In Lonely Plan-It, we take you step by step through how we put together some of the most complicated travel adventures. Here, Eva Sandoval explains how she planned a trip around the Amalfi Coast using only public transport.
Wine-dark seas, lemon groves and stacks of pastel-hued houses perched perilously on a stretch of craggy coastline. It’s not a dream: you’re on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.
Now your only worry is reaching its most stunning destinations. Maybe you love driving overseas; maybe you, like Jennifer Coolidge in The White Lotus, harbor an Italian dream of whizzing around on a Vespa, your Peppa Pig–pink scarf fluttering in the wind.
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Let’s take a reality check. The Amalfi Coast is notoriously hard to navigate due to its cliff-top roads, hairpin curves and perilous drop-offs toward the surging sea. Driving through this hugely popular region can mean dealing with insane traffic, and parking is shockingly expensive – if you can even find it. A scooter is convenient, but only if you’re already an experienced driver.
Now here’s the good news: there’s an extensive public transit network in the region that will get you nearly anywhere you want to go, provided you plan carefully. As in all of Italy, the public-transport options can be spotty – but trust me: they’re still better than driving the anarchic, razor-narrow SS163 state road in high season.
Apart from Sorrento and Vietri sul Mare, this mountainous coast is not reached by Italy’s train system. But there are frequent buses and an excellent fleet of speedy ferries between cities, as well as from Naples.
Read on to learn how to navigate the Amalfi Coast’s best places in five steps, with just a ticket and a smile. Flowing pink scarf optional.
When you stick to public transport, there’s no need to stress over the Amalfi Coast’s famously narrow, twisty and crowded roads © Alexandree / Shutterstock
Step 1: Create a watertight itinerary…but be realistic
Find the right amount of activities you can fit into your time
So much to see, so little time: believe me, I empathize. But if you’re relying on public transport, it’s wisest to limit your itinerary to just a few places, and resisting the urge to program two or more experiences on the same day. Here are the region’s greatest hits, broadly in order of public-transport-friendliness.
The superstar coastal villages
The towns between Amalfi and Salerno are a breeze to reach by ferry or 5570 SITA bus (barring unforeseen issues). Note that the last ferry from Positano leaves in the late afternoon in the high season, with service diminishing in the low season. It’s best to plan to leave via SITA bus.
Hilltop Ravello is inland, a brief bus ride from Amalfi (SITA 5110). You’ll have to transfer if you’re based elsewhere.
The Path of the Gods
Catch the 5080 bus from Amalfi to Agerola (Bomerano), this iconic clifftop hike’s starting point. The hike finishes in the hamlet of Nocelle, where you can reward yourself with a lemon-stand slushie, then walk down the (1700!) steps to Positano, and get a bus or ferry back to your base.
Coastal beaches and natural wonders
The 5570 SITA bus will get you to the Fiordo di Furore and Conca dei Marini beaches, as well as the Grotta dello Smeraldo, a natural cave with phosphorescent green waters. I recommend choosing just one – while they’re only a few kilometers apart, it can be tricky to coordinate bus schedules. My pick? If you don’t mind tons of steps, do the Fiordo di Furore. This secluded pebble beach’s iconic arched bridge makes for an unforgettable backdrop, and the atmosphere is pure joy.
Take the bus to Nerano, then hike to glorious Baia di Ieranto beach © Lucamato / Shutterstock
The Sorrento Peninsula
The bigger towns on the peninsula’s west coast – Sorrento, Vico Equense and Castellammare – are linked by the Circumvesuviana train line. You’ll need the SITA Nord or EAV buses to reach villages like Nerano, the crux of the Baia di Ieranto and Punta Campanella hikes as well as the stop for Marina del Cantone beach.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Nerano’s main piazzetta is the start of the Baia di Ieranto hike – but it’s a 35-minute upward schlep to Termini, where the Punta Campanella hike starts, and a 20-minute downward walk to Marina del Cantone. Like me, you may be tempted to do all the Nerano experiences in one day – but I strongly advise against this if you value your health. I’d recommend three discrete itineraries instead.
Itinerary 1: Pack a panino alla caprese, made with tomatoes and juicy mozzarella di bufala. Take the bus to Nerano, then hike to the Baia di Ieranto, a stunning cliff beach with views of Capri.
Itinerary 2: Catch the bus to Nerano and up to Termini to hike to Punta Campanella, the Sorrento Peninsula’s southernmost point. Back in Termini, reward yourself with some cheesy spaghetti alla Nerano at Ristorante Eughenes.
Itinerary 3: Head to Nerano on the bus and down to Marina del Cantone, where you’ll share the bay with majestic sailboats. Sit down for lunch at Mary’s Beach or Ostello le Sirene, famous for its mermaid kitsch. (Or is it art?)
For more-involved experiences on the Sorrentine peninsula or inland on the Amalfi Coast, you’ll need to brave it and get behind the wheel.
Step 2: Ace your base
Be strategic and mindful of your budget
Which town serves as the best base in the region for non-drivers? Amalfi is your most strategic choice as it has direct connections to every point of interest on the coast and the Sorrento Peninsula. Sorrento and Salerno are also great, as they’re major bus, train and ferry hubs. For slightly cheaper digs, consider Sant’Agnello, a village within walking distance of Sorrento; Atrani, a six-minute walk from Amalfi; or Maiori, a village between Amalfi and Vietri sul Mare with good ferry service.
With a little planning, you can enjoy the pleasures of the Amalfi Coast using only public transport © FilippoBacci / Getty Images
Step 3: Consider the time of year
Each season comes with a compromise
It’s a sucker’s game: if you visit the Amalfi Coast during high season (Easter to August) you’ll fight (yes, literally) for space on the buses, yet if you come during off or shoulder season, public transit service – especially ferries – will be drastically reduced. No matter when you go, study up on transit times to avoid unwelcome surprises.
During high season, leave enough time in your itinerary to allow for buses falling behind schedule due to insane summer traffic, or the chance that the bus you’ve been waiting for under the hot sun is full and just zips past as you gawp helplessly. Always have water and a charged phone so you can track buses and – if all else fails – call a cab.
Step 4: Get techy with it
Apps are a public-transport user’s friend
Make things way easier by downloading the free Unico Campania app, which gives you real-time bus and train data and (if you have a European credit card) lets you buy tickets. Sites like ferryhopper.it or traghettilines.it and their associated apps will get you a roundup of ferry times and tickets, too. If you can’t buy tickets online or via your phone, you’ll have to go old school and buy bus tickets at the newsagents and tobacconists – look for the giant T sign. You can buy ferry tickets at the port.
Public ferries connect towns along the Amalfi Coast – and offer unparalleled views © Imgorthand / Getty Images
Step 5: Choose your horse
Stay on land – or take to the sea
Bus or ferry? The SITA bus runs late at night and can take you to mountain villages and the coast’s natural wonders. Taking the SITA is an unforgettable experience: you’ll taste agony and ecstasy as the bus squeezes past cars and careening scooters while drivers honk their horns furiously, or in warning to other vehicles.
If you’re just moving along the coast, take the ferry, since they’re less crowded and often quicker, even in high season. And just think of the views from the sea as that magical coastline comes into focus.
If I could do it all again:
I’d master driving a Vespa. Just kidding! (Or am I?)
My best advice – apart from not traveling to this region during high season – is to not pack too many experiences in one day, as I did in Nerano. Just take it slow: pick a spot, sip a spritz and savor the pink sun sinking into the Gulf of Naples. After all, isn’t that why you came?