Naples Underground: Complete Guide to Aqueducts, Bomb Shelters & Catacombs

May 30, 2023

Bring your walking shoes and a light jacket and get ready to head underground! Underneath the streets of Naples lies a labyrinth of ancient aqueducts, catacombs, and bomb shelters. It’s a hidden city worth exploring.

Naples has been continuously occupied for over 2,000 years. The current city is like a stone tiramisu, with layers upon layers of history. Use this article to help choose and book your tour, and get a fresh new perspective on the city. We’ll also share some great spots to eat and drink around each site in case you work up an appetite.

Naples underground in the Galleria Borbonica with war bunkers

There are plenty of great ways to explore Naples underground. Photo credit: Associazione Culturale Borbonica Sotterranea

Best Ways to See Subterranean Naples

Napoli Sotterranea Piazza San Gaetano

There are two competing tours called Napoli Sotterranea. Why? Naples has so much to see belowground, and the name Napoli Sotterranea means simply, “Naples underground.” Makes sense that there’s a duplicate!

This first tour, arguably more well-known, starts from the heart of the historical center in Piazza San Gaetano, next to the Basilica di San Paolo Maggiore. The underground tour will take you on a journey through the history of the aqueducts from the Roman times to WWII.

During the war, the abandoned tunnels were used as bomb shelters for many people, and wartime artifacts help paint a vivid picture. The tour ends with a fascinating look at the ancient underground Teatro di Nerone. There’s often a line, but you can book tickets online at a premium.

Insider’s Tip: The baroque basilica of San Paolo Maggiore is worth a peek if you have the time – and it’s free to enter.

Group of tourists descending into Naples Underground cave

Prepare for goosebumps as you descend into Naples underground. Photo credit: Justin Ennis

Where to ear nearby

Hungry after (or before) the tour? The entrance to the tour is close to one of the best pizzerias in Naples, called Gino e Toto Sorbillo. To skip the line, go early—12pm lunch or 6:30pm dinner—or be prepared for a wait.

There’s also a great vegan restaurant nearby, Sbuccia e Bevi (Via Duomo, 238) that serves up delicious vegan lunches and desserts.

Napoli Sotterranea Quartieri Spagnoli

This underground tour focuses on the ancient greek aqueducts, some of which date back to 400 BCE. It goes under the bustling neighborhood of Quartieri Spagnoli, and starts from the famous Gambrinus coffee shop. Get there early to grab an espresso at the 19th century spot, which also happens to make one of the best coffees in the city.

Once you head underground, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a parallel world of caverns and old cisterns. A highlight of this particular tour is well-preserved graffiti from WWII, a time when locals camped inside to escape the bombings.

Naples underground cistern and water at the Borbonica Sotterranea

Discovering underground cisterns on an underground tour of Naples is an incredible experience.  Photo credit: Associazione Culturale Borbonica Sotterranea

Where to ear nearby

Back above ground, you’ll find yourself in an area rich with quality bars—grab a tagliere (cured meat and cheese plate) from Antico Grottino (Via Sergente Maggiore, 29), a craft beer on tap from NaBeer (Via Sergente Maggiore, 39), or a glass of local wine from Spuzzule (Via Sergente Maggiore, 54).

If you’re hungry, try to nab a spot at the tiny salumi shop and restaurant Da Maria (Vico S. Anna di Palazzo, 31).

Galleria Borbonica

The Galleria Borbonica was dug out in the 1850’s as an escape tunnel for King Ferdinand II in case of riots. The tunnel these days offers not only daytime tours, but also nighttime musical events. One of their most memorable event series is called Concert in the Dark, where musicians play a classical concert in a spacious but pitch black cavern. If you’re not scared of the dark, we highly recommend it.

The Bourbon Tunnel (as it’s known in English) has four different tours to choose from, all of which can be booked online. The standard tunnel tour is one of the most accessible in this list for people with reduced mobility. The Via delle Memorie tour is more in depth, with a stop at a beautiful restored cistern underground. For those feeling a bit adventurous, sign up for the Adventure Tour or the Speleo Tour Light, which explore the complex aqueduct system. Make sure to check the entrance when you book, because the meeting point isn’t the same for all tours.

Bourbon Tunnel in Naples with cars and stone walls

For almost three decades after WWII, the Bourbon Tunnel of Naples was used as a police car pound. Photo credit: Associazione Culturale Borbonica Sotterranea

Where to ear nearby

Standout places to eat near Galleria Borbonica are Classico, an upscale contemporary Italian eatery, and Pescheria Mattucci (Vico Belledonne a Chiaia, 27), a tiny, high-quality fishmonger and restaurant.

Le Catacombe di San Gennaro

The Catacombs of San Gennaro are thought to have origins dating back to the 2nd century CE. This incredible space represents one of the earliest sites of Christian practices in Southern Italy. It houses the remains of the first patron saint of Naples, Sant’Agrippino, but also once housed the bones of San Gennaro, its namesake. San Gennaro became the official patron saint of the city in 472 CE, but Naples actually has 52 recognized patron saints!

The site is completely accessible for people with reduced mobility, and has tactile models and signs for visually impaired visitors. This site is very slightly outside of the historical center, so we recommend taking a bus from the National Museum. It’s worth it to see the beautifully illuminated and restored catacombs.

Rock interior of Naples' underground catacombs, Catacombe di San Gennaro

The San Gennaro Catacombs are wonderfully spooky – and incredibly spacious. Photo credit: Rosino

Where to ear nearby

Unfortunately, the Catacombe di San Gennaro is located in a bit of a food and drink desert. We recommend taking the bus back down to the National Museum for refreshments. Order a specialty coffee or a bite to eat at picturesque Lazzarelle, a women-owned coffee house. Or opt for a delicious gluten-free pastry at Leopoldo Cafebar. Prefer a sit-down lunch? Vitto Pitagorico (Piazza Museo, 15) serves up awesome vegan and vegetarian fare.

Le Catacombe di San Gaudioso

The area of Sanità in Naples got its name from the presence of saintly tombs under the city. The catacombs of San Gaudioso are nestled under the neighborhood and still preserve the feeling and traditions of early Christianity. It began as a cemetery in the early 400s CE, and grew in popularity during that century after St. Gaudosius was buried there in the 450s. St. Gaudosius was exiled from Tunisia, and is a representation of the historical multiculturalism of Naples.

Naples underground tour with Catacombs of San Gaudioso

The underground Catacombs of San Gaudioso feature early Christian iconography – such as fish, the lamb, and grapes with branches – dating from the 5th and 6th Centuries. Photo credit: Fabien Bièvre-Perrin

One of the morbid tales that are told on these catacomb tours is the practice of draining the dead. This was a practice of cleaning a dead person’s bones before burial, but we’ll leave the details to the tour guide. The catacombs of San Gaudioso are one of nine known catacombs under the city, but only three of those have been restored and are open. The others lay abandoned. Creepy!

Saint Maria of Sanity and Catacombe di San Gaudioso

You’d never guess that the Catacombs of San Gaudioso lay directly under the main alter of the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità. Photo credit: Graeme Churchard

Where to ear nearby

If you worked up an appetite during the macabre tour, the vibrant Sanità neighborhood is home to some delicious places to eat and drink. Isabella De Cham Pizza Fritta (Via Arena della Sanità, 27) is a women-owned business that serves up mouth-watering fried pizza.

Craving sweets? Head to Poppella, the original storefront of one of the best pastry shops in the city. Prefer a drink? Check out the welcoming Antica Cantina Sepe (Via Vergini, 55) for a glass of wine.

by Chelsea Newman

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