Everyone warned me about going to Naples. “It’s dirty” they said, “You’ll get mugged!” one horrified Sardinian exclaimed before I left for the mainland on the 13-hour night ferry from Cagliari (getting mugged would, in fact, end up happening in Milan, and not Naples…where my disgustingly smelly Nike trainers were untied from my backpack on the metro!) but despite its reputation, I absolutely fell in love with the city…and found that there are so many great things to do in Naples!
Naples in a nutshell
Naples is, in my personal opinion, a bit misunderstood…and completely underrated. On the whole, it’s doing its best to shake off its reputation as an unsafe place to visit. If you ask most people, they will reference the high rate of petty crime – like pickpocketing and muggings – but, like most large cities around the world, these are things travellers should be aware of anyway…it can literally happen anywhere. If you’re sensible (i.e. not walking around by yourself in the middle of the night or carrying lots of cash) you’ll make your trip a whole lot safer.
Others will reference the link to the Camorra – one of the infamous Italian Mafia families – and while they might still be present in the Neapolitan underbelly, the average traveller wouldn’t know it. I travelled solo around the city and surrounding area – using nothing but my legs and public transport – and had zero hassle…and that included the point where I got hopelessly lost in what is apparently the “dodgy” part!
So, why go you ask? For three main reasons; the history, the art and, of course, the food. The city’s incredible history and architecture are due, in large part, to the fact that it has been conquered and claimed by so many different nationalities over the years – from the Greeks who laid the first foundations to the Romans – each leaving traces of their unique cultures behind. It’s “Centro Storico”, or historic centre, is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and you can find some of the world’s most incredible works of art hanging in the many palaces, castles and churches that seem to be hidden around every street corner.
It’s also a great place to base yourself for some easy day trips to the surrounding area. Mount Vesuvius – which looms across the bay as a beautiful reminder that we are all powerless against nature – is a quick 20-minute journey from Naples on the Circumvesuviana train, and the haunting Pompeii is just 40 minutes away. It’s also possible to visit the incredible Amalfi Coast (one of my favourite places in the world!) and the beautiful towns of Positano and Praiano from the city by train and bus.
Last, but definitely not least, there is the small fact that Naples is believed to be the birthplace of Italy’s most famous food…pizza! Although some debate this fact, you’ll find the pizzeria claiming to be the oldest in the city (if not the world) here, along with endless options for places to grab the perfect slice. Naples is also home to some of the best patisseries and gelaterias in Italy, and quirky coffee joints on almost every corner.
Five Things to do in Naples
Now that you’re convinced the city is worth adding to your Italia bucket list, here are five things to do in Naples that you don’t want to miss!
lose yourself in the wonders of the Capodimonte Museum
Without a doubt, the highlight of my trip to Naples was the Capodimonte Museum. I was staying in the Hostel Bella Capri, right next to the Port, and it was a fair hour’s walk uphill to get there, but it was completely worth it (you can also jump on a bus if you don’t feel like the hike!). Perched high above the city, the museum is housed in the Bourbon Palace of Capodimonte – surrounded by lush gardens and offering an incredible view of Naples below.
Inside, you’ll find the National Gallery and the Royal Apartments. The Gallery’s first two floors hold some impressive pieces of art from the 13th to 18th centuries – including paintings by Raphael and Caravaggio – and a collection of Roman sculptures. Leave plenty of time to wander around the rest of the Palace and lavishly decorated Royal Apartment rooms too.
Museo di Capodimonte
- Via Miano, 2, 80137 Napoli
- +39 081 749 9111
- Open: Thurs – Tues: 8.30am – 7.30pm (Closed Wed)
- Admission: Adults: €8.00 (€4 for 18-24s and free under 18)
- More info: Museo di Capodimonte official website
Try Naples’ tastiest treats in a lavish Art Nouveau setting
If you can only afford one food budget blow-out during your trip to Naples, I’d recommend you save it for the tasty delights of the city’s oldest coffee-joint – the incredible Caffe Gambrinus.
Located in Palazzo della Prefettura and looking out onto the (excellent people-watching spot of) Piazza del Plebiscito, Caffe Gambrinus has been drawing locals, intellectuals and tourists alike since it first opened in 1860. Amongst other well-known names, Oscar Wilde was said to have favoured this Art Nouveau spot for a tipple, and Mussolini apparently used the private rooms to keep left-wing intellects from spying on his meetings.
Gambrinus today is a busy tourist spot – where those with a sweet tooth can indulge in some of the finest pastries in the city, all whilst gazing upon the Belle Époque-style artwork on the walls and ceilings. Chandeliers hang from every available spot and elegant waiters in white tailcoats serve those who opt for a table over counter service.
A must try are their famous cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) and delicious cannoli – which you can also buy to take away (just saying…you might want one for later!)
- Via Chiaia 1-2, Naples
- +39 081 417582
- Open: Sun – Thurs: 7am – 1am, Fri: 7am – 2am, Sat: 7am – 3am
- More info: Caffè Gambrinus Official Website
DIVE INTO THE PAST AT THE NAPLES NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
Considered to be one of the most important archaeological museums in the world, and the most important of its kind in Italy, the National Archaeological Museum of Naples is an impressive building featuring a vast range of collections – with everything from Egyptian relics to excavations from nearby Pompeii.
For anyone planning to visit the ruins of Pompeii or Herculaneum during their time in Naples, it’s well worth a trip to the museum first, where you can see a detailed 19th century model of Pompeii – depicting what it would have looked like before Mount Vesuvius erupted – as well as incredibly colourful preserved mosaics from both towns.
Other famous collections include the Farnese – with the celebrated “Farnese Bull” – and the “Gabinetto Segreto” – meaning Secret Chamber in English. The latter is worth a visit for its unusual collection of ancient erotica…which offers an interesting glimpse of what the naughty Romans got up to in their spare time!
Naples National Archaeological Museum
- Piazza Museo, 19, 80135 Napoli
- +39 081 442 2149
- Open: Wed – Mon: 9am – 7.30pm (Closed Tue)
- Admission: €12.00
EXPERIENCE THE HECTIC HEART OF NAPLES ON VIA TOLEDO
Nowhere is the buzz of everyday life in Naples better experienced than on Via Toledo – the city’s busiest shopping street. Yes, it is full of tourists and yes, there are some high-street names and tacky souvenir shops but it’s the mix of people, hidden historic sites and antique stores which make this place so special…and completely unmissable.
Starting at down at Piazza del Plebiscito and finishing at Piazza Dante, the street is almost 1,2km long and includes the beautifully designed Galleria Umberto I. Now a public shopping centre, the Galleria was initially intended to combine private apartments, businesses and stores – all in an “industrial architecture” style. In the centre of the cross-shaped Galleria, you’ll find an incredible glass dome braced by metal ribs – with four iron and glass-vaulted wings that reach out in different directions towards the city beyond. Don’t forget to look down before you leave – the floor beneath the 184ft dome features an intricately designed mosaic of the zodiac.
Back out on buzzing Via Toledo, you’ll find everything from second-hand bookstores to cafes, jewellery boutiques to bars, as well as more than a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-them historical sites. The Teatro Augusteo and church of Santa Maria delle Grazie are worth a stop, as is the Baroque palace of Zevallos Stigliano – which is home to a small but impressive collection of Neapolitan and Italian art, including Caravaggio’s “The Martyrdom of St Ursula”.
Galleria Umberto I
- Via San Carlo, 80132 Napoli
- Open: 24/7
- +39 081 795 1111
- Piazzetta Duca D’Aosta, 263, 80132 Napoli
- More info & bookings: Teatro Augusteo Official Website
- Via Toledo, 185, 80132 Napoli
- +39 081 791 7233
- Open: Tue – Fri: 10am – 6pm, Sat – Sun: 10am – 8pm (Closed Mon)
- Admission: €5
- More info: Gallerie d’Italia Official Website
STOP FOR BEER AND GELATO ON A SUNSET STROLL ALONG THE BAY
If you’ve had your fill of museums and history, one of my favourite things to do in Naples was to walk along the waterfront each evening, just in time to catch the sunset over Mount Vesuvius. Starting from Piazza del Plebiscito and passing the beautiful buildings next to Giardini del Molosiglio, you’ll find yourself on the walkway that runs right along the bay. From here, it’s around a 45-minute walk to the pretty Fontana del Sebeto – passing Castel dell’Ovo and a whole host of sea-facing restaurants, bars and tasty gelaterias (I highly recommend Desìo, right next to the Castle).
If you’re strapped for cash, you’ll also find plenty of snack carts, selling nibbles and cheap beer. Buy a bottle, grab a seat and watch one of the most iconic sunsets you’re likely to experience in Italy.
Desìo Gelato & Pastry
- Via Partenope, 37, 80121 Napoli
- Open: Mon, Wed – Fri: 12pm – 10.30p, Sat-Sun: 11am – 12am (Closed Tues)
- More info: Desio Official Website
AND FINALLY…GRAB A SLICE (OR MORE!) OF THE WORLD’S BEST PIZZA
If you ask around or search online, you’ll find that most people believe that either Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba or L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is the oldest pizzeria in Naples – if not the world. Whichever one is really the birthplace of pizza remains debated but they both serve incredible oven-baked pizzas that are well worth the wait you’ll have to entail to try one.
If queuing isn’t your thing, there are hundreds of tasty places to grab a slice in the city, and some of my favourites looked like not much more than a hole in the wall from outside. As my Italian dorm-mate informed me (and later proved!) if you are paying tourist prices for your pizza, you’re in the wrong place. She took me to Pizzeria Napoli In Bocca – a cute pizzeria with antiques and bikes hanging from the walls, just outside Galleria Umberto I – where pizza and a beer came to a grand total of €5…and it was, without a doubt, the best pizza I have ever tasted!
Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba
- Via Port’Alba, 18, 80134 Napoli
- Open: Everyday: 11.30am – 1.30am
- More info: Antica Pizzeria Port’ Alba
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
- Via Cesare Sersale, 1, 80139 Napoli,
- Open: Mon-Sat: 11am – 11pm (Closed Sun)
- More info: L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
Pizzeria Napoli In Bocca
- Via San Carlo, 15, 80132 Napoli,
- Open: Mon – Fri: 10am – 11pm, Sat: 10am – 12am, Sun: 11am – 6pm
- More info: Pizzeria Napoli In Bocca
Have you been to Naples? Did you discover a favourite pizza place you would recommend? Leave a comment below!
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