Traveling Through Italy: Top Things To See And Do In Naples
Whether you’re looking for great Italian wine and pasta in gorgeous surroundings, or whether you want to explore ruins, historical monuments and centuries-old icons from the country’s past, Naples is a city that can offer it all to tourists. That’s why it’s quickly become one of the most popular places to visit in Italy, and rising up the ranks of top destinations in Europe.
With a population of almost 1 million people in the immediate city, you can expect all you need to make your vacation a success. Naples International Airport is located a convenient distance from the city, making connections from around the world easy. And if you’re traveling from mainland Europe there are also great rail and road routes for getting to Naples.
Once in the city you’ll find a place that perfectly blends the old with the new, a true destination offering something for everyone no matter their holiday goals. Check out the guide below for some of the top things to see and do in the city, ranging from free events to museums and more, and discover for yourself why so many people are falling in love with Naples.
1. Enjoy an authentic Neapolitan pizza L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
Many visitors to Italy are drawn by the promise of great food, and if you’re coming to Naples in particular then you’ve found the original home of the Neapolitan style of making pizza. It’s a simple pizza consisting of tomatoes from either the San Marzano or Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio region, topped with a specific protected variety of Bufala Campana mozzarella cheese. This type of pizza is taken very seriously in the city — the way of making it is even recognized as an item of Italian cultural heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, which has been in business since 1870, lays claim to being perhaps the oldest vendor of this type of pizza in Naples. You won’t have to spend a long time thinking about your order as you can only choose between the classic cheese and tomato or a marinara pizza with tomato, garlic and oregano. That just gives you more time to focus on enjoying this authentic taste of an Italian masterpiece.
2. Explore the ruins of the city of Pompeii
The former Roman city of Pompeii was destroyed by the infamous eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, which covered the city in lava. But the disaster did not level the buildings, and in fact there are very well-preserved ruins of what Pompeii used to look like as a result of the ash that covered the buildings during the eruption. Today these ruins are now one of the most-visited tourist sites in Italy, attracting millions of people who come to see what life was like back in Roman times and also to learn more about the volcano and its aftermath. Some of the sights that you see include temples dedicates to the gods Jupiter and Apollo, and what used to be the city’s Amphitheater, among several other buildings. There are even casts made of plaster of some of the victims of the disaster who were buried by the lava and ash. While it can be an unsettling sight, it’s all presented in a thoughtful, respectful way.
3. Walk around the natural beauty of the Vesuvius National Park
If you’re making a trip to see the ruins of Pompeii then you should also consider setting aside time to enjoy walking around the nearby Vesuvius National Park. Here you’ll find a series of hikes and other trails winding through the natural beauty around the inactive volcano Mount Vesuvius, giving you a chance for some great photos to remember your trip once you get home. The park was launched in June 1995 and is dedicated to preserving the plants and animals that call the area home, so treat them and the park itself with respect and don’t litter or take and samples of rocks or plants. You’ll need to plan ahead slightly for getting here as the park is about an hour’s drive outside of Naples, but many tour companies offering day trips there and back at a reasonable rate, and public transportation options are also available.
4. Learn about the city’s religious past as the Naples Cathedral
Construction work on the Naples Cathedral began in the 13th century and today this building is a major draw for residents and visitors alike. Dedicated to the San Gennaro, who is the patron saint of Naples, the cathedral suffered extensive damage in the 15th century during an earthquake but was restored and is now in perhaps its best-ever condition. The building is decorated in the Gothic style with many priceless pieces of religious artwork and sculptures inside and out, and is still used for ceremonies throughout the year. Underneath the cathedral you can also find well-kept ruins from centuries ago, including glimpses of structures that date as far back as the Middle Ages and ancient Greek times. You might also want to consider planning your visit around the San Gennaro Feast Day on September 15, where tens of thousands of people watch a multi-day procession honoring the patron saint.
5. Admire the exterior of the San Francesco di Paola
For those interested in visiting religious landmarks in Naples, another important place to see is the San Francesco di Paola. This basilica is an imposing presence that acts at the centerpiece of the plaza known as the Piazza del Plebiscito. Built in the 19th century, this landmark is instantly recognizable thanks to its sweeping structure of columns and turrets build in the neoclassical style and topped with a dome that stretches 53 meters high, making it one of Italy’s most-photographed churches. The interior is just as impressive, with a number of statues dedicated to the country’s saints, as well as artwork from years ago that hangs around the altars and elsewhere. And just like Naples Cathedral, the San Francesco di Paola is still in use today and so depending on when you visit you might also see a ceremony in progress.
6. Enjoy some Italian food and drink at the Gran Caffè Gambrinus
If you’ve visited the Piazza del Plebiscito to see the San Francesco di Paola then you might be thirsty and hungry after all that sightseeing. If that’s the case you should swing by the Gran Caffè Gambrinus, which is located at the perimeter of the plaza and claims to be one of Italy’s oldest continuously running places to buy coffee. Many famous Italian artists are said to have frequented this coffee shop over the years, while visitors these days are less likely to spend time on their artistic creations and instead to enjoy a menu of wonderful food and drink that includes some of the best espresso and Neapolitan baked goods in the city.
7. Learn about the city’s royal past at the Castel Nuovo
Situated in the center of Naples very close to the waterfront, the Castel Nuovo is an imposing structure that is impossible to miss because it towers over the neighborhood. This castle, first built in 1279 and rebuilt in 1479, was used by the royal families that ruled the area until the early 19th century. You’ll be able to see it from far away thanks to its five huge circular towers, topped by a majestic arch. The royals have long since left Italy, but the castle remains and is looked after as one of Naples’ most important tourist attractions. Visitors are able to stroll through the many rooms of the castle to see what life was like so many years ago. There’s also a civic museum located in the castle where you’ll find displays of art, sculptures and a rotating series of exhibitions all dedicated to teaching people about Naples’ long and interesting past.
8. Discover the city’s past at the Naples National Archaeological Museum
If you’re in the mood to learn more about what Naples used to be like centuries ago, then you should add a visit to the Naples National Archaeological Museum to your to-do list. Established in the 18th century, this museum has grown to be a huge draw for both residents and visitors who come to admire some truly priceless artefacts from eras including ancient Rome, the Pharaohs’ rule in Egypt, the time of Alexander the Great’s rule and much more. Among the many exhibits that usually have large crowds of onlookers is a huge mosaic dedicated to Alexander, a number of beautiful sculptures from ancient Greece including a well-known figure of Hercules, and many more sights that will capture your attention. Given the popularity of the museum and the sheer number of things to see, set aside a fair amount of time if you plan to visit. Crowds tend to die down by midday onward, so afternoon visits are usually the best.
9. See an opera at the Teatro di San Carlo
Music lovers need to set aside time to visit the Teatro di San Carlo, which first opened its doors in 1737 and is thought to be the oldest operating opera house anywhere in the world. If you’re a huge fan of opera or other musical performances you should review the opera house’s schedule of upcoming performances to see whether you can time you trip to Naples to coincide with a show that you’d like to see. For opera fans in particular, those events usually take place between January and May. April through to June marks the ballet season, while you can find other performances, including concerts of classical music, throughout the year. Once inside you’ll marvel at the exquisite design of the place while you sit back and enjoy a show.
10. Stroll around the Santa Lucia district to see local life
For a glimpse of what it’s like to be a Naples local, take a leisurely stroll through the city’s Santa Lucia neighborhood. Many people call this district home and it’s easy to see the attraction once you discover the cobbled streets, winding pathways and centuries-old buildings that make up this area. There are many locally owned and unique craft shops and other boutiques at almost every turn where you can buy some truly one-of-a-kind mementos of your vacation. And if exploring the district works up your appetite, in Santa Lucia you’ll find a large number of one-off restaurants, cafes and other places where you can enjoy some great food and drink.
11. Marvel at the Museo D’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina’s contemporary art
Known simply as the MADRE Museum, the Museo D’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina is Naples’ most prominent repository of contemporary art. Here you’ll find valuable works by such notable modern artists as Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and many more that are all permanently on display. The museum is also home to the occasional rotating exhibit, so do some research in advance to see whether there will be a display dedicated to your favorite contemporary artist. Taking the time to come to the MADRE Museum and seeing such truly modern pieces of art can be a nice contrast to the other attractions in Naples, which are steeped in history and reflect paintings and other art from many centuries ago.
12. Enjoy more traditional art at the Museo di Capodimonte
Of course, some art lovers want to see the more traditional paintings and sculptures from many years ago, and they won’t be disappointed with a visit to the Museo di Capodimonte. This museum, housed within the colorful pink and gray exterior of the former Capodimonte Palace, has art collections spread across several floors including some classical paintings by such notable artists as Caravaggio and Raphael. But even here you’ll also be able to get a glimpse of some modern art, because the Museo di Capodimonte also has a few exhibits dedicated to that genre, including some work by Andy Warhol and Alberto Burri. Another perk of visiting this art museum is that you can wander into the rooms that used by the living quarters of the royals that called the palace home, showing you the luxury that they once lived in many years ago.