For the past several years I have been lucky to call Sorrento my part-time home. Its convenient location in the heart of Naples, as well as its small town amenities, make it easy for tourists to visit the Amalfi Coast, the city of Naples and all of the lovely islands sitting in the bay.
Sorrento is truly a walking town without the big sites of Rome or the archaeological treasures of Pompei. It’s where you come to relax and this short City Guide to Sorrento offers some of the highlights any visitor will need to enjoy this small city in the south of Italy.
Top 3 Attractions
1. Marina Piccola is where you can get a boat to anywhere, Ischia, Capri, Positano, seasonally, of course. Yet, it also offers the picture perfect spot to wile away the hours, sipping cocktails, enjoying lunch, as the waves lap at the pier and Vesuvio looms on the horizon. Remember, you are on vacation.
2. Chiostro di San Francesco sits alongside the Villa Comunale park. During the spring, the wisteria in full blown makes the Chiostro’s courtyard a wonderful place to relax. The park itself is the perfect place to grab a sunset espresso or aperitivo. There’s a convenient bar, directly in the park, which also offers an elevator straight to the beach.
3. Churches – Sorrento has no less than a dozen of them from small beach-side chapels to grand Basilicas. The Cathedral of Sorrento is beautiful and offers a wonderful display of the intarsia, inlaid woodwork, well known in the city. These artisans are true masters and the 15th Century cathedral offers fine examples of this artform.
It is quite impossible to cover all of the restaurants in Sorrento in such a short guide and yes, I have been to most of them. Tourists should know that it’s usually advisable to walk away from any restaurant which offers a “tourist menu.” That’s usually a sign of bad food and high prices. Also know that many restaurants in Italy tack a “coperto” onto the bill, which is a cover charge for the joy of sitting at their table. Some restaurants will waive it if you ask and you should know that this is NOT the gratuity which is extra.
My Top 3 personal favorites right in the heart of Sorrento:
1. L’Abate (Piazza Sant’Antonino, 24) – At times, I have dined here three nights in a row because it is that good.
2. O’Parrucchiano (Corso Italia, 71)- is hidden in plain sight on the Corso. Once you discover it just south of Piazza Tasso, you will enter a magical garden but the pleasure doesn’t stop with the surroundings. Here is the restaurant said to be the birthplace of canelloni and the food is just as wonderful as the interior.
3. Villa Rubinacci (Via Correale, 25)- is where the locals dine so you know it’s good. The food is wonderful, the staff is friendly and it is open most of the year, unlike the restaurants in the center of the city which close between December and March.
Honorable mentions include Taverna Allegra (Via della Pieta, 30) for its nightly show by the staff. Everyone participates, so be prepared to shake your tambourine and Mondo Bio (Via dei Aranci 108/110) for the vegans and tourists who want gluten free foodie finds in Italy.
The nightlife in Sorrento is limited, taking place mostly in and around Piazza Tasso. The discos open seasonally, generally between the end of May and September. Teatro Tasso (Piazza Sant’Antonino, adjacent to L’Abate) is a dinner theater which presents the history of Sorrento and the region in a nightly show. There’s also a first-run movie theater on the Corso which shows American films overdubbed in Italian (it’s like a film within a film & quite an experience!). The Foreigners Club (Via Luigi de Maio, 35) has a band most nights but the crowd is older, think 45+. Even the locals get bored in Sorrento, so most people spend their evenings just strolling up and down Corso Italia with a gelato in hand. Unless you have a car to drive about a half-hour north into Pompei or further into Naples, there isn’t much more to do in Sorrento at night.
Shopping in Sorrento can be very expensive, yet bargains can be had if you know where to look and where the locals shop. Steer clear of the shops in Piazza Tasso and along Corso Italia, except for Piazza Italia which offers great discounts on clothing. Many of the other piazza shops will try to sell you lace tablecloths and such, claiming it was handwoven by local nuns. Custom-made sandals are overpriced but suede moccasins are an excellent value.
The one exception in Piazza Tasso is Gargiulo & Jannuzzi (Viale E. Caruso, 1) which is the large shop behind Fauno Bar (the best place to people watch). Their customer service is the best and they offer a great variety. Mention you heard about them through Wanderlust Women Travel and you may even get a discount.
The Embroidery Centre (Via P.R. Giuliani 36) is the best in embroidered gifts from tablecloths to hankies and reasonably priced.
Sapori & Calori (Via San Cesareo 57) for Limoncello, Mandarino and Nocella. The liquer is excellent and comes in small decorative bottles. The best part is that you can taste before you buy.
Vizi & Sfizi (Via Fuoro 22) search for this place because it offers a wide variety of food and home goods for everyone on your list, including children. Prices are reasonable and they will pack your items well for travel.
There are plenty of good hotels for all budgets in Sorrento. The thing to decide before you leave is whether you need to wake up to a view of the sea every morning because you will pay extra for that view and you will pay a premium for those rooms between April and early October.
For pure convenience, I can highly recommend any of these hotels located either in or close to Piazza Tasso and within a five minute walk of the train and bus station, as well as a quick walk, bus or elevator ride to Marina Piccola for your ferries to everywhere:
Hotel Antiche Mura is a more traditional Sorrento hotel with modern amenities and a great location. (again mention Wanderlust Women Travel when checking in. The Savarese Family will treat you like family)
Hotel Plaza is next to Antiche Mura and is only a few years old. Its rooms are modern and well insulated so even though you are steps from the action, you can’t hear a thing with the windows closed. During the warmer months, their rooftop bar offers the perfect place to grab a sunset cocktail.
La Piazzetta Guest House is just off Piazza Tasso in Piazza San Antonino. This is a budget-friendly guest house in a centuries old building. Be prepared to climb several flights of stone steps to your room. The rooms are modern and clean but you are given a breakfast voucher for the cafe downstairs and the rooms can be noisy during the morning rush hour.
Many hotels in the hills over Sorrento look like good deals because they are cheaper and offer views but realize that without a car, you are at the whim of the hotel’s shuttle to take you anywhere. Our Sorrento travel concierge is available to help you select and book the perfect hotel for your taste and budget.
Sorrento has seen an increase of petty street crime in the down economy. Beware of pickpockets on the train and do not fall prey to the gypsies who work the trains “entertaining” you. Just be alert and safeguard your belongings.
Taxis are obscenely over-priced in Sorrento, so avoid them like the plague. Most things you will need are reachable within a short walk and buses run quite often (you buy tickets for the buses in the small tobacco shops in town). Also, pack a lot of patience if you plan to ride the Cirumvesuviana train to Pompei, Naples and beyond. It breaks down quite often and there are weekly strikes by the staff, generally during siesta. Once fed, they resume work. So, plan ahead and give yourself plenty of extra time.