Less than two hundred years ago, Naples was the second-largest city in all of Europe. While it has since relinquished that position (it’s now the 35th most populated European city), Naples has a reputation as being busy and a bit rough around the edges. Fortunately, there’s plenty to love about the city as well.
Naples is home to one of Italy’s most beloved dishes, the Neopolitan pizza pie. You’ll find plenty of delightful options to partake of wonderful pasta and seafood dishes, the latter due to Naples’ position on the coast. As the largest city in southern Italy, Naples has plenty to see and a lot of culture reflected in its opera and theater scene.
The city also makes a great base for day trips. Pompeii and Herculaneum, both destroyed in Mt. Vesuvius’ 79 A.D. eruption, are fascinating historical destinations just outside Naples. You can also take the fast hydrofoil boats or ferries to the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida in the Bay of Naples or to other villages along the Amalfi Coast such as Sorrento, just south of where Naples is located.
Planning Your Trip
The weather in Naples gets predictably warmer in the summer, rising to the high 80s for most of July and August. If you plan your trip for May and June or late September and early October, your odds of encountering more hospitable weather are high. Wait any longer, though, and you’re likely to get several rainy days during your trip.
Conveniently, Naples has its own airport. Fly directly here, then go by taxi or hire a driver to take you around the city. While tour guides may tout the flexibility of public transportation — there are buses, trams, boats, funicular trolleys, trains and the metro — planning the right route gets confusing, so you may wish to stick with knowledgeable drivers and personal tour guides who can get you right where you want to go. If you’ll be walking around the city center, note that Naples is hilly; wear comfortable shoes.
Like many large cities, Naples has its share of crime. Use common sense in protecting your wallet or purse and be discreet when accessing your money. A travelers’ wallet that fits around your neck or your waist is a good way to keep valuables safe; don’t store money, tickets or travel documents in your pockets.
Places to Visit
Naples is made up of a collection of neighborhoods which sprawl along the coastline and towards the hilly inland. The narrow streets of the historic center and the Spanish Quarter are crowded, colorful and loud with a very authentic feel. You’ll see children walking to school and ladies lowering baskets on the streets to collect their shopping from the vendors. The Spanish Quarter is also home to the entertaining Pignasecca Market, a daily outdoor celebration of city life and traditions. You can find everything from live seafood to gorgeous seasonal produce and specialty cheeses as well some of the best street-food in Italy. Napoli’s most historic market not only has the most extensive selection of regional fare, but also offers the best opportunity to people watch in the city!
On the northern side of Castel dell’Ovo, the elegant neighborhoods of Chiaia and Santa Lucia are home to a number of upscale hotels, boutique shops and the lovely pedestrian-only zone which runs along the water. Here you’ll be able to enjoy drinks or a meal with a view of the gulf of Sorrento and the island of Capri. Vomero is largely a residential area, mostly populated by the more wealthy Napolitani. Located on the hillside above the city, it’s offers wonderful views of the gulf and Naples. Take the fun cable car up and then walk back down in to the main part of the city.
National Archaeological Museum
If you’re interested in learning more about Pompeii and what the discoveries unearthed there tell us about Roman life just after the time of Christ, this museum is for you. The frescos from Pompeii are worth the trip, but the museum also houses other Roman and Greek treasures (including a ‘secret’ adults-only gallery) as well as collection of Egyptian art. Plan at least a half day to peruse the museum’s displays. Consider hiring an official guide who can give you the highlights with more background than you’d get wandering by yourself.
There is literally a whole city underneath your feet as you’re walking around the historic center. From an unassuming passageway in the center of the old city, you can descend under the busy streets to find ruins from Greek and Roman times as well as remnants of WWII (this is where some of the population relocated while the city was being heavily bombed). Underneath the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore , you’ll even find a full Roman market as well as Greek ruins! The organization Napoli Sotterranea offers daily tours in different languages. Be forewarned that there are quite a few steps to go down and then return up to street level!
Museo di Capodimonte
Second to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence for Italian artists, the Capodimente Museum is a must-see on your trip to Naples. The beautiful setting up on the hill makes up for the hike you’ll take to get there (or travel up the hill on a funicular car). The building, once an elaborate palace, houses Caravaggio’s famous “The Flagellation of Christ” and paintings by Botticelli, Titian, Michelangelo and Raphael, among other masters. Before you go, check to make sure the exhibits you’re interested in will be open that day.
Catacombs of San Gennaro
Set a bit away from the center of town, the catacombs aren’t far from the Museo di Capodimonte. In medieval times, the people of Naples didn’t bury their dead inside the city walls; instead, they used these underground chambers. There are no remains here but it’s still fascinating to explore. An English-speaking guide can deliver more of the site’s history, including information about the namesake St. Gennaro who was once laid to rest here.
The Naples Cathedral
For more on St. Gennaro, the city’s most revered patron saint, visit the cathedral dedicated to the life of this 3rd century bishop. Twice a year, on the first Saturday in May and on the 19th of September, you can observe the fascinating ceremony where a vial of the saint’s dried blood is taken from its special chapel to see if it has liquified. The entire city congregates outside of the church to witness the event. Otherwise, you can walk around the cathedral and take in the marvelous architecture, paintings and relics.
National Railway Museum of Pietrarsa
Train aficionados will relish this well-kept railway museum with a focus on Italian steam and diesel engines. This small museum is laid out well for visitors and gets rave reviews even from those who aren’t passionate about trains. Placards and information is in both Italian and English.
Via San Gregorio Armeno is a short street, almost an alleyway, lined with spectacular shops selling hand-made presepi (nativity scenes) year round. If you are a collector of statuettes for your Christmas display, you definitely need to stroll down this unique street- not only will you find the classics such as the holy family and the three wise men, you can also find current soccer stars and politicians!
Naples is a favorite destination among the Bella Vita Travels staff. It offers so much more to see and do that we can’t cover everything in an overview. We can, however, help you set up a customized itinerary that includes everything you want to include in your trip to Italy. Contact us to start planning your dream vacation to Naples and the Amalfi Coast–or anywhere else in the Mediterranean!