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. If you are wondering what to do in Sorrento here’s a list of my favorite things.
What 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 is 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!
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 can of course taste! There is also a shop that sells all kinds of delicious lemon related products.
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!
Of course you simply have to have a gelato or two. I wrote about the best gelato in Italy previously and naturally I had to include Gelateria Primavera.
Whatever you do don’t miss a visit to the 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 on 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. Fisherman 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 !
I am loath to mention these as the title of this post is what to do in Sorrento, so I will touch on them in passing. You can visit the Amalfi Coast, Naples, Capri, Pompeii and Herculaneum as a few ideas. Personally, if it’s history that you are after then I would rather visit Herculaneum because it is not as busy as Pompeii and more compact. My post has all the information you need for a visit.
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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