Last updated on April 6, 2023 by Wandering our World
If you’re planning a trip to southern Italy and want to spend some time at the coast, there are lots of great cities and towns you can choose to visit. The magical metropolis of Naples is a terrific place to stay, but you might also be wondering about the charming town of Sorrento.
Despite being very close to one another – Sorrento is less than an hour away from Naples by car – these two destinations are very different places and will provide totally separate experiences, so it’s important to make the right choice when planning your trip.
For example, Naples is one of Italy’s biggest cities, home to almost a million people and boasting many famous landmarks, like Mergellina Port and the Royal Palace of Naples, along with lively vibes, a booming nightlife scene, and some of Italy’s finest food.
Sorrento, meanwhile, is a much smaller and quieter place, just a little further down the coast. It’s known for its cute and colorful seaside homes and laid-back vibes, and it’s a very popular tourist hub, offering easy access to places like Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast.
You can have a fabulous time in either one of these destinations, but one is likely much better-suited for your needs than the other.
That’s where we can help!
Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at how Sorrento and Naples compare in a range of key areas, like beaches, activities, accommodation, family-friendly things to do, and more. All so you can make the right holiday decision!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Best For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For Hiking?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Has The Best Hotels?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Better For Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Day Trips?
- Which Is Better For Families?
- Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
- Which Is Better For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Which Is Safer?
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is The Best Choice?
A Quick Overview: Naples vs Sorrento
Naples: A Quick Overview
Naples, also known as Napoli, is a large city in the Campania region of southern Italy. It’s the third biggest city in the country, just behind Rome and Milan, and more than 900,000 people live within the city limits, with over 3 million in the surrounding metropolitan area.
This city has several thousand years of history, having been founded by the Ancient Greeks.
This makes Naples one of the oldest cities on the planet to have been continuously inhabited, and the city played a key part in both Roman and Greek societies, later developing into the capital of the Kingdom of Naples until it finally became part of a unified Italy in 1861.
Naples is known for its contributions to art, music, and culture, being home to numerous artists and creative minds over the years, like Caravaggio.
It’s also famed for its cuisine, most famously being the birthplace of pizza. To this day, some of the best pizza in the world is cooked in Naples, and the city also produces popular pasta dishes, pastries, and gelato.
There’s also a gritty side to this city; it can be considered to be a little crowded and noisy at times, and certain areas are less appealing.
But tourists who stick to the beautiful historic center and enjoy Naples’ many museums, intriguing landmarks, and world-class restaurants can have the time of their lives here.
Sorrento: A Quick Overview
Sorrento is a small town on the Sorrentine Peninsula, which juts out into the Tyrrhenian Sea just south of Naples.
With a population of approximately 17,000 people, Sorrento is significantly smaller than Naples, offering a much quieter and calmer experience to the crowded streets of the big city.
However, despite its small size, Sorrento can get pretty lively during the summer months, with many tourists and travelers from around the world basing themselves in this charming town.
After all, it’s a great place for exploring the surrounding area, with Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast all within easy reach.
Historically, Sorrento can’t compete with Naples in terms of ancient landmarks and monuments, but it still has its own stories to tell; the town has long been associated with mythological sirens, or mermaids, hence its name, and it has a magnificent old cathedral, along with some great museums.
And, unlike Naples, which has a few grimy and noisy areas, Sorrento is well-known as a spotless and pleasant place for all.
In fact this town has been a popular tourist hotspot as far back as the 19th century, attracting romantic poets like Lord Byron, along with philosophers, like Friedrich Nietzsche.
Which Is Best For Beaches?
One of the main reasons people visit the coast of South Italy is to spend some time basking on the area’s beautiful beaches.
There are some stunning sandy expanses and rocky spots to enjoy along this particular stretch of coastline, but which has the best beaches between Sorrento and Naples?
Well, Naples has some spectacular beaches right within its city limits, so you can hop on a bus or even potentially walk all the way to one of the city’s sandy spots to spend some time sunbathing, swimming, or strolling along the water’s edge.
In contrast, it’s worth noting that Sorrento doesn’t have its own beach, apart from a very small bit of sand by the marina.
In Naples, travelers can enjoy the wonderful Gaiola Beach, which is free to access and tends to be quite popular with locals and tourists alike.
Nearby Bagno Elena is another pleasant beach with plenty of sun loungers and interesting views of the historic Palazzo Donn’Anna.
The beaches of Miseno and Miliscola are also easily accessed from Naples and offer soft, golden sands that seem to stretch on all the way to the horizon, with relaxed vibes, perfect for couples.
Meanwhile, those who want to do some swimming can head to the Scoglione di Marechiaro.
Over in Sorrento, meanwhile, you’ll have to leave the town itself behind if you want to spend some time sunbathing, swimming, or relaxing with your fellow travelers on soft sands.
The romantic Spiaggia della Pignatella is a pleasant place to go, only a short trip from Sorrento itself, while Piano di Sorrento has black volcanic sand beaches to try.
There are some good swimming spots around Sorrento, too, like the famous Baths of Queen Giovanna with their emerald waters and fantastic rock formations, and the town isn’t too far from the Amalfi Coast, so you can head east or hop on a boat to find some pleasant sandy spots, not too far away.
Overall, Naples takes the win in this category. Sorrento is nicely positioned near some good beach areas, but it isn’t much of a beach town by itself.
However, Naples can boast several super sandy spots within easy access of the city center, and its longer and larger beaches are ideal for families or those who like long beach walks.
Which Is Best For Activities?
As well as the beaches, both Naples and Sorrento have a host of other activities for you to enjoy.
Given that Naples is much larger, it has far more things to do in terms of museums and cultural experiences, but Sorrento still has its own array of landmarks to visit and activities to try.
Let’s see how they compare so you can see if you’d prefer one over the other.
Naples: The Activities
Naples has got many, many years of history behind it, and one of the best things to do in this city is visit some of the main museums and landmarks to learn more about the area’s past.
The Naples National Archaeological Museum is a great place to start, boasting an impressive collection of extraordinary artifacts from the days of Ancient Rome.
Since Naples is such an artistic city, it’s also wise to check out some of the many galleries.
The Museo di Capodimonte is one of the best places to start, boasting paintings from great Italian masters, like Caravaggio, Titian, and Raphael, while the Museo Madre houses more contemporary works.
The iconic Royal Palace of Naples is also worth checking out. Designed in the Spanish style, the palace is open for tours and houses many luxurious decorations – visitors shouldn’t miss the statues of various kings of Naples over on the western facade.
There are also many churches, piazzas, decorative theaters, and even spooky catacombs to explore around this city.
When you’re not busy visiting a tourist landmark or learning more about Naples’ past, you can embrace the city’s vibrant present.
Head to the Galleria Umberto I shopping gallery to browse famous boutiques, enjoy a football match at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, or take a stroll along the stunning seafront road of Lungomare, enjoying views of Mount Vesuvius.
Sorrento: The Activities
Like Naples, Sorrento has its own historic center, or centro storico, where you can see many of the town’s most building old buildings.
There are many winding, narrow streets to explore, with a pleasant, romantic vibe in the air, and one of the simplest, but most pleasant things to do here is simply walk around and admire the pastel-colored buildings around every corner.
Despite being a small place, Sorrento draws in large crowds of tourists and can feel quite lively in the summer months.
Nowhere is this more evident than at the Piazza Tasso, the town’s most popular meeting spot. There are plenty of cafés here and travelers pass through all-day long, so it’s a nice place to sit, relax, and do some people watching.
There are a couple of small museums in Sorrento, like the Museum Correale, which is housed in a charming villa and surrounded by citrus trees, along with the Museo Bottega della Tarsia Lignea, which houses some beautiful pieces of furniture, as well as paintings and photographs of the town from as far back as the 19th century.
Other sights to see here include the small and large ports – known to locals as Marina Grande and Marina Piccola – along with the Villa Communale park, with its majestic views, lush green spaces, and fun fountains.
You can tour some of the town’s prettiest villas, too, or head out into nature for hikes along some of the area’s historic trails.
Overall, while there are fun things to do in both Naples and Sorrento, these locations have totally different vibes and attractions.
In Naples, you can plan an action-packed itinerary with lots of landmarks to see and activities to try, whereas Sorrento is much smaller, calmer, and more laid-back, with only a handful of sights to see.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
Those who like to stay out late, visiting bars and clubs will be happy to hear that both Naples and Sorrento have vibrant and dynamic nightlife scenes.
Naples is particularly impressive in this department, with a myriad of buzzing bars and thumping nightclubs to enjoy.
The Piazza Bellini in Naples is one of the best places to be. Not only does this square play home to some Ancient Greek ruins you can admire, but it’s also surrounded by bars on all sides, and large crowds of locals gather here each evening to sip their favorite drinks and chat with friends.
The Vomero district offers something a little more up-market, with trendy cafes and hip bars selling a fine selection of craft beers and world-class spirits.
And the historic center is filled with Naples’ famed ‘disco bars’, which aim to blend all the charm and variety of a neighborhood bar with the lively music and experiences of a nightclub.
Over in Sorrento, you can also find multiple bars, clubs, and live music venues that stay open late, ensuring that this coastal town never feels too sleepy or quiet, even after the sun has set.
You can also visit other local towns further down the coast for more club and pub options.
However overall, the nightlife experience is much more varied and rich in Naples, but it’s possible to have plenty of after-hours fun in either of these two locations.
Which Is Better For Hiking?
If you’re interested in hiking and outdoor adventures, you’ll need to leave the big city of Naples behind.
There are some great hikes nearby, but they’re mostly located to the south on the Sorrentine Peninsula, where Sorrento is situated.
This area has some fantastic hiking trails in places like the Punta Campanella and Valle dei Mulini, offering everything from lush forests with secret waterfalls to amazing coastal views.
There are also some hills and mountains to climb, like Monte Canino, Monte Molare, and Monte Comune.
All of these hikes are within easy reach of Sorrento, which is also well-placed for hikes along the famous Path of the Gods, over on the Amalfi Coast.
If you’re coming from Naples, you’ll have to spend some time on trains or buses before you even reach any of the best trails, and for that reason, Sorrento is the better location for hikes and other outdoor activities.
Which Is Better For Food?
Italy has some of the finest food in the world, and a lot of its most famous food actually originated in Naples!
This city has an awesome culinary past, being the birthplace of pizza. The ingredients of Neapolitan pizza are very strictly controlled, with laws in place to specify which type of flour must be used, and the city also hosts an annual Pizzafest event!
Neapolitan ragu is another specialty here, which is a rich and flavorful sauce, and the city makes many great spaghetti dishes, as well as superb sweet treats – you’ll find some of the finest fruity gelato in Naples, along with amazing pastries like zeppole dough balls and pastiera tarts.
Unsurprisingly, with so many great local dishes and such strong associations with cooking and fine food, Naples has some of the very best restaurants in all of Italy.
You can find some of the best pizza in the world at the Via dei Tribunali, also known as Pizza Alley, and many of the nation’s top chefs have also set up their own restaurants around this city.
In Sorrento, the culinary scene is a little simpler. You can still find some fantastic food here though.
The local lemon groves in Sorrento help to provide some wonderful deserts and unbeatable limoncello liqueurs, while the nearby waters ensure that Sorrento is never in short supply of fresh fish and seafood.
However, the options are much more limited compared to Naples’ astounding restaurant scene.
Which Has The Best Hotels?
Next, let’s take a look at where you might like to stay during your time in either Naples or Sorrento.
And, once again, since these locations are so different in terms of size and vibe, the type of accommodation you can find will be quite different, depending on which place you choose to visit.
Naples has it all, from big chain hotels to budget-friendly hostels and city center apartments, with all the amenities you need to live like a local.
As a huge city, there are lots of accommodation options to pick from here, and with so much variety, it’s usually quite easy to find a great place to stay at a price that works with your budget.
Over in Sorrento, choices are a little more limited, but there are still lots of options, including B&Bs and family-owned guesthouses, as well as much more glamorous hotels with sea view rooms and idyllic amenities.
The best option for you will depend on your budget and tastes. As the quieter and more scenic location, Sorrento can offer more comfortable rooms and settings, but you may have to pay a little more for the privilege.
In Naples, it’s easier to get a great value place to stay, but some of the rooms might be pretty basic and probably won’t have the nicest views.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Set in a wonderful location within walking distance of many attractions, Relais Della Porta is a great accommodation with classy furnishing and great service. It’s surprisingly affordable for a four-star hotel too. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Situated right on the sea, staying at the five-star Grand Hotel Vesuvio will bring you gorgeous views across the Gulf of Naples towards Capri and Mount Vesuvius. From the swimming pools (plural!) through to the service, it’s easy to see why this is regarded as one of Italy’s best hotels. See photos and rates!
Budget: Capo Santa Fortunata is a farm-stay like accommodation, but expect a good dose of luxury considering the classy nature of the property, huge garden, sea view and outdoor pool. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Sorrento Dream Resort is a small, boutique resort set with one of the best sea views around. Couple that with the outdoor pool, jacuzzis, sauna and a garden where you can pick your own lemons, and you have the perfect stay. See photos and rates!
Which Has The Best Shopping?
Many visitors to Italy like to pick up a few souvenirs or gifts for people back home, and you might like to purchase some fabulous Italian attire or locally-made products as a memory of your trip, but which has the best shopping between Naples and Sorrento?
Well, once again, since Naples is so much bigger than Sorrento, it can offer much more for shopaholics.
There’s the famous Galleria Umberto I shopping arcade, for instance, with its gorgeous glass dome and extraordinary architecture, as well as boutique-lined streets like Via Toledo.
The Via Chiaia is a terrific spot to get a tailor-made suit or custom clothing in Naples, while La Pignasecca is an open-air market, perfect for buying traditional cheeses, meats, and street food.
You can also head over to the historic Via dei Tribunali for arts and crafts, or Via Mezzocannone for bookshops and trendy stores.
While Sorrento can’t keep up with Naples’ vast array of shopping streets and centers, it still has a nice mixture of markets and stores.
The traditional Mercato Rionale runs each week and sells tasty lemons, cheeses, and baked treats, while the Via Fuoro is filled with interesting boutiques selling gifts and souvenirs.
Overall, Naples is definitely better for those who are serious about shopping and want to spend an entire day browsing the boutiques and snapping up souvenirs.
But you can still find some pleasant stores to browse in Sorrento, with smaller crowds and less hectic vibes.
Which Is Best For Day Trips?
If you’re planning to spend a week or longer in either Naples or Sorrento, you might like to dedicate one or two of those days to some day trips, exploring a little more of Italy and visiting some famous local places.
Since Sorrento and Naples are both close together, they’re ideal for exploring places like the ancient city of Pompeii, the picturesque island of Capri, and the archaeological site of Herculaneum.
Just like Pompeii, the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum was buried beneath ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, but large parts of the town are still incredibly well-preserved.
Naples is also ideal for visiting the jaw-dropping volcanic island of Ischia, which is often considered a more authentic alternative to Capri, and since it’s a little further north, it’s closer to Rome if you’re interested in doing a day trip to the Italian capital.
Sorrento has the benefit of being right beside the Amalfi Coast, so it’s a good choice for those who plan to tour the towns of Amalfi, Ravello, Conca dei Marini, and Furore.
But the transport links are a lot better in Naples, and it’s generally a superior place to base yourself for exploring wider parts of Italy.
Which Is Better For Families?
If you’re planning a trip to Sorrento or Naples with the whole family, you’ll find plenty of things to keep your little ones occupied in both locations.
Naples has got great museums, huge beaches, some exciting historic castles, and parks to explore. Of course, many kids will also love tasting genuine Neapolitan pizza and ice cream, too.
Over in Sorrento, there are also many family-friendly activities like swimming in the Baths of Queen Giovanna or hiking along local trails. You can also head east to explore the Amalfi Coast, which is home to many other family attractions.
The quieter and more scenic surroundings of Sorrento may appeal more to families, as some parts of Naples can be a little dirty and gritty. However, in terms of activities, Naples definitely has more things to do with children of all ages.
Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
For couples, the right choice will depend primarily on what sort of experience you’re looking for.
Naples provides a big city adventure, complete with museums, galleries, shops, ruins, and so on, so you can have a really full and active experience, visiting new places and seeing new things each day.
In Sorrento, you’re more likely to have a quieter and more typically romantic experience, surrounded by beautiful views and free to spend time wandering the town’s pretty little streets or relaxing on a nearby beach.
In addition, Sorrento has some terrific hotels that cater especially well to couples, with luxurious rooms and plenty of amenities.
Overall, for pure romance, Sorrento is undoubtedly the better choice, but if you and your partner are active people who love the city life, Naples is the right option.
Naples also has a better food scene, so it’s ideal for those long evening meals with your partner.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
For backpackers, there are reasons to visit both Naples and Sorrento.
In Naples, you can take your pick from a long list of hostels, with many great places to stay right in the center of the city.
Street food vendors are easy to find, and it’s possible to have a very fulfilling stay without having to spend too much money.
Sorrento is also a great backpacking destination, and many budget-conscious travelers choose this town over the more expensive resorts of the Amalfi Coast, thanks to its cheap hostels and great public transport links.
It’s an ideal base camp for exploring the surrounding area, but it’s more expensive than Naples and there are fewer things to do in the town itself.
Which Is Safer?
Safety might be on your mind if you’re hesitating between Naples and Sorrento.
Naples has had a bit of a troubled reputation in the past, but travelers generally have nothing to worry about, apart from the usual issues and pickpockets that you can find in most big cities all over the world.
Even after dark, Naples is a pretty safe place to be, although solo travelers should be extra cautious and certain parts of the city are better to avoid in the evenings.
The historic center is a very safe place to be, and this is where most travelers will spend most, if not all, of their time.
Sorrento is safer than Naples in terms of crime rate and general risk. There’s almost no big issues in this city, but, since it’s a popular tourist spot, pickpockets may operate here, and travelers are encouraged to keep a close eye on their belongings.
Which Is Cheaper?
We also need to consider average costs, as this is something that a lot of travelers pay attention to.
And if you want to get the best bang for your buck, Naples is the better destination. With so many more hotels and eateries, you can find food and a place to stay much cheaper in the big city.
In comparison, accommodation and food prices are significantly higher in Sorrento; in some cases, you might spend twice as much on an evening meal or hotel stay there.
However, since it’s a lot smaller, you may not need to spend as much money getting around, which can help to even out the final costs.
Which Is Easier To Get To?
Since Sorrento and Naples are so close together, the most popular and common way to get to both of these places is to fly directly into Naples International Airport.
This is one of the busiest airports in all of Italy, and it has many direct connections with countries around Europe, as well as the Middle East and North Africa.
It also has direct connections to the US via New York, making it relatively easy for American and Canadian travelers to get to.
The airport is only a few miles from Naples’ city center, but if you want to get to Sorrento, you’ll have to either take a private transfer or get a train from Naples, which takes about an hour in total. Because of this, Naples is slightly easier to get to.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
Next, we’ll discuss how easy it is to get around in either of these locations, and since they vary so much in size, Naples and Sorrento can be very different places to navigate.
Naples is a big city, stretching out across many square miles of land. Fortunately, a lot of the main tourist sites are clustered around the historic center and down by the seafront, so you shouldn’t have too hard a time getting around.
Taxis are plentiful and easy to access when you want to get somewhere quickly, but you can also count on the city’s bus and tram services.
There are also a couple of metro lines to take you further across the city, as well as a funicular (inclined railway) to reach the hilly suburbs.
Sorrento, meanwhile, is small enough to walk around with ease. You can get anywhere you want to go in this town on foot, and it also has its own train station and bus services into Naples and surrounding areas, making it generally a much easier and cheaper place to get around.
Naples vs Sorrento: Which Is The Better Choice?
Clearly, Naples and Sorrento are very different places. They have totally different sizes, vibes, and activities, and the right destination for you will depend on what sort of experience you’re looking for; Naples has big city excitement, while Sorrento offers small town charm.
Overall, Naples is the better place to stay for most travelers, simply due to the fact that it has so many more things to do and lower average costs for food and accommodation.
It’s also got a livelier nightlife scene, better restaurants, and convenient public transportation links with many other parts of Italy.
However, if the gritty and noisy nature of the city isn’t really your thing, you might prefer to base yourself in Sorrento.
It’s a lovely location for hiking and appreciating nature, with very scenic surroundings, and it’s only a short train ride to Naples if you still want to see the city during your stay.