Sorrento is an ideal base for exploring Pompeii, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast. Eighteen years had passed since my last visit to this area, and I fondly remembered Sorrento’s spectacular vistas, abundant lemon trees, and charming town square. I recalled the sheer enormity of the excavated ruins of Pompeii, the ash in my flip flops as I traversed the ancient cobblestones and explored the remaining shells of the buildings. The return trip was exactly as I remembered and for that I was grateful. I was so excited to share with my family the wonderful experiences I had stored in a far corner of my memory for far too long.
Transportation to points southward from Rome
In order to reach Sorrento and other points on the Amalfi Coast, you will have to first travel through Naples. I say through Naples, because I have yet to find a reason to actually stop and visit the city. From Termini Station in Rome, you will catch a train to Napoli Centrale, the main station in Naples. Once you arrive, you will follow the signs downstairs to the Circumvesuviana trains. You will need to buy a separate ticket there. The Naples train station is chock full of sketchy characters. Be mindful of the ones that offer to “help” you with getting your luggage onto the train. Please take my advice and kindly refuse. They are not there to help with your bags, if you know what I mean. The train ride to Sorrento is approximately an hour long. Mind your bags, there are a lot of tourists on the train, which makes it a prime target for small time thieves. I suggest standing or sitting with your backpack to a wall and standing away from a door.
Where We Stayed: Sorrento Flats, Corso Italia 176
The location is unbeatable. Many hotels in Sorrento will require you to take a taxi from the train station. This bed and breakfast is a couple of blocks walking from the train station, in a building on the main street, Corso Italia. Our host was the wonderful Luigi, who was charming, and made sure we had everything we could possibly need. We rented the apartment they have available. There was a single bedroom with a large comfortable bed, and in the main room, they had put together three single beds to make a very large bed for the three kids. There was a kitchen where we could prepare our meals (very handy when traveling with a child with allergies), a bathroom, a washing machine (which means I can pack fewer clothes), and a balcony with a view to the ocean. It is also just down the street from the grocery store, restaurants, and the main piazza. The place was very clean, large, and comfortable. Breakfast was also available.
One of the reasons to visit Sorrento is for the wonderful vistas along the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Naples. There is a ravine that divides the shops and restaurants of the old town from the more modern area. We hiked from the town square to the top of the cliffs overlooking the Marina Grande for the traditional tourist “photo op”. After the kids finally cooperated, we decided to hike down to the marina, which led to an impromptu day trip to Capri. When we returned to Sorrento, we enjoyed wandering aimlessly through the small streets of the town, sampling the limoncello in the local shops, and of course stopping in for gelato. We didn’t try any of the local restaurants because we had our own kitchen, but we always made time for gelato and sampled a couple of the gelaterias around town.
There are many ferries daily between Sorrento and Capri, and they are more frequent during the summer. Be sure to make note of the last return ferry or you will find yourself needing overnight accommodation on Capri. The ferry takes about an hour and costs around 18 € each way. The kids enjoyed the boat ride and it provided us with wonderful photo opportunities of both Sorrento and Capri from the water. We were fortunate enough to have my Sicilian friend, Franco, accompany us on this trip, so we had a built in translator for two days. When we arrived in the Marina Grande, we boarded a funicular (which the kids found really exciting) and took that up the hill to Capri. Unfortunately, we hit the town right during the afternoon riposo (translation: nap time), so all of the stores were closed. Via Camarelle is the main shopping street where the shops rival the finest boutiques in Paris. In other words, I couldn’t afford anything, and the riposo saved me from the embarrassment of “pretend” shopping. We took a leisurely stroll through town, which was easily the most enjoyable (and cheapest) part of the afternoon. The heart of the island is the Piazetta, where locals and tourists alike gather at the sidewalk cafes for afternoon coffee and drinks. After enjoying some refreshments, we headed back to the marina for the return ferry ride. We had to wait about an hour for our return trip, so we walked to the beach area. Unfortunately, it is not a sandy beach, it is a rocky beach. The kids were unfazed and proceeded to throw rocks for the next thirty minutes (with adults joining in the fun). The ferry ride back was uneventful, followed by a steep climb up to Sorrento town from the marina.
It is fairly simple to reach Pompeii from Sorrento. Buy a return ticket to Pompei Scavi at the Sorrento ticket window. The train ride is a quick 30 minutes. Plan on arriving early in the morning, because it will take most of the day to explore, and it will get hot in the afternoon. Once you arrive, turn right, make your way through all the other day trippers, walk past the souvenir kiosks and food stands, and find yourself at the biglietteria (ticket booth). Purchase your tickets and be sure to grab a couple of maps (if you are like us, you will misplace at least one of them along the way). Once you have tickets in hand, pass through the turn-style, walk up the cobblestone ramp, and pass under the stone arch. You will find yourself transported to a world buried almost 2000 years ago when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered Pompeii in lava and ash. The city lay covered and undisturbed until 1748, when explorers seeking riches began to excavate a site called La Cività and the rest, as they say, is history. Today we are the benefactors of this natural preservation. The site is still not completely excavated, but there are ancient villas, baths, and an amphitheater for your family to discover. We made good use of the onsite café, stopping for water and coffee in the morning, and lunch later in the day. Our friend Franco came along and it was a good thing too, because we needed the extra hands to help wrangle the kids as they were often running in and out of buildings and up and down streets faster than we could keep up with them. In six hours we probably covered less than half of the site. We would have returned for a second day if we had the time. The kids also asked to hike up Mount Vesuvius, which we did not do, but there are several tour companies that will arrange day trips to the volcano.
In my book, Sorrento, is a charming, picturesque Italian village that is an optimal home base for day trips to Pompeii and Capri. By using Sorrento as your base you give yourself the option of using public transportation to explore the area and save yourself the hassle of driving the dangerous hair pin curves along the coast and trying to find parking. A return visit to these cities definitely lived up to my expectations, and planted the seed for my children’s desire to return someday, which is exactly what I had envisioned.