Sorrento Cruise Port

Port of Sorrento: An Overview

It's almost a pity that most cruise passengers use Sorrento as a mere transportation hub, pausing just long enough to catch a bus, train or ferry to big-name destinations like Pompeii, Capri and Naples. The clifftop town -- with its alfresco cafes, 19th-century villas-turned-hotels, warrens of old city shopping streets and coastal views -- is a picturesque place to spend a relaxing day ashore. Sorrento offers cruisers a delectable taste of Italy that will leave you hungrily anticipating later ports of call along the Italian coast or yearning to return to take a bigger bite out of the scenic Amalfi Coast.

Sorrento wears its history on its sleeve -- a 10th-century church here, a 14th-century cloister there, a 15th-century loggia across the way. The area was first settled by the Greeks who called their new home "the city of Sirens" -- where in mythology, those lovely mermaids lured seamen to death with their pretty songs. In Homer's "Odyssey," Ulysses stuffed the ears of his crew with wax and bound himself to the mast so he could hear the tempting tunes as they passed by. Even so, Sorrento's alluring call enticed to its shores a number of different empires, whose wealthy saw the area as an ideal seaside playground. Roman emperors built vacation homes here, and the appeal carried into the 18th and 19th centuries when Europe's elite came here on their Grand Tours and the literati of the time wrote the praises of this seaside spot.

Today, Sorrento continues to be a popular tourist destination and the perfect spot for leisurely independent exploration. From the tender piers at Marina Piccola, it's a short bus ride (or more arduous walk) up the cliffside to Piazza Tasso, the main town square. From there, you can wander through the small tourist center, pausing to admire the inlaid-wood decorations in the Duomo, spend your euros on a leather bag or lemon-flavored chocolates, or simply admire the pastel-colored villas. There's no shortage of scenic overlooks for photos of your ship or the Amalfi Coast, and weary sightseers can rest their feet and fill their bellies in any number of alfresco cafes (try a wood-oven pizza for a true taste of the Campania region).

You certainly can't go wrong with day trips to Sorrento's more famous neighbors. A tour of the ruined city of Pompeii (or less famous Herculaneum) lets visitors experience how ancient Romans lived, worked and played. The Isle of Capri is a playground for the rich, but the casual tourist can enjoy dramatic views and upscale shopping from the island's picturesque towns. Cruise ships offer a variety of tours to all of these attractions, yet independent travelers should know that most day-trip destinations are easily reached on your own by Sorrento's trains and ferries.

If you do head out of town, try to come back early. Sorrento's pleasures can be sampled in only an hour or two, and a stroll through the town will be a wonderful cap to your day on the Amalfi Coast.

Port Facilities

Sorrento is a tender port, and one that is easily canceled if rough seas don't permit the tenders to run. Tenders dock at Marina Piccola, which is also where the hydrofoil to Capri departs. There's no terminal or any other port facilities.

Marina Piccola is located at the bottom of the cliff upon which the main town of Sorrento perches. Within steps of the tender drop off are souvenir and tobacco shops, a currency exchange office and several cafes. There are also ticket booths where you can buy ferry tickets to destinations like Capri, Naples and Positano, and a staging area to catch a bus or cab.

Don't Miss

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.

Getting Around

By Foot: The walk from the marina to town takes about 20 minutes and is mostly uphill, involving some 200 steps (not recommended for the faint of leg). While the walk from Sorrento back down to Marina Piccola isn't too bad (the steps start right after the scenic overlook on Via de Maio), most people will prefer to catch a bus up from the tender pier to the main town. If you're not venturing beyond Sorrento proper, you can easily walk to all the attractions, shops and cafes of the city center.

By Elevator: Follow the walkway to the right along the shore (toward the swimming concessions) a few minutes and you'll reach an elevator that takes you to the top of the cliff (1 euro one way or 1.80 euro round trip).

By Bus: From Marina Piccola, the blue bus (buy tickets onboard) heads directly to Piazza Tasso, Sorrento's main square. The orange bus (buy tickets at one of the nearby shops) goes to the Circumvesuviana train station. Intercity buses to destinations along the Amalfi Coast also depart from the train station, but be warned that the roads are winding and in high season, traffic can be heavy. City Sightseeing Sorrento offers a hop-on, hop-off bus tour in the greater Sorrento area, as well as excursions to Ravello, Minori/Maiori and Positano. Buses depart from various locations, depending on the tour. You can buy tickets online, onboard or in authorized agencies, such as hotels.

By Train: The Circumvesuviana Railway runs from Sorrento to Naples, with stops in Pompeii, Herculaneum and other towns. It's very easy to do independent exploration by train. Take the orange bus from the tender pier to the railway station; otherwise, it's a short walk from Piazza Tasso. Trains run about every half-hour.

By Ferry: Catch a ferry or hydrofoil from Marina Piccola to Capri, Naples, Positano or other destinations. The ticket booths and the departure points are steps from the tender drop off. The hydrofoil to Capri should take about 25 minutes.

By Taxi: You can hire a taxi from stands at Marina Piccola or in Piazza Tasso, if you wish to take a cab to nearby destinations or the Amalfi Coast. Be sure to agree on a price before you start driving.

By Car: Various local and international car rental agencies have offices in Sorrento, such as Auto Europe, Europcar and Hertz. However, even if you're willing to brave the twisting coastal road, with summer traffic you're better off taking a ferry or train.

Beaches

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.

Food and Drink

Sorrento's tourist areas are chockablock with restaurants, from cafes lining the various piazzas to upscale restaurants in fancy hotels. You can't go wrong with pizza (some of the best in Italy is found in Naples and its surrounding towns) or fresh fish. Skip dessert at lunch and stop later in the afternoon for a gelato (creamy Italian ice cream) or a taste of locally made limoncello (sweet lemon liqueur) at a bar. Most restaurants will charge a coperto (cover charge) of a few euros for bread and the privilege of sitting down at a table (a la tavola); this is separate from the service charge or gratuity, which may or may not be included. If you're having a coffee (caffe) or snack and don't care about sitting down, you can skip the coperto by bellying up to the bar. In some Italian bars, you pay first at the cashier stand and then order you food and drink at the counter.

On a hot day, an Aperol Spritz is a cool, refreshing and not overly alcoholic cocktail. It's a combination of bright-orange Aperol (an Italian bitter orange aperitif), prosecco and a splash of soda water, served over ice, usually in a balloon-type wineglass. Cin-cin!

Bar del Carmine: The cafes on Sorrento's Piazza Tasso tend to be expensive, not to mention crowded, but just off the square is Bar del Carmine, serving pizza and salads, with outdoor seating. We enjoyed the anchovy and olive pizza and a caprese salad. Open for lunch and dinner. (38 Piazza Tasso; 011 39 81 807 2889; open daily, 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.)

O Canonico 1898 and Pizzeria Aurora: These twin restaurants give visitors the option of more upscale or more casual dining from the same kitchen. O'Canonico serves up traditional cuisine, including homemade pasta, fish and meat dishes, and has an award-winning wine cellar. The more casual Pizzeria Aurora offers an enormous selection of toppings for its wood-oven pizzas. Both restaurants have outdoor seating, perfect for enjoying warm weather and life in Sorrento's main square. (7 Piazza Tasso and 10/11 Piazza Tasso; 011 39 81 8783277 and 011 39 81 8781248 , restaurant open daily, noon to 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to midnight; pizzeria open daily, 11:30 a.m. to midnight)

La Basilica: For a splurge, try a prix-fixe tasting menu (fish, meat or vegetarian versions) including starter, pasta, main dish, dessert and coffee. There's also an a la carte menu available. The restaurant is run by the same owners as pricier Caruso, but with similar-quality cuisine. Seafood is the specialty here -- try the ravioli stuffed with fish. (28 Via Sant'Antonino; 011 39 81 8774790; open daily, 1:30 a.m. to midnight)

L'Antica Trattoria: If you're looking for a fancier place to sample the local cuisine, head to this vine-covered courtyard, where the specialty is its antipasti. Reservations are recommended. (33 Via Padre Reginaldo Giuliani; 011 39 81 8071082; open daily, noon to 11:30 p.m.)

Gelateria David: You can't walk a block in Sorrento without stumbling across a gelato shop, but for an amazing selection of flavors, head straight for Gelateria David. Typical flavors like chocolate and strawberry are augmented by more unusual selections like noci di Sorrento (Sorrento walnuts), delizia al limone (lemon cream) or Ferrero Rocher (tastes like the milk chocolate-hazelnut candies). (19 Via Marziale; 011 39 81 807 36 49; open daily, 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.)

Good to Know

Sorrento appears not to believe in pedestrian crossings, so take care when crossing main roads such as around Piazza Tasso. It's not always obvious where the best place to cross the street is, especially with so many cars and Vespas darting about in multiple directions. When you see a clearing, walk quickly and confidently across the road and oncoming traffic should stop.

If you plan on touring the Amalfi Coast independently, pad your schedule with extra travel time, especially during the summer high season. Battling nightmarish traffic on your own could easily cause you to miss your ship. If you want to venture out of town, this is one port where shore excursions can be a lifesaver.

As is common throughout Italy, opening hours are subject to frequent change, fluctuation and whim. We've done our best to list hours accurately, but be sure to confirm before setting out. The same goes for sailing times of ferries and hydrofoils. No matter what a sign says, confirm that the boat you think will get you back in time is really going to be sailing. Even confirm that you're standing in the right spot to catch your boat, train or bus. (We once watched a Sorrento ferry sail off from the dock labeled "Napoli," only to discover it had been our ferry to Capri; at least all the waiting Italians were fooled, too!)

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The euro is the currency in use throughout Italy; for current currency conversion rates, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. There's a currency exchange office, but no ATM, near the Marina Piccola tender pier. Once up the hill, ATMs can be found in Piazza Tasso (northeast corner of the square) and just off Piazza Sant'Antonino at the intersection with Via San Francesco. Currency exchange offices are much more prevalent than actual banks.

Language

Italian is the official language, but English is widely spoken in the tourist areas, and English-language menus are available in many cafes.

Shopping

With lemon trees growing right in the city, products like limoncello and lemon-flavored candies and cookies are great local buys. The best areas for window-shopping are Piazza Tasso and the narrow Via San Cesareo. The streets are lined with shops selling everything from jewelry to limoncello, paintings, Murano glass, produce, ceramics and souvenirs.

For a more expensive souvenir, look for inlaid wood items (jewelry boxes, picture frames, etc.), as well as lace and embroidery. The best-known maker of inlaid furniture is Gargiulo & Jannuzzi (Piazza Tasso, 011 39 81 8781041) which opened in 1863.

For a very Italian souvenir, leather bags, gloves and belts make for fashionable gifts and mementos of your trip. Glove and pocketbook shop/manufacturer Concetta Pane (14/16 Via S. Francesco, 6/8/10 Via S. Cesareo and 16/20 Via S. Cesareo; 011 39 81 877 0003) also sells belts, shoes and wallets.

Keep in mind stores are open mostly 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and again from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

And if all the retail therapy has you hungry or thirsty, just pull up a chair at one of the cafes along the way.

--By Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor; updated by Gayle Keck, Cruise Critic contributor

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