Amalfi Coast: Top 10 tips

The most important things to know when planning a trip to the Amalfi Coast

  1. Avoid driving the Amalfi Coast yourself:

    Traffic is nuts, the road twists and winds between an unforgiving cliff face and a sheer drop into the sea, oncoming buses barrel around blind corners taking up both lanes...

    I drove the Amalfi Coast. Once. Ever since, I've taken the bus and/or ferry—and been far, far happier for it.

    If you are determined to take your life into your own hands, you can drive yourself along the twisting, death-defying Amalfi Coast down the SS163 from Sorrento to Salerno.

    Here's a hint at how congested the traffic is: Locals are allowed to drive only every other day of the week (odd numbered license plates one day, even numbered ones the next). And as the driver, ask your companion to take lot of pictures because you'll be too busy digging your fingernails into the wheel, violently pumping the brakes, and otherwise desperately trying not to end up smushed against the cliffside—or flying off it into the water 80 feet below.

    Buses blare their horns when rounding blind, outside curves so you'll know they're coming. When you see them coming on the inside curves, stop before the curve itself so the bus—whose swing, in such instances, takes up both lanes—can get past. Also be prepared to put it in reverse and back up along with everybody else on the frequent occasions when the bus hasn't enough space and traffic going both ways has to ease back to make room.

    The way I see it, the last thing you want to do is deprive yourself of gawking at every postcard-perfect curve by driving it yourself. Also, vacations aren't meant to be stressful. I drove it once, and since then have always taken the bus, which conveniently leaves every half hour from in front of the Sorrento train station.

    On the bus, you get to admire the pretty view (rather than mentally revising your will as you careen terrified around blind corners), plus it doesn't take three burly men and a crowbar 20 minutes to un-pry your fingers from the steering wheel at the end. » more

  2. Go from Sorrento to Salerno, not Salerno to Sorrento:

    You can, of course, do the drive "backwards," from Salerno to Sorrento, but hardly anyone does.


    Because when you go "the correct way" from Sorrento to Salerno, you'll be in the right lane of a highway cantilevered out over the coastline, with no opposing traffic to block your view and your window seemign to hover right above the cliffs plunging down into the surf.

    If, instead, you ride "the wrong way" from Salerno to Sorrento, rather than enjoying thrilling postcard views you'll spend much of the trip staring at the raw rock of a cliffface that is speeding by distressingly close to your window.

  3. Sit on the right side of the bus:

    Be sure to snag a window seat on the right side of the bus for the best views. Thanks to parallax, sometime you'll actually feel as if you are dangling off the edge of the road dozens of feet above the crashing waves below. Fun! (If you are catching the bus from Salerno, however, sit on the left.)

  4. Beware of car-sickness:

    This road sports some serious curves, and the drivers are experts and making all but the most iron-stomached travelers wish there were barf bags on board. Armor yourself by downing some Dramamine before boarding or taking the wheel—seriously.

    (Or pop into an Italian farmacia and ask for "Travel Gum," a wonderful medicine consisting of giant round candy-shelled Chiclets in a foil pack. Chew on one of these for about five minutes and your motion sickness will vanish. After about 20–30 minutes, your tongue will go slightly numb. No idea why. but they work a dream and I always stock up when I go to Italy.)

  5. A suggestion for returning up the coast (east to west)—The ferry:

    Since the ride from the Salerno end to the Sorrento end hugs the cliff—and not the drop-dead views—why not get a Siren's eye view of the Amalfi Coast and instead catch a boat and cruise back aboard a ferry? » more

  6. Sorrento is not on the Amalfi Coast:

    I know I put it in this section, but only because (a) Sorrento is the main (land) gateway to the coast, and (b) everyone expects to find it here.

  7. Stay at least two days:

    I know on a tightly scheduled trip this isn't always possible, but the coast really does take at least two days to tour the Amalfi Coast properly.

  8. Don't stop halfway:

    Many people on a day trip take the bus from Sorrento to Amalfi then turn around to come back. That's fine, but know that the most spectacular, least-developed sections of the coast lie east of Amalfi, en route to Salerno.

    If the Amalfi Coast is truly just a day trip out of Sorrento on your schedule, fine. Turn around at Amalfi.

    However, if the Amalfi Coast is part of a longer trip, hop on the the next bus all the way from Amalfi to Salerno, where conveniently you can pick up a main rail line back to Naples or on into Southern Italy (rather than fiddling with the slow commuter line from Sorrento back to Naples).

  9. There is nothing to do in Positano:

    Oh, Positano is pretty and all—the postcard gem of the entire coast. There's nothing wrong with it. Howerver, there's not much to see or do.

    Amalfi has more sights and restaurants; Ravello cooler breezes and more of a cultural scene. Positano has a glut of hotels, overpirced shops, oddly mediocre restaurants, and a couple of low-key nightclubs, and a bit of beach. That's really it.

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How long does the Amalfi Coast take?

Planning your time: Budget at least a day for the Amalfi Coast. Simply to drive the coast without getting out (except to change buses in Amalfi) takes at least five hours—that's three hours touring the coast from Sorrento to Salerno, plus another hour on each end to get to and from those gateway towns.

If you do want to pack it all into a single day—and actually stop and get out in a few towns—it might be best to just book a tour that picks you up at your hotel, gives you time in each of the main Amalfi Coast towns, and returns you to your hotel 6–9 hours later:

  • From Sorrento, group tours start from $40, private drivers from $60, and private tours from $90. » book
  • From Naples, group tours start from $97, private drivers from $55, and private tours from $85. » book

Otherwise, it makes far more sense to spend at least one night on the coast.

If, however, your schedule doesn't have that much leisure time, might I suggest riding the first leg—from Sorrento to Positano to Amalfi—taking a quick spin around Amalfi town, then catching a ferry either back up the coast to Sorrento or over to Capri.

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