Naples is an ideal jumping off point for Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, and various other gems of Southern Italy. It’s also an absolute gem of a city and well worth visiting in it’s own right – but all too often it goes overlooked by visitors keen to get to the coast.
A city of pizza, art, gorgeous architecture, and – of course – history, Naples is absolutely seething with things to do. From the narrow sidestreets of the Old Town, to the vibrant nightlife of the Spanish Quarter, to the fascinating archaeology at the National Archaeology Museum as well as at nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum – there is just so much to discover in Naples!
Here’s my weekend guide to Naples, featuring everything you need to see, do, and eat in the city. Enjoy…
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Naples Old Town
At the heart of the city is the Centro Storico, the historic centre. Start in the Piazza del Gesù Nuovo to discover two of the most important buildings in Naples; the Basilica di Santa Chiara and the oddly spiky Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo – a 15th century palace converted into a 16th century church.
From there, work your way along the Spaccanapoli, the iconic street running through the historic centre, and discover the small shops, cafes and churches dotted along it’s sidestreets. And don’t miss a trip to the Duomo, Naples’ cathedral which dates back as far as 1272 and is full of history.
Naples Vespa Tour
My favourite discovery in Naples was the Vespa tour from NapolinVespa. Hop on the back of a classic Vespa to explore the city with an expert guide. In a city where everybody seems to ride a scooter, this really is the ideal way to explore – and it’s so much fun. It’s also a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time, so you can see a lot of the city during on afternoon tour. Our Vespa tour of the city was definitely the highlight of my recent Naples trip – I can’t recommend it enough!
If you don’t fancy an afternoon on a Vespa, you can also take a tour in a classic Fiat 500 – another Italian icon! NapolinVespa also offer tours further afield – to the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, or Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Pompeii and Herculaneum
You can’t talk about Naples without mentioning Pompeii and Herculaneum! The two ancient Roman towns were destroyed when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, and have been amazingly preserved under meters of ash and pumice. No matter what level of interest you have in history, the chance to walk the streets of an ancient town is an unmissable opportunity!
Palazzo Reale and the Piazza del Plebiscito
At the edge of the Spanish Quarter in Naples lies the Piazza del Plebiscito, a huge square that pulses with life. This is where many of the city’s major events are held and there always seems to be something going on. On one side lies a sweeping curved colonnade, with the neoclassical Chiesa di San Francesco di Paola sandwiched into the middle. On the other is the dusty-pink facade of the Palazzo Reale – which is open as a museum.
Reggia di Caserta
The Royal Palace of Caserta lies about an hour outside of Naples and is a fantastic choice for a half-day trip. Just exploring the grounds leading up to the palace is worth the trip; the 3km long driveway follows a man-made river down from a spectacular carved fountain to the palace itself, through the Royal Park.
Inside the palace is equally stunning. From the gold-filled royal rooms, which date from 1700-1800, to the sweeping stone staircases, there’s a lot of magnificent art and architecture to take in. The palace has been used as a filming location for several movies – so geeks like me will get pretty excited to visit rooms from Naboo’s palace in Star Wars (Episodes 1 and 2).
The easiest way to reach Reggia di Caserta is to hop on the City Sightseeing shuttle bus (from 8€). I highly recommend it!
Santa Chiara Convent
A slight hidden gem in Naples, the interior of the Santa Chiara convent is well worth exploring. The tranquil courtyard at the heart of the convent is filled with colourful ceramic tiles painted with scenes from the surrounding area – a way to make the nuns feel less homesick as the convent had no windows and they never went outside. The beautiful garden and colourful pillars make a gorgeous setting that’s a little oasis from the chaotic streets outside.
Naples is absolutely teeming with history and art. The city was founded in the 6th century BC by the ancient Greeks, and there are centuries of history to discover. These are a few of the cultural highlights you shouldn’t miss…
National Archaeological Museum
Whether you’re a history buff or someone with a passing interest, the National Archaeological Museum in Naples is well worth a visit. The collection from Pompeii and Herculaneum alone is incredible. Plus there’s an enormous collection of Ancient Roman and Greek statues collected from all over Italy. The intricate mosaics from Pompeii are a particular highlight, and the Farnase bull – an enormous and beautifully carved statue made from just one block of marble – should not be missed.
San Gregorio Armeno
Naples is famous for its presepe; hand-made and beautifully crafted nativity scenes. Head to Via San Gregorio Armeno to find them. Local artisans create the scenes all year round, as well as amazingly detailed statues. Alongside the usual wise men and shepherds, you can find lots of unique characters. There are caricatured villagers to create crowd scenes, and popular figures like celebrities or politicians. For the best of the best, take a visit to Guiseppe e Marco Ferrigno’s shop, where you can see artisans at work and explore an enormous collection of statues.
Hidden away inside the nineteenth-century Palazza Donnaregina lies MADRE – the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina. Contemporary art lovers won’t want to miss this one. The first impression from the brightly coloured entrance hall is hard to ignore; a confusing mishmash of optical illusions and oddly placed mirrors by French conceptual artist Daniel Buran. As well as an ever-changing schedule of temporary exhibitions, there are several site-specific installations from internationally renowned artists like Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor.
Pio Monte Misericordia
One of Italy’s most famous artists, Caravaggio spent several years living in Naples and painted some of his most important works here. One of the most special is the Seven Acts of Mercy (Sette Opere di Misericordia) which was painted for the small church at Pio Monte Misericordia and is still found at the same church today.
For me, one of the absolute highlights of Naples is the food. The city is renowned for it’s gastronomy, and there are plenty of unique dishes to try. And, of course, this is the city of pizza – so that’s one thing you absolutely can’t miss!
Pizza – Pizza was invented in Naples and the city’s obsession with it stretches back centuries. This is the absolute number one must-try food in Naples and there are hundreds of shops to choose from.
Since I only tried one pizza in Naples (at 50 Kalo), I can’t offer too many recommendations (although it was the best pizza I’ve ever had!). Luckily, my favourite foodie bloggers 2 Food Trippers spent a month in the city to produce their guide to the best pizza in Naples, so check that out for more inspiration!
Cuoppo – A cuoppo is a street-food snack that’s unique to Naples. A paper cone filled with a mixture of fried snacks like seafood, veggies, and arancini. Grab yours at Passione di Sofì – I was recommended the place by a local and it was amazing!
Crocchè di Patate – One of the most popular fritti (fried snacks) in Naples is the crocchè. It’s a potato croquette stuffed with cheese and sometimes ham. Simple, but delicious – don’t miss it!
Genovese – Another unique local dish, Genovese is a rich, onion-based pasta sauce with beef or veal that’s slow-cooked for several hours.
Risotto ai frutti di mare – Seafood is seriously popular in the port-city of Naples, and seafood risotto with Napolitana sauce is the ideal way to taste it.
Tarallo – Eaten all over southern Italy, tarallo are like a cross between a bread-stick and a pretzel. These small circular biscuits can be sweet or savoury, and you’ll spot them all over the city.
Salame di cioccolato – “Chocolate salami” is a popular dessert all over Italy but it’s particularly associated with the province of Campari. This super sweet snack is designed to look like a salami, but uses rich dark chocolate and nuts.
Where to Eat
Antica Latteria – This tiny, traditional restaurant is a real hidden gem and the best place to try local specialities like genovese. A large open window overlooks the lively street outside, so grab the table next to and settle in for some people watching.
50 Kalò – Considered one of the best places in Naples to get pizza, 50 Kalò is a light, modern pizzeria with a great atmosphere. It’s also teaming with locals on the weekend – always a good sign!
50 Panino – Also popular is 50 Kalò’s sister restaurant, 50 Panino. Known for it’s burgers and paninis, there’s a casual atmosphere and great value for money.
Caseari Cautero – A boutique delicatessen and wine store owned by Salvatore Cautero, this is a great place to discover locally sourced meats, cheeses, and – of course – wine.
These were just the places I ate at and would be happy to recommend. For more great suggestions, check out this fab Naples food guide.
Grand Hotel Oriente – This is where I stayed for the two nights I was in Naples and I’d be more than happy to recommend it. The location was ideal for exploring the city on foot, but also nice and quiet at night. The hotel is clean and very comfortable, and the welcome and service from all the service from staff was really fantastic. The real selling point for me though was the breakfast, which is served on the roof terrace with some absolutely amazing views of the city and the distant volcano. Check prices now.
This is the only hotel I can personally recommend in Naples, but if you know any others please share. Scroll down to the bottom to leave me a comment!
British Airways, EasyJet and Monarch all offer non-stop flights (two and a half hours) direct to Aeroporto di Napoli from Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. So it can be fairly low cost to fly in to Naples.
Naples airport is only about ten minutes drive from the city centre, but that depends very much on the traffic. You can rent a car at the airport, hop in a taxi (roughly 15-20€), or take the Alibus which runs every 20 minutes and costs 4€.
If you prefer to book a private transfer, I highly recommend Blacklane (read the review) to hire a car with a driver. Use my discount code, 8QGSZNQL, to get £10/$10/€10 off your first booking.
Getting around Naples is easy. The city centre is small and easily walkable – you can see most of the old town within one day. There are excellent buses within the town, and taxis are fairly cheap.
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My visit to Naples was a press trip organised by Aeroporto di Napoli for the #NaplesToday campaign. As always, absolutely all words and opinions are my own.