Last updated on April 6, 2023 by Wandering our World
The Italian coastline is absolutely filled with dozens upon dozens of beautiful towns and villages, with Sorrento and Positano standing out as two of the very best. Unsurprisingly, these two towns – which are only around 10 miles apart by car – draw in large numbers of tourists each year.
Sitting on the Sorrentine Peninsula in Southern Italy, Positano and Sorrento both enjoy fabulous weather with hot, dry summers and mild winters. They’re enjoyable all-year long, with scenic views, colorful buildings, great places to stay, and an impressive array of attractions and activities.
Since they’re so close to one another, it’s not too hard to visit both of these towns on the same trip. However, they’re actually more different than many people realise.
For example, Sorrento is well suited for day trips and has a little more to do. But Positano and it’s more jet-set vibe has the advantage of having it’s own beach!
However that’s just the start when it comes to how these two towns differ…
That’s where we can help!
Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at how Sorrento and Positano compare in a range of key areas, like accessibility, 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 Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is The Best Choice?
A Quick Overview: Sorrento vs Positano
Sorrento: A Quick Overview
Sorrento is a small town in Southern Italy, looking out over the Bay of Naples from the Sorrentine Peninsula. The town stretches out across three square miles of land and is home to approximately 17,000 people.
The history of this city goes back many years, having been controlled by Romans, Ostrogoths, and Byzantines throughout the ages.
It also has mythological importance and is often associated with sirens or mermaids – in fact, the very name of this town is derived from the legendary sirens who were said to lure and seduce sailors to their doom.
These days, the town is a thriving tourism hub, boasting a beautiful historic center, majestic views over the Bay of Naples, and plenty of bars and cafés, along with some great boutiques and intriguing aristocratic homes, some of which are open to visitors.
Sorrento is also a popular place for travelers to base themselves for exploration of the surrounding area – it’s ideally located for trips into Naples, tours of Pompeii, ferry rides to the island of Capri, and exploration of the Amalfi Coast.
Positano: A Quick Overview
Positano is a little village not far from Sorrento, on the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula. It’s part of the Amalfi Coast region and is often regarded as the prettiest of all the Amalfi Coast towns.
Like Sorrento, Positano extends over approximately three square miles of land, but it looks and feels significantly smaller overall, with a much lower population of around 4,000 people.
It was once a thriving and wealthy port, transitioning into a sleepy fishing village and then bursting to life once more in the 20th century, particularly in the 1950s after American writer John Steinbeck wrote an essay calling it a “dream place”.
Very quaint and remarkably beautiful, Positano is emblematic of the coastal towns in this part of Italy, boasting dramatic cliffs, colorful buildings, and acres of Old World charm.
It sits among the Lattari Mountains and is surrounded by lemon groves – limoncello, a popular liqueur, is made in large quantities here.
Which Is Best For Beaches?
One of the main draws of the south coast of Italy is its beaches, and many people flock to this area to spend entire days lounging on the soft sands and gazing out at the shimmering blue waters, but which town is best for beaches between Sorrento and Positano?
Well, one of the very few downsides of Sorrento is that it doesn’t really have a beach of its own. There are some swimming decks and platforms afforded to guests of coastal hotels, along with a very small and crowded patch of sand down by the marina.
But, in general, if you want a true sand and sea experience, you’ll need to leave the town behind.
Fortunately, there are some awesome beaches only a short drive or bus ride away, like the volcanic sands of Piano di Sorrento and the romantic Spiaggia della Pignatella, which is a great spot for watching the sunset.
The area also boasts some super swimming spots, like the Baths of Queen Giovanna – a natural, emerald pool enclosed by cliffs and rocks.
Unlike Sorrento, Positano can boast of a large and impressive beach of its own in the form of Spiaggia Grande.
Divided into free and private sections, this beach can get very crowded in summer, but it’s a wonderful place to spend some time, with amazing views and idyllic sunbathing conditions.
The village is also conveniently located near several other picture-perfect sandy and pebbled spots, like Arienzo, Fornillo, La Porta, and Fiumicello.
Plus, it’s really easy to hop on a boat and head further down the Amalfi Coast for even more breathtaking beach experiences, meaning that Positano is definitely the best destination to choose for beach-based fun.
Which Is Best For Activities?
As well as spending time on the beach, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy in Sorrento and Positano.
From shopping to hiking, scuba diving, and admiring local landmarks and architecture, you’ll find numerous fun ways to spend your days.
Below are the activity highlights in each town, so you can see which will suit your holiday preferences the most!
Sorrento: The Activities
One of the must-see sights in Sorrento is the town’s centro storico, or historic center.
There you’ll find a winding, labyrinthine layout of charming little streets, perfect for lazy afternoon strolls or aimless wanders with a partner. Various boutiques and beautiful buildings can be spotted along the way, with several churches among the town’s classic, pastel-colored homes.
To really immerse yourself in Sorrento’s culture and vibes, head to the Piazza Tasso. This is the heart of the town, a lively and dynamic meeting place for both locals and travelers, and it’s easily the best spot in the city for people watching and sampling some locally-made limoncello.
The Marina Grande or large port of Sorrento is worth exploring, too, along with the Marina Piccola (small port).
The Villa Communale park provides pleasant views across the Gulf, while the Cathedral of Sorrento is a must-see landmark, with history dating all the way back to the 11th century.
Live events are sometimes held at the Chiesa di San Francisco, and some of Sorrento’s spectacular villas are open to the public, too, like the Villa Fiorentino, which boasts jaw-dropping gardens and luxurious décor.
You can also hike along the area’s historic donkey trails, or leave Sorrento behind on a day trip to Naples, Pompeii, or other popular places.
Positano: The Activities
Compared to Sorrento, Positano has a smaller selection of landmarks and must-see sights, catering more for travelers who want to relax on the beach or while away the hours by the side of their hotel’s pool.
With that said, there are still some fun and interesting things to do here.
The village’s most popular landmark is most probably the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. Dating all the way back to the 10th century, this church is famed for its colorful tiled dome and Byzantine black Madonna icon.
The Roman Archaeological Museum is worth checking out, too. It’s not very big, but allows you to explore the remnants of an ancient Roman villa.
The village of Positano has even featured in several films over the years, like the 1994 romantic comedy ‘Only You’.
The Rolling Stones’ songwriters, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, wrote ‘Midnight Rambler’ here, too, so some tourists like to wander around and visit a few of the town’s filming and songwriting locations and other interesting landmarks where famous people once stood.
Aside from that, you can try hiking along the famous Path of the Gods or take boat rides further down the coast, visiting and exploring some of the other Amalfi Coast towns, like Furore, Conca dei Marini, and Amalfi itself.
Overall, both Sorrento and Positano have a pleasant selection of activities.
They’re both pretty small towns and don’t have dozens and dozens of things to do, but they can offer enough for a relaxing and fun few days or week-long trip.
But with a few more landmarks to visit, Sorrento is arguably more interesting, but Positano should suit those seeking some simple R&R.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
Those who enjoy nightlife will most likely favor Sorrento over Positano.
This town has a number of restaurants and bars that stay open late, along with popular nightclubs and even live music venues.
So, even after the sun has set, the fun continues in this picturesque coastal town. There are also more bars and clubs in neighboring towns, giving you even more options.
Over in Positano, the atmosphere is a little more subdued and the village feels pretty sleepy after dark, with most people simply heading back to their hotels.
If you want to do something after dark, your only options are to grab an evening meal at a local restaurant, stroll along the beach, or head east along the Amalfi Coast to livelier locations like Amalfi.
Which Is Better For Hiking?
Hiking enthusiasts often head to the coast of Southern Italy to enjoy the many seaside trails and magical views of this area, and you’ll find no shortage of pleasant paths to walk along in the areas around Sorrento and Positano.
Sorrento has an impressive range of options. You may have to travel a short distance out of the town to access some of them, but the trails are plentiful and picturesque here.
Those who like a challenge might like to tackle a trek up Mount Faito, for instance, while those looking for coastal beauty should take the hike around the Bay of Ieranto, one of the area’s best-kept secrets.
A lot of travelers love to hike around Positano and further on along the Amalfi Coast. You can follow the famous Path of the Gods here, a stunning trail that is by far one of the best in all of Italy, taking you east along the coast.
That trail can take up to five hours to complete the whole thing, and you can stop off at other towns and viewpoints along the way.
Overall, it’s tough to pick a winner, as both of these locations offer excellent hiking opportunities. But Positano probably just edges it, due to the fact that its local trails are easier to access and arguably more scenic than those of Sorrento.
Which Is Better For Food?
Naturally, since they’re so close to one another, using many of the same locally-grown ingredients like olives and lemons, Sorrento and Positano have pretty similar culinary scenes.
However, you might notice a couple of key differences between the two.
As the larger location, Sorrento has a wider range of eateries to choose from, including some genuinely world-class restaurants with phenomenal Italian cooking. Quality pizza and pasta are easy to access, along with exquisite cheeses and the region’s signature limoncello.
Over in Positano, the culinary vibe is more oriented towards seafood, fresh from the Tyrrhenian Sea. There are plenty of great seafood bars down by the beach where you can enjoy a pot full of mussels or some flavorful fish dishes.
So, if seafood is your sort of thing, you may want to opt for Positano over Sorrento.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for more traditional Italian fare, like saucy pasta dishes and cheesy pizzas, Sorrento is the more suitable choice.
Which Has The Best Hotels?
As well as thinking about food and things to do, you’ll also want to find a nice place to stay during your time in either Sorrento or Positano.
Both of these towns have highly-rated hotels and other accommodation options, but, once again, there are some differences to keep in mind.
Sorrento has a wider selection of places to stay, ranging from budget-friendly B&Bs and backpacker-friendly guesthouses to luxurious, boutique hotels with all the amenities your heart desires.
Over in Positano, there’s more of a focus on glitzy and glamorous hotels with amazing sea views and exceptionally comfortable rooms.
So, if you feel like sampling some luxury, Positano is the place to be, but you will have to spend a little extra cash for your stay.
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!
Budget: A budget price point in Positano isn’t easy, but Villa Casola B&B is a great place to stay if you’re looking for fantastic service at a reasonable price. Plus the panoramic view of Positano Bay from the terrace is worth the price alone. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Located directly on a cliff in the heart of the Amalfi Coast, a stay at Villa Treville will have you waking up to stunning sea views every morning. Expect celebrity treatment at one of the best hotels around. See photos and rates!
Which Has The Best Shopping?
Shopping is a popular thing to do throughout the towns of Positano and Sorrento, and you’ll have plenty of stores and boutiques to choose from if you’re looking to pick up some elegant Italian accessories or locally-made souvenirs to take home with you.
Sorrento has lots of good shops around the lively Piazza Tasso. There are local, independent boutiques to explore, as well as big brand stores selling the latest fashions. You might like to grab a bottle or two of limoncello for friends and family back home.
Positano is also quite well-known for its shops. Despite being a small village, it boasts a number of interesting stores on either side of its main street.
There are various ateliers and craft stores selling locally-made goods in Positano, but not quite as many options as Sorrento.
Which Is Best For Day Trips?
There’s lots to love about Positano and Sorrento, but you might like to see a little more of Italy during your stay, and both towns are well-situated for day trips to some very desirable and interesting areas.
Sorrento has the advantage of having its own train station, and you can take trains from here to various parts of Italy, including Naples – the home of pizza – and Pompeii, the ancient Roman city that was destroyed in the enormous eruption of Mount Vesuvius, way back in 79 AD.
It’s also very easy to get from Sorrento over to the paradise island of Capri.
Over in Positano, most people will take day trips along the Amalfi Coast. You can visit Amalfi itself to see its fascinating paper museum and fabulous cathedral, for example, explore the historic villas of Ravello, or admire the awe-inspiring Fjord of Furore.
There are 13 towns in total to enjoy along this super stretch of coastline, and lots of activities to try along the way.
Overall, the best choice for day trips will depend on what you want to see and do. Sorrento is great for diversity, allowing you to explore amazing historic sites and big, bustling cities, while Positano is well-suited for trips to coastal resorts and stunning beaches.
Which Is Better For Families?
Heading to the Italian coast with the kids? If so, both Sorrento and Positano have plenty of advantages.
In Sorrento, you’ve got more attractions and landmarks to visit, along with fun family activities like cooking classes and swimming.
Plus Sorrento is a solid base for exploring other parts of Italy that kids are sure to enjoy, like Pompeii.
Over in Positano, the main advantage is the beach. You can walk to the beach from most hotels, allowing little ones to have fun playing games, making sandcastles, or splashing in the sea.
Aside from that, there’s not too much to do, and kids might get a little bored in Positano, but you can head further down the coast to find more activities and attractions.
Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
Many couples hesitate between Sorrento and Positano, and it’s not hard to see why.
Both of these coastal towns are quaint, charming, and picturesque, with fabulous food, stunning scenery, and plenty of benefits.
But the best option for you and your partner will depend primarily on your tastes and travel plans.
Those who want to explore and enjoy multiple activities and locations might prefer to base themselves in Sorrento, as it’s much easier to rent a car and get around here.
However, if you want a luxury hotel and long, relaxing days by the beach, Positano is probably the more appealing choice for you.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
If you’re heading to the coast on a budget, Sorrento is definitely a top spot to choose.
Widely-considered a haven for backpackers and budget-travelers, Sorrento has all you need, including high quality hostels, great public transport, and easy links with lots of other parts of Italy.
Backpackers can visit Positano and have a pleasant time there, too. There are some great hiking trails, and it’s a nice starting point to explore the rest of the Amalfi Coast.
However, the average hotel rates are a little more expensive, and you might have to spend more money getting around, as well.
Which Is Cheaper?
When it comes to costs, there’s quite a big difference between Positano and Sorrento, with the latter being significantly cheaper overall.
Most travelers will spend a lot less on accommodation, food, public transport, and even tours and activities in Sorrento, so it’s much easier to plan a cheap trip here.
Over in Positano, and most of the other Amalfi Coast towns, there’s more of a glamorous, jet-set vibe, which results in higher prices all-round.
Hotels cost more, food tends to be pricier, and even something as simple as a souvenir may have a higher price tag, so budget-conscious travelers will have to be more careful.
Which Is Easier To Get To?
So, how will you get to either Sorrento or Positano?
Well, even though these two towns are really close together, the process of getting to Sorrento is somewhat easier compared to accessing Positano.
You can take trains direct from Rome or Naples to Sorrento, which is the last stop on the Circumvesuviana route.
The Amalfi Coast towns, like Positano, don’t have any train routes, so they’re trickier to access.
If you choose to hire a car for your stay, it’s once again easier to access Sorrento. This is because you’re not allowed to drive in Positano itself and will have to park your car outside the village and then take a bus into the center.
Sorrento doesn’t have those same limitations, although there are parts of the city center where traffic is strictly controlled.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
Once you’ve arrived in either Sorrento or Positano, you’ll have a few different options in terms of getting around.
And, once again, it’s Sorrento that takes the win in this category, as it’s generally an easier place to navigate.
Both towns are very walkable, and you can see more of the sights with ease on your own two feet.
However, if you want to explore a little more of the surrounding area, you might like to hire a car, which is much easier to do in Sorrento – it’s not recommended to hire cars along the Amalfi Coast, as the towns don’t offer much parking and traffic can be terrible.
Sorrento also has trains and bus links with other cities and popular landmarks, like Pompeii.
In Positano, you’ll have to rely on either buses – which can be very slow, due to the traffic – or boats, which are convenient, but may be expensive, to make your way around.
Sorrento vs Positano: Which Is The Better Choice?
Overall, there are so many reasons to visit both Sorrento and Positano, and no matter which town you choose, you’re sure to have a terrific time and make many happy memories with your fellow travelers.
Sorrento is a great place to stay for general exploration of the Sorrentine Peninsula, while boasting many landmarks of its own. And Positano is a fine example of all the Amalfi Coast has to offer, from pretty beaches to charming cafés.
Both towns have clear advantages and work well for different kinds of travelers, but Sorrento is arguably the better choice for most travelers, due to the fact that it’s cheaper, with a wider range of activities, restaurants, and places to stay.
Plus, it’s easier to get to and well-positioned for exploration of the surrounding towns and regions.
With that said, Positano is still a lovely little village that’s certainly worth visiting if you enjoy beach-based activities, scenic hikes, boat rides, and small town vibes, and it’s one of the best places to base yourself if you plan to explore the Amalfi Coast further.