The are no limits in Naples (or Napoli in Italian). The birthplace of pizza, Campania’s capital and Italy’s third largest city is as edgy as it is illustrious. You’ll constantly have the especially gorgeous Bay of Naples and the looming volcano, Mt. Vesuvius, in your peripheral vision! Here’s our brief city guide to the must-see sights and off-the-beaten-track highlights.
Naples in a nutshell
The Historic Centre
Start in the Centro Storico (historic centre), yet another Italian UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wander down the Spaccanapoli. This is a 2km walkway that takes you past numerous palazzi (aristocratic Italian mansions) and some of the most important sights in Naples. To begin with, head to the via Duomo and continue towards the Piazza Gesù Nuovo. You can branch off at will to see the city’s main offerings.
Did you know?
The Italians have a saying: Vedi Napoli e poi muori, meaning ‘See Naples and die’. It’s not what you think! The idea is that Naples is so beautiful, there’s no reason to go on living, as you’ll never see anything better.
The 17th century Pio Monte della Misericordia church is famous for its art, including Caravaggio’s The Seven Works of Mercy. The Duomo di Napoli (Naples Cathedral) is just across the street. This Catholic cathedral houses a vial of St. Januarius’ blood, which twice a year miraculously liquefies! Another must-see is the Chiese dei Girolamini next door, which contains yet more artistic masterpieces, as well as the famous Girolamini Library of religious manuscripts. Just one block west is the Sotterranea, a network of tunnels 40m under Naples! These underground cisterns, tunnels and aqueducts are certainly worth a visit. Come up for air and move further west to find the Museo Cappella Sansevero. In particular, be sure to see the famous Veiled Christ statue by Sanmartino.
Finish off your visit to the centro storico at the Museo Archeologicao Nazionale di Napoli (National Archaeology Museum), where you’ll find fascinating Roman artifacts. Afterwards, further westwards, you’ll come across the Complesso Monumentale di Santa Chiara (Monumental Complex of St. Clare). This Gothic religious complex contains a monastery, the tombs of kings, and an archaeological museum.
Around the Bay of Naples
It’s not all about the historical centre! Indeed, as you near the Bay of Naples, you can visit one of the city’s famous castles. The Castel Nuovo was completed in 1282, and houses fragments of frescoes by the famous Giotto. Other castles include the Castel dell’Ovo and the Castel Sant’Elmo. Take a walk down the Lungomare promenade for the perfect view! And don’t forget the Teatro San Carlo, the oldest opera house in Europe, to the east. Then it’s off to the Piazza Plebiscito to see the Palazzo Reale – home to the Bourbon kings!
A glimpse of what awaits you in Napoli. Surely a trip you’ll never forget!
Shop ‘til You Drop!
Naples is also famous for its shopping streets and arcades. The via Toledo, for example, or the Galleria Umberto I and via San Gregorio Armeno. The city is also famous for its tailors, who craft exquisite handmade suits for men in the Chiaia neighbourhood. If you leave Naples with just one custom fashion piece, let it be an E. Marinella tie. These made-to-measure neckties have been donned by American presidents such as Nixon, Carter, Kennedy, and Obama!
Good to know!
Lastly, let’s not forget the city’s greatest epicurean feat! The pizza! In short, not trying this tasty comfort food (which has UNESCO heritage status) in the city it was invented is almost sacrilegious. Here’s our guide to where to try the best Neapolitan pizza.
Naples off the beaten track
The black legend of the Sansevero Prince
The eccentric Prince Raimondo di Sangro turned the Cappella Sansevero into a museum of dark experiments. He was known as an alchemist, linguist, scientist and collector. A true Renaissance man. As a result, to the locals, he seemed a bit…well, terrifying. See his two ‘anatomical machines’ built on ancient human skeletons! These are replicas of human viscera and arteries. Where he got the skeletons from is anyone’s guess!
Visit a Hospital for Dolls
The Ospedale delle Bambole is where locals used to take their dolls to be mended. Today it is a shop and museum filled with figurines and traditional toys created by artisan marionette makers. It has just over 100 years of history, starting with Mr. Luigi Grassi. This avid designer of court and puppet theatres started by mending performance puppets, and ended up with a hospital for every poorly doll in the area!
Bonus tip: You’ll also love the Galleria Borbonica (Bourbon Tunnels). Part aqueduct, part royal escape route; the tunnels have served as a bomb shelter, military hospital, impound lot and storage facility for vintage cars and fascist statues. Read more here.
Planning a trip to Campania? If not, surely you should! See our article on Paestum, the ancient city of the Greeks for inspiration!