I will always recall the first time I set foot in Positano. Like you, I had read the blogs (or travel articles, as they were so quaintly called in the distant past!), I had looked at many photographs in printed guides and brochures for things to do in Positano …. But, truly, nothing really prepared me for the dazzling reality that is this picturesque destination town on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.
My trip to Positano followed the general route – a flight into Rome followed by a leisurely rambling drive along the Italian coast. Enjoying a stop at Naples and Sorrento, before eventually arriving at my villa haven perched above Positano. The sun was setting over the Tyrrhenian Sea, the pretty houses and villas of the town were bathed in a golden light and the bougainvillaea hung over terraces like exotic jewels. I had found paradise.
Here are some of my best things to do in Positano …
Things To Do In Positano
- Visit Pompeii and Herculaneum
- Take a ferry to Capri
- Shopping and Restaurants in Capri
- Recreate the Taste of Positano when you get home
- Take a hike along the Path of the Gods
- Experience the Amalfi Coast by sea
- Enjoy the Beautiful Beaches
- Experience the nightlife
- Town Hopping
1. Visit Pompeii and Herculaneum
You might not consider yourself to be much of a history buff. In fact, the idea of antiquities might leave you a bit bored but let me assure you whether you know a Doric column from a marble fresco, a tour of Pompeii and the lesser-known Herculaneum will ignite the spirit of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft within the most jaded heart.
When Mount Vesuvius blew her top in 79AD, she poured a 4-meter veil of ash, mud and lava over the city of Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum.
These UNESCO protected sites, discovered in 1748 and 1738 respectively, offer visitors an opportunity to wander down ancient Roman streets, walk around buildings like the Central Thermae – public bathhouses segregated for use by men and women – snoop into private villas and admire multi-coloured marble work and surviving frescos.
There are so many architectural features and remnants of lives that were extinguished so suddenly almost 2000 years ago. Many skeletons have been discovered during the excavations and exact replicas of these, cast in plaster, are left in exactly the places from which they were lifted.
This really raises the experience from a purely historic tour and makes it feel very human and moving. Both sites are still being excavated and it’s an extraordinary experience to witness the layers being peeled back to allow us to glimpse into a vanished world.
As one of the top things to do in Positano this certainly gets my vote. Book a private tour of Pompeii and Vesuvius that will whisk you from your villa to visit both sites. It is a journey time of just over 1 hour by car. Alternatively, take the Circumvesuviana suburban railway from Sorrento – a trip of only 30 minutes.
- Wear closed in footwear so you can traverse the stony and sometimes uneven surfaces.
- A hat is a must as you will be out and about under the elements.
- Take water, of course.
There is so much to see at both sites, you could easily dedicate an entire day to this expedition. A very interesting add-on for the sure-footed visitor is to climb Vesuvius herself. The hike to the top isn’t too challenging for the able-bodied and the views from the summit wonderful. From the edge of the crater, the entire Bay of Naples will be laid at your feet.
2. Take a Ferry to Capri
Now that you’ve filled your brain with ancient wonders, it might be time to get out on the water and make the short voyage to what is a must-do in Positano.
Capri! This 10 sq kilometre island is a mere 30 minutes by high-speed ferry from Positano pier. The general rule is that you travel out in the morning early, returning on the last ferry at about 4 pm. Do check with local timetables and it’s well worthwhile getting to the pier at least 30 minutes prior to departure to avoid queues.
The fast ferry is a refreshing way to get to Capri and gives you ample opportunity to take spectacular photographs of Positano as it fades into the horizon and of Capri as she unfurls her beauty as you draw nearer.
For the ambitious, why not reserve a scooter that will be ready for you when you disembark. A fun way to explore the island’s many wonders.
Again, there is a wealth of ancient sites and interesting ruins to visit but I think it’s mother nature who has provided the best in the way of natural wonders. The famed Blue Grotto is really worth a visit. Book with a tour group on the island and they will take you by motorboat to the entrance to the grotto. You are then decanted into a small rowboat which slips through the very narrow entrance to the Grotto. Certainly one of the top things to do in Positano, Italy.
Other beautiful features to be admired in and around Capri are the Faraglioni sea stacks – rocky ‘pillars’ of stone that are found off the southern coast of Capri.
Naturally carved over many centuries by the movements of the sea, these stacks and sea arches are home to some rare blue lizards and wildflowers. Best viewed from the island, a photo montage of Capri would be incomplete without these famous rocks.
3. Shopping and Restaurants in Capri
In terms of things to do in Positano in July or any of the months from April to October, a day of luxurious retail therapy in Capri town is a must! Via Camerelle boasts the highest concentration of designer shops of any similar-sized street anywhere in the world. All the top names in fashion have a footprint on the island.
With the Mediterranean sun kissing your nose, you can window shop or give your credit card a little workout knowing that when you are exhausted from your toils, a scrumptious lunch awaits you in the Piazzetta, the bustling square in the heart of Capri town. One of the pretty restaurant cafés that sit in the corner of this square will provide some delicious food and a restoring glass of vino.
Nowhere in the world combines retail therapy and gourmet indulgence with such panache. Positano has some of the best Amalfi Coast restaurants!
My particular favourite thing to do in Capri is to get a pair of sandals made to measure while you wait. The island is famed for its hand-stitched sandals and you can pop into Canfora where your foot measurements will be taken while you choose the style and colour of straps.
If you are looking for the ultimate style endorsement, you will see a photograph, in this Capri landmark, of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, visiting Canfora for her fitting.
4. Recreate the Taste of Positano when you Get Home
Italian food! What’s not to love about it?
Flavour, simplicity of ingredients presented in a myriad of ways to tantalise any palate. Personally, whenever I attempt to recreate the wonderful dishes of any Italian holiday I find something is always missing from the finished product. Perhaps if I was eating the food with the warm sun on my back and with sand between my toes, it would elevate the entire experience but I think it’s more to do with my limited skills.
To combat this, I suggest you sign up for a half-day cookery lesson with Marina in the Kitchen. This charming and knowledgeable cook brings new life to delicious favourites in the divine setting of a 17th Century convent. Using only seasonal and locally sourced ingredients and able to adapt a tutorial to suit dietary needs, I think you will find this one of the most amazing things to do in Positano.
5. Take a Hike along the Path of the Gods
If you are a student of roman mythology you will find many mentions of roman deific activity along the Amalfi Coast. If you are keen to get in on the act you can hike the Sentiero Degli Dei or Path of the Gods, a 7.8km narrow mountain ridge with breath-taking views over the Amalfi coastline.
Ideally, get a private transfer to Bomerano where the trial commences and make the 2-hour hike to Nocelle. At this point, you can navigate the 1,500 steep steps that will return you Arienzo and the final 1km to Positano and a well-deserved swim.
With scenery ranging from hill farms, vineyards, wild mountainous paths, sea views … all of these, coupled with the scent of wild rosemary and thyme in the air, it is one of the Positano activities that you will cherish.
This is a reasonably challenging hike and certainly not a casual Sunday stroll. Be prepared with water, snacks, suitable footwear etc. As there are numerous sites of interest en route, local knowledge would really add to the experience, so hiring a personal guide is a very good option.
6. Experience the Amalfi Coast by Sea
As a lovely antidote to your mountainous hike, a day spent on the water is one of the glorious Positano things to do.
You can join another group on a shared boat or hire your own skipper/skipper less boat and plan a day of exploration of the Amalfi Coast from the water. Regardless of the views, you have seen from land, it is the breath-taking scenery of the colourful towns and Amalfi Coast villas cascading towards the turquoise sea interspersed with wild cliffs and rugged mountains that you will only see from your watery vantage point.
Hiring a boat in Positano, you can set off along the coast towards the town of Amalfi stopping at pretty little coves for a swim. Lots of the boats provide snorkelling equipment so a bit of underwater exploration can be added to your itinerary.
Why not call into one of the lovely restaurants along the coastline.
For the more adventurous seafarer, make the trip across to Capri. The boat hire companies can guide you on the best routes to follow.
You might get more from your day out by booking a skipper to navigate the coastline for you. Regardless of what you decide to do, this is one of the most memorable things to do in Positano, Italy!
7. Enjoy the Beautiful Beaches
Positano, a mecca for celebrities and the glamorous, has four beaches that skirt the clear waters of the Bay.
The Marina Grande Beach, at 300m long, is the destination of choice for visitors who enjoy a bit of people watching and who like to be near to the centre of activities. In high season, it is an unrivalled Positano must-see! As with a lot of Italian resort beaches, you can pay to access part of the beach. For your fee, you get a comfy lounger and umbrella and it’s an ideal way to spend a day in Positano.
There are parts of the beach open to the public with free access. All in all, with numerous restaurants and pretty shops bordering the beach, it is a wonderful place to spend a day – dipping in and out of the cool, clear waters of the sea.
For a more laid back vibe, take an easy 15-minute walk westwards from the Marina to Fornillo beach. This is a far less hectic beach and can offer families a quieter location from which to enjoy a day by the water.
Arienzo Beach gets the most sun daily and is a smaller, quieter option to Spiaggia Grande (Marina Grande Beach). Finally, the tiny beach that is Laurito Beach, accessed by a set of steps, is the sweetest place to spend your day. Far away from the bustle of the other beaches, it is very cute.
8. Experience the Nightlife
Okay, you’ve been hiking in the mountains, swimming in the sea, you’ve bronzed your limbs on the beach to the soothing sound of the ocean, you might have bought a fabulous new dress in Capri.
In other words, you should be looking your super fit and glamorous best (let’s pretend you haven’t been overdoing it with the pasta and gelato). Perhaps it’s time to dust off your inner sexy siren or strut your swagger like Marcello Mastroianni (ref La Dolce Vita) and embrace one of the fun things to do in Positano, Italy, after sundown.
The place to go is Music on the Rocks on via Grotto dell’ Incanto. With Le Terrazze restaurant and piano bar on the first level and disco downstairs in a grotto by the beach, this venue offers holidaymakers and locals a nightly destination at which to see and be seen. The DJ will mix up some fabulous hits from the world charts along with those crazy Italian pop songs that never seem to export well but become the earworm backdrop to your vacation. Cool cocktails, the glittering sea in the distance, rarely will you feel so young and carefree!
9. Town Hopping
Positano is a wonderful town to explore – the shops, restaurants, quaint churches, plenty to divert visitors. I believe, though, that it is important to strike out and visit some of the other lovely towns and villages along the Amalfi Coast as each, in its own right, offers yet more perspectives on life in this uniquely beautiful part of the world.
The network of ferries and water taxis can transport visitors between Positano and some of the other coastal towns. For example, a comfortable high-speed ferry connects Positano and the larger town of Sorrento. It’s worth checking out some of the incredible Sorrento restaurants.
After a day of exploration and a leisurely lunch, I would suggest that you travel back from Sorrento to Positano by car because as road trips go, the famous Nastro Azzurro or Blue Ribbon road that weaves its gravity-defying way along the coastline, is a sight to behold. The local drivers zoom along this road with hair-raising dexterity.
Travelling further along the coast from Positano, you can visit the town of Amalfi to see the dramatic cathedral of St Andrew with its wonderful 13th Century Norman façade. There is a lovely beach here too, a little less hectic than Positano’s Spiaggia Grande and pretty narrow streets to wander through as you enjoy a casual lunch or some delicious local gelato.
Heading upwards into the clouds from Amalfi is the divine resort town of Ravello. This beautiful town sits high above the bay so isn’t on the hot route between Sorrento and Salerno. A more laid back day can be enjoyed here as you walk through the lemon-scented streets to visit the magnificent gardens at the Villa Cimbrone. The rose gardens and leafy arbours open onto the Terrace of Infinity where dramatic views across the bay can be marvelled at.
For decades, Ravello has been a destination for writers and composers who have found the solitude and beauty necessary to allow the muse of inspiration to bless them. There are many lovely cafes and restaurants to visit (i address the very serious question of where to eat in Ravello in another article) or take a steep hike of about one hour back to Amalfi and take a water taxi home to your beautiful Villa.
Where to Stay
I’ve returned many times to this remarkable town and the ‘love at first sight’ feeling that wooed me all those years ago has only deepened with the years. Regardless of my plans as I book an amazing Italian villa which is usually to decompress, read a stack of books and simply potter by a pool, I am invariably drawn to explore the diverse activities that are within reach of my doorstep.
So there you have it! Are you refreshed, replenished, restored after your whirlwind of activities in and around Positano? I try my best to imbue these paragraphs with life so you can unfurl in your mind the images, aromas, sensations of a visit to Positano. Yet there are no superlatives sufficient to ignite the true wonder of sitting on your villa terrace at sunset, sipping an ice-cold limoncello, with a gentle breeze from the Tyrrhenian Sea enfolding you in its embrace as you gaze on paradise.