Many travelers going to Italy are faced with the choice of whether they should stay in Sorrento or Salerno as a base location for visiting the area.
Both Sorrento and Salerno are attractive towns perched on hills overlooking the Mediterranean sea, both with historic centers with 14th-century sights. Sorrento, however, is much smaller (16K souls) and more touristy, while Salerno is a working small city (133k residents). Salerno sits at the East end of the Amalfi Coast, closer to the scenic villages of Amalfi and Positano. Sorrento is closer to Naples and to the popular attractions of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Ischia island.
While both Sorrento and Salerno are great base locations for visiting the area, which you choose depends on how much time you plan to spend in the town itself, day-tripping on the Amalfi Coast and wandering further South, visiting Naples, Pompeii, and Ercolano to the North, or ferrying over to the islands of Capri or Ischia.
This post will hopefully help you sort out which of the two places is the better choice for you, based on other travelers’ experiences and the distinctive characteristics of Sorrento and Salerno.
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Sorrento or Salerno: what travelers say
- Sorrento is first and foremost a nice coastal holiday resort town with lots of vacationers including many Brits. It’s typically packed with tourists in the high season (May to October).
- Although Sorrento is primarily a tourist town, it’s an attractive town with history going back over 2000 years. Travelers often choose it as a starting point for visiting Capri and Amalfi Coast towns.
- Even in the off-season months (e.g. March), Sorrento still has more tourist activity than other locations on the peninsula.
- Salerno is more of a commercial working town of 130.000. It’s the coast’s main port, so most boats to the Amalfi coast start in Salerno.
- Salerno as a neat and charming old town with worthwhile sites and great restaurants but relatively few tourists, even though it’s a frequent stop for cruise ships. Being less touristy, it’s more authentically Italian.
- In Sorrento, the old town is up on the hillside, so walking to and from the marina or up to the train station requires steep climbs, or taking the elevator (does not work in the winter months) or bus. Salerno’s old town, on the other hand, is at sea level.
- Salerno has good transportation options by train, bus, and ferry. Getting anywhere is pretty easy from Salerno’s train or bus station.
- Sorrento is also a convenient transportation hub with good connections to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Naples (local train), Capri (ferry), and the Amalfi coast (buses, ferries). The Amalfi Coast can be reached from both Sorrento and Salerno.
- Salerno is a very good base for visiting Amalfi, Ravelo, Capri, and Paestum, while Sorrento is great for Capri, Ischia, Pompei, Herculaneum, Naples, Positano.
- Salerno is much less expensive than Sorrento for both accommodations and food. It’s often considered a nice base for visiting the Amalfi Coast and has good ferry transport options to many places of interest.
- Travelers who choose Salerno over Sorrento as a base mention better beaches (Sorrento has almost no beach), fewer tourists, and easy public transportation (ferry from Salerno to Amalfi and Positano). The train to Pompeii is not as convenient as in Sorrento (see later section).
Sorrento or Salerno: access & transportation
Salerno has easy access from Rome with a direct high-speed (Frecciarossa) train from downtown Rome. The train ride lasts about 2.5 hours and is pleasant and reasonably priced. From Salerno, it’s also easy to go to Naples by train – and take a bus to the airport.
Unlike Salerno, Sorrento does not enjoy very easy access from the rest of Italy as only the local Circumvesuviana and Campania Express train lines serve the town – the latter is a tourist service that only runs from March to October.
Salerno is a good base for visiting the Amalfi Coast towns as it has many daily ferries to Positano (Western end of the coast) and Amalfi, vs only two ferries per day in Sorrento. However, in the winter there are fewer ferries in Salerno, which can make Sorrento a better base for day trips.
By bus, Salerno is an hour away from Amalfi and 2 hours from Positano with a bus change. From Salerno, getting to Naples or Pompeii also takes about one hour. The Salerno Centrale train station is adjacent to the bus station.
Here’s some key info on getting to places of interest from either Salerno or Sorrento:
- Getting to Pompei is easier if staying in Sorrento as the local Circumvesuviana train (2-3 per hour) takes you right to the Porta Marina main entrance of Pompeii Scavi. From Salerno, you take the long-distance Freccia train (45 min) which drops you at the Trenitalia station across the new city half a mile from the ruins entrance – you then need to either walk or take a taxi.
- From Salerno, there’s a regional train to Herculaneum, but here again you need to walk or take a taxi for about a mile from the station to the sights.
- From Sorrento, Pompei and Herculaneum are a 35/45 min train ride – the Circumvesuviana train ticket also gives access to Herculaneum and other sights.
- Capri and Ischia are easier to access from Sorrento. From Salerno, you have to first catch a bus or ferry. Capri is a 20-minutes ride from Sorrento by fast boat, 40 min by regular boat.
- Paestum has easy access from Salerno by train, a 35-minute ride. In contrast, from Sorrento it’s a full-day excursion.
- Getting to Amalfi and Positano is easier from Salerno via ferry. You can also take the SITA bus from either Salerno or Sorrento (opposite directions). From Sorrento, Positano is a 15-minute bus ride, Amalfi 1h and 20min.
- There’s a bus change from Salerno to Positano, or from Sorrento to Amalfi. Buses get really crowded starting from May. Ferries (from Salerno) are a much better option, though pricier. Ravello is also easily accessible from Salerno.
Sorrento or Salerno: vibe & people
Sorrento is not technically on the Amalfi Coast. In the summer, getting to the Coast can take a lot of time due to long bus lines and road congestion.
The most scenic part of the Amalfi Coast is between Positano and Vietri Sul Mare, right before Salerno – the road between Sorrento and Positano is not as interesting for sightseeing.
Salerno is more urban than Sorrento with more sights. It offers incredible scenery with a stunning old town to visit. It has a wide, tree-lined promenade along the beach, and a nice pedestrian center and shopping strip with multiple shops, bars and cafés, on which residents stroll continuously.
As mentioned, Salerno is much less touristy than Sorrento. English is not spoken much. The city can be a bit sleepier than Sorrento in the off-season from a tourist activity standpoint – though with much more local life.
Sorrento is also very picturesque, exploring the old town on foot is a pleasant experience. The town is up on the hillside, however, so there are many stairs to climb up and down to reach the shore (down) or train station (up). An elevator takes you up and down but it’s closed in the off-season.
In Salerno, in contrast, the old city and train station sits at sea level, so catching a bus, train, or ferry is easier than in Sorrento.
Close to Sorrento are several smaller towns (e.g. Piano di Sorrento), about a 15-min bus ride away, which are not quite as touristy in the summer.
Sorrento or Salerno: sights & culture
Travelers often spend a day or two exploring Sorrento and its alleys, markets, cafés around Piazza Tasso serving fresh-squeezed orange juice and capuccino. The citrus groves, and Villa Massa, the largest producer of Limoncello in the world, are popular visits.
Sorrento has views, good food, sunsets, piazzas, lemon, and shopping. Many visitors enjoy the experience despite the thousands of tourists around them in the summer.
Via San Cesareo has many shops selling fashion and limoncello liqueur. The Marina Grande has a completely different, more local feel than the old town.
The Chiesa di San Francisco in the historic center is a beautiful 14th-century church. The Museo Corrale exhibits paintings and art in an 18th-century villa with beautiful gardens and overlooking the Gulf of Naples.
Villa Fiorentino and Villa Comunale are impressive early 20th-century mansions with art exhibitions, ample green parks, and scenic bay views.
Salerno’s mile-long seawalk, the Lungomare Trieste, and the pedestrian shopping area, the Corso, are two of the city’s main attractions.
The old town’s 11th-century Cathedral, with its duomo and fascinating crypt, is built on the remains of a Roman temple. The 14th-century Minerva’s Gardens and Museo Diocesano near the Cathedral are also worth visiting.
Salerno has great archaeological sights such as the San Pietro complex with ancient Roman baths, and the Provincial Archaeological Museum. The city also has the Medieval Aqueduc and the Arechi Castle with its amazing views of the Mediterranean and medieval museum.
Sorrento or Salerno: food & nightlife
In Salerno, after sunset, the sea promenade becomes relatively quiet, but many people continue to stroll until late the pedestrian shopping area and the medieval streets of the old town where many of the shops and restaurants are.
Since Sorrento caters mostly to tourists, it has a decent number of restaurants in the old town and down at the Marina Grande – examples of good ones include Il Buco (often praised), Caruso, and Don Alfonso.
Sorrento has a bit of nightlife in the high season, including a selection of bars and pubs and a few nightclubs – e.g. open-air dancing at The Foreigner’s club as well as Napolitan shows.
Sorrento or Salerno: lodging
In Salerno, travelers generally recommend looking for a place near the Lungomare with a view of the bay and within walking distance to the ferry and train and bus stations.
Another option is to stay in the old town, about a 20-minute walk to the train station. One recommended B&B is Salsedine Sea View whose owners speak good English and are very helpful.
B&B Blu Infinito is also highly praised, a 10-12-minute walk from the train station and ferry, good location near the shops and restaurants, clean, good breakfast.
The Hotel Plaza Salerno is closer to the train station and, even though it’s relatively basic, is recommended for its easy access to transportation for travelers looking to use Salerno as a base camp for day trips.
In Sorrento, travelers typically suggest staying near the Piazza Tasso square, the liveliest area in the nice season. The Bristol Hotel is often mentioned, located in an elevated location a 10-minute walk from the old town, with fantastic sea views (rooms with balconies).
Travelers also recommend the fancy Grand Hotel Ambasciatori or the Grand Hotel Capodimonte. Other often-recommended places worth checking out are the Grand Hotel De la Ville and the Grand Hotel Royal.
In the summer months, some travelers prefer to stay outside Sorrento e.g. in Piano di Sorrento just 1+-mile away, much quieter and very authentic.
Sorrento or Salerno: day trips
From Salerno, you can take a nice day trip to Paestum, a major ancient Greek city. The ruins include well-preserved Greek temples, amphitheaters, and paved roads from the 7th to 5th-centuries BC. Paestum also has a great museum, a large sandy beach, and Mozarella farms to visit.
Ravello is a small and beautiful town on the Amalfi Coast, uphill and inland from Amalfi, about 30 minutes from Salerno by bus. The town has gorgeous properties with gardens and sweeping views over the sea. It also has a few restaurants and some handicraft shops.
You can also tour the Coast using the touristic Hop-on Hop-off bus, stop in a town like Positano or Amalfi for shopping and lunch, then move on to other places.
From Salerno, there are also nice hikes to make such as the beautiful Sentiero degli Dei, the Valle Ferrieri (from Amalfi), or the walking down from Ravello to Atrani. There is also the 6-hour long Path Of God hike from Santa Maria del Castello in nature on a 2000-years old road.
From Sorrento, as mentioned, you can easily take day trips to Pompei and Herculaneum (and the newer Ercoleo town), the highlight of most travelers’ stay. Consider hiring a guide or reading up ahead of time as there’s limited information on site. Many travelers enjoy Herculaneum more than Pompei as the former is smaller and less crowded.
You may also visit Naples – see Via Toledo, Via Dei Tibunali, San Domenico Maggiore and Sotteranea churches, Via Duomo, Royal Palace, Plebiscito Square, Mascho Angiono Castle. You can have lunch at pizzeria da Michele near the train station, and coffee at Gambrinus. Optionally take a boat back to Sorrento.
Other day trips include catching a Vesuvio tour starting from the Pompei station, or visiting the beautiful islands of Ischia and Capri.