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Let’s play some word association. We say, “Italy seaside” and you say “Amalfi Coast towns,” yes? Along with Cinque Terre, Forte Dei Marmi, Sicily’s Ionian Coast, and the Costa Viola, the Amalfi Coast is one of the most sought-after seaside destinations for Italy travelers. And with good reason: this postcard-perfect stretch of the Southern Italian coast is a mix of dolce vita glitz and historic fishing villages punctuated by sea breezes and pastel towns.
From Ravello to Positano, you’ll want to explore this beautiful stretch of coastline. But, like so many destinations, it can get crowded, pricey, and touristy — enter this insider’s guide. After years of providing travel planning services to clients visiting Amalfi Coast towns, we sharing intel with you.
Why Visit The Amalfi Coast Towns?
Wondering “why is the Amalfi Coast so popular?” Well, there are many reasons. It has a rich history, having been inhabited since the Middle Ages, and has such iconic natural Mediterranean beauty that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also, the Amalfi Coast towns have long been a vacation spot for jet setters (see Talented Mr. Ripley).
Social media has blown it up and influencers now visit, marry, or honeymoon in Amalfi Coast towns. While we’ve traveled there countless times because it is stunning, there is a lot of hype about the Amalfi Coast on Instagram. So, let’s get real: during the height of summer, the towns are packed with overnight guests as well as visitors from Naples and cruise ships.
The Amalfi Coast towns of Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello are the playground of A-listers who stay at luxury hotels or on private yachts. For most of our clients who travel to Italy, these towns are the most expensive leg. But it is an area worth visiting at least once. Or, returning back for a deeper cut, where you stay on an island, at a quieter village (like Nerano, Praiano, or Minori), or inland at an agriturismo.
Get To Know The Amalfi Coast Towns
If you’re wondering what is considered the Amalfi Coast, we’ve got you. The Amalfi Coast is the in the Southern Italian region of Campania (where the main city is Naples) — starts south of Sorrento at the Punta Campanella and extends to Salerno. There are thirteen Amalfi Coast towns and villages that most travelers visit — check out this map to get oriented. From north to south, they are Nerano, Positano, Nocelle, Praiano, Furore, Conca dei Marini, Amalfi, Atrani, Ravello, Maiori, Minori, Cetara, and Vietri sul Mare.
Our clients visiting for the first time stay in Sorrento so they can explore the greater area. Or they set up in Amalfi or Positano if they want to be on the Amalfi Coast proper. These towns have regular hydrofoil service in the summer, making them ideal launching pads for exploring (ie day trips to Pompeii, Naples, or the islands of Ischia, Procida, and Capri). Despite their charm, they also have the biggest crowds.
Sorrento: The Gateway To The Amalfi Coast
Wedged between the mountains and the Mediterranean, Sorrento is not part of the Amalfi Coast but is just north. It’s well-located for regional sightseeing and is worth exploring in its own right. There is a historic old quarter with cobblestone streets, a lively main shopping street (though some sell tourist trinkets), and a bustling piazza.
The beachfront promenade leads to the Marina Grande, which was the backdrop of the Sophia Loren movie “Pane, Amore, e…” Sorrento is the most affordable of the area’s bigger towns with many nice 3-star and 4-star hotel options and, in the height of summer, you can easily ferry from there to Naples, Capri, Positano, or Amalfi.
Best For: First-timer travelers to Europe; those who don’t speak any Italian; those who don’t mind crowds. Having a home base for seeing the wider region especially if you only have a few days.
Nerano: The Tucked-Away Fishing Village
The Punta Campanella Natural Marine Reserve marks the start of the Amalfi Coast and the first of the Amalfi Coast towns is the fishing village of Nerano. The village’s small rocky beach gives way to clear waters that are frequented by scuba divers. And it has a history: according to Greek mythology, this is where the sirens sang to tempt Ulysses. Nerano is also home to the culinary gem, spaghetti alla Nerano, made with fried zucchini and local provolone cheese.
Best For: Those who want to hike in nature, who don’t mind being removed from the center of the action, who are okay with a small village, or who have been before and want a quieter experience.
Positano: The Jet Set Favorite
South of Nerano is the picturesque town of Positano, which many consider the crown jewel of the Amalfi Coast. It’s where everyone from starlets to billionaires stays, and, despite the crowds, it remains utterly stunning.
One doesn’t visit Positano for sights or history because there isn’t a ton of either. Rather you go for the views, the boutique shopping, the nightlife, and the Italian seaside vibes.
With swanky bars with sweeping views and beachside nightclubs, it has the best nightlife scene of all the Amalfi Coast towns. The majority of the hotels are gorgeous but pricey (see the famed Il San Pietro) but there are a few relatively more affordable options. FYI, most all the hotels are in the town proper so few have pools and almost none have direct beach access (if they do, it’s a car ride away since you have to leave town). The town juts up the hillside from the water so you have to take steep stairs to get anywhere. From Positano, you can ferry to Naples, Capri, Sorrento, or Amalfi during high season.
Best For: Living your best luxe life, for shopping, for nightlife, for being centrally located on the Amalfi Coast, for having access to a sandy beach (many other towns have rocky beaches)
Nocelle: The Hidden Mountain Village
This tiny isolated village is high up from Montepertuso at almost 500 meters above the sea. As such, it has some of the most sweeping views you’ll find in any of the Amalfi Coast towns. There isn’t much of a village here and it’s mostly locals, so it’s not a place most tourists stay. However, many end up here since it is the ending point of the Sentiero degli Dei or Path of the Gods hiking trail.
Praiano: The Artsy Spot
A few bends southeast of Positano is relaxed Praiano, which has some quaint family-owned places to stay. This is an ancient fishing village that doubles as a laid-back summer resort and is becoming better known because of its burgeoning creative scene.
There isn’t really a village center in Praiano, but it has a church with a colorful dome, and a rocky beach, La Gavitella, at the bottom of 350-plus steps. Go here to be in the heart of the Amalfi Coast without crowds. But also know you’re not going to have much of a “town” to walk.
The advantage of being in Praiano is that you’re away from the crowds of the main towns and that you’re centrally located on the coast so it’s as quick to explore Positano as it is towns like Ravello and Amalfi to the south (about a 20-minute drive to any of those spots). There tends to be more space at the hotels there than in Positano (some have private beaches) and you often have a lovely view back on Positano.
The disadvantage is that there is not a proper town with a main square and that you don’t have the major ferry services of Positano. It’s best to have a private boat service or private driver (many hotels have transport services) to reach Praiano.
Best For: Those wanting to stay near the action but not in it, those okay with using private drivers or boat service to get around, or those who want to stay in a family-owned hotel or a rental house
Conca dei Marini: The Etruscan Settlement
Just around the bend from the Capo di Conca headland is the quaint fishing village of Conca dei Marini. Sandwiched between the village of Furore and the town of Amalfi, Conca dei Marini is believed to have been founded by the Etruscans.
This is one of the smallest villages of the Amalfi Coast towns so it’s harder to get around but it brings the charm with some colorful houses, a few restaurants, and a charming chapel that surrounds a small beach.
Best For: Outdoor lovers who want to hike or dive the nearby sea caves; for a romantic escape, for small-town vibes, for escaping the bustle but having it nearby, or those okay with using private drivers or boat service to get around
Amalfi Town: The Most Central Town
The coast’s namesake town, Amalfi is one of the biggest Amalfi Coast towns. Its main piazza (and stunning duomo or cathedral) is sea level and then it weaves up meaning there is a bit more to walk at sea level than elsewhere on the coast. Like Sorrento and Positano, you’ll see cruise ship tours and other day trippers in the town center but it will get quieter come sundown.
There are great restaurants, a beautiful historic church, and shopping (though some are touristy). You can take a ferry to/from Naples, Capri, Positano, or Sorrento. Also, the nearby towns of Furore, Ravello, and Atrani are all worth a visit for dinner or a drink.
The town’s population barely tops 5,000 full-time residents but it was once an imposing maritime power with a population of more than 70,000. Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of historical buildings and that’s because an earthquake in 1343 caused most of the old city to fall into the sea. After you’ve enjoyed the sights of the town itself, make sure to venture further inland where hidden gems like the Valle dei Mulini hike awaits!
Best For: Being in midst of the Amalfi coast; easily heading on day trips; easily getting around; enjoying the beach; you’re okay with a bustling daytime scene
Atrani: Amalfi’s Little Sister
The sun-soaked village of Atrani is just around the bend from Amalfi and is a nice, slow-paced contrast to Amalfi. As one of the smallest Amalfi Coast towns, we don’t necessarily recommend you stay here but rather do a day trip or dinner when you can enjoy its lovely beach and charming cliffside setting.
Ravello: The Hilltop Escape
Set 1,000 feet above sea level, Ravello is a total gem. While many consider Amalfi and Positano to be the most beautiful Amalfi Coast towns, the small town of Ravello is also a contender. It’s renowned for its cliffside gardens and historic spots like the stunning Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone. Standing on a rocky promontory that once housed the ruins of a Roman villa, the historic Villa Cimbrone boasts one of the most spectacular views on the entire Amalfi Coast.
Founded in the 5th century, this town began as a haven from barbarian invaders. And it’s long been a destination for artists: Richard Wagner claimed his writer’s block was cured by the beauty of this town and DH Lawrence worked on Lady Chatterley’s Lover there.
There are incredible hotels like the stunning Belmond Caruso but we think it’s more worth a day trip. Otherwise, you’ll be far from the water and a bit removed from the rest of the region. From July to August there is the famed Ravello Festival which includes live orchestral concerts, ballet performances, and film screenings.
Best For: Escaping the crowds all while still being able to reach the seaside Amalfi Coast scene; having a stunning view; not needing a beachfront spot; having sleepy nights; or those okay with using private drivers or boat service to get around.
Minori: The Good Value Town
Just southeast of Amalfi (or a steep hike down from Ravello) is the working-class town of Minori. This small seaside village is less refined than the Amalfi Coast towns to the north but it’s decidedly more real with noisy traffic jams and a bustling tiny beachfront. Travelers like staying here for a less glitzy seaside spot that almost always has a pleasant sea breeze blowing.
The town is known as the “City Of Taste” thanks to its terraces of lemon groves and grapevines and quality restaurants. However, it’s best known as the home to the beloved scialatielli (thick ribbons of fresh pasta), which is featured on many local restaurant menus. These days it’s also famous as being home to the Pasticceria Sal de Riso where famed pastry chef Salvatore de Riso makes treats like the Torta Ricotta e Pere.
Best For: A more budget experience, a more family-friendly experience, a less glitzy option
Maiori: The Town With A Big Beach
South of Minori is the town of Maiori, which has been a tourist destination dating back to Roman times. Though the town has historic monuments like the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria a Mare (13th century) and the Church of San Francesco (finished in 1590), it’s best known for having the longest, largest beach of the Amalfi Coast towns. Like Minori, this is a town that is more frequented by local Italians than by international tourists and it too has less tourism infrastructure than the towns to the north.
Best For: A more budget experience, a more family-friendly experience, you want a bigger beach; you want to avoid the crowds of the main towns
Cetara: The Working Fishing Village
Seafood lovers flock to Cetara as it’s rumored to have the best seafood on the Amalfi Coast. That likely springs from the fact that Cetara is a working fishing village and home to one of the most important tuna fleets in the Mediterranean. The town is best known for colatura di alici or a fermented anchovy extract that locals consider “liquid gold.”
Right beside Cetara are Erchie, a tiny hamlet with a massive Norman tower on the coast and two small beaches. Legend has it that Hercules founded the town on his arrival from Greece.
Best For: A no-frills experience; a less touristy experience, a good value
Vietri Sul Mare: The Pearl Of The Amalfi Coast
When coming from the city of Salerno, Vietri sul Mare is the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. As the birthplace of the glazed pottery known as majolica, it’s also the ceramics capital of the region of Campania making it a great day trip destination for avid shoppers. Vietri’s pottery production dates back to Roman times, and back in the day, the royal court of Naples was its most important client.
Best For: Avoiding tourists; ceramics lovers; avoiding posh experiences; a simple seaside holiday
What To Do On The Amalfi Coast
As food lovers, of course, we focus on the region’s food when we travel there. They have incredible seafood from tuna to anchovies and memorable dishes like eggplant meatballs, mozzarella in lemon leaf, pizza, scialatielli pasta, Spaghetti alla Nerano, and torta caprese. And, of course, you’ll come across local staples like limoncello and lovely white wines with bracing acidity.
But, also, it’s one of Italy’s premiere regions for hiking with well-marked trails, including the famed Sentiero degli Dei (God’s Path), where our clients love to hike with a local expert while visiting local farms to eat and cook with locals.
The main activities our travel planning clients like are a day trip to see the island of Capri and its famed blue grotto, a day trip up to the town of Ravello, spending the day at one of the seaside beach clubs, shopping for local specialties like handmade sandals, ceramics, or going to a family-owned lemon grove that grows the local variety of lemons and doing a rustic dinner there, and, of course, doing a day trip to Pompeii and Vesuvius.
Of course, if you need any help planning this or any other Italy travels, don’t hesitate to reach out.
When To Go To The Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is primarily a seaside beach destination and the season in Italy generally runs from Easter until Labor Day. However, as the fall has stayed warmer and as the Amalfi Coast has become even more popular, the season has extended through the month of September.
The best time to travel to the Amalfi Coast is outside of the height of summer when crowds are highest. Since many of the hotels in the towns are pretty shut in the winter, it’s best to travel there between April to October. Our pick of when to travel to the Amalfi Coast is late May, early June, and early September.
While you can do a day trip to the Amalfi Coast from Naples, Sorrento, or the islands, we feel staying a few nights is best. Since it takes a minute to reach most of these towns (more below), we recommend spending at least three nights at these various Amalfi Coast towns.
How To Reach The Amalfi Coast Towns
Can you get around the Amalfi Coast without a car? Yes, you can! Most travelers take a flight or train into Naples and then have a private driver, take a ferry, or hop the local trains known as the Circumvesuviana and run from Naples to Sorrento. Otherwise, it’s common to train into Naples or Salerno and take a bus, ferry, or car to the specific town you are trying to reach.
Year-round hydrofoils run between Naples and Sorrento and from Sorrento to Capri. Then, from April to October ferry service starts that runs from Sorrento to Positano, Amalfi, and onto Salerno. You can get public transport (bus or ferry) from those three spots, but you’ll need a private car or boat service for the other towns.
As of 2022, new rules were proposed for driving the Amalfi Coast so be sure to read up on them should you want to drive there. For the record, we do not recommend driving in this region of Italy but rather taking one of the other transportation options we mentioned above.
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Photo Credit: Opening photo of Praiano by Alex Tihonovs; Sorrento by Alex Tihonovs; Amalfi town by Boris-B; Atrani town Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash; Ravello by Sergey Berestestky; Maiori photo by Pfeiffer; Cetara by Eugenia Struk; Capri rocks Photo by Nicolò Salinetti on Unsplash