Naples City Guide
Naples, or Napoli as the locals call it, is a century-old city situated in Southern Italy. Founded in the 6th century by the Greek as Neapolis, the sprawling city boasts art and architecture that dates back to its origins. It’s no wonder much of the city has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
The third largest city in Italy with a population over 4 million, Naples is an urban jungle of ancient ruins, historic churches - 448 to be exact - next to museums and galleries. While the overwhelming city has garnered quite a reputation for itself as dirty and crime-ridden, it’s also the place to experience vibrant Italian culture in all its extremes.
Things to Do
Pizza, Pasta, Prego!
If pizza had a birthplace, it would be in one of the wood-fire ovens in Naples. While the entire country prides itself in making the tastiest pizza and pasta in the world, Naples takes the award for making the most best pizza in Italy itself. In the city of food, keep an eye out for long lines to find the best pizza house in town. Other staples include pasta prepared with local cheese, vegetables and seafood. As you walk off the carbs on Naples’ hilly terrain, you may find yourself yet again tempted by another local delicacy: a gelato (ice cream). Come night or day, there’s always time for coffee. The Neapolitan like their espresso short, strong and extremely sweet. Order it “amaro” to ensure it doesn’t arrived pre-sweetened.
One of the best ways to see the city center is to wander aimlessly, getting lost in the heart of Naples. Just be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and prepare for narrow cobble streets to turn onto a hill. There are escalators around the city for those not able to brave the somewhat steep climb. In the ancient quarter you’ll find everything from mysterious churches to plazas (squares) such as Plaza del Ges and Plaza Bellini that will give you a taste of the real Naples.
Amongst the churches and plazas you’ll surely stumble upon Naples’ most revered church: Cathedral di San Gennaro. This 13th century Roman Catholic place of worship, adjoined by the Archbishop’s Palace, is renowned for its annual Miracle of Blood ceremony. Taking place on September 19, and at several other significant moments in the year, the city celebrates its patron saint San Gennaro through the liquefaction of the blood. The miracle, meant to usher in good fortune for Neapolitan’s, consists of the ritual itself, a prayer and procession.
Catacombs of San Gennaro
While there are plenty of ruins to be explored in Naples’ ancient center, there’s a whole other layer to the city’s history buried below. Three layers to be exact! The ancient underground Christian burial site of Roman nobleman has been excavated and opened for exploration. The spacious passageways, tunnels and burial chambers can only be accessed by guided tours, which last just over an hour.
When in Naples you may as well make a day trip to its neighbouring attractions. The Amalfi Coast is a popular spot for nature lovers, only a 1.5 hour train ride away. Arrive at a stunning coastline stretching 50-km, with breathtaking cliffs and views of the mediterranean and fishing villages. On your way it’s worth stopping by Mt. Vesuvius to discover the buried city Pompeii. Mt. Vesuvius is the only active volcano on mainland Europe, which is known for destroying the city of Pompei when it erupted in 79 AD. The volcano last blew its top in 1944 and is now closely monitored for any volcanic activity. It is sometimes closed off as a cautionary measure. Brave a visit and climb up the volcano for commanding views of the area below.
The best way to see the historic center is on foot as most of it is walkable except for the occasional hilly areas. Traffic in the city makes using its bus service a pain even though there’s a designated bus lane in place. The underground Metro is the best and fastest way of getting around the city. Taxis are a costly luxury but readily available at signposted ranks. Avoid unauthorised taxis at all costs.
When to Go
May and September are the best months to grace Naples with a visit. In May the weather is pleasant and there are many special events happening. August is the month to steer well clear. The searing heat from the Mediterranean sun causes many locals to shut up shop (restaurants included) and head off for anywhere from 2 to up to 4 weeks.
It will take a very good night’s sleep to recover from the craziness that is Naples. Take a look at our listing of available accommodation in the city to find the perfect place to rest during your stay.