Ciao a tutti!
We are fresh off the plane from a dreamy seaside jaunt in southern Italy and have I got some good tips for you! I saw a lot of blogs, reels, tik-toks, etc posted on spending 1-3 days in this little town. I guess if you’ve only got a limited amount of time and that’s just how you have to do it, then by all means, make it a short visit. But. Let me tell you there are PLENTY of things to do in and around Positano – I wish we could have stayed another week!
Positano has been on my radar since Under the Tuscan Sun came out in 2003. Diane Lane was having that la dolce vita moment, sipping limoncello and being wooed by Marcello at his family’s bar on the beach, with all those colorful buildings climbing the cliffs in the background.
And of course when she goes back in that simple (and simply stunning) white dress.
I remember watching her in that dress with the waves crashing onto the point of the pier behind her and thinking “Yes. I need to see this place.”
So when my hubby’s daughter asked about a family trip to Italy, with airline tickets being their Christmas presents, and could we rent a house big enough for everyone. . .I said I’d help her sell him the idea IF we rented the house in Positano.
I wasn’t even worried about things to do in Positano – I just wanted to see the town built impossibly up the cliffs and dip my toes in the Mediterranean.
A body of water I’ve never been in before.
Of course I did organize a few things to do in Positano for our group! I’m a big fan of having some planned activities, but also some “planned” free time. As with most trips, we quickly discovered some the best things to do in Positano are the things you stumble into in the moment.
Can’t-Miss Things to do in Positano
Get lost among the winding streets and shops, starting with La Buca di Bacco, the historic heart of Positano.
- This small seaside town is so charming, it’s easy to see why American GIs returning from WWII brought back tales of the enchanted Amalfi coast (along with what would become a new national culinary love, oregano). Start in the Buca di Bacco, then head out along the single road that winds through Positano.
- Bonus points if you’re wandering with a gelato or an icy lemon granita slush in your hands!
Get in that ocean.
- So, I personally didn’t get to do the beach day thing. I was too enamored with our villa! But the kids did and they loved it. I got my swimming in when we went to Capri. More on that below!
- No matter where you stay, be sure to find your way down to the Spiaggia Grande. Admire the rows of blue and white lounge chairs and umbrellas–maybe rent a spot for a few hours. For a quieter beach day, try Spiaggia del Fornillo, the smaller beach. The kids said it was more rocky, so consider water shoes, or another Aperol spritz, before heading in.
Take a Cooking Class
- I booked through Viator, but the company is Cesarine, and their mission as “Italy’s first nationwide community of local home cooks” since 2004 is to “safeguard Italy’s food culture through home cooking.” That sounds great to me!
- Chef Antonio was an incredible teacher, we felt so welcome in his home. AND I found out he is also a personal chef! If I had known this prior, I probably would have had him come and cook for us at the villa. EVERYONE knows him in Positano. The taxi driver who took us, the woman on the street who tried to tell us how to walk there before we almost got hit by, then jumped into, the taxi. . .despite the insane influx of tourists they say started around 2010, Positano remains an endearingly close-knit community.
- The full experience was booked, but we got a fantastically informative “basic” experience that was anything but, well, basic! “LaLa” the wife of the dynamic duo behind Valentì shows you how they take the lemons from the tree to the table, leaving no part unused.
- If she offers them up, be sure to taste some of their newer offerings too! Then head down the stairs to the enchanting terrazzamenti–a pergola terrace garden where you’re shaded by lemon trees with an incredible view out to Positano Bay.
- Then head back up and across the street to the cozy storefront. You know it’s a family affair when there are labels based on their little boy’s artwork, and his tambourine is tucked under the table in the middle of the store.
- There are so many local shops lining the one-way road! Shopping absolutely needs to be on the Things to Do in Positano planning list.
- Pack light so you can pick up some wardrobe pieces in Positano! I bought 3 dresses, and they all got worn during the trip. And now I’ve got three fantastic quality linen dresses in my wardrobe!
- I’m telling you: leave some space in that carry on! When you see a locally made piece you have to have, you can buy it, wear it to dinner that night, and take it home as a souvenir too.
- I’ve never done this before, and I really loved it! I felt so proud, wearing my made-in-Positano pieces around Positano. Mark bought 2 linen shirts and a pair of linen shorts. His son Carter, and Carter’s boyfriend Isaac, bought linen and knit items they were showing off at dinners too!
So guys–this also applies to you! Lean into that local culture.
One of the things we all love and love to do together is EAT! You’re on the seaside, so be sure to try all the local seafood options along with all that homemade pasta. And gnocchi. NomNomNom.
And drink, OMG. You should have seen the glass recycle bin at the villa every morning. The kids got smart about buying the wine though! They figured out that the local’s shops–and better prices–are higher up the cliff. Heading down lands you in tourist territory and that wine is marked up way more.
Of course all this grocery store purchasing was in order to ensure we had a healthy dining out budget! Because, my friends– dining out is a non-negotiable on the list of things to do in Positano.
Incredible Dining in Positano
- Perfect first dining experience! Rino and the rest of the staff are so genial, the food and drinks are on point. The view is postcard perfect!
- on Fornillo beach: unexpected flavor pairings and artistic plating in a light and airy terrace down by the beach. This place is not to be missed.
- Michelin starred and on Giada’s favorite spots, our villa manager Paola also recommended this local family-owned spot.
- I think the best moment for the kids was when co-owner Vito came in with his Vizsla dogs Almos and Athena. They had Vizslas growing up too!
- Also Michelin starred and a perfect spot for lunch on our last day. Everything runs like a top and everything comes out just as you would expect: as good to look at as it is to eat.
- A lovely walk! Down to the Spiaggia Grande then along the path back towards Fornillo beach. I chose this restaurant because they pulled the name from a famous tarantella and thankfully the views, staff, and food were just as lively and delightful as the namesake song!
- Feels like you’re dining at a friend’s cozy and elegant villa. The food is fantastic, the wine list is DEEP and the vibes are a more refined buzzy at this classy establishment.
- It’s tucked directly off the main road as you’re getting towards the busy Spiaggia Grande, but feels miles away from the bustle as soon as you walk in. Perfect for our date night.
- Located pretty close to our villa, this became the go-to place for picking up pizza. Seriously. We had this pizza 3 out of 6 nights!
- It’s more economical to buy breakfast items for the house at the grocery. And we did! But on mornings we felt up to doing a walk before breakfast we headed straight for the bright blue awning of Pasticceria Angelo. Literally everything was so delicious.
Be smart on your walking: head down the steep stair shortcuts. If you’re not feeling the burn of the return, head back up along the road. Just keep your elbows tucked in so you don’t get clipped by passing vehicles!
Other things to do in Positano: Day Trips!
I would guess that, being a larger town, Sorrento might be a better (read: more affordable) base for a longer-term stay in the Amalfi Coast area. We weren’t able do do anything but drive through it on our way to/from Naples, but it looked lovely! And our boat captain Christopher (being all of maybe 24 so very knowledgeable on the subject) informed us Sorrento has the best clubs. That being said, there are tons of Amalfi Coast day trip possibilities!
I don’t think you can make a bad choice. Just plan your itinerary around your passions. I think this is what made planning this trip a little tricky. I had 8 people to try and please!
Thankfully, I’ve been to Pompeii, so it didn’t sting as badly when no one else in my group wanted to pop off and see it. If you haven’t, I highly recommend. The private van transfer I booked (via Viator, but the company was the Chauffeur of Positano) offers a stop off at Pompeii en route from Naples to Positano.
Anyways. This is what we did do:
Charter a boat to Capri
- Plan in advance: this gets the boat paid for and helps with the budgeting.
- The app Get My Boat is where I found and booked “Pietro” –which turns out isn’t just a guy with a boat but an actual charter company, Crapolla Charters. (No, my fellow Americans, it’s not the word you’re thinking. This is the name of the natural fjord and beach only open to locals with ancient Roman dwellings and an 11th century chapel dedicated to St. Peter.) Still. It’s funny. I know.
We couldn’t have asked for better hosts! All the Prosecco and Peroni and snacks one could wish for, alongside the most incredible views.
- I can’t even begin to describe the awe at passing by the legendary Li Galli islands, squinting up at ancient and crumbling watch towers along the shoreline, seeing Mt Vesuvius looming hazy in the distance, or boating through the hole in the middle rock (di Mezzo or Stella is the name of it!) of the Faraglioni. Imagine tucking into turquoise-emerald waters of the Green Grotto with vibrant blue fish flashing just below the surface. Staring up into stalactites and trying to find the one shaped like the Madonna at the White Grotto. The exhilaration of diving into the azure Tyrrhenian Sea in the sunshine with those cliffs and grottos behind you. It was literally all so incredible.
- My experience of Capri sounds different from others I’ve read. Instead of paying 100 Euros to dock alongside cruise ships and fighting my way through throngs of other tourists to overpriced eateries and designer shops. . .our boat mate Christopher took us to the other side. A water taxi took us into Marina Piccola de Capri. Christopher came with us, introduced us to the owner of the Ristorante Ciro, perched above the water’s edge. We were only a handful of Americans at this place. We ordered Aperol spritzes and instead they brought us a rare delight: Limoncello spritzes made from the 2nd-harvest green lemons! (They didn’t charge us for the difference either.) We didn’t even know this was a thing–we hadn’t been to our Limoncello experience with LaLa yet!
- Did I mention Sophia Loren’s house is within sight of this little beach?
Ferry from Positano to Amalfi
- This can also be a plan-and-pay ahead item! I actually didn’t however–I booked online the morning of, then had the super nice lady at the little PositanoJet ferry hut print our boarding passes when we got down to the beach. This is a major departure for me! In case you didn’t pick it up from my other travel posts my pre-planning game is Strong. I like to plan the agenda so I can pack more efficiently. It helps ease the travel anxiety to have a plan too! So there’s a little nugget for ya. However, the ferry system seems pretty reliable so I was feeling confident this could be an in-the-moment decision. Price for these ferries is very reasonable and–unexpected bonus! They served up some strong limoncello spritz action for 10 Euros. Yippie! I hit Amalfi feeling GREAT lol.
We went up to Ravello, then had lunch and spent some time in Amalfi before taking the last ferry back to Positano around 7pm.
Taxi from Amalfi to Ravello
- Now we come to a fantastic example of why you need to come up with a budget–then double it. My original plan to get to Ravello was to go the cheapest route. And there IS a bus. However. Apparently there was an accident. . .and no bus. Which means the taxi company is now charging whatever they want because let’s face it: you’re gonna pay. So here are 6 people and I’m the only one who knows what’s 3 miles up the road in Ravello, and it’s cringy but I’m saying YES FAM WE NEED TO DO THIS. So we shell out 20 Euros PER PERSON (hey, taxi guy told the first couple 25 so I feel a little better) and we all pile into the van.
And it’s dead silence.
Except for me, happily chatting away with the couple from Alabama in the very back.
Yikes. But here’s the good news. No one can be upset when they are looking at these views!
Built by a wealthy merchant family in the 13th century, the Moorish-influenced architecture and formal gardens overlooking the sea of Villa Rufolo continues to romance visitors. In its 700 or so years, this villa has been immortalized in Italian Renaissance writing, hosted banquets in honor of Norman kings, fallen into ruins, been revitalized. Since the 1950s the villa has been holding an outdoor classical concert series. The concerts began as a way to honor composer Richard Wagner, who visited in 1880, fell in love with the villa, and finished what would be the final opera piece he composed in his lifetime there.
There has been a structure on the grounds of Villa Cimbrone since the 11th century. While it still is considered a medieval estate, the whole place had a major overhaul in the early 1900s when British nobleman Ernest William Beckett purchased and expanded the house and grounds. Like most gents with tons of cash at the time, this guy had all the Gothic, Moorish, and Venetian elements thrown together. Lucky for everyone, he hired talented people so the place looks fanciful but somehow cohesive.
Villa Cimbrone is completely breathtaking. The lush gardens, meandering pathways, statues surprising you around turns. Then the gardens give way to sky, and there’s this expansive Belvedere seemingly suspended over nothing but air and the landscape drops hundreds of feet below you into the sea.
I’m pretty sure the Terrazzo dell’Infinito (Terrace of Infinity) wiped any lingering annoyance over the taxi situation. Because that view. . .it truly is priceless.
If you can swing it, the trip to Amalfi and Ravello needs to be an addendum on your “things to do in Positano” list.
Great Tips We Learned From the Locals
- About those stairs: “Don’t look up at what’s ahead, or you’ll never make it. Just look at the stair in front of you.” (Sergio, the taxi driver who rescued us when we couldn’t figure out how to get to Chef Anthony’s house for the cooking class.)
- When to visit: “NOT July-August. It’s hot. It’s busy. It’s crazy busy. We don’t even know. . how to handle it.” (Georgia, sales gal at Idillio. Also the woman who rang us up for take-away Aperol spritzes. Ditto the man running the pharmacy. It was a common theme. Too many tourists. Especially July and August.)
- Navigation: “Don’t trust GPS. It doesn’t understand Positano. Directions but especially the amount of time it takes to walk. They send people running down the stairs, and use that as the measure.” (Paola, our villa property manager. Her husband is a “sky runner” and knows the entire area intimately; when people, animals get lost or worse they call him to find them because GPS can’t.)
Things to do in Positano: Rent a Villa or Airbnb and live like a local.
This sounds fancy and expensive, but the truth is if you have 4 couples dividing the cost of the house it’s gonna come pretty damn close to what a hotel in Positano will cost. And yes if you’ve read any of my other travel posts you already know I love my boutique hotels! However. Staying at this ancient villa in Positano for the week was such an unforgettable, cherished experience. We had so much fun with everyone under the same roof! Just like Thanksgiving and Christmas!
This is pronounced “pas-tree-chay” and is the mythological creature you will see all around Positano. Tail like a fish, head like a dog. Paola tells me her father carved the white stone emblem on the wall of Villa la Pistrice. She also says the creature symbolizes the transformation (hence the spiral in the center of the beast) between sea and land creature. I love that.
And I love her for sharing all these little details with me. The villa has a kind of good energy about it. Hearing Paola talk about her connection to the house and about the sisters who grew up coming here every summer since the 1970s and still own it makes me feel somehow that now our family too, has left an impression of love and joy on the place.
I actually cancel the dinner reservation on our last night in favor of another carry-out pizza night on the terrace of our villa. Yes, because the pizza from Saraceno d’Oro is freaking delicious. But also because it feels so special, someone hiking up to the grocery with the best prices and wine selection. Someone hiking down for the pizza. Meeting on the villa terrace, talking, laughing, sharing stories of the day. Admiring the pastel colors of the sunset wash over the bay. Watching the boats, looking miniature from our elevated perch, bobbing in the impossibly clear waters of the sea below us, which transform into a deep sapphire with the night.
In his essay for Harper’s Bazaar in 1953 John Steinbeck wrote, “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”
The “kids” are all in their mid-twenties to early thirties. Who knows how many more family trips we will be able to take? That is why we decided to make this one a splurge. For this little moment in all of our lives, we belonged to Positano. And Positano belonged to us. So while you do want to plan for things to do in Positano, don’t forget it’s also the unplanned moments that can end up being the most special.