One of the world’s most famous road trips, the Amalfi Drive (also known as SS163) is also perhaps Italy’s most beautiful 30 miles of coastline, and is certainly high on the list of Italy’s top tourist attractions. Carved into cliffs already incised by deep ravines, the road clings high above the Tyrrhenian Sea in a series of breathtaking views and curves bordered by near-vertical mountains on one side and long vertical drops on the other.
You don’t have to drive yourself, and unless you’re used to Italian roads, you probably shouldn’t. One thing is certain: if you do drive, you won’t see much of the landscape. It’s not a place to take your eyes off the road, even for a second, and there are very few places to stop. The most popular alternative is to take the bus. These run frequently and stop in the towns so you can get off, look around, swim, have a coffee or lunch and get back on a later bus. Depending on the section of the route, SITA buses run every hour or two. The city Amalfi is the favorite stopping point, especially for travelers who take two days for the trip. One thing to remember: if you go by bus, go from west to east, starting in Sorrento, and try for a window seat on the right side of the bus. When you drive, you go from east to west, so you are on the inner lane.
Another way to see this coast, and best for those in good physical condition who have the time, is on foot or a combination of walking and bus travel. Footpaths, stone steps and ancient mule tracks meander along the coast, passing through forests, lemon groves, wildflowers and small villages, with almost constant sea views. At any time you can stop to take photos, have a picnic or just take in the view. The most beautiful part of the trail – and that’s a tall order here – is the Sentiero degli Dei, Footpath of the Gods, on the west side of Positano. Several outfitters arrange accommodation and luggage transfers for independent hikers, or you can join a week-long group tour.
Read also: Exploring the Amalfi Coast’s Top Attractions
This westernmost town on the Amalfi Coast has clearly been discovered, as you can see by the chic fashions and the tanned men wearing them. It’s easy to understand the appeal of Positano when you see the flower-draped pastel-colored houses cascading down the steep slope to the beach. Apart from the 13th century church of Santa Maria Assunta, with its majolica tile dome and Byzantine icon of a black Madonna (brought here by pirates, according to legend), the only things to see are the narrow alleys near the harbor and possibly celebs sitting in the cafes. There are more things to do on the beach, where you can rent rowing boats, paddle boats, sailboats, Zodiacs and motorboats, or embark for a cruise along the coast to Capri. Just east of Positano it’s just as trendy praianoalso with a tiled church and not far beyond that the road crosses the deep and dramatic gorge of Vallone di Furore.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Positano
Grotta dello Smeraldo (Emerald Cave)
Near the village of Conca dei Marini, stairs and an elevator descend to a sea cave. You may wonder how a sea cave got stalactites, but it wasn’t always at sea level. The cave was formed higher up, but the volcanic activity in the region (you are not that far from Mount Vesuvius here) changed the sea and ground level and placed the cave where the sea could wash. Like the blue cave in Capri, sunlight shining through the water makes it look as if it has been lit from within, in this case in an emerald glow. The water is so clear that it is possible to look at the bottom. Boats wait at the cave entrance to take you inside, or you can take a boat to the cave from the beach in Amalfi, about a 15-minute drive away.
Address: Route 163, Conca dei Marini, Amalfi
From Atrani, just east of Amalfi, a winding road (SS 373) climbs through orange groves to Ravello, an ancient town in a beautiful location overlooking the sea from the edge of the deep Valle del Dragone (Valley of the Dragons). The lush gardens that once surrounded his villas are now parks, each with a better vantage point than the last.
You may wonder about the number of churches in such a small town, but like Amalfi it was once much larger. In its 13th century heyday it had a population of 36,000 inhabitants, with churches, monasteries, villas and palaces. In the 12th century church of San Giovanni del Toro, remodeled in Baroque style, is a mosaic pulpit decorated with Persian majolica; in the crypt are frescoes of scenes from the life of Christ. In the center of the city is the Romanesque Cathedral of San Pantaleone, begun in 1086 and also renovated in Baroque style, and like the churches at Amalfi and Atrani, the bronze doors were cast in Constantinople. Inside are two excellent marble pulpits, both intricately inlaid. There are designs of mythical creatures and biblical scenes. You can walk back to Amalfi on the Sentiero Atrani, a long steep staircase that winds through lemon groves and past breathtaking views. Wait at least 90 minutes.
The gray stone tower opposite the cathedral is the gateway to a villa whose gardens and terrace views inspired Wagner’s magical garden in Klingsor nearby Parsifal. The villa began life in the 13th century as a fortified manor house/farmhouse and continued to grow with successive generations until it was known to have more than 300 rooms (probably an exaggeration). The oldest remaining part is the 30 meter long stone watchtower. In the 18th century a Neo-Moorish monastery was added and in the 19th century the grounds were transformed into romantic gardens. Most of the buildings are now in ruins, which have been incorporated as garden features. Restored portions are used for art exhibitions and the grounds are the scene of concerts and an excellent summer festival with world-renowned artists and orchestras.
Address: Piazza Duomo, Ravello
Official site: https://www.villarufolo.it/home.html
Villa Cimbrone Gardens
Past the Church of San Francesco, which has a Romanesque cloister, and the Church of Santa Chiara, you will find Villa Cimbrone. An avenue runs through the beautiful park to the Belvedere Cimbrone with an incomparable view of the Amalfi Coast. Wander from this promenade to find flower gardens behind walls and an extensive collection of bits and pieces – statues, fountains, columns, temples, wells and architectural elements – brought here from ruins in this area and beyond. These were collected by the English gentleman who bought the villa in 1904 and idiosyncratically incorporated into the midst of the greenery and flowers in the gardens.
Address: Via Santa Chiara 26, Ravello
Official site: www.villacimbrone.com
Vallone delle Ferriere
For a break from the beaches, one of the unique things to do in the Amalfi Coast is to walk through the deep valley named after the medieval foundries, the ruins of which you can see here. The path to the valley starts in Pontone and ends six kilometers later in Amalfi. As you approach the town, you pass watermills that once powered Amalfi’s paper industry. The path, which is quite easy, descends into forests of chestnuts and passing stands of rare ferns, along a stream that falls into several waterfalls. The steep ridges on each side protect the valley from the worst winter winds and from the intense summer heat, creating a temperate and humid microclimate where rare plants flourish, some dating back to the pre-glacial era. The central part of the path runs through a protected nature reserve.
At the eastern end of the Amalfi Peninsula, where the hills descend steeply to the Gulf of Salerno, is the site of ancient Salernum, now Salerno. Salerno became the seat of the Fascist government during World War II. Subsequent bombings and the Allied invasion in 1943 left only the partially ruined Castello di Arechi on the hill northwest of the city; a pair of arcs of a Roman aqueduct; and the cathedral, the only sight of any special interest to tourists.
Built around 1080 and restored in 1768 and again after 1945, the Cathedral of San Matteo houses the remains of the Evangelist Matthew, brought here from Paestum, and one of the most important holy relics of Italy. St. Matthew is depicted in a mosaic above the doorway; the beautiful bronze doors were made in Constantinople in 1099. A staircase leads to a courtyard with 28 columns from Paestum and 14 sarcophagi, which were also washed away from the ancient site. In the nave, note the two 12th-century pulpits with detailed mosaic decoration and nearby, an Easter candlestick in a similar style. At the end of the north aisle is the ornate tomb of Margaret of Anjou (1412) and in the chapel to the right of the main altar is the tomb of Pope Gregory VII, who died in Salerno in 1085. The choir and the floor are decorated with mosaics. After visiting the cathedral, the Museo Archeologico has some local antiquities worth checking out if you don’t plan to continue on to Paestum.
Address: Piazza Alfano I, Salerno
Tips and tours: how to get the most out of your visit to the Amalfi Coast
An organized tour to the Amalfi Coast is the best way to enjoy the spectacular coastal scenery. You can sit back and enjoy the views as an experienced driver navigates the narrow, windy roads. These tours also include convenient hotel pickup and drop-off, as well as an expert guide.
- Day trip from Sorrento: The day trip to Amalfi Coast takes you past the quaint villages along this breathtaking coastline, with stops in the popular seaside town of Positano; the famous town of Amalfi; and the hilltop village of Ravello, where you can explore the beautiful gardens of the 13th-century Villa Rufolo.
- Day trip from Naples: For a completely flexible itinerary tailored to your specific interests, the Private Tour: Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello Day Trip is a great option. See the sights from the comfort of a private, chauffeur-driven car and stop wherever you like to take photos and explore these four picturesque villages.
More destinations to see near the Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast shares a peninsula with Sorrento, and along with Pompeii and Herculaneum, it is one of the easiest day trips from Sorrento. You can take a boat from Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast or from the city of Naples north to the island of Capri. South of Salerno are the ancient Greek sites of Paestum.