lItaly’s Amalfi coast has everything: mouth-watering pizza, delectable home-made pasta, the charm of the colorful superstar homes in Capri, and 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 travel destinations to date.
But don’t let that deter you: if we could afford a 6 day trip around Sorrento, Salerno, Amalfi, Ravello, Positano and Capri, so can you! All it takes is some strategic planning.
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. 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.
We got lucky with Christian being a great German driver – he has excellent command of the wheel and enjoys driving. One of our favorite activities was driving the coast, town-hopping from Positano to Sorrento to Amalfi to Ravello to Salerno, him navigating the curves and me looking for spots where we can stop to take in the view. Which leads us 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 us, you should.
And finally: “dangerous” is not a word I would use to describe this road. 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 typically-Italian streets. We rented an Opel Corsa, and it was an excellent fit. We like spacious BMWs and Mercedes too, but they aren’t really the best option for this road.
There are a lot of tourist buses that cruise the Amalfi coast, shuttling the usual tourists from one destination to the next. 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. 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 should be 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.
You can also download the region of the Amalfi Coast to your phone on Google Maps and use Offline Google Maps to get around without a hassle.
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 servicing the out of town stops. Buses run regularly, and are only 2 euro one way. They 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.
If you’re traveling on a budget, don’t stay in Positano. It’s a beautiful town, but the prices aren’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.
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 pizza, bruschetta, and pasta. It all paled in comparison to the home-made pastas and the bruschetta in Amalfi.
Top Tip: 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.
Another tip is to skip dessert and try the delicious lemon cookies sold at almost every pebble-side store.
What to see
Do a day trip to charming Positano with its white-washed houses and lit up streets. Ravello is another excellent stop to make to see the quieter end of the coast. Its restaurants are also usually on the lower end of the price-scale.
Visit the Piazza del Duomo, at the center of Amalfi. Climb the church steps. It’s usually packed with tourists but you can enjoy 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.
If you’re planning a short stay e.g. 3 or 4 days, don’t try to squeeze 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.
One of the best ways to save is to travel to the Amalfi Coast in the spring or fall, and avoid the crowds and the hefty price-tag in the summer.
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!!
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.