for their rich cultural significance.
The best way to experience the Amalfi Coast is by hiring a car in Naples and traveling down the coast to Amalfi, stopping in Pompeii, Sorento, and Positano along the way. Give yourself enough time, at least 4-5 days, as a trip along the Amalfi Coast offers a number of opportunities to experience Italian culture, consisting of ancient architecture, modern arts, and traditional Camparian cuisine.
In Naples (or Napoli)…
Ditch the car. The traffic in Naples is dreadful, so save yourself from the imminent road rage and choose to explore on foot.
Start at the historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that boasts over 400 historical and monumental churches. Naples is a vibrant city that has retained a lot its original culture within the historic centre. Explore every street with curiosity, an open mind, and attention to detail, and you’ll be amazed by the accurate reflection of the Naples character in the graffiti art lining the streets. Naples is not just another picturesque Italian town, its struggles with crime, pollution, and poverty are overt and real, causing many travelers to feel uneasy in this city, once known as the “Paris of the South”.
No stay in Naples is complete without an adventure into a Napolitanean Pizzeria. Luckily, you don’t have to search hard to find authentic options. Every restaurant makes a great pizza! Some label it as “Vera Pizza Napoletana” (True Neapolitan Pizza), others just refer to it as “Pizza Margherita”. For the best cultural experience, look for a restaurant with no tourists! As the rule of thumb goes, if the place is good enough for the locals, it’ll be good enough for you.
From Naples to Pompeii…
From Naples, follow the A3 motorway South towards Pompeii, passing by Mt Vesuvius, a volcano about 9 km east of Naples. It was the eruption of this volcano back in AD 79 that buried the city of Pompeii in ash, killing all of its residents. Pompeii, which was first rediscovered in 1599 and later again in 1748, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important historical and cultural sights in Italy. It is said that the excavation of Pompeii has had a strong cultural influence, not only on Italy but also on the greater Europe. Designers, architects, and many artists have drawn inspiration from the ruins of Pompeii.
Pompeii is a fascinating site that allows you to literally step back in time. Walking down the maze-like cobblestone streets of ancient Pompeii immerses you into the life of ancient Roman civilization. You can explore the insides of houses, admire decorative frescoes on the walls, or check out the remains of temples, baths, Basilicas, theatres, and brothels. It takes hours to get around Pompeii, so make sure to leave yourself enough time for this leg of the trip.
From Pompeii to Sorrento…
Traveling south from Pompeii towards Sorrento, you’ll have a chance to admire incredible views of Sorrento’s beautiful limestone buildings, perched up on the high cliffs above the Tyrrhenian Sea. Be sure to stop along the way and take in the views as you please – another benefit of road tripping!
Exploring Sorrento is best done on foot. Strolling from one side of town to another will take you 1-2 hours, but I would advise that you give yourself at least 1 day to properly explore Sorrento’s culture. The old section of Sorrento is great for getting lost in the narrow alleyways and stopping in small shops along Via San Cesareo.
One of the most unique cultural experiences you can have in Sorrento, is indulging in lemons! Yes, that’s right! Sorrento is surrounded by lemon terraces and harvested here year around. You’ll find lemons in a lot of local dishes, from mains to desserts and most importantly in traditional Italian lemon liqueur – Limoncello. Produced mainly in Southern Italy, this unique zesty sweet liquor is traditionally served as an after-dinner digestive. Any restaurant in Sorento will have Limoncello on the menu, so give it a try and make sure to bring lots back for friends and family – it’s dirt cheap and makes for a great souvenir!
From Sorrento to Positano…
Your next stop along the coast is Positano, known as the most picturesque town along the Amalfi Coast. Its vibrant pink, orange, and yellow buildings add contrast to the blue waters, creating surreal postcard views. Positano’s roads run from the top of the hills down to the beach with plenty of stairways along the way. There isn’t really too much to do in Positano, but explore the narrow alleyways, peak into luxury boutiques, or unwind with a cup of tea or coffee and a slice of Lemon Cake in one of Positano’s many restaurants.
Beach bums may enjoy checking out Fornillo Beach, located just a short walk away from Positano Harbour. This 300 meter long beach is one of the largest on the Amalfi Coast and one of the most glamorous too. It’s a lot less crowded than the main beach in Positano and thus attracts a great crowd of the rich and the famous.
From Positano to Amalfi…
Continue your drive along the Amalfi Coast to reach the town of Amalfi. Amalfi is the main town of Amalfi Coast and on a regular day is quite similar to the other towns along the coast. There are, however, 3 cultural events that set it apart from the other towns and attract thousands of visitors on a yearly basis. They are:
1. Festival of Sant’ Andrea that takes place on 25-27th of June and 30th of November, commemorating the miracle that saved Amalfi from the pirate Barbarossa in 1544. During this highly anticipated traditional event, the locals celebrate Sant’ Andrea with a religious procession followed by entertainment and fireworks.
2. Byzantine New Year’s Eve, that takes place on 31st of August. This three day festival is famous for historical reenactments with medieval games that take you back to ancient times. Expect to also see theatrical performances, water races, archery, and a large costume parade.
3. Ancient Regata, that takes place on the first Sunday of June, in Amalfi every four years. While this 2 km race is the reason for the celebration, the costume parade that precedes it, is said to be just as exciting as the race itself.
From Amalfi to Salerno…
Your last stop of the Amalfi Coast is Salerno. Salerno is not the most popular town on the coast, but that’s exactly the appeal! The lack of tourist crowds means lower prices, and a more authentic feel. The streets of Salerno aren’t lined with shops selling lemons and restaurants serving lemon cakes, instead you have an opportunity to observe real Italian culture and true life on the Amalfi Coast. It’s a perfect way to end your trip along the coast!