When I lived and worked in Italy, one of my first domestic long-weekend trips was to the Amalfi Coast, stretching (più o meno) from Naples to Salerno. I made a few stops along the coast, taking in the most famous tourist attractions as well as a few lesser-known sights, and I loved the area so much that I went back twice- something I rarely do!
An easy home base for much of the Amalfi Coast is Sorrento. Along the main Circumvesuviana commuter rail line it’s easy to get from Sorrento to other towns like Amalfi and Positano, as well as to historic sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum. In town you don’t have many options other than relaxing- sip a Campari with orange juice on the main piazza, stroll through a citrus grove or take a boat trip to the nearby Emerald Grotto.
From Sorrento you can do easy day-trips to two of Italy’s most important archeological sites: Pompeii and Herculaneum. I preferred the latter for its small crowds and peacefulness (as well as its well-preserved two-story homes), while the former is a must-see simply because it’s Pompeii. Pompeii can be explored in half a day or two full days, depending on how in-depth you want to go. Many people hire registered guides at the gates, but I found my experience to be well-guided simply by the provided map. Herculaneum was much smaller and only took about two hours to explore. It’s amazing to see how the urban area has encroached on Herculaneum’s archeological site- pizzerias and apartment buildings are mere meters from the ruins.
As you move further along the coast you’ll be able to stop in Amalfi or Positano (or both, though they’re quite similar). Positano is a little bit more upscale, while Amalfi is slightly more fitting for budget travelers. Amalfi is famous for its beautiful cathedral with sprawling stone steps leading down into a marvelous piazza. You can walk from Amalfi along the twisting seaside road to reach Atrani, a sleepy fishing community “just around the bend”.
From Amalfi you’d be crazy to skip a day trip to Ravello, which is perched high in the hills above the coastline and offers marveous views of the city below. Ravello is famous for its concert series and you’ll find the streets here are named after famous composers. This is a hangout for the rich (but not necessarily the famous), yet the pace is so sleepy that nobody will bat an eye if you stick your head into a residential courtyard to take a look at the high life.
Making your way further down the Amalfi Coast you’ll reach industrial Salerno, which serves as your main access point to the amazing Paestum. Did you know that some of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world aren’t in Greece? It’s true! Three monolithic Ancient Greek temples stand side-by-side in a rural field in the village of Paestum. Few tourists head this far south so you might find you have the site to yourself. For someone who’s been to Greece this might not be amazing, but if Greece isn’t on your itinerary this is another must-see. The farms around Paestum produce amazing buffalo mozzarella, so make sure to indulge in a pizza dinner while you’re here.
I know I’m always suggesting that you read the Lonely Planet, but this is once case where I prefer a different, way less cool guidebook. The Rick Steves Snapshot of Naples & The Amalfi Coast (on Kindle or in print) is a fantastic resource for those who want to visit the area in comfort without breaking the bank.