I don’t have to pretend that Naples is quaint or darling for it to be beautiful. It is in its own way. There’s a saying that Rome is the heart of Italy, but Naples is its soul. Naples is gritty and chaotic, yet beautiful and authentic at the same time.
After two years of living a long metro line away from downtown Napoli, I’ve yet to write a guide to Naples. Maybe it’s because it’s a beautiful mess that’s hard to grasp in the usual, “Here’s where to sleep, what to do and where to get the best pizza” (but I will get to that later).
Naples is one of the most densely populated cities in all of Europe. To be honest, I struggle with my own love hate relationship with the city. It’s complicated and unapologetic. You can’t always rely on public transportation and things run at their own pace. A pace that coincides with “I’ll do as I damn please.”
Cars are old and dented, traffic signs are loosely interpreted. Vespa drivers are joined by other passengers, kids and maybe even a dog at their feet. The city’s cars crawl along the cobblestones like a wounded snake and scooters honk constantly as they zig zag through the gridlock. Once you get a little speed going, it’s like driving in a Mad Max movie.
Naples is always alive. Even on a hot, sticky day during Ferragosto when the city is almost empty, there’s still an energy in the air. In the evening, you’ll see Neapolitans sitting at an outdoor terrace, drinking beer or an Aperol Spritz, smoking cigarettes and catching up with friends. Nearby an old woman shuffles along a narrow alleyways where light is barely coming in from the tall apartment buildings above. She’s just come from the market carrying a bag with passata and fresh vegetables. Another woman is undoubtedly either hanging laundry or sweeping the balcony above. Everyone is sweating from the heat and humidity.
All the while, Vesuvius’s ever present veil looms in the distance. I was told there’s a saying Neapolitans use after saying “See you tomorrow” that translates to “God willing.” As in, “I’ll see you tomorrow if this volcano doesn’t take us all out in the night.”
Naples is truly an amazing city with over 2000 years of history. Between archeological sites, historical tours and finding the best pizza, there’s endless thing to do in Naples.
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Quick Guide to Naples
Where To Stay in Naples
The area along the waterfront near the Castel dell’Ovo has several nice hotels in an ideal location. Hotel Royal Continental, Hotel Excelsior and Grand Hotel Santa Lucia are all right next to each other, equally offering sea views and easy access to the port.
As with most things in Naples, Airbnbs are very affordable. Choose somewhere around Chiaia or Vomero.
Where to Eat in Naples
Pizza. Of course, pizza. Eat it. Eat it all and don’t split it. It’s your obligation to Naples. I’ve written a guide for where to find the best gluten free pizza, but these pizzerias also make amazing regular pizza as well (as my husband can attest).
L’ Antica Pizzeria Da Michele – This is the restaurant in the scene from Eat Pray Love where Julia Roberts visits Naples and “has a relationship with the pizza.” There’s two classics to choose from.
Starita -This is first place we went for pizza, so it will always be special to me. They’ve been making pizza for over 100 years.
Mennella il Gelato– Hands down, my favorite gelato in town (locations in Vomero and near Piazza del Plebiscio).
Where To Drink (Coffee and Cocktails)
A “Bar” in Italy is not just a place for a beer. Most of the time it means a place to grab a coffee at the counter.
Established in 1860, Gran Caffé Gambrinus is one of oldest bars in Naples. Be sure to get the local speciality, sfogliatelle.
Officina is a great aperitivo spot near the Castel dell’Ovo.
Stairs Coffee Shop is situated on a pedestrian only street in Vomero. This area will get crowded with people strolling and shopping.
Things To Do in Naples
Castel dell’Ovo- Entrance to the top view point is free. Be sure to stroll along the waterfront on Via Partenope in front of the castle.
Visit Castel Nuovo
See a performance at the San Carlo Theatre- if you don’t have time for a performance, at least go inside and see this beautiful theatre.
Visit Pompeii or Herculaneum
Archeolgical Museum – a close second if you can’t make it Pompeii, or don’t fancy walking around for miles in the baking sun.
If it’s nice weather, take a day trip to the nearby beaches or islands.
Go to the Museo Cappella Sansevero/The Veiled Christ statue
Naples Underground (see tour prices)
Walk down Christmas Tree Alley