Best of Capri
An island-lover's guide
The island and me
I've seen some of the loveliest places in Italy while researching for this website, but when I'm asked for my favourite destination, my answer is almost invariably the island of Capri. A compact rocky island with many faces, it is surely be one of the most beautiful and charming places in the world. Since my first budget trip with my sister, years ago, we have returned for regular summer holidays - real holidays of relaxation and enjoyment and barely making notes. We don't rush ourselves: each time we revel in our favourite routes and routines, and we explore a bit more during each trip. There's more to do here than most travellers expect - our days are always full and yet at the time of writing, we still haven't visited the Grotta Azzurra, generally held to be Capri's prime tourist attraction.
Why is Capri such a great destination? Because you can walk along scenic paths in the morning and picnic at a viewpoint. You can choose between Roman ruins and swimming in the sea. You can take a boat trip or perhaps relax with a book on a sun-lounger at your smart hotel. Then you can dress up to the nines and promenade stylishly along the lanes before sitting with a drink and people-watching during the late-evening passeggiata. In short, Capri offers almost everything you could want in a holiday and all in a few scenic square miles. What's more, it is safe and the two little towns are largely pedestrianised.
Here are some of our top Capri experiences, for those with the time to indulge.
Our favourite things to do
Walking up Monte Solaro
Most people wouldn't walk up Capri's one mountain, since there is a chairlift to the top from the 'upper' town of Anacapri. After one ride on this scary device, though, we chose to walk. Braver souls may wish to take the chairlift up, and then walk down. At the summit of the mountain there is a cafe with tables and chairs, half-finished terraces and - depending on the weather - amazing views over the island and coastline. After an initial scramble, a gentle path heads down to Anacapri, through flowers and past odd bits of mysterious ruin. A signposted branch from this path leads to our absolute favourite Capri discovery, the Chapel of Santa Maria a Cetrella. This little clifftop church has a panoramic terrace with views down over the lower half of the island, Capri town and the more distant Sorrentine peninsula. Allow time for strolling and admiring the views, and avoid the hottest part of summer days.
Views of the Faraglioni
The Faraglioni are Capri's most famous landmarks. They are triangular rocky outcrops reaching into the sea, and they feature in most of the island's best views. There are several good spots around Capri town for admiring the rocks, and taking good photographs of friends and family in the foreground for a classic Capri photograph. If you're prepared to walk some way uphill, you can reach the cliff-eyrie of the Belvedere Cannone. The pretty gardens called the Giardini di Augusto are full of flowers with several panoramic spots. A more secluded park, nearer the rocks, is located alongside the Certosa di San Giacomo. Right above the Faraglioni is the belvedere of Punta Tragara - and another great viewpoint is just around the corner of the headland. For more sea in the foreground, try walking down Via Krupp towards Marina Piccola. And of course on a boat trip (see below) you can sail between the rocks.
The finest walk: Capri - Arco Naturale - Grotta di Matermania - Punta Tragara - Capri
It's recommended in all the guidebooks, and rightly so. You begin by heading uphill from Capri town towards the Arco Naturale (signposted). Once you reach the wooded cliffs, you can descend steps to admire the Arco Naturale - an impressive rock-arch - before climbing again and enjoying an ice-cold granita (pictured) or a simple lunch at the restaurant above, Le Grottelle - half-cave, half-terrace.
From here it's a long steep descent down steps through the trees - be grateful that you didn't do the walk in the other direction. Next comes the fantastic Grotta di Matermania, a large natural cave containing Roman walls and floors - perhaps a nymphaeum or banqueting area for Tiberius and his Roman cronies. The path then winds along the cliffs from one picturesque view to the next. The famous cliff-villa built for the writer Curzio Malaparte is down on the rocks below you. The walk continues around to Punta Tragara, above the Faraglioni rocks. You can then wander back along the bougainvillea-lined lane into Capri town.
Evening in the Piazzetta
The cafes in Capri's town square offer a pricey evening's entertainment, with drinks costing from €7. However, you can sip them as slowly as you like, and if you compare the overall cost with a night out back home, it doesn't seem quite so extortionate. The Piazzetta is where everyone comes to see and be seen. Once the daytrip crowds have gone, Capri's smartest guests and residents emerge to greet acquaintances and promenade in their finery. Even without recognising the Italian famous faces, it makes great entertainment watching the parade of fashions ranging from the elegant to the indecent. It's like an old-fashioned theatre, where the audience make up part of the show.
Strolling the lanes to Punta Tragara
It's included in the 'finest walk' described above, but this gentle section is a pleasant stroll on its own. Whether or not you buy designer fashions, the boutiques of Capri are part of the scenery. Window displays often change each day and are worth glancing at. Begin by heading downhill from the Piazzetta towards the Quisisana (Capri's grandest hotel), past jewellery and clothes shops. Turning to the left, you pass yet more little designer shops and some cafes. Leaving the shops and cafes behind, the lane becomes more peaceful as you pass smart hotels set back from the footpath, set in the trees and down the slopes. The walk is bright with flowers and there are plenty of benches to rest on. The path continues to Punta Tragara, where there is a little terrace above the Faraglioni (see also our 'views' and walking tips above). It's a great place to sit with a picnic lunch and drink in the views.
Boat trip around Capri
You should definitely consider a boat tour of the island on your first visit. These circle the island, passing between the Faraglioni, peering up at the cliffs, the Arco Naturale and caves. You may get close-up views of expensive yachts and unclad bathers. It's fun and scenic and gives you a good overview of the island from sea-level. Consider the weather before you set off - you will be sitting in direct sun for a long time, including a long hiatus while tourists clamber onto smaller boats to visit the Grotta Azzurra (an optional extra).
Visiting the ruins
Taking a walk to one of Capri's archaeological sites is a great way of seeing the more rural parts of the island, where residents still tend their vegetable patches and little vineyards. The atmosphere is often pleasingly strange: exclusive suburb meeting agriculture. The ruins themselves are not particularly well-tended or extensive. But they are interesting, in picturesque locations, and if you have read Suetonius's accounts of Tiberius's licentious lifestyle here, they will appeal to your imagination. An archaeological excursion takes you off the beaten track and helps you avoid the crowded town centres at the busiest time of day.
Suggested Capri itineraries
In one day: Take the funicular up to Capri town, explore the lanes and shops. Choose between the Arco Naturale - Punta Tragara walk, or returning to Marina Grande for a boat trip around the island. If it's a very long day trip, catch the bus to Anacapri and the chairlift up the mountain. Fit in Villa San Michele if you have time.
Capri in two days: Do all of the one-day activities above, with space to rest, sip a lemon drink, and stroll. Sit with evening drinks in the Piazzetta.
Capri in three days: Get to know the island. Visit your favourite bar or restaurant twice. Have a picnic and admire a view. Plan a walking excursion to a less-visited part of the island - perhaps Villa Jovis, or the lighthouse (Faro). Or walk down the zig-zag Via Krupp to the tiny pebble beaches of Marina Piccola.
Four days or more: Begin to feel at home in Capri, with favourite strolls, drinks and views. Make a ludicrously expensive purchase among the glitzy lanes that will remind you of your holiday: designer sunglasses make a good choice. Visit the churches of the two towns, and the less obvious sights. Spend some time in both the upper and lower parts of the island.
Our recommended Capri hotels (including reviews of two four-star hotels)