The long read. Sorrento. Everything you need on one page!
If you’re thinking of, or are, going to Sorrento hopefully this one blog will cover much of what you’ll want to know – my next blogs will cover nearby attractions such as Pompeii, Herculaneum, Positano and Capri.
Sorrento is a beautiful town perched high on volcanic rocks on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. It offers spectacular views of Mount Vesuvius, one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, over the Gulf of Napoli.
The Perfect Base
It serves as the perfect base for exploring this area, which is rich in history and cultural heritage – with a lot more to offer besides. Perfect for exploring Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri, Positano, Amalfi, Napoli and Mount Vesuvius. Of course you could just chill out and enjoy staying in Sorrento itself.
The centre of Sorrento itself is fairly compact, meaning it’s easily negotiable on foot and public transport is only necessary when going beyond the town. I’ve posted a useful map of the area below, which includes rail (Orario) and ferry (Hydrofoil) times – please feel free to click and save it to your phone or device.
The main Piazza in Sorrento is the Piazza Tasso. It’s in the town centre and as you’d expect there’s an array of cafes looking onto it – though you’ll pay a premium if you eat and drink there.
Shopping & Tours
From the Piazza Tasso there are horse drawn carts available for hire, I wasn’t interested in such a thing so I can’t comment on the price.
There is also a little “tourist train” that leaves from here regularly, offering an easy way to see the town. Again, I prefer to do my exploring on foot (it’s better for you!) so I can’t comment on the experience but at €6 an adult it doesn’t seem bad value. Groups of 16 or more can book the train in advance.
The narrow little roads (to the North-West on the map) off the Piazza Tasso are wide enough only for pedestrians, and perhaps the occasional rogue Vespa. These streets are the main shopping area, offering everything from limoncello, ice cream, chocolates and Italian fashion to cheap tourist tat. They are very busy areas and you can’t come here without taking a walk around them.
On the Corso Italia road, heading East from the town centre, you’ll also find a Lemon Grove – where you can learn about limoncello being made and enjoy free tasting. It’s about a ten minute walk from the Piazza Tasso and it’s on the left. There are signs up outside it so you won’t miss it.
Limoncello is an Italian aperitif, with a strong link to this region. It’s made in Sorrento and Capri, as indeed are just about all the lemon products you can think of. It’s a wonderfully refreshing drink, typically about €4 a time. If you’re a good customer some bars and restaurants will offer it free. It’s widely for sale in a variety of bottle sizes in Capri, though it is quite expensive at around €12 for a 50cl bottle.
JJ Travel Tip: If you like your limoncello, buy it at the Airport when you’re leaving. A litre bottle of Capri Limoncello was only €15,40 (available at this price for flights within EU, even less for those going outside EU) at Roma Airport – a hefty saving on the Sorrento and Capri shops, as well as British supermarkets. There were numerous other brands and sizes too, all cheaper than I saw elsewhere.
Getting Around the Wider Area
Trains & Buses
From the Piazza Tasso you are also within easy walking distance of the train station, which is where the buses also leave from.
JJ Travel Tip: As I’ve also stressed in a previous blog, I strongly recommend you buy your train and bus tickets either from the little newsagent situated within the train station (which I used multiple times without issue) or from a newsagent or tobacconist within Sorrento. You’d think it would be better to buy them in the station from a rail official – you’d be wrong. Very wrong!
The Italian rail network acknowledges they have a problem with some of their officials deliberately overcharging tourists. Either selling them more expensive tickets than they need, or not returning due change. The good news is that tickets are readily available from the aforementioned newsagents and tobacconists – just tell them what ticket you want (bus or train) and a destination. They’ll confirm single or return and sell you the tickets. You may also benefit from a slightly reduced ‘locals’ rate – some of these independent retailers will put your tickets through at those prices instead of the full rate.
The Sita bus offers half hourly services to Positano and Amalfi. They’re modern, comfortable and air-conditioned buses. Tickets are inexpensive too. The only drawback is they’re busy – when leaving Sorrento get there about 20 mins before it’s due to leave. You’ll get on it while it’s waiting and you’ll get a seat! Get there 5-10 mins before it’s due to leave and you’ll be standing. On your return journey it’s just your luck if there are seats – in my experience there were.
JJ Travel Tip: When taking the bus from Sorrento to Positano and Amalfi sit on the right hand side of the bus for the best views of the coastline. On your return journey try to sit on the left!
You can travel by ferry from Sorrento to Capri, Napoli and Amalfi. The Port in Sorrento is busy with ships and boats and services are regular. You should manage to get a seat no problem without booking in advance. I tried booking in advance at the Port while I was there and was told “just turn up 10 minutes before you want to go!” Personally though – I’d suggest 20 minutes in advance!
The ferries are quite expensive. For my wife and I to get return tickets from Sorrento to Capri it was around €78. The equivalent service in Scotland would be around quarter that price.
The Port is clearly signed throughout the town and is about a ten minute walk from the Piazza Tasso, though it does involve quite a big stairway from the Piazza to the road below. Might be a problem on the way back up for some, particularly in the heat. If you’re fit and healthy it’s no problem.
JJ Travel Tip: Be wary of trusting the ferry officials at the docks! I missed my rapid boat to Capri because two officials sent me to the wrong dock, then watched on as my boat left without me. It wasn’t just me either, they did the same thing to an American couple – who began shouting at one of the officials in understandable anger. The officials didn’t care. If there is no boat/ship at your expected dock ask crew on boats docked nearby to ensure you don’t miss yours!
JJ Travel Tip: You can secure a €2 discount per person (€16 instead of €18) on the Capri boat tour with Laser Capri. This voucher is supposed to be shown at the ticket office on Capri, which means standing in line. However they have an agent working the dock at Sorrento and ferry, who agreed to accept the voucher meaning we could ‘skip the line’ in Capri. This saved around 20 minutes of queueing time and is definitely worth it.
Car or Scooter
Thinking of going by road? You can rent a scooter for around €30 for a half a day.
Personally I wouldn’t, unless you’re an experienced rider! Oh, and that’s coming from someone with six years motorcycle riding experience. The chaotic roads are choked with traffic – including masses of scooters. Such is the extent of the traffic that around the main roads the pollution is unfortunately quite noticeable, in particular the oily blue smoke from little two-stroke engines.
Thankfully in the evenings the authorities – there was a permanent Police presence – close off most vehicular traffic to the Piazza Tasso and Corso Italia in the immediate surroundings.
Eating Out – Top 5 Suggestions
No. 1 – Meating Sorrento – (££-£££)
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza! This place is located on a narrow back street, just off the Corso Italia near to the Piazza Tasso.
Okay, it does so much more than Pizza, but their pizzas are the best my wife and I tasted in Italy! We are HUGE pizza lovers – and we both looked at each other after a few bites of their pizza and said to each other “this is the best pizza I’ve ever tasted!”
I ended up shaking the hand of the chef in this place after telling the waiter it was the best pizza I had ever tasted.
We’ve tried a couple of great pizzas in Sorrento, And afterwards in Roma, but these ones were something special. Made – of course – in a traditional wood fired oven.
We were seated next to the kitchen area and could see our pizzas being made and cooked by the chef.
The pizzas were around €8 each, generous in size and very filling. They also do takeaway, which we saw a few locals doing. Our recommendation is the ‘Quattro Staglioni.”
Staff were very good and courteous. A few tables outside in a narrow street are available, or a nicely done air conditioned interior with an upstairs and downstairs and plenty of indoor seating. Perfect for couples and families alike.
We had two pizzas, a large beer, a small beer, a litre of water and a limoncello for €29 (+ tip). They don’t take a cover charge or include service in your bill, nor do they try to pull you in off the street – something which I totally hate and find very off putting.
No. 2 – AZZ Bar – Italian Tavern (£-££)
This place came recommended from a Scottish family we met at a train station in while visiting Herculaneum and we were not disappointed! It’s located on the Corso Italia to the West of the Piazza Tasso. It’s owned and run by the Chef, Raphael, and his waitress, Conny. The two are such lovely people.
Great for pizzas and pastas!
This place is a little unpretentious cafe type place on one of Sorrento’s busiest streets. It’s small, very small, and tables may be hard to come by during peak times.
The pizzas were fantastic, very enjoyable! Second only to Meating, above. The house red wine was lovely too, very soft and fruity and went down far too easily.
We, my wife and I, could tell the one waitress and one chef were obviously stretched, due to the place being completely full. They were having to turn people away and we felt very fortunate to get seated.
Two pizzas, 50cl of beer and a half litre of wine came to €30.90. We added on a good tip because the service was second to none.
No. 3 – Leonne Rosso Cafe (£)
A great little cafe – popular with the locals – situated just a couple of minutes walk from the Piazza Tasso. It’s situated on the Corso Italia. The perfect place for pre-dinner drinks, while watching the world go by!
It’s a fairly basic place, but the service from the staff is great and it offers great value for money.
With each alcoholic drink you get three little snack bowls with it for free, like crisps, nuts and warm cheesy savoury snacks – they were actually pretty filling!
Also with each large beer (€4) the bottle comes an ice bag to keep your beer perfectly chilled and a glass to drink it from.
No. 4 – Tavern Allegra (££-£££)
Located just along the road from No. 1 – Meating. This place is obviously geared towards tourists. Their uniqueness is that they have live Italian singing/music performed while you eat! Good romantic venue, though perhaps not a place suited to children.
In terms of food my wife and I had an antipasto sharer platter for two (€16). A selection of meats, mozzarella and salad served along with lovely crusty bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Nothing special, but enjoyable and well presented. Thoroughly enjoyed.
The fresh pasta with seafood (€18) was excellent. Expect your seafood the Continental way, still in their shells and (cooked) shrimp just as they came out the sea, that is entirely whole…eyes and all. Delicious!
Ravioli stuffed with cheese (€10) You can’t really go wrong with it – was also very good.
Half bottle of house red wine (€8). A lovely wine (I’m no expert, and no wine snob but tasted lovely to me). Good value.
Service – courteous and prompt, if perhaps a little too prompt at times. I had to ask for a little more time to choose from menu and was aware of staff “hovering” nearby waiting on us finishing our antipasto to whisk away the plates so they could bring out our mains immediately thereafter. Every time I looked at the waiter he’d then pretend to be moving a nearby chair. It was quite amusing!
The piece de resistance…the live music was a great touch and provided a warm and uplifting atmosphere. Two of the staff were singing, one playing guitar, the other a tambourine…I think everyone enjoyed it. It certainly generated a round of applause.
I’d recommend visiting after 8.30pm, the place is busier then which lends the place to a better atmosphere.
No. 5 – Pizzeria Da Franco – (££)
This is perhaps a controversial one. You see, Pizzeria Da Franco enjoys a reputation as the best Pizzeria in Sorrento. It’s been around for decades. It’s no frills cheap dining with quality food. However, I shall explain why I’ve rated it number 5.
First – it was service issues that dropped the overall rating.
The pizzas are delicious, if perhaps slightly greasy. It’s popular with locals and tourists alike. Pizzas are served to you uncut on a lined tin tray, with plastic cutlery (which breaks) to eat them with.
We were seated with another couple, whom we didn’t know, at a table together. They were already half way through their meal when we were seated next to them. There were loads of other empty tables, but they’re all tables for four and the place gets very busy. It wasn’t too big an issue, though we prefer ‘privacy’ to talk, however when they needed out their seats at the end of their meal we had to get up from the table to let them out due to lack of space. Not ideal.
The service was slow. It felt like an eternity waiting for our order to be taken and they were just as slow on coming. The place was busy though, queued to the street by the time we left. So certain allowances had to be made. The ambient noise inside was really loud, as a result we struggled to hear each other.
The house red wine, €8 a half bottle, is really nice and the beers are reasonably priced. At least I think we had the house red, that’s what I asked for but I was charged for a much more expensive bottle.
Two pizzas and a half bottle of red wine came to a total of €34 (excluding tip). Quite expensive for a budget “no frills” kind of place. I’m fairly certain I was overcharged by around €10.
For the price, plastic cutlery, sharing a table with random people and relatively low levels of service we’ve found there is much better value elsewhere in Sorrento. Which is disappointing as this place is so highly rated!
Still worth a visit, just don’t have too high an expectation.
Hotel Zi Teresa. Located just off the Corso Italia, about a 5-10 min walk from the Pizza Tasso. I can’t recommend anywhere else, as I only stayed in the one place!
Recommended – great location, good clean rooms, nice pool (if a bit small) and brilliant roof terrace views of Vesuvius over the bay.
Location – only a five minute walk along the main road into the city for bars, restaurants and shops. There are a couple of great places to eat only a minute or two away on foot (if that) as well. Easy walking distance to train station (5-10 mins) and Ferry Terminal (15 mins). Convenience store a few doors down for drinks and snacks.
Room – For what we paid we felt it was great value. Room was spacious enough, clean, tidy and had the usual air con, TV, hairdryer, en suite and minibar (€3 for a beer).
Facilities: Nice clean pool, small but busy surrounding area with loungers and a small bar with table service. Pool a bit on the small side but still enjoyed it – water lovely and cool. Roof terrace has brilliant views of Mount Vesuvius over the bay of Naples.
Food (Breakfast): we only ate breakfast here and found it to be perfectly decent. Scrambled egg is the only hot food permanent option, with beans and tomatoes alternating as accompaniments. Plenty of Italian breakfast pastries, quiches and yoghurt creations as well as cereals.
The self service coffee machine is a law unto itself and will provide much frustration and hilarity! Simple enough once you’ve got the hang of it.
Staff: I found them to be friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and readily available.
We stayed for six nights and felt it offered really good value for money.
Only one really – our room seemed to partially flood each time we used the shower. Leaked somewhere. We were on the ground floor. Solved with use of couple of towels!