Traveling through Southern Italy: What to See and Where to Go

Where to go in Italy? Don't miss out on Sicily!
Where to go in Italy? Don’t miss out on Sicily!

Traveling through Italy should be on everyone’s list – obviously! The food, the views, the food, the wine and the food – what else do you need? That being said, with so much to see and do, how do you decide where to start? Well, I decided to separate my trips into Northern and Southern Italy. I have yet to get back to the Northern adventures – but it’s coming, don’t you worry. In the meantime, here some advice on where to go in Italy!

1. Only spend a day or two in Rome

When deciding where to go in Italy, Rome should of course be on your list. It’s Rome! That being said, you really only need a day or two to get your fill…

I’m not a resortist, so mostly I used Venere.com and Airbnb.com for all our Italian accommodations. We left the airport, hopped on the train, and figured it’d be a piece of cake to find our first Bed & Breakfast. HA! When we walked out from the train, we emptied into a circular park that had streets emptying out in every direction. We checked every street, and of course it was the very last one.

Luckily, the owner was extremely nice and we got settled in quickly. We only had about half a day to explore all of Rome that we could, so with our map in hand we set off.

We started off at the Vatican but chose not to wait in the 2 mile long line to get in (it was Easter weekend). Instead we started at St. Peter’s Basilica, made our way across the St. Angelo Bridge, and continued to explore the streets of Rome. As a lover of food, I stopped to eat as often as possible. First for the panini that seemed like a simple ham and cheese sandwich but was FAR from it (amazing!), and then on to the gelato and beyond.

It was raining on and off all day, but we didn’t mind. Rome is such an incredibly beautiful city with such charming architecture – but, for me, a day was plenty. The crowds certainly leave something for an introvert like me to be desired, but you can’t go to Italy and not go to Rome. We finished the tour with the Colosseum and a pasta dinner down the street, and then passed out by 10pm exhausted from a long flight and a long day.

Rome-ing around (haha, get it?)
Rome-ing around (haha, get it?)
Gelato in Rome - a must!
Gelato in Rome – a must!

2. Relax and enjoy the views in Ercolano and Mount Vesuvius

On day 2 of our trip through Southern Italy, we woke up early to catch our train to Naples. The host of our next Bed & Breakfast would be picking us up in Ercolano at the train station.

When we were researching where to go in Italy, we wanted a mix of culture and fun, and relaxation. For this part of the trip, we would be staying in a more secluded area in the mountains near Mount Vesuvius for 2 nights. The Bed & Breakfast Le Fumarole had a beautiful entrance with an incredible view of Naples and Ercolano, all the way to the north side of the Amalfi coast.

The bedrooms were fairly small, but I don’t go on vacation to sit in my room so I was okay with that. There was a large patio area outside our room where we enjoyed some wine and a beautiful sunset both nights. Our hosts played taxi for us for a small fee while we were there, which was helpful in getting up to Mount Vesuvius. We got dropped off in a dirt parking lot for the Volcano trek, and from there you walk uphill the whole way (maybe 1.5 miles?) to the top. The best part is that at the top they serve more delicious panini sandwiches, and limoncello!

On day 3, our second day in Ercolano we decided to go horseback riding by a place that the B&B coordinated for us. Unfortunately, whether it was that they didn’t really know where it was or that it was Easter Sunday and nobody knew that they were closed, we ended up walking around aimlessly for about an hour before calling them to come pick us back up.

Overall, there’s not a whole lot to do in this area, but if you’re a couple looking to get away from things, this is a great spot away from the tourists. You’ll get tourists up at the Mount Vesuvius Volcano, but the area overall is nice and peaceful. Just make sure you make arrangements for dinner early enough because food options are limited! Our hosts didn’t speak English very well, but they did have Google Translate on their computer, and with my limited Italian, we were able to communicate well enough.

Enjoying limoncello and a panini at the top of Mt. Vesuvius
Enjoying limoncello and a panini at the top of Mt. Vesuvius
Dinner in Ercolano at a restaurant recommended by our hosts
Dinner in Ercolano at a restaurant recommended by our hosts

3. When deciding where to go in Italy, do not miss the Amalfi Coast

Our next stop after Ercolano was the Amalfi Coast. The four of us loaded into a taxi to Salerno where we were dropped off our rental car office. Salerno is a fairly busy city, so there’s traffic and shops everywhere. We would be spending the next few days exploring the Amalfi Coast and a car (if you’re comfortable with driving on teeny tiny roads at high speeds) was our best option.

When researching where to go in Italy, we wanted to explore the Amalfi coast, but not get stuck in the middle of tourist-town. Instead, we chose the town of Rialto. Rialto is a very small and incredibly charming town next to Salerno, Vietri Sul Mar – Rialto. It’s just up the hill from Salerno and far from most tourists.

The B&B Il Melograno was by far my favorite accommodation of our Italy trip. It was a little difficult to find the address so we stopped in a small shop to ask for help, and it just so happened that the woman who owns the B&B with her husband was walking by right at that moment. We were so close! Her husband brought down a golf cart to drive our bags up, and we walked up the many, many stairs to meet them.

Disclaimer: this place is not for those who don’t like stairs. There are a good number of steps to make it up to the room, but the views are well worth it. Our apartment was comfortable, minimally decorated, but we had a kitchen which was great! There was also a nice big patio outside where we got to enjoy meals. Each day, the owners brought us food and treats from their garden: arugula, lemon mousse (omg yum!), fresh orange juice…it was all incredible. They were also very helpful with guiding us for things to do along the Amalfi Coast.

Breakfast in Rialto, Italy from our patio at B&B Il Melograno
Breakfast in Rialto, Italy from our patio at B&B Il Melograno
Out kitchen at B&B Il Melograno - our hosts supplied the Arugula and lemons, we supplied the wine...
Out kitchen at B&B Il Melograno – our hosts supplied the Arugula and lemons, we supplied the wine…

4. Enjoy a delectable dessert in Minori

Our B&B owners had told us to stop in the small town of Minori on the Amalfi Coast to try their Lemon Delight dessert, and Ravello for the beautiful views. Minori was first, and boy were they right about the lemon dessert! It was mousse-y and lemon-y and amazing. The town is right on the water, and there were a bunch of adorable old Italian men playing cards in the parking lot. You do need money for the parking meters, so make sure to have some coins handy!

Lemon Delight in Minori
Lemon Delight in Minori
Minori, Italy. Beautiful!
Minori, Italy. Beautiful!

5. Drive through the lush hills of Ravello.

Let me tell you – if you’re looking for what to do in Italy, do not miss the chance to drive to Ravello. Wow. To get to Ravello, you drive away from the coast for a bit, but the drive is incredibly breathtaking. It’s green and lush with houses set up and down the mind blowing hills. You follow a long winding road for a while and then you make a right turn towards the town (follow the signs, and the traffic). It’s old and charming, just like most of Italy. There’s not a whole lot to do once you’re there (plus it was raining for us) but there are shops and restaurants to spend time at. Definitely worth the little detour!

Exploring Ravello - highlight of our Italy itinerary!
Exploring Ravello – highlight of our Italy itinerary!

6. Go kayaking off the coast of Amalfi

Clearly I love adventure, so of course we had to throw some of that into our travels through Southern Italy! I had coordinated with Amalfi Kayak before we set off on our trip and they gave us a discount for booking ahead of time, which was awesome. We were running a little bit late that day and unfortunately had no working phone to call, but luckily they were pulling up to the coast in the kayaks just as we were walking up.

We set off, each in individual kayaks, along the coast and got an amazing view that most don’t get from being on the coast. Totally different perspective. Our guides were very informative and told us stories about the Amalfi coast – did you know that they are not allowed to build anything new, and that every morning a helicopter flies along the coast taking pictures to make sure? Amazing. Conservation at its best! We finished the day with an absolutely delicious dinner on the water, drove back to Vietri Sul Mar and passed out, ready for our next adventure.

Kayaking off the coast of Amalfi, Italy
Kayaking off the coast of Amalfi, Italy
Dinner in Amalfi, Italy - it was deeeelicious! There was wine, obviously...
Dinner in Amalfi, Italy – it was deeeelicious! There was wine, obviously…

7. Enjoy a picnic lunch at the top of Capri

I was told by a colleague that when deciding where to go in Italy, we should go to Capri while we’re in Italy, so off we went! We had to drive back to Naples where we caught a ferry to the island of Capri.

Being from California, Capri very much reminded me of Catalina. Not a whole lot to do, incredibly touristy, and you’re stuck on an island. If I would have had the hindsight to cut this out of our trip, I probably would have, but unfortunately we didn’t know any better – but that’s just my preference. For most, it’s a great stop and a charming place to spend a casual day eating and shopping.

If you do spend the day in Capri, I highly recommend taking the chairlift up to the top of the island where they have a lookout. We managed to find a little trail off to the side away from the tourists and sat down to have a picnic – one of our favorite things to do. We pulled out the meats, breads and pastries that we had brought along with us, and opened a bottle of wine on the hillside. The view was delightful!

Unfortunately we found out too late that we were trying to get back down to the ferry along with everyone else on the island, and by the time we got there, that ferry was full. So, we sat down to have some coffee until the next ferry, 1.5 hours away. After a very long day we made it back to Vietre Sul Mar and settled in.

The next day we spent exploring more of the coast and ended up driving from the south side to the north side of the coast discovering teeny tiny awesome towns along the way. The topography is completely different on the north side – it’s quite impressive! Most people I’ve spoken with spend their time on the south side of the island, but if you can cut through to the north, it’s far less touristy and well worth the time.

Wine picnic at the top of Capri
Wine picnic at the top of Capri
The prosciutto in America is NOTHING like in Italy. Look at how big those are! Okay, now I'm hungry.
The prosciutto in America is NOTHING like in Italy. Look at how big those are! Okay, now I’m hungry.
Exploring the Amalfi Coast, from the south the the north, and enjoying some wine along the way
Exploring the Amalfi Coast, from the south the the north, and enjoying some wine along the way

8. Don’t bother with too much time in the not-so-exciting Naples

Before going to Italy we heard a lot of mixed reviews about Naples. “Ohhhh it’s so dirty and dangerous, don’t go there.” “But their pizza is great, you should at least go for that.”

On our last day up this way, we had the opportunity to head to Naples early for our train to Sicily, or hang out on the Amalfi coast a bit longer…we opted for the latter. Being from New York City, I wasn’t so much worried about the crime. I’m used to it. But, knowing that Naples is another busy, dirty city – none of us really had any grand interest in exploring there. So, we went straight to the train station, found our train, and hung out there until it was time to leave.

We were taking an overnight train from Naples to Sicily, which none of us had ever done before, and were excited to get on to our next adventure – and the next one would be my favorite! We were all pretty tired and nothing really piqued our interest here, so unfortunately no pics!

9. Discover small Sicilian towns, like my hometown, Sciacca, Sicily

When deciding where to go in Italy, Sciacca, Sicily was top of my list!

We boarded the train from Naples and found our room which had 2 sets of bunk beds. There were chargers, which was nice, and after hanging around doing nothing, we were all pretty tired and just went to sleep. We settled in for some sleep and woke up pretty close to Palermo – I do remember briefly waking up to see that the train was being put on the ferry (pretty cool…), and then passed out again until we were almost at our destination.

After realizing we got off at the wrong stop and there were no car rental places nearby, we managed to find a taxi to take us to one not too far away. Before heading south to Sciacca, we stopped in a coffee shop for some cafe and pastries. I had my first Sicilian cannoli and I was not disappointed!

The drive south to Sciacca was unexpectedly, and mind-blowingly beautiful. Lush, green, rolling hills and mountains all around. We hit some light rain which somehow only managed to make it that much more beautiful. Of course, we again had some trouble finding our B&B and precariously got lost up on some very small town roads, in the rain, on hills…but eventually found out that if we would have just gone right instead of left we would have been there. Whoops!

Our B&B Conte Luna was old and charming on the outside, but modern and well kept on the inside. My friends and I decided to go our separate ways for a few hours – some wanted to go run, some wanted to nap…I wanted to explore on my own and really take it all in. It was everything I hoped it would be (did I mention Jon Bon Jovi’s family is also from Sciacca??). Not many tourists, and even fewer American tourists, make it down to Sciacca, so it seems to be well preserved.

The locals are friendly – the man at the souvenir shop even excitedly gave me a free decorative plate of Sciacca when I told him my family was from there. We later enjoyed another incredible 4 course dinner at a small local restaurant referred by our B&B, and woke up to enjoy some horseback riding the next morning through vineyards and down to the beach. I would definitely recommend stopping down this way. In my opinion, it epitomizes the essence of Italy.

You are now entering Sciacca, Sicily, Rachel Sciacca!
You are now entering Sciacca, Sicily, Rachel Sciacca!
Horseback riding on the coast of Sciacca, Sicily (I wore the vest as a precaution - I don't like to get too risky in foreign countries)
Horseback riding on the coast of Sciacca, Sicily (Vests were recommended, and precautions are good in foreign countries)
Stopping for a picnic on the hillside in Sciacca
Stopping for a picnic on the hillside in Sciacca
Course 2 of 4 of our dinner in Sciacca
Course 2 of 4 of our dinner in Sciacca
Our view from B&B Conte Luna in Sciacca, Sicily
Our view from B&B Conte Luna in Sciacca, Sicily

10. Finish up your tour of Southern Italy with a quick stop in Palermo

The last stop of our Southern Italy adventure was Palermo. We had 2 nights here, but I wish we would have only done one and stayed in Sciacca an extra night. Palermo, while loaded with beautiful architecture, is your typical city, similar to Naples. Crowded, doesn’t feel super safe at night, and dirty.

I did have one of the most delicious dinners of all there, but overall it wasn’t incredibly exciting. Unfortunately I also ended up sick the last day and spent most of it in bed, sunning on the patio, and walking around alone since my friends were still out exploring – overall just not the most exciting town.

The place that we stayed at was very nice – loft bedroom upstairs, bedroom downstairs, living room and kitchen. It was close enough to the city to walk, but I wouldn’t recommend walking alone at night.

Amazing dinner in Palermo, Sicily
Amazing dinner in Palermo, Sicily

Most people I’ve spoken to say who have been to Italy head towards the northern regions – Florence, Venice, etc. But, I think that more people should consider heading south when deciding where to go in Italy. There were so many places we didn’t get to go to – like the eastern side of the boot in the south, and places between Sicily and Amalfi – but overall, the trip was one for the books!

“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.” – Francis Bacon



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