Located along the Amalfi Coast, high above the Mediterranean at the edge of a sheer cliff, Sorrento is one of Italy’s most famous resort towns. Views of the glorious Gulf of Naples with Mount Vesuvius in the distance can be seen from nearly every vantage point/ It’s been a popular seaside retreat for over 2,000 years, starting with the Greeks before coming into its own as a popular summer getaway during the Roman era when emperors Augustus, Tiberius, and Agrippa had their magnificent villas here. Tucked into a sheltered spot on the promontory and protected by the surrounding hills, it’s long been an important port for seafarers. The mild climate, lush gardens, elegant streets, and welcoming residents known for their friendly hospitality make it one of the world’s best travel destinations.
While simply unwinding and taking in the views is enjoyable, you’ll find a wide range of things to do in Sorrento, including these options.
The historic center and the beating heart of Sorrento, spending at least a day wandering through the Old Town with its cobbled streets and narrow lanes is a must. It’s primarily pedestrianized with only those who have special access allowed to drive vehicles here so you’ll need to explore on foot. The area is full of life, complete with Instagrammable pastel-hued houses, historic churches, boutiques, gelato shops, and restaurants. Jump into the hustle and bustle, haggling for bottles of limoncello and lacework, or just aimlessly stroll. A walk along Via San Cesareo, one of the oldest streets in town, will bring you to Sedil Dominova, once the gathering place for high society. Today it serves as the headquarters for the Societa di Mutuo Soccorso. No matter where you go, it’s so photogenic here you’ll find photo-ops around nearly every corner. If you want to capture them without countless tourists, explore early in the morning.
The sun-soaked main square, Piazza Tasso is located in the Old Town but worth a mention of its own as a hub for social life, filled with tourists and locals alike. Commemorating Torquato Tasso, a prolific 16th-century poet born here, it’s the best place to go in town for a limoncello or espresso while people-watching. Grab an outdoor table at one of the many cafes lining the square and enjoy. The occasional horse-drawn carriage trotting by adds to the ambiance. The baroque church of Santuario del Carmine is worth seeing. Built in 1572, it sits at the eastern corner and has a yellow façade. Inside is the crown jewel, an early 18th-century painting on the ceiling that depicts the Virgin Mary with St. Simon and angels by Onofrio Avellino. It also has an unusual painting with the Virgin a dark-skinned figure. Painted in the 16th century it recalls the 13th-century effigy, Madonna della Bruna.
Located in the city center just a 5-minute walk from Piazza Tasso, Villa Comunale is a small but stunning park with beautifully manicured gardens. It’s a favorite place for locals and tourists alike to enjoy a tranquil walk among the fresh salty sea air or just relax with a view. There’s no fee to enter and you’ll enjoy one of the best vistas in all of southern Italy from its high perch on the clifftop. From the terrace, you can look out to the Gulf of Naples and landmarks on the horizon like the islands of Procida and Ischia with Mount Vesuvius looming in the background. At sunset, the view is one of the most romantic you’ll find in Sorrento. The perfectly manicured lawns also serve as a popular concert venue and there’s also a small bar nearby where you can sit outside and admire the view with a drink.
Marina Grande can be reached in just 15 minutes on foot or via elevator from Villa Comunale. It’s one of the two harbors here, and although Grande means large, it’s actually the smaller of the two but the more interesting one for tourists. It has a wonderful village atmosphere with colorful homes, boats and restaurants that overlook the sea. It’s a great place for just-caught fish and seafood as well as to watch the local fishermen as they bring in their fresh catch. The atmosphere is enchanting the views looking out over the Bay of Naples are stunning. It sits in the western part of the Sorrento right along the waterfront and has managed to retain a laid-back traditional feel with rustic charm. The family-run tavernas at the water’s edge are ideal for dining on classic gnocchi alla Sorrentino or fried calamari. Both casual and refined dining experiences are on offer.
Just steps from Villa Comunale is another one of the must-visits in Sorrento, Chiostro di San Francesco. The serene 14th-century cloister sits next to a pretty baroque church and an 8th-century monastery that’s been beautifully restored and has an especially romantic atmosphere that makes this a popular wedding site. The church was erected by the Franciscan friars in the 14th century and it was modified later in baroque style except for its marble façade which dates to 1926 and the inlaid door which was added in the 16th century. The single-nave interior preserves a 17th-century wooden statue of San Francesco. The monastery near the church is still inhabited today while the cloister with its arched structure is a harmonious fusion of various styles to do multiple restorations taking place in different eras. With plants and flowers added, it’s especially picturesque, best known for the art exhibitions and summer concerts that it hosts.
Basilica of Sant’Antonino was named after Sorrento’s patron saint and is the oldest church in the city, dating to the 11th century. Built with a mix of baroque and Romanesque styles, it doesn’t look much like a church from the outside, but the interior reveals a more ecclesial picture with dark medieval paintings, Roman artifacts, a gilded ceiling, and a pair of whale ribs that sit near the front door. The saint is said to have performed numerous miracles, including one that involves rescuing a child from a whale’s stomach. The collection of impressive works of art was created by local artists over the centuries. As you walk down the central aisle, you’ll see a series of arches, and just above are frescoes featuring episodes from the saint’s life. In the 18th-century crypt beneath the baroque interior are the bones of the saint and hundreds of silver medallions, many of them votives from shipwrecked sailors.
Vallone dei Mlini translates to the Valley of the Mills. An abandoned valley near Piazza Tasso, it houses an atmospheric industrial mill. It’s a lush grouping of ruins, that are tucked into the bottom of a deep crevasse that was the result of a massive volcanic eruption some 35,000 years ago. Built from stone as far back as the 13th century to take advantage of the stream at the bottom of the valley, the mills were used to supply wheat to the Sorrentine people in the surrounding area. There was also a washhouse used by women for laundering clothes and bathing. When the flour milling was shifted to pasta mills nearby, it became obsolete with the buildings abandoned in the 1940s. The greenery that surrounds the ruins have slowly taken over, creating a very photogenic sight that can be viewed from Viale Enrico Caruso, which is suspended over the canyon at the intersection of Via Fuorimura.
The city’s cathedral, Duomo di Sorrento sits on Corso Italia, the main street, just a few minutes walk from Piazza Tasso. Also known as Sorrento Cathedral, it was dedicated to the saints Philip the Apostle and James the Just, built in the 11th century and rebuilt 400 years later after an invasion by the Turks. It has a somewhat plain neogothic exterior flanked by the elegant bishop’s palace and adorned with stone-carved rosettes, but what’s inside is a surprise, as the baroque interior is magnificent. It has floral ceiling motifs interspersed by paintings that depict saints, the bishop among clouds, martyrs of Sorrento, angels, and other spiritual themes. The marble altar is impressive, but the choir is a masterpiece of Sorrentine wood inlay. Standing three stories higher, the bell tower is a Sorrento landmark. Made of yellow and red stone, it can be seen from many street corners in the Old Town.
Sorrento isn’t known for its sandy beaches as it has a rocky coastline, but “The Bay” as in the Bay of Naples is a great place for a refreshing dip. You can reach it by heading toward the harbor via the steep road from Piazza Tasso. There are also bathing platforms and beach clubs for sunbathing, with umbrellas and beach chairs for rent. Leonelli’s Beach on Via Marina Piccolo is run by the Leonelli family who’ve been running this bathing establishment for three generations. It sits next to the Port of Sorrento and the water here is a stunningly brilliant turquoise hue. There are multiple facilities here, with pedalos and canoes for rent along with a water gym course, a water polo field, a children’s swimming pool, a snack bar, and beachside restaurant. If you go to historic Marameo Beach with its retro changing boxes and elegant restaurant/bar, skip the food and enjoy a cocktail instead.
There are many hiking trails throughout the area. One of the best is the trek up Mount Faito, leading to the highest peaks of the Sorrento Peninsula for a view overlooking the Amalfi Coast, the Bay of Naples, and the island of Capri with its iconic sea stacks. There are also several cafes, restaurants, a swimming pool, and a playground at the peak. The round-trip journey takes about four hours. Should you wish to travel a bit further afield, the famous Path of the Gods trail is a classic that can easily be managed from Sorrento and provides the most breathtaking views of the Amalfi Coast. Known as II Sentiero degli Dei in Italy, it was named for its use as the path the gods would take from the heavens to the sea after being lured by the Sirens. It follows multiple routes but the most famous leads from Agerola to Nocelle just outside Positano.
There are tours available that will teach you how to make pizza in the very place where it was birthed. Learn the secrets behind traditional Italian pizza making with an authentic pizzaiolo, traveling to a farmhouse in the hills of Sorrento. Upon arrival, you’ll get an overview that includes learning how to select the ingredients before donning an apron and digging in to help prepare the dough. Roll and toss it with some guidance from your pizzaiolo and then get creative, having fun with the toppings by choosing what you like best and then putting it in the oven. You’ll be guided throughout the entire process from start to finish in the wood-fired oven. Once it’s ready, you’ll get to enjoy your own creation and sample slices from other alongside a libation or two. A variety of appetizers made with local ingredients will also be served for a full and satisfying meal.
Limoncello and Sorrento are practically synonymous as the types of lemons grown in the region are ideal with their sweet flavor just right for making the drink. They’re organically grown and so surprisingly sweet you can actually eat them as is, without making that sour face. In Sorrento, you’ll see bottles of the stuff in all shapes and sizes and many restaurants will offer a complimentary thimble at the end of your meal. But for the best experience, take a tour to see how it’s made and enjoy a tasting. You can walk through the stages of production while a guide explains the technique and the recipe. At the end, you’ll get a free tasting along with samples of other products. There are also special experiences available that will bring you to visit a local lemon farm where you’ll visit the groves and even learn how to make your own limoncello.
One of the world’s most scenic drives follows the Amalfi Coast, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. It hugs the cliffs around hairpin bends while the turquoise sea crashes below. A mountainous coastline, along the way there are picturesque fishing villages, grand architecture that’s been preserved for centuries, and dramatic cliff faces. The 36-mile stretch of coastal road from Sorrento to Salerno is particularly magnificent. Little homes cling to the green cliffsides, painted in pastel hues of yellows and pinks that create a gorgeous contrast while the occasional tiled dome of a church glistens in the sun. It will bring you through some of Italy’s most famous seaside resorts along the way, including Positano. Colorful Positano will welcome you with a stunning vista of flowers, trees, and lemon, orange, and olive
groves. Stroll through and you’ll experience its timeless beauty that looks much like it did a century ago.
One of the most popular day trips is to beautiful Capri Island off the west end of Sorrento Peninsula. It’s just a 20-minute ferry ride from Sorrento and a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. You’ll see plenty of superyachts bobbing up and down in the harbor. A favorite retreat of many since Roman times, today it attracts A-listers and all sorts of celebrities and wealthy jet setters who come to wander the pretty maze of narrow streets. They’re lined with local restaurants and upscale boutiques selling the latest designer brands along with shops featuring handmade leather sandals and limoncello. The ruins of Emperor Tiberius’s palace can be seen at Villa Jovis, while a ride on the chairlift will bring you to the island’s summit on Monte Solaro for one of the most incredible views of the aquamarine bay. The Blue Grotto is the top natural site, where the sea is a glowing electric blue.
Pompeii is less than a 17-mile drive from Sorrento and many tours can bring you there if you want an expert guide. One of the most intriguing destinations in all of Italy, here you’ll get a good glimpse of life nearly 2,000 years ago in the famous city that was destroyed by the massive Mount Vesuvius volcanic eruption. It was buried under blankets of ash and stayed that way for nearly 1,700 years before it was rediscovered. The explorers who found it were surprised to find that beneath all the debris and dust, Pompeii was mostly still intact. The ash had kept it incredibly well-preserved, bringing the opportunity to marvel at everything from a bakery, meat and fish market to an amphitheater, temple, villas, and even brothels. While you walk through the centuries-old streets, look down as ancient chariot tracks are still visible, with the Romans using chariots for transport.
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