There are loads of things to do in Naples. I have no doubt I’ll return again and again to keep exploring, if not to just soak in the distinctive energy of the city. Busy streets, high-end shops under stacks and stacks of apartments, washing lines hanging from balcony to balcony, colourful window shutters, the sound of car horns and the inviting scent of pizza. Yes please.
“Rome is stately and impressive; Florence is all beauty and enchantment; Genoa is picturesque; Venice is a dream city; but Naples is simply – fascinating.” – Lilian Whiting
First! My top tips for travelling Naples:
– Get an artecard!
We picked up these ‘Artecard’s, that allowed us entry to multiple attractions and transport across Campania. There are lots of different options, depending on your age, holiday duration and where you’ll need transport to – but they saved us a fortune!
It’s worth noting that, at least when we got ours, despite being able to purchase these cards online, you have to pick them up from Naples Airport or Naples Central Station. This wasn’t a huge inconvenience, just make sure to factor it into your plan for the day.
– Make use of public transport
The public transport all over Campania was extremely easy to use as well as being frequent and cheap. As I said, too, the artecard above includes all your travel. We were staying in Sorrento and the trips between there and Naples were one of my favourite parts of the day, the train gets fantastic views.
– Download GetYourGuide
This app is great wherever you’re travelling, but sometimes comes up a little pricey. But, I noticed some great, cheap and different activities when looking at Naples on the app. Later I’ll talk about touring Naples aqueduct system – I stumbled on that using GetYourGuide and it was one of the highlights of the trip!
What to do in Naples:
This is a must! I knew the story of Pompeii before visiting, but I’d never seen or read much about what remained. So, when I was met with an explorable small town, it would be an understatement to say I was surprised.
I’ve always been a bit of an ancient history geek and I get a real kick out of ‘standing where they stood’. Pompeii is the perfect place for that. Grooves in the roads showed where horses and carts had been repeatedly pulled, art and mosaics remained on the walls, carvings remained on the floors. I loved it.
The site (in high season, at least) stays open until 19:30, so I’d recommend going later in the day. We had a lovely time walking around as the sun went down and the crowds began to clear. I got one of the amphitheatres entirely to myself.
Herculaneum is the black horse of Campania. Covered in mud, rather than ash, during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, it was much better preserved than Pompeii. Many of the buildings stand intact and many huge murals are preserved in their original locations.
I’d strongly suggest visiting both Pompeii and Herculaneum, as they spark completely different feelings. Herculaneum is cut into the ground of modern day Ercolano, so whilst you’re exploring the excavations, you can look up to the buildings and town surrounding the site – you’re just across the road. That juxtaposition is a really strange feeling: new meeting old so harshly. Pompeii, however, was staggering just due to the size of it. It remains a town today and the experience of that feeling is quite different.
Drive The Amalfi Coast
It’s the costal image of Italy you see everywhere. The colourful little houses scattered on the hills, winding up the coast. And it really did look like that! I had my doubts about how picturesque it would really be, but every twist and turn on those roads (which are fun enough to drive even without the view) proved the images truthful.
So, although it’s a little way from Naples, I promise the views will make up for it. Take the drive and stop in some of the little towns for a stroll – we didn’t find one that disappointed.
Tour the aqueducts
Acquedotto Romano del Serino was the one of the most expensive, complex and largest aqueducts to be built in the Roman world. Supplying both Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as other cities in the Bay of Naples, it’s proof of the engineering ability and sheer ambition of the Romans. Later, they were used as a series of bomb shelters during WW2 and many still contain possessions from those who stayed there.
We did our tour with Naples Underground (or Napoli Subterranea) and loved it. The guides were extremely knowledgeable about each stage of the aqueducts history and were great storytellers. They took us through some tight squeezes to reach different pockets of the underground and made the whole experience really fun. They also took us above ground, at the end of the tour, to a building that had been built atop a Roman amphitheatre, taking us down into the excavations which was an extra bonus!
This is top of my list to do next time I’m back in Naples. We didn’t get round to it during our visit, but having seen pictures from others, I’m making sure I do it next time. The massive crater is an astounding size and the story of the volcano is astounding too. It’s also really close to Herculaneum, so tick them off together to really piece the story together.
Visit a castle
You have a variety of castles for your viewing pleasure in Naples. We visited Castel Sant’Elmo. Although very simple and fort-like, it’s a lovely stop to make and has the most fantastic views of Naples and of Vesuvius in the distance.
Via San Gregorio Armeno
This is another one we didn’t hit during our trip, but I’ve heard wonderful things about it. The church-monastery houses an alley market, famous for its nativity figures and Christmas decorations. Designing nativity scenes in these styles has long been a tradition in Italy, but in this street, you’ll find them all year round. An Italian alley market where it’s always Christmas? Yes please.
I’ve also heard it’s a great place to get traditional street food for next to nothing, so whilst I haven’t been myself and can’t give you my word, I’ll bet you’ll find something yummy there too.
Take a boat to an island!
We took a boat tour out to Capri, a little island of the Amalfi Coast. We visited a small waterfall (which we subsequently dunked ourselves under – think cold shower times a hundred), some of the caves lining the coast and hopped off the boat for a quick swim.
Then, we stopped at Capri and explored the island. After wandering the streets, we came across a viewing platform that completely spoilt us with views.
It’s a European city so, of course, I’m going to tell you to visit some museums.
One of my favourites was Museo e Real Bosco Di Capofimonte, which also had large gardens to stroll. The museum contained a little of everything: art, sculptures, antique pieces and a large weapons collection (which was extremely interesting and not something I had much knowledge on prior!). And the building was an experience enough to look at, inside and out. The exquisite detail of the decoration that lined every ceiling, skirting, wall and window was astounding.
Eat. All. The. Food.
I left a piece of my heart at every restaurant I visited in Italy. I love Italian food and there’s nothing quite like having it straight from the source. Whether it was a ridiculously sized pizza, fresh from the pizza oven, or fresh focaccia from a little store, my belly was content (perhaps a little too content) for the whole trip.
I’d also recommend trying the local wine. Asking for ‘green wine’ will get you wine made at the local vineyards. Not only is it good, but it often comes pretty cheap!
Not to mention the cultural piece surrounding food in Italy. Everyone notices the atmosphere in an Italian restaurant, it’s loud and bubbly and warm. Food brings people together. It’s an occasion, and everyone’s attention is on the conversation. I love that.
So, join Dean Martin and I in appreciating the paradise that is the streets of Naples (or Napoli, as Dean and the locals call it). Indeed, there is a certain something in the air in Naples. It’s busy, it’s loud, the buildings are piled, almost haphazardly, high – every style seems to have been thrown together.
In fact a relative living in Naples, when telling us about the history of Naples, explained how as decades and phases of the city passed, they kept building up – so the architecture and style of each layer of housing looks slightly different, each reflecting a period of the city’s history. Just like a lasagne, she said. I couldn’t agree more.
Visit Naples and eat the pizza. That will be all.
Speak soon, Ella-Rose xx