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

Discover the best things to do in Sorrento in Southern Italy, from freshly caught local seafood and limoncello tasting to panoramic sunset views and fantastic day trips around the Bay of Naples.

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

In Greek mythology, Sorrento was home to the sirens, who lured passing sailors onto the rocks with their beautiful songs. And this town in Southern Italy 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 have been back twice since. And I’m not alone – Sorrento is one of the most popular holiday destinations on the Neapolitan Riviera. But although that can mean it’s a bit touristy in spots, you can’t help being charmed by this coastal town, particularly if you avoid the hectic summer season.

It makes a great short break destination or a convenient base for exploring the Bay of Naples. So whichever you have planned, here’s my pick of the best things to do in Sorrento.

The best things to do in Sorrento, Italy

Beaches and swimming piers in Sorrento, Italy
Beach clubs along the waterfront

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.

Fauno Bar in Piazza Tasso, Sorrento
Fauno Bar in 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. These medieval alleyways twist and turn their way past restaurants, bars and shops, so throw away the map, take a walk and see what you can discover in the backstreets – whether it’s historic churches, hidden gardens or ornate doorways.

There are plenty of opportunities to buy local souvenirs like lemon products, lace, leather shoes and bags. You can also find local craft workshops making intarsia – special inlaid wood carvings which are similar to marquetry. If you want to find out more about them, visit the Museo Bottega della Tarsia Lignea inside an 18th-century palazzo.

Shops and doorways in the old town of Sorrento
Old town sights

Also look out for the Basilica of San Antonino with its Roman columns and the Museo Correale for historic paintings and porcelain in an 18th-century residence with sea-view terrace. But a lot of the joy of the old town is in wandering aimlessly, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells, and stopping off for a drink or food whenever you fancy.

But if you’d rather not get too lost, you can also take a walking tour* of the town’s highlights with a local guide to get an insight into Sorrento’s history and culture.

Evening strolls through Sorrento at sunset
Evening strolls through 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, next 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 birds. They’re one of Sorrento’s most romantic spots and unsurprisingly a favourite wedding venue.

The cloisters are also sometimes used for classical concerts and art shows in the summer. And upstairs the Gallery Raffaele Celentano shows black and white photos of Italian scenes back to the 1930s, and has a secret roof terrace complete with swing.

The Cloisters of San Francesco, a peaceful spot in Sorrento
The Cloisters of San Francesco

Peer down into the Valle dei Mulini

One of the more unusual sights in Sorrento is the Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills), which you can see from Viale Enrico Caruso. These stone mills were built in the 13th century at the bottom of a 30-foot valley, created by a volcanic eruption 35,000 years ago. They were built to grind wheat into flour, but were abandoned in the 1940s.

Over the years the buildings became crumbling and overgrown, with the humid conditions meaning lush greenery took over and wildlife moved in. But a controversial restoration project began in 2019 to clean up the mills. Work has stopped while there’s debate on how best to preserve them and it’s hoped they’ll become a conservation site.

Restored mill in the Valle dei Mulini
Restored mill in the Valle dei Mulini

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 for around €15, and there’s usually a restaurant or snack bar attached.

Most of the beach clubs are in Marina Piccola, which you can get to from the harbour, down the steps from Villa Comunale Park or via the lift cut into the rocks, which costs €1 one way/€1.90 return (beware of long queues back up at the end of the day).

If you don’t want to pay for a sunbed, there are a few small patches of sand where you can take a dip in the Bay of Naples. There’s a tiny area of public beach in Marina Piccola (though it was reserved for locals when we visited in July) and a larger section in Marina Grande. Or head out of town to nearby Regina Giovanna or Puolo.

Small area of public sandy beach in Marina Piccola, Sorrento
Public beach in Marina Piccola

Catch a Sorrento sunset

Sorrento’s cliffside setting is one of its biggest charms, and watching the sun set over the Bay of Naples is one of the best things to do in Sorrento. Villa Communale Park is Sorrento’s most popular sunset spot, with a café bar and often a busker to provide musical accompaniment. Or there’s a quieter spot with the same view by Piazza della Vittoria.

If you prefer your sunsets accompanied by a glass of Champagne, Piazza della Vittoria is home to the five-star Bellevue Sirene* hotel. The hotel is built on the remains of a Roman villa and its rooms will set you back €600 a night. But non-guests can stop by for a more affordable taste of luxury with drinks on their bougainvillea-strewn terrace.

Sorrento sunset from Villa Communale Park
Sorrento sunset from Villa Communale Park

Visit the harbour at Marina Grande

A 15-minute walk around the headland to the west of Sorrento is the fishing village of Marina Grande. Despite being dominated by its larger neighbour, Marina Grande (which despite the name isn’t the biggest marina) has managed to keep its charming relaxed feel, with picturesque pastel buildings along the water’s edge and a small beach.

Marina Grande 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 in Sorrento for seafood, with each restaurant competing to serve the freshest. Grab a spot on the terrace for views across the bay towards Vesuvius.

Pastel-coloured buildings in Marina Grande habour
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, spaghetti vongole with clams, Gnocchi alla Sorrentina baked in tomato and mozzarella sauce, 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 Benvenuti in Casa for sophisticated regional dishes, Inn Bufalito for fantastic mozzarella and ‘O Parrucchiano La Favorita for its gorgeous setting along the lemon trees. And don’t forget ice cream – Gelateria Davide is the best around, with fresh flavours made daily and classes to make your own.

A local feast of food in Southern Italy
A local feast

Sip a limoncello

Lemons are big business in Sorrento, with the town surrounded by lemon groves. There’s even a giant local variety 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 is 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 place 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. You can take a tour* of a local lemon grove and try some of their citrus products.

And if you don’t fancy the liqueur on its own, you’ll also see limoncello-inspired dishes on menus around the town, from gelatos and cakes to the tasty Sorrento Spritz drinks.

Lemons and limoncello in Sorrento
Lemons and limoncello in Sorrento

Take a day trip

The Bay of Naples has so much to see, and Sorrento’s prime location right in the middle of it 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 a 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 visit the glamourous islands of Capri*, Ischia and Procida.* Or you could even charter a boat from Sorrento and head along the coast 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 in places like Pompeii without much shade.

Spring is a great time to visit Sorrento, with flowers in bloom, long sunny days and average high temperatures of 18–22°C/64–72°F. Autumn temperatures are similar, and the sea is warm for swimming into October, but the area sees the most rain in November.

Winter in Sorrento is fairly mild, with daytime average daytime highs of 13°C/55°F and nighttime lows of 4°C/39°F. But things wind down after Christmas, with many shops, restaurants and hotels closing up 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 to Sorrento by public transport, you have a choice of train, bus or ferry.

Train: It’s around 75 minutes from Naples to Sorrento on either the Circumvesuviana local trains (€3.60 one way) or Campania Express tourist service, which only runs April–October (€8 one way). Trains depart from Naples Garibaldi station, which is beneath the main Naples Centrale station where high-speed trains arrive from Rome and Milan.

Looking down over the port of Sorrento
Looking down on Sorrento’s port

Bus: Curreri Viaggi buses run from Naples airport to Sorrento, which take around 1 hour 15 minutes and cost €10. Or there are SITA local buses between the two which cost €2.80 one way. There are also direct buses from Rome to Sorrento in around 4 hours.

Ferry: Or for a more scenic option, high-speed ferries* run from Naples Molo Beverello port to Sorrento. These take 40 minutes and cost around €14 one way. They run year-round but are more frequent from April–October. There are also ferry services connecting Sorrento to Capri, Ischia, Procida, Salerno and the Amalfi Coast.

Book your travel to Sorrento*

Marina Grande harbour in Sorrento
Marina Grande

Where to stay in Sorrento

Sorrento has a wide selection of places to stay, with a mix of hotels – where you pay a premium for a clifftop location and sea view – B&Bs, guesthouses and apartment rentals. Prices can be high though, especially in summer. One tip if you’re on a budget is to stay further out in Sant’Agnello or Meta, which are easy to reach by train.

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 homemade breakfasts.

The Corso Italia in Sorrento
The Corso Italia in Sorrento

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.

If you prefer self-catering, the Mediterranean Suites* are good value and centrally located in the old town, near the Corso Italia. Their rooms are stylish and modern, with a studio sleeping up to four with kitchenette and terrace looking out over the town. There are also double/twin rooms with a balcony if you don’t mind not having a kitchen.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Sorrento?*

Boats in Sorrento harbour
Boats in Sorrento harbour

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Discover the best things to do in Sorrento in Southern Italy, from freshly caught local seafood and limoncello tasting to panoramic sunset views and fantastic day trips around 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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Friday 11th of November 2022

Hi Lucy Since I read your piece about the most scenic road in North Wales, I always look up what you have written about the place. you write comprehensively and very informative. well done and good luck. Regards Yadi Nejad

PS: By the way the most scenic road in North Wales was fantastic. We plan to visit agin next April.

Lucy Dodsworth

Monday 14th of November 2022

Thanks so much Yadi, and great to hear that you enjoyed the North Wales drive, it's such a pretty area.

Charlie Foster

Wednesday 21st of September 2022

We are about to go in October. Lovely article to read as know nothing about the place.

Lucy Dodsworth

Thursday 22nd of September 2022

Thanks so much – hope you have a great trip!


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!