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Sirens and sunsets: The best things to do in Sorrento, Italy

Sirens and sunsets: The best things to do in Sorrento, Italy

Discover the best things to do in Sorrento in Southern Italy, from beaches and sunset views to delicious local food and drink and day trips around the Bay of Naples.

In Greek mythology, Sorrento was home to the sirens, who lured passing sailors onto the rocks with their beautiful songs. And it still lures visitors in today with its panoramic views, sunshine, fantastic food and laid-back atmosphere. I fell in love with Sorrento on my first visit and I’m not alone. Sorrento is one of the most popular holiday destinations on the Neapolitan Riviera, and although that can mean it’s a bit touristy in spots, you can’t help being charmed by this coastal town – so here’s my pick of the best things to do in Sorrento.

Read more: Eight of the best day trips from Sorrento

The best things to do in Sorrento, Italy

Boats in the harbour at Marina Grande, Sorrento, Italy
Boats in the harbour

People-watch in Piazza Tasso

Piazza Tasso is the heart of Sorrento, named after Renaissance poet Torquato Tasso who was born in the town. This busy road intersection sees a constant stream of cars, Vespas and the occasional horse and cart taking tourists on a ride around the old town. The square is surrounded by cafés and restaurants perfect for people-watching.

Fauno Bar is one of the square’s best-known spots, with a prime location to grab a morning coffee, evening glass of wine or slice of pizza at any time of day and watch the world go by. The bustle goes on well into the night when locals take their evening passeggiata.

Piazza Tasso, a top people watching spot in Sorrento
Piazza Tasso

Get lost in the old town

Sorrento’s centro storico (historic centre) is a maze of narrow streets which run back from the cliffside – they’re supposedly pedestrianised but don’t be surprised if you see someone trying to squeeze a car down there. These medieval alleyways twist and turn past trattorias, bars and shops, so throw away the map, take a walk and see what you can discover in the backstreets – whether it’s churches, hidden gardens or historic buildings.

You might come across the overgrown 13th-century flour mills in the Vallone dei Mulini, the Basilica of San Antonino with its Roman columns or the paintings and porcelain at the Correale di Terranova Museum. You can also find local craft workshops making lace, leather or intarsia – a special type of inlaid wood carvings which you can find out more about in the Museo Bottega della Tarsia Lignea, located inside an 18th-century palazzo.

Exploring Sorrento's old town
Exploring Sorrento

See the Church and Cloisters of San Francesco

The Church and Cloisters of San Francesco is a quiet oasis tucked away in the busy heart of Sorrento, close to Villa Comunale Park. In the 7th century a monastery was built on the site, followed by the Baroque church and cloister in the 14th century, both dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. Inside the church you’ll find carved wooden doors, frescoes and statues.

The open air cloisters have a fairytale feel, surrounded by arches draped in trailing plants and filled with flowers, ornamental trees and the sound of birdsong. They’re one of Sorrento’s most romantic spots and unsurprisingly a favourite wedding venue. There are also classical concerts and art exhibitions held in the cloister in the summer months.

Church and Cloisters of San Francesco in Sorrento
The church and cloisters

Take a dip in the bay

With its steep cliffs, Sorrento doesn’t have much in the way of traditional beaches. But what it does have is a string of privately owned piers jutting out into the sea where you can swim or sunbathe in summer. At these beach clubs you can hire a sunbed and umbrella for the day and there’s usually a restaurant or snack bar attached. But there are a few small patches of sand in between where you can dip your feet in the Bay of Naples.

Most of the beach clubs are in Marina Piccola, which you can reach by road from Villa Comunale Park – whih has a great view down onto the piers. And if you don’t fancy the climb back up then there’s a lift cut into the rocks to carry you back up to the top for €1.

Sunbathing on the pier, one of the best things to do in Sorrento
Sorrento beach clubs

Catch a Sorrento sunset

Sorrento’s cliffside setting is one of its biggest charms, and catching a sunset over the bay is one of the best things to do in Sorrento. When the sun goes down, the bustle of Sorrentine life stops as people gather to watch the sun dip into the sea. Head to Villa Communale Park for the best views in Sorrento, looking across the Bay of Naples towards Vesuvius. There’s often a busker to provide musical accompaniment as well as a small café.

Or if you prefer a slightly more stylish sunset accompanied by a glass of Champagne, head to the swanky Bellevue Sirene* hotel. The hotel is built on the remains of a Roman villa and its five-star rooms will set you back €400 a night. But non-guests can stop by for a more affordable taste of luxury with drinks in their bougainvillea-strewn terrace bar.

Sunset over the Bay of Naples from Sorrento, Italy
Sorrento sunset

Visit the harbour at Marina Grande

A short walk around the headland to the west of Sorrento you’ll find the harbour village of Marina Grande. Despite being dominated by its larger neighbour, it’s still managed to keep plenty of rustic charm and a peaceful, laid back feel, with a picturesque string of pastel-coloured buildings lining the water’s edge and a small sandy beach.

Marina Grande – which despite its name isn’t the biggest marina – is still a working fishing village and you’ll see fishermen unloading their catch each morning, ready to be cooked up in the waterfront restaurants. Which means it’s one of the best places to go in Sorrento if you love fish, with each restaurant competing to serve the freshest. Grab a spot on the terrace and tuck into delicious seafood with views across the bay towards Vesuvius.

Pastel coloured buildings in Marina Grande Sorrento
Pastel colours in Marina Grande

Feast on local produce

Eating and drinking well is a vital part of Italian life, and Sorrento is no exception. The fertile volcanic soil in this part of Italy means delicious local produce like olives, tomatoes, peaches, cherries and oranges. If you want to pick up some of the freshest produce, head to the street market on Via San Renato, which is open on Tuesdays from 8am–2pm.

Sorrento’s local ingredients are used to create simple, tasty dishes like caprese salad with ripe tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella, Neapolitan-style wafer-thin pizzas, spaghetti vongole with clams, and Delizia al Limone – cream-covered lemon cakes. And if you want to learn to make your own Sorrentine meal, you can take a local cookery class.*

Our favourite places to eat in Sorrento were L’Antica Trattoria for sophisticated regional dishes, Inn Bufalito for fantastic mozzarella and Cafè Latino for its great wine list and candlelit garden of lemon trees. And don’t forget ice cream – Gelateria Davide is the best around, with fresh flavours made every day and classes to make your own.

A local feast of food in Sorrento, Italy
A local feast

Sip a local limoncello

Lemons are big business in Sorrento, with the town surrounded by lemon groves. There’s even a local variety of giant lemon the size of a grapefruit. Sorrento’s lemons are made into soaps and bath oils, but their most famous use is in limoncello liqueur. Limoncello is made by soaking lemon peel in alcohol and it’s usually served chilled as a digestif after dinner.

Sorrento is the limoncello capital of Italy so a tasting is not to be missed. You’ll see it for sale all over town, but the best places to pick up a bottle is from a traditional producer, who can tell you about the history and how it’s made – try Limonoro or I Giardini di Cataldo. And if you don’t fancy the liqueur itself, you’ll also see limoncello-inspired dishes on menus around the town, from gelatos and sorbets to limoncello cakes.

Giant lemons in Sorrento
Sorrento’s giant lemons

Take a day trip

The Bay of Naples has so much to see, and Sorrento’s prime location right in the middle of it all make it a great place to get out and explore the region on day trips. To the north are the archaeological sites at the buried Roman cities of Pompeii* and Herculaneum*, or you can climb up to the crater of Mount Vesuvius – the volcano which destroyed them.

To the east is the spectacular Amalfi Coast, with its dramatic cliff-hugging coast road. Though driving here is pretty nerve-wracking, so it’s a good idea to take a tour* or catch the ferry from Sorrento to Amalfi or Positano if you’re not totally confident on the roads. You can also head across the across the bay to the glamorous islands of Capri* and Ischia*. Or even charter a boat to explore the hidden coves nestled beneath Sorrento’s cliffs.

Villa at Pompeii archaeological site
A day trip to Pompeii from Sorrento

The details

When to visit Sorrento

Sorrento’s main tourist season runs from Easter until October, but July and August are the busiest months so book well ahead. Summers in Sorrento are dry and sunny, but with average highs of 29°C/84°F it can get very hot visiting places like Pompeii without much shade.

Spring is a great time to visit Sorrento, with flowers in bloom, long sunny days and average highs of 18–22°C/64–72°F. Autumn temperatures are similar, and the sea is warm for swimming into October, but it’s rainiest in November. Winter in Sorrento is fairly mild, with daytime average highs of 13°C/55°F and lows of 4°C/39°F, but things wind down after Christmas with many shops and restaurants closed from January to March.

Views in Sorrento, Italy
Views and bubbly

How to get to Sorrento

Sorrento is located around 50km or an hour’s drive south of Naples, where you’ll find the nearest airport. Though watch out for traffic along the way – especially at weekends and holidays when roads can be gridlocked. There’s no free parking in Sorrento and limited paid parking spaces, so if you’re bringing a car try to choose a hotel with parking.

If you’re travelling from Naples to Sorrento by public transport, Curreri Viaggi buses run from Naples Capodichino airport or SITA local buses run from the city centre. You can also take a Circumvesuviana or Campania Express (April–October only) train from Naples Garibaldi station, under the main Naples Centrale station where high-speed trains from Rome and Milan arrive. Trains from Naples to Sorrento take around 70 minutes.

Or for a more scenic option you can travel along the coast by high-speed ferry* from Naples to Sorrento (between April and October only), which takes around 35 minutes. There are also ferries connecting Sorrento to Capri, Ischia, Salerno and the Amalfi Coast.

Book your travel to Sorrento with Bookaway*

Marina Grande in Sorrento
Marina Grande

Where to stay in Sorrento

The Villa Oriana Relais* is a 20-minute downhill (and slightly longer uphill) walk to Sorrento town centre. It’s a friendly, family-run boutique hotel surrounded by gardens, with terraces to relax on, six simply decorated, stylish rooms and tasty homemade breakfasts.

Or splash out on a luxurious stay at the Maison La Minervetta*. Owned by an architect and designer, it’s built into the cliffs above Marina Grande with multiple terraces to enjoy the views across the Bay of Naples. Rooms mix whitewashed walls with splashes of colour and nautical details, and there’s a whirlpool bath and access to a private beach.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Sorrento?*

Boats in Sorrento harbour
Boats in Sorrento harbour

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The best things to do in Sorrento, the charming Southern Italian town overlooking the Bay of Naples | Top things to do in Sorrento | Visiting Sorrento Italy | Sorrento travel guideThings to do in Sorrento, Italy – the best things to see, do and eat in Sorrento, from sunset views and local dishes to beaches and Bay of Naples day trips | Top things to do in Sorrento | Visiting Sorrento Italy | Sorrento travel guide

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Ron

Saturday 28th of August 2021

Thank you, Madam ! Very romantic landscape with a lot of fabulous sophisticated hotels...

"Do you know the land where the lemon-trees grow, in darkened leaves the gold-oranges glow, a soft wind blows from the pure blue sky, the myrtle stands mute, and the bay-tree high? Do you know it well? It’s there I’d be gone, to be there with you, O, my beloved one!"

Lucy Dodsworth

Monday 6th of September 2021

It's a wonderful place!

Angel

Thursday 3rd of January 2019

You share some great tips regarding Sorrento, but regarding great beaches not far from the centre you must go to bagni maria giovanna which is a fantastic gem and also try to go to Nerano.

Lucy

Monday 7th of January 2019

Thanks for the tip!

Emily

Tuesday 11th of September 2018

Great post! My husband and I are heading there for our 10 year anniversary the first week of October!!!

Lucy

Tuesday 11th of September 2018

Have a fantastic time!

joannasheth

Sunday 6th of August 2017

Hello Lucy! We are heading to the Amalfi Coast during the first week of October. Are you able to tell me what the weather was like in October? Does it get cold?

Thank you!

Joanna

Lucy

Monday 7th of August 2017

Hi Joanna, we were there in mid October last time I visited and the temps were still around 20 degrees in the daytime, though the evenings were a bit cooler and we did have one cloudy day with a bit of rain.

Tina

Tuesday 30th of May 2017

Great article! My boyfriend is from Sorrento (we now live in Canada) so we go back yearly. This is very accurate and fully captures the essence of Sorrento!

Lucy

Wednesday 31st of May 2017

That's great to hear, it's one of my favourite places in Italy!