We have been lucky enough to visit this area on a few occasions so you won’t be able to fit in everything described below on one trip. I hope that it might help you decide where you might like to visit when your ships docks in this Italian sweet spot.
The gateway to the Amalfi Coast. There is good reason that in the 16th and 17th centuries this little town was the southernmost stop of the Grand Tour. The Grand Tour was a rite of passage for British nobility when they came of age and wanted to experience all that Europe had to offer and complete their education. It’s easy to see why they loved this small charming town overlooking the Bay of Naples. Somewhere that is also ideally situated for visiting the island of Capri. The Amalfi Coastline, Pompeii and Naples.
Ship tenders dock at the small but pretty harbour, Marina Piccola, which is situated just a 10-minute walk from the centre of Sorrento. This also serves as the departure point for ferries to Capri and Naples. You can reach the centre of town by walking. It’s a short but quite a steep climb involving a few flights of stairs. There are some small shuttle buses you can catch. Taxis can be expensive due to the circuitous route they have to take because of the one-way system. However, there is an elevator. Details here. The cost of the elevator is just 1 euro and the views from the city park at the top are amazing. From here it’s much easier and less strenuous to reach the centre of Sorrento.
If you are lucky enough to visit Sorrento in the spring you will be greeted with the smell of Mimosa and Jasmine that flower alongside tree heavy with lemons. Make your way to Piazza Tasso. A bustling little square that’s perfect for people watching. We enjoyed some coffee (and wifi) at Bar Ercolano but it would also be a great place for lunch too.
Refreshed you can wander down the Corso Italia for shopping. Stop at the Cathedral of Sorrento. Its rather dour exterior hides a lovely ornate interior which is well worth a visit. The pretty Via S Cesareo which bisects the Old Town is the place to find a myriad of little shops selling lots of traditional souvenirs and craft. Some shops are dedicated to the famous local liqueur Limoncello. It’s made from the Sorrento or Sfusato lemons that grow on the steep-sided mountains that surround Sorrento and have an especially intense flavour, perfect for making this delicious after dinner digestivo. Try it if you get the chance.
If you have time before heading black to your tender stop off at the Bellevue Syrene Hotel and enjoy espresso & biscotti and amazing views over to Naples and Vesuvius.
Sorrento is also convenient for visiting nearby places of interest such as the amazing Amalfi Coast. We took a private trip with some friends to nearby Positano, driving along the beautiful Amalfi Coast Road. It seemed there was a new and stunning view around every corner. We stopped once or twice just so we could get out and take pictures of views you will never forget. Prior to our arrival in Positano, we stopped off at a place called Ristorante La Terra and enjoyed lunch. They served the most delicious spaghetti Pomodoro I have ever tasted and coupled with the breathtaking views out across the Gulf of Salerno it made for a memorable lunch.
After lunch, we descended back down to Positano and wandered its steep narrow streets filled with boutique shops, trendy hotels and enticing gelaterias. We trod the narrow pathways down to the small beach where people sat and ate pizza in this impossibly gorgeous setting. Pastel coloured houses stacked precipitously upon each other up toward the heavens. It was a good place to rest before we took the arduous climb back up to our minibus. A fairly strenuous workout. Good for burning off all that delicious pasta I ate earlier.
The Amalfi coast stretches as far east as Salerno with the towns of Ravello and Amalfi ideal stopping points so you can extend your journey if you wish. We have not made this far ourselves. Maybe next time.
Capri is a jewel of an island located a few miles off the Sorrentine Peninsula. The journey across from Sorrento is a mere 20 minutes and you arrive into the main harbour, Marina Grande.
Our main destination was Capri Town which sits atop the hills to the south of the harbour. There are 3 main ways to get there. The Funicular railway, bus or open top taxi. On the day we visited the lines for the funicular, buses and taxis were ridiculously long. Impossible to gauge how long it would take we decided on a 4th option to reach Capri Town. We walked.
Getting up to Capri Town
We did this without really knowing how far or how steep it would be and so we set off for the Via Truglio. The initial ascent made me question the wisdom of our choice. However, after you get past the steep steps at the beginning the path levels out somewhat and begins to meander up through pretty villas that dot the north facing slopes of Capri. We take our time and make a few photos stops which in fact were an excuse to catch our breath. Some 20 minutes later we emerge into the small sunlit La Piazzetta. If you’ve have the energy I would highly recommend this way of reaching Capri. Of course, you could always walk it back down…far easier.
We immediately realise we are no longer in Kansas. We are surrounded by a glittering array of designer boutique shops. Ferragamo, D&G, Dior & Chanel. Every single one empty of shoppers who prefer to remain on the outside looking in. We wander along the crowded streets which are ridiculously busy. What charm lies within this small town seems to be lost a little by the heaving mass of tourists. I expect it would be a lot nicer in the evening when most had left the island.
We ate lunch at the aptly named Capri’s Ristorante which has some spectacular views down to the harbour. However, only a few tables have those vistas and as it was so busy we were lucky to get a table at all. The pizza was very good though which is understandable in this part of the world.
Although I am glad we visited Capri I think it would be a more enjoyable experience visiting in the offseason if there ever is one here. It’s undoubtedly pretty, has a decadent swagger and a panache all of its own. My tip would be to stay in the equally pretty and less busy Sorrento. If it’s somewhere you really need to tick off your list try and avoid mid-summer, visit early and leave before the crowds descend back down to the harbour.
The ancient Roman city destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79. See the Temple of Apollo, The Forum of Pompeii, The Stabian Bath or my favourite The House of Faun. You need to allow yourself 3 hours minimum in Pompeii as there is a lot to see but it’s well worth the trip. A guide is essential if just on a cruise and you have limited time.
Top tip: if time is limited you can visit the more compact Herculaneum which is much smaller but no less impressive as Pompeii. As Herculaneum was buried in mud rather than ash the buildings are better preserved.
Bustling Naples is not one of my favourite places to visit but it has a certain character of its own. It can be dirty and chaotic in places but there are some gems to be found if you look.
Ships dock at Stazione Maritime and a short walk will bring you by the impressive Castle Nuevo (perfect if you don’t want to venture far from your ship) and then to Galleria Umberto. The Galleria is an impressive covered gallery of glass and iron and although it’s magnificent it’s not quite as grand as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele Il in Milan.
We walked down the bustling Via Toledo which reminded me of Oxford St in London only with a bit more style. It’s a great place to sit and enjoy coffee whilst people watching. Try an espresso and sfogliatella at one of the many cafeterias. Sfogliatella is kind of like a Neapolitan Croissant and is a speciality in this area. It’s delicious.
Lunch has to be pizza and I am told it should always be Margherita. I ordered this but I am a thin and crispy guy and the pizza I had was a little too doughy for my liking. Very filling as well. Maybe we just chose the wrong place to eat. Always difficult when you have limited time in one place. We came after a morning exploring Pompeii and only had a couple of hours before we needed to get back to the ship. We hadn’t really planned to eat lunch out so would have researched more if we had.
This part of Italy is extremely pretty and there is so much to see and do. Like I said at the top you won’t manage all of it in one go but we have enjoyed each and every visit. We hope you do too.