Don't Skip Naples, Italy: 8 Things To Do in The City of the Sun
Whether you have 2 days in Naples, Italy or longer, this southern Italian city is one of the most authentic cities to see in Italy. So don't miss it. We spent four days in Naples our first time there, as the starting point for our two weeks in Italy, and it's sad to think we almost skipped it altogether.
Our flight from Munich to Naples flew right over the Alps which was spectacular, and then into the warmth and green of Naples over Mt. Vesuvius! It was a special feeling flying in. I thought of how my family started their journey here a hundred years ago by leaving Naples and emigrating to America, and if it ever crossed their minds that their grandchildren or great-grandchildren might someday want to come back.
Where to Stay in Naples
Grand Vesuvio - The luxurious Hotel Grand Vesuvio sits right on the Bay of Naples overlooking the Castle d'Ovo in the Santa Lucia neighborhood, but while it may look and sound pricey, it can be surprisingly affordable. It's centrally located to several historic piazzas including the famous Piazza del Plebiscito, and other historic monuments, cathedrals, and museums are within easy walking distance. The elegant Grand Vesuvio is well appointed and comfortable, with helpful and knowledgable staff who can help with travel plans and day trips from Naples.
Where to Eat in Naples
The regional Italian cuisine of Southern Italy is rooted in fresh fruits and produce, much of which is grown in the Campania region. There's much to love about the food in this region, and many great restaurants to enjoy. Here are a few good ones in Naples:
Gran Caffé Gambrinus - We stopped for espresso and coffee drinks several times at this historic bar/cafe. It's delicious and excellent for people watching.
Antonio e Antonio - I fell in love with their homemade fusilli with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil, and our first homemade limoncello. I think we gave Nino the best tip he had all night, which led to a second limoncello on the house.
Pizzeria Da Michele - It's contentious for sure, but it's still widely known that the best pizza in Italy comes from Naples. There are many wonderful places to try the typical Neapolitan pizza. But my first time was at Pizzeria da Michele, and I'm still ruined forever on pizza. If you remember, this was the place Julia Roberts ate her pizza in Eat Pray Love, and renounced any guilt she was feeling about her "muffin top". Not only was she right - the pizza was the absolute best I’ve ever eaten - but I would gladly buy bigger jeans to accommodate the extra pizza pounds.
What to Do and See in Naples
1. The Duomo (1285-1309)
Also known as the Naples Cathedral, this Roman Catholic cathedral is the main church of Naples, southern Italy, and the seat of the Archbishop of Naples. It's the Cathedral of San Gennaro, the city's patron saint, who is buried in a crypt below the church.
2. Eat Pastry
Like the rest of Europe, Italians love their pastry, but there are two that are unique to Naples - Zeppole and Sfogliatelle. I love them both but freely admit my weakness for Sfogliatelle (pronounced sfoo-ya-DELLE) with its flaky layers of pastry filled with creamy ricotta cheese, sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes bits of candied citrus, then generously dusted with powdered sugar. Cannoli fans will love them!
3. Visit and Shop Galleria Umberto 1
Don't miss this public shopping area near the Piazza del Plebiscito with its stunning architecture, excellent shopping, and delicious eateries. There's even a hotel upstairs which would make for a unique stay in Naples.
I've never seen antiquities and artifacts like those I saw in Italy, that date back to the 1st century. Be sure to visit the Museo Cappella Sansevero where the "Veiled Christ" lay. It's one of the most spectacular sculptures I've ever seen. Depicting the body of Christ under a thin veil or shroud draped over his entire body, the sculpture was carved from a single piece of marble and retains it's original 18th century patina. The Museo is tucked down a narrow side street in a residential neighborhood, the exterior looking just as likely to house a corner grocery market as this priceless piece of art. Download a map from the internet ahead of time to help with finding it, but locals will steer you in the right direction in case you get lost.
One good museum deserves another, and this is a Must-See! Much of the artwork here includes mosaics and artwork excavated from Pompeii, and this is a Must See on your trip to Naples. Try and get in to see the "Secret Room", the erotic artwork that was uncovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum in the early 19th century!
6. Stroll the Piazza del Plebiscito
This historic square is the largest in Naples and a hub of activity night and day. It's a great place to watch people and unwind after walking Via Toledo. Stroll around the Piazza and take in the interesting architecture on all sides of the square.
7. Eat Pizza
Neapolitan pizza is unique. But here’s what makes the Neapolitan pizza so special, and in my opinion, pizza as it should be. Far different from pizza you get in the US or elsewhere, the star of the Naples pizza is in fact, the dough. It is always wood fired, with the crust light in texture and beautifully oven-toasted. The center is slightly gooey and tomato-y, like a pillowy wet blanket of soft dough and sauce. Generally, there are no ’toppings’ other than a good red sauce, a few thin slices or shreds of mozzarella (but it doesn’t cover the entire pizza), and two or three fresh basil leaves, left whole and melted into the sauce. Hungry yet? Finally, it’s not sliced up in eight even pie slices. It’s not sliced at all! You have your own pie, and dive in with a fork and a knife.
8. Visit Pompeii and Herculaneum
You can't come to Naples and not visit Pompeii, at least for a self-guided tour. We spent 6 full hours there and ate a picnic lunch, because there's so much to see. If you can, try and see Herculaneum as well, often touted as a richer archeological experience than Pompeii.
Whatever You Do, Don't Miss Naples
I was so glad we spent time in Naples. Though I almost didn't like it at first, it was for reasons other than those you typically hear. It's disappointing to think how many people recommended we skip it. "It's dangerous” - “watch out for pickpockets” - “hide your jewelry” - “roving gangs of thieves are everywhere!" Seriously. Roving gangs of thieves. We didn't listen and neither should you. Even if you're a new traveler. Because Naples has a lot to offer. We felt safe, even with a backpack full of camera equipment on me the entire time. I carried my large camera openly, and though I felt people watching me take photos, I never once felt threatened or self-conscious.
We stayed mainly in the historic district at night, near Santa Lucia and Piazza del Plebiscito, and wandered the streets far from our starting point during the day, getting off the beaten path a bit to see the good stuff.
The neighborhoods we saw had an authentic feel, with locals socializing, lovers simultaneously arguing and kissing, single women parading their hot new fashions, and little kids running around playing futbol at midnight. If you're looking for a local slice of everyday Italian life, visit Naples. As more than one local proudly told us in the few days we were there, "southern Italy is the real Italy".