Well, strictly speaking, driving the Amalfi Coast of Italy may be a bit of a misnomer, if it means we did the driving ourselves. We did the drive, but we hired a car and driver for the day. Without question, the best 300 Euros we spent on our entire Italy trip!
Why? Let me document what we saw on our drive while ensconced comfortably in the back of a sturdy Mercedes Benz sedan with an unflappable Giovanni in the driver’s seat:
- Twisty, windy road, barely wide enough for a bus in some places? Check.
- 100-foot sheer drops on one side for much of the corniche? Check.
- Full-sized tour buses bearing down on tiny cars without a care in the world? Check.
- Young Romeos in tight jeans and glares weaving in and out of traffic on Vespas? Check.
- Irate drivers hanging out of windows, gesticulating violently and yelling at one another? Check.
- Overflowing parking lots at popular stops? Check.
Trust me. If you want to finish your Amalfi Coast drive with your sanity intact, and better yet, have everyone in the group actually enjoy this breathtaking drive in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, you want to leave the driving to a local. Take the bus, do a small group tour, or splurge on a hired car and driver.
Heartfelt advice out of the way, let’s move on to why you should definitely include the Amalfi Coast drive in your Italy itinerary.
DRIVING THE AMALFI COAST: A BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL EXPERIENCE!
Lemon and olive groves terraced into emerald hillsides. Little houses clad in pink, yellow and orange tumbling down steep slopes. The sparkling blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. And the air of la dolce vita that hangs over it all.
The 36-mile stretch of coastal road between Sorrento and Salerno along the Costiera Amalfitana is routinely included in lists of the most spectacular drives in the world and the Amalfi Coast was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Driving the Amalfi Coast was, without question, one of the highlights of our first trip to Italy. Read on to discover what to see and do on the drive.
We did the drive as a day trip from Sorrento to Ravello and back, about 24 miles one way. Driving west to east means that on the way to Ravello, you are on the ocean side, and the views are unobstructed.
Take in the Spectacular Views
The primary reason you’d want to drive the Amalfi Coast is of course to be able to enjoy the stunning views of the water and the coastline.
The Tyrrhenian Sea, the blue waters you see below, is part of the Mediterranean Sea. On a bright sunny day, you would be hard-pressed to beat the fabulous views of the deep blue water far below, with tiny white boats lined up at harbors or speeding across the sea. Even on a cloudy day, the views were spectacular!
When the road bends, which it does often, you get water views edged with the pretty coastline, making a gorgeous picture postcard. Tall craggy cliffs rise up from the edge of the water. Little houses cling to the cliffs, their pastel pinks and yellows a pleasing contrast to the green hillsides. Here and there the tiled dome of a church gleams in the sun. Bougainvillea clambers over fences at the edge of the road and along the back walls of houses. Can you imagine a more idyllic setting?
You’ll want to stop often for photos. But remember to sit back and just enjoy the drive as well: it’s the road trip of a lifetime and you want to be there, experiencing it, as well as capturing memories for the future.
Stop at the Fruit Stand outside Positano
There is a little fruit stand just outside Positano, the first of the three major Amalfi Coast towns you will want to visit when driving in this direction. Most tourist buses and guided tour drivers stop here, and you should too.
Make your way to the viewing area next to the stand, from where you can see the little pastel houses of Positano clinging to the hillsides. It’s a view worth the stop, especially if you have a bright sunny day and the ocean is a deep blue. It was a little drizzly and very cloudy when we visited, but I still enjoyed the views of Positano. From here, you can see how vertical the town really is.
Explore Pretty Positano
Next, on to explore the town of Positano, a must-stop place when driving the Amalfi Coast. This little town is called the “Jewel of the Amalfi Coast,” for good reason. It is the perfect picture postcard. And ideal for just walking around, so feel free to wander where you will, soaking in the views whilst savoring the obligatory gelato artigianale.
BROWSE THE SHOPS AND GALLERIES
From the parking lot, make your way along the little main street lined with stores, cafes and restaurants. You’ll see lots of boutique clothing stores in this little coastal town. You will also see stores offering pretty made-to-order sandals. And shops selling the ceramics for which the region is famous. Finally, lemon-themed items are everywhere in the region, and Positano is no exception.
Stop and browse the little art galleries in the town center. Pick up some lemon-scented soap bars or a pretty ceramic plate to take home.
VISIT THE SPIAGGIA GRANDE
The little street winds its way down to the shore at the Spiaggia Grande, where colorful umbrellas are lined up on the sand (it isn’t a proper beach, but a strip of pebbly sand nevertheless).
From the beach, you can look up at the houses of Positano for a different perspective of the town.
EXPLORE THE CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA ASSUNTA
The church of Santa Maria Assunta is right near the beach, so stop for a brief visit. Almost any of the staircases going up from the beach will bring you to the church. The dome of this church is a popular Instagram subject, and when you see the green, blue, and yellow majolica tiles that make up its exterior, you’ll see why it is perfect for photos. And its interior is gracious, in cream and gold, with a Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary.
Praiano and Fiordo di Furore
Continue driving along the Amalfi Coast to your next destination, Amalfi. You will pass Praiano, another little picture postcard town, and the Fiordo di Furore, the only fjord in Italy.
On a one-day Amalfi Coast drive, you likely won’t have the time to explore either, but if you spend a few days here, both should make your list of places to explore.
Discover Amazing Amalfi
Amalfi is the second must-stop town on your one-day Amalfi Coast drive. Amalfi used to be a maritime powerhouse until it was sadly decimated by a tsunami in 1343, and then the plague. Today it is a pretty little coastal town with a beautiful pier. It is located at the foot of the towering Monte Cerreto.
THE DUOMO DI AMALFI
For a little coastal town, Amalfi boasts a glitzy Duomo with a Byzantine facade and a Baroque interior. The Duomo is dedicated to St. Andrew. The little piazza at the foot of the Duomo steps is the center of action in Amalfi. Visit the duomo first and then stroll around the piazza.
At the Duomo complex, the Cloister of Paradise is gorgeous. Admire the five sacrophagi and the beautiful frescoes. Walk around the Arabic-style garden with its many palm trees. Also don’t miss the Byzantine bronze doors to the main portal.
Next, walk along the Via Lungomare dei Cavalieri, the road along the shore, to the Amalfi Pier. Walk out onto the pier that juts quite a bit out into the water for beautiful panoramic views of the entire town.
Amalfi is also famous for a paper mill that produces a special kind of thick paper called bambagina. The paper is made from a mix of linen, hemp, and cotton. You likely won’t be able to tour the Amatruda paper mill on a one-day visit, but browse the shops in the town center. You will find products made with the local paper, such as blank greeting cards or notebooks.
Have Lunch at a Restaurant with Water Views!
Have lunch in (or near) Amalfi. If you haven’t tasted limoncello, the lemon liqueur for which the region is renowned, try it now. Limoncello is made from sfusato amalfitano lemons grown in this region. These lemons are large and much longer than regular lemons and the flesh is much sweeter.
We had a lovely pasta lunch at a restaurant near Amalfi with stunning views of the water.
Then get back on the Amalfi Coast road for mile upon mile of stunning water views. You will pass the blink-and-you-will-miss-it bend in the road at Atrani, the miniscule Amalfi Coast town with the beautiful green dome of the Collegiate Santa Maria Maddalena.
Get a Taste of la Dolce Vita at Romantic Ravello
Your final destination on the drive is Ravello. It’s not on the main road but nonetheless a must-visit when driving the Amalfi Coast.
Even in this region of all-around extravagant beauty, romantic Ravello will steal your heart. Its clifftop location is a dizzying 1,100-plus feet above the coast. As a result, you enjoy jaw-dropping views of the Bay of Maiori, as well as breathtaking views of the surrounding emerald hillsides dotted with little houses.
Ravello has a simple Duomo and lovely old cobblestone streets. From April to October, Ravello hosts chamber music, piano and orchestral concerts on the grounds of the Villa Rufolo. More peaceful and less touristy than Positano and Amalfi, Ravello draws you into its scented lemon groves and elegant cliffside gardens to bask in la dolce vita.
Stroll the Gardens of the Villa Rufulo
The must-see sights in Ravello are definitely the Villa Cimbrone and the Villa Rufulo. We spent some time strolling around the Villa Rufulo.
With its charming crumbling walls, the twin towers made famous in Instagram feeds, and panoramic views of the water below, the Villa Rufulo is worth every cent of its admission fee.
Walk around and admire the colorful floral displays in season.
Admire the views from Villa Cimbrone
Originally built in the 11th century, the Villa Cimbrone was renovated in the 20th century and is now a luxurious hotel. You can visit the gardens of the villa, which are still open to the public.
Walk along the Terrace of Infinity, admiring the marble busts that line the wall. Take in the absolutely spectacular views of the blue waters below. This is the view that Gore Vidal said was the most beautiful he had ever seen in his travels.
Stroll around the gardens, with its pergola draped with wisteria, and its many statues and temples.
Drive Back to Sorrento
Your day on the Amalfi Coast is sadly nearing its end.
After you explore Ravello, return to Sorrento the way you came. Look out at the views out the window and bask in the experience of having done one of the most spectacular drives in the world.
My Tips for a Great Experience
Here are some tips to help you have a wonderful time on your Amalfi Coast drive:
WHICH TOWNS TO VISIT?
If you are driving the Amalfi Coast in one day, pick just three or four towns to explore, so you can spend a decent amount of time walking around and enjoying the atmosphere. While Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello are very beautiful, they are also the most popular stops along the drive. Know that in season, and even in the shoulder months, these towns will be crowded during the day. For a first visit, I’d still recommend these towns.
If you have the luxury of picking a day, check the weather forecast, and pick a bright sunny day. We had variable weather the day we went, with some clouds and sprinkles, and patches of bright sun. Your photos taken in bright sunlight will be amazing.
CAR AND DRIVER/TOUR
Splurge on a car and driver, so you can enjoy the views instead of dealing with the road, and traffic. You can also opt for a group tour from Sorrento, or a group tour from Naples. When I researched online while we were considering doing the drive ourselves, I read so many accounts of harrowing experiences that I decided to play it safe and book a car and driver. And I am so glad I did! Both my husband and I enjoyed a carefree day on the beautiful coast without having to worry about traffic, or parking, or the serpentine Amalfi Coast road, or other drivers.
BEST TIME FOR DRIVING THE AMALFI COAST
The best time to do the Amalfi Coast drive would definitely be in the shoulder months: April-May and September-October. In the winter months, although crowds will be less of a problem, the weather may be cold and rainy. In the spring, sweet-smelling citrus will be in bloom and temperatures warmer, so it’s a lovely time to visit. Summers can be hot, and you will encounter huge crowds everywhere, with accompanying traffic problems. In the fall, crowds taper off but temperatures are still pleasant, making it a great time to do the drive. We visited at the very end of September.
WHICH DIRECTION TO DRIVE THE AMALFI COAST?
As long as the driver is comfortable, doing the Amalfi Coast drive from west to east is preferable, because that’s the water side, and your views are unobstructed on the way in and as you are exploring. So you would start at Sorrento or Positano and drive towards Ravello, or Vietri sul Mare, which is even further east.
Driving the entire length of the Amalfi Coast Road on a day trip would make for a really long day and you will feel rushed when you stop to explore. I enjoyed our breaks and was glad we did only a part of the road. Even so, our day was about 10 hours.
Start as early in the day as is feasible, so you won’t be on the road at the peak time most people start, which is 9 a.m. from Sorrento. We requested a start time of 8 a.m., and paid a tad bit more to be able to have more photo stops on the way.
So there you have it: the perfect one-day itinerary for driving the spectacular Amalfi Coast of Italy. Have you done the Amalfi Coast drive? What did you enjoy most? Comment below to respond! If you haven’t done it yet, I hope you add the Amalfi Coast drive to your itinerary for your next visit to Italy!
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