The Road Tripper's Guide
The Ultimate Driving Guide to the Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is one of Italy’s most breathtaking regions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Connecting the principal villages along the coast is an 80-kilometer stretch of curvaceous highway known as the Strada Statale 163 (SS-163). The SS-163 is hands-down one of the world’s most scenic drives. So, buckle up for hairpin bends, vertical villages, and some of the most memorable sights you’ll ever lay eyes on!
Table of Contents
If you’re traveling from Rome, Sorrento is your getaway to the Amalfi Coast. Consider spending a day or two in Sorrento. You can use it as a base from which to visit Naples and Pompeii, or simply indulge in the local gastronomy, nightlife, and shopping scenes. Summers in Sorrento mean lots and lots of tourists, so consider timing your trip during the off-season to really take in the city’s unique flare. If crowds aren’t your thing, start your engine and drive on to the next town.
- Best for: gastronomy, nightlife, shopping, central
- Next Stop: 25 – 32-minute drive
2. Sant’agata sui Due Golfi
Literally, “Saint Agatha between Two Gulfs,” this village is tucked between the Bay of Naples and the Bay of Salerno. Even though this town is not exactly on the coast, it’s an authentic Amalfi town. Check out the Greek necropolis and the Monastero del Deserto, a Carmelite monastery that has attracted the likes of Stendhal and Goethe for its magnificent views of the Bays.
- Best for: smaller crowds, historical sites
- Next Stop: 13 – 16-minute drive
Not far from Sant’agata sui Due Golfi, you’ll find Nerano – home of the sirens who lured Ulysses’ ship astray in Homer’s Odyssey. Besides enchanting mythological hybrids, Nerano is also known for its crystal clear waters, favored by beach-dwellers and scuba divers. For a small town, the food scene packs a big punch. And, since Nerano attracts fewer tourists than most towns, prices are lower and crowds are smaller.
- Best for: beaches, swimming, diving, gastronomy, prices, smaller crowds
- Next Stop: 52 – 75-minute drive
Pastel-colored homes brace a precipitous seaside cliff, while cobalt waters break against the sandy shore below. Is it any wonder Positano is known locally as the “vertical town”? If you haven’t seen it in real life, you’ve probably seen it on postcards. The town’s bright and intricate layout regularly attracts the rich and famous. Positano makes a great stop on your itinerary for up-scale shopping, bumping nightlife, and boutique hotels. Beach-dwellers should keep in mind that there are but a few beaches here.
- Best for: nightlife, high-end shopping, boutique hotels, architecture
- Next Stop: 15 – 20-minute drive
Located halfway between Amalfi and Positano, Praiano boasts gorgeous views extending from the Bay of Naples to the island of Capri. This oft-forgotten place definitely wins the title of Amalfi’s most romantic town and is a perfect stop for honeymooners and lovebirds. Hikers won’t be disappointed either; Praiano is the gateway to the Sentiero degli Dei hiking trail – literally, Trail of the Gods. Or maybe you’d prefer to simply soak up the sun and bask in the warm Mediterranean waters? Well, you’re in luck! Praiano’s beach is sun-kissed from dawn till dusk.
- Best for: romantic getaways, hiking, beaches, views, smaller crowds
- Next Stop: 15 – 20-minute drive
6. Conca dei Marini
With a population of roughly 100, you may be wondering why you’d want to stop in this sleepy hamlet of a town. Conca is home to the legendary Grotta dello Smeraldo, or Emerald Grotto. For €5, you can take a boat ride across the green waters and stalactites mazes in this partially submerged cave. For gastronomers, the local dessert is a must-taste; the Santa Rosa sfogliatella is a delicious pastry, whose inception dates to the 17th-century. If you go in August, you can even attend a festival celebrating the pastry’s delicious legacy.
- Best for: natural scenery, mouth-watering pastries, lower prices, small crowds
- Next Stop: 10 – 15-minute drive
Italy’s four maritime republics are Venice, Pisa, Genoa, and — you guessed it — Amalfi, hence the eponymous Coast. After Positano and Sorrento, Amalfi is the Coast’s most bustling town. While Amalfi’s nightlife isn’t as memorable as Positano’s, it offers a similar vibe with a smaller burden on your bank account. There’s a wide array of sand and pebble beaches to choose from. It’s also conveniently located; drive fifty minutes west to Sorrento, or fifty minutes east to Salerno.
- Best for: beaches, nightlife, gastronomy, good vibes
- Next Stop: 3 – 6-minute drive
The smallest town in all southern Italy, Atrani is literally Amalfi’s next-door neighbour. It’s an off-the-beaten path alternative to Amalfi and offers tourists a great variety of beach life and historical sight-seeing in its centro storico.
- Best for: beaches, history, smaller crowds, lower prices
- Next Stop: 15 – 20-minute drive
Suspended on a cliff above the Mediterranean Sea, what Ravello lacks in beaches it makes up for in breathtaking views. Ravello is the highest point on the SS-163, at 350 meters above sea level. Besides its majestic panoramas, its lush gardens and smaller crowds make it a beautiful setting for a romantic getaway. If you’re a music lover, don’t forget to check out the annual Ravello Festival, where you’ll be able to catch a symphony at the top of the world.
- Best for: Instagram-worthy views, smaller crowds, Ravello Festival, architecture
- Next Stop: 20 – 30-minute drive
Even amidst July’s sweltering heat, Minori’s microclimate almost always guarantees a cool breeze. Known as the “City of Taste” for its lemon trees, vineyards, and (most importantly) its world-famous pasta. Since the 16th-century, Minori has been producing the world’s most mouth-watering noodles. Put another way: Minori is to pasta what Tuscany is to wine. This quiet town also makes a great base for boat excursions.
- Best for: PASTA! Boat excursions
- Next Stop: 20 – 25-minute drive
The title for Amalfi’s Biggest Beach goes to Maiori. While the scenery’s not as striking as Ravello, and the houses not as colorful as Positano, Maiori definitely delivers when it comes to beaches. The long, flat, sandy stretches of beach are great for families who don’t want to worry about their children hurting themselves on rocky shores. Maiori offers many convenient beach-front hotels and restaurants, smaller crowds, and cheaper prices. History buffs need to check out the Villa Marittima Romana, Amalfi’s most archaeologically important ruins. You can also explore Grotta di Pandora, a nearby sea cave.
- Best for: BEACHES! Natural scenery, families, lower prices, history
- Next Stop: 5 – 10-minute drive
With such a strange-sounding name, you may be wondering about its origins. According to legend, Erchie was founded by the great Hercules himself as his Grecian ship came ashore. Because the southern end of the town is not accessible via car, the town is renowned for its smog-free, quiet, and unspoiled beaches. A Norman Tower sits poised at the tip of the beach, dominating the low skyline and adding a rustic flare.
- Best for: unspoiled beaches, historic sites
- Next Stop: 6 – 10-minute drive
Of all the Amalfi Coasts’ towns, perhaps none is as traditional as Cetara. Unlike many of the tourism driven towns on the coast, Cetara relies on its fishing-based economy to survive. You can imagine it boasts some of the best seafood around, especially tuna (but don’t tell that to the rest of the coast!). Be sure to try the local Colatura di Alici, a local sauce made with freshly caught anchovies that dates to the Roman period.
- Best for: authentic vibes, world-famous seafood
- Next Stop: 16 – 21-minute drive
14. Vietri sul Mare
Just two miles outside of Salerno, this small hamlet boasts good food, great views, and a long tradition of richly colored ceramics. Vietri sul Mare is the cradle of Italy’s famous earthenware pottery known as majolica. Because the town doesn’t cater to tourists, it makes a great stop for those looking for a peaceful and authentic Amalfi Coast town.
- Best for: authentic vibes, amazing ceramics, lower prices
- Next Stop: 16 – 22-minute drive
Though not officially part of the Amalfi Coast, Salerno is the de facto end of the SS-163. That said, it’s an urban hub of culture, food, and transportation. From here, you can catch a train to Rome or Pompeii. The centro storico has many ornate churches, including the Medieval Cathedral. There are also many beaches, a variety of decadent restaurants, and an eclectic nightlife scene that ranges from quaint pubs to wild clubs. Like Sorrento, Salerno is a big city; however, it has a distinctly small-town vibe and fewer tourists.
- Best for: laid-back vibes, transportation, nightlife, gastronomy, architecture
BONUS — Capri
If you have time for a little detour, or just want to take a break from the wheel, consider planning a day trip to the island of Capri. This Tyrrhenian paradise is located on the west end of the Sorrento peninsula. It’s long been a tourist draw for the rich and famous, but even those travelling on a budget can enjoy this breathtaking place. Take the chairlift up Monte Solaro, meander through the scandalous Villa Lysis, or simply enjoy the many precipitous views from the quiet and charming Anacapri.
Ferries to Capri run year-round from Naples and Sorrento. In the summer months, additional ferry routes depart from Ischia, Positano, Salerno, and Amalfi. It is mostly prohibited to bring vehicles onto the island, but if you’re a non-resident road-tripper traveling between November and Easter, you’ll be allowed. That said, Capri is easily enjoyed on foot and has an excellent public transportation system.
Best for: island life, beautiful views, up-scale everything, and leaving the car behind
Driving really is the best way to see the Amalfi Coast on your own terms; you can spend a few days in each place, or simply drop in for an espresso. Keep in mind that because the Amalfi Coast is such a beautiful and compact region, summertime traffic reaches nightmarish proportions (especially if there’s construction or an accident.)
The up-shot is that driving through all 15 towns only takes about five hours without traffic, meaning you can really take your time in enjoying each and every unique destination. Best advice? Leave early and make sure to check your routes before you hit the road!
Oh, and one last piece of advice: If you’re a southbound road-tripper, you must contend with driving the SS-163 cliff-side, while northbound travelers have the luxury of hugging the mountainside. If you happen to be a confident driver, you will no doubt enjoy the white-knuckle curves! But, if not, consider driving this itinerary in reverse.
Feel free to click on our interactive map above and customize it to your liking. You can also leave your thoughts and questions in the comments section below! Looking for more southern Italy road trip ideas? Check out our Road Tripper’s 3 Day Itinerary to Puglia. To book you next Italian getaway, explore THE STELLA’s curated collection and find your dream home today!