A holiday in the Amalfi Coast and surrounding areas is what Eurotrip dreams are made of, and there's no better base to explore this region of southern Italy than Salerno. Naples often overshadows this historically rich city on the Tyrrhenian Sea, but Salerno has numerous advantages. It's a mere two-hour train ride from Rome, and its relatively underrated status makes for less chaotic streets and lower prices. Salerno has lauded gardens, tremendous seascapes, scrumptious food, and a local population that'll give you insight into the real Italy. This listicle covers the top 20 things to do in Salerno, ensuring you make the most of your vacation.
Constructed in 1076, you get a sense of the passage of time as soon as you enter Salerno Cathedral. The Duomo is believed to house the remains of Matthew the Apostle, and his awe-inspiring crypt is filled with frescoes depicting the gospel. Even if you're not Christian, there's much to marvel at in the artwork and architecture. From the internal courtyard to the Byzantine-style portico and detailed mosaics, Salerno Cathedral is truly impressive.
Don your sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat and head for Salerno's lovely beach promenade. The pedestrian walkway is over a mile long and stretches from the old town to the harbor at Piazza della Concordia. Runners pound the waterfront pavement while elderly men play cards. Palm trees dot Lungomare Trieste, and when the skies are blue, it sure is pretty. During spring break, there's a lot of activity with flea markets, puppet theatre, and live entertainment. Try the gelato brioche at Nettuno Bar.
Stop for a breather at these municipal gardens next to the Verdi Theater. The park was established in 1874 as a private garden for the Sanseverino family but has since become a public space. It is peaceful and offers a shady reprieve on hot days. Kiosks sell frosty lemon granitas and drinks, and drinking water is freely available, so you can feel refreshed while looking at the turtles in the pond or cataloging the exotic plants. Why not have a picnic and enjoy the gulf views? During the festive season, the gardens come to life at night with LED sculptures and illuminations, and summer concerts are a hit too.
Minerva's Garden is the oldest botanical garden on the continent and was originally planted in the 13th century as a source of healing herbs for Salerno's medical school. Dr. Matteo Silvatico, one of the king's physicians, was from an influential Salerno family, and he used his wealth and connections to establish this green legacy filled with terraced orchards and uncommon flowers. Today, you can sample therapeutic herbal teas infused with the garden's bounty. Opening hours differ depending on the season.
Passengers and goods flit in and out of the Port of Salerno, one of Italy's major domestic maritime facilities. Salerno's Maritime Terminal was designed by the now-late architect Zaha Hadid, known for her innovative modern designs. It was inaugurated on the 25th of April 2016. Visit the marina and feel the sea breeze rustle through your hair while you watch ferries and cruise ships dock.
The Amalfi Coast is famous for its charming and incredibly photogenic seaside villages and towns. Steep cobblestoned paths, super-sized lemons, terrone nougat, and epic drives await. Magnificent Positano is the kind of place you'll find on jigsaw puzzles all over the world, and it's less than two hours from Salerno by ferry. If you're traveling during summer, it could be sweltering and crowded, so plan accordingly.
Built in the 13th century, Villa Rufolo is a historical landmark with Moorish and Roman influences. It offers breathtaking vistas from its balconies—you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd died and gone to heaven. The villa is largely wheelchair accessible, and hosts classical music concerts. Ravello is known as the city of music and draws droves of music enthusiasts to its annual Wagner Festival in summer. This mountainous town is relatively laidback compared to other Amalfi hotspots.
Forte La Carnale is iconic, but it's currently closed to the public. If you're lucky enough to be in Salerno when this cavalry tower is reopened, be sure to check it out. In 1569, the city needed a defense against Saracen invasions, and construction began in earnest. In subsequent centuries, the fort has witnessed much history, from collecting bodies during the 1764 famine to playing a role during the 20th century's World Wars.
Arechi Castle is Salerno's most famous landmark, sitting atop Monte Bonadies and overlooking the Mediterranean. Construction began in the 6th century, and the castle has undergone multiple changes over the centuries, including restoration efforts in recent years. A museum houses coins, glassware, and medieval ceramics, and maquis shrubland surrounds the castle. You can access the castle and nature trails with the help of the number 19 bus.
Popular with RVs and campers, Parco Del Mercatello is walking distance from the metro, close to the sea, and served by an affordable pizzeria. While the park would benefit from better maintenance, it's still a popular hangout for yoga sessions, Frisbee skimming, and informal birthday parties. Parco Del Mercatello has a greenhouse with succulents and an artificial lake.
Salerno's old town is one of the best preserved in the country. Hole-in-the-wall bars and cafes pop out croissants, and tiny restaurants offer plenty of noisy local drama. You'll find Southern Italian homestyle meals at Taverna A Corte, and the gelato at Punto Freddo Gelataria is delish. Drapparia, now known as Via dei Mercanti, was the main commercial street during the Medieval era and sold many textiles. Today, you can browse antiques, indulge in pastries, and get ready to shop at Corso Vittorio Emanuele.
Just 22 miles southeast of Salerna and a half-hour train ride away, you'll find astonishing Ancient Greek temples that have stood the test of time. The Temple of Athena dates back to the 6th century BC, and the Temple of Hera II was built around 460 BC—they're arguably the most well-preserved Ancient Greek ruins. The Romans named this town Paestum when they conquered in 273 BC, and constructed houses for nobility on the temple grounds. Paestum was lost to swamplands for hundreds of years before its rediscovery in the 18th century. You can learn all this and more at the archaeological museum on site. Don't miss the ancient tomb paintings and Roman amphitheater.
The Provincial Archaeological Museum was inaugurated in 1928. Here, history buffs can do a deep dive on the Etruscan civilization and discover artifacts found in Campania dating back to prehistoric times. Entry is free, although that's sometimes noticeable with dusty display cases. Still, you can admire Roman vases and linger over fascinating finds like the famous bronze head of Apollo.
Rustic stone walls set the scene at Ristorante Cicirinella near the Duomo. This well-liked restaurant offers patrons really friendly service and tasty, authentic dishes at reasonable prices. There are good vegetarian options and daily specials. You can watch the chef working while you snack on bread. Try the risotto, grilled tuna fillet, and how about some Nutella chocolate pana cotta for dessert?
Black Roses Irish Pub serves some excellent pub grub made with fresh ingredients. From lemon pepper chips and croquettes to mouthwatering sandwiches and meats, you can expect to leave with a satisfied belly. The waiters are cordial, and the environment is pleasant and intimate. Plus, there are many options for those with dietary restrictions, including gluten-free beer.
Want to learn how to cook Italian food well enough to make your Nonna or Neapolitan mother-in-law proud? Book a cooking class to get up close and personal with local techniques and glean traditional recipes. Salerno offers home restaurant dining experiences as well as classes teaching bread, pizza, and pasta. Buffalo mozzarella, the white gold of Campania, may even feature on the menu. Consider Mamma Agata cooking school in Ravello too.
Boat tours often make stops in Positano or Capri for hour-long descents, before whisking tourists toward coves for swimming. These caves are only accessible from the emerald waters. It's a blissful vibe. You can expect to spend at least six hours with an operator. Look for a reputable operator with legit reviews and free cancellation.
Salerno's been hosting an annual film festival since 1946. Located at Augusteo Theatre in the Salerno Town Hall, the winter festival celebrates cinema culture from across the globe. In 2021, 50 countries participated. Luci d'Artista, the Christmas luminaria with changing themes, also attracts folks from all over the Amalfi coast. The city lights up with fantastical creations.
Piazza San Francesco holds a daily open-air market. You'll find gifting options and awesome bargains, but you'll have to commit to the cause and sift through some junk first. Look for jewelry, vintage decorative pieces, and old books at the monthly Mercatino Dell’ Antiquariato. Ti Riciclo Mercatino takes place every day, and you can grab fresh produce, deli items, and street food.
To recap, you'll find jawdropping sunset views at Castello Di Arechi, and specific hilltop villas in nearby Ravello (including the as yet unmentioned Villa Cimbrone). You may want to hike in Parco Naturale Diecimare, where the Trail of the Two Gulfs treats you to views of the gulfs of Naples and Salerno.