9 Reasons Not to Skip Naples

The architecture's just another reason to visit Napoli

Beautiful architecture and romantic decay: the 10th reason to visit Naples?

Tell even the most resolute lovers of Italy to visit Naples, and the reactions vary — from shock to horror. For many, the name alone seems to conjure up images of garbage crisis and Mafia, runaway crime rates and bullets flying in the street.

And yes: Naples is gritty. It’s chaotic. It’s crazy.

It’s also one of the most utterly fascinating places in Italy. And unlike anywhere else you’ll go.

Here, nine reasons why you shouldn’t skip this crazy, and beautiful, city.

1. It’s the best pizza you’ll ever have

Pizza from Napoli, Italy

Pizza from Di Matteo: a great reason to go to Naples

Ask any Italian where the best pizza in Italy comes from, and the answer will be — begrudgingly — the same: “Napoli.” Here’s where pizza was invented, and since the 19th century, the Neapolitans have raised it to a fine art. Some of Naples’ best pizzerias can be found on Via dei Tribunali, a kind of holy grail for pizza-lovers. Our advice: Head past longtime favorite Da Michele — which, particularly since its incarnation in Eat, Pray, Love, has become increasingly touristy — for I Decumani (Via dei Tribunali 58-61) or Di Matteo (Via Tribunali 94). But don’t take our word for it: Try them all.

The National Archaeological Museum in Napoli is a great reason to go to Naples

The Farnese Bull, just one treasure at the Naples archaeological museum

2. All those treasures from Pompeii? They’re in the National Archaeological Museum… in Naples

Very, very few of the frescoes, sculptures, mosaics, and everyday items from Pompeii, Herculaneum, and theother sites devastated by Mt. Vesuvius are in situ. Instead, they’re in Naples. The city’s archaeological museum is one of the best in Italy, if not the world, chock-full of such ancient treasures as the Farnese Bull, Artemis of Ephesus, and dozens of extraordinary frescoes. If you’re lucky, the Gabinetto Segreto, with erotic artifacts taken from the, ahem, less-respectable establishments of Pompeii and Herculaneum, might be open (it’s been closed for ages).

3. Naples has a whole other city underground

Naples is built on tuff, a soft, volcanic stone. For the past 2,500 years, residents have made use of this tuff, from the ancient Greeks on up to today, by digging chambers and passageways beneath the city. Today, Naples’ subterranean gems include everything from ancient Greek aqueducts to pagan burial chambers, Christian catacombs to World War II air raid shelters. You can visit the underground with an English tour with Napoli Sotterranea, or visit the catacombs at the Catacombs of San Gennaro on Via Capodimonte 13 or the Catacombs of San Gaudioso at Piazza Sanità 14.

4. Not one castle, but three

Castel dell'Ovo in Napoli

One of Naples' three castles... or is it four?

Count ‘em. There’s the Castel Nuovo, built in 1279 by Charles I of Anjou; Castel dell’Ovo, with ancient origins and pretty much the best name (“Egg Castle”) ever; and Castel Sant’Elmo, a fortress towering over the city that dates back to at least 1275. There’s also Castel Capuano, a 12th-century castle at the east end of Via dei Tribunali, but it was so heavily restored it’s tough to see the 12th-century character beneath the facade.

5. Caravaggio, Michelangelo and Raphael, oh my!

Seeing art at the Capodimonte museum is one great reason to go to Napoli

Titian's Danae at the Capodimonte museum

If you have even a passing interest in art, you must pass through Naples. Why? Because of the Capodimonte. This museum has more gems than any collection in Italy aside from the Uffizi — and yet you don’t have to vie for space in front of its masterpieces. The Capodimonte boasts pieces by Caravaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Titian, Bellini, El Greco, Artemisia Gentileschi, even an Andy Warhol of Mt. Vesuvius erupting… among others.

 

When the sun goes down, the streets of Naples wake up

5. Laid-back but lively

On the one hand, few cities could seem more laid-back than Naples. Few stores or sites open before 10am; everything closes again around noon or 1, not to reopen until 3 or 4pm.

But in the evening, the streets, particularly around the university and the Spaccanapoli (literally “breaks Napoli,” this is the street that cuts Naples’ historical center in two), comes alive. Hotspots include Piazza Dante, the coastline stretch of bars and restaurants by the Castel dell’Ovo, and the Chiaia, an elegant nightlife area between Piazza Amadeo and Piazza dei Martiri.

6. Pastries, pastries, pastries

Naples pastries are one great reason to visit Napoli

Rum baba: just one reason to visit Naples

Pizza is far from the only food Naples does well. Its fritti (fried offerings), seafood, and pastas are top-notch, too. But the one thing you can’t miss is the bakery. Thanks to Naples’ mixed heritage — from the 12th to 19th centuries, the French, Spanish, Austrians, and Bourbons all claimed control at some point — its pastries have picked up the best of all foreign influences. Don’t miss the baba, zeppola, sfogliatelle or, around Easter, the pastiera.

7. Sculptures both Baroque and bizarre

Art in Naples is hardly limited to the Capodimonte or archaeological museum. For some of the best, check out the Cappello Sansevero, a 16th-century chapel filled with 18th-century sculptures of the late Baroque period, all emotive and over-the-top. The most famous, Giuseppe Sanmartino’s Veiled Christ, is a masterpiece of expression — even through the veil covering the face.

Don’t miss the sculptures of another kind, just downstairs from the chapel: These “anatomic models” are 18th-century people whose skeletons, arteries and veins have all been preserved to this day (the other theory, that the blood vessels are actually made of beeswax, wire and silk, is far less fun). Turns out, Bodies was an exhibit long before

8. You can’t beat scooter-dodging as an adventure sport

In Napoli, motorinos are something to look out for!

Helmets? What helmets?

When people say Naples is “crazy,” this is the kind of scene they mean: A motorino whizzing down a narrow, cobblestoned street at 50mph, scattering locals in its way. Dad’s in the front, Mom’s in the back, and little Paolo is squeezed tight between the two of them. None of them have helmets on.

Since we don’t have a death wish for our readers, we absolutely don’t, and won’t, recommend getting on a scooter while you’re in Naples. But simply walking down the street can be adventure sport enough. Who knew strolling through a city could be so, well, fun?

9. Let’s be honest, you’re probably going here anyway…

Going to Pompeii? Then you might be passing through Naples

Or at least passing through. If you’re planning on making a trip to Pompeii, Herculaneum, or the Amalfi coast, you’re so close. And if you’re heading to those spots from Rome, you’re most likely passing right through Naples. And given the eight reasons listed above…wouldn’t it be a shame to stay on the train?

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Heading to the Amalfi Coast? Don’t Stay in Sorrento. Stay Here Instead

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Buffalo Mozzarella Basics: How Cows Are Involved and Other Surprising Facts

 

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24 Responses to 9 Reasons Not to Skip Naples

  1. Milena June 10, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    Magical…breathtaking…amazing…must be a Napoli! I have never been to Napoli but it must be better than those pictures… :)

  2. Jennifer June 10, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    Fan-ta-bi- dozie !!! Will do this in two years … Goal is set. Jen

    • Shaun November 28, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

      Have you been yet?

  3. Terri August 6, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    Please recommend a hotel in Naples that is easily accessed from the train station.
    Thanks.

    • walksofitaly August 7, 2011 at 10:42 am #

      Hi Terri,
      The area around the train station isn’t the best place to stay in Naples (it’s gotten a lot better over the last few years, but still is a bit seedy, and there’s not much to do right there). We generally recommend people to stay near a metro line that’s closer to the historical center, both because you can find more unique and authentic B&Bs and because it’s easier to visit the city’s many fascinating sites. An example these is B&B Piazza Dante or Cupole E Campanili. Both under €100 euros a night, they’re also right off a metro line, so easily accessible from the train station, and a short walk into the heart of the historical center where you’ll find all the great pizzerias (notably Sorbillo, di Matteo, il Presidente) and pastry shops on the via del Tribunale. Don’t miss the archaeological museum, and definitely take a walk down to Castel dell’Ovo and pass through the Piazza del Plebiscito along the way. Checking venere.com and searching in those locations will provide some more help, but always double-check the places you find against tripadvisor, as often the venere reviews do not give an accurate portrayal. Hope that helps!

  4. Holiday Home Rentals September 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    There is a famous saying amongst Italians ‘See Naples and die’. A reference so very true! The meaning is to say that the city is so beautiful, there is nothing to top it and therefore no reason to go on living as you would seen it all.

    A 19th Century world traveler Humboldt, made the statement that, Salzburg, Naples and Constantinopel (now Istanbul) were the most beautiful cities in the world.

    Naples is a must stop Italian destination and ideally located not too far from both the capital Rome and the beautiful Amalfi coastline. And of course within easy reach of Italy’s famous volcano Vesuvio.

  5. DocMax October 22, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    I think the tenth reason is that in the South of Italy they are quite welcoming.
    Most likely the best place to stay is around via Medina. Around 1km far away from the station, pretty central but not so messy.
    Have fun and do not forgot to have a sfogliatella on your way home.

    Best
    Max

  6. Angelica Vulcano March 18, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    My husband & I are looking to go to Naples for the Festival of San Gennaro this September as part of our Italian Honeymoon. Any tips on this event? I know in Little Italy in New York it’s a big event, but I’m having trouble finding out how big of a deal it is in Naples.

    Thanks in advance for any tips or advice.

    • walksofitaly April 7, 2013 at 11:25 am #

      Hi Angelica,
      We’re glad to hear you’re going to Naples! San Gennaro is Naples’ patron saint, so yes, the festival is a big deal there. The most important moment in the celebration is when devotees wait and pray in the Duomo for the blood of the saint to liquify; when the “miracle” occurs, there’s a 21-gun salute fired from Castel dell’Ovo to announce it.
      Let us know if we can help with anything else!

  7. jamie jeffries April 16, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    I have two days on the southern coast of the Cilento before heading to Naples for a few days, then fly out of Rome.
    Shall I stay in Palinuro or Pisciotta?
    I booked for both places until I decide. The Palinuro hotel is up high, 2KM from Palinuro’s beaches. Pisciotta is also up high, away from the coast, so both places will mean I’ll go for long hikes (or take buses). Do you have a preference?
    Thank you!
    PS
    The hotel Villamirella above Palinuro is more delux than I’m used to yet within my budget. It is highly rated…swimming pool, views, gardens. The Pisciotta pensione is new to the market & has no rating, no reviews, not very good photos. I wonder if it’s a mom & pop renting out a couple of rooms in their home. The town sounds charming. HELP!

    • Walks of Italy April 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

      Hi Jamie,
      We’ve heard good things about both places, so we’d say go with whatever one you prefer! The hotel vs. pensione sounds like it will be the dealbreaker—they’ll be quite different in atmosphere, so just depends on what you want for this particular trip. Very well might be a mom and pop, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in our experience! Either way, enjoy!

  8. ilaria June 16, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    Sincerly, I like this post but, as a napolitan, I must say that it misses two very important things in Naples: The amazing historical center, the biggest in Europe and so far one of the most gorgeus, thanks to its little streets, architecture, churches, obelisques, etc..You should have put more and more photos of the citycenter here.
    The second thing you miss is Posilipo, the Virgiliano Park, Mergellina and its amazing view on the sea, and the San Martino hill with the view on the Goulf and on the Vesuvio, the Borgo Marinaro, PIAZZA DEL PLEBISCITO!!! and so on, everything which is close to the sea…
    And the original and old Napolitan music, the seafood………
    There are more and more reason to come to Napoli!!!Believe me!

    • Ana Sanchez August 27, 2013 at 1:25 am #

      Ilaria,

      If you currently live in Napoli, what areas are great for living in that are close to the Naval base?

  9. Terry October 23, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    We are headed to Naples in the fall 2014. I was wondering if you are familiar with these two B&Bs?
    Spaccanapoli Comfort Suites
    Hotel Naples
    We are looking for something in an area that would be easy to walk to a lot of different points of interest.

    • Terry October 23, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

      The other B&B we were wondering about is Albergo del Golfo.

    • Walks of Italy November 25, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

      Hi Terry,
      We haven’t stayed at these ourselves, but if you’ve cross-checked reviews online on a site like Tripadvisor and people give these places the thumbs up, they’re probably absolutely fine.

      Enjoy your trip!

  10. silvio March 14, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    hi i want tell you that nice website than you con to use for see the time ferry timetable to Naples http://www.navietraghetti.com bie bie….

  11. NapolinVespa Tour May 3, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    Naples is truly a unique city! I thank God that I was born in Napoli… a city often badly treated by the media … but without reason.
    Come to Naples! Discover its sky, the sea, the amazing views, the old town, the street food, the pizza, the people, narrow alleys, the traffic where only the scooter does not get stressed, the incredible organized chaos…
    Naples will be the city from which you will go away with a bit ‘of sadness in the heart because you wanted to stay there more …
    Naples is the city in which it will be easy to see how incredible and hospitable are the people of Naples.
    Come to Naples! See you there!
    Ciao guagliò…

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