Positano Travel Guide
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Get Yourself Started with the Best Restaurants and Shops in town
by Siri Kay Jostad
The colorful, hillside village of Positano, in the Amalfi region of Italy, can make one weak in the knees at first site. I knew long before I ever got there that I would fall in love. A week in her arms and I am forever smitten. I am generally not one to return and revisit places I've been, and I find that all I can think about since being in Positano is how I'm going to get myself back there.
We stayed in Positano for 7 nights.
I SO could have stayed longer, but a week is good.
Most villas and apartments rent for a minimum of one week at a time.
Positano is not a place you come and 'do' attractions. Sightseeing comes in the form of lingering, lounging, walking, shopping, eating and even so, don't think for a second that you will be bored. There is still plenty 'to do'.
There is plenty to come back for too.
Where We Stayed
(Should you choose the Top or Bottom of the Hill?)
Accommodations book up quickly in Positano It's a place in high demand. Some websites like VRBO.com actually show you what % of town is booked for your dates which can be freaky if you're researching over a period of time and seeing those percentages get closer and closer to 100%.
Me and my two girlfriends got an absolutely fabulous 'villa' (apartment) called Villa Profumo di Mare. It's located slightly under Chiesa Nuova and half a block from the Chiesa Nuova bus stop. For my first visit, it was honestly a bit of a treasure hunt figuring out where our villa was. BEWARE: lots of places listed as Positano are technically Positano and actually too far to walk to where the real action is (For example: Arienza, Praiano, Nocelle). Quite unknowingly (and IMO fortuitously), we ended up located at the top of the hill. I was as happy as could be with the tremendous views it provided.
This won't be for everyone because (I counted!) it was 800 stairs from our villa to the beach!
The first trip back up those steps, I literally thought one of my friends was having a heart attack, bending over, clutching her chest. I frankly 100% loved the workout (think about it as doing the work for that bikini on the beach time!). My friend, Katie, returned to Positano this year with her husband and they arrived by boat from Sorrento that landed at the Positano beach/dock. She reported that it was a completely different experience--there was no good reason to walk 'up' and she probably wouldn't have been as in love with the place had that been her first or only encounter with Posi.
We walked up and down from our villa to town/beach multiple times each day, but you can choose the free shuttle that loops to the bus stop right smack in the middle of tourist-ville in the center of town at the bottom of the hill.
Just below our villa, our attention was drawn to a group of Scottish visitors frolicking in their pool! We were super jealous of the pool on hot days after those 800 stairs, so I hunted it down and successfully located it for my next trip. Villa Gaia is that pool villa and good if you need 3 bedrooms.
There is a plethora of villas/homes/apartments to rent through myriad rental agencies.
All you need to do it is Google 'Positano vacation rentals'.
If you prefer a stay that is shorter than a week, or you like to be in a hotel versus a self-catering apartment, here are some of my highly recommended hotels in town:
Getting Around Amalfi
The Amalfi Coast has the reputation for narrow, winding (read 'treacherous') roads that drop precipitously to the sea below. This is a well-deserved honor. I'm an excellent driver and during the planning of this part of the trip, I considered just renting a car. When flights got us into Naples (the closest airport) at almost midnight, I decided to hire a professional driving service (Nico Traveling) to get us to our destination and boy, howdy, am I glad I did!
Nico was our driver for three legs of this trip. Let me just say I'm super glad we were in the hands of someone who grew up driving these roads! At first we marveled incrediulously at the people WALKING the streets amid the speeding, weaving crowd of trucks, cars and motorcycles....by the end of the week, WE were those people too! It's just how it is there.
We drove to Ravello from Naples and spent that first night overlooking the beautiful sea at Villa Scarpariello. I didn't realize this stunner of a hotel overlooking the water was almost an hour's drive from the actual town of Ravello, so we had Nico pick us up the next day. He left us to spend the day wandering the gardens and shops of Ravello, picking us up at the end of the day to transport us to our destination villa in Positano. When we left Positano for home, Nico chauffeured us through Sorrento with a pit stop at Pompei. He and his drivers are great on-board tour guides as well. I highly recommend his company. And I would NEVER drive myself on the Amalfi Coast and don't recommend you do either.
What We Did
You could spend each and every day just strolling along the winding, hilly streets, enjoying the peaceful, majestic views, shopping and eating, but believe it or not, there are a few other things to do in Positano if you want to put your book and cappuccino down.
Hike the Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei)
Our first full day in town we decided to stretch our legs on this famous, easy-to-do, view-filled walk. You can walk the 3 hours and 5 miles either direction but insiders know there is really only one good direction to walk it: Agerola to Nocelle. We took an hour long city bus along the coast from Positano to Amalfi, then a quick transfer to a second bus up the hill from Amalfi to Bomerano. The trail from the center of Bomerano is well-marked. Wallking this direction you will always have the views in front of you and the trail is primarily downhill. You will need solid walking shoes as the trail is rocky. It's also SO dusty. Bring water and a hat. You can grab a sandwich and snack in Bomerano if you don't bring one. Expect the unexpected. We ran into an entire herd of goats wearing noisy bells and a group of pack mules coming up while we were going down the trail. We walked through an entire field of cairns and one big rock heart. We chose that as the place to site and eat.
Most people cap the end of the trip with an icy cold glass of fresh lemonade in Nocelle and call it a day--taking the bus back to Positano. We thought "we're in such good shape let's walk all the way down the hill to town". HaHa! Not sure I recommend that. It is 1700 additional steps down. Down doesn't sound so bad, right? We were trashed by the end! Our quads shaking, we were taking steps sideways, backwards, and anything we could figure out to make the downhill traverse easier.
Day Trip to Capri--Do the Blue Grotto (Grotto Azzura)
Choose a ferry to Capri. All the ferry stands are down by the dock. (When the boatmen on our ferry offered up limoncello, we thought it was free, you know, included in the price of the trip...turned out it cost us 6 euros for a shot glass sized drink!)
When you get to Capri, immediately find another boat to the Blue Grotto. It's the most touristy thing you can do and it is SO spectacular. Legend has it Emperor Tiberius used it as his private swimming pool. Very few places in the world are as magical as this. Get there early. It's a zoo. Boats pull up and wait turns to let off passengers into little wooden dingy boats rowed by singing oarsmen. He will row you over to the cashier boat where you will pay for entrance. Then off you go. He waits for the tide to go out, you lay on the wet floor of your dingy, he pulls a metal chain on the cave roof and in you go! See it here. The boaters sing and it echos beautifully from the grotto walls.
Tip: Wear your bathing suit under your clothes then whip them off and jump into the water before anyone can stop you. You're not supposed to swim, so you'll probably have to get back into your boat quickly, but it is worth it! My friend Katie did. Before I realized what she was doing so I could follow her in, it was too late. The oarsman hastened her back into the boat. But she had a glorious swim and I have a big regret. Watch her swim and listen to them sing in the grotto here.
Spend the day or spend half a day. This is a sweet spot down the coast from Positano that you reach by boat. Make a reservation and they will tell you when to meet their famous boat with the red fish on the mast.
The Da Adolfo boat is easily recognizable by the red wooden fish at the top of its mast.
Reservations get you lunch in their beachy restaurant, then another small fee rents you a lounger with a shade for the day. I loved just laying on the lounger reading and napping in between refreshing swims. My favorite thing at the restaurant is their signature dish: grilled mozzarella on a lemon leaf. The oddest thing there is the phallic statue.
Get a Massage at Le Sirenuse
The Amalfi Coast lifestyle is all about the lemons that grow so prolifically in the area. So it seems appropriate to partake in whatever lemon culture you can find while there. Thus, I booked us for the Amalfi Gold Citrus Massage at Hotel Santa Caterina in Amalfi. After we realized it took an hour on the bus to GET to Amalfi from Posi, our enthusiasm for the specialty massage waned.
Good thing our friends at Le Sirenuse have a specialty massage of their own ALL about the citrus! It may have been one of the best massages I've ever had. It was just what my tired muscles needed after walking 800+ steps seeral times a day or the 5 mile hike on the Path of the Gods.
Le Sirenuse had us relaxing on warm water bed massage tables...oh it was so luxe. I came out of there feeling like jelly. The Only oddity may have been the paper panties I received with my robe. They were good for a photo, but I left them behind in the changing room.
What I didn't get to do...but wish I had
Capri--We spent a day on the island of Capri and we even took the bus up to Anacapri. Although we shopped and ate, we barely touched the magic people wax on about. I'd go back and spend a couple nights so I could do the chairlift to the very top of Monte Solaro, I'd explore more streets, I would pay to go in to Villa San Michelle and enjoy the gardens. I would take a boat to the Green Grotto because you can swim there and maybe I'd go find the White Grotto. I might get away from the tourists and enjoy the peace and quiet
Chiesa Nuova--It was literally a few flights of steps above our villa but we never went in. I would go look around.
Take a cooking class--That's what you do in Italy, right? You can find a million. I think Marina in Cucina looks like the kind of expiereince I'd want to have.
Where We Ate
Italian food is ooooooooh soooooooo yummy, as its reputation precedes. However, for this California girl, who likes a healthy, leaning-towards-vegetarian, mostly-organic diet, carb-heavy cuisine can be a disaster. How delighted I was to discover that the current healthy eating trends have made their way to Positano too!
My Positano food faves are:
I would have been happy to eat here every day just to wend my way through Tanina's healthy, organic menu (Tanina Vanacore is the owner and can often be found in the shop. Make friends with her. She's lovely. Be sure to come home with her little cookbook too). On the last day, as we waited for our driver, I ran down all those stairs (because my 2 friends were like 'no way!') just for a final cappuccino from here. It's a bistro with a design shop attached, because the owner is an amazingly stylish interior designer too. The restaurant decor reflects her sense of style with plants hanging from the ceiling, ceramic fish swimming across one wall...
Here you can get gluten-free offerings, organic, incredible ice cream, and the thing I'm always hunting for on trips abroad: alternative milk. Mostly in Positano I found the alternative was soy. Not perfect, but better than cow. So I was happy.
The brainchild of Tanina Vanacore (who owns casa e bottega above) and her daughter, Carmela, who runs this elegant, modern spot for a nice night out. The food is right up there with the best chefs of the world.
The outdoor patio is perfect for warm-evening dining. There is lots of indoor space as well and the whole thing feels a bit like dining in a friend's home...just more expensive 😉 Next2 has an incredibly delicious menu and is great for a special treat. Not somewhere you will catch dinner on the nightly.
One night in lieu of tromping up those 800 stairs to our place, we decided to more gradually wander up Viale Pasitea, which is the winding, but main road top to bottom and back up again. All along the street you can discover boutiques and restaurants and views. It was by happenstance that we came upon Mediterraneo but believe me...we couldn't miss it! The patrons on the patio were singing their hearts out to the music of guitarist Pietro Rainone. The joy was intoxicating and drew us in. At our table on the streetside terrace, waiters handed us tambourines and sang loudly along with us. At one point a car drove by and stopped right at the restaurant to sing along so they handed the driver a tambourine. Hilarious. So local. So fun. The funnest restaurant in Positano. We only had bruschetta and vegetable soup, both of which were good. Nothing to write home about, but the entertainment more than made up for any ordinariness of the food.
Le Sirenuse is the legend of luxury stays, reason being that the least expensive room is over $2k/night. If that's not in your budget, they welcome you to the poolside bar. It's fun to dress up just a little bit. You can get lunch and drinks, and they will bring you (for free) all kinds of little appetizer snacks: a salty bowl of marconi almonds, olives, sweet bites.
Make a trip or two and make friends with your waiter like we did (Luigi). Have to share the funniest story: We went in for dessert and asked if they served affogato (a scoop of ice cream with hot espresso poured over). Luigi was confused and said of course they sell avocados. It took awhile, but when we got the confusion got sorted out, we had a good laugh then got our ice cream. When we returned a couple days later for more affogato, our new waiter's eyes bugged out, he pointed at us and shouted 'you are the avocado girls!". Then he ran away and got ALL the other waiters who came and surrounded our table, everyone belly laughing. Apparently, we'd become Le Sirenuse famous.
One of the most popular places in town, you will need to make reservations in advance, which you can do via email up until 24 hours ahead of time and then you need to call. Like so many meals in Positano, our dinner at da Vincenzo was spectacular. The inside decor is something special, but with the weather so warm, we couldn't resist an outside table.
We returned the next day to their retail shop next door where they sell the ceramics and linens and condiments they use in the restaurant. I came home with a set of the cutest espresso cups with lids and some beautiful artisan dish towels.
I tried grilled octopus here for the first time in my life and loved it! Didn't expect to. We had walked by this place every day and eyed it for its vast patio with obviously unparalleled sea views. It was chilly for us outside because of the marine layer at night so I recommend coming prepared with a sweater. The food is excellent. The view even more.
Our first night we walked down those 800 steps and ended up at the beach. We just looked around and picked this place because the indoor/outdoor terrace was perched above all the action of town. We were instantly rewarded with a ringside view of the Festa del Pesce (Festival of Fish) . Some people feel this place is touristy and expensive. I thought the pricing was typical of town however I'll share a little trick with you...ask for the Locals Menu. They don't give it to you when you sit down but that's what we ordered from. Two of us had Penne Putanesca topped by the chili oil we asked for on the side and it blew our minds. SO good, we came back another night just to have it again. Then I came home to the States and made it for my family for dinner one night. I loved the place.
Two locations flanking the bus stop at the bottom of the hill, smack in the middle of it all. There is a take away shop at street level where you'd better look in the cold case because they home-make some crazy flavors of ice cream bars, and then there is the elevated sit-down restaurant across the street. Besides casa e bottega, Collina has the other best coffee in town. They also offer alternative milk (soy). Grab gelato, pizza, sandwiches, beer, wine and bakery goods. The food is tasty.
When you tire of the tourist shops (where it seems like every other store is carrying the exact same merch), there's plenty of more interesting shopping to do.
My friend Katie arrived in Posi on the hunt for Brunella because she heard they were spectacular. Well they are. They have 4 locations around town, each feels totally different and they carry slightly different pieces of their lines. All classic, quality, designer comfortable beach wear inimitably Positano-style. We were in one of their shops every day trying on dresses, tops and pants. Linen and cotton gauze are the fabrics of choice because they are so cool to wear when it's hot. And it often IS hot in Positano.
We fell in love with charming Lina, the designer and owner of this store, that has no website (find her workshop about halfway up the hill at Viale Pasitea,199). We came home with 3 items from her store and she personally tailored them to fit each of us. Like Brunella, it's all linen, but the styles are very different from one another.
Custom-made sandals are a 'thang' in Positano and of all the choices, Nana and her husband are the classic choice. Highly rated. Decent prices and a fun experience. Between the three of us, we came home with 7 pairs of Nana's sandals. She's a skilled salesperson so beware. The good thing is, most everything is negotiable, so put on your bargaining hat.
We popped in here for some 'digestive' help and were instantly charmed by pharmacist/owner Carlo Montefusco who absolutely knew what would work best and then invited us back for espresso served in the store the next morning. We became so friendly, we popeed our heads in to say hi each time we passed the shop. He sent us home with homeopathic sleep aids for the plane.
A small shop on Viale Pasitea part way up the hill the store is filled with tunics, tops and pants in amazingly beautiful, unique patterns. Everything sort of feels like cotton but ends up being made from lotus, soy, hemp and all manor of other odd sources. We got a couple of stunning scarves and some tunics and dresses. Lightweight and good for summer and resort wear.
If you're new to me, you may not know that i'm a big 'dish' girl. I adore handmade ceramics and Italy abounds with great pottery. In Positano, this was my favorite ceramics store because they sell patterns that go beyond the typical lemons and leaves.
Well that was pretty long! 🙂
Hope it gives you something to work with when you find yourself heading to "Posi". If you have any questions, pop them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer you based on my experience. Happy traveling!