If you are thinking about visiting the beautiful Gulf of Naples and Amalfi Coast in Italy for 3 or 4 days, you might wonder if Sorrento or the island of Capri would make for a better base.
The island of Capri, with a population of 13.000, is a 20 to 30 minute ferry ride from Sorrento – around 8.5 miles across the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The main town on the island is also called Capri and has a population of 7,300.
The town of Sorrento on the mainland is much bigger with a population 15.500 and overlooks the Bay of Naples.
Only stay in Capri if you want to spend the whole time on the island. If you want to explore the coast, it is a better option to stay in Sorrento. You can easily take a day trip over to Capri from there.
The wider region – which has the nickname the ‘Divine Coast’ – is extremely popular with tourists and famous for its Mediterranean climate, historic architecture, amazing views and wonderful food.
Sorrento or Capri: what travelers say
- There is plenty to do on Capri for a few days without going very far. However, Sorrento gives you easy access to the whole Amalfi coast plus Pompeii, Herculaneum and Naples.
- Sorrento has spectacular views of Vesuvius plus lots of bars, restaurants and shops and some great hotels at a reasonable price.
- While Capri is very busy during the day with visitors from the mainland, it is much quieter at night and often recommended for couples.
- Some travelers say they find Capri too quiet in the evening, whereas Sorrento is constantly buzzing and busy.
- Capri can be very expensive, with pricier shops as well. However, it has a wide choice of accommodation to suit all budgets in and around Sorrento.
- According to some travelers, Capri is unpleasant during the day with the sheer number of day trippers who travel over from Sorrento and Naples. Some advise staying by the pool or beach in the daytime and heading out to eat and drink in the evening.
- Some people find that Capri has enough to see and do for three full days, particularly if you enjoy exploring. But it is not ideal as a base because to explore further you have to get to and from the mainland each day.
- As a one-off experience, however, Capri is hard to beat. There are many great restaurants and beautiful walks to enjoy.
- Capri has better views and scenery than Sorrento. It is arguably the most beautiful island in Europe. On the other hand, from Sorrento you are only a short drive to some of the most beautiful coastline in the world, especially if you take a trip around the southern side of the Amalfi coast to Positano and Ravello.
- Most people find there is more to do in and around Sorrento. It has a busy main street, great for people watching. It also has lots of small boutiques and tourist shops.
- It is worth noting that while Sorrento is on the coast, it has no proper seafront. The sun sets behind the looming cliffs and it goes into shadow in the evening. The best sunsets are to be seen from Amalfi and Ravello.
- If planning a longer stay in the region, it’s probably a good idea to spend 3 or 4 nights in Sorrento and from there visit Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Then take the ferry to Capri and spend 2-3 nights – instead of a day trip.
Sorrento or Capri: access & transportation
Sorrento, which is 50km (31 miles) south of Naples, can be reached easily via public transport. There is a Curreri Viaggi bus which takes an hour from Naples Capodichino airport and costs €10.
The Circumvesuviana train is faster and cheaper. It runs from Naples to Sorrento and takes anything from 45 minutes up to 1 hour and 15 minutes at a cost of €6-€11.
A more scenic and relaxing way to arrive is to take the Naples to Sorrento ferry which departs from the Molo Beverello pier.
The fast ferry (hydrofoil) takes 40 minutes and tickets cost around €13-€28. There are five or six hydrofoils leaving for Sorrento each day. Slower ferries depart from Calara di Massa, costing around €15.
Be aware that there is a fairly limited service back between Sorrento and Capri in the evenings.
From Sorrento you could rent a car to explore the Amalfi coast. You can also rent a scooter.
The alternative is to use the local bus service which will take you down to Amalfi and Ravello.
To get to Capri, you need to catch the ferry from either Naples or Sorrento. There are also services from Amalfi, Salerno, Ischia and Positano.
Some of the hotels in Sorrento offer trips to Capri on smaller boats, often including a stop at the famous blue grotto sea cave. This can give you 4-5 hours there plus a ride around the island.
Sorrento or Capri: vibe & people
Whether you choose Capri or Sorrento there will be no shortage of places to sit and enjoy a coffee or ice cream and watch people go by. It is a local tradition to head out for a promenade in the evening.
Sorrento is a decent sized tourist town with plenty of bars, restaurants and some clubs. There is a historic central Piazza, working fishing harbor, modern shopping area, and ancient streets.
The weather in the area gets extremely hot in June, July and August – up to 30 degrees. It can make visits to Naples, Pompeii and Herculaneum very sticky and busy.
On the positive side, in the peak season there are numerous festivals and events.
Both Capri and Sorrento get very busy in the daytime with tourists and visitors. Lots of cruise ships stop in Sorrento.
Travelers often warn against heading to Capri just for the day. The island receives 2.3 million tourists a year – and many visit for the day so it gets very crowded and busy.
The best experiences on Capri tend to happen in the morning before the tourists arrive and in the evening after they leave.
While Capri can be glamorous, it is also expensive and something of a tourist trap.
Sorrento or Capri: sights & culture
A recommended reading before a trip to Capri is Alex Munthe’s book “The Story of San Michele” which is out of print but available for free download. It provides great insights into the island and its history.
Don’t stay down at the harbor, get yourself up higher to look down on it. Energetic people can hike to the top or take a taxi to enjoy views of the Bay of Naples and the Faraglioni Rocks. There are also small buses running around the island.
The island is divided into two municipalities: Capri and Anacapri. Capri is the main town with the marina. Anacapri is higher with Mount Solaro and is less busy. Head over to AnaCapri to experience history and some great views.
In AnaCapri you can visit Alex Munthe’s villa on the ruins of the ancient San Michele chapel. Take the chairlift to the top of Mount Solaro for amazing views.
It is worth climbing the Phoenician steps which gets you away from most of the other tourists. Hiking from Capri town to a garden and cloister is generally peaceful, while the town center is often swamped with tourists.
It is possible to take a boat trip to the magical Blue Grotto sea cave. Light passes through an underwater cavity which creates a strange blue ambience. Swimming isn’t allowed in the cave.
The best things to do in Sorrento itself are to relax, eat, drink and shop – while planning your next day trip.
The Old Town has plenty of winding streets to get lost in amongst the giant lemons and tourist trinkets. You are never far away from a gelato, a coffee or a Limoncello.
Locals enjoy being seen out for a walk so take their leave and enjoy an aperitif or an espresso.
There is not much of a beach nor a coast in Sorrento but you can head down the steep road to the harbor called Marina Grande which has plenty of small seafood restaurants.
The town has many historic buildings, particularly the Cathedral, Basilica of Sant’Antonio and the Cloister of San Francesco.
Sorrento or Capri: nature & outdoors
Sorrento is the main town in the Amalfi area but it has the worst strip of beach – most stones and rocks. It is not a good place to sunbathe or swim.
However, you only have to head a few miles in any direction to enjoy some of the greatest coastline in the world.
Capri is stunning with sparkling waters and steep cliffs. There is no shortage of spots to lie in the sun and take a bath.
Travelers often recommend Marina Grande as a great beach for swimming. But the most popular is Bagni di Tiberio on the northern side of the island.
Marina di Mulo is also a quieter beach which is great but loses the light earlier because of steep cliffs behind.
Sorrento or Capri: food & nightlife
Many travelers say you cannot go to Sorrento without trying the pizza. You are only across the bay from Naples, the home of pizza. A popular place to try is Pizzeria Da Franco.
The other big recommendation is ice cream at Gelateria David.
There are numerous fresh fish restaurants in the harbor. Risotto is a Sorrento speciality.
If you want to splash out there is a Michelin star restaurant called Il Buco.
Lemons grow in abundance in the area and get used in everything, biscuits, pasta, soap, sweets, and of course the famous Limoncello beverage.
For such a small island, Capri is packed with amazing restaurants and bars. The place comes alive after dark when many of the VIP visitors and locals come out to play.
Le Arcate is popular with locals for its no fuss food including the island speciality ravioli alla caprese – pasta stuffed with parmesan, marjoram and ricotta.
A dramatic dining location is Le Grotelle which has two seating areas set in a cave.
For those who love wine, you must try Pulalli Wine Bar next to the Pizazzetta’s clock tower and Da Gelsomina which serves organic falanghina from the family vineyard.
Another traveler recommendation is Pescheria Le Botteghe which is renowned for its fresh fish.
Sorrento or Capri: shopping
Sorrento has an abundance of tourist souvenir shops. It’s also a great destination for leather goods and shoes.
Corso Italian, the main street, has a nice mix of boutiques selling designer label clothes. You can also buy home furnishings and utensils plus ceramics.
Sorrento or Capri: lodging
Many travelers recommend the Antiche Mura Hotel for its central location at the heart of the town.
Travelers often praise the Imperial Hotel Tramontano for its sea views and excellent location.
Others like the Bellevue Syrene for its views and friendly staff.
The Hotel Caesar Augustus is an upmarket hotel known for its high standards of service and great location.
More price conscious travelers praise La Reginella, a relaxed hotel offering sea views and a terrace.
Many travelers enjoy staying at the Quisisana which is a short walk from the beach with two swimming pools and a gym.
Sorrento or Capri: day trips
The town of Sorrento is the perfect central location from which to take day trips out to the local area.
You can take the ferry over to Capri and return in the afternoon – just make sure you book the return trip in advance.
A popular day trip is to drive or catch a bus around the Amalfi coast to the southern stretch. The best towns to visit are Positano, Ravello and Amalfi itself. Other day trip options are Ischia, Naples and Pasteum.
If you are staying in Sorrento, a trip to the preserved Roman town of Pompeii is absolutely essential. Pompeii was destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, covering it with volcanic ash which perfectly preserved what was buried beneath.
There are guided trips (about 100€) but it can also be enjoyable to lose yourself in the city with just a map to find your way round. Trains to Pompeii take 20-30 minutes from Sorrento.
Herculaneum, another ancient town and archeological site, was destroyed by the same eruption but was buried by gas and rock called pyroclastic flow. The Herculaneum site is smaller and less busy.
You could potentially do the same day trips from Capri as from Sorrento but it will be harder to get around and require more planning.
The best day trips from Capri itself would be to take a boat trip to the Blue Grotto or Grotta Azzurra – the sea cave which glows blue in the sunshine.
The small entrance is only accessible by rowing boat and visitors have to lean down to get inside.
Another essential site to visit is the garden at La Mortella on the neighboring island of Ischia.