The Amalfi coast is one of Italy’s most popular, and most beautiful, destinations. And when it comes to where to stay in the Amalfi, most people—and guidebooks—have one big suggestion: Sorrento.
It’s true that Sorrento is pretty. And it’s convenient, especially to Pompeii, Naples, and the rest of the Amalfi coast. But it’s also really touristy… and expensive.
The good news? We’ve found an alternative to Sorrento. It’s every bit as, and maybe even more, convenient. It’s cheaper. It’s way less touristy. And, in our opinion, it has a lot more to offer, from museums to a big, central beach.
Our alternative? Salerno. Here’s why.
Eight reasons to consider staying in Salerno over Sorrento:
1. Unlike Sorrento or elsewhere in the Amalfi coast, Salerno is on the main train line from Rome. That means you don’t need to change trains in Naples, or anywhere at all. And that it’s faster. The fastest train from Rome to Salerno is just 2 hours (€48 one-way, 2nd class); slowest, 3 hours 30 minutes (€25 one-way, 2nd class). To get to Sorrento, meanwhile, you have to take a train from Rome to Naples (fastest: 1 hour 10 minutes, €45; slowest: 2 hours 45 minutes, €12.40), then take the Circumvesuviana from Naples to Sorrento (about €3, an hour).
In other words? With the amount of time it takes to switch trains, you can get to Salerno faster, for the same amount of money, as Sorrento. Or, if you’re comparing the cheapest trains, you can pay €10 more… and get to Salerno about 30-45 minutes sooner. Other towns on the Amalfi coast, meanwhile, aren’t even connected to the Circumvesuviana, so if you were staying in, say, Amalfi Town, you’d have to take the Circumvesuviana to Sorrento, then switch to a bus.
2. Salerno is super-convenient for getting to other Amalfi coast towns. In fact, that Amalfi coast bus ride that starts at Sorrento? It ends in Salerno.
That doesn’t just mean that it’s every bit as easy to get to Positano and Amalfi Town from Salerno as from Sorrento. It also means that, in a lot of ways, it’s better. Since everyone stays in Sorrento, not Salerno (yet!), you’re going in the opposite direction as everyone else —and the buses are less crowded.
In fact, when we took the bus in the morning, from Salerno to Amalfi Town, the only other people on it were locals doing their shopping. We were even able to get the front-of-the-bus seats. If you’ve ever been on the Amalfi bus before, you know that you’re much more likely to wind up without a seat, hanging on for dear life, strangers’ elbows digging into you, than to get a seat with such a great view.
There is one caveat: Unless you take the line all the way to Sorrento (which you can do!), you’ll miss that spectacular scenery that comes up when you’re heading inland, across the mountains between the northern, Bay of Naples coastline to the southern, Amalfi coastline. But, instead, you get more views of the spectacular coastline itself. And the chance to see and even stop in a couple of towns between Salerno and Amalfi Town that are completely missing from the guidebooks… but look every bit as gorgeous as their touristy counterparts to the west.
3. There are other cool places that are easier to explore from Salerno. Like this one.
Paestum, an ancient Greek city founded in the 7th century B.C., has some of the best ancient Greek ruins found anywhere in the world. Its Temple of Hera dates to 550 B.C. (500 years earlier than many of the buildings you’d see at Pompeii!)
From the Amalfi coast, though, Paestum can be tough to get to. And to get there from Sorrento, it requires at least one, if not two, changes in transport. (Here’s an example of just one traveler grappling with how to get to Paestum from Sorrento).
From Salerno? It’s painless. These direct buses take you there in about 50 minutes.
4. It’s also really easy to get to Pompeii.
Thanks to the Circumvesuviana, you can easily reach Pompeii from Sorrento. But you can get to Pompeii from Salerno by train, too. In as little as 20 minutes, you wind up at Pompeii town’s station; a 10- or 15-minute walk brings you to the Pompeii excavation entrance.
5. Ferries also leave from Salerno. But if you’re planning on Capri, there’s a caveat.
If you want to go by boat, Salerno has lots of options. Take a ferry along the Amalfi coast for a great, and different, view of the coastline. The ferry to Positano from Salerno takes just 25 minutes; the ferry to Amalfi Town, 35 minutes.
You can also get to Capri by boat from Salerno. Here, though, is one major benefit to staying in Sorrento instead: It’s closer to Capri. The fastest boat from Sorrento takes just 20 minutes. Capri-bound boats are also more frequent. From Salerno, the fastest boat is 1 hour, 10 minutes; the normal ferry, 2 hours.
Then again, you could always go to Paestum (see #3) or Salerno’s own beach (#6) instead.
6. Salerno’s beach is big… and central.
Since it sits on a clifftop, Sorrento isn’t known for its beaches. The closest beach is very small (and very crowded); the next-closest beach is a 15-minute walk from the center. The nicest beaches in the area are reachable only by bus.
In Salerno, though, the beaches are much bigger. And they’re way more convenient. They’re a stone’s throw from the historic center, so you can walk to them right from your hotel. That also means that they’re close to Salerno’s more-industrial port, but hey: At least it’s a little more interesting than the cruise shops that populate Sorrento’s harbor.
7. Salerno is much cheaper than Sorrento.
After all, Salerno is our little secret. (Okay, maybe not anymore). Not as many (in fact, hardly any) tourists=lower prices. For everything. Dinner, coffee, you name it. As far as accommodation goes, we got a lovely triple in a charming bed and breakfast, in the heart of the historic center, breakfast included, with a private balcony, for €85 per night. At the start of high season. And that was one of the pricier places.
8. We think Salerno’s one of the most interesting towns on the Amalfi coast.
Of course, there’s a caveat: If you’re looking for every shop to sell limoncello, postcards, and kitsch, then don’t come here. Salerno is a local’s town. It’s tough to find a postcard (but limoncello abounds!). But here’s just some of of the things you can see instead:
- One of the best-preserved historical centers on the peninsula, characterized by medieval, winding streets. (Sorrento technically has a “centro storico,” but we’re not sure you’d know that’s what it was unless you were told!).
- A castle, Castello di Arechi, dating back to the 6th century (right).
- A number of museums, including the Museo Diocesano, with works of art including everything from medieval illuminated manuscripts to 17th-century paintings by Caravaggio’s followers; the Pinacoteca Regionale with paintings by artists like Andrea Sabatini (who worked with Raphael in the Vatican); and the Provincial Archaeological Museum (currently closed for renovations), with finds including a 6th-century B.C. crown of silver and gold.
- And all of the benefits that go with a town that’s not tourism-based, like people-watching that lets you take in the locals, rather than other guidebook-clutching travelers, and restaurants that cater to local tastes, rather than serving up the spaghetti and meatballs that they think you think is “real” Italian food.
If you’d like to visit the Amalfi Coast but don’t have time for an overnight, why not consider our Pompeii & Amalfi Day Trip from Rome.