14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Sorrento
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The little town of Sorrento (you'll hear it called Surriento in the local dialect) sits amid lemon and orange groves on the south side of the Bay of Naples, surrounded by craggy cliffs that rise 55 meters above the sea. Sorrento is worth a stop for its laid-back holiday air, beaches, and its old streets lined by noble houses.
The heart of the town is 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.
See also: Where to Stay in Sorrento
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Marina Grande and Marina Piccola
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.
2. Cloister of San Francesco
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.
3. Swim at Bagni della Regina Giovanna
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.
4. Take a Ferry to Capri
One of the favorite things to do in Sorento is take 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.
5. Day Trip to Pompeii
Sorrento is a good base for visiting the ancient sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, two thriving Roman cities that were destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. Under the lava-scorched slopes of the volcano that buried it, the excavated streets and homes of Pompeii show Roman everyday life.
To visit Pompeii independently, take the Circumvesuviana train that runs from Sorrento to Naples, stopping directly across from the entrance to the archaeological site. (To get to Herculaneum, get off at the Ercolano station, about 40 minutes from Sorrento, and walk about a quarter mile to the site.)
To see Pompeii with an expert guide, who will meet you right at your hotel, you can take a Half-Day Pompeii Sightseeing Trip from Sorrento. Your guide will lead you to the forum, the ruins of the Thermal Baths, Vetti's House, and other Pompeii highlights, while explaining the history of the eruption that destroyed the city.
6. Cathedral and Bell Tower
From its early 15th-century beginnings through the early 20th century, Sorrento's Cathedral of San Filippo and San Giacomo has been remodeled and updated repeatedly, but the 1474 Renaissance side door remains. So does the 12th-century base of the older bell tower, where you can make out classic and Byzantine capitals on the columns.
The upper tower was rebuilt or cut to its current dimensions in the 15th century. Inside, the art also represents the continuation of many eras, featuring paintings from the Neapolitan school and outstanding wood marquetry - a Sorrento specialty - by contemporary artisans. Look for these in the door panels and the pictures for the Way of the Cross.
7. Basilica of Sant'Antonino
The ninth-century oratory dedicated to Sorrento's patron saint Sant'Antonino - St. Anthony Abbot - developed into a church in the 11th century. Today, you can find Roman columns and other pieces recycled from earlier buildings.
Don't miss seeing the crypt, where grateful people have brought silver votive offerings, and others, primitive paintings in thanks for being saved from disasters at sea. Perhaps St. Antonino's fame for sea rescues stems from the story of his saving a Sorrento child who had been swallowed by a whale; inside the church, you'll see bones that are believed to be from the same greedy whale.
Address: Piazza Sant'Antonio, Sorrento
8. Tour the Amalfi Coast
One of the top tourist attractions in Italy, and one of the world's great drives, is the route along the steep coast of the Amalfi Peninsula. This beautiful coast is close to Sorento, which makes a perfect base for exploring it. Candy-colored towns spill down the steep slopes to a rocky shoreline interspersed with beaches.
While you can drive the narrow, winding route yourself, you'll get to enjoy the scenery more on a Full-Day Amalfi Coast Experience from Sorrento, traveling in an air-conditioned minibus as you enjoy the spectacular views from the coastal roads. Leisurely stops allow time for strolling through the three most popular and beautiful villages: Amalfi, Positano, and Ravello.
9. Villa Comunale
One of the most enjoyable experiences, and certainly one of the most romantic things to do in Sorrento, is to watch the sunset from the terrace by the Villa Comunale, a park near the cloister of San Francesco. The park is directly above the Marina Grande, and views are down into the busy harbor filled with colorful boats.
Beyond, looking east across the Gulf of Naples is Mount Vesuvius. Looking west, the view is toward the rocky point of Capo di Sorrento. A lift will whisk you from Villa Comunale down to the marina below, or you can take the winding pathway.
10. Correale di Terranova Museum
The museum that began with fine arts collections from the many houses of the Correale family in Naples and Sorrento has been described as "the most beautiful provincial museum of Italy." Especially strong in 17th- and 18th-century paintings, its collections are also known for European porcelains (including Meissen, Sevres, and Capodimonte), as well as Bohemian and Murano glass.
Reliefs from the Augustan era, furniture of several periods, and Neapolitan paintings round out the collections. Many of these treasures are shown in room settings that give a sense of what life was like in aristocratic homes. The gardens of the villa are beautiful and also open to visit.
Address: Via Correale 50, Sorrento
Official site: http://www.museocorreale.it
11. Museo-Bottega della Tarsia Lignea (Wooden Marquetry Shop-Museum)
Detailed wood inlay is an art with a long history in Sorrento, and you'll see examples in its churches (especially the cathedral) and in shops throughout town. In this 18th-century patrician mansion - itself richly decorated in frescoes and hand-painted wallpapers - you'll find inlaid wooden furniture, boxes, and pictures created by Sorrento's 19th-century marquetry masters, as well as exhibits on the art.
The art is not a lost one: in the shop on the ground floor, you can see and buy contemporary examples, including signed works.
Address: Via San Nicola, 28, 80067 Sorrento Napoli
12. Museo Archeologico (Archeological Museum)
In the Neoclassical Villa Fiorentino, set in its own gardens, the archaeological museum displays finds uncovered in Massa Lubrense, a little town southwest of Sorrento, and at other sites in the Sorrentine Peninsula.
The focus of the collections, which feature sculpture, architectural elements, decorative arts, and artifacts of everyday life, are the centuries from prehistory to the end of the Roman era. Highlights to look for include a detailed scale model of the Villa of Pollius Felix, terra cotta vases, and a huge marble statue discovered in Sorrento in 1971.
Address: Villa Fondi, Via Ripa di Cassano 1, Piano di Sorrento
13. City Walls
Sorrento was fortified with walls built as early as 400 BC and later strengthened by the Greeks. During the Roman era, the walls were extended to surround the city, entered by five gates. These remained in use through the Middle Ages.
They were rebuilt again between 1551 and 1561, as the city was repeatedly attacked by Turkish pirates. Parts of all these remain today: you can see a section of original Greek walls at the Marina Grande gate and below Porta Parsano Nuova. You can visit the reconstructed walls at the Porta Parsano bastion.
Address: Via Sersale, Sorrento
14. Kayak through the Punta Campanella Natural Marine Reserve
See the magnificent rocky coastline of the Amalfi Peninsula from the sea as you paddle a kayak through the protected waters of Punta Campanella Natural Marine Reserve. On the Sorrentine Peninsula west of Sorrento, the reserve covers the waters and about 30 kilometers of coastline from Punta del Capo on the Gulf of Naples to Punta Germano, facing the Gulf of Salerno.
On the rocky coast are inlets, coves, and sea caves to explore, and beaches that can be reached only by boat. Divers find multicolored seaweed and rich marine life on the small reefs off the coast. You can also kayak into the beautiful natural pool of Bagni della Regina Giovanna.
Where to Stay in Sorrento for Sightseeing
We recommend these charming hotels in Sorrento, with easy access to the top tourist attractions and beautiful bay views:
- At the boutique hotel Maison La Minervetta, a short walk from Marina Grande, rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows to bring the spectacular bay view inside.
- The four-star Grand Hotel Capodimonte stands on a hillside overlooking the harbor and Mt. Vesuvius, a five-minute walk from restaurants. Guests relax by the cascading pools and in the poolside restaurant to savor the views.
- Guests love the superb complimentary breakfast. Grand Hotel Aminta also overlooks the Gulf of Naples, about 3.5 kilometers from the center of Sorrento, but a free shuttle makes connections easy. Breakfast is complimentary, as is parking.
- Overlooking the sea and groves of lemon trees, Villa Oriana Relais has bright rooms an excellent complimentary breakfast; parking is free as well.
- Grand Hotel De La Ville Sorrento is in the center of town, near restaurants and all the attractions, with a rooftop pool and a second, larger pool. Breakfast is included.
- In the main square and five minutes from the train station, Hotel Plaza Sorrento has been completely refurbished with eco-compatible materials. Breakfast is included, as are luxury amenities such as bathrobes and blackout curtains.
- Breakfast is also complimentary at the family-friendly Hotel La Vue D'Or. On a hillside high above the city, the hotel has spectacular views, a pool, a rooftop terrace, and an hourly free shuttle to take guests into the center for sightseeing.
More Things to See and Do
Where to Go near Sorrento: A direct train makes it easy to visit nearby Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79. The same train will take you to Herculaneum, engulfed at the same time, where you'll get a more intimate picture of daily life at the time of the city's destruction.
Places to Visit from Sorrento: The Amalfi coast, on the south side of the peninsula, is one of the best places to visit in Italy, and you can continue south by bus or car to see the outstanding ancient Greek sites of Paestum, south of Salerno. Or heading north, you'll find plenty of things to do while visiting the many tourist attractions of Rome.