If you’re deciding between Amalfi or Sorrento, then you’ve got a tricky one on your hands! These glimmering towns of pastel-painted mansions and pebble beaches, chic hotels and old lemon orchards are among the most celebrated pit stops on the uber-romantic, uber-famous, UNESCO-tagged Amalfi Coast.
The first, Amalfi, is the namesake of the region. Set on a dramatic perch of limestone mountains, it cascades down to the sky-blue Tyrrhenian Sea with its pretty Duomo di Amalfi and stony beaches dotted with sunbeds. It’s considered one of the jewels of southern Italy as a whole, with a rep that brings in regular jet setters, yachters, honeymooners, and the like.
Sorrento is a touch different. Technically speaking, it’s not actually on the Amalfi Coast, but acts as the gateway to the famous region since it sits at the south end of the Bay of Naples. It’s bustling, it’s bobbing with fishing boats, it’s lived in, but it’s also stylish and cool, with trattoria and wine bars that will blow your mind. Anyhow…let’s compare!
Amalfi or Sorrento: General vibe
Both found in the southwest, Sorrento and Amalfi are two seaside towns nestled on the Sorrentine Peninsula in the Campania region of Italy. Although often grouped as part of the iconic Amalfi Coast, Sorrento actually sits on the north side of the Sorrentine Peninsula, facing the Bay of Naples. Amalfi, for its part, is right in the heart of the Amalfi Coast itself.
Both towns are known for their busy marinas and tourist appeal, but Sorrento’s run of shoreline isn’t quite as famous because it’s not within the designated UNESCO area or the accepted region of the Amalfi Coast. That means Amalfi tends to get much busier in the peak summer. In fact, it can be oppressively crowded in the peak months of June and July, made worse by the fact it’s a small, tight-knit town.
Sorrento has a larger permanent population than Amalfi, counting 16,000 inhabitants compared to Amalfi’s 5,000. We think that lends it a more lived-in feel. It’s less of an out-an-out resort (although vacationing is certainly still the number one appeal here) and more of a workaday town, with fishing folks, students, locals, and the like.
The greater Sorrento Coast does have a plus to us because it’s less known. The untrodden beaches and laid-back atmosphere here are a welcome change from the Amalfi Coast proper, and even bustling Naples. A lot of that is down to the fact that Amalfi is much smaller than Sorrento, so it can feel cramped (not to mention, it can be very expensive to find somewhere worthwhile to stay!).
Amalfi or Sorrento: Getting there
They might be only an hour apart by car, but the accessibility of Amalfi and Sorrento could make all the difference when choosing which one to visit.
The Sorrento Coast is generally considered easier to get to than the Amalfi Coast from most parts of Italy. That’s mainly to do with the local Circumvesuviana train, which links Sorrento town to the big city of Naples every half an hour, taking around 50 minutes in all.
Sorrento is also closer to the Naples Capodichino Airport, the only international airport in Campania and a growing hub for both low-cost and premium fliers. It takes around an hour to drive from the car hires in the arrival terminal to Sorrento town. Finally, there’s the direct Curreri bus, which takes a bit longer to go Naples to Sorrento but only costs 10 euros (it’s the budget option).
Amalfi can also be reached by bus, but it is an extra hour and a half from Sorrento after traveling down from Naples. Nevertheless, the scenic and winding coastal roads are straight out of a James Bond movie and an exciting bucket-list experience for your trip to Campania. You can also hop on a ferry from Naples to Amalfi. It’s a seasonal option since the boats typically only run in the summer and is a great way to see the coast in all its glory, though it’s still over 1.5 hours in all.
All that said, there’s no better way to arrive in Amalfi than with your own hire car. One of the great joys of this region is in driving around the winding, wiggling coast roads. They aren’t the safest, so be sure to take it slow. They are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, with sweeping vistas of the Med on one side and the rugged Campanian mountains on the other.
Winner: Sorrento is certainly easier to get to but the drive to Amalfi is downright gorgeous.
Amalfi or Sorrento: Beaches
Italy’s 7,500km of Mediterranean coastline is known for its great beaches, and both the Sorrentine Peninsula and Amalfi Coast are no different. However, while Sorrento is in reach of some seriously gorgeous spots, Amalfi is decidedly better in our humble opinion. Let’s dig a little deeper…
What Sorrento does spectacularly well is rugged, rocky shoreline and urban swimming spots. The north side of the peninsula, which is where Sorrento makes its home, is steeper and more vertiginous as it meets the Med. Many of the beaches are either manmade or very small and only really accessible by boat. The best ones for us would be:
- Leonelli’s Beach – The most popular place for urban sunbathing and swimming. Come here to rent sunbeds and enjoy the protected waters of Sorrento’s manmade lidos.
- Spiaggia La Marinella – A classic Sorrentine beach. Steep cliffs drop into the water and there are lazing spots on the rocky sides.
- Bagni Regina Giovanna – Although it’s more than a kilometer northwest of Sorrento town, this beach is so worth it. You’re looking at a rocky run of shoreline underneath a Roman villa.
So, while Sorrento sits above its bustling marina, Amalfi is set on Spiaggia Grande, the main beach and most extensive on the Amalfi Coast. It might be busy, but that’s for good reason. The beach is annexed to the port and located right in front of the center of town, arcing in two halves to offer sunbeds right by the Tyrrhenian Sea. And that’s not it. There are small coves to the east and west of Amalfi that will take the breath away, including:
- Lido di Ravello – The next bay around from Spiaggia Grande is Ravello. It’s similar stuff, with dramatic mountains rising overhead and real The Talented Mr Ripley sort of vibes.
- Spiaggia di Atrani – If you want a moody beach for romantic sunset chills, then Atrani is the one to go for.
- Il Duoglio Spiaggia – A famous bend in the Amalfi Coast with craggy rocks and steep cliffs. Get there early if you plan on visiting between June and August!
Amalfi or Sorrento: Things to do
You can’t visit Sorrento without dedicating a full morning to getting lost in the streets of the old town. Sorrento has been conquered by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the French, and the Spanish, and each has left its mark on the center. Be sure to stop by the Romanesque Basilica Sant’Antonino and spend extra time on the grand Piazza Tasso, where Palazzos from the Renaissance abound.
Perhaps most of all, Sorrento is for chilling on the beaches and launching day trips up and down the Sorrentine coast. We’ll talk more about the incredible excursions you can do from here a little later, but suffice to say they include hikes up smoke-belching Mount Vesuvius, walks through Pompeii, and boat outings to the stylo isle of Capri.
Amalfi is still the winner when it comes to art and history with a good dose of beach relaxation on the side. It’s further from regional highlights like ancient Pompeii, but there’s plenty to do in the town itself, despite its small size. The Duomo can’t be missed, along with the Chiostro del Paradiso, St. Andrew’s Fountain, and the Maritime Museum in the old armory. They’re all pretty amazing.
What’s more, Amalfi’s locale in the heart of the Amalfi Coast itself makes it perhaps the best place for visiting other iconic Italiano towns. They include heart-string-tugging Positano to the west and idyllic Vietri sul Mare to the west, which is rated among the most beautiful towns in the whole of the boot, no less!
Amalfi or Sorrento: Places to stay
The accommodation on offer in both Sorrento and Amalfi varies from humble family-run B&Bs to sea-view apartment rentals and luxurious five-star hotels. However, as the bigger town of the two, Sorrento is much more diverse and has more variety than Amalfi in terms of places to stay, especially when it comes to budget-friendly options.
There are around 150 hotels in and around Amalfi, compared to more than 500 around Sorrento. Likewise, there are more than 200 homes up for short-term holiday rental in Sorrento, compared to just 65 in Amalfi.
Where we think Amalfi might win out is in beachside and sea-view options, simply because of the shape of the coast. Here are some of our favorites there:
Holidays Baia D’Amalfi ($$) – Located just 200 yards from the center of town and two minutes from both a private and public beach, this budget hotel boasts air-conditioned rooms, a sea-view terrace, free wifi, and colorful tiled floors. Doubles start at €105 a night.
B&B Il Porticciolo di Amalfi ($$) – Set in a renewed historic building, facing Amalfi’s central beach, this quaint hotel offers neat rooms with basic amenities, a sweet buffet breakfast, and a communal sea-view terrace. Double rooms start at €170 a night with breakfast included.
Divino in Centro Holiday Home Cioffi ($$) – Divino is a beachfront property just 350 yards from Marine Grande. This apartment boasts a private kitchen, two single beds, and one double bed in one bedroom, as well as a seating area and communal lounge. Prices start from €188 a night.
Palazzo Confalone ($$$) – This impressive five-star hotel comprises the historic Palazzo Confalone and a design annex with an expansive garden, antique interior, grand and decadent ceilings, and sweeping sea views from its clifftop location on the edge of Ravello. Rooms start at €465 with an exceptional breakfast included.
Hotel Marina Riviera ($$$) – With a sprawling deck overlooking the sea, a Turkish bath, and a terrace restaurant, Hotel Marina Riviera sits on Amalfi’s main seaside promenade just 250 yards from the cathedral. You’ll find elegant rooms throughout, synonymous with Amalfi’s refined style, and a rooftop pool with sea-facing deck chairs. Rooms start at €540 a night.
Sorrento is fantastic for hotels in historic residences but also for choice. As we mentioned, there are more options overall and that can be great for hosting a variety of different types of traveler:
Oasi Madre Della Pace ($) – Located just outside the center of town with a private garden and sun terrace, Oasi Madre Della Pace offers simple accommodation within a historical monastery set to the breathtaking views of Mount Vesuvius. Rooms start at €84 a night with breakfast included.
Ostello Le Sirene ($) – Situated just 450 yards from the train stations and five minutes from Piazza Tasso, this convenient budget hostel offers private rooms, dorms, and multiple occupancy dwellings for families and groups with private bathrooms, free breakfast, and partner deals at nearby restaurants. Private twin rooms begin at €88 a night.
Maison Marie ($$) – Nestled in the center of the city, just 650 from Piazza Tasso, these clean and modern studio apartments are equipped with air conditioning, flat-screen TVs, kettles, and refrigerators with the option of a mezzanine level bedroom. Rooms start at €204 a night, with a super breakfast included.
Hotel Villa di Sorrento ($$$) – Set within a property dating back to 1854, Villa di Sorrento is located just meters from Circumvesuviana Station, with a private rooftop terrace, elegant rooms, and great breakfast. Rooms start at €255 a night.
Hotel Plaza ($$$) – Four-star accommodation with a stylish deck, rooftop pool, in-house restaurant, and central location. All the rooms are clean and modern with plenty of amenities like air-conditioning and free toiletries. Prices start from €300 a night.
Amalfi or Sorrento: Day trips
It’s hardly a secret that many a traveler will be picking either Sorrento or Amalfi for the prospect of day tripping through this alluring region. Truth is, each town offers its own array of tempting excursions. But they are slightly different. We’d sum it up as: Choose Sorrento for adventure and history, choose Amalfi for romance and food.
The main reason we say that is because Sorrento is right there on the iconic Bay of Naples. You can ride the aforementioned Circumvesuviana train right to the door of both Pompeii and Herculaneum. Together, they form what’s arguably the most striking Roman ruin outside of Rome itself – think whole ancient towns frozen in time 2,000 years ago. On top of that, we’d consider making jaunts from Sorrento to:
- Capri – It takes 15-20 minutes for the boat to go from Sorrento to Capri, making this one of the best jump-off points of all to an island of ancient Roman villas, spectacular cliff walks, and enthralling blue grotto caves.
- Vesuvius – Stretch the leg muscles with a day’s hiking on huge Mount Vesuvius, the legendary volcano that dominates Naples.
- The Amalfi Coast – There’s no reason you can’t drive the Amalfi Coast itself out of Sorrento, visiting towns like Amalfi and Positano in a day.
Amalfi is more a base for exploring the UNESCO zone of the Amalfi Coast. One of the most famous ways to do that is by boat, and there are oodles of packages that involve tours of the region via the water. We’d also consider:
- Vietri sul Mare – Rated as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy, Vietri sul Mare is the more unknown corner of the Amalfi Coast and an impossibly romantic place to travel to for lunch.
- Riserva Statale Valle delle Ferriere – Forget the coast. Pull on the boots and hike to this wild reserve of cascading waterfalls and lonely rifugio. It’s the Amalfi Coast you didn’t know existed.
- Ravello – Super close to Amalfi itself, Ravello has cliffside botanic gardens and famous villas built in the Mudejar style.
Winner: Sorrento, but simply because Pompeii is a bucket-list must!
Amalfi or Sorrento: Price
Sorrento is decidedly cheaper when it comes to finding a good deal on accommodation. The average cost of a hostel for one guest is €72 a night in Sorrento, and some €7 more in Amalfi. Likewise, the average double occupancy room in Sorrento goes for €145 a night, while the cost for the same type of room in Amalfi is not much higher at €158 a night.
The average daily expenditure of a traveler including accommodation is around €110 in Sorrento but upwards of €160 in Amalfi. The reason? Local transport costs an average of €6 a day in Sorrento, but thanks to Amalfi’s more isolated location, you could spend €53 a day on taxis and ferries when exploring nearby towns. It’s also cheaper to reach Sorrento since it is closer to the sprawling city of Naples and its international airport. The train from Naples to Sorrento is only around €15 each way, for example, while the ferry from Naples to Amalfi can cost between €30-60.
The average traveler can get by spending €30 a day on food in Sorrento, but you’ll need close to double that in Amalfi, with meals for one person for one day averaging at €55. You could get a pizza from a local pizzeria for €6 in Sorrento, a casual lunch for €12 and a sit-down dinner for two for €43. While, in Amalfi, you’ll struggle to find bar snacks for less than €4-6, an inexpensive meal starts at €15, and a dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant will cost at least €50.
Amalfi or Sorrento: The Conclusion
Both these sought-after Italian destinations are sure to impress – Amalfi with its beaches and history, and Sorrento with its laid-back vibes, attractive prices, and close proximity to Campanian highlights like Pompeii and Naples.
Amalfi can be overwhelmingly crowded in the peak summer, and with high numbers of tourists so come high prices. It’s one of the most expensive places to visit in Italy, and while accommodation in Sorrento doesn’t come dirt-cheap, it could be a great alternative to the star-studded Amalfi Coast if you’re trying to stick to a budget.
If you can afford to do Amalfi properly, its reputation will precede it. Amalfi is truly one of the most picturesque places in the world, but, Sorrento is almost just as beautiful and it’s easy to visit Amalfi on a day trip from the better-connected hub on the Sorrentine Coast.
Where is better, Amalfi or Sorrento?
Neither Amalfi or Sorrento are better; it depends on what you want from your trip to southern Italy. We’d say Amalfi wins if you want romance, high-class food and hotels, and jet-setter vibes, but Sorrento is the better choice for exploring the rich history of the Bay of Naples and keeping things on a tighter budget.
Is Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast the same thing?
No, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are not the same thing. Sorrento is a town on the north side of the Sorrentine Peninsula. It’s not technically on the Amalfi Coast but is seen as the gateway to it, since the region begins only a short drive to the south.