There’s a saying that Rome is the heart of Italy, but Naples is its soul. A wild city that is settled between two volcanoes - Mt Vesuvius and the Campi Flegrei - Naples is one of the oldest cities in Europe, the third largest in Italy and the regional capital of the Campania region. Facing modernisation after the conclusion of the Second World War, Naples is a place where the new meets the old.
It may be well known for its pizza and seafood, but there’s a lot more to it than that. As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, it has a rich historical heritage and plenty of culture in the form of castles, art and ruins. Whether you want to take a swim and get a tan on the beach or sample the local cuisine and see ancient history with your own eyes, there is something for everyone coming to the must-visit destination.
Know Before You Go
Naples-Capodichino International Airport is the airport that is the closest to Naples. It is the busiest in Southern Italy, and includes airlines like easyJet, Ryanair, Volotea and Wizzair. Depending on traffic, the fastest route into Naples city centre is about 30 to 40 mins by public transport. If you want to get a taxi, it’ll be at least €16, but again, depending on traffic, the bus might be the best option.
You can also get to Naples overland by train. Napoli Centrale station is well connected to other cities in Italy, so you can visit Florence or even Rome while you’re there.
Naples has a bus system, a tram line and a metro line. The transport service, known as Azienda Napoletana Mobilità, is run by the local government. Most of the buses run from 5am until midnight, with some of them even being a 24/7 service. ANM have a mobile app where you can purchase tickets and plan travel routes
Traffic can be hectic in Naples city centre. But when in Rome - or in this case, Naples - do as the locals do and rent a moped. Alternatively, stick to public transport. Your own car might be useful for travelling to locations outside of the city, but there are public and private company services for that as well.
The Mediterranean summer is notoriously hot, perfect if you want to return from your holiday with a little sun on your skin. Though the winter is significantly cooler and less busy with tourists, this also means that some of the attractions can be closed. The best time to visit would be around spring or autumn. The temperature is mild, but the water is still warm enough if you want to swim in the sea.
Italy’s currency is the Euro, and you can take out cash in ATMs once you arrive. You can use your card in a lot of places. However, smaller shops may have a minimum card spend. Also, one of the pizzerias I visited didn’t have the strongest connection to the card machine, so cash makes the whole transaction easier for everyone. Keep some euros on you if you want to pick up a little souvenir for the return trip or if you fancy popping into a pizzeria.
Day 1: Naples Historic Centre
Naples is a city with a lot of history. Despite new architecture popping up throughout the city, the Naples Historic Centre or Centro Storico has a rich heritage dating back almost two and a half millennia. It’s so important to Italian culture, in fact, that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, protecting much of the area and the buildings in it. There are many hints of history throughout this portion of the city, from the straight Roman roads to the 18th-century Teatro di San Carlo, the oldest opera house in Italy.
It is not just above ground that you can find hints of this city’s ancient history. Under the street lie the remains of ancient Naples, back when the Greeks and Romans built settlements. The nearby National Archaeological Museum houses more historical gems of the excavated past and provides a deeper dive into the storied past of Naples.
Where to Eat
Naples is the home of Neapolitan pizza, so you must try a slice in its birthplace at least once. I promise you it will be among the best, if not THE best, pizza you have ever tried. There are many pizzerias dotted throughout the city, but possibly the most famous one is L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele a Forcella. Featuring in the film adaptation of the travel memoir ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ both local and foreign pizza aficionados line up to try a slice of their cuisine.
Duomo di Napoli
Built in the 13th century, the Duomo di Napoli goes by many names. The Cathedral of Naples, the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, or the Cattedrale di San Gennaro has many sights to see. As well as hosting its own art collection, it has a significant collection of religious artefacts, like the blood of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. Three times a year, this congealed blood miraculously goes through a liquefication process in a ritual that is believed to prevent misfortune. These dates are the feast of San Gennaro on September 19th, the first Saturday in May, and December 16th, the anniversary of the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
The cathedral is beautiful just by itself. The interior has frescos painted, while the exterior has a mixture of architectural designs, thanks to the many restorations the Duomo has received throughout the years. It serves as the main church of Naples, and is the resting place for many bishops and other religious figures, like San Gennaro himself.
Naples National Archaeological Museum
You don’t need to travel far outside Naples to see the city's ancient history. Established in 1777, the Naples National Archaeological Museum is the place to go if you want to admire mosaics, statues and other echoes of the past. It is not just Italian history that hides behind these doors: the museum also has one of the largest collections of Egyptian artefacts in Italy.
There is also the Secret Cabinet section of the museum, though due to the nature of the collection in this room, visitors under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult. Why’s that? Due to the history of the collection within, limited viewership and censorship was a significant part of its history.
Museo Cappella Sansevero
Naples doesn’t just take pride in its historical heritage. While the archaeological museum stores items from Naples’ past, the Museo Cappella Sansevero stores an amazing art collection. Also known as the Sansevero Chapel Museum, the pieces inside range from masterfully crafted marble statues - the most famous of which is the 1753 sculpture The Veiled Christ by Giuseppe San Martino.- to 18th-century paintings.
The building is a notable architectural design, designed in the Baroque style that originated in Italy and became prevalent throughout Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. There isn’t just artwork here - in the basement of the building are two anatomical sculptures made by doctor Giuseppe Salerno in the 18th century. These disturbing sculptures depict the full circulatory system of the human body and, though a far cry from the marble sculptures in the rest of the museum, is worth seeing for yourself.
Royal Palace of Naples
The Royal Palace of Naples is a palace slap bang in the middle of Naples. Designed as a home for the Bourbon monarchy, it now serves as a museum of this era with around 30 rooms for the public to explore. Much like the Museo Cappella Sansevero, the Royal Palace is another example of the Baroque style of architecture in Naples. That’s not all, though. On the western side of the building, there are also statues of different rulers throughout the history of Naples.
Much like the historic centre itself, UNESCO recognises it as a world heritage site. If you want to sit down and take a quick breather, one wing of the palace has been transformed into the city’s national library. There’s no entrance fee, and a few gems can be found here. A notable piece is the papyrus scrolls from Herculaneum, transferred from the ruins and kept safe.
San Carlo Theatre
The San Carlo Theatre, or the Real Teatro di San Carlo (Translated from Italian into “Royal Theatre of Saint Charles”), as named by King Charles VII of Naples, is one of the oldest and biggest opera houses in the world. Connected to the Royall Palace of Naples, it was the largest theatre in Europe at the time of its construction in 1737. Throughout its history, it has been damaged and restored. Though it’s well known for its place in the opera scene, you don’t need to be a fan to appreciate the building.
Other than attending a performance (which, if you haven’t been to an opera before, why not try something new and have a look at the theatre’s official website? You’re on holiday), you can enter the theatre with a tour. This guided tour will allow you to visit the theatre and other notable monuments within the city.
Piazza del Plebiscito
If you’re visiting the San Carlo theatre and Royal Palace of Naples, you’ll probably be passing through the Piazza del Plebiscito. Named after the vote of 1860 that brought Naples into a unified Italy, this public square is within walking distance of many of Naples’ attractions and a stone’s throw away from the port.
In 1963, the square was turned into a car park, but it received a proper renovation as a square for pedestrians in 1994. The square is occasionally used as a venue for local and international open-air concerts.
Cimitero delle Fontanelle
If you fancy some spooks, you must go to the Cimitero delle Fontanelle, or the Fontanelle cemetery. Spanning over 3 square kilometres, it contains the remains of an untold number of permanent residents. What used to be a quarry became a burial site when a plague struck Naple in 1656, and the city’s cemeteries became overcrowded.
Eerie as it is, what makes the cemetery intriguing isn’t the many bodies kept here. It’s the anecdotes and history that the cemetery holds. For example, there is the belief that the souls of those buried here can’t go to heaven. As a result, there was a cult that originated in the late 19th century to take care of the bones of these tortured souls. These stories, which are an integral part of the Cimitero, are why I highly recommend visiting with a guide to get the full experience.
Located within the Naples Historic centre is the Piazza Garibaldi. Named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, a revolutionary who contributed to the unification of Italy in the 19th century, the Piazza is a central hub of the area, where locals and tourists alike meet in the nearby cafes and shops, while it also has busy transportation hubs operating nearby.
As a cultural centre of the city, many of Naples's biggest attractions are nearby. A statue of Garibaldi on horseback is in the square. As well as the previously mentioned destinations, you can go to the nearby Napoli Porta Nolana train station to see more of what Naples offers. Taking the Circumvesuviana train - which leaves around every 30 minutes - you can visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and Sorrento.
Pio Monte della Misericordia
As you may have noticed, Naples is notable for its religious buildings and artefacts. The Pio Monte Della Misericordia is a church that is in the middle of the historic centre of Naples. Inside you’ll find one of the most notable works by Italian artist Caravaggio, The Seven Works of Mercy, which depicts the acts of kindness considered to be the most important among Christain virtues. Which is a little bit ironic, considering what Caravaggio was like when he was alive. Seriously, look him up.
Whatever the content of his character, it is undeniable that Caravaggio is one of the greatest artists in Italian history. Best known for his paintings focusing on Christain themes, The Seven Works of Mercy is considered to be just one of his masterpieces and is well worth seeing with your own eyes.
Via San Gregorio Armeno
If you need a break from all the museums and art, a wander up the Via San Gregorio Aremeno might be just what you need. The street itself is built over what used to be a temple dedicated to Ceres, the ancient Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility. Dotted throughout the street are small artisanal workshops, where hand-crafted nativity figurines and decorations are made called presepe. Though creche traditions aren’t a new thing by any means, these are truly unique to Italian culture.
While tourist season may calm down in most of the city during the summer, if anything, foot traffic increases down this one street during the Christmas period. You don’t have to just come at this time of year though. The presepe tradition is one that dates back to the 18th century, and visitors can learn a little more about the techniques used in this craft.
Another church that is worth checking out is Gesù Nuovo. The name, which literally translates to “New Jesus,” is to tell it apart from the old church of Jesus. Just outside of the historic centre, the church itself might not look like much from the outside. Humble, some might say. But when you step inside, the interior is absolutely breathtaking.
The lord must be a really big fan of this church’s artwork. The church has an extensive history behind it. However, most notably, in 1943, when Allies planes did an attack run over the city, a bomb fell through the ceiling, landing in front of the altar but didn’t explode. The shell of that very same bomb is still on display in the church, a piece of crude, twisted metal in contrast to the visual marvel it could have destroyed.
Museo di Capodimonte
Located within the Palace of Capodimonte (which is at the bottom of Capodimonte Park), the Museo di Capodimonte holds the largest collection of paintings in Naples. Once a home for the monarchy, it became a dedicated national museum in 1950. Among these halls are works from notable European artists, including The Flagellation of Christ, painted by our friend Caravaggio. As well as the masterfully crafted works of man is the natural beauty of the gardens.
While the first two floors house the painting of the Galleria Nazionale, there’s also something for fans of history. In the royal apartments, antiques are collected from different homes that belonged to royalty. If antiques aren’t your thing, there’s also an armoury with weapons and armour from the past.
Where to Stay
Budget-Friendly - Stella Diana
A comfortable room within the historical centre of Naples
Mid-Range - Maria Rosaria A Santa Chiara
A private room within walking distance of the Naples National Archeological Museum
Luxury - Toraldo Suites
Spend your time away at a luxury apartment that includes a balcony and a paid shuttle to and from the airport.
Day 2: Heading Out of Naples
Naples is a big city, and while the historic centre is a fascinating area at the heart of the city, it’s not all that Naples has to offer. Its position as a port city on the southern coast of Europe meant easier trade of goods by sea with friendly nations. You can still see echoes of this today in its bustling port and seafront. But this also meant that it was vulnerable to attack for seafaring enemies, the looming castles still looming protectively over the city they were built to protect.
However, what was once a structure that was built for the express purpose for defence now provides a unique insight into the cultural and historical past of this ancient city. Not to mention they offer some pretty stunning views.
Where to Eat
Along with the traditional Neapolitan cuisine you would expect in the city, there are also a lot street food stands you can sample in Naples. One which you should try is Friggitoria Vomero, and pick up some fried food to give the energy for the day ahead.
On the seafront of Naples, you’ll find a castle most eggcellent. No, really, the Castel dell’Ovo literally translates to the Egg Castle. As the oldest castle in Naples, the name comes from the story about a magical egg that was placed in the foundations to strengthen the fortress. If the egg ever broke, the castle would have been destroyed along with it.
Though what you see currently is part of a restoration inspired by the Aragonese domination in the 15th century, the history of Catel dell’Ovo is much older than that. The origins of the castle date back to the first century BC, when part of the Castellum Lucullanum villa was originally built by a Roman general. Since then, the fortress has been redesigned throughout history until the current form that we see today. Who knows, maybe the future will see a new design iteration for the Egg Castle.
While the Castel dell’Ovo has its historical roots dating back to the days of antiquity, the Castel Nuovo lives up to its name as the New Castle. Also known as Maschio Angioino, it was first constructed in the late 13th century. It isn’t hard to spot, it’s as if someone dropped a medieval castle straight in front of the city hall and the Piazza Municipio. The reserve is true, though, as the castle was built to guard against enemies, and the Castel dell’Ovo was too old for that purpose, while the Castel Capuano wasn’t as strategically placed.
The name New Castle comes from the fact that, including the two previously mentioned castles, it is the newer of the three. Despite its relative novelty, it has its own storied past, including the legend of a crocodile that used to reside in the dungeon and ‘take care’ of prisoners who were getting too big for their boots.
Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina (MADRE)
While many of the art collections within Naples come from historical artists, there is a place that is dedicated to pieces of the modern variety. The Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, otherwise called the Madre Museum, lies just on the edge of the historic centre in the Palazzo Donnaregina.
Some of the pieces within these walls are temporary instalments and permanent fixtures. Across the floors of the building, contemporary art from the 1950s to more recent pieces are on display, including but not limited to artists like Andy Warhol.
The Catacombs of San Gennaro and San Gaudioso
The Cimitero isn’t the only burial ground or catacombs under Naples. Two places you can visit are the Catacombs of San Gennaro and San Gaudioso. Though they are two totally different catacombs, both are noteworthy for their religious figures. We’ve already talked about San Gennaro, but San Gaudioso was banished from Tunisia in the 5th century AD. Stuck on a boat with no sails or oars, he luckily landed in Naples.
Both catacombs are within walking distance of each other, with San Gennaro lying at the bottom of Capodimonte park, and San Gaudioso roughly a twenty-minute walk down the Corso Amedeo di Savoia. For a full tour of the San Gennaro catacombs, click here. For a full tour of San Gaudioso. Click here.
Subway Station Art in Naples
Whenever you find yourself travelling, be sure to keep an eye out for the Subway station art in Naples. Each station along the Line 1 and Line 6 of the Naples subway have their own separate pieces, each crafted with a different theme and method, ranging from the historical dedication in the Museo station to neon signs with lines of poetry in the Dante station.
But this isn’t all of them, as the Naples municipality plans to expand the collection in the coming years, so there is more reason to return. Until then, try and see if you can find them all and figure out the theme behind each art installation.
The Quartieri Spagnoli is lined with retailers and bars, so the castle overlooking the neighbourhood might seem a bit out of place. However, the Castel Sant’Elmo has a reason for being there. Its position on top of a hill with a clear view of the surrounding land and sea makes it an ideal place to build a defensive structure. The name Sant’Elmo comes from the church that used to be on the hill before the construction of the fortress.
Over the years, it changed from a defending castle to a lavish home. While it may have originally been built with the purpose of defending the city of Naples, what made it once a point of strategic interest now provides amazing views of the city below.
Where to Stay
Budget-Friendly - Ostello Bello Napoli
A cheap hostel that is within walking distance of many of Naples’ attractions, and with its own beer garden to relax in after a day of exploration.
Mid-Range - Vomero High Hotel
A clean and comfortable hotel that provides a convenient choice without hurting your wallet.
Luxury - Dimora Donna Elena
Located near the Maschio Angioino, this apartment, fit for royalty, is perfect for couples who want a cosy spot to relax in.
Day 3: Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius
You can’t go to Naples and not visit Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. Both are a reminder of one of the most infamous disasters in ancient history. Public transport can transport you to Vesuvius and Pompeii, but there are also private bus companies which, though slightly more expensive, take you directly to your destination. For the first half of your day, visit the ruins of Pompeii or one of the other historical settlements, walking along the streets that Roman citizens used millennia ago.
Afterwards, head up to the top of Vesuvius and look across the bay of Naples. Whether at dawn, midday or sunset, the vistas are absolutely stunning and well worth a photograph. Just beware of sunburn when you’re out and about!
Where to Eat
Volcanic ash is known to be a great fertilizing agent, and wineries have opened up shop on the slopes of Vesuvius. Make time in your day to stop at a local winery for a spot of lunch, along with sampling some of the local produce.
First, visit the ruins of Pompeii. In 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted, blanketing the nearby settlements of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and Stabiae in ash and molten rock. The volcanic eruption may have been a disaster for people living at the time, but it helped preserve many of the ruins. These were rediscovered in the 18th century and excavated. Due to the nature of the eruption, Pompeii is one of the best-preserved ancient Roman cities in the world.
Much of the artwork and architecture from many centuries ago is still visible. Even some of the bodies of the unfortunate souls who lost their lives on that fateful day are still visible, the pyroclastic flow protecting them from the elements and leaving them as they were in their final moments. You can either take a full day to wander around the ruins at your leisure, but in my opinion, the bare minimum to see the city's highlights is at least 3 hours.
Pompeii is regularly referred to in history textbooks and documentaries. Because of this, it’s one of the most well known and popular tourist destinations around Naples. However, it’s not the only ruins that you can visit. Herculaneum, also known as Ercolano, is another settlement that was struck by the eruption of 79 AD and is also open to tourists.
Compared to Pompeii, it is a smaller site, but because of this, it’s also less crowded and provides a bit more of an intimate experience. Modern technology and more knowledge of volcanoes have helped lessen their danger to society. Still, the Roman ruins remind us of the power and destruction volcanoes are capable of causing. In fact, technological advancements have helped recreate what these ruins looked like before Vesusvius’ infamous eruption.
Secondly, head up to the top of Mount Vesuvius. It’s only one of the volcanoes in the Campania region, but it’s the most famous. It’s an active volcano, but don’t worry. The last time it erupted was 1944, and you’ll be totally safe. Probably. Most likely. Maybe, It’s a long way to the top, so if you’re hiking, don’t forget to pack that sun cream, bring a water bottle, and wear some good walking shoes. Or you can take a bus up instead, and considering how hot the Mediterranean can get in the summer, an air-conditioned bus might be the best solution.
If you want to get to the very summit of Vesuvius, you must go through a ticketed gate, and you can only purchase the tickets online. I highly recommend you buy the tickets before you travel outside the city - there is data connection at the top, but it’s super slow. Once you get through, you get a stunning view of Naples and the surrounding landscape and can peek into the crater. There aren’t any molten lava flows you can see (thankfully), but it’s still a must-see. There are stalls which sell small souvenirs, but a more authentic and free gift would be just to pick up one of the rocks that are lying about. No one will mind, and when your friends ask you why you’re giving them a rock, you can revel in the “this is not just any rock…” speech.
Where to Stay:
Budget-Friendly - B&B Enjoy Ercolano
A quiet, cosy bed and breakfast in Ercolano promises to be a comfortable stay and not hurt the wallet too much.
Mid-Range - Domus Vesuvia
This bed and breakfast is located in the quiet town of Torre Annunzita, where you can take the train to Naples or Pompeii.
Luxury - Villa Rocla guest house Pompeii
Just 15 minutes walk away from the Pompeii Archaeological Site, this spacious guest house has comfortable rooms, as well as a shuttle service to Naples airport.
Additional Days: The Bay of Naples
If you leave early enough on your last day, you should visit all of the Islands in the Bay of Naples or Golfo di Napoli. Go down to the port of Naples, and there are boats which regularly travel between the islands until late in the evening. However, depending on when you get up, you may have only time to visit a couple of or even just one of the islands, so you may have to prioritise. Each one of them has something unique to offer.
If you don’t have your sea legs about you, that’s ok. You can take a day trip to Sorrento, a town that shares the same coastline of the Bay of Naples as the city. With a long history that also dates back to ancient history and seafood restaurants, there are all kinds of cultures that you can sample here before concluding your trip to Naples.
Where to Eat
Many of the islands have their own bars and eateries where you can stop for lunch, but if you’re visiting multiple islands, save Procinda for last. Enjoy a seafood dinner at one of their local restaurants on Procida - like La Medua, which has been serving customers since 1954 - where you can admire the picturesque island before returning to your accommodation. If you’re staying on land, Sorrento also has restaurants which the local fisherman trade with.
Charles Dickens once said about Capri, “There is no spot in the world with such delightful possibilities of repose as this little isle.” This is no exaggeration. The furthest of the three islands in the Gulf of Naples, even Roman emperors would escape to this island for a little rest and relaxation. Visit the many man-made villas or natural formations.
One of the attractions of the island is its grottos. Several natural sea caverns are cut into the limestone walls. This and Capri’s many beaches make this island an adventure for a seafaring explorer. You might even be lucky enough to bump into a celebrity - some of them are known to rub shoulders with the locals here.
While Capri is the more well-known and visited of the islands, it’s not the only one in the Bay of Naples that’s worth your time. Settled as a colony in the 8th century BC, Ischia is a beautiful gem that is just as worthy of a visit as its nearby cousin.
With its many resorts, thermal springs and beautiful beaches. Ischia is the perfect spot to take a load off at the end of your trip. Visit the Castello Aragonese, which is connected to the larger part of Ischia via a single causeway. Enjoy the many bars of Ischia Porto on the North side of the island, or take it nice and slow in Saint’Angelo in the south.
And last but not least, the island of Procida. While being known for being the smallest of the three islands, that’s not to say it’s without its charms. Named Italy’s Capital of Culture in 2022, many of the nearby Neapolitans come here from the mainland during the summer months.
Serving as the set for the film adaptation of The Talent Mr. Ripley, Procida has many colourful buildings and many narrow alleys that you can explore. It’s the perfect island to visit if you want to take things at a lazy pace and mingle with the natives.
A town situated on the edge of sheer cliffs, Sorrento is a place where natural beauty and stunning architecture come together. Located on the Amalfi coast overlooking the Bay of Naples, there are loads of attractions to see here. Venture through the winding mazes of the town’s historic centre until you find the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi, a 14th-century church, stop in one of the many cafes for a boost of energy. If that’s not your thing, you can head down to the Mariana Grande at the foot of the town’s cliffs, sample some of the day's catches or take a boat tour.
If you sampled the Neapolitan pizza on day 1, why not try making it for yourself? Book yourself a cheese-tasting and pizza-making class at Primaluce. Or continue with your alcohol-tasting adventure, and try out some of the wine or limoncello they make.
Where to Stay
Budget-Friendly - Oasi Madre della Place (Sorrento)
A monastery turned into accommodation, with a sun terrace looking out onto the Bay of Naples, this comfy spot is the perfect spot for staying in Sorrento on a budget.
Mid-Range - ring (Ischia)
While there are other private accommodations in Ishcia, ring is an established hostel in the Forio di Ischia district which allows travellers to connect with others
Luxury - Appartamento La Follicara (Capri)
Many of the accommodations available on the island of Capri are well within the luxury price range, with this private apartment in the Anacapri section being the cheapest.