Hugging the steep cliffs and overlooking indescribably beautiful views over the twinkling turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea, the Amalfi Drive is a must for all road trips enthusiasts. With colourful, terraced citrus tree orchards, picturesque small towns clinging to the steep cliffs and sharp twists and turns that are guaranteed to get your heart rate soaring, there is never a dull moment on this drive. However, the extremely narrow road and precipitous drops also make this a slightly more challenging route to manoeuvre a car on. Here are ten tips to consider before driving off.
1. The smaller the better – picking the right car
Photo: A small car like the one in the picture is definitely a smart choice for a road trip on the Amalfi coast as it will make parking so much easier. However, there’s not much space for luggage.
When selecting your vehicle of choice remember to keep in mind that the Amalfi roads are extremely narrow and parking usually takes place in very confined places. In other words, there are some pretty obvious disadvantages to having a large car.
A good guideline when it comes to picking a rental car for the Amalfi road trip is Less is more. The smaller the car, the easier it’s to get around.
However, don’t let your enthusiasm cloud your judgement while browsing through the car rental’s selection of tiny Mini Coopers and Smart cars. In case you’re planning on jumping into the rental at the airport make sure you take into account all passengers’ luggage. For example, some of the teeniest cars don’t have enough space for large suitcases in the trunk. In other words, choose the smallest car available that still fits your needs.
Photo: We’ve rented a Peugeot 208 and a BMW 116 for our Amalfi road trips. Both good options: small, yet spacious and enjoyable to drive.
2. Make sure you have a navigation system
Photo: The roads feel crazy whilst driving, but seeing them on the screen of the navigation system makes them even more unbelievable. Prepare yourself for zig-zagging down cliffs and hairpin bends.
Although you might be travelling with someone who is an excellent map-reader, consider choosing a car with a navigation system.
Even the least carsick person might start feeling iffy on these steep, zig-zagging roads if simultaneously looking at a map and attempting to give directions. Depending on which car rental you’re using, you’ll probably pay extra for a navigation system, but believe me, it’s worth it!
3. Timing is key – how to avoid traffic jams
Photo: During the summer months, traffic gets very heavy on the small and narrow Amalfi Drive. This picture is taken in April, a great month for an Amalfi road trip.
If you want to make sure your road trip is a nice and enjoyable experience, make sure you plan wisely. Road tripping along the Amalfi Drive during the summertime high season is a recipe for disaster. Unless of course you happen to love spending time in a sizzling hot car while traffic comes to a standstill.
If you want to avoid the worst rush hour and traffic mayhem consider avoiding the months of June, July and August. Locals usually recommend anything from mid-September or early October to May.
Taking into account other factors as optimal weather, best pricing and all-around experience, the best time for a road trip is spring and autumn. Try late April or late September for example.
4. Watch out for tailbacks and one-lane areas
Photo: One-lane roads and areas are not uncommon in the Amalfi region. For example, driving through Amalfi, you’ll find one-lane roads like the one pictured.
The Amalfi Drive is no four-lane autobahn. Even though planning will improve your odds of beating the worst rush hours, remember that this road will never be completely free of the occasional traffic jam.
Roadwork, inexperienced drivers getting stuck, two large vehicles unable to pass each other or even accidents are all examples of situations that might grind traffic to a halt.
Some roads and some parts of roads in the Amalfi region are one-lane roads. In other words, they are so narrow that they fit only one vehicle at a time. There will be a traffic light or a traffic officer indicating whether it’s your turn to drive or wait.
Due to this, a tailback might suddenly appear as if from nowhere when navigating a corner. Remember to take this into consideration while driving and slow down.
5. Amalfi drive is only for the experienced driver
Photo: Although a challenging route to manoeuvre, the Amalfi Drive is a bucket list road trip destination for experienced drivers. Prepare yourself for jaw-droppingly amazing scenery, old bridges and a thrilling experience.
Many people fear driving on the Amalfi coast in vain. With a little planning and a good car there’s no need to steer clear of this drive.
However, there are some things that make this drive a slightly more challenging road trip route. The extremely narrow roads sometimes barely allow two cars to squeeze past each other, let alone a bus. With razor-sharp cliffs on one side and precipitous drops on the other, the space to manoeuvre is cramped to say the least.
This is not a suitable route for rookie drivers. When selecting your driver, make sure to choose wisely. Pick someone who has had his or her license for a while and has a lot of experience driving, preferably even someone who has driven in a foreign country before.
The driver should have nerves of steel and be someone who doesn’t panic when he/she finds him- or herself in a tough situation. The driver should be someone with a good understanding for the dimensions of any vehicle he/she operates.
Anyone who drives recklessly, takes unnecessary risks, generally doesn’t obey speed limits or is prone to road rage should not take the driver’s seat on this particular route (or any other route for that matter).
6. Don’t skip on insurance
Photo: Make sure your insurance covers most mishaps that could come your way. The sharp turns, narrow roads and limited parking space are a recipe for scratches and dents.
Saving on insurance is always a bad idea while driving in Italy and the Amalfi coast is no exception. Making sure your insurance covers as many possible situations as possible is smart and will certainly make your holiday more relaxing.
While driving in Italy, you’ll notice many cars have dents and scratches. On the Amalfi coast, you’ll notice the majority of cars look like they’ve been in a fight. Bruises, parts taped together and lifelessly hanging side mirrors are a common sight.
In other words be smart – make sure you get an insurance that has the smallest possible deductible and covers any incidents you might realistically be facing. This includes car crashes, dents and theft.
7. Drive culture on the Amalfi coast
Photo: Strategically positioned mirrors, like the one pictured, are there to aid the driver when navigating corners.
The best part about driving on the Amalfi coast is that the locals are generally helpful and patient when it comes to foreign drivers blocking the roads. With the occasional exception, gone is the furious honking and shouting that you might encounter for example in Naples. If you find yourself in a tough spot, someone will almost always help and guide you out of it.
Here are three things regarding the Amalfi coast driving culture that are good to know.
It’s impossible to not feel great awe towards the bus drivers who on a daily basis manage to conquer these challenging and extremely narrow roads. The roads are sometimes so narrow that even two cars have a tough time squeezing by each other. Once you meet a bus, even the most experienced driver might get feel a bit uneasy, how are we going to get past each other?
Make sure you check what kind of directions the bus driver is giving you. The bus drivers will usually give clear directions using hand signals, letting you know if you are expected to reverse or if you can manage to squeeze by. Remember, these guys know these routes like their back pockets, respect their judgement.
Listen for honks
Sometimes, while nearing a wall-huggingly tight curve, you’ll hear a loud honk. Slow down and watch out, this can signal a bus is coming round the corner. Usually the bus drivers will do this only in the most narrow curves or tunnels, where a bus and another vehicle will not fit side by side. While navigating corners, remember to keep close to the right side of your lane and avoid cutting corners.
Be on the lookout for flashing lights
Flashing lights is another form of communication while driving on the Amalfi coast. For example, drivers might flash their lights as a warning to watch out or to indicate you to move closer to the wall.
8. Park like a pro
Photo: As you can see in the picture, often the road is so narrow, that the only ones who can manage to find parking are the scooters. Sometimes, there’s not even room for scooters or bikes.
The extremely narrow roads have been mentioned quite a few times. As you might have gathered from that, parking space is limited and cramped. In fact, parking will probably be one of the biggest challenges you face during your Amalfi road trip. Here are four things to remember.
Parallel parking skills needed
Before heading towards the Amalfi coast, make sure you know how to parallel park, as this is a skill you will very likely need. Although there are some indoor car parks, much of parking occurs to the side of the road.
Empty parking spaces by the road are seldom empty for long. Especially in the more touristy towns like Positano and Amalfi, finding and empty spot is not something you can count on. Plan ahead. Where are you headed? What kind of parking is there available? In addition to roadside parking and car parks, some towns also have parking areas near the town centre or square.
Fold in your mirrors
Folding in your side mirrors is a must in case you’re parking by pulling over to the side of the road. Sometimes it’s down to centimetres when a bus and a car are trying to squeeze by each other. A side mirror sticking out is most likely going to be in the way. Folding the mirrors in will spare you from having to return to your rental to find its mirror ripped off.
Leave no valuables
As your car rental will probably also stress – don’t leave any valuable objects in the car. On the Amalfi coast, in Naples and Salerno alike, breaking and entering into someone’s car is not uncommon. Leaving an expensive camera for anyone to see through the car window is just foolish. Even colourful, expensive-looking clothes might draw unnecessary attention to your parked car.
9. Stock up on gas before driving to the Amalfi coast
As most people renting a car for their Amalfi coast holiday will probably rent their car at the airport (Naples or Rome for example) a good idea is to fill up the gas tank before hitting the coast.
Gas prices are significantly higher along the Amalfi coast, than for example at a gas station along Autostrade del Sole.
10. Drive in a northbound direction if you suffer from vertigo
Photo: The drivers will be so focused on the challenging road they might miss out on the amazing views. Make sure you allow time to stop and admire the scenery. This picture is from the most southern part of the Amalfi Drive, Strada Statale 163.
Steep cliffs, precipitous drops and only the occasional low railing. If you suffer from vertigo you might want to consider driving from the south end of the Amalfi drive towards the north. This could mean starting in Salerno and driving through Amalfi towards Positano and Sorrento.
As Italy has right-hand traffic, drivers heading towards the north will drive on the side of the road that is closer to the wall. Those heading south will be on the outer side of the road, with the person sitting on the passenger side overlooking the heart-stopping drops through their window.
Heading to the Amalfi Coast? Here’s another post you might find helpful: How to Visit the Amalfi Coast on a Budget