Nestled in the shade of Vesuvius, Naples is one of the most vibrant cities in Italy, and one of the oldest too. With more than two millennia and a half of history, she has a lot to tell you about her life through the centuries. If tourists invest in mass Venice or Florence, Naples, she, does not know this fervor. The main reason evoked is its poverty… I will not hide it from you, yes, Naples is a city that has many faces including this one but it does not have to erase the others. The animation of the city centre in the evening, the mamas who speak between two balconies, the smell of pizzas, teenagers who ride the mechanics on their old scooters. Naples has gone through far too many times to be disliked and especially to be left to abandon. Its monuments are damaged and suffer not to be renovated but the population is holding on, neighbourhood associations work every day to open their monuments to visitors.
I will not lie to you, when we arrive in Naples one can be shocked by the noise, the quantity of waste and the smell of the mufflers, those who have already gone to southern Italy know this situation well. Being the third largest city in Italy behind Rome and Milan, there is no lack of animation. Past the first priori, Naples has been able to charm us and make us travel through time. As an antique enthusiast, we took a lot of our eyes. However, if I can give you a tip, take the ArteCard, the map that allows you to use unlimited transportation and access a number of museums and historic Places according to the package you choose. This map allows you among other to take the funicular and go up to Herculaneum, Pompeii and further afield in Campania if you have time.
We only stayed there for four days, so we could not visit the islands of Capri and Procida because all the boat schedules were complete, if you want to go there in summer, remember to book in advance! If Naples has countless curiosities, here are our top 10 things not to be missed during your stay!
10 things to see in Naples
If, like us, you opt for the ArteCard, know that one of the possible packages includes 2 free admissions in museums and monuments; including access to Pompeii and Herculaneum. As said above, the ArteCard also includes unlimited transport, it’s rather interesting to take it!
Why Herculaneum and not Pompeii? If Pompeii is more impressive because much larger, Herculaneum is much better preserved; It seems to be frozen in time. Following the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., Herculaneum was buried under a layer of lava and mud, making it its main characteristic, unlike Pompeii, which was covered with ash and sacking. Lava and Ash formed a layer of tuff that guaranteed better conservation of the buried city. The excavations had to be confined to a small part of the old town because the present city is actually built on the ruins of Herculaneum. It is a timeless place and extremely well documented, a small free booklet at the entrance will give you all the necessary information! If you go into details like us, count at least 3 hours of visit.
2-the Archaeological Museum of Naples
This museum being one of the most expensive in Naples, if you took the ArteCard, I advise you to use it. With more than 12000m square of surface it is one of the largest museum in Europe, it is home to one of the most beautiful antique collections in the world. You will find everything that could be preserved from Pompeii and Herculaneum; So this is a great complementary visit! Count at least 2h to visit this place that spans five levels. Do not miss the secret cabinet that contains the erotic works found during the excavations of the two sunken cities. Unfortunately Italian economy has suffered a lot in recent years and museums are not spared… The scenography is therefore ageing and the explanation few, I advise you to take the audioguide at €4, we took one for two and it was ample enough!
3-Piazza del Plebiscito and the Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale)
This grandiose square, symbol of a renovated Naples, is surrounded by buildings of great historical and artistic importance. Reduced for a long time to a parking role, yet in the heart of the city, its rehabilitation took place at the beginning of the years 90 to finish in the G7 of 1994. The square is framed by four buildings: the Royal Palace, the Basilica of St. Francis of Paola, and the two symmetrical buildings of the prefecture and the palace of Salerno.
The Royal Palace is just opposite, on the other side of the square. Often forgotten by tourists, it is nevertheless one of the major monuments of Naples. The entry is only €4, so let’s be tempted no? Like many palaces or churches, it was reworked over the centuries to adapt to the tastes and fashion of every era! Ferdinand I of Bourbon and his wife, Marie-Caroline of Austria (sister of Marie-Antoinette), enlarged and embellished it, notably by adding the Court theatre. But this royal couple favored the royal estate of Caserta, more in the land, making the palace of Naples a rather secondary residence. Very far from the Italian Baroque, it is one of the most beautiful palaces I have been able to visit so far!
4-The Underground: Catacombs of San Gennaro and the Fontanel
Located on the road to Capodimonte, outside the historic centre and the walls of the ancient city (extra Moenia or fuori le mura), the Catacombs of San Gennaro form a large underground burial complex on two floors. This is the most important testimony of the Paleo era in Naples. The development of the catacombs is done in successive stages, on a site used from the 2nd century for burial purposes by the Romans-whose laws prohibited burials in the walls of the city. The site welcomes in the 3rd century the body of Sant’Agrippino, Bishop of Naples and first patron of the city, which is known only very little today: it becomes thus a place of worship, where is built a first basilica. It is a truly amazing place and especially a project carried by a neighbourhood association that has been debating for several decades with the Vatican to be able to show this incredible place. Indeed, the Vatican has allowed them to open to the public only for a decade, in 2019 this authorisation will again be questioned… So if you can don’t hesitate for a second!!! The entrance ticket will give you access to the Fontanel cemetery, the incredible ossuary of Naples.
5-Spagnoli: the Spanish Quarter
Naples was under Spanish domination from the fifteenth to the early eighteenth century. The Castel Nuovo housed the court and the executive branch. The soldiers and their families elected home in a new neighborhood, that said of the Spaniards. Contrary to what many tourists may think, this neighborhood is no more dangerous than any other, no more than Paris. Yes there are pickpockets and scooters, as everywhere today; You just have to be attentive without being paranoid. We wandered a long time, camera around the shot without any worries. It is one of the most typical neighborhoods of Naples, narrow alleys, linens to the windows, hotels and Virgin Mary on every street corner, Italians talking from one balcony to another... You will find many amazing frescoes including one dedicated to Maradona!
6-The Umberto I Gallery
If you have ever been to Milan, it looks very much like the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery. The Umberto I Gallery takes its name from the King of Italy who reigned during its construction. Designed by Manuele Carlo, it is a shopping arcade in Naples, located in front of the San Carlo Theatre, built between 1887-1891. Great place of passage, you can admire its superb canopy and its dome; Not to mention the beautiful mosaics on the ground.
7-Hill of Vomero: Château Sant’Elmo, La Chartreuse San Martino
The Chartreuse San Martino and the eponymous museum are located on the Vomeronasal Hill dominating the old Naples, the Spanish quarter and the aristocratic centre of Naples. The Certosa (chartreuse in Italian) is 100 metres from the Château de Sant’Elmo. It is one of the largest monumental complex in Naples. The monastery was inaugurated in 1368 during the reign of Queen Jeanne I of Anjou, but the monks had already settled there since 1337. This place will also offer you one of the most beautiful views of Naples and Vesuvius! If you like to walk, you can walk down to the city on foot and enjoy it to walk along the Via Caracciola which runs along the seaside.
8-Duomo: Notre Dame de l’assomption Cathedral
The cathedral was built between 1294 and 1323 on the site of the former Stefania basilica. Among the side chapels, you have to go to the Chapel San Gennaro (Saint Janvier) which is a huge reliquary of marble, bronze, frescoes and silver busts. The reliquary bust of Saint Janvier, in Golden Silver, contains the blisters of its coagulated blood, which liquefies three times a year, in May, September and December. At a big party (Via Regie is occupied by confectionery stands and small miscellaneous items) The miracle that can take several hours is expected with great anxiety by all the people of Naples. If the blood did not come to liquefy it would be a sign that great misfortunes will come down on the city.
9-Castel Nuovo, Castel Dell’Ovo and the port Borgo Marinari
The castle was called New to distinguish it from those that already existed: the Castle of the egg and that of Capuano. Its construction dates from the end of the 13th (circa 1279), at the time of the Angevin domination over the city. A sinister bit, he faces the Gulf of Naples. In addition to being the defensive heart of the city, the castle also served as a royal residence for almost a century.
The Castle of the Egg (Castel dell’Ovo) is located on the islet of Megaride, where according to the legend, the inert body of the siren parthenope was washed up. It was here that the Cumains landed in the life of the century BC to establish the first nucleus of the future city. Place many facts of arms and history, it is a very special castle that dominates the port Borgo Marinari.
The castle takes its name from a legend. According to the latter, the poet Virgil wanting to make a farce to the Neapolitans had hidden a “magic egg”, well kept in a cage, and endowed with the power to defend the city from any catastrophe.
Previously a large market, Dante Square took its present form in the second half of the eighteenth century with the intervention of the great architect Luigi Vanvitelli, at the request of Foro Carolino, with the intention of constituting a monument in honor of Charles de Bourbon . This is a great nice place around which you will find several booksellers.
Of course, it is a non-exhaustive list and we have seen much more than that. If you want to discover all the places that we recommend, I invite you to go to my account Mapstr right here, whether it is the points of view, the typical streets and the restaurant that we tested, everything is there!
I hope that this stroll through the streets of Naples will have made you want to discover it for yourself, and who knows, maybe you will let yourself be seduced?