Last Updated on 02/06/2023
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 alleyway 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.
*This guide was originally posted in 2017 while living in Naples and was later updated in 2022 after visiting as a tourist. It contains affiliate links which means I might earn a commission at no cost to you. Thank you for your support and help running this website!*
Travel Guide to Naples, Italy
Where To Stay in Naples
The area along the waterfront near the Castel dell’Ovo has several nice hotels in an ideal location. Hotel Excelsior offers views of the castle, easy access to the port and luxury rooms.
I had the pleasure of attending a wedding at Hotel San Francesco al Monte. The former convent has spacious rooms with beautiful views.
Read more details and my all of my recommendations in this post: Where to Stay in Naples, Italy.
Things To Do in Naples
Castel dell’Ovo- The “egg” castle is the oldest castle in Naples. It is impressive to see from the shore, but you’ll have to climb up to the top to really appreciate all it has to offer. In the summer, you’ll see the dock area double as an urban swimming pool.
San Carlo Theatre – The Opera house was first built in 1737 and you can still attend performances today. Don’t expect a comfy seat in the boxes, but it will certainly be a memorable experience. In 1816, a large fire burned almost the entire theatre and a huge restoration project was completed in 9 months. Then later in WWII, the structure survived a bombing. Book a concert, ballet or tour.
Take the Naples Underground tour. I am slightly claustrophobic so this wasn’t for me, but I have heard this is a wonderful and unique tour.
Construction of Piazza del Plebiscito took over 30 years in the 1800s. The piazza is anchored by two structures: the church of San Francesco di Paola and the Royal Palace of Naples. The square was actually used as a parking lot in the 1960s and was renovated in the 1990s to eventually be the pedestrian only square it is today.
The Royal Palace of Naples with a stunning staircase was constructed during the 17th century. Its history spans many periods from the viceroys and the Bourbons to the Savoy family. Today, you can tour the apartments, a museum with rotating exhibitions and an extensive library.
Off one of the corners on the top floor (I’m sorry I can’t be more specific than that), look out the window for a view of Vesuvius and the roof top garden. 10 euros to enter, hours and more information.
Walk over to Galleria Umberto after.
The first time I visited the Basilica of Santa Chiara, I was studying abroad in Rome. The calming cloister with beautiful tiled benches from 1742 stood out to me as an oasis in the middle of a busy city. Never would I have guessed the city would become my home years later.
Construction began on the church in 1310 at the direction of King Robert of Anjou and his wife, Sancia of Mallorca. Interestingly, she became a nun the last year of her life after renouncing the regency and her remains were later moved to Santa Chiara complex.
The structure was severely damaged during an air raid in 1943. Photos in the museum show the entire roof gone and the reconstruction progress. Free to enter the church. Tickets for the museum and cloister are only available for purchase at the complex, 6 euros per person. Hours and information.
Walk down Christmas Tree Alley.
Go to the Museo Cappella Sansevero and see the Veiled Christ statue.
See the Maradona mural in the Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarter).
The famous ancient city of Pompeii was preserved by volcanic ash after Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Book a tour with an archeologist and skip the line.
The lesser known city of Herculaneum is also a worthy archeological site and I’ve heard it is a more intimate, less touristy experience. Book your entry ticket ahead of time.
The National Archaeological Museum – A close second if you can’t make it Pompeii, or don’t fancy walking around for miles in the baking sun.
Naples makes a wonderful base for day trips to nearby islands and the Amalfi Coast. Read about the 10 best day trips from Naples with details on how to get to each place and things to do once you’re there.
Where to Eat in Naples
Pizza. Of course, pizza. Eat it all and don’t split it. That is 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 I went for pizza in Naples, so it will always be special to me. They’ve been making pizza for over 100 years.
Mennella il Gelato– My favorite gelato in town (locations in Vomero and near Piazza del Plebiscito).
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. Please be sure to participate in caffe sospeso (suspended coffee) when you visit Gambrinus (where they claim it was invented) or any coffee shop in Naples. You pay for a coffee in advance for someone in need and place the receipt in the moka pot.
Officina is a great aperitivo spot near the Castel dell’Ovo.
L’antiquario was named and awarded number 82 of the World’s Best Bars in 2021.
Is Naples expensive?
From the cost of pizza to a hotel, Naples is very affordable city, especially in comparison to places further down the coastline. I’m looking at you, Amalfi Coast. A whole pizza at one the most famous places L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is around 5 euros. A caffè in Naples usually costs 1 euro at the bar. If you want to sit down it will cost more, but is definitely worth it at a place like Gambrinus.
You can easily book a simple and clean room at a B&B for around 75 euros a night in Naples. Depending on the time of year, a more luxury hotel with an ocean view can start around 150 euros.
Is Naples Dangerous?
Safety is one of the most common concerns I hear about visiting Naples. I wince when people say Naples is dangerous, then they say they only saw the area around the train station. A crowded train station is hardly the jewel of any city, much less a very populated city that serves as the bottle neck for all traffic to neighboring tourist destinations like Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi Coast.
That particular area is not the best part of town and experienced pick pockets know how to take advantage of travelers passing through. Of course, there are less desirable areas of Naples that I would not feel comfortable in, just like any city in the world.
Also keep in mind that Neapolitans love fireworks at all times of the day. (Truly, Naples is the best place to be on New Year’s Eve.) It is common to hear loud fireworks, a noise not to be confused with gunshots.
Naples is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope you can at least give it a chance and see more than the train station.