Even though Napoli is well known around the world thanks to some beautiful things it gifted us with (such as PIZZA!), it is not nearly as visited as other cities such as Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan. Actually many stop their tour of Italy in Rome and never venture South. I think one of the reason people skip Napoli is that it has a bed rep as far as being unsafe. I will be honest, it’s not all a lie, Napoli does have some pretty sketchy and very run down neighborhoods like I have not seen anywhere else in Italy. However, as a tourist there is absolutely NO reason you should step into any of these areas unless ,well, you’re looking to purchase certain not so legal “goods. So here are some nice ideas for a fun, interesting, and safe tour of the colorful, crazy, sunny and authentic Bella Napoli.
WHERE TO STAY: I recommend staying near Dante, Municipio, Toledo, Vomero, or Mergellina. They’re central areas and you can easily move around using the subway. Restaurants and shops will be all around you and open late at night. If you have a car and want some quiet, Posillipo is a nice area for that.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
If you come to Napoli by train ( 1 hr train ride from Rome and only about $15 on Italo) you will arrive at the central train station of Garibaldi and like most cities, that is not the best area. Nothing to see there, so go downstairs and take line 1 Metro. Napoli boasts a new and beautiful subway which shows works of art and is impressively clean.
Get off at the above pictured Toledo station and walking distance from there you can see:
Castel Nuovo or Maschio Angioino– a beautiful medieval castle built in 1279 from which the king of Napoli and later on Spain ruled
Piazza del Plebiscito – the city’s main square, huge, always has an event going on. On the north side of the square there’s a church reminiscent of Rome’s Pantheon, and on the south side the Royal Palace. You can tour it for 6 euros and it is absolutely lavish.
See an Opera at the San Carlo theater, the longest continuously running opera theater in the world. You will feel like an aristocrat from the 1700’s as you sit in one of the most beautiful and elegant theaters in the world enjoying timeless works as La Traviata, Carmen, Macbeth and more.
Via Chiaia – I may be biased, but this is the street we live on and it’s my favorite in Napoli. Full of shops, great bakeries and gelato shops, it is pedestrian only and always has performers from the nearby opera theater practicing on the street their violin, trumpet and cello. If you continue on to Via dei Mille, you will find the fancier stores of all the famous Italian designers. Or, if you continue walking past piazza dei martiri, you will hit the seaside on Via Caracciolo which has a stunning view of the Gulf of Naples, the islands of Ischia and Capri, the volcano Vesuvio and Castel dell’Ovo. This is a must
Castel Dell’Ovo is the oldest in Napoli and was actually started one century BC. It is right in the water and you can walk all the way to the top to get great views of the sea.
Near this area you can walk down Via Toledo for more shopping and if you like seafood grab a cuoppo– a paper cone bag stuffed with fried calamari, shrimp and more- one of the the Neapolitan street food staples for only $5. Take the funicolare (cable car) up to Vomero. It’s a fun experience as it takes you up the mountain. In Vomero you can see the 3rd castle, Castel Sant’Elmo.
This one is also a must as you get the view from the top of the hill. Each castle is quite unique and different from the other as they’re all from different eras and have a totally different look. The Vomero area is also very pretty to stroll around, and away from the main square you will lose yourself in pretty alleys like this one
Finally I recommend going to Piazza Dante and walking under Port’Alba into Via dei Tribunali. This area is very historical and you will see all the typical streets off the main one with the clothes hanging out and ladies pulling up a paniere (like a basket) to their balcony to get their groceries to the 5th floor as they have no elevators. Definitely brings you back to a few decades ago! You can tour Napoli Sotterranea– as long as you’re not claustrophobic- for some extremely narrow underground tunnels that belonged to the ancient city and were used as shelters during World War 2. From this area walk to Spaccanapoli and don’t miss Piazza del Gesu Nuovo and the Duomo of Napoli. Pick up a frittatina di pasta on the way, a delicious and probably 4000 calorie treat of creamy bechamel pasta with different toppings in a fluffy batter. I can’t really describe it, you just need to have it.
For a quiet morning outside of the hustle and bustle check out the Orto Botanico, a small oasis of green with lush vegetation open only Monday through Friday from 8 am to 2 pm (and Free!)
Have a picnic at Parco Virgiliano in Posillipo with stunning views of Procida and Nisida
Lastly, Napoli is on the water so don’t miss out a chance to jump in if you’re there in the summer! We found a beach called Spiaggia del Castello di Baia. It’s reachable with a small boat for a couple euros and will take you to a beach under a Castle. It’s so magical and the water is very clean! Another beautiful location to lay on the sand is under the Palazzo Donn’Anna, a 15th century residence right on the waters edge.
For other ideas on where to swim in or near Napoli, click here
I already mentioned the cuoppo and frittatina di pasta, but Napoli could really have a blog dedicated just to their Pizza. It is the birthplace of pizza and it’s hard to get enough of the perfectly airy dough, fresh mozzarella di bufala (which is from the area) and thick, delicious tomato sauce. We’ve tried many (trust me 😉 ) and i must say they’re all delicious. Our favorite so far has been Pizzeria Gaetano Genovesi in Vomero. They have a huge variety and creative toppings such as one with a pistacchio pesto stuffed crust and mortadella. Absolutely mouth watering.
Another staple of Napoli is the coffee. Nowhere else in Italy will you find a place with such a strong coffee culture. For example, they have many rules about the way you should drink your espresso. The cup must be very hot (where it almost burns your hand) and in order for your lips not to get burned you place a few drops of coffee on the rim before taking a sip. Neapolitans also don’t drink water after their coffee as this would be cleaning their palate of the delicious taste of their smooth creamy and thick coffee. My husband can no longer drink coffee in most bars in Italy as the Neapolitan coffee is so superior. Dessert coffees are also big and specific to Napoli, with their addition of nutella, white chocolate and you name it.
I’ve had many miriads of gelati in my lifetime, and I can say the best ones ever have been in Napoli. I don’t know how they get it to be so creamy, but again, Napoli has ruined gelati elsewhere for me. I recommend Mennella on Via Toledo or Piazza Vanvitelli for this life changing experience.
My last suggestion, still in the dessert area (because napoli is very big on desserts!) , is the fiocco di neve. Naples is famous for their sfogliatelle and baba’s, which are also great, but this less known treat has been my favorite. Spend 60 cents and bite into this soft, cloud of milky ricotta happiness.
What has been your favorite place to see or eat in Napoli?? Leave a comment and let us know 🙂
pizza picture credit: Gaetano Genovesi.