Italy’s Amalfi coast is my favorite holiday destination thus far. It has everything: from mouth-watering pizzas, to delectable home-made pastas, to the charm of the colorful superstar homes in Capri, to breathtaking views of the tiered white houses perched on the cliffs overlooking the sparkling blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It also happens to be one of the most expensive tourist destinations to date.
But don’t let that deter you: if we (two students on a budget) could afford a 6 day trip around Sorrento, Salerno, Amalfi, Ravello, Positano and Capri, so can you! All it takes is some strategic planning.
Our top tip for the Amalfi Coast
…comes with a caveat. Top tip: rent a car! Caveat: the driver(s) should enjoy driving, and be very good at it – navigating the “road of 1000 bends” that links the coastal towns is no small feat. I did a lot of research ahead of our trip on how to get around the coast, and people who had driven the coast complained about the following 1) it’s a treacherous drive 2) the driver couldn’t really enjoy the spectacular view afforded by the drive 3) it’s better to rent a cab/private car.
I will address the third point first. Do not get a taxi unless you’ve had a few drinks, are a novice driver, or frankly do not enjoy driving (do not, under any circumstances, drive after drinking!!) To be very frank: it is a curvy road littered with cars traveling at high speeds around sharp bends. If you don’t actually like to drive, you’re better off hiring a driver/private car/cab. This is obviously not the most economical option.
I got lucky with Christian being the perfect German driver – he has excellent command of the wheel and loves to drive to boot. One of our favorite activities was driving the coast, town-hopping from Positano to Sorrento to Amalfi to Ravello to Salerno, him testing his skills navigating the curves and me looking for spots where we can stop to take in the view. Which leads me to the second point: the driver too can easily enjoy the view, since there are numerous lookout points on the road to stop and take it all in. And trust me, you should.
And finally: “dangerous” is not a word I would use to describe this road, personally. It may be, again, if you don’t naturally like to drive. It’s got a lot of curves, but I’ve seen much worse. Try to drive mostly during daylight and stick to lower speeds and you should be fine!
Don’t rent a big car
Stick to something small that you can use to practically navigate the road and tiny Italian streets. We rented an Opel Corsa, and it was perfect. We love spacious BMWs and Mercedes too, but they aren’t really the best option for “the road with a 1000 bends” 😉
Just a heads up that there are a lot of tourist buses that cruise the Amalfi coast, shuttling the usual 50+ tourist couples from one destination to the next. These were the bane of Christian’s driving experience. “Why don’t they have a scheduled time to drive these buses?! WHY ARE THEY ALWAYS BLOCKING MY WAY?!” You will probably get behind one of these during your trip so try to stay calm and rent a small car that can easily overtake these buses on this narrow route!
But why just tell you about the roads? We’ll show you! Heads up, this was actually a good stretch of road we got without any buses but it gives you a feel for the cars and the narrowness of the bends.
Dont: Rent a GPS
Save your cash and get a free map from the car rental agency. This was some of the best advice we got from the agency: the roads pretty much run one way on the coast, and as long as you are aware of which direction the towns are in (with your physical map) you’ll be fine! The most complicated part was getting from the airport to the Amalfi coast, but the folks at your car rental should be able to give you the correct directions and exit for that. It’s easy, we promise!
As is the case with most travel destinations, don’t stay in the heart of any town, unless you don’t have a car. And even if you don’t have a car, you can find a place close to one of the numerous bus stops and you’re good to go!
If you’re traveling on a budget, don’t stay in Positano. It’s a beautiful town, but the prices to us weren’t worth it. It’s much better to stay closer to Sorrento, Amalfi, or Ravello, and drive for the day/evening to Positano, which is only 20-30 minutes away, depending on where you stay.
We stayed at the incredible Hotel Villa Felice Relais, which is perched atop a cliff offering spectacular views of the Amalfi harbor, just a ten minute drive from the city. The breakfast was good, the view incredible. I’m a stickler for cleanliness and *Madalina surpassed all my expectations when it came to hygiene and organization of the room, bathroom, and beyond. We got a late checkout and tons of helpful travel hints, not to mention free access to a neighboring pool!
Again, book a place close to a bus stop. It runs regularly, is only 2 euro one way, and can be very useful even if you have a car e.g. 1) if you want to have a few drinks in the evening in the town and/or 2) if you need to get to the ferry port for a day trip to Capri and want to avoid the parking fees by the harbor/town.
Ah, my favorite part. I’ve traveled quite a bit through Italy, Florence having been my favorite place to visit before I got to the Amalfi coast. I’ve spent months covering Florence, Rome, Bologna, Milan, and Venice. I’ve stayed with friends in Florence who’ve taken me away from the tourist traps to taste the truly delectable pizzas, bruschetta, and pasta. But to my surprise, it all paled in comparison to the home-made pastas and the bruschetta in Amalfi. I can still taste the first meal we had in the Amalfi town: I had a home-made linguine seafood pasta with a margarita (I’m allergic to white wine, and I needed something chilled!) and Christian a pizza with a beer. They.were.incredible.
Just one piece of advice: Amalfi is known for its lemon dishes: from cookies to pasta. When ordering a lemon pasta, ask for a cream-based sauce. If not you may end up getting an oily concoction that is so lemon-based that you can barely keep it down.
When I say that every single meal I had here was incredible, I mean it. You could actually taste the difference in the pasta, and feel the wholesomeness of the pizza (hello, nearby Naples!). Not gonna lie, we definitely splurged on the food here, having multiple wines and appetizers with every meal. Our proposed trick was to stick to traveling during the day which allowed us to splurge at night. But let’s be real, there was no way I could justify not having that amazing octopus or linguine pesto for lunch. So if we splurged on lunch in Positano, we would head to the cheaper, less touristy, but as beautiful Ravello or Maiori for dinner. There was no way this couple on a budget was going to limit ourselves when it came to the food in the Amalfi coast!
Another tip is to skip dessert and try the delicious lemon cookies sold at almost every pebble-side store! They’re the softest, most filling cookie we’ve had.
Towns to visit: Do
Do a day trip to Positano and Ravello. Positano is so charming with its white-washed houses and lit up streets; we visited during the European Championship and ended up watching the England—Russia game with an English couple over wine, pasta, and pizza.
Ravello is also great, with its ridiculously cheap restaurants, friendly owners (well, we were in Italy!) and incredible seafood. You won’t find the best, most delicious food here, but you have Amalfi, Positano, and Maiori for that!
Visit the Piazza del Duomo, at the center of Amalfi. Climb the church steps. It’s usually packed with tourists but we enjoyed the views and the art. Do explore the inner streets in Amalfi; the restaurants in the inner city tend to be cheaper and as good as the ones lining the main streets. They’re also extremely charming and you get a small taste of the more local way of life, away from the busy, extremely touristy, city square.
Towns to visit: Don’t
If you’re planning a short stay e.g. 3 or 4 days, don’t try to squish every single town on the coast to your agenda. Stick to visiting two or three on top of the town you’re closest to, depending on how long you’re going for. One of the best things we did was spend a whole day in Ravello sipping Aperol while reading by the beach, and then heading to a cozy restaurant to have some home-made pizza.
Accommodation: don’t stay in the center of the towns. Stay 5-10 minutes (driving) outside the towns. Pick something close to a bus stop.
Food: Indulge! Get the home-made seafood linguine, it is incredible. Don’t miss out on the bruschetta and pizza either. Splurge on one meal if you’re on a tight budget and get a hotel with breakfast. Try their delectable lemon cookies and limoncello.
Transport: Rent a car unless you don’t like to driver/are a novice driver/plan on being drunk your entire vacation. If one of those are true, stick to buses.
Do: Enjoy yourselves!!
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
Please note that any prices/freebies mentioned may have changed since we visited.
Been to the Amalfi Coast? Planning a trip there? We’d love to hear about your experiences! Share your stories with us below!