Noisy, unpredictable and chaotic, Naples is for adventurers with an open mind. You will love it or you will hate it, but you'll have to admit that it is the most iconic city for Southern Italy. Pizza was invented here and Vergil wrote Eneid in this city. You can drink delicious coffee (try nocciola!) that you will crave it when you return home. In the middle of the histrionic Napoletani, you will feel most of the time as if you were on a stage and soon you will be convinced that life is an endless show.
Give Naples a chance! At the end you will have to admit that the Italian phrase Vedi Napoli, poi muori (See Naples and Die) is not senseless.
What to do:
First of all you should go to National Archaeological Museum, the highlight of Naples and one of the most important museums of its kind in the world. Spend at least half a day here, admiring the impressive Greek and Roman antiquities, part of the famous Farnese Collection. Don't miss the marble sculptures (Farnese Hercules, Farnese Atlas, Farnese Bull, Aphrodite Kallipygos or Aphrodite of the beautiful buttocks), the mosaics from Pompeii (The Battle between Alexander the Great and Darius and Cave Canem/Beware of the Dog being the most famous), the Secret Cabinet (full of pieces with erotic subject), the papyri and Roman bronzes excavated in Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum and the delicately engraved gems exposed in the basement.
Finish your day with a relaxing stroll along Lungomare, the 3km long seafront promenade, from Mergellina harbour to the Egg Castle (Castel del Ovo), rising on the Megaride peninsula, packed with many restaurants and cafés. You will pass by Villa Comunale Park, with an Aquarium and a Zoological Station, perfect for children. If it's summer, taste a refreshing gelato or a tonic lemon granita.
The next day, familiarize yourself with the city and discover the real Naples, both praised and despised by those who don't understand its hectic spirit. Try to find your way in the maze of narrow bustling streets of the old city, best to be explored on foot. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the picturesque centre of Naples boasts numerous architectural landmarks including Cathedral (Duomo), Santa Clara (Santa Chiara) Monastery, medieval Castel Nuovo, Palazzo Reale and so on.
Nearby, on the other side of Teatro San Carlo, Galleria Umberto I, a stunning commercial arcade with glass roof, invites you to a therapeutic shopping session. You can extend it on Via Toledo, the main shopping street in city, a long pedestrian street lined with small shops and department stores. To the left, at the foot of Vomero Hill you can explore the Spanish Quarter (Quartieri Spagnoli), with its dark alleys, we recommend you avoiding it at night.
At the end, enjoy a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of the city and its sweeping bay from the ramparts of St Elmo Castle, at the top of Vomero Hill. The vistas are breathtaking, so worth the effort to get there. If you don't feel like climbing the hill, you can take one of the 3 cable cars lines: Funicolare di Montesanto (from Montesanto), Funicolare Centrale (from Piazza Augusteo, next to Galleria Umberto I), and Funicolare Chiaia (from Corso Vittorio Emanuele or Regina Margherita Station). The six-pointed star shaped fortress became a ''castle of arts'': now houses Novecento Museum, with a collection of local modern art, and its courtyard (Piazza d'Armi) is used as stage for concerts and other cultural events.
A few steps below is Certosa di San Martino, a venerable carthusian monastery dating back to 1368, now transformed in a museum. It has one of the largest collections of presepi (nativity scenes) in the world. When you want to go back to the city I recommend you to take the stairs instead of the funicular: as you descend the views will change every step and every curve.
For those who like to explore the cities off the beaten path we recommend the Underground Naples (Napoli Sotterranea), a fabulous network of caves, passageways, Roman tunnels, cisterns and aqueducts dug into the tuff rock and used as shelter during World War II. Sections of this underground city spanning over 120km, 40m below the soil, are accessible to visitors. There are many tours, but we highly recommend the one meet at Piazza San Gaetano, next to Basilica di San Paolo Maggiore, in Via dei Tribunali, which includes a surprise at the end (a hidden Greco-Roman theater). Another option are the catacombs below Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore, on the other part of the street, or the amazing Catacombs of San Gennaro, in Via Tondo di Capodimonte 13, north of the city, whose entrance ticket gives access to San Gaudioso Catacombs in Sanità neighborhood.
25km south-east of Naples is Pompeii, buried under lava and ash after the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius. Wandering its streets is like a journey back in time. You will see well-preserved villas, temples, public buildings and impressive wall frescoes, painted in the famous intense Pompeian red. Take a map at the entrance and search the highlights: the Forum, the Amphitheatre, Great Palestra, the Stabian Baths, House of the Faun, House of the Small Fountain, the brothel, the Villa of the Mysteries etc.
The archaeological site (Pompei Scavi) is served by the Circumvesuviana railway line (starting point: the main train station at Piazza Garibaldi in Naples). This is useful too if you want to see Herculaneum (today, Ercolano), Villa Poppaea, Stabiae, Torre Annunziata – other great archaeological sites, unfortunately shadowed by the more touristic Pompeii. Avoid weekends, when traffic jams are frequent.
The menacing silhouette of Mount Vesuvius (1182m), the only active volcano in Europe, dominates the skyline of the Bay of Naples. Take a shuttle bus from Pompeii, which leaves you at 1000m altitude. From the car park, take the trail number 5 to the crater (Gran Cono). The volcano has been asleep since 1944 and nobody knows when will erupt again, but take the risk if you like adventures!
The second day trip from Naples will give you the occasion to explore the volcanic area known as Phlegraean Fields (Campi Flegrei), covered by the 20km long Cumana train line (starting point: Montesanto station in Naples). This valley west of Naples has more than 20 craters, most of them underwater. First stop: Pozzuoli (ancient Puteoli), a small harbour 12 km west of Naples, where you can visit Anfiteatro Flavio, one of the best preserved amphitheatres in all Italy. A few kilometres away, the dormant crater Solfatara, who exhales jets of sulphurous steam, is famed as the mythological residence of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.
5km to the north of Pozzuoli is Cuma (ancient Cumae), the first Greek colony in Italy, founded on the coast of Tyrrhenian Sea in the 8th century BC. The archeological site includes Cave of the Sibyl (Antro della Sibilla) and the acropolis with two temples dedicated to Zeus and Apollo.
In Baia (ancient Baiae), 4 km to the south, you can see the ruins of an imperial villa and the spa complex (terme di Baia) of this fancy resort, once very popular among rich Romans. Aragonese Castle is now home to Museum of the Campi Flegrei. Most of the archaeological site of Baiae is underwater, but you can take a tour if you are a diver. Quite eccentric, isn't it?
Eat & drink:
Eat a real Napolitano pizza margherita (tomatoes, basil and mozzarella) from Di Matteo (Via dei Tribunali 94), Pizzeria Brandi (Salita Sant'Anna di Palazzo 1-2) or Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale 1-3), where allegedly the recipe was first created.
Now it's time to escape the overcrowded Naples to more secluded places. To get to Ischia Island, 30km from Naples, you can take a high speed ferry (Aliscafi) from Molo Beverello harbour, opposite the New Castle, or a slower (but cheaper) one from Calata Porto di Massa; another option is the small Mergellina harbour. You can reach Ischia by hydrofoil also from Pozzuoli and Sorrento.