Perched above the blue Tyrrhenian Sea, Sorrento has been a destination for travelers and pleasure seekers since the days of the Roman Empire. To the north stand the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii, buried in 79 A.D. by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. To the south lies the fabled Amalfi Coast and the fishing village of Positano. Offshore, the romantic island of Capri awaits.
And then there is Sorrento itself. Stroll through village streets lined with flowers or visit the imposing Duomo and its 13th-century cloister. Cafés and boutiques abound to charm the most experienced traveler.
In addition to its considerable charms, Sorrento is a gateway to the wonders of Capri, the ruins of Pompeii and the beauties of the Amalfi Coast.
The heart of the town is the busy Piazza Tasso, surrounded by little streets where you’ll find shopping and places to eat. It’s a delightful town for strolling, relaxing, and enjoying a bit of la dolce vita. And with all the major attractions around it, there are plenty of opportunities for day trips from Sorrento.
In its history, Sorrento has been ruled by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, French, and Spanish, and it was sacked by the Turks. You’ll see these influences in its architecture and even hear hints of Spanish in its dialect. As you stroll, look especially for the early 16th-century Sedil Dominova, 14th-century Correale Palace, and the rare 13th-century Veniero Palace with flourishes that reflect late Byzantine and Arab styles.
On a more modern note, be sure to stop in a pastry shop to sample the local confections – especially the Caprese almond cake. You can easily find the best places to visit with this handy list of the top attractions and things to do in Sorrento.
The two harbors, Marina Grande and Marina Piccola extend along the steep coast. In terms of boats arriving and departing, Marina Grande, which means large, is actually smaller than Marina Piccola (small), but more interesting for tourists.
Its waterfront has a boardwalk atmosphere, lined by seafood restaurants with terraces overlooking the water, and if you step away from the beach and swimming piers lined with sunbathers, you’ll find a little fishing village. Fishermen still unload their boats here in the morning to supply the restaurants.
From busy Piazza Tasso, Sorrento’s commercial hub, a road runs down to Marina Piccola, where the tourist boats come in. Here, you’ll find ferries and boat tours to Capri (20 minutes), Naples (30 minutes), the Amalfi Coast, and the islands of Ischia and Procida. Several of the Sorrento coast’s nearly two dozen beaches are close to the Marina Grande.
The monastery dedicated to St. Francis dates to the early eighth century, and its highlight is the vine-covered cloister dating from the late 13th-century. On two sides are crossed arches of tufa, and the other two have round arches above octagonal columns.
As in other Sorrento buildings, look for pieces of earlier structures – three of the corner columns were once part of pagan temples. In the summer, concerts and art exhibits are held in the cloister. In the adjoining church, which dates from the 16th century, are several Renaissance chapels.
At the point of Capo di Sorrento are the ruins of a Roman villa, the Villa Pollio Felice, dating from the first century BC, and one of the unique things to do in Sorrento is to swim in the beautiful natural pool below it. Separated from the sea by a rock arch, the pool is surrounded by steep rock cliffs.
You can get here by boat or by a path from the road (a bus will bring you from the center of town or it’s a half-hour walk); a walkway leads across the bridge formed by the natural arch. Although there are plenty of beaches in Sorrento, swimming here is an unforgettable experience.
One of the favorite things to do in Sorento is taking the ferry from the Marina Piccola to the fabled island of Capri. High-speed ferries depart from the Marina Piccola port (an elevator will take you between Villa Comunale and the port, or you can take a bus).
Ferries are frequent and take 20 to 30 minutes to reach Capri’s Marina Grande. Once here, you can reserve a boat trip to the Blue Grotto or take a funicular to the island’s main town of Capri. Or you can book a full-day Capri and Blue Grotto Day Tour from Naples or Sorrento that includes round-trip transport to the island by jetfoil and a minibus transfer to Anacapri. With a small group, you’ll see the island’s highlights and stop for shopping and sightseeing at Anacapri and the village of Capri. A visit to the Blue Grotto is included.