Positano is the crown jewel of the Amalfi Coast. While it’s a small village, the vision of colorful pastel-painted homes clinging tightly to the cliffside while alleyways laced with bougainvillea wind down to the sea, is one of the most striking on the planet. From here, you’ll also enjoy one of the most jaw-dropping Mediterranean views, with aquamarine waves crashing against the coast. It’s an idyllic base for exploring one of the world’s most famous coastlines, with plenty of chic boutiques, tasty eateries, and accommodation options catering to tourists.
A stay in Positano isn’t about checking landmarks off a list like you might in a big city. It’s more about savoring moments like sipping an Aperol spritz on the beach, sailing the brilliant blue waters, breathing in the aroma of lemons, lingering over a delicious meal, and watching a glorious sunset.
That said, there are plenty of things to do in Positano too.
As mentioned, some of the best of Positano can be enjoyed in the little moments, like watching life go by at Piazza dei Mulini, the historic square. Due to the striking beauty of the area, Romans began settling here around 100 B.C., building their magnificent villas. But the massive Mount Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD destroyed all the Roman villas and other structures throughout the area. From the 15th to the 17th centuries, Positano was a wealthy market port. If only the square could talk, what fascinating stories it would have to tell. The restaurants here are housed in structures that were once fishermen’s quarters, and before that, shipyards that fueled the town’s mighty naval power. Grab an espresso and a sweet from the pastry cart. This is the perfect spot to sit back, indulge, and imagine days gone by while the locals and visitors meander about. This vibrant hub is a great place for people-watching.
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta is the town’s centerpiece and its main landmark, facing the historic square. Once the Romanesque-style abbey of the Benedictine monastery, its history can be traced back to the 10th century. It has a Moorish dome slathered in brightly glazed tiles while the interior has an altar with Byzantine treasures dating back to the 12th century, including the Virgin Madonna. The church celebrated the icon-like Black Madonna for centuries and it’s still an important figure today. It’s said that it was brought here by monks from Constantinople, but locals prefer a more colorful legend that tells pirates of a Saracen ship carrying the stolen painting were caught unexpectedly by a storm and heard a mysterious voice calling, “Posa, posa,” which translates to “set me down.” They left the Madonna of the first small beach they found and became Christians. The locals kept it, and the town became known as
Positano is every photographer’s, Instagrammer’s, and travel blogger’s dream. There are photo ops around nearly every corner, making it easy to spend an entire day just snapping. Simply roam the streets and discover all sorts of surprises. It’s almost impossible to take a bad photo here, but there are some vantage points you definitely won’t want to miss. One of the classics is Spiaggia Grande where you can capture the beach and the hills with precariously perched homes tumbling down. Take some right from the beach and then join a boat tour to capture a few from the water. The white-and-blue striped changing rooms on the main beach are perfect for a selfie. One of the best vantage points for capturing the town and the sea is from Franco’s Bar at La Sirenuse Hotel. Get there early, right when they open, as the seats along the railing that offer the best views go quickly.
Speaking of Spiaggia Grande, it’s the 1,00-foot-long umbrella-filled beach that sits at the foot of the Positano’s colorful terraces. It’s not only a great place for photos, but from here you can take a boat trip to visit other beaches, admire the coast from afar, or rent a kayak. Umbrellas and sunbeds are available for rent at the bathhouse, or you can toss down a towel for free on the central section of the beach. It’s the perfect place for spending the day soaking up the sun and enjoying refreshing dips in the water, with the sea temperatures warm enough from around late May through mid-October. There are plenty of places to eat and drink and you’ll be just a few minutes walk from the town center to enjoy the offerings there. Be sure to bring flip-flops as the shore is made up of rather rough pebbles and they can get very hot in the summer.
Spiaggia Grande is fabulous, but it’s also very busy. If you’re looking to enjoy a more tranquil stretch and an escape from the crowds, head to Arienzo Beach. It can easily be reached by heading to the Positano pier next to Spiaggia Grande and taking a shuttle. Recognizable by the logo with a blue and yellow compass rose, they’re super convenient and free, departing every 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and returning from 3:45 p.m. until late in the afternoon. It is possible to access the beach via land, requiring a steep descent down a flight of some 300 steps, and back up again. If you don’t mind the challenge, the staircase will allow you to peek into some of the most magnificent villas on the Amalfi Coast. Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find a small free area and private paid sections. The popular Arienzo Beach Club offers very tasty food and cocktails.
If you’re looking for unique nightlife, Positano offers it in spades at Music on the Rocks. Perhaps it would be more aptly named Music in the Rocks, as the nightclub sits beneath Rada Restaurant, tucked inside a cliff. It looks and feels like a cave, and it’s the only nightclub you’ll find for miles around. Some of the region’s top DJs spin party tunes here just like they have for over 50 years, since the club opened in 1972. It’s one of the coolest “party in a cave” experiences and offers a gorgeous view across the sea, making it a must for a nightcap or dancing the night away. There are circular bars, white columns, VIP leather sofas and chairs, while the lighting changes colors from green to pink and blue. It attracts a very in-vogue crowd so you’ll want to dress to impress and come prepared for an unforgettable night.
Positano is one of the world’s best places for sailing. You can’t really say you’ve seen the Amalfi Coast until you’ve seen it by sea, with the rugged coast and the colorful fishing villages spilling down the cliffside. It’s more affordable than you think, and you’ll able to truly savor those thousands of shades of green and turquoise waters, stopping whenever you’d like to swim in a hidden cove. Most of the boats available for rent in Positano don’t require a boating license, but you should have at least some experience at sea to take out a vessel without a skipper as the currents here can be a bit tricky. If you don’t, consider a boat tour instead. During the peak tourist season of July and August, boats are in high demand, so book as far in advance as possible. The rest of the year, a couple of days in advance is sufficient.
Piazza dei Mulini is not only the center of Positano’s rich history, it’s a vibrant hub for shopping, with local artists showcasing their handmade crafts, a variety of apparel, gifts, souvenirs, fragrant candles, multicolored ceramics, works of art, the perennial favorite, Limoncello, and much more. One of the most enjoyable ways to shop is to just wander the streets and alleyways. Many hidden treasures can be found along the steep, meandering walkways. The center of town starts at the historic square which is where the vehicle traffic ends and Via dei Mulini becomes pedestrian-only. There are boutiques selling designer clothing for those who want to make a fashion statement or just pick up a smart new outfit for a night out. The town is internationally famous for Moda Mare Positano, or Positano Sea Fashion, an iconic style birthed in the 1960s by the local dressmakers.
Leather sandals deserve their own section when it comes to things to do here. Southern Italy is world-renowned for its handmade Capri Positano sandals, made from genuine Italian leather that’s very high-quality, flexible, and comfortable. Super stylish, they can be worn with almost everything. You’ll see many stores offering them while strolling through town, and they’ll even be custom-made for you while you wait. Take your time, talking to the various proprietors and browsing the dozens of different styles. Many are family run, with the ancient tradition handed down through generations. The walls are typically covered with shoes from the floor to the ceiling, so it might take a while. You can choose the heel height and the design and color of the straps. After you’ve decided what you like, they’ll measure your foot for the perfect fit. It can take as little as an hour or up to a day to make them.
One of the top things to do for any visitor to the Amalfi Coast is to drive the world-famous coastal highway which hugs the cliffsides while overlooking the azure waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The roughly 35-mile route winds through 13 towns, with the mountains melting down to the water. Sorrento is the unofficial starting point with the town of Amalfi at the end and Positano in the middle. You’ll pass Minori which is a great stop as there are Roman ruins to explore. Beyond the numerous photo-ops, there are places right along the roadside to buy lemons and all sorts of lemon products like lemon candy. Take your time, enjoying the terraces of lemon trees, olive groves, vineyards, and fishing villages along the way. Of course, you’ll see the quintessential pastel-painted homes clinging to the steep hillsides, tumbling to the sea. It’s worth hiring a driver so you can relax and enjoy the view.
One of the most famous hikes in the Amalfi Coast region, The Path of the Gods will bring you above Positano on an approximately 5-mile journey leading through charming historic villages while following ancient mule routes. You’ll get a glimpse of the old ways of travel while enjoying some of the most jaw-dropping views in Italy, and a tranquil escape from the crowds. The sea views from high above are absolutely incredible. If you don’t relish a strenuous uphill climb, hike from the town of Bomerano to Nocelle, which is mostly downhill. Locals advise against hiking it during the peak summer months of July and August due to the searing heat. If you attempt it in late September or October, keep an eye on the weather as heavy rains can make it very muddy and there’s a risk of mudslides. The best time for the trek is in the spring, April or May.
The island of Capri is considered a must-visit for anyone in the area. Offering irresistible Mediterranean charms, it’s been a popular getaway since Roman times and sits just opposite the Sorrentine peninsula. Boat tours will bring you there and often include a visit to the Blue Grotto where you’ll get to witness its incredible interior illuminated in a surreal blue glow. Several hours are usually provided to explore the island as known. A glamourous retreat that’s long attracted international jet setters and a host of celebrities, its maze of narrow streets are famous for fashion boutiques that sell all the big designer names. You might visit the ruins of Emperor Tiberius’s palace at Villa Jovis and then browse the many upscale shops before sitting down for a drink and some people-watching at bustling Piazza Umberto, the heart of the main town on Capri.
Both Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii can easily be visited from Positano on a guided tour. You’ll get to hike the Gran Cone trail to the crater of the volcanic mountain and then head to Pompeii where history comes to life. An expert guide will bring you around the UNESCO-listed archaeological site where the ancient city was destroyed by the massive 79 AD volcanic eruption, blanketing it in ash which helped keep many features well preserved. You’ll see everything from an amphitheater, homes, and thermal baths to a bakery, brothels, and a meat and fish market as you learn about the stories behind it all. Look down and the tracks of ancient chariots used as the most popular form of transport are still visible in the streets. Entry fees are usually included, with skip-the-line admission tickets to avoid long lines, and lunch may be provided too, depending on the tour you choose.
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