“Greek Parthenope: Pure Voice”, “Latin Neapolis: New City”, “Dormant and quiet”
Returning for one more time to what is now, without hesitation, one of our favourites cities in the whole of Italy: Naples. So much to see and not just only in the beautiful and so historic city itself but in the region nearby, that with every trip we do we never have enough time to see it all, but we are always happy to already start thinking in the next visit and which other places can be discovered. This city is by far the one in Italy located at the footsteps of countless world heritage sites and unique places, world-wide known. From spectacular beaches along the idyllic coasts of Sorrento and Amalfi; luxury destinations such as Capri or Ischia Islands; the ever watching Vesuvius Volcano and the literally countless Roman remains, the best and most complete ancient cities buried for almost 2000 years after the deadly Vesuvius eruption: Pompeii, Ercolano, Oplontis and Stabiae. And if this is not enough, some further kilometres to the south south you have the ancient Greek cities of Paestum and Velia and the largest cloister in the world, the Certosa di San Lorenzo in Padula; or merely few kilometres north of Naples the largest royal residence in the world in the city of Caserta. This is only to name a few of the many destinations near Naples, now that we’ve been is most of them.
I take this occasion as a good chance for remaking this travel guide continuing to improve by adding as much updated information as possible, since it was already becoming too old. Now with all the links through added to other travel guides for the cities and sites near Naples, I am hoping to give enough details for everyone to enjoy a great holiday and know at all times what to see and do in the most simplest way possible.
Now time for a brief introduction to the city before moving onto the next subjects. Forget these urban legends about Naples as being a dangerous city. Of course, as a tourist, you will not end up going to random neighbourhoods or dodgy places where no one goes right? I’m sure you do not do that either in your hometown. Then all is left is a peaceful, messy and pretty much safe city. We’ve never felt any insecurity, although yes it is true at night around the train stations the situation looks not the best place to be. Too many homeless people everywhere, too dirty, day and night, but again, we’ve never experienced anything wrong.
Naples is one of the world’s oldest cities and nowadays, one of the largest metropolis by the Mediterranean Sea. Over 4.4 million people live within the metropolitan area which shockingly do at the footsteps of what’s regarded at the most dangerous volcano in the world, Mount Vesuvius. Fair enough it is dormant, but it is an active volcano. And history teaches us a lesson, nature is unpredictable, and the Romans did not know they built their cities next to a volcano. They thought it was a mountain, until the world’s most known eruption (and the most disastrous ever) of 79 AD, where Pompeii and Herculaneum vanished forever under a thick layer of hot ash. Very prosperous and populous cities, but not the only ones affected, the same fate suffered Stabiae and Oplontis and countless villas. Imagine this occurring today… we do better don’t think of the consequences.
So many millennia and centuries of history, all left their mark and trace behind. From ancient remains to the modern city, and incredible rich heritage and collection of all eras where its historic centre has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The network of narrow streets, then the large and wide avenues opening to grand squares filled with countless palaces, churches and monuments; the two castles, the massive opera house or the many shopping arcades similar in architecture to the Vittorio Emanuele in Milano all translates in one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and one of the largest historical old town in Europe.
Almost wherever you walk down the streets, there will be a point where the mighty Vesuvius will show its presence, however without doubt, the best view you will get of Mt Vesuvius and the whole city of Naples and the coast down below is from the top of Castel Sant’Elmo. The most enchanting view you can get, call it beautiful or romantic, it is all, and even all is not enough to describe it. A weekend is by far too short and I am talking only about visiting the city itself without going anywhere else. If you are a first timer in this city, I’m sure within your plans will be Pompeii, that’s fine in a weekend to give you a good idea, however for sure not enough to get lost through the maze of streets and discover all the wonderful sights and places around.
Nos something that will definitely happen sooner than later: hunger. Food-wise talking, and you can get me lost talking about this. Unbeatable. Some of the very finest Italian cuisine without hesitation, and cheap. Naples is not an overpriced city, but a real down to earth place, and incredible quality and amount. An impressive value for money, although a general rule of course still apply, here and everywhere in the world. Be cautious and look few places around before making a decision on first instance. Why to overpay or fall into a tourist trap. But to the point, what’s all the fuss about in Naples? Pizza. The city is regarded as its “birthplace”, but notoriously the Margherita. This is the city hosting the restaurant where it was born, named after Queen Margherita of Savoy when she visited the city, in Pizzeria Brandi, (Chiaia Street near Plebiscito Square). You will notice you are in the right place when you see the stone exposed outside the restaurant explaining the history of this very first pizza created here. Napoletans like fried pizza, this is another of their specialities and you will find it literally everywhere, restaurants or fast-food. Then the thousands and more patisseries… and you’re gone. Something not to miss is a baba, this is their most famous pastry, a kind of sweet fluffy rounded bread they pour a generous amount of rum to suck it all in; and of course ice-creams. Wherever you look you are always near it.
For more information about Naples, visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel websites. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Naples:
- East of the historic town Characterised for the new architecture of its business district and the major transport hub in the city with both main train stations.
-Centro Direzionale and Vasto neighbourhood The business district of Naples is one of the largest and strongest in Italy. For those liking late 80’s architecture especially towers, this is the place. The streets and avenues follow a perfect orthogonal grid pattern and it’s home to nice large and good hotels.
-Garibaldi Square This large square links both the historic town to the newer districts farther east and north. Napoli Centrale and Garibaldi railway stations align the eastern side, with Centrale metro station calling here.
-Napoli Centrale, Porta Nalona and Porta Garibaldi stations All three the major train stations, one for the national railways of Italy and the other for the local Circumvesuviana rail network, located within a 3 minutes radius walk to each other.
- Historic old town One of the largest in Europe, listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the incredibly large amount of churches, palaces, monuments and old architecture.
-Piazza de Nicola The northeasternmost corner of the old town.
-Porta Capuana One of the many the city once had when it was fully walled during the medieval times.
-Santa Caterina a Formiello Church Next to Porta Capuana, built in the 15th century for the Order of the Celestines, then during the reign of Alfonso II of Aragon turned to a Dominican monastery.
-Castel Capuano Originally built in the 12th century for the first monarch of the Kingdom of Naples as his royal residence. Used during the Spanish reign as the Hall of Justice that lasted until it recently moved to Centro Direzionale.
-Via dei Tribunali This is the main street cutting through the historic town from east to west, meeting the north to south axis Via Toledo at its westernmost point. It starts right behind the Castel Capuano.
-Duomo Few streets ahead on Via dei Tribunali with Via Duomo, after Castel Capuano, it’s the cathedral of Naples.
-Girolamini Cloisters and church Opposite the cathedral along the western side of this part of Via Duomo. One the small, the other the large, very pretty inside with great views towards the otherwise hidden church. The State Library is located within this complex.
-San Giuseppe dei Ruffi Church Along Via Duomo few meters north of the Cathedral, dating from the early 17th century.
-Piazzeta San Gaetano Continuing ahead along Via dei Tribunali, a great intersection of the streets surrounded by beautiful architecture in what used to be the main decumanus in Roman times. The Monument of San Gaetano sits in the middle.
-Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore Is one of the oldest and most important religious building in the city.
-Napoli Sotterranea You can visit some of the excavations of the ancient city that lies below, the entrance is by Basilica San Lorenzo and it is a must when in Naples! Incredible to see the Greek and Roman city all underneath. Tickets are 9 Euros or 10 with in a guided tour, 2 Euros cheaper for students and senior.
-Basilica San Paolo Maggiore Opposite the San Lorenzo, built on the ruins of the Temple of Castor and Pollux of which there are only two columns remaining.
-San Gregorio Armeno Monastery Right by the southern corner of the Piazzeta, the next huge religious complex of a church and cloister.
-Arco di San Gregorio Armeno Over the pedestrian street of the same name connecting the monastery and the San Lorenzo Maggiore.
-Santa Maria Maggiore Church Continuing along Via dei Tribunali towards the west.
-San Pietro a Majella Church Few meters ahead from Santa Maria. Countless and countless churches one after another.
-Piazza Bellini As with any on the old town, small and very charming. Some remains of the ancient Greek walls are on display.
-Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli Starts at the northern side of Piazza Bellini. If you take this one north from here you reach the northwestern quarter of the historic town, home to the largest museums. First comes the Fine Arts, then the Archaeological Museum at Piazza Cavour, the northern end, and as last, along Via Enrico Pessina, the Galleria Principe.
-Archaeological Museum-Piazza Cavour From all the city’s museums, this is a really must do. The incredible huge collection of statues, mosaic, paintings, utensils and jewels from the ancient Greek and Roman sites of Pompeii, Ercolano, Oplontis, Stabiae and Naples itself is overwhelming. 12 Euros to enter, 6 for students and senior.
-Piazza Dante The westernmost end of Via dei Tribunale as it meets with Via Toledo, the north-south axis of the city. One of the largest and most famous squares in Naples.
-Port’Alba At the northeastern corner, built during the Spanish period in the 15th century.
-Statue of Dante In the centre of the square.
-Via Toledo One of the most traditional and beautiful in Naples, cutting through the north to south axis of the historic town, starting at Piazza Dante and terminating at Piazza Plebiscito. The entire neighbourhood limiting west from Via Toledo is the Spanish Quarter.
-Spaccanapoli This is the street dividing the city centre all the way across, west from Via Toledo to the east meters from Piazza Garibaldi. A street parallel to Via dei Tribunali. It translates as “Naples splitter”. If you want to follow the best way touring the city then take this one from Via Toledo, as you came before Via dei Tribunali, so you do a zigzag.
-Palazzo Doria d’Angri At the intersection of Via Toledo with Spaccanapoli, built in the 18th century.
-Piazza Gesu Nuovo and Gesu Nuovo Church One the most extravagant Baroque churches in the world. Make sure you visit it inside, as for outside it looks a rather boring building. In the middle of the square you can see one of the three “spires of Naples” monuments to the plague.
-Santa Chiara Monastery Just opposite Gesu Nuovo, despite its sober look, it has huge cloisters inside.
-Piazza San Domenico and Domenico Church Completed in the 14th century, in Gothic and Baroque styles. The obelisk from 1656 in the middle of the square is one of the three “spires of Naples” monuments to the plague.
-Saint Angelo on the Nile Church By the southeast corner of Piazza San Domenico, in what is called Piazzetta del Nilo. Famous for the Donatello’s altar.
-Saint Giorgio Maggiore Church Continuing along Spaccanapoli eastbound, and after passing many more churches, this is one of the largest.
-Corso Umberto I As of your next zigzag take this street heading back towards the west of the city. It is the last of the 3 main original streets from the ancient Greek city.
-Basilica di San Pietro ad Aram At the very beginning of the Corso on the eastern terminus, by the Piazza Garibaldi, from the 17th century.
-Annunziata Church At the back of San Pietro ad Aram, original form the 15th century, the current structure dates from the 17th and until mid 1950’s also worked as an orphanage.
-Four Buildings Square At the middle way in Corso Umberto I is this circular shape square with the 4 corner buildings symmetrical one to each other. It is the intersection with Via Duomo. To the north is the Cathedral, to the south the port.
-Palace of the University Federico II Very large palatial building, however huge behind, with some of the university’s faculties as the political science, and the faculty of humanities in the building across the road.
-Piazza Giovanni Bovio The western end of Corso Umberto I it is one of the grandest and most elegant in Naples, home to the Stock Exchange. From here the southwest street leads to the Castel Nuovo and Port Molo Berovelo (for the boats to Capri), and the northwest street leads towards Via Toledo.
-Piazza Matteotti West from Piazza Giovanni Bovio heading towards Via Toledo, home to some eclectic office buildings.
-Via Miguel de Cervantes or Via Medina Any of these two streets link Piazza Matteotti with the Piazza Municipio (next to Castel Nuovo).
-Piazza Municipio One of the many squares in Naples, this one opening towards the Castel Nuovo and the port. You can see the Castel Sant’Elmo and hill in the foreground from here.
-Comune di Napoli This is the city hall, a beautiful large building occupying the entire block all the way to Via Toledo at its back wing.
-Castelnuovo At the pier head, one of the many castles in the city. Very picturesque and nice courtyards inside.
-South of Via Toledo This last part of the street contains some of the key sights in the city. The entire area around this place have the most renown and reputed buildings.
-Funicular This is the base station, Montesanto, for going up the hill to Morghen station that leads to the Castel Sant’Elmo and hill.
-Galleria Umberto I Linking Via Toledo, Via Giuseppe Verdi, San Carlo Theatre and Plebiscito Square. This is to Naples what Vittorio Emanuele II Galleria to Milano.
-San Carlo Theatre Right next to Galleria Umberto I, one of the most magnificent and biggest opera houses in Italy.
-Royal Palace It is one of the four residences used by the Spanish Bourbon Kings of Naples during their rule of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (1730-1860). At the northern side is the San Carlo Theatre and Galleria Umberto I, at the back is the Piazza Municipio, and at the main facade it’s the famous Piazza Plebiscito.
-Piazza Plebiscito Oval shaped square where the Royal Palace and church of San Francesco di Paola is found.
- Castel dell’Ovo At Porto Santa Lucia, south of Piazza Plebiscito in the port. A nice castle you can walk inside the patio. An entrance fee is needed if you want to access the museum. The views of the promenade are great from the castle.
- Castel Sant’Elmo From its top you will enjoy the best views of city, Mount Vesuvius and the Mediterranean. The best way to access it is by taking the Funicular from Montesanto in Via Toledo, to Morghen and then walk the last section. Student discount applies.
- Certosa di San Martino Located right next to Castel Sant’Elmo is this Carthusian Monastery.
- Outside of the city As mentioned in the introduction, simply countless places to keep you going for many days and even weeks.
-Pompeii, Ercolano, Oplontis and Stabiae All of which some of the Roman cities that got buried and vanished in 79 AD after Mount Vesuvius eruption for almost 2000 years until their rediscovery. You can reach any of them by the Circumvesuviana commuter railway from downtown Naples, however check on each of them for a proper guide and information.
-Sorrento and Amalfi Coasts Few kilometres ahead from Pompeii the beauty of the coast start along the Sorrentine Peninsula. Incredible beaches and colourful villages set in the backdrop of the mountains.
-Caserta At 40 kilometres north from downtown Naples it is home to the largest royal residence in the world.
-Paestum and Velia The ancient Magna Graecian cities where you see the most complete and best preserved ancient Greek temples.
-Padula Home to the largest cloister in the world.
-Capri and Ischia Islands Very popular destinations for tourists, especially the rich and famous, are a short boat ride away.
Naples International Airport is one of the largest in Italy and serves majority of the main destinations across Europe and beyond with plenty of airlines and an ever increasing number. There is however, an incredible difference in costs between flying during the low season and the high one. Actually, a dramatic difference. Be quick in order to book a good airfare and consider avoid the summer months when everyone comes and it is scorching hot. For sightseeing it is way better during quieter periods, unless you are in search of a beach holiday of course. From the airport, the best choice to downtown Naples is taking the “Alibus” bus for €4 which has two stops only: Stazione Centrale (Central station) and Piazza Municipio, near the main ferry port (molo Beverello). You can buy your ticket on the bus.
Coming overland from Italy is now quite convenient by high-speed trains from Rome and all the cities that lie in between this line. Other railway lines are of course possible but the journey times increase dramatically. By bus you can get here from anywhere in Italy.
Within the city there is a good choice of public transports. The “newly built” metro system has currently 2 lines, named 1 and 6, and has become a new sight in the city for the incredible design of the stations, all unique. Plenty of buses, trams and funiculars cover the entire city and metropolitan area, with commuter railways both from the national railway company and the Circumvesuviana networks linking the entire region and all points. A daily pass for 3 Euro is valid on all metro, tram, bus and funiculars, otherwise a single ticket within the historic centre is just 1 Euro.
As for reaching the Roman cities of Herculaneum, Stabiae or Pompeii, or Sorrento, the Circumvesuviana rail network operates from the lower level of the main train station at Piazza Garibaldi. The route is to Sorrento stopping at Torre Anunziata for Oplontis, Ercolano Scavi for Herculaneum and Pompei Scavi for Pompeii. The last stop is farther down the line, Sorrento city.
Naples has a huge choice of hotels of any kind, however the costs between low and high season vary terribly. In low season you are almost guaranteed to find great deals around. And I’m talking about 4 star hotels with breakfast included. Bear in mind that the hotel standards in Italy can be (not always) a bit disappointing. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
This is our fourth time in Naples, and won’t be the last for sure. We love the city too much and there are always more and more places to discover, or just simply return to enjoy our favourite places and the great food, especially pizza. This translates in a good bunch of hotels I can share our experience for you to make a choice.
In our most recent stay, because it was already at the beginning of the season, the fares were significantly higher than in our past times in the city. I did try to get the same hotel as the last time because it was good in all we wanted and needed, however it was already booked out, and so that was the case for the one the year before, the Vergilius Billia. The city is becoming more and more popular and the demand too strong. We found what we though would be our most suitable hotel to be the Guiren, in Via Bologna 114. Like all other hotels, in a similar location right near the main train station and as such, the city centre few minutes walking distance. Unfortunately this turned out to be a bad experience. From the pictures they advertise in the search engine websites, none matched what kind of horribly dated and run-down bedroom they gave us. The front-office staff was very friendly and nice that’s out of question, however nothing they could do on our first night as it was fully booked, but they managed to change us for another room on the following night which was the antipodes to what we originally got yet still, that room was also not advertised in the pictures at all. It remains a mystery what kind of rooms they have advertised in the websites. The breakfast was miserable, just a croissant, some bread, boiled eggs, packed cheese and cereals, being the worst the older gentleman behind the bar with glasses, very rude and unpleasant, making everyone feel uncomfortable and being extremely unkind and verbally abusive to the otherwise nice waitresses. We do not recommend this hotel at all.
In the previous stay in May 2016, we booked the Ibis Styles Napoli Garibaldi. Very well located near both train stations, the city centre, and a short walk to the port. Nice clean and comfortable rooms although a bit small, nice and friendly staff and quiet during the night even though half of their rooms are facing towards the Circumvesuviana rail tracks of Porta Nalona station. Their fares were also great at the time I booked it, and gladly I got it some weeks ahead as it was completely booked out matter of days after. It can be a good option we do recommend.
As for March 2014, we stayed at the Vergilius Billia Hotel, on Via Giuseppe Pica 2, just to the west of the Stazione Centrale on the parallel street, behind the Piazza di Garibaldi. Also a great location and overall, better than the previous 2012 trip. Nice, comfortable and quiet bedroom with great breakfast, although nothing beyond special.
Back in February 2012 we stayed was the Ramada Naples City Center, on Via Galileo Ferraris 40, next to Stazione Centrale. Supposedly a 4*, it was more like a 3* if no less. Still, for the price we paid, totally recommended. Simple and plain bedroom but comfortable large bed and quiet at night. A simple breakfast but good enough to start the day, among nice and friendly staff.