Rome vs Sorrento: The Eternal Capital or the City of Lemons?

rome vs sorrento

Italy is brimming with wonderful holiday destinations, from Alpine settlements to gritty cities and colorful seaside towns. Choosing to visit the birthplace of pasta and pizza is easy, but deciding between Rome and Sorrento is a little bit more complicated.

Italy’s capital was the center of one of the most influential civilizations of all time. The ancient city is overflowing with archeological sites, but it’s also an urban hub with a vibrant atmosphere and dynamic appeal. Nestled on the northeast coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula, Sorrento is a small, laid-back, and colorful coastal town in comparison. It stands out for its impressive natural beauty and quaint squares, but it also offers great access to some of Italy’s most famous locations.

Neither Rome nor Sorrento will disappoint, and both regions offer something for everyone, be it couples, solo backpackers, or young families. From the vibe to the food, our guide looks at everything that makes these iconic destinations unique so you can decide which one is right for you. Let’s get into it. 

Rome vs Sorrento: General Vibe

Sorrento harbor
Photo travnikovstudio by on Envato Elements

Italy is as varied as its thousands of years of ancient history, and it can be hard to decide on just one part of the country. If you’re heading to the sun-soaked Mediterranean Peninsula, we recommend squeezing as many different destinations into your trip as you can, and if you only have time for one city and one seaside town, Rome and Sorrento are two of our top picks.

However, if you’re wondering where to spend more time, the general vibe, accessibility, culinary traditions, costs, and the weather could all have a huge impact on how you split your time.

Rome is a city that needs no introduction. The historical capital of Italy is best known for its ancient civilizations, but don’t get us wrong, Rome isn’t all archaeology and heritage art. That said, it sure is a good place to start. It’s one of the most visited cities in the world, and the most popular in Italy, with the Roman Colosseum attracting more tourists year-round than any other spot in the country. 

From the Forum to the Sistine Chapel and the Spanish Steps, each iconic landmark in Rome really is worth the hype and tells a different story of the city’s turbulent history. Still, its architectural beauty is just the tip of the iceberg. Take a closer look down the centuries-old alleyways and you’ll find incredible food, gritty nightlife, and unmatched energy. 

One side of Rome is its theatrical yet sophisticated vibe. The Roman way has always been about finding the dolce vita, as with all of Italy, but Romans take it to another level. How can you blame them with all the history and decadence that surrounds them every day? Yet, on the other side of Rome is the fast-paced, urban buzz that emanates through the capital. Rome is the Eternal City after all, and one that never sleeps.  

It’s hard for a small seaside town like Sorrento to square up to a bustling metropole like Rome, but it certainly has a good crack at it. After Italy’s celebrated cities like Rome, Milan, Venice, and Florence, the southwest coast is undeniably one of the most emblematic regions. Admittedly, Sorrento might not be as lusted as its sister coast, Amalfi, but it’s just one hour from this star-studded shoreline and shares the same peninsula, with spots like Positano and Ravello nestled just behind Sorrento.

Almost as synonymous with depictions of Rome as the Colosseum and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling are the pastel-colored fisherman’s houses, winding coastal roads, and lemon groves of the Sorrentine Peninsula. Sorrento itself is a charming, slow-paced town, but it also sits in the center of Campania and is a great vantage point to other parts of the region. 

Its dramatic setting is the biggest draw factor, perched atop a cliff looking out over the Bay of Naples. Views of Mount Vesuvius dominate the panoramas over the Tyrrhenian Sea. Visitors also flock to Sorrento for its delicious food, boutique shops, and fabulous weather. 

When it comes to atmosphere and historical significance, Sorrento can’t compete with Rome, but it puts up a good fight. If you’d rather a chilled beach escape than the bustling brawl of Italy’s crazy capital, Sorrento could be the destination for you, but Rome always wins.

Winner: Rome

Rome vs Sorrento: Getting There and Getting Around

Antique car in Rome
Photo by RossHelen on Envato Elements

It should come as no surprise that Italy’s capital city is accessible – all roads lead to Rome after all. There are two international airports located just outside the city: Rome Fiumicino and Rome Ciampino, the first being the busier and more popular of the two. Both airports are around 40 minutes by car from the center and the Terravision bus operates services between the airports and the city every half an hour, costing around €6 each way and taking just under an hour. 

Rome also has a bustling central station, Roma Termini, where 800 trains arrive each day from destinations all over Italy and Europe. In fact, it’s the largest railway station in the country and you can reach just about any corner of the boot from its platforms. 

Taxis in Rome can be over-priced and unreliable, but public transport is efficient and cheap. Metros, trams, and busses connect the suburbs to the center, but the center of Rome is very compact and known for its walkability. All of the most popular landmarks are reachable on foot, and you could even stroll into Vatican City, a whole separate country entirely, and tour its famous sites all before lunchtime.

Nevertheless, Sorrento is by no means hard to reach. Some popular spots on the Amalfi Coast have developed a bad reputation for being inaccessible, making their already extortionate price tags that little bit higher, but Sorrento is a different story. 

It’s true that you need to fly into Naples’ Capodichino International Airport to get to Sorrento, but you have even more options on how to reach Sorrento than you do when you arrive in Rome. Even though Rome is the capital with its own international airport and Naples is an entirely separate city from seaside Sorrento, you could actually get from Naples to Sorrento quicker than you might get from Fiumicino to the center of Rome.

The fastest, but also most relaxing and scenic way to reach Sorrento from Naples is by boat. You’ll need to transfer to Naples first if you’re arriving by plane, but this gives you a great excuse to check out the sprawling city, and Naples Airport is less than 15 minutes from the center. The ferry from Naples departs from the Molo Beverollo Pier, and you can take the Alibus bus line from the airport straight there. The ferry takes just 35 minutes and coming into Sorrento’s bustling and multicolored harbor from the sea is a great way to arrive. The crossing costs just €14.60 for a full-priced adult ticket and you can book online in advance to save hassle and queues.

You also have the option of getting the bus to Sorrento from Naples. The drive usually takes one hour, but you should add on 30 minutes for the bus. Nevertheless, the scenic drive down the winding coastal roads is an equally exciting experience as the ferry. 

What’s more, Sorrento might be small but it actually has its own train station which makes it even more convenient. You can take the Alibus Shuttle to Naples Centrale Station if you’re coming from the airport, or head to the railway terminal if you’re already in the city, and take the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento which costs between €4 and €8. There are a number of other stations in Naples from which you can travel to Sorrento. The route does take over an hour but it’s a smooth and cheap way to get there.  

Sorrento is also very walkable. Strolling the old town is a must, as is window shopping and dipping into the boutiques and cafés while you do so. There are a lot of hills and steps, which can make it harder to navigate with young children, but Sorrento is smaller than Rome so the sites are even quicker to reach. Better yet, even with Sorrento’s own developed bus routes, there’s less traffic than in Rome and it’s far less chaotic. 

Winner: Draw

Rome vs Sorrento: Food

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
Photo by jonathancant on Envato Elements

Food should be a big part of any trip to Italy. Italian food culture is at the heart of everyday life and the Mediterranean way has had just as much of a monumental influence on western gastronomy as it has on civilization. You’ll find ample opportunity to sample the local cuisine in both Rome and Sorrento, but each region has its own specialties.  

Rome is a place for enjoying some globalized Italian favorites in their true authentic form. Spaghetti alla carbonara and cacio e pepe hail from this city and you’ll struggle to find better pasta dishes elsewhere in the country. Eating out is one of the great pleasures in Rome and tourists join residents in this social affair every night.

It’s much the norm to squeeze in close next to other diners in hole-in-the-wall trattorias. Rome is also famous for its romantic alfresco settings, stand-up bars, and fine-dining eateries. The birthplace of pizza is actually closer to Sorrento in Naples, but Roman pizza has its own edge. Characteristically thin and crispy, the toppings are piled onto the pizzas in the capital, with regional favorites including artichokes, ham, olives, mushrooms, and egg. Roman pizza dough adds oil and contains less water than Neapolitan pizza, giving it its distinctive texture.  

Head to Testaccio food market for a real taste of Rome with nearly 100 stalls providing Rome’s residents with the finest extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese and cured meats, on top of hot pizza slices, burgers, tapas, and Sicilian street food delights. And if you’re after authentic eateries, head to Trastevere across from the river to eat like a Roman or the Monti district in the historical center for some family-owned gems. 

All that said, the food in Sorrento is certainly something worth raving about too. Being so close to Naples, the modern birthplace of pizza, the best slices, and pizza pies can be found all over Campania, and Sorrento is no different. However, the jewel in Sorrento’s culinary crown is certainly the seafood. From spaghetti alla scoglio (seafood spaghetti), to grilled octopus, and fisherman’s stew, you can savor some of the best fish dishes in the country down in Sorrento and you won’t have to look hard for them. 

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is another local delicacy. The warm and comforting bowl comprises soft potato gnocchi baked in a rich tomato and mozzarella sauce. Treccia cheese is a famous export, but perhaps the most famous ingredient to hail from Sorrento’s sun-soaked terraces is the Sorrento lemon. Their waxy peel is rich in essential oils, giving them a powerful fragrance that fills the air along the Sorrento coast. 

Sorrento lemons are also used to make the beloved Italian liqueur, Limoncello, that hails from this region. It’s sold everywhere in Sorrento and often served as a complimentary after-dinner digestif. The gelato is spectacular in both Rome and Sorrento but opt for a lemon sorbet when visiting the latter and you won’t be disappointed.

Winner: Draw 

Rome vs Sorrento: Costs

The Colosseum at night
Photo by Grigory_Bruev on Envato Elements

When trying to decide where to travel next, the cost of a destination could make all the difference. Rome upholds a reputation as being a refined country, and with all that elegance and world-class art, a holiday to the boot can cost you an arm and a leg. Still, there are plenty of affordable destinations up and down the country, but is Rome or Sorrento one of them?

The Sorrentine Peninsula is one of the most star-studded coastlines in Italy and high price tags are much the norm. Sorrento might be a lot cheaper than its neighbor Positano, but it’s by no means a budget destination. Likewise, Rome isn’t the most expensive city in the country, which is unusual for a capital. The northern Italian economic hub of Milan takes the top spot, in fact, with consumer prices generally coming out as 10 percent higher than in Rome, but Rome can still be a pricey place to visit. 

After travel, which costs around the same if you’re flying to either Rome or Sorrento depending on the airline and time of year, accommodation is most likely to burn a hole in your pocket. In this regard, Rome has more variety and so more budget options than Sorrento. There are plenty of hostels in the energetic city and a bed in a dorm room goes for an average of €67 a night in Rome, compared to €72 a night in Sorrento, where there are much fewer hostels anyway.   

Likewise, the typical double-occupancy room in Rome will set you back an average of €134 a night in Rome, compared to €144 a night in Sorrento. The difference isn’t huge but it could affect things if you’re debating how long to spend in each destination. 

Nevertheless, Rome can be pricier in other aspects. You’re likely to spend more on entertainment with all the sites to see, and even more on travel since Sorrento is smaller. The average traveler also spends around €30 on food per day in Sorrento, compared to upwards of €40 in Rome. You can grab a couple of slices of pizza in the capital for €6, but a light lunch can cost the same in Sorrento while a three-course sitdown dinner for two comes to around €45 on the coast compared to as much as €70 in Rome. 

On average, travelers can get by on €112 per person per day in Sorrento, but you’ll need closer to €140 to sustain the same type of trip in Rome. This can make all the difference if you’re trying to stick to a budget. Turns out the Amalfi dream isn’t so out of reach after all, right? As long as you don’t actually go to Amalfi that is.  

Winner: Sorrento

Rome vs Sorrento: Weather 

Rome skyline
Photo by a_medvedkov on Envato Elements

Italy is well-known for its warm, sunny weather and its 6,000 kilometers of coastline is dotted with summer resorts. However, Italy is actually very climatically diverse, and depending on the time of year that you visit Rome or Sorrento, you could have a very different experience. 

Both destinations have mild Mediterranean climates and they can get pretty hot in summer. The hottest month is July in both cities, with highs of 86 degrees Fahrenheit seen in Rome and 93 degrees Fahrenheit in Sorrento. Rome’s coldest month is January when it can dip below freezing, while Sorrento rarely sees temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The city heat can be stifling in Rome in July, so much so that Italians have a tradition of vacating their towns and cities in replace for mountainous regions or coastal resorts to escape the sticky heat. In contrast, Sorrento is built for the sumptuous summer weather. There might be a lot of steps that can be uncomfortable to climb under the midday sun but the refreshing Tyhrennian Sea is waiting to relieve sweaty travelers. 

Spring and autumn are equally good times to visit Sorrento, and much cheaper. You can expect milder temperatures but just as much sunshine as in the summer, and fewer crowds. Rome is always busy, but it gets cold towards the end of October and the nights can be brisk and chilly until early summer. 

Rome is also the wetter city of the two, although neither destination is characteristically rainy. Surprisingly, Rome is actually wetter than London, receiving 33 inches per year compared to the UK’s 24 inches, but it tends to come in big downpours rather than continuous dizzle in the Italian capital. November is the wettest month in Rome with 115mm falling over 9 days. In comparison, Sorrento’s wettest month is October but it sees just 33mm of rainfall over three days. 

Winner: Sorrento 

Is Sorrento worth visiting over Amalfi?

Sorrento is often overshadowed by Amalfi, but this small town has a lot to offer with spectacular natural beauty, a rich cultural heritage, and amazing food to match the Amalfi Coast. What’s more, Sorrento is a lot cheaper than its star-studded neighbor and so makes a great alternative to over-priced towns like Positano if you want to visit on a budget. 

Is Rome safe?

Rome is a relatively safe city and suitable for solo female travelers. However, it is a bustling urban hub and petty crime is high. The busy train station is a hotbed for pickpocketing, and some neighborhoods should be avoided for their higher crime rates like Tor Bella Monaca, Romanina, San Basilio, and Corviale. Rome is a city that never sleeps and the streets are full of character. It is safe to walk around at night, but we wouldn’t recommend doing so as a solo female. 

Can you do a day trip from Sorrento to Rome?

There’s no direct train from Sorrento to Rome, but you can do a day trip to the capital via Napoli P. Garibaldi, taking the first Frecce train to Rome at around 6 am and arriving at 8.40 am. The last train from Rome that will allow you to catch the last Circumvesuviana from Naples to Sorrento departs from the capital a few minutes before 8 pm, meaning you could enjoy over 11 hours in the city if you wanted. However, you will need to spend around five hours of the day traveling to do so. 

Reece Toth

Reece is the creator and editor of Travel Snippet. He has visited more than 38 countries over a 10-year period. His travels have taken him through the majestic mountains of Italy, into the cities of central Europe, across the islands of Indonesia, and to the beaches of Thailand, where he is currently living. He is passionate about travel and shares his expertise by providing the best travel tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure.

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