I’ll be honest. Naples was never on my list of places to visit, particularly in Italy. I haven’t seen Milan OR Venice yet, and I’m also super keen to visit Bologna and Perugia. But, I found myself planning the last stop of our Italian road trip to be Naples.
You see, I really really really wanted to visit Pompeii and Naples seemed like a sensible place to base ourselves in for this endeavour (you can also base yourself in Sorrento, but due to the time of year we wanted to stick firmly to city options). But was I just writing off Naples as nothing more than a stop gap? Turns out, I totally was.
We arrived in Naples by train from Rome. It was a quick and cheap journey – just 1 hour and 10 minutes and only 10EUR each, making it a really accessible city to visit if you wanted to make a day of it. We flew home from Naples, via EasyJet to London Gatwick for £70 for both of us.
Naples is another city which is excellent for walking around. Almost everything was within a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel in the storico centro) and wandering the little streets of Napoli was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. We’d heard that Naples was a little sketchy, and yes, it’s very different to Rome and Florence but that added to its unique charm – think Italian craziness, lots of motorbikes and you are sort of there!
If you are visiting Pompeii you’ll need to either get a local train from Naples or arrange hotel pick up via your tour operator, but it’s a fairly straightforward journey.
Where to Stay
We honestly didn’t think much about where we stayed, having flashed the cash in Rome and I wanted to try and put the breaks in our spending. Just a little! We headed to Booking.com, and after a little research booked the Correra 241 Lifestyle Hotel in central Naples.
We really did well – it was within walking distance of everything we wanted to do within the city itself. Whilst tucked away down a side street the hotel was light and bright and it had a hidden bit of awesome. It’s actually built in and around an old Roman aqueduct, and you can see this from reception. It was a quirky little feature that often something different than the normal bland city centre hotel offerings.
So once I’d actually had a good look into what we could get up to in Naples, I was a little disappointed that we were not staying for longer! However we managed to see quite a lot in 1.5 days, plus the day spent in Pompeii + Mt Vesuvius (which I’ll mention below but will be doing a whole post on!)
It’s not an Italian city break without a Cathedral, so as soon as we arrived we set off to have a look. It’s widely known as the Cattedrale di San Gennaro, in honour of Saint Januarius, the city’s patron saint, and it’s a good example of gothic architecture.
Like all Italian Cathedrals, it is heavily gilded inside with some insane artwork, making it more of a gallery than a church to me. Alongside the Cathedral is the Baptistery which is also worth exploring, and if you time it right you could also explore the archeological zone too.
Naples Archeological Museum
The real reason we wanted some time in Naples was to visit this museum. Huge and packed to the rafters with lots of things (a bit like the British Museum in London!), we headed here to see all the things they had taken from key archeological sites like Pompeii for protection.
For me the best things we saw were the mosaics uncovered from Pompeii and other Vesuvius hit sites – the intricacy and detail was incredible. There’s also a weird but interesting collection of erotica, including frescos from ancient brothels literally showing a menu of what is on offer.
You could literally spend all day in here and barely scratch the surface, so upon arrival we made note of the things we wanted to see and spent an afternoon exploring them. It was a great warm up to our time in Pompeii the next day, and I’d say a trip to Naples isn’t complete without a visit here.
Cost: 12EUR per adult
Napoli Sotterranea (Naples Underground)
If you’ve read my Prague or Paris Guides you’ll know how I love an underground tour of cities to really get the party started! Naples was no exception. Napoli Sotterranea is the most well known underground tour and one definitely worth taking. 40 meters below ground lies a whole city waiting to be explored – the foundation of Neopolis from 2400 years ago.
We saw a Greek-Roman aqueduct, WWII bomb shelters, and the remains of a Roman Theatre. It was a truly fascinating look at Naples from an archaeological, historical, anthropological and geological point of view.
The tour starts at Piazza San Gaetano, 68 and English tours run every two hours from 10am. There is no need to book if you are less than 6 people.
Cost: 10EUR per adult
For me, no visit to this area is complete without a visit to Europe’s most compelling archeological site. If like me you studied Pompeii at school, you will have been fascinated for many years about the city and seeing if with your own eyes.
Pompeii is a vast site and a huge reminder of the power of the volcano as Mt Vesuvius stands over it. We ended up visiting on a combined tour with the volcano after much hand-wringing. There are many ways you can see Pompeii but a lack of confidence in our own understanding of what we would be looking at led to us going with a local guide from Project Napoli on a day tour including a Mt. Vesuvius hike.
If you are into your archeology, you can also visit other sites of interest such as Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabiae and Paestum all of which were overwhelmed by Vesuvius too. I’d absolutely love to come back and spend a couple of days touring the rest of these sites!
Cost: 11EUR per adult
As part of our tour with Project Napoli, we were to end discovering one of Europe’s active volcanos (a couple of days after Mt. Etna erupted, which was disconcerting). We’ve got form in this, having slept at the base of Mt. Arenal in Costa Rica when it was still active and having seen the damage it had wreaked on Pompeii we wanted to see it up close for ourselves. We hiked to the summit of the volcano and peered into the crater, then turned to soak up views of the Bay of Naples.
It was a truly magical experience, and something very different from the rest of our trip. I won’t lie, although you only climb the last 200m of the volcano (via an approximately 900m winding slopes path) it’s still hard going up and down. It’s worth it, but come dressed appropriately for a good hike!
Cost: Ticket price is 10EUR from the National Park entrance, and this includes a free guide who you can use once in the park. You’ll need to get up to the park entrance via car. If coming from Pompeii you can get a bus that will take you to the entrance.
The Art of the Neapolitan Pizza
If you are coming to Naples you are coming for one food type alone – and that is the pizza. Neapolitan pizza is an art form, and if you fall for it like I did, you’ll struggle to eat any other kind of pizza when you return home.
There are a few rules than must be followed for a true Neapolitan pizza. It’s made with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. The tomatoes must be San Marzano tomatoes which grow on the volcanic plains of Mount Vesuvius and the cheese must be mozzarella Campana. The pizza is doughy and soft with a pillowy crust, and the cheese should not be melted – in fact it takes barely minutes to cook. It’s a little sloppy, very messy and simply delicious.
Now here’s the sad thing. I caught a terrible bug just as I arrived into Naples which meant I wasn’t able to try as much of the Neapolitan pizza as I would have liked. Below are my recommendations and what I did try. If in doubt, look for the Assoziacione della Vera Pizza Napoletana signs, but basically it’s delicious everywhere.
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
The one we came for, and the one we actually managed to visit! The most famous pizzeria in Naples, made moreso by Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller (and the Julia Roberts film) Eat Pray Love. I think I had both an orgasmic and religious experience eating this pizza, so it certainly didn’t disappoint.
They do just two varieties (margherita and marinara), and when you arrive there will most likely be a queue – a good mix of both locals and tourists. They’ll give you a ticket and call your number when seats are free – it’s manic and packed, which adds to the atmosphere. The pizzas are huge, and two normal margheritas with two cokes was just 12EUR.
Other places of note in Naples
These were all on our list to visit, but my sickness kept me away. Rest assured they come recommended by both Napoli natives and people I respect who have recently visited!
- Sorbillo – another famous pizza place, with queues out of the door
- Campagnola – fed up up pizza? This trattoria does good italian food at a decent price
- Antica Osteria Pisano – a family run trattoria in the heart of Storico Centro
- Intra Moenia – there’s lots of bars in Naples, but this one is just the right side of lively
Sweet treats – trying sfogliatelle
A sfogliatella is another Napoli staple – and if you’ve got room after an epic Neapolitan pizza I salute you and I humbly suggest one of these. It’s a shell shaped pastry filled with thick ricotta cream. It’s heavy and very yummy but I’m not sure I could have eaten more than one at a time.
In Neapolitan cuisine there are two kinds. A sfogliatella riccia the normal version made with puff pastry and sfogliatella frolla a shortcrust pastry version.
I was so pleased we decided to end our Italian holiday in Naples. It’s completely different to anywhere else I have visited in Italy, and I genuinely felt I was getting a closer appreciation of real life, not tourist life in this city. Sure, so many people come for the Pizza (and you should! It’s awesome), but there is so much more to Naples than that and our visit barely scratched the surface.
It genuinely is one of the craziest places on earth, but don’t let that scare you. People were friendly, we experienced none of the crime we were told so much about and the grittiness of the city gave it such character. We will return one day soon I’m sure, for Pizza and so much more!
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