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Inside: How to plan a trip to Italy’s jaw-dropping Amalfi coast… without breaking the bank.
I visited Positano once before, on Round the World #4. It was spectacular, but it was also January and everything was closed for the season.
I’m excited to return during the summer season and share this gorgeous part of Italy with my husband Dave.
But before I get to our Amalfi Coast journey (and how we did it without breaking the bank), let’s cover the basics…
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Why is the Amalfi Coast so famous?
Stretching more than 30 miles along Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula, the sun-kissed Amalfi Coast has charmed visitors for decades. From Sorrento to Salerno, a labyrinth of narrow alleys and gravity-defying stairways connect mountain to sea with typical Italian flair.
Traditional white-washed houses and magenta bougainvillea blend with the scent of lemon blossoms to create a dramatic landscape plucked from a watercolor painting.
It’s also home to some world-class hotels.
Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997, the Amalfi Coast is one Bucket List destination that truly lives up to the hype.
Amalfi Coast Towns – Is Positano the same as the Amalfi Coast?
Thirteen towns and villages line the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. Picturesque Positano just one of them but it’s widely considered the jewel of the region.
It’s also the most accessible town, making it the hub of mass tourism to the area. Amalfi, Ravello, Atrani, Maiori, Praiano, Furore, and Minori are also popular with visitors and well worth exploring.
What’s the best month to visit the Amalfi Coast?
Having visiting in both winter and summer, I can definitely say there are plusses to both. If you want to have it all to yourself, visit in the winter months.
Though, with most hotels and restaurants closed for the season, you’ll likely have to base in nearby Sorrento and commute back and forth (honestly, not terrible at all).
June, July, and August are the opposite of the peaceful winter months. While the weather is often spectacular, be prepared to pay the highest rates for hotels and fight the crowds on the narrow streets.
With that said, the absolute best months to visit are the shoulder season months of May and September. During those months, expect mild sunny days and moderate crowds and hotel rates.
Tip: May is my all-time favorite month to travel anywhere in Europe, especially Italy and Greece.
How to Get to the Amalfi Coast
Most international visitors to the Amalfi Coast arrive in Rome or Naples, so let’s start there.
How to get from Rome to the Amalfi Coast
Most international flights into Italy arrive at Rome’s busy Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO). From there:
Getting from Rome to the Amalfi Coast takes a minimum of 4 hours. From Rome’s main Roma Termini station, take the high-speed train to Naples. Trains run approximately 3 times an hour. Travel time is 1 hour, 10 minutes and fares range from EUR 12 – 65 depending on the train.
From Naples, you have two options…
How to get from Naples to the Amalfi Coast
Naples International Airport (NAP) is the closest airport to the Amalfi Coast. From there:
By Ferry – The easiest way to get from Naples to the Amalfi Coast is by direct ferry to Positano. Ferries run twice daily from April – October departing from the Molo Beverello port. Travel time is 1 hour, 20 minutes, and tickets range from EUR 26-28, depending on the ferry line.
Tip: The best site for checking schedules and booking ferries in Italy is FerryHopper.com
By Train/Ferry – The Circumvesuviana train runs about every 30 minutes from Naples to Sorrento, departing from Track 3. Travel time ranges from 50-70 minutes depending on the train. Tickets cost EUR 3.60. Note: This is also the train to Pompeii.
From Sorrento you have 3 options…
Sorrento to Amalfi Coast
- Ferry from Sorrento to Positano – Ferries run frequently from April – October. Travel time is 40 minutes (incredible scenery at no extra charge!). Tickets range from EUR 15-17.
- SITA BUS – Travel time is 45 minutes. Look for the ticket booth at the Circumvesuviana station. Tickets CANNOT be purchased onboard the bus. Tickets are EUR 10 for 24 hours of unlimited rides between most Amalfi Coast towns. Don’t forget to validate your ticket on your first ride. Note: Buses can be VERY crowded during the summer high season.
- Private car service or rental car – If cost is not a concern, I highly recommend a private car service. It’s hassle-free and relatively affordable. Prices vary widely but expect to pay around EUR 70 from Sorrento to Positano. I do not recommend renting a car in the Amalfi Coast. Parking is extremely limited, and the winding, narrow roads are somewhat harrowing with steep drop-offs.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s get back to the fun stuff!
As I mentioned, my husband Dave and I are currently on the lovely island of Ischia in need of a ride to Positano.
How to get from Ischia to Positano
From Ischia, we have two options:
- Ferry back to Naples (see Naples to Positano above).
- Ferry to Capri, change boats, then another ferry to Positano.
I don’t love Naples but I do love the idea of lunch in Capri. We book the 10:35am ferry to Capri.
Forty-five scenic minutes later, we arrive in Capri. We head straight for Capri’s ferry ticket office to book the next ferry to Positano.
How to get from Capri to Positano
Unfortunately, all boats to Positano are canceled for the day due to high seas.
However, larger boats depart every 30 minutes for Sorrento. New plan, we book a ferry ticket to Sorrento for 1pm and settle into a seaside trattoria for a tasty lunch.
The 30-minute ferry ride to Sorrento features spectacular views along the ride, especially as we arrive in the beautiful port of Sorrento.
It’s one of the most beautiful ports in all of Europe with hotels soaring atop the cliffs and sapphire waters in the bay. Conveniently, there is an elevator built into the cliffs to whisk you up top to the city center for just 1 euro.
We take advantage of the elevator ride to the main square. From there, it’s a short walk to the main train station where the SITA bus stop is located.
The SITA Bus to Positano then (off-season)
I have pleasant memories of my previous experience with the SITA bus from Sorrento to Positano. It was just 1 euro and ran frequently (even in the off-season).
It also doubled as the local school bus. So at certain times of the day it carried cheerful local kids on their way home from school.
Read More: Positively Perfect Positano
The SITA Bus to Positano now (in-season)
Things have changed a bit since my last visit. We find the bus stop easily and buy our tickets, now EUR 10 per person. (Either they are more expensive during the summer months or the price has increased considerably in the last few years!)
As we wait 20 minutes for the next bus, the crowd quickly swells. In fact, I begin to worry we won’t make it onto the bus at all.
Tickets aren’t numbered so when the bus arrives it’s a free-for-all. We struggle forward as people begin pushing and shoving. Dave takes our luggage to the other side to stow. I fight the crowd to score some seats.
Every available seat and standing space quickly fills for the 45-minute drive to Positano. It’s packed. It’s hot. And it’s the opposite of the pleasant, relaxed experience from my last trip.
A car service is definitely in order for our return trip to Sorrento. To heck with the budget.
Arrival in the Amalfi Coast gem of Positano
Nearly an hour later, we emerge from the sweaty bus at Positano’s main bus stop. Right into the thick of another crowd waiting to board.
In fact, bustling Positano is bursting at the seams with tourists, tour groups, and traffic.
Welcome to summer on the Amalfi Coast.
It’s not at all reminiscent of the peaceful village I remember. And I’m sure Dave is now wondering why we’ve come here at all. Especially compared to the tourist-free paradise of Procida we left just two days before.
The next challenge is getting to our hotel, which requires a change to another local bus. The SITA bus driver helpfully points out the stop and we cross the street with our bags to wait.
A budget-friendly hotel in the Amalfi Coast?
Since we are currently traveling in Europe for a month, I tried my level best to stick to a budget. Unfortunately, the Amalfi Coast area can be a real budget-buster!
With average rates in Positano nearing $1,000 a night (and the most popular hotels like legendary Le Sirenuse soaring well over that), I got creative.
Because the key to an affordable Amalfi Coast holiday is an affordable hotel. And that’s a tall order in Positano.
Enter Le Ghiande B&B…
After diligent research, I discover Le Ghiande B&B in Montepertuso, a small town nestled in the mountainside above Positano. It has terrific reviews and a rate under EUR 200 per night. Almost too good to be true.
But as we board another crowded bus to Montepertuso and climb higher into the hills away from Positano, I wonder if I made the right decision. Will the location be too remote?
Ten minutes later, we emerge at the stop for Le Ghiande. We’re greeted warmly and shown to our beautiful room with its own private sea-view terrace. Suddenly, I care a bit less about the commute into town.
A cool sea breeze blows gently across the terrace and, for the first time all day, it is quiet. Blissfully, peacefully, quiet.
We settle into our room and then head back to find our host for some local advice. He explains the bus schedule and how to buy tickets (1.70 euro each if bought on the bus, or 1.30 euro if bought in a tabacchi shop in advance).
Exploring Positano & the Amalfi Coast
Map and bus schedule in hand, we catch the next bus into town.
Buses run about every 30 minutes and the ride into central Positano takes 20 minutes. We quickly get the hang of the bus system and realize the peace of Montepertuso is actually a nice escape from the crowds in town.
For the rest of the afternoon, we explore the narrow streets of Positano. Later, we formulate a plan to see more of the Amalfi Coast during our short stay.
After our experience on the SITA bus, getting back on a bus to Amalfi or Atrani is not appealing. Instead, taking to the water seems like a much better idea!
We make our way down to the beach to visit the boat company stands near the pier.
The Affordable Way to See the Amalfi Coast by Sea
Metro del Mare
The most affordable option for touring the Amalfi Coast by sea is the Metro del Mare.
These public boats connect nearly every town along the Amalfi Coast from Naples to Salerno and beyond. Tickets in the Amalfi Coast area cost between EUR 9-15 depending on the distance traveled.
The other way? A romantic splurge
However, since we saved a fortune on our hotel and our 2nd anniversary is just a few days away, we’re looking for something special.
After evaluating the available boat trips, we splurge on a private boat trip with a company called Cassiopea for tomorrow.
Yes, it’s pricey (EUR 380 for a 3-hour trip). But it will give us the freedom to visit all the places we want to see in a single afternoon.
Excited for our excursion tomorrow, we head back up to town for dinner before hopping on the bus back to Le Ghiande.
That night we sip limoncello on our terrace and marvel at the difference in atmosphere between Montepertuso and Positano.
One, full of locals on a quiet mountainside with million-dollar views. The other, full of tourists with million-dollar hotel prices.
No contest. We made the right choice.
Exploring the Amalfi Coast by Sea
The next morning begins with breakfast and panoramic sea views on Le Ghiande’s expansive terrace. Then we’re off to catch the bus into town to meet our boat.
The boat in question is a gorgeous teak-trimmed Italian speedboat straight out of Amalfi Coast central casting.
And it’s all ours for the next 3 hours.
Our captain, Antonio, outlines a rough plan for the day. First, a cruise along the coast to the towns of Praiano, Amalfi, Atrani, Minori, and Maiori. With plenty of secluded beaches, grottoes and cliffside fortresses in between.
We can stop in any of the towns to explore or anchor for a swim anywhere we like. Or we can simply stay on the boat and see as much of the coastline as possible.
We throw off the lines in busy Positano and head out to the serenity of the sea.
Over the next few hours, Dave and I experience the jaw-dropping beauty of the Amalfi Coast as it is best seen, from the sea. It’s our own slice of private Amalfi Coast paradise.
We cruise along the jagged coastline stopping for a peek in blue grottoes. We pass the Marina di Praia, the hidden beach at Furore, and countless 5-star hotels. And later, the towns of Amalfi, Atrani, Minori, and Maiori.
With a private boat, we are able to see so much more than we could have by land or by public boat. Yes, it was a splurge but it was absolutely worth every penny.
As we begin our ride back toward Positano, Antonio pops the cork on a bottle of prosecco. We lounge on the forward deck sipping wine hand-in-hand. Savoring the views for the entire ride back.
A more romantic 2nd anniversary I cannot imagine.
Back to reality in Positano
We grab a late lunch and spend some time wandering the shops before catching the bus to the hotel.
While in town, we also book a private car back to Sorrento for tomorrow. The ferries still aren’t running and, at 70 euro, the car service is well worth the price to avoid the bus.
A romantic (& affordable) dinner in Montepertuso
After an incredible day, I didn’t think anything could top it for dinner.
But on the bus back to Montepertuso, we run into one of the boat guys we met yesterday while researching boat trips. He lives in Montepertuso and recommends we try La Terra for dinner.
The same restaurant also came highly recommended by the folks at Le Ghiande. So after cleaning up at the hotel we walk over to check it out.
And wow, I’m so glad we did! It was hands-down the best meal of the entire trip.
Just down the road from Le Ghiande, La Terra is an ancient stone farmhouse overlooking the bay of Positano. The views from the dining room are out of this world but the food is even better. A family-run restaurant, they grow much of the food they serve in their own garden.
We try different salads and pasta dishes and everything we taste is outstanding.
We are lucky to get in without a reservation and are pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices (unlike in Positano). Even if you’re not staying in Montepertuso, La Terra is still well worth a trip. They also offer a free shuttle service from your hotel.
We linger over a romantic dinner and then make the short walk back to Le Ghiande. A limoncello nightcap on our incredible terrace is a fitting end to a marvelous Italian day.
Positano to Sorrento
The next morning, our driver arrives promptly at 10:00am for the drive to Sorrento.
An hour later, we arrive at the lovely Hilton Sorrento Palace. We have one more day to enjoy Sorrento before moving on to central Italy and the Republic of San Marino tomorrow.
Our spacious room at the Hilton features a fabulous terrace overlooking Sorrento and Mount Vesuvius. But before we explore Sorrento, we’ve got another nearby stop to make.
A Day Trip to Pompeii
Situated between Sorrento and Naples, Pompeii is an easy day trip from either city.
The walk from the Hilton to the Sorrento train station is a quick 10 minutes. 30 minutes later we step off the train near the entrance to the ruins of Pompeii.
At the turn of the first century A.D., the town of Pompeii was a thriving resort area catering to Rome’s wealthiest citizens. Located just 5 miles from the base of Mount Vesuvius, the town’s paved streets were lined with elegant homes, shops, cafes, and even a 20,000-seat arena.
In August 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius famously erupted sending a plume of ashes and scorching-hot volcanic gases so high into the air. On the eve of the eruption, nearly 20,000 people lived in or near Pompeii.
Many escaped but more than 2,000 people died as millions of tons of volcanic ash buried the city.
Pompeii remained untouched for 2,000 years until a group of explorers uncovered the city in 1748. Incredibly, under all that dust, the city was remarkably well-preserved. Entire buildings intact and skeletons frozen right where they’d fallen.
Today, the excavation of Pompeii continues, captivating archaeologists and tourists, alike. Walking the eerie streets and exploring the site with the imposing facade of Vesuvius in the distance is a fascinating experience.
You could spend days discovering the site. However, with today’s intense summer heat we last about 3 hours before returning to the train station for the short ride back to Sorrento.
Last night in the Amalfi Coast
Back at the hotel, we change for dinner and walk into town. The cobbled streets of Sorrento are lined with charming shops beckoning for a little last-minute Amalfi Coast shopping.
Later, we settle into a seaside café for sunset drinks, followed by an excellent dinner at an off-the-beaten-path trattoria.
It’s the perfect way to wrap up our incredible (and extremely affordable) week in the Amalfi Coast! There’s no doubt the Amalfi Coast is one of the world’s greatest destinations and it easily makes my list of 30 most extraordinary travel experiences around the world.
Here are 29 more if you’re curious: Around the World in 30 Extraordinary Travel Experiences
Tomorrow, we will take the train back to Naples to pick up a rental car for the remainder of our Italian adventure.
After San Marino, we’ll hit the beaches of Tuscany’s Elba Island and then wrap up our trip in the colorful Italian Riviera.
Read More: Elba Island: Tuscany’s Best Beaches
Next stop, the mountainous microstate of San Marino!
Looking for more great destinations in Italy? Start here: