Naples Or Sorrento? The Big City Or Resort Town?

Photo by Tom Podmore on Unsplash
Photo by Tom Podmore on Unsplash
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The choice between Naples and Sorrento is not too tricky. These two destinations might sit close to each other on the coast of southern Italy, and they do both offer wonderful food, glorious views, intriguing sights, and fascinating surroundings, but that’s where the similarities end.

One is a thriving urban hub with a gritty reputation, whose many charms are often unfairly overlooked by tourists. The other is a charming resort town that thrives on tourism and sits at the gateway of one of Italy’s most visited stretches of coastline. 

So, whether you’re trying to decide which location suits you best, wondering if you should visit them both, or just choosing where to base yourself so you can explore the wonders of Pompeii, we’re here to help. We’ve laid out the similarities and differences so you can make an informed decision between Naples and Sorrento. 

Naples Or Sorrento: Vibes

Sorrento's resort town vibe is very different to Naples urban one.
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

The resort town of Sorrento has been a popular holiday spot for centuries. It was once a must-stop for all wealthy Europeans touring the continent and was a favorite of the 19th-century literary elite. These days it’s known for its picturesque appearance and location as the gateway to the stunning UNESCO-listed Amalfi Coast

Despite its large reputation, it is quite a small town with a population of less than 20,000. However, it seems almost all of them work in the tourist industry! Sorrento has thrown itself wholeheartedly into being a welcoming resort town. English is widely spoken, signage is multilingual, public transport is efficient, and tour companies are plentiful.

Naples, on the other hand, has a history of poverty and a reputation for being one of Italy’s grittier, more chaotic cities. This reputation is a little outdated but remains one of the reasons visitors often avoid the city. Before you discount it, however, you should know that Naples is also known for offering an unpolished glimpse of authentic Italian life. It’s a busy, working city with all the noise, dirt, and pollution that goes along with that, rather than a gentrified version designed to please tourists. Visitors who take the time to explore will discover surprising beauty amidst the chaos. 

Conclusion: It depends whether you fancy a vacation in a trendy, lively, urban hub, or an elegant, tourist-friendly resort town. 

Naples Or Sorrento: City Sights

Naples is home to more than one castle
Photo by Ronni Kurtz on Unsplash

Another reason Naples gets overlooked is because of the abundance of famous cultural sights in other Italian cities. But Naples is home to plenty of wonders of its own. There’s an archaeological museum housing the world’s best collection of Pompeii artifacts, and the Sansevero Chapel Museum is home to The Veiled Christ, one of the most beautiful marble sculptures in Italy. 

Plus, there’s the fascinating Bourbon Tunnels, the Roman Catacombs, a cathedral, two royal palaces, three castles, and… oh, we could go on all day. Suffice it to say that you won’t run out of cultural sights to see in Naples. And you can break them up with coffee in a lively piazza, a stroll along the seaside promenade, a picnic in stunning gardens, or a train ride to the hilltops for stunning city vistas. 

The main sight in Sorrento might be the town itself. Tucked into the cliffside beside the dramatic Mediterranean coastline, dotted with lemon and olive groves, and filled with pretty, colorful buildings, Sorrento is picture-postcard perfect. The town also has a wonderfully unspoiled historic center featuring architectural influences by the town’s various historic rulers and not one but two picturesque harbors. 

You’ll find several museums worth visiting as well as the repeatedly remodeled Sorrento cathedral, the remains of the city’s fortified walls, and the 13th-century monastery of St Francis. Besides this monastery is Villa Communal park, where you’ll get the best sunset view of the town and the bay. 

Conclusion: you’ll find plenty to see in each location, but Naples has more historical and cultural sights to offer.

Naples Or Sorrento: Surrounding Area

Pompeii is a popular attraction for visitors to Italy.
Photo by Iwona Castiello D’Antonio on Unsplash

Visitors to Naples and Sorrento often come, not for the towns themselves but the wonders surrounding them. Such as the still active volcano Mount Vesuvius, which is located between the two cities and draws tourists who come to scale its heights and peer into the crater at the top. Beside Vesuvius is Pompeii, the preserved remains of a Roman town buried in the volcanic eruption of 79 AD, and the lesser-known but equally well-preserved city of Herculaneum. Another draw for the area are the islands, volcanic Ischia, and upmarket Capri. And, of course, the gorgeous landscape of the Amalfi Coast. 

In this case, it makes no real difference where you stay. These sites are visited by millions of tourists every year coming from both Naples and Sorrento. So you’ll find good public transport links and plenty of tour companies regularly leaving from both locations. 

Conclusion: It is equally easy to access these popular spots from either Naples or Sorrento. But if you want to stay as close to the Amalfi Coast as possible, opt for Sorrento.

Naples Or Sorrento: Shopping

the elegant Galleria Umberto I shopping gallery
Photo by Les Elby on Unsplash

Shopping is a favorite pastime in Sorrento. Start at the Piazza Tasso, this square is the heart of the city and a wonderful place to wander, browse, and people-watch. It’s crossed by Corso Italia, the best shopping street in Sorrento, where you’ll find designer boutiques selling high-end clothing and luxuries. Then follow the twisting streets to the historic district where the shops get smaller and quirkier and sell the traditional crafts, leather sandals, and distinctive woodwork that Sorrento is known for. And, you’ll find stalls selling all things lemon-flavored, lemon-scented, and lemon-shaped, thanks to the famous Sorrento lemons that grow in abundance here. Be sure to purchase a bottle or two of the locally made limoncello.

You might not think of shopping when it comes to Naples, but it’s a surprisingly wonderful retail destination where large, luxurious stores sit beside artisanal workshops selling traditional wares. Head to the upmarket neighborhood Chiaia to find the best of the city’s designer boutiques and art galleries, Poggioreale Market for beautiful, authentic Italian leather goods, and the Galleria Umberto I to shop luxe Italian brands in an elegant setting. But if you’re looking for something unique, head to the Via San Gregorio Armeno. Here you’ll find master crafters at work making the incredibly intricate nativity scenes that Naples is famous for. 

Conclusion: Serious retail therapy is available in either location. So if you’re in Italy to shop, it’s worth taking the time to visit both cities.

Naples Or Sorrento: Food 

Naples is the birthplace of pizza.
Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

Every region of Italy has its own specialties when it comes to food. And even within one region, you get variation from town to town. For example, both Naples and Sorrento are located only an hour apart, in the Campania region, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find the same menus in each place. 

They both make great use of the region’s excellent olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, and tomatoes. And, thanks to their working harbors, they’re both well known for serving up plenty of fresh seafood. But Sorrento, renowned for the lemon groves along its clifftops, adds a distinctly citrusy flair to many dishes. And it has its own signature dish Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina, gnocchi served in a rich tomato sauce with basil and Treccia, a delicious variation on the region’s mozzarella.

In Naples, you’re more likely to be dining on the flaky stuffed pastries sfogliatelle, struffoli dough balls, fried fish, or, of course, pizza! Naples is the birthplace of pizza and takes great pride in continuing to produce it perfectly. Real Neapolitan pizza is made with only local ingredients and cooked in a time-honored fashion in wood-fired ovens. The result is the most delicious pizza you’ll ever eat.

Conclusion: Pizza lovers should head to Naples but trust us, you’ll not be going hungry in either of these towns.

Naples Or Sorrento: Nightlife

evening drinks in Sorrento at sunset.
Photo by Maria Bobrova on Unsplash

Nightlife is one area where Naples’ reputation for energy and chaos works in its favor. It’s known to have a raw, youthful vibe that attracts a cutting-edge, trendy crowd. Nights out start at aperitivo time in the main piazzas of the city’s old town, or in the hilltop neighborhoods where cocktails come with wonderful views. From there, you can progress to one of the trendy cocktail lounges or rooftop bars that populate the city. Then head to a performance or event hosted by the local community, find yourself dancing to RnB or techno in a beachside club, or listening to jazz or world music at a late-night venue. In Naples, it’s all about variety!

Sorrento’s nightlife is lively but a little more mainstream. Here, it’s more about limoncello at sunset and cocktails overlooking the bay, before dancing the night away in the handful of late-night bars and clubs. Rather than Naples’ ultra eclectic music scene, Sorrento clubs offer a crowd-pleasing mix of Italian, European, and American pop and dance classics. 

Conclusion: head to Naples for the more vibrant, trendier nightlife, Sorrento for more laid-back vibes. 

Naples Or Sorrento: Budget

Naples by sunset
Photo by Judi Smith on Unsplash

The south of Italy is, on average, much cheaper than the north, so you’ll find you can enjoy a budget-friendly holiday in either of these locations. Naples is the slightly cheaper choice, with an average daily spend of $120 a day compared to $130 in Sorrento. This price discrepancy is mainly down to the size of Naples. More choices are available in the sprawling city than the resort town, and there is a broader range of prices in everything from accommodation to food to drinks to entertainment. 

Also, in Sorrento, most restaurants and bars are tailored towards the tourist market, which does tend to come with a hike in price. If you want to avoid this ‘tourist tax’, seek out smaller, locally favored restaurants and bars away from the main tourist areas. 

Conclusion: There’s not much in it, but Naples is a little more budget-friendly. 

Naples Or Sorrento: Accommodation 

Aerial view of Sorrento
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Given the historic nature of these towns, there’s no shortage of grand old buildings and elegant boutique hotels in either location. However, Naples offers more budget-friendly options such as hostels and homestays, and also more modern, sleekly urban choices. In comparison, Sorrento is the place to go if you want waterfront, resort-style accommodation, with swimming pools, grounds, and gardens.  

It’s also worth noting that despite Naples having three times as many accommodation options as Sorrento, it’s a little lacking in luxury choices. Naples has only four five-star choices compared to Sorrentos seven.

Conclusion: for beachfront luxury, head for Sorrento. For more choice, urban splendor, or budget-friendly options, choose Naples. 

Naples Or Sorrento: Conclusion

a fishing harbor at sunset.
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

So, hopefully, this has made your decision a little clearer. Because as you can see these two locations might be geographically close, but they differ in a lot of other ways. While they both offer great food, excellent shopping, and easy access to the region’s famous sights, the overall vacation style they offer is quite different.

Sorrento is a laid-back, tourist-friendly, lemon-scented resort town offering coastal vistas, grand history, elegant streets, and spacious accommodation. While Naples is a bustling, vibrant, urban hub. It showcases a slice of authentic Italian life alongside thriving nightlife, fascinating history, and a surprising number of artistic and historical gems.

Still can’t choose which one has the right vibe for you? The good news is you don’t have to! They’re so close together that if you spend just over one hour and $7 on the train, you can visit the other destination for a day trip or an overnight stay. Perfetto! 

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Anita is from Wales and has been a travel addict since her first trip to Australia ten years ago. Since then she's lived and worked in Oz, New Zealand and Canada, worked many ski seasons and travelled widely through South East Asia, Morocco, India and Europe. She's a nomad, freelance writer, foodie, compulsive reader, tea addict and animal lover.