“See Naples and die,” the saying goes--meaning, once you’ve seen Naples, you’ve seen it all.
However, many tourists who visit Naples leave without really getting to know the city. Often used as a layover city for trips to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast, Naples can be overwhelming for first-time visitors who are not prepared for its loud, lively atmosphere. Visiting the destinations that show Naples’ unique character is essential for appreciating the city. Here’s a list of seven places that will help any tourist get to know Naples and see the city as the locals do.
Via Toledo, a friendly shopping street that runs through Naples’ city centre, offers a warm introduction to Neapolitan life.
It is wide and open, surrounded by storefronts, cafes, and gelato shops. It is always filled with bustling crowds of Neapolitans, talented street musicians and artists. Piazza Municipo, located along Via Toledo, hosts regular street markets where tourists can find artisan-crafted souvenirs, recipe ingredients, and clothing accessories.
For multi-day trips to Naples, look for accommodation around Via Toledo, as it is a convenient jumping-off point for exploring Naples’ central attractions: Galleria Umberto I, an open gallery modelled after the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, the Teatro di San Carlo opera house, the colorful Quartieri Spagnoli district, Piazza del Plebiscito, the biggest piazza in Naples, and of course, the Lungomare. Ph: Kevin Hellon / Shutterstock.com
Naples is a coastal city, and the view from its seafront, or Lungomare, is spectacular.
Head south on Via Toledo and find yourself gazing out into the expansive Mediterranean Sea. A brick walking path runs along the seaside, making the area the perfect spot for strolling with friends and family.
Not only does the Lungomare offer dazzling views of Mt. Vesuvius, and the islands of Capri and Ischia, but street musicians and food vendors make the experience lively and exciting. The pathway is always filled with happy Neapolitans walking with friends and loved ones. The Lungomare is especially romantic at night, with the sea reflecting the city lights and the moon above Mt. Vesuvius. Ph: Diego Poggi / Shutterstock.com
As you walk along the Lungomare, make a stop at Castel dell’Ovo, the oldest castle in Naples.
Built in the 12th century, the poet Virgil wrote that there is a magical egg buried within the walls of the castle. If the egg cracks, the city of Naples will be doomed to destruction (hence the name “Castle of the Egg”). Even without its enchanting myth, Castel dell’Ovo is one of the most popular destinations in Naples.
Entry into the castle is free to the public, and each floor offers picturesque views of Naples and the sea. The rooftop is the perfect spot to watch the sunset, overlooking the water and the colorful buildings that hug the Lungomare.
For those who want to experience Naples on an up-close-and-personal level, venture into the Centro Storico (historic centre) and take a walk down Spaccanapoli.
Spaccanapoli is a long, straight and famously narrow street that bisects the Centro Storico. The Centro Storico is a cobblestone maze of cafes, clothing shops, art galleries, and restaurants, with Spaccanapoli as its reference point. This area is lively, crowded, and undeniably exciting.
Tourists can find any souvenir imaginable, from tambourines painted with Mt. Vesuvius to Moka coffee pots and bobble heads of Pope Francis. Wander into a bar to enjoy a Spritz, or to try Naples’ characteristically strong espresso. On Via San Gregorio Armeno, learn about the Neapolitan art of “Presepio,” carefully crafted miniatures depicting scenes from ancient city life to the Nativity. Buy a cornicello, the ultimate Naples souvenir. The cornicello, a small red horn, is said to protect against bad luck.
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The biggest rule of visiting Naples: do not leave without eating pizza.
As the birthplace of pizza, Naples is filled with excellent pizzerias. Gino e Toto Sorbillo, one of the most famous and renowned pizzerias in the world, is located in the Centro Storico, on Via dei Tribunali. Founded in 1935 and currently run by pizza superstar Gino Sorbillo, Sorbillo is a Michelin Star-awarded restaurant with budget-friendly prices. Enjoy a classic, authentic Neapolitan margherita pizza for around 5 euro, and various other pizza variations for under 10 euro.
The only downside to dining at Sorbillo is the line: before Sorbillo opens, crowds of hungry tourists and foodies swarm Via dei Tribunali, eager to taste what many believe to be the best pizza in the world. After giving the hostess your name, expect to wait 30 minutes to an hour and a half for your table to be ready.
If you don’t want to wait, order takeaway. The Centro Storico is filled with small piazzas, so you will have no trouble finding somewhere to sit and eat your pizza in peace. Though the Sorbillo on Via dei Tribunali is the original Sorbillo pizzeria, there are several other Sorbillo locations scattered around Naples, including a pizzeria on the Lungomare and a pizza fritta (fried pizza) joint on Via Toledo. While these Sorbillo pizzerias will not disappoint, nothing compares to the original. Ph: DinoPh / Shutterstock.com
Castel St. Elmo
When you need to walk off the calories from eating pizza, venture through the Quartieri Spagnoli district to the hilltop castle, Castel St. Elmo.
From Via Toledo, the walk takes around 30 minutes, and is entirely uphill. If you don’t want to walk, take the Funicolare, the funicular railway that travels through the hills of Naples. You can pay 5 euro to go inside the medieval castle, or you can simply stand outside and admire the view.
The St. Elmo hilltop offers spectacular views of Naples from above. Not only can you see Mt. Vesuvius and the seaside of the city, you can clearly see the deep line of Spaccanapoli cutting through the Centro Storico. Looking over Naples can help tourists orient themselves and understand the layout of the city, while enjoying a breathtaking view.
Nightlife in Naples varies from piazza to piazza. While it is lively and wild in the Centro Storico, along the Lungomare and in the surrounding Chiaia district, it is serene and romantic.
Shooting off of Via Toledo and leading to the Chiaia district, Via Chiaia is known for its upscale atmosphere and aperitivo bars. Via Chiaia maintains the energetic atmosphere of Naples, but with a hint of refinement. For those who need a break from the loud hustle and bustle of Via Toledo, take a stroll down Via Chiaia. This is also the perfect spot for a romantic walk. Ph: Eddy Galeotti / Shutterstock.com
Piazza Bellini, on the other hand, is young and trendy. The piazza, speckled with orange trees and characterised by its numerous bars, surrounds a site of Roman ruins. In the evening, young Neapolitans venture into Piazza Bellini for a Spritz or Peroni. This is a great spot for aperitivo, bar-hopping, and mingling with locals.
Naples is a wonderful, vivacious city full of sites to see, but without an itinerary, understanding the city can be overwhelming. These seven spots are essential for any traveler or tourist who wants to get to know the city, culture, and landscape of Naples. Ph: schusterbauer.com / Shutterstock.com
Top photo: Riz Images / Shutterstock.com