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Moon Southern Italy
Sicily, Puglia, Naples & the Amalfi Coast
By Linda Sarris
By Laura Thayer
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- Flexible itineraries for exploring the best of Southern Italy, including Sicily, Puglia, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, and more, that can be combined for a longer trip
- Strategic advice for foodies and oenophiles, art lovers, hikers, history buffs, beach bums, and more
- Must-see highlights and unique experiences for any season: Dive into the art museums and traditional theater of Palermo’s Centro Storico, and admire the Baroque monuments and carved churches of Lecce. Walk the frozen-in-time streets of Pompeii and marvel at the captivating Cathedral of Amalfi. Take an off-road Jeep tour of Mount Etna or hike along the coastline. Soak up the sun on a secluded beach or sail the crystal-clear Mediterranean waters
- The best local flavors: Stroll quiet village streets where the scent of Sunday ragu fills the air, feast on fresh seafood from a bustling outdoor market, and chow down on authentic Neapolitan pizza. Sip limoncello on a sunny terrace or sample wines from the mineral-rich local vineyards
- Expert suggestions from Amalfi local Laura Thayer and Palermo local Linda Sarris on where to stay, where to eat, and how to get around
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Helpful resources on COVID-19 and traveling to Southern Italy
- Background information on the landscape, history, and cultural customs
- Handy tools including an Italian phrasebook and tips for seniors and traveling with children
Exploring more of Italia? Check out Moon Milan & Beyond with the Italian Lakes or Moon Rome, Florence & Venice.
About Moon Travel Guides: Moon was founded in 1973 to empower independent, active, and conscious travel. We prioritize local businesses, outdoor recreation, and traveling strategically and sustainably. Moon Travel Guides are written by local, expert authors with great stories to tell—and they can't wait to share their favorite places with you.
For more inspiration, follow @moonguides on social media.
DISCOVER Southern Italy
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Time
IF YOU LIKE…
IF YOU HAVE…
Best of Southern Italy
FROM RUINS TO ROMANESQUE
SOUTHERN ITALIAN BEACH 101
BEST ROAD TRIPS
Tasting Southern Italy
Things move at a different speed in Southern Italy, where a slow pace and easy living are almost always the keys to happiness, whether you’re sailing into Amalfi’s harbor, wandering the ruins of Magna Graecia in Sicily, or watching pasta experts hand-making orecchiette in front of their homes in Bari.
Though plenty ties the people, landscape, and culture of this region together—from the midday siesta, pre-dinner aperitivo, and evening passeggiata, to the excellent gastronomy and importance of the sea—each part has its own distinct character, too.
On the Amalfi Coast, it’s pastel-hued homes clinging to the cliffs between mountain and sea, tempting beaches lined with colorful umbrellas, and postcard-worthy views in every direction. Just a short distance away you’ll find sunny Sorrento, Paestum and its incredibly well-preserved Greek temples, and the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum frozen in time. When you’re ready for a burst of energy, head to Naples where, amid the buzz of scooters and backdrop of Neapolitan songs, there lies a city that was meant to be uncovered.
In Sicily, think dipping into salty, cool, crystal-blue water from rocky beaches on hot summer days, the constant, looming presence of Mount Etna, biting into a crispy fried arancina on the lively streets of Palermo, and small Baroque towns built into hillside cliffs.
Meanwhile, at the southeastern heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia’s long coastline lures travelers from around the world. The region is known for cucina povera—making miraculous food with simple, inexpensive ingredients—usually with a big glug of high-quality extra virgin olive oil to finish a dish.
Get ready to experience a place that captures your heart and leaves you longing for more. One thing is for sure: You’ll have travel memories to relive for a lifetime.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Finding your own personal paradise at one of Southern Italy’s best beaches, from chic beach clubs dotted with colorful umbrellas to secluded rocky coves.
2 Eating pizza in Naples, the birthplace of Neapolitan pizza, where it’s truly a gastronomic art.
3 Climbing Mount Etna, Sicily’s beating heart and the most active volcano in all of Europe, where you can grab a glass of volcanic wine after your hike.
4 Walking the streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum, two Roman cities frozen in time by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, offering a somber and fascinating look at life in ancient Rome.
5 Cruising on a boat around Capri, through turquoise blue waters and past stunning grottoes.
6 Seeking out Spanish-influenced Baroque architecture in Puglia and Sicily, from Lecce, known as the “Florence of the South,” to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Noto.
7 Snacking on crispy, salty, sinfully good street food in Palermo.
8 Following in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks, from the magnificent Doric temples of Paestum to the eight majestic temples of the Valle dei Templi.
9 Marveling at the cave dwellings of the Sasso Caveoso in Matera, one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements in the world.
10 Hiking in the mountains above the Amalfi Coast on the Pathway of the Gods, where the scenery leaves little doubt as to how the hike got its name.
Planning Your Time
Where to Go
Naples and the Ruins
The largest city in Southern Italy, Naples buzzes with a vibrant energy and magnetism truly its own. How could you not fall for a city with royal palaces, world-class museums, and some of Italy’s tastiest street food? Around every corner there’s something unexpected to discover, and it’s also a great base for day trips to famous archaeological sites as well as Capri and Sorrento.
Mount Vesuvius looms over the Gulf of Naples and the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, thriving Roman cities that were destroyed by the violent eruption of the volcano in AD 79. Walking through the streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum is a unique chance to see ancient Roman culture firsthand.
Sorrento, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast
Sorrento is a popular spot for travelers looking to explore all the top destinations in the area thanks to its convenient setting between Naples and the Amalfi Coast. With panoramic views across the Gulf of Naples, a historic center full of shops and restaurants, and picturesque Marina Grande harbor, this vacation setting combines beauty, charm, and convenience. It’s one of the main gateways to the justifiably famous island of Capri. Expect crowds on the island, especially in the high season, when the iconic Piazzetta and the chic shopping streets are bustling. Yet there’s a quieter side of Capri if you ride a chairlift to Monte Solaro, the island’s highest point, or get lost in narrow pathways past bougainvillea-draped villas.
To the west, on the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula, you’ll be captivated by the Amalfi Coast’s rugged coastline and rocky, secluded beaches. Positano’s cascade of pastel-colored buildings and seemingly unreal beauty makes it one of the most visited spots on the Amalfi Coast. Amalfi, the coastline’s namesake town, has a scenic port and a fascinating history as Italy’s first maritime republic, dating back to the Middle Ages. And set high in the mountains, the town of Ravello is a big draw, with its lovely gardens and romantic views. Plus, just east of the coast lies the city of Salerno, with its attractive lungomare (waterfront) and maze of medieval streets in its historic center. It’s a good home base in this area for travelers who enjoy a bigger city vibe.
Puglia and the Best of the South
Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, is still less visited by international tourists, but its long coastline promises Italian adventures that touch on history, food, slow living, and relaxation. Most visitors start in the central, regional capital of Bari, with one of the area’s main airports (the other, the Aeroporto del Salento, is located outside Brindisi, farther south). The surrounding area is known for its cultivation of grapes and olives, hilltop villages and coastal towns, and diverse national parks. Breathtaking cities like Lecce, the “Florence of the South,” and Gallipoli, “the beautiful city,” show off Puglia’s romantic side.
Just west of Puglia, in the province of Basilicata, don’t miss captivating Matera, whose distinctive cave dwellings have been inhabited continuously for at least 3,000 years, now converted into charming restaurants and B&Bs.
Palermo and Western Sicily
Start your trip to Sicily in the fascinating capital city of Palermo, whose history is marked by waves of conquerors, from the Greeks to the Romans, Arabs, Normans, French, and Spanish. Each one has left its mark and influenced the architecture, culture, landscape, customs, and culinary traditions of the island. Palermo is a hub of Sicilian art, culture, and gastronomy. The centro storico is filled with art museums, folksy puppet performances, noble palaces, flourishing outdoor markets, and some of Italy’s best street food.
Nearby, don’t miss the Aegadian Islands, just a stone’s throw from the coastal towns of Trapani and Marsala. Farther south, the Valle dei Templi archaeological site rivals anything you might find in Greece.
Catania, Northeastern Sicily, and the Aeolian Islands
Under the shadow of Mother Etna, Catania’s proximity to Sicily’s largest airport, Catania-Fontanarossa, makes it a no-brainer stop on any trip to Sicily. This intricate black rock city was rebuilt with lava stones after two devastating volcanic eruptions, but the vivacious A’ Piscaria fish market shows the town to be very much alive. Within an easy drive, you can climb the slopes of Mount Etna, sip volcanic wines, live large in glamorous, historic Taormina, or head off the grid to the Aeolian Islands, top destinations for pristine beaches and fresh seafood.
Syracuse and Southeastern Sicily
Get a glimpse into Sicily’s Greek history in Syracuse, originally founded by the Corinthians in 734 BC. Its Parco Archeologico della Neapolis is home to an impressive Greek theater and a Roman amphitheater, and the island of Ortigia jutting just off the city’s coast is the perfect combination of historic architecture, the sea, and delicious food. Then, venture out to the villages of Modica, Noto, and Ragusa, living pieces of art with their beautiful Baroque townscapes.
When to Go
With Southern Italy’s plentiful beaches and Mediterranean climate, the Amalfi Coast region is a top choice for travelers looking for a relaxing summer holiday, and Puglia and Sicily can be visited year-round. High season runs from Easter-October in all three regions, and July and August are the busiest months, with the caveat that some establishments in Sicilian cities may be closed in August, when the heat can get unbearable and people tend to head to the beach. Visit during this peak period if your primary object is a beach vacation, though you can expect higher prices for accommodations and even rentals for sun beds and umbrellas at some beach clubs (stabilimenti balneari).
The shoulder seasons are gorgeous throughout Southern Italy and are probably the best all-around times to visit. Try planning your trip for April or May, before things get too warm and busy; the weather usually stays very nice through October and November as well.
Low season runs from November-Easter, when Southern Italy is much quieter but still offers beautiful landscapes. Many accommodations and restaurants will close for a period, especially in the places most dependent on tourism; ferry service around the Amalfi Coast stops in low season. If you’d prefer cooler temperatures for sightseeing and hiking, a shoulder season may be preferable. Though it can be a bit rainy off-season, more so on the Amalfi Coast and Sicily than in Puglia, it usually doesn’t last for long and there are many clear, crisp days.
Note that the impact of high and low season will be less noticeable in larger cities like Salerno, Naples, and Palermo. Accommodations and restaurants in these regional hubs are usually open all year, with the Christmas holiday time being very popular.
Before You Go
Passports and Visas
For travelers visiting Italy from the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, there are currently no visa requirements for visits of fewer than 90 days. You’ll only need a passport that is valid at least three months after your planned departure date from the European Union. For stays longer than 90 days, you will need to apply for a visa at the Italian embassy in your home country before you travel.
For EU citizens, or citizens of the non-EU member states of the EEA or Switzerland, there are no visa requirements for traveling to Italy. You can enter Italy with your passport or National Identity Card. After Brexit, UK citizens can enter Italy with a UK passport without a visa for visits of fewer than 90 days within any 180-day period. Passports must be less than 10 years old and valid for at least six months beyond the travel dates.
Travelers from South Africa will need to procure a Schengen Visa to enter Italy. This currently costs €60 for adults (€35 for children ages 6-12, and free for children younger than 6).
You can check for the latest information on visa requirements and other restrictions, such as current COVID-19 measures, at Italy’s Farnesina website (http://vistoperitalia.esteri.it).
The Aeroporto Internazionale di Napoli, also referred to as Capodichino, is the largest airport in the region, and it’s well connected with flights from across Italy as well as international flights from more than 80 cities. Direct flights from North America, however, are limited, and are only available May-October. The airport is only about 3.7 miles (6 km) northeast of Naples city center.
Similarly, there are no direct flights from North America to Sicily’s Palermo and Catania-Fontanarossa airports, but both are well-connected to airports across Europe and Italy. Though it is possible to travel to Sicily by train, bus, and rental car from the Puglia and the Amalfi Coast areas, travelers with limited time should consider quick, frequent, and cheap domestic flights.
Naples and Salerno are major stops for trains operated by the Italian national railway company Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com), with Regional, InterCity, and high-speed trains connecting the region to destinations across Italy. The private company Italotreno (www.italotreno.it) also offers high-speed trains to both Naples and Salerno from Torino, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Rome, and many other smaller cities. The Circumvesuviana train line (www.eavsrl.it) connects Naples with Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Sorrento. The closest train stations to reach the Amalfi Coast are in Salerno and Sorrento.
Traveling by train between Campania, Puglia, and Sicily is possible, but it’s not the quickest way to travel Southern Italy. That said, there is a relatively quick train from Rome to Puglian hub Bari run by Trenitalia. Most major cities and towns in Puglia and Sicily have train stations, but train service is generally a bit less frequent and reliable.
Ferries offer an excellent way to move around the Amalfi Coast and Sorrentine Peninsula, are necessary to reach Capri and Sicily’s Aeolian Islands, and can be an adventurous way to travel from Naples to Palermo. The Porto di Napoli (Port of Naples) is one of the largest in Italy. Ferry service from Salerno and along the Amalfi Coast runs seasonally from Easter-October.
Bus companies like Flixbus (www.flixbus.com) offer service to most major cities in Southern Italy from across Italy. Local buses provide an inexpensive option to get around. Since ferry service along the Amalfi Coast is seasonal, buses are the best way to get around during the off-season (Nov.-Easter).
Given the famously chaotic traffic of Naples, the narrow and curvy Amalfi Coast Road, and congested island roads, driving is not recommended in this area. This is much less the case in Puglia and Sicily, at least outside larger cities like Palermo and Bari, where roads are much less crowded, generally easy to drive, and offer the most flexibility for road-trip-type vacations.
What to Pack
When packing for Southern Italy, think relaxed yet elegant resort wear. Puglia and Sicily are much more casual. For women, a scarf can come in handy for layering, and to use as a shoulder wrap to use when you visit churches, where modest dress is recommended and tank tops and short skirts or shorts are not considered appropriate attire.
Beachwear and swimsuits are a must if you’re traveling during the summer. Cover-ups are a good idea, too, as it’s not permitted to walk around most towns (even beachside towns) only wearing swimwear. Pack sun protection and a hat for beach days.
Considering the sometimes steep and often cobblestone roads throughout Southern Italy, comfortable shoes are a must. If you plan to hike, bring good footwear with plenty of support. For the rocky beaches, a pair of flip-flops or water shoes will save your feet.
Pack a European plug adapter and converter for your electronic devices. You’ll also want to bring plenty of memory cards or film for photos, as the endless fine views and landscape will inspire you to snap more photos than you expect.
Best of Southern Italy
You could spend a lifetime wandering Southern Italy’s well-known sights, charming villages, and secluded beaches, but two weeks are just enough to get a taste of this beautiful, culturally rich region. This itinerary is broken up into three of Southern Italy’s most distinctive and worthwhile areas: Naples and the Amalfi Coast, Puglia, and Sicily. Theoretically, the three regions could be visited in any order—say, if you find a good deal on a flight to a Sicilian or Apulian hub—though note that Naples’s airport is the largest in the region. You could also leave out a leg of this trip to opt for more time in just one or two areas—each of which truly merits a trip in its own right. Just keep in mind that when it comes to transport between the areas, road-trip-friendly Puglia can be reached from Naples and the Amalfi Coast on a relatively easy drive; to get to Sicily, a quick domestic flight is likely the best option.
Naples and the Amalfi Coast
DAY 1: NAPLES
Start your first morning in Naples at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, where you can explore one of the world’s most important archaeological collections. Then, enjoy a walk down Spaccanapoli, a straight street named for the way it cuts right through the historic center. Take a left on Via San Gregorio Armeno, where you can see artisans creating traditional nativity scenes. Not far away, stop in the Duomo di Napoli to see the city’s most important church. Next, head over to Piazza del Plebiscito to admire the elegant Palazzo Reale. Stop for true Neapolitan espresso at the Gran Caffè Gambrinus at the edge of the piazza. Cross the Piazza Trieste e Trento and go inside the Galleria Umberto I shopping center to admire the soaring glass dome. Watch the sunset from the Castel dell’Ovo with fine views of the Gulf of Naples. For dinner, have a traditional Neapolitan-style pizza.
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- On Sale
- Apr 26, 2022
- Page Count
- 504 pages
- Moon Travel