Visiting Naples – A City Guide
Naples is a city of superlatives, with world-class art, architecture, fashion, food, wine and coffee. It’s also a city of contrasts, at once vibrant and chaotic. Neapolitans live cheek-by-jowl with poverty, grime and graffiti, alongside hundreds of churches full of exquisite art, and within sight of the still-smouldering Mount Vesuvius. Though Neapolitans are said to have a fatalistic approach to life, never knowing when disaster might strike (as the inhabitants of nearby Pompeii discovered back in 79AD) they remain passionate – about food, family and tradition. Naples is an unmissable assault on all the senses.
Naples: city layout
Naples grew out of the Greek city of Neopolis, the remnants of which can still be seen today. The historic Centro Storico (Old Town), which contains most of the city’s historical sites, is built on Roman streets. These include Decumanus Maximus, today’s Via dei Tribunali, which lies parallel to Decumanus Inferior, now known as Spaccanapoli – literally ‘splitting Naples’. The old macellum (market) can still be visited beneath gothic San Lorenzo Maggiore church.
The Port is set in the spectacular coastline that stretches southeast from the bustling metropolis to the swanky Amalfi Coast. It’s a jumping off point for the glamorous islands of Capri, Ischia and pretty Procida, all in the lee of Mount Vesuvius.
Top attractions in Naples
The trickiest part of visiting Naples is fitting it all in, but the Archeological Museum, in the Via Toledo area, is unmissable. Here the finest arts and artefacts from Pompeii, as well as the Farnese collection of Greco-Roman artefacts, are displayed within an 18th-century palace.
The Certosa (charterhouse), perched high above the city in Vomero with views over the bay, holds Neapolitan art alongside 18th-century presepe – peculiarly Neapolitan nativity scenes. Set within a magnificent park at the top of the hill, Museo di Capodimonte is home to an extensive art collection, featuring paintings from the 13th to 18th centuries.
To really experience the city, take a stroll through the bustling streets, slipping into a quiet church to contemplate sculptures and art by Italian masters.
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Hotels in Naples
Every Neapolitan quartiere has its own flavour, and the range of accommodation is wide. From designer hotels with luxury spas, elegant palazzi and art nouveau villas, to thoroughly modern business hotels, there’s something for every visitor.
Most hotels are concentrated around the Centro Storico, with its characterful art nouveau-style villas, while the swankiest accommodation is closest to the ports, in Chaiai and Royal Naples. Business travellers may prefer to stay close to Napoli Centrale, within easy reach of the city’s main attractions.
Naples can be hectic, but quietly and conveniently situated between the north and south of Italy is the ancient town of Nola, just 25 minutes from Naples Capodichino airport (NAP). Those looking to take in Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast should consider locations closer to the city of Salerno.
Eating Out in Naples
Good food can be found anywhere in Naples – from the familiar pizzerie, where locals pick up a pizzetta (slice) or a ripieno fritto (fried calzone pizza), to high-end establishments serving Neapolitan nouvelle cuisine. Succulent fruits and vegetables are grown on the fertile slopes of Vesuvius, as are vines and olive trees for fine wines and oil. Creamy mozzarella di bufala and fresh seafood complete the table.
Fish restaurants around the port specialise in fresh, simply prepared seafood, such as spaghetti with clams. Enoteche (wine bars) serve excellent local wines such as aglianico, a full-bodied red, and falanghina, a fruity white, often served with tasty fried snacks. Regular sagre (food festivals) are held in outlying villages throughout the year.
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Shopping in Naples
Neapolitan tailoring is world famous for its bespoke suits, silk ties, hand-stitched shoes and leather goods. Naples is home to top designer brands, as well as sprawling street markets where you can find designer knock-offs and bootlegged CDs. Specialist shops, like those housed in the 19th-century Galleria Umberto I, sell everything from artisanal chocolates to jewellery and hand-carved ceramics.
Head to the neighbourhoods of Chiaia and Royal Naples for Louis Vuitton, Prada and Versace boutiques, particularly along Via dei Mille, Via Filangieri and Piazza dei Martiri. Street markets abound, but look out for the Fiera Antiquaria Napoletana (Naples Antiques Market), running between the Villa Communale park and the Lungomare seafront stretch. Here you’ll find crafts, antiques, collectables and modern artworks.
Best things to buy in Naples
Culture & Nightlife in Naples
In Naples, atmospheric churches filled with classical art combine with world-class museums showcasing art and archeological finds. There’s also classical opera, Baroque music and theatre, and a thriving contemporary art scene. Even in the city’s metro stations, modern artists have left their mark.
A night out in Naples lively, and often impulsive. Hordes of Vespa-riding youngsters head to the seafront neighbourhoods of Chiaia or Mergellina for an impromptu meet-up at an ice-cream chalet, then on to an out-of-town nightclub.
Most locals, however, are happy to take a seafront walk, stopping for a gelato ice cream, a Neapolitan pastry – the rum-laced babà is a favourite – or an aperitivo in a local bar. Others might swank it with a visit to the famous Teatro San Carlo opera house.
Most cafés serve alcohol as well as coffee and cake. If you’re looking for a people-watching spot, Chiaia or the bars in hilltop Vomero are a good bet.
Where to go in Naples
Visiting Naples with a Family
Naples is very child-friendly, from its food – ice cream and pizza – to its many parks and green spaces. There are beaches aplenty further along the Amalfi Coast, and boat rides to any of the three nearby islands make for fun-filled day trips. Then there’s Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, which is surrounded by a nature reserve. For a shorter journey, take a funicular ride up to the leafy neighbourhood of Vomero and the Certosa monastery and museum.
Where to take the kids in Naples