Things to Do in Naples
Looming above the Bay of Naples, Mt. Vesuvius (Monte Vesuvio) erupted in AD 79 and covered Pompeii in ash, preserving parts of the ancient city that can still be seen today. The volcano itself is still active—the only active one in continental Europe—and, though dormant, is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. Despite this, many visitors hike the mountain to see its infamous crater and are rewarded with stunning views of Pompeii, the Bay of Naples, and the surrounding Italian countryside.
The grand semicircular Piazza del Plebiscito is named after the referendum that united southern Italy with Piedmont under the House of Savoy in the 19th century. A miraculous swath of peaceful public space in raucous Naples, the piazza is the site of two top monuments: The Royal Palace and San Francesco di Paola Church.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by Naples, a vibrant city that often seems about to boil over into chaos. Look past the streets teeming with scooters, vendors, and Neapolitans, however, and you’ll spot signs of the 2,500 years of history that makes the UNESCO-listed Naples Historic Center (Napoli Centro Storico) one of the most fascinating in Italy.
It’s Christmas all year round on Via San Gregorio Armeno, in the heart of Naples’ charmingly chaotic historic center. This unique alley, one of the most popular attractions in the city, is lined with artisan workshops showcasing displays of the handmade figurines used to populate the city’s elaborate traditional nativity scenes.
One of the most important churches in southern Italy, the impressive Naples Cathedral (Duomo di San Gennaro) was commissioned in the 13th century by King Charles I of Anjou and completed in the 14th century under Robert of Anjou. The Gothic cathedral was built on and around the paleo-Christian Basilica di Santa Restituta and is dedicated to the city's patron saint, St. Januarius. The duomo sits above fascinating catacombs containing archaeological remains of ancient Greek, Roman, and early Christian civilizations.
One of Naples' more interesting religious sites is the church of Gesù Nuovo in the city's historic center. Its spiky stone facade overlooks the wide open Piazza del Gesù Nuovo, a popular spot for Neapolitans to meet, mingle and enjoy the fine Mediterranean weather.
The piazza used to be one of the main entrances to the city of Naples, while today it is notable for the two churches that face onto the square and the spire at its center. The 15th-century church of Gesù Nuovo, as mentioned, has an intimidating stone facade that belies its ornately decorated interior. The 14th-century church of Santa Chiara is a monastery and also houses an archaeological museum.
The center of the Piazza del Gesu is marked by an ornate statue called the “Guglia dell'Immacolata,” or Spire of the Immaculate Virgin. It was commissioned in the 17th century to ask the Virgin Mary to protect the city from the plague.
One of the most beautiful buildings in Naples, the 19th-century Galleria Umberto I marks the center of the historic downtown like a huge, glass-ceilinged cross. This elegant shopping arcade set between Via Toledo and the San Carlo Theater is included in a number of food and sightseeing tours. It’s the perfect spot for a quick espresso break.
A treasure trove of Roman antiquities, Naples’ National Archaeological Museum is home to more than 3,000 artifacts, including bronzes, mosaics, and papyri recovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum; the Farnese Collection of classical gems, semi-precious stones, and sculpture; and the Egyptian collection.
With a warren of narrow alleyways and roughly cobblestoned streets, crammed with small stores, barber’s shops and dimly lit bars, the Spanish Quarter (Quartiere Spagnoli) is one of Naples’ most atmospheric local districts. Built to house troops during the Spanish occupation, the historic quarter might be somewhat rundown these days, but it still buzzes with life, with colorful laundry flapping from the balconies, residents sipping espresso on their doorsteps and motorbikes juddering by at all hours of the day and night.
Despite earning itself a rather unsavory reputation in recent years due to an abundance of petty crime and pickpocketing, the Quartiere Spagnoli is still one of Naples’ most characteristic areas and makes a unique addition to a tour itinerary. As well as offering a unique glimpse into everyday life in the city, it’s home to landmarks like the Baroque church of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the 18th-century Palazzo Serra di Cassano.
Castel Nuovo, known locally as Maschio Angioino, has the imposing stone walls, soaring turrets, and crenellated ramparts of a storybook medieval castle. Built as the new royal residence between 1279 and 1282 by Charles I of Anjou, it is one of Naples' most striking buildings and home of the city’s Civic Museum.
More Things to Do in Naples
Castel dell’Ovo, the imposing fortified castle on the island of Megaride in the Bay of Naples, is one of Naples’ most famous monuments. Connected to the mainland by a causeway, the castle—home to the Museum of Ethno-Prehistory—offers sweeping views over the city and Mount Vesuvius in the distance.
Giuseppe Sanmartino’s unbelievably realistic sculpture, Veiled Christ, is the unfailing draw to Sansevero Chapel (Museo Cappella Sansevero). The Naples chapel is a riot of baroque sculptures, religious art, and Masonic-inspired design. In an underground chamber, allegedly preserved human circulatory systems display local taste for the occult.
Cala di Mitigliano is an unspoiled beach at the tip of the Sorrentine Peninsula in Italy. It can only be reached by walking down a steep footpath for about 30 minutes, but once you get there, you will enjoy beautiful scenery and views of Punta Campanella and the island of Capri. With a pebble beach and crystal-clear water, Cala di Mitigliano is in a cove surrounded by steep vertical rocks, making for a dramatic landscape.
On the right side of the beach is a circular building, similar to a tower, that was once used for lime production. While no longer in use, the structure adds to the landscape and stands as a reminder of the area’s history. Nearby, a 50-foot deep circular grotto is a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving, although it is only possible to enter when the sea is calm and the tide is low.
The Royal Palace of Caserta (Reggia di Caserta), famous for its massive size and opulent style, is a triumph of late Italian Baroque architecture. The largest royal residence in the world, the palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, shares a number of features with the Palace of Versailles and is one of the most-visited monuments in southern Italy.
Perched high above the chaotic historic center, Posillipo Hill is one of the most elegant residential neighborhoods in Naples. This tiny hillside on the northern coast of the Gulf of Naples offers sweeping views over the city and a more urbane atmosphere than the teeming warren of streets below.
Beyond the facade of pyramid-shaped stones fronting Gesú Nuovo Church (Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo) lies a brilliant baroque interior. The building’s imposing shell was part of the fortified Palazzo Sanseverino before it was converted into a church in the 16th century. Inside are three elaborate naves, 11 chapels, and religious art by Cosimo Fanzago and Luca Giordano.
Neapolitans boast that the historic San Carlo Opera House (Teatro di San Carlo) was opened in 1737, predating the opening of the famous La Scala in Milan. The opera house is Italy’s largest public theater and one of the oldest in the world, with an opulent interior of gold leaf, red upholstery, and frescoed ceilings. If making it to a performance is not feasible, tours taking in the exterior and exploring the interior are more than worthwhile.
The energetic city of Naples can be daunting, with its warren of scooter-clogged streets and lanes teeming with open-air vendors that stretch from the bay to Mt. Vesuvius. Luckily, you can enjoy the best of what Naples has to offer by simply concentrating on the UNESCO-listed historic center, one of the most captivating in Italy.
Naples’ Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale di Napoli) is a stellar reminder of this city’s royal history. Construction began in the 1600s when Spain’s Viceroy Fernando Ruiz de Castro ruled Naples, and the site was designed by Renaissance architect Domenico Fontana. Today, visitors can enter to take the soaring double staircase up to the royal apartments decorated by architect Gaetano Genovese.
Winding past some of Naples' most noteworthy attractions, Via Toledo is one of the city's oldest streets. Travelers who wander down this 0.7-mile (1.2 km) -long stretch of picturesque pavement will pass the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Teatro Augusteo and the stunning Galleria Umberto.
In addition to some incredible architectural and cultural attractions, there are plenty of Italian boutiques and big-name department stores along Via Toledo, while dozens of tasty restaurants set on quiet side streets provide perfect spots to enjoy a traditional Naples lunch. And of course, the street itself is home to what is easily considered the city's best people-watching.
You can hardly turn over a spade of soil in any Italian city without uncovering centuries of history, and Naples is no exception. Beneath the teeming modern center, Naples Underground (Napoli Sotterranea) takes you through the remains of the ancient city’s infrastructure covering almost two millennia.
The Path of the Gods (Sentiero Degli Dei) hiking trail skirts the peaks above the Amalfi Coast, rewarding you with spectacular bird’s-eye views of the coastline and Mediterranean Sea far below. The sweeping panoramas and lofty position inspired the trail’s poetic name.
The smallest island in the Campanian Archipelago, a trip to Procida can make a big impression.
Compared to its better known island neighbors, a small number of visitors venture to Procida, making it a great destination for travelers who don’t enjoy crowds. While Chiaiolella Beach is the island’s most popular stretch of sand, the beach at Pozzo Vecchio is known for its role in the film Il Postino.
Lined with a pastel rainbow of buildings, just wandering the narrow streets can provide hours of enjoyment. It’s questionable who has the better view, the houses and churches along the coast, or the many boats anchored offshore.
One of the most important churches in the center of Naples, Santa Chiara is part of a larger religious complex housing a monastery and archaeological museum. Its most remarkable feature is the beautiful cloister, with elaborately painted Rococò majolica decorations covering the columns, benches, and garden walls.
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