Italy’s Amalfi Coast drive is one of the most stunning coastal roads in Europe. It’s both breathtakingly beautiful and, at the same time, slightly terrifying. Around every hairpin bend on the sea-side of the winding corniche is a view more spectacular than the one before.
Driving the Amalfi Coast is one of the top things to do in Italy. Definitely a bucket list experience. The Costiera Amalfitana (SS163) weaves its way along the Italian coastline for over 60 kilometres starting at Sorrento and heading south before ending at Vietri sul Mare.
The Amalfi Coast road links the towns of Positano, Praiano, Ravello and, of course, Amalfi along the way. Much of the road is hewn from the near-vertical, limestone cliffs which plunge into the sapphire Tyrrhenian Sea far below.
Driving the Amalfi Coast
As we zig-zag our way down the coast, tour buses pass within a hair’s breadth on the narrow ribbon of road, nippy Vespers weave their way through the traffic and locals hoot their horns impatiently. Fortunately, Hugo, the owner of the little blue Fiat we’re squashed into, is a skilful driver and he’s keen to preserve his paintwork…
Terraces of lemon trees, vineyards, olive-groves line the road and fishing villages are dotted along the coast. Pastel-painted houses cling precariously to the steep hillsides and tumble over one another as they scurry downwards towards the ocean.
We start at Sorrento, the best-unobstructed views are to our right and Giovanna, our guide, tells us of local legend and folklore as we pass one breathtaking view after another.
We pass Li Galli, an archipelago of three small islands, from where the mythological Sirenuse (Sirens) were said to have lured sailors to their deaths on the rocks with their enchanting voices. They also lured Rudolf Nureyev the ballet dancer to the islands where he made his home in his later years.
Li Galli Isles on the left and Positano right
The little Fiat struggles up steep inclines and we pass picture-postcard Positano. I’d loved to have stopped to explore, however, there’s only limited parking on the upper road and not one space to be seen on the day we were there. I looked wistfully back over my shoulder at the pastel-hued town as we left it behind.
Some of the prettiest views are looking back to Positano town as you head towards Amalfi. Not being able to stop was such a tease, my trigger finger itching to click away, another time maybe. Fortunately I was able to visit Positano the following year.
We continue through Praiano, passing St John the Baptist church, its Majolica tiled dome glistening with the traditional Majolica colours of the region. Yellow for the sparkling sun, blue for the cobalt sea and green for the lush vegetation.
The road snakes on until we arrive in the small harbour town of Amalfi; shoe-horned into a narrow ravine at the top end of town and tumbling out into the bay at the other.
The town of Amalfi
There’s a large car park by the beach and we park up and wander through the town whose name conjures images of 50s film stars, Martinis and sleek white yachts. Amalfi’s small harbour is overlooked by steep cliffs upon which stunning villas, houses and hotels perch admiring the view below.
Amalfi harbour, Italy
We climb a charming alleyway. It’s steep, draped with blue flags and very pretty. It’s not all about 50s chic in Amalfi, the town is home to an elaborate ninth-century Christian cathedral, its 62 steps spilling down into the Piazza Duomo below.
The Duomo di Santa Andrea is dedicated to, and said to contain the remains of, apostle St Andrew. If you visit take a walk around to the back to the peaceful Chiostro del Paradiso, a Moorish-style cloister and tropical garden. It’s a peaceful corner in a busy town. The Piazza’s fountain is also worth a closer look.
After a coffee, how we managed not to succumb to the delectable Italian pastries I’ll never know.
If your Amalfi Coast drive continues south you might consider a stop Palazzo Belmonte Historic Residence in Santa Maria di Castellabate. Read more about Palazzo Belmonte on Christina’s Cucina.
Return drive to Sorrento
All too soon it was time to make the return journey back to Sorrento.
We stopped for lunch above the town of Positano at a gorgeous hilltop restaurant, La Tagliata. If you only have time to eat one meal in Positano make it La Tagliata. Read my La Tagliata review – one of the best meals I’ve ever had for so many reasons.
On the way back to Sorrento we travelled on the inside lane; the views aren’t quite as good, as you’re looking through the outside lane of traffic, but not nearly as hairy either – or as exhilarating!
Positano and the Amalfi Coast road, Italy
Have I whetted your appetite for the Amalfi Coast? Here are some other ways to drive the Amalfi Coast.
The Amalfi Coast drive, by bus
The SITA bus departs twice-hourly from the front of the Sorrento train station to Positano, continuing on to Amalfi. You can buy individual tickets (€1.40–€2.50 per sector) or buy a UnicoCostiera pass for unlimited travel all along the Amalfi Coast – valid for 24 hours (€6) or 3 days (€15).
The bus gets busy in high season and a seat is not guaranteed. For the best views when travelling from Sorrento to Amalfi sit on the right-hand side of the bus (as you face the front) and swap to the left for the return journey.
For a different perspective on the return journey, a ferry is a good option giving beautiful views of the coastline from the water. Frequency varies seasonally and there are roughly six daily trips between Amalfi and Positano (20 min €6) and four daily between Amalfi and Sorrento (60 min €7).
If you’re feeling reckless/brave you could hire a car and drive yourself but that’s not something I’d recommend if you really want to take in the views. If you drive your eyes will be on the oncoming traffic. Out of season would be less crowded but still not for the faint-hearted. Parking is very limited in the smaller towns.
Have you done the Amalfi Coast drive? Share your tips in the comments below.