Things to Do in Amalfi Coast
One of the most remote and beautiful beaches on Italy's Sorrento coast, the Baths of the Queen Giovanna (Bagni della Regina Giovanna) is set along the rocky cliffs of Capo di Sorrento near a dramatic natural stone arch and the ancient ruins of a Roman villa. This stretch of coastline and its natural pool are accessible only by foot or private boat.
Looming above the Bay of Naples, Mt. Vesuvius (Monte Vesuvio) erupted in AD 79 and covered Pompeii in ash, preserving parts of the ancient city that can still be seen today. The volcano itself is still active—the only active one in continental Europe—and, though dormant, is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. Despite this, many visitors hike the mountain to see its infamous crater and are rewarded with stunning views of Pompeii, the Bay of Naples, and the surrounding Italian countryside.
According to folklore, sirens once inhabited this small group of islands known as Li Galli or Le Sirenuse. But today, it’s intrepid travelers who find their way through the placid waters and scenic coastal landscapes to the three major land masses of this archipelago: La Castelluccia, Gallo Lungo and La Rotonda.
Gallo Lungo is one of Li Galli’s most popular destinations, thanks to historical roots as a home to a monastery, and later a prison. In the mid-1990s, it became privately owned by Giovanni Russo and today, offers deluxe accommodations to travelers able to afford the steep price tag. Luckily the quiet waters that surround this iconic island are open to the public, which means even visitors who will never set foot on the shores are able to at least catch a glimpse of Gallo Lungo during a swim.
For centuries, Amalfi was one of the most important producers of paper in Europe, and water-powered paper mills lined the river running through the center of town. See how these ingenious mills worked and learn about the history and production of Amalfi’s prestigious paper at the Paper Museum, located in a fully functioning historic mill.
Sorrento's tiny fishing village of Marina Grande is known for its colorful wooden boats bobbing in the harbor, and local fishermen still mend their nets by hand just steps from sunbathers along the beach. At the heart of Marina Grande is the Church of Sant’Anna, dedicated to the town’s patron saint, and a shore lined with small, family-run restaurants serving fresh Mediterranean fish and seafood.
Tiny Ravello, an idyllic village along the Amalfi Coast, has a long history and vibrant cultural life. Founded by Romans in the sixth century, this picturesque clifftop town is today a haven for travelers drawn to its views, villas, and gardens. Home to Villa Rufolo, which has hosted luminaries from Richard Wagner to Jacqueline Kennedy, and Villa Cimbrone, known for its panoramic views, Ravello is an elegant respite from the crowds along the coast.
Sitting astride the steep gorge that once divided the cliff-top center of Sorrento, Piazza Tasso is the pulsating heart of one of Italy’s most popular seaside resort towns. This bustling, café-lined main square is where locals and visitors alike come to see and be seen, and to admire the square’s baroque church and 18th-century palace.
Tucked beneath the famous highway that skirts Italy's Amalfi Coast, the Emerald Grotto (Grotta dello Smeraldo) is one of the most popular attractions on this iconic stretch of coastline. Discovered in 1932 by a local fisherman, this marine cave is known for the turquoise water that fills the cavern with an emerald-green light when the sun’s rays filter up through a fissure beneath its surface. It’s covered with limestone stalagmites and stalactites more commonly associated with inland karstic caves and is popular among travelers to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.
There is no better stretch of beach in Positano to take a dip or work on your tan than Spiaggia Grande, next to the Marina Grande port. At this well-provisioned beach you can rent a sun lounger and umbrella, stroll the beach walk, grab a meal at a beachfront restaurant, or hop on a ferry to other coastal destinations or the islands.
By far Amalfi’s most famous sight, the 9th-century Amalfi Cathedral (Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea) has a theatrical staircase that leads up from the town’s main square to the church’s facade above. Climb to the top to see the cathedral’s striking mix of architectural styles and a sweeping view over the town.
More Things to Do in Amalfi Coast
Perched high above the Amalfi Coast is the town of Ravello, home to the gorgeous Villa Cimbrone surrounded by lovely gardens that are open to the public.
Villa Cimbrone dates from the 11th century, and today is a hotel and restaurant. The gardens around the villa – once a private home – are now open to visitors, even if you're not staying at the hotel itself. The gardens owe their formal English style to the villa's 20th-century owner, an Englishman whose family owned the property until the 1960s.
The gardens feature long walkways lined by trees, flowering plants, and statues. There are statues and other works of art seemingly hidden in different parts of the property, many of which are away from the main paths. The highlight of the property, however, is known as the “Infinity Terrace” at the end of the main path. This incredible viewpoint overlooks the sea and the towns below, jutting out from ground level so that it appears to be floating.
Positano’s photogenic cascade of pastel-hued houses is striking, but one of the most remarkable details is the colorful tiled dome of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta (Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta). Lovely from the outside, the church is also an architectural delight within, and home to a 12th-century Byzantine-style icon of a Black Madonna and Child.
Known postcard-perfect fishing villages, the Amalfi Coast, a stretch of southern Italian coastline, also has striking countryside crisscrossed with hiking trails. Those in Ferriere Valley Nature Reserve (Riserva Statale Valle delle Ferriere)—thick with lemon groves, lush ferns, abandoned mills, and waterfalls—are among the most beautiful.
Sorrento’s Cloister of San Francesco (Chiostro di San Francesco) is an oasis of tranquility steps away from the historic town’s bustling central piazza of Sant’Antonino. The cloister unites a religious complex of seventh-century monastery and a late-medieval church, both dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, and is a showpiece of various architectural styles from pre-Roman through Arabic to medieval.
In the 14th century Franciscan friars from the monastery repurposed an ancient oratory into their church; it has some Baroque features and its simple white façade was rebuilt in 1926. Inside there are several richly decorated chapels adjoining the single nave and in 1992, a bronze statue of St Francis was placed outside the church; it is the work of Roman sculptor Alfiero Nena.
But the cloister, built at the same time as the church, is the star turn here; its tranquil gardens are filled with bougainvillea and vines that climb over arched arcades, which are made of soft tufa stone and rubble pinched from earlier pagan temples. During the summer there are art exhibitions and concerts set to the stunning backdrop of the cloister and it is also one of Sorrento’s most popular venues for weddings.
Always dress conservatively when visiting churches in Italy; shoulder and legs should be covered.
With its white facade and simple bell tower, the Ravello Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta e San Pantaleone) is modest by Italian standards. Highlights are the inscribed bronze doors and a remarkable pulpit, supported by six marble lions and adorned with bird and dragon mosaics. The chapel also boasts an ampoule of St. Pantaleone’s blood, said to liquefy each year on the anniversary of his martyrdom.
The most important church in Sorrento, the St. Anthony Basilica (Basilica di Sant’Antonino) is dedicated to the town’s patron saint. Visit the church during a walking tour of the city to view the sumptuous interiors, St. Antonius’s crypt, and votive offerings of sailors who survived shipwrecks thanks to the intervention of this saint, the patron of rescues.
The picturesque seaside town of Sorrento is a popular retreat from gritty Naples across the bay, and a great base from which to explore the nearby Amalfi Coast, islands in the Gulf of Naples, and ancient ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. What many people overlook when they're in Sorrento, however, is that it's also home to museums worth visiting. Perhaps the best known is the Correale di Terranova Museum, or Museo Correale di Terranova in Italian.
The Correale Museum is housed in an 18th century villa that has a fantastic view over the water. The museum takes its name from the Correale family, which was given the property in the early 15th century and which still owns the villa to this day. What's on display is the private collection of members of the Correale family. The museum is perhaps best known for its collection of 17th and 18th century Neapolitan paintings.
Other parts of the collection at the Correale di Terranova Museum include glass made in Murano, crystal from Bavaria, porcelains from both Capodimonte near Rome and Sevres in France, as well as archaeological artifacts of both Greek and Roman origin. There is some historic furniture in the villa, although this isn't a “house museum” outfitted in period décor. The villa is surrounded by an expansive garden that you can also visit.
Towering over the countryside of Campania in southern Italy, Mt. Faito (Monte Faito)—in the Lattari mountain range—overlooks the whole of the Sorrento Peninsula. Faito is a popular destination in summer, when its scenic trails offer a respite from the heat and crowds along the coastline.
Jutting out from the Sorrentine Peninsula into the Gulf of Naples is a rocky promontory known as the Punta del Capo, or the Capo di Sorrento. It’s located a little more than one mile west of central Sorrento.
One of the main attractions on the Punta del Capo is the ruin of a Roman villa, which is believed to have once belonged to Pollio Felice. There are ruins of three villas nearby, all dating to the 1st-3rd centuries AD. Felice was a supporter of both Virgil and Horace.
Nearby, you’ll find the Bagni della Regina Giovanna, a swimming area next to a flat, rocky area used for sunbathing, all of which are next to the remains of another Roman villa. This spot gets its name from Queen Giovanna of Anjou, who used to visit regularly in the 14th century to bathe.
Capo di Sorrento has a few shops and places to eat, but this area is much quieter than central Sorrento. It’s possible to walk from Sorrento, though the path along the Via Capo is uphill when heading out along the Punta del Capo. Boat tours from Sorrento to explore the Roman ruins and the Bagni della Regina Giovanna are quite popular.
Watching the “Sorrento Musical” at the Tasso Theater (Teatro Tasso) can be a fun way to learn about Italian culture through a performance of traditional dances and songs.
The Teatro Tasso theater is located inside a former convent, and in the 1920s the space was used as a cinema. It was later the venue for opera performances, and today seats 500 people for its popular “Sorrento Musical” shows. The upper gallery level of the theater accommodates about 150 seats with tables set up so people can enjoy dinner during the show.
The “Sorrento Musical” is a 2-hour production (there is a 10-minute intermission) featuring traditional songs, dances, and costumes from the Sorrentine Peninsula and other parts of nearby southern Italy. You’ll hear familiar songs such as “O Sole Mio” and see the famous Tarantella dance performed. Audience members can get in on the fun, too, by joining the performers onstage to learn the Tarantella.
The audience has the option to arrive in time for a welcome drink just before the show begins, or - for a more complete evening - get to the theater earlier for dinner. Diners sit at the tables set up in the gallery of the theater and eat while musicians provide entertainment of guitar and mandolin music.
This tiny museum in the center of the picturesque clifftop village of Ravello is home to a small but delightful collection of coral jewelry and objets d’art. Visitors can learn about the 500-year-old history of coral crafting on the Amalfi Coast and coral’s importance as a symbol of good fortune.
The Sorrento Foundation organizes art exhibitions, literary readings, musical performances, and other happenings at the elegant 20th-century Villa Fiorentino on Sorrento’s Corso Italia. Take a break from the bustling streets and shops of this resort town, and enjoy one of the events held throughout the year.
Tucked between Amalfi Coast superstars Positano and Amalfi, tiny Praiano has managed to retain the feel of a sleepy fishing village, with a slower pace and friendlier vibe than its flashy neighbors. Sidle up beside locals at a café or in the piazza and soak in the Mediterranean views—and the timeless atmosphere—of this pretty seaside gem.
For one of the most spectacular views in Sorrento, follow Corso Italia west from the center of town as it becomes the panoramic Via Capo. Lined with lovely hotels and tiny beaches, this winding road makes for a scenic stroll or gateway to the lesser crowded coastline outside Sorrento’s busy center.
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