Last updated on August 20, 2023 by Wandering our World
Southern Italy’s coastline is lined with charming towns and cities, and Salerno and Sorrento are two of the very best places to visit. Situated on either side of the famed Amalfi Coast region, they’re perfect for romantic escapes and family vacations, but which is best?
Well, that’ll all depend on what kind of experience you’re looking for, as Salerno and Sorrento are quite different locations, despite being pretty close to one another – it takes a little over an hour to drive between them.
Salerno is a big port city. It’s much larger than Sorrento, with a traditional, working city vibe. It’s often overlooked compared to the more touristic towns of the Amalfi Coast, but it’s got a lot going for it, like a lovely historic center, some great museums, and some super local beaches.
Then, there’s Sorrento, which is technically a lot smaller than Salerno, but still feels busy and lively, thanks to the big influx of tourists it receives each year. With pastel-colored buildings, pretty ports, and scenic hiking trails, it’s a very pleasant, relaxing place to spend some time.
Of course, there are many more differences separating Salerno from Sorrento, and this guide will highlight all of the big factors that make each of these locations special, comparing their activities, nightlife, food, and more.
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Day Trips?
- Which Is Better For Beaches?
- Which Is Better For Hiking?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Has The Best Hotels?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Has The Best Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Families?
- Which Is Better For Couples?
- Which Is Better For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Salerno vs Sorrento
Salerno: A Quick Overview
Salerno is a large port city in the Campania region of southwestern Italy. It’s the second-biggest city in the region after Naples, with a population of approximately 135,000 people.
Looking out over the Gulf of Sorrento and Tyrrhenian Sea, Salerno is divided into three separate zones: the historic medieval zone, the 19th century zone, and the much more modern, post-war zone.
There’s a long and fascinating history to Salerno. It was officially founded in 197 BC, although humans had been living on the land there for many years before that. It was once a very prosperous and influential area, the site of the world’s first medical school and a great hub of culture and academia.
Salerno’s story took a turn for the worse during World War II, when it was the site of a major Allied invasion and suffered serious damages.
However, the city has managed to rebuild and recover, with its population growing in the post-war era and its economy becoming increasingly reliant on tourism, along with its port, which handles large amounts of cargo each year.
It may not attract tourists in the same numbers as the towns of the nearby Amalfi Coast, but Salerno still has a lot to offer. It’s a dynamic working city with a beautiful historic center and an impressive range of cultural attractions.
Not only that, but it’s also a terrific, budget-friendly base for travelers wishing to explore this beautiful part of Italy.
Sorrento: A Quick Overview
Sorrento is a coastal town in Southern Italy, directly south of Naples. It sits on the Sorrentine Peninsula, looking out into the Bay of Naples and Tyrrhenian Sea.
Around 17,000 people live in Sorrento, making it much, much smaller than Salerno. However, it still feels very lively and busy in summer, thanks to the high numbers of tourists.
Various peoples, from the Ancient Romans to the Ostrogoths, have ruled over Sorrento throughout its lifetime, which goes back many centuries. It was originally known as Surrentum and had strong mythological ties, with an ancient temple dedicated to Athena and another alleged temple in honor of the Sirens, or mermaids, for which the town got its name.
These days, Sorrento is best-known as a prime touristic location. It attracts a lot of visitors each year, especially people from the U.K. and other parts of Western Europe, thanks to its handy location near Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast. For many, it’s the ideal location to stay for exploring the region.
With strong touristic development, Sorrento doesn’t feel quite as authentically Italian as Salerno, and it certainly doesn’t have the same “working city” vibes.
Instead, it’s a hub of hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, bars, and more, while also boasting beautiful pastel-colored buildings and a lovely historic center, with a couple of key landmarks to visit and great local swimming areas.
Which Is Best For Activities?
One of the big differences between Salerno and Sorrento is in terms of the things to do in both locations.
Given that Salerno is a much larger city, it has a bigger and broader range of activities. Sorrento, meanwhile, is best-seen as a base for visiting other local areas, like the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii, but still has a few attractions of its own.
Salerno: The Activities
Salerno has a terrific selection of historic sites to visit, starting off with Arechi Castle. Sitting atop a mountain and looking over the city itself, this castle was originally built way back in the 6th century.
It has had many owners over the ages and houses a museum with a range of ancient artifacts. Visitors can also walk along the castle walls and enjoy its outstanding views.
Salerno Cathedral is another must-see sight, standing out as one of the prettiest and most impressive churches in all of South Italy, with its beautiful bell tower and decorative doors, columns, and arches. The cathedral’s crypt is even believed to house the remains of Saint Matthew.
Beyond its big landmarks, Salerno also has some gorgeous botanical gardens – known as Minerva’s Garden – and an array of museums.
The Archaeological Museum has some stunning finds from the local area, dating back to the days of Ancient Rome, while the Scuola Medica Salernitana cleverly uses modern audio-visual tech to provide guests with a unique educational experience.
Salerno also has easy access to several local beaches, along with terrific hiking opportunities in the nearby Diecimare Natural Park.
The Lungomare Trieste is also a super spot to spend some time in this city – this tree-lined, pedestrianized path runs right along the seafront, passing through various piazzas, with plenty of great bars and restaurants to stop off at along the way.
Sorrento: The Activities
Over in Sorrento, the best place to soak up local culture and history is in the town’s “centro storico”, or historic center.
Made up of labyrinthine alleyways and narrow streets, this is where you can find the prettiest, oldest buildings in town, as well as visiting local craft stores and souvenir shops to grab some goodies for friends or family back home.
Like Salerno, Sorrento also has a charming cathedral: the Cathedral of Saints Philip and James, or Sorrento Cathedral.
Built back in the 11th century and altered over the ages, this splendid religious building boasts a wonderful Romanesque design and almost feels like a gallery once you step inside, with lots of lovely art across the walls.
Sorrento also has a couple of ports, the Marina Grande and Marina Piccola, which are very relaxing, romantic spots to sit with a coffee or glass of limoncello and watch the world go by. The lovely Villa Communale is another terrific place to be on warm and sunny days, with fabulous gardens and jaw-dropping views across the water.
There are also a couple of museums in Sorrento, like the Museo Correale di Terranova which houses a quite eclectic and unusual collection of items, from antique clocks to decorative Japanese ceramics.
And, while the town doesn’t have a proper beach of its own, it does have some super swimming areas, like the Baths of Queen Giovanna, along with local hiking trails.
Overall, Salerno may not be as touristic as Sorrento, but it still has more to see and do, with a wider range of stunning historic landmarks and sufficient activities to fill a full week.
Sorrento also has some interesting and fun activities, but is better-suited to short stays and very relaxing, laid-back getaways.
Which Is Best For Day Trips?
Both Salerno and Sorrento are terrific places to visit in their own right, but this part of Italy has so many super towns, villages, cities, and historic sites, you might like to plan at least one day trip to see something different before heading home.
Salerno has the benefit of being at the center of the so-called “Tourist Triangle of the 3 P’s”. Those “3 P’s” are Positano, Pompeii, and Paestum, and Salerno is only a short trip away from each one.
So it’s absolutely perfect for historic exploration of the ancient Greek city of Paestum or the Roman ruins of Pompeii, as well as trips to the glamorous Amalfi Coast towns, like Positano and Amalfi.
Sorrento also has a super location, being barely an hour away from the big city of Naples and the start of the Amalfi Coast.
It’s also very convenient for day trips to Pompeii, so there are lots of options to choose from. You can either explore one of Italy’s biggest cities, delve into its ancient past, or enjoy its glamorous coastal villages.
Overall, both locations work really well for day trips and have very similar local hotspots to check out, so there’s no clear winner here. Both towns also have good transport links, with buses, ferries, and trains to take you wherever you want to go.
Which Is Best For Beaches?
Since Sorrento and Salerno are both on the coast, you might assume that they’re both brilliant beach cities, with long stretches of sand for sunbathing, swimming, and water sports. However, that’s not quite the case.
In reality, Sorrento barely has any beach to speak of, and it has just one very small patch of sand down near the marina.
But if you really want to enjoy soft sand or pebbles beneath your feet, you’ll need to leave the town and head elsewhere to the likes of the cute and romantic Spiaggia della Pignatella or the secluded Bay of Ieranto.
Salerno, however has a huge central beach, with lots of space for visitors and locals alike to play games, relax, or savor the sweet taste of gelato from one of the nearby ice cream parlors.
There are also several other big beaches just a short trip from Salerno, from the Lido A’Cartera to the Lido Rosana.
Overall, Salerno is definitely the better destination for sand and sea, with its own massive beach and lots of other big beaches nearby. They’re not exactly the prettiest beaches in Italy, but they’re still very pleasant places to spend a lazy afternoon or two.
Which Is Better For Hiking?
You won’t be able to do much hiking within the towns of Salerno or Sorrento. However, both of them are nicely-placed near some super hiking areas.
For visitors to Salerno, the best place to go is the Diecimare Natural Park. Extending across more than 400 acres, this park provides a scenic natural expanse, with several hiking paths to try.
Salerno is also conveniently situated near the Amalfi Coast and its famed “Path of the Gods” trail. Further south along the coast, Calore Gorge and Monte Stella are also good hiking areas.
Over in Sorrento, there are some nice hiking trails to uncover across the Sorrentine Peninsula.
This includes relatively relaxed coastal walks in areas like the Bay or Ieranto, along with more challenging treks, like a trip up Mount Faito. The Sentiero delle Sirenuse is another pleasant path, suitable for hikers of most ages and ability levels.
All in all, both locations are good for hiking, but you’ll find a wider range of trails and more dramatic, beautiful scenery to explore around Salerno.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
When it comes to nightlife, Salerno continues to impress. While seafront promenade feels pretty sleep after dark, the city’s historic center stays awake until the early hours, with plenty of bars, restaurants, and clubs, especially along the famed Via Roma.
The Dolcevita discotheque is arguably the city’s wildest nightlife location, with amazing sea views and live DJ performances.
Sorrento is also a lively spot, boasting a surprising number of bars and clubs for such a relatively small town.
There are some super spots to dance the night away, along with cozy hangouts to sip fine wines and spirits or mingle with the locals. Even if you want to stay out until 3 or 4am, Sorrento has options for you.
Overall, both cities have solid nightlife offerings, and if you like dancing, drinking, and having a good time once the sun has set, you’ll find a lot to love in both Sorrento and Salerno.
Which Is Better For Food?
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re in Salerno, Sorrento, or some other part of Italy, you’re always guaranteed to eat well in this wonderful country.
Italian cuisine is regarded as some of the best in the world, and both Salerno and Sorrento offer all the top class pizzas, pastas, and other traditional meals you could hope to find.
The area around Sorrento is famed for its lemon groves, with limoncello being the liqueur of choice. Gnocchi is also very popular in this town, along with fresh seafood, straight from the Tyrrhenian.
But even if seafood isn’t your sort of thing, there are lots of diverse, tourist-oriented restaurants to enjoy in this charming coastal town.
Salerno, being less touristic and more of a working city, offers more traditional Italian fare. There are plenty of budget-friendly, family-owned restaurants here.
The area around Salerno is also where buffalo mozzarella comes from, so it’s a super city for sampling this classic Italian cheese in various pizzas and pasta dishes.
Overall, there’s no clear winner. Sorrento has more diverse options, but Salerno has cheaper and more traditional menus, so it all depends on your budget and personal tastes.
Which Has The Best Hotels?
Since Sorrento is such a popular and well-developed touristic location, it’s got a great range of hotels to choose from. This includes everything from backpacker-friendly hostels to family guesthouses and fancy, boutique hotels.
They’re generally fairly-priced, especially when compared to the hotels of the Amalfi Coast, and offer comfortable rooms and decent amenities.
Salerno isn’t as much of a touristic hub, but still has a good range of hotels to pick from. However, since it’s such a big city, you have to be careful with where you stay in order to avoid being too far from the main sights.
It’s best to pick from the many lovely B&Bs of the historic area or the seafront hotels along the Lungomare.
Overall, there’s no clear winner here, as both locations offer a good mixture of accommodation options, although hotels tend to be quite a bit cheaper in Salerno compared to Sorrento.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
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!
Luxury: Set in the old town, Suite Prestige Salerno is a wonderful accommodation with a huge terrace offering fantastic city and sea views. There’s a reason this place is usually booked up well in advance. See photos and rates!
Which Has The Best Shopping?
If you want to buy some things to take back home, Salerno is a lovely place to shop. The Corso Vittorio Emanuele is the main pedestrian shopping zone, with lots of quaint shops and stores selling everything from high-end Italian fashion to bottles of limoncello.
However, souvenir shops aren’t common here, so it made be hard to find traditional gifts or postcards.
In Sorrento, meanwhile, there are plenty more souvenir and local craft shops to check out, so it’s easier to find the typical sorts of items you might like to gift to family or friends.
The main shopping area can be found around the bustling Piazza Tasso, with several big brand boutiques and lots of independent stores to browse.
To sum up, both towns are fine for shopping, with Sorrento being better for souvenirs and Salerno offering a wider range of stores. Of the two, shopaholics will probably find more to love in Salerno.
Which Is Better For Families?
If you’re planning a family trip to the Italian coast, Salerno is arguably a better place to be.
Kids of all ages can enjoy touring the city’s castle and roaming along its ramparts, before heading down to the beach for some fun in the sun. There are also simply more things to do here and it’s cheaper, too, making it easier for families on a budget.
At the same time, Sorrento is still a charming family destination. Older kids can have a ton of fun at local swimming zones like the gorgeous Baths of Queen Giovanna and its crystal waters, and many families will also enjoy spending time by the ports.
But, after a couple of days, you may run out of things to do, and the lack of beaches could be an issue for those with little ones.
Which Is Better For Couples?
For couples, picking between Sorrento and Salerno is a challenge, as both have so much to offer. In
Sorrento, for example, you can stay in a lovely boutique hotel, sample world-class seafood at a waterfront restaurant, or set off on thrilling day trips to places like Amalfi, Naples, and Herculaneum,
Meanwhile, over in Salerno, couples can find even more activities, walking hand-in-hand through Arechi Castle or visiting the city’s intriguing museums and beautiful gardens. Salerno also has the benefit of a huge beach, perfect for those romantic evening strolls with your partner.
Overall, Salerno is the better choice for couples who want a more interesting trip, with different things to do each day, and is also the superior option for those who love the beach.
Sorrento is better for couples who just want to kick back and relax in a small, simple, but beautiful setting.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
Both Salerno and Sorrento can also appeal to backpackers. The big benefit of choosing Salerno is that it’s cheaper. So, when it comes to things like your hotel, food, and getting around, you won’t have to spend as much.
There are also several free things to do, like the Arechi Castle walls. However, fewer people speak English here, which can make things tricky.
In Sorrento, it’s easier to find English-speaking staff and other tourists to mingle with or ask for guidance and directions.
There are also some super cheap guesthouses to stay in, and the town is ideally located for trips to the likes of Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast region for those who plan on hopping around.
Overall, both places can work well for backpacking. Budget-conscious travelers and those looking for a wider range of activities and a more traditional, authentic experience should probably pick Salerno, but first-time visitors might find Sorrento easier to navigate.
Which Is Cheaper?
Cost is another big factor for a lot of people when it comes to planning a trip and comparing different destinations. So, which of these two coastal towns is the cheapest and most welcoming for budget-conscious travelers?
Well, of the two, Salerno is definitely cheaper. You can find more budget-friendly accommodation and food in Salerno, with very reasonable average rates all around. So, if you’re looking for the best value for money, it’s a great place to base yourself.
Sorrento is still cheaper than staying in most of the villages of the Amalfi Coast, but it’s not quite as cheap as Salerno. With its more touristic vibe, you’ll have to pay a little extra for your hotel stay and daily meals.
Salerno vs Sorrento: Which Is The Better Choice?
Overall, there are clearly lots of things to love about both of these locations. They’re both beautiful, romantic, and charming in their own ways, with some super activities, gorgeous surrounding scenery, and awesome food. But which is best?
Well, for most people, Salerno will probably prove to be the more interesting and exciting destination. This is mainly due to the fact that it’s a lot bigger, with more things to see and do each day.
You can easily spend a full week here without running out of activities, and it’s also more budget-friendly. Plus, it has beaches, which are sorely lacking in Sorrento.
At the same time, Sorrento still deserves attention. It’s one of the top gateways for exploring Naples, Pompeii, and Amalfi, with reasonably-priced food and accommodation.
There’s plenty of touristic amenities to make your stay comfortable, relaxing, and enjoyable there. So, if you want to escape the big city, Sorrento is a terrific destination to pick.