Are you wondering what to do at Naples and if it’s worth visiting? Naples had been on my list for a while. I had some friends that had visited and recommended it. But my real fascination started when I read the saga of Elena Ferrante, the famous and anonymous Italian writer. In my mind, this city was a jungle in the heart of Europe. Jungle in a positive way… And I was neither wrong nor disappointed. I absolutely loved this city and was charmed by the beautiful sightseeing it has to offer.
Before going into practical details, my impressions of Naples and its history, I am giving you a small list.
What to do at Naples:
1. Go for a walk next to the sea and admire Vesuvius
2. Roam the streets in the city center of Naples
3. Go to the Castel Sant’Elmo for an amazing view of the city
4. Visit the churches San Gennaro and Castel Sant’Elmo
5. Eat pizza in the pizzeria Sorbillo
6. Visit Pompei
7. Eat, eat, eat
Visit Naples Italy
If you like South America or a chaos of many Asian cities, you will absolutely love Naples! This city reminded me of so many Latin American cities that are colorful, where people are rather nice, where the architecture is a bit ruined but with a lot of charm, colonial heritage, excellent street food. Those cities are often at the same time chaotic, noisy, polluted, and sometimes even dirty. But there is something very appealing to me about all of these things. There is a particular atmosphere that is worth paying attention to. Specially because there are not many places like this in Europe.
If you know what I mean and if you would like an escape that is not typically European, but still on this continent, visit Naples Italy!
How to get to Naples Italy
There are a lot of ways to get to Naples. We flew from Marseille to a low-cost airport in Rome called Ciampino with the company Ryanair. Ciampino has a lot of low-cost flights that get you from many different destinations around Europe. This is also a perfect option if you want to visit also Rome. Anyways, we rented a car near the airport and even drove through Naples!
Naples Italy airport
But you can also get to Naples directly since there is also an airport that is quiet well connected. How to get from the Naples airport to the city center? Very easily! You can take the Alibus Shuttle that takes 15 minutes and a one-way ticket costs €5. You can also get a cab that takes around 10 minutes and is around 15€.
Where to stay in Naples Italy
We stayed at a place called Dante Boutique Rooms, perfectly situated, two minutes away from the piazza Dante, kind of an entrance to the city center and all the main sightseeing things.
Note that finding an accommodation with the parking included is not the easiest task. But there are a lot of garages, and there was one right next to our accommodation. However, that makes your budget be much higher. We left the car for three days in the garage and then visited the city mainly on foot.
Best time to visit Naples Italy
What would be the best time to visit Naples Italy? The city, as any other, is covered in concrete, dust, chaotic transportation. Summer is always great, but be ready for really high temperatures and to hide somewhere around 2pm when it gets really hot. May and June are my favorite months for traveling in Europe, when we can feel that summer is just around the corner. I would definitely say spring and autumn. Or any time that Vesuvius is not active, which has been for decades now. When did Vesuvius last erupt? In 1944.
Is Naples dangerous for tourists?
We did not feel that Naples was dangerous. Safety in Naples is something that people often speak about, but we did not feel any danger in any moment.
Visit Naples Italy
The first morning upon our arrival we took a Free Guided Tour of Naples that was very informative. I like to start my visits of cities with these tours because they give me a grasp and an idea of the city. You get to have an idea of its history, people, food, places, how to get around, especially if you have not had time to make your own research. Even if you have, there are always new things you will learn and always better if it’s from the point of view of a local. After that, visits make much more sense.
These free walking tours exist in all major cities around the world. First it was locals who did them and wanted to share their knowledge about their hometown, but now it is rather agencies that were created and that have their guides that are not necessarily locals, but still excellent and qualified guides. The visits usually last for 2 hours and at the end, you tip the guide, depending on how much you liked it. In the European countries people usually leave between 10 and 20€ depending on the level of satisfaction, number of visitors and just the personal budget.
History of Naples
Now that we covered all the practical things, let’s go to the interesting ones…
Naples is such an interesting city because of its history. Its name Neapolis – comes from Greek and means new city. It was founded in the 8th century BC. It was under Greeks, Romans and Spanish empire and there were even Egyptian influences. These conquers give you an idea of why this city is so interesting.
Today, Naples has 1 million of people, and 3 million with its surroundings.
In pavements, statues, architecture, you will see a stone that is a bit dark. That is because the stone is being extracted from Vesuvius for all sorts of things. This volcano that is omnipresent is something habitants from Naples could not imagine their life without. At the same time this mighty volcano represents danger and abundance. Possible death but also life and fertility. The volcano that has not been active since 1944. The city had been devastated by the Second World War and then on top of that, they had an eruption.
The habitants know that if there is an irruption, it can spread for 25 kilometers. The habitants that died during the eruptions, died because of the gasses, not because of the heath. In any case, the temperature that Vesuvius emits is of 400, 500 degrees.
They believe that it might erupt sometime soon. Apparently, Italian government has made partnership with Japanese who have the best technology to detect volcano eruptions and they are the ones that follow the insides of this giant. They apparently also have an evacuation plan, but, as the tour guide said, people do not know what it is.
As I said before, this volcano also gives life to the city, not only because of its appearance but also because of its extremely fertile land. That is why Naples is famous for its tomatoes that gave birth to the amazing pizza, but also wine from the Vesuvius’ vineyards.
What to do at Naples? Definitely go for a hike around Vesuvius and enjoy the magnificent view from the other side! If you don’t have enough time, walking in the harbor is also excellent activity! It was also amazing because there were not a lot of tourists, but rather locals that like this part of the city. You see them leaning on the stone wall and admiring Vesuvius as if they were seeing it for the first time. Their fascination is palpable.
What to do at Naples city center
The city center offers a lot of antiquaries that give a special touch around the piazza Dante. We entered one of the places that sold records and CDs, had a chat with the owners and got an advice on what to buy. Although we listened to certain musicians from Napoli, we preferred the one from Rome – Francesco de Gregori.
My two most favorite things in Naples were walking by the sea and the view from Castel Sant’Elmo. By walking by the sea you get a grasp of how multicultural this city is. There are street sellers, people living or just visiting Naples, different smells and wonderful sights for eyes. There is also a famous Sorbillo pizzeria and I would recommend you to stop and have one of the best pizzas in Naples.
My second favorite place was the top of the mountain, the area around Castel Sant’Elmo and the wonderful architecture in this neighborhood. This was particularly interesting because, when you go up, you notice straight away the class differences. Another reason why it reminded me of South America and Bogota. The poor and rich neighborhoods were very clearly divided.
The view from the top was stunning and you could understand immediately how many amazing places there are in Naples to see. From the above, you have an impression that each street has a story to tell and a jewel that deserves to be visited. Roaming the narrow streets, discovering unexpected corners makes part of the best experiences in Naples.
What else to do at Naples
Visit churches in Naples
One thing you cannot overlook when you are in Naples is definitely the number of churches there are! I had an impression that they were in absolutely every street, on every single corner. The faith of Italians is straight away detectable. But, if you know that Vesuvius is so close and that XVII century plague took one third of the population in Naples, you understand even better where their religious heritage comes from. Death is something that these inhabitants were confronted with.
Since medicine was not very developed in the previous centuries, people had to find their own ways to protect themselves. At least mentally. One of the ways was building obelisks. They were symbols of protection, almost like offering sacrifice to Gods, the reason why there are some in Naples, Italy, often with statues of saints.
So, what to do at Naples? Definitely visit at least some of these churches! There are two that particularly caught my attention. San Gennaro was absolutely beautiful. This one has a special place in Napoli inhabitants’ hearts since this saint is the protector of the city. The neighborhood around this church was very beautiful, but this impression could only be mine, because it reminded me of Madrid, one of my favorite cities, so I might be too subjective.
Another church that is breathtaking is Gesù Nuovo. Its façade is pretty unusual. The church is now Jesuits but before it was San Severino’s palace built in the 15th century. The façade always intrigued and, since this family members were alchemists, people thought that this was a secret formula for making gold. This family had to leave Napoli during the Spanish rule because Spanish were not very kind with the rich.
Few years ago, a professor from the university in Naples saw that there are 7 letters related to musical notes. Each one of these stones represents a note and the whole facade a song! A classical melody that lasts for an hour. Pretty amazing, right?
The most famous souvenir from Naples
Have you ever seen the series Sopranos? Do you remember the episode when Furio comes back from Naples after his father’s death and he brings presents to Sopranos’ kids. AJ gets a red key holder that has a head on the top and a pepper on the bottom. That is the most typical souvenir that you can get in Naples.
There is evidently a story behind this unusual shape. In Ancient times, Romans made phallic shapes for good luck. They literarily represented penises. Peppers are an evolution of the first penises that were made. You activate the good luck by putting the corn on your left palm or by giving it to someone as a present.
I would genuinely recommend Naples. Specially, if you are a traveler that likes to be surprised, that is open to new tastes, experiences, smells. There is certain chaotic part about it, but that is exactly what we loved!
Naples is also perfect because you can visit easily Amalfi coast, Rome and the rest of Southern Italy. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised and to taste really incredible food!
Special thanks for the photos to Julien Tournon. All rights reserved.