With ridiculously tempting azure waters, rich Roman history and delicious Mediterranean food, it was not a difficult decision for me to book a somewhat last minute summer holiday to Italy’s southern coast last month. As August is peak season, I spent more time than usual planning an itinerary in order to avoid the worst of the crowds and deal withe the heat. The end result was an amazing island hopping adventure, from Naples, down the Amalfi coast to Sicily. Predominantly traveling by sea, we were able to avoid hot, crowded buses, trains and crazy Italian drivers and soak up the Mediterranean sun with a refreshing sea breeze.
If you’re thinking about traveling to Italy in summer, then I hope this post gives you some inspiration about places to visit and ideas on how to plan your trip to be as hassle-free as possible.
1 week Island Hopping Itinerary
Start your trip with a few days in Naples to get acclimatized. Here you can visit the famous archaeological site of Pompeii and eat some of Naples’ most popular invention- pizza. Antigua pizzeria Michele is an institution and touted as the best pizza in Naples. Serving the delicious food since 1870, the pizzeria is famous for it’s traditional style of pizza, using only the best quality ingredients and keeping things simple in the way Italians do best. There are only two pizzas on the menu. Unfortunately we decided to visit late on a Saturday night- the busiest time all week, and there were crowds out on the street waiting for the famous pizza. Try to go at a less busy time.
From Naples head out to the island of Procida
By boat: Naples –> Procida €20pp for a 30min ferry
While this island is relatively small compared to neighbouring Ischia, it was packed with history and beautiful places to explore. I loved climbing high above the town to old churches with stunning views and of course, enjoying Aperol Spritzers with a sea breeze and killer scenery. It’s size also makes Procida much more accessible and peaceful that Ischia and I would definitely recommend staying several days and then day-tripping to Ischia and Capri.
Day trip to Ischia
Boat: Procida –> Ischia €12pp for a 15min ferry
By far my favourite thing to do in Ischia was exploring the medieval Aragonese Castle and swimming in the amazingly clear water beneath it. This impossibly picturesque castle is perched on a small rocky volcanic islet just off the coast of Ischia and is accessible by a stone causeway. The original castle dates back to 474 BC, yet it’s peak era was at the start of the 18th century, when the islet housed 2,000 families and included vineyards, farming areas, houses, churches and many other buildings. While much of the castle was later destroyed by British shelling in the 19th century, it is still an immensely impressive structure with much to explore.
There are two ways to get up to the main castle, firstly a meandering Game-of-Thrones-esque tunnel climbs up the inside of the castle, there is also a lift to the top, so the castle can still be accessed by less mobile visitors. There are also two cafes within the castle, both boasting stunning views and cold drinks to refresh you after wandering around the ruins. On the far side of the island you’ll find olive groves and a small chapel with views out to nearby Procida.
Entry to the castle is 10€, with opening hours from 9am to sunset in summer, which was 8.30pm when we visited at the peak of summer. After exploring the castle, there’s no better way to end a perfect day than a swim in the crystal clear water at the base of the castle. Follow this up by an Aperol Spritzer and seafood dinner at one of the nearby restaurants and you’ll never want to leave.
A day trip to Capri
Boat: Ischia –> Capri €26pp for a 1 hour ferry
This island has long captivated my imagination, with an idyllic combination of history, culture and elegance emerging from impossibly blue water. Capri also has a reputation for being a little pretentious- it’s touted as the playground for the rich and famous, and comes with a price-tag worthy of this clientele. As such, rather than stay a few night, we opted to spend a day exploring the best parts of Capri.
As it was peak season I booked a boat tour in advance through AirBnB for 40€ pp for 3 hours- you can find it here. This tour was bloody fantastic and provided the perfect combination of swimming and snorkeling through several of the famous grottoes (sea caves) and relaxing on board the boat with cold drinks. Compared to some of the other packed tourist boats I saw jetting around, ours was super relaxing with only 7 of us on board.
After boating around the island I’d recommend visiting the famous Giardini Di Augusto on the southern side of the island. It’s a brisk 15min walk from the port up a footpath that cuts through the hill to Piazza Umberto. Here you can catch stunning views of the bay amid some ever so trendy cafes and shops. From the piazza it’s less than 10 minutes to walk (slowly so you can take it all in) to the Giardini Di Augusto where the views are unparalleled. The tiny 1€ entrance fee gives you access to the beautiful, vibrant gardens with benches to relax on and terraces to take in the views below.
On the way back to the port be sure to stop at the best ice cream place on island- Buonocore Gelateria. My cousin had recommended this place and it definitely did not disappoint! They make the cones on the spot and are famous for their brioche (also freshly made) icecream sandwiches. One of the few places in the world where I liked a flavour more than plain chocolate- definitely try the Fantasia di Capri!
Continue on to the Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi coast is famed for towns such as Positano, Ravello and the eponymous Amalfi town. We decided to skip the overly touristy Positano and Amalfi due to the summer crowds and price tags. It was a great decision because Ravello was my favourite part of the trip and much less hectic than neighbouring towns.
Boat/bus: Capri –> Amalfi €26pp for a 1 hour ferry followed by a rather expensive half hour €50 taxi
See my post on Ravello to find out what to do and see here and why it was my favourite town in Italy.
If time permits travel on to Sicily
We then continued our seaside adventure on the large southern island of Sicily, where my favourite aspect was a visit to the Aeolian Islands. We took a large ferry from Salerno to Messina in Sicily. Check out my next post for details of getting around Sicily and where to visit.
Getting There and Around: I flew from Helsinki to Naples for around €150 one way. There are many international airports in Italy, so depending where you’re coming from and what you want to see there are numerous options. Once in Italy, we traveled predominantly by boat and I booked all our ferries with direct ferries, with the total for the entire trip around €85 pp. Avoid buses if you can. They are overcrowded, hot and operate on an unpredictable schedule. On the other hand taxis are very expensive, so weigh up what most import for you – saving money or comfort. But ideally walking and boating are the way to go.
Best time to go: While we still had a great time in August, I would recommend going in shoulder season (June, early July, September) when it’s still warm and happening but not as hectic, expensive or hot as peak season (August). If you do go in August then book well ahead- accommodation, transport, day tours. Things book out.
Length of stay: We spent a week hopping around the coast but you could easily spend two or three times this amount and not get bored!
Language Barrier: Italians are less willing to speak English than many other European countries (Especially Scandinavia where nearly everyone speaks perfect English), and in areas with more local tourism and less foreigners English is not overly fluent. Luckily Italian is a very easy language to learn some basic phrases and your efforts to speak the local tongue (especially with some overt hand-gestures) will be highly appreciated.
Take Cash! Many places (especially taxis) only accept cash (euro) and many ATMs were not working, so be prepared.
Food and Drink: is super cheap and delicious, especially if you can find more local, less touristy restaurants. Naples was the cheapest (Ravello the most expensive) where a (huge) glass of house red was 2€ and an amazing pizza 4€. Caprese Salad is amazing, eat this whenever you can. Same goes for drinking Aperol Spritzers. Limoncello ones are even better.
Plastic is prolific: This broke my heart. So much un-necessary waste. and not many recycle bin options (again, I’ve been spoilt in Finland). Take your own drink bottle to avoid single-use plastic bottle waste and have coffee in real cups- after all on holidays you have time to sit and drink 🙂 Oh and when asking for no straw point and the straws on the counter and make obvious ‘no thanks’ gestures- simply asking for no straw rarely worked for me.