Popular Sorrento Shore Excursions
Pompeii: Without a doubt, this is the highlight, must-do regional attraction. Because Pompeii is so massive (some 66 acres), it's best viewed with a guide -- either on a shore excursion or by arrangement on your own (our favorite local guide is archaeologist Dr. Paolo Gardelli, 011 39-348-893-1459). For those who want to go it on their own, there is a commuter train (the Circumvesuviana) that runs frequently from Sorrento to Naples with a stop near the ancient site (ask at the train station for specifics). Pompeii was once a city of 20,000 inhabitants before it was buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The majority of the city has been excavated and the ruins are amazing. On a tour you will see enough ruins and marble streets to visualize a commercial center with shops, temples, baths, theaters, villas and some 22 houses of ill repute (one marked by a still-visible symbol of a male body part...). One big reason to go with a guide is the capricious opening and closing of various buildings. If you go without a guide, be sure to get a map and inquire at the entrance about which houses are open -- otherwise, you could waste a lot of time walking around the site, only to discover a padlock on the door of a house you were eager to see. An advantage to skipping the group shore excursion is the ability to visit those far-flung buildings that won't be packed with tourists. During the trip to Pompeii you can also view Vesuvius, the still-active volcano, looming over the scene. (127 Via Roma and 2 Via Villa dei Mysteri, Pompeii; 011 39 81 8575 347; open April 1 to October 31, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8:30 to 7:30 p.m., last entrance at 6 p.m.; open November 1 to March 31, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8:30 to 5 p.m., last entry at 3:30 p.m.)
Amalfi Coast Road: Driving the steep and winding Amalfi Coast, even on a bus, can be a white-knuckle experience, but the views are worth it. You can catch a bus to Positano, the well-known hideaway of artists and writers (including John Steinbeck). The town is now filled with boutiques and fancy hotels but still a pretty place to visit -- pastel-colored houses spill down a cliff to the sea. Be prepared for a leg workout; the streets are steep. Also note the hourly buses can get very crowded, and occasionally people get bumped -- allow plenty of time to get back to your ship. You can also catch a boat to Positano from Sorrento, with boats making the 45-minute trip about four times a day. Taxis between Positano and Sorrento are about $75 each way.
Capri: The island of Capri, located just across the Bay of Naples, has charming villages (Anacapri and Capri) full of boutiques and sidewalk cafes and is a fun destination for easygoing sightseeing. Other diversions include a boat trip to the Blue Grotto (daily, regular departures from 9 a.m. throughout the day, departs from Marina Grande on Capri, weather permitting); it's a fabulous sea cave. Also check out Villa San Michele (34 Viale Axel Munthe, Anacapri; 011 39 81 837 1401; open daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.). The 18th-century home of a Swedish physician, this elegant villa has lovely furnishings, classical art and a gorgeous garden. Antiquities buffs might enjoy hiking the 45 minutes up to the ruins of Villa Jovis (Via Tiberio, Capri; 011 39 81 837 0381; open Wednesday to Monday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., last entrance 5:15 p.m.; seasonal hours may vary), one of Roman Emperor Tiberius' 12 known villas on the island. To get to Capri, take the hydrofoil from Marina Piccola; the trip across the Bay of Naples takes 25 minutes each way, and boats dock at Marina Grande on the island. Beware, if the weather looks at all iffy or seas are high, you could risk getting stuck on Capri. We visited once when boats were canceled for several hours (fortunately not on a cruise!).
Naples: Naples is the largest city in the area around Sorrento, and its primary tourist attraction is the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, also known as the National Archeological Museum (Piazza Museo; 011 39 81 442 2149; open Wednesday to Monday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., last entry 7 p.m.) which, according to popular opinion, has better displays of artifacts from Pompeii than Pompeii itself. The museum also features a truly world-class collection of classical sculpture, Egyptian antiquities, murals and mosaics. If your tastes lean toward the scandalous, don't miss the Gabinetto Segreto, a once-forbidden "secret cabinet" of erotic art from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Other historic sites in Naples include the 13th-century Castel Nuovo (Piazza Municipio; 011 39 81 795 7722; open Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday until 2 p.m.) and the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte (2 Via Miano; 011 39 81 749 9111; open Thursday to Tuesday, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Thursday until 10:30 p.m.), which was an 18th-century palace and has now been restored and transformed; it showcases an excellent collection of Renaissance art. Plus, when in Naples, be sure to eat pizza -- you can't go wrong with a traditional margherita pizza (mozzarella, tomato and basil).
Scenic trail: For those looking for some exercise, there's decent, scenic hiking in the green hills above Sorrento. Trails are marked and the local tourist office (35 Via de Maio) can offer specific advice.
Chiesa di San Francesco: Dating from the 14th century, Chiesa di San Francesco offers pretty archways and a lovely garden. The convent is also an art school that regularly offers exhibits. The nearby Villa Comunale gardens are a pleasant setting for resting weary feet while enjoying panoramic views of the Bay of Naples. (The Cloister of St. Francis; Via San Francesco; 011 39 81 533 5254; open daily, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.)
Cattedrale di Sorrento: With its beautiful marble columns and Renaissance artwork on the ceiling, Cattedrale di Sorrento is worth a quick stop. Sorrento is known for its inlaid woodwork, and the cathedral has intricately designed wooden depictions of the Stations of the Cross. (44 Via Santa Maria della Pieta; 011 39 81 878 2248)
Museo Correale di Terranova: Located in a former palace that today houses ancient works of art and a whole bunch of antiques, including locally produced inlaid wood products. The gardens are also worth a peek. (50 Via Correale; 011 39 81 878 1846; open Tuesday to Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Sundays until 1:30 p.m.)
Herculaneum: Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was destroyed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. This smaller, more upscale town of about 5,000 inhabitants has only been partially excavated but, because it was inundated by a pyroclastic surge of superheated gas, rather than just ash, you can often see even more intriguing details than are available at Pompeii. You'll discover charred woodwork, furniture and the sad, huddled skeletons of citizens who rushed to the waterfront in hopes of being rescued by boat. (75 Via Mare, Ercolano; 011 39 81 7324111; open daily, April 1 to October 31, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., last entrance at 6 p.m.; November 1 to March 31, daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., last entry at 3:30 p.m.)
Other Vesuvian excavations: If you've been to the biggies (Pompeii and Herculaneum) but haven't had enough ancient Roman sites, there are more fascinating excavations to see in the area -- and, as an added bonus, you won't be jostled by mobs of tourists. The Circumvesuviana train stops in the towns where these sites are located, then you can walk or take a taxi. Stabia (1 Passeggiata Archeologica, Castellammare di Stabia; 011 39 81 857 5347; open daily, April 1 to October 31, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., last entrance at 6 p.m.; November 1 to March 31, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., last entry at 3:30 p.m.) was an elite resort town, where some villas were the size of a football field. You can visit areas where slaves lived, see grand vestibules and delicate fresco designs. Oplontis (Via Sepolcri, Torre Annunziata; 011 39 81 862 1755; open daily, April 1 to October 31, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., last entrance at 6 p.m.; November 1 to March 31, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., last entry at 3:30 p.m.) is home to the grand, arcaded Villa di Poppea, a sprawling seaside getaway believed to have belonged to Emperor Nero's second wife. You can see various eras of Roman decoration, as well as a home improvement project that was in progress. Boscoreale (15 Via Settetermini, Localita Villa Reggina, Boscoreale; 39 081 857 5347; open daily, April 1 to October 31, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., last entrance at 6 p.m.; November 1 to March 31, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., last entry at 3:30 p.m.) is a large Roman villa rustica farmhouse, where grapes and orchard trees have been planted in the exact spots where they grew in Roman times (the holes where their roots grew were preserved by the eruption). There's also a small but fascinating museum that includes farm implements, vessels and carbonized food, including a loaf of bread.
If you want to while away the day sunning or splashing in the sea, Sorrento can accommodate you. Just don't expect big, picturesque swaths of sand. Most seaside access is via private concessions, with a small entrance fee. All are to the right of the tender port, a few minutes' stroll from Marina Piccola. Just follow the walkway that runs along the base of the cliff.
Best for bargain-hunters: If you don't want to pay for water access, there's a small, free beach, which is likely to be packed with kids and teens in the summertime.
Best for ambiance: Pay a few euros and you'll find a much calmer scene -- along with changing facilities, food and drinks -- at one of the private waterfront concessions. You can take a quick look (they're all in a row), to see which one suits you. Some have a beach area, while others have more of a swimming-pool effect, with concrete piers and ladders down to the water.