If you are wondering about things to do in Sorrento then I have some great ideas for you. Sorrento was founded by the Greeks in 600 BC and was an important trading town in medieval times. It is the gateway to the Amalfi Coast and is officially on the Sorrentine Peninsular. This is a charming town with a touch of class that sprawls leisurely along the cliffs, overlooking the ocean, and offers views of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.
Things to do in Sorrento
Passeggiata is a wonderful Italian tradition. It’s all about unwinding at the end of the day and taking a stroll. It is a time to see and be seen and meet up with friends between 5 and 7 pm. The best places in town are along the Corso Italia or along the narrow, cobbled Via San Cesareo. Rick Steves has a short video of the Passeggiata in Sorrento that is worth watching for a better idea of what it’s all about.
Built in 1866 the main square is the perfect spot for people watching and admiring the beautiful baroque architecture that surrounds it. The square is filled with pavement cafés, shops, restaurants and horse-drawn carriages. You can also catch a small, white tourist train from here that takes you through the town and down to Marina Piccola. It is about a 30 min trip.
Chiesa di San Francesco
While the church is not particularly ornate there are some beautiful frescoes. In the 14th century, the Franciscan friars turned the original building into a church. It was rebuilt in 1926. The doors still date back to the 1500’s. The courtyard adjoining the church is filled with trees and creepers. The cloisters are still in use today as a monk’s residence and when we were there we were lucky enough to hear the monks chanting. It was a haunting experience and one that I will remember for many years to come.
Sorrento is the home of lemons. There are trees wherever you look and they were all laden with fruit when we were there. Naturally, the shops are all full of Limoncello in bottles of all shapes and sizes.
Limoncello is a liqueur and the flavour and colour are derived by the infusion of the skins in alcohol. You will find limoncello throughout the Amalfi Coast as well. It is best served ice cold in a chilled aperitif glass. There is even a specific type of lemon known as Sorrento lemons and they are enormous!
There are so many stories about the origins of limoncello. Each town has its own tale to tell. Some tell of fishermen drinking it in the morning to fight off the cold. Others believe that it was created by the monks, but whatever you believe be sure to try it at least once.
I Giardini di Cataldo is a producer right in the middle of town. You can wander through their beautiful lemon grove and garden and then see the limoncello being made. You could also try their lemon granita which is very refreshing. The shop that sells a variety delicious lemon related products as well for you to take back home and enjoy.
Explore the old town
The centro storico (historic centre) is as pretty as a picture postcard. There are narrow cobbled roads, most of which have been pedestrianized, filled with trattorias, bars and shops. There are wonderful artisanal shops scattered all over. You really can’t get lost so take the time to explore. Sorrento is also known for beautiful leather, lace and inlaid wooden items. If you like handbags, as I do, you will be in heaven.
Whatever you do don’t miss a visit to the port of Marina Grande. Out of these suggestions of what to do in Sorrento, this has to be my number one choice. There is a lift to the marina but we walked. Towards the bottom of the hill, we discovered a workshop where a small, colourful wooden fishing boat was lovingly being restored by hand. It was like a window to the past and we watched impressed at the painstaking effort going into the restoration.
The Marina is an ancient harbour and was the home of pirates in days gone by. It is not pristine, but this adds to its charm. Fishermen are out and about tending to their boats or fixing their nets and the banter can be heard going back and forth. It is still a working village so the catch of the day is straight from the boats to your plate.
We had a leisurely lunch, at the water’s edge, at Ristorante di Leva Sorelle (The Five Sisters) which we choose at random while we soaked up the atmosphere. It is nothing fancy, but the meal was sublime. The spaghetti vongole was one of the best that I have ever eaten. The plump juicy clams, the sun blushed tomatoes and al dente spaghetti are a marriage made in heaven. Afterwards, we saw a sign saying “Friends of Jamie Oliver” which I don’t doubt for a second.
Go for a swim
You won’t find your typically sandy beaches here. They are more volcanic in nature and are black. Many of them are private and are on decks. At Marina Piccola you can rent loungers and umbrellas.
There is a stunning natural pool at the base of the cliffs at Bagni Regina Giovanna which is worth the journey. You can reach it by bus (route A) or it’s about a 3 km walk.
I love Italian food. In this part of the world, there is an elegant simplicity to the dishes. The food of Campania features seafood, olive oil, herbs and the freshest vegetables. Don’t forget that Naples, which is about 50 km away, is the home of pizza. You can taste the sunshine in the food. I particularly loved the heirloom tomatoes all over town.
Sorrento is in a perfect position for you to explore the surrounding region. Naples is not far and neither is the Amalfi coast.
If you like history I recommend avoiding the crowds of visitors at Pompeii. Rather visit the lesser known site of Herculaneum which is more compact and in a better state of preservation.
Capri is an easy trip by ferry of around 30 minutes. You can catch the ferry at Marina Piccola. If you want to make the most of the views then sit on the deck.
When to visit
The best time to visit is in spring (late March to mid-June) when the smell of citrus blossom fills the air and the days are long, sunny and mild. We were there in April and the weather was perfect. Peak season is Easter to October, but Sorrento is an all year round destination.
I enjoyed our visit to Sorrento immensely. It is a mixture of old and new that blends together seamlessly. Even if you just have a day don’t miss a visit to Sorrento. It has so much to offer.
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