Naples city guide: where to stay, eat, drink and shop at the gates of Amalfi in Italy
SSynonymous with the birthplace of pizza and devotion to footballing legend Maradona, Naples has a bad (outdated) reputation. This hangover from a history of filth and crime means people are rejecting Italy’s third-largest city, favoring more picturesque towns along the southern Amalfi coast.
But Naples is hugely underrated – you’ll be sorry you didn’t go sooner. Because what these dashing visitors ignore is a city whose historical inventory is a mixture of courage and grandeur, easily traceable in its Greco-Roman streets listed by Unesco, with the architecture and art of its time as an imperial city, and a labyrinthine underground. This is real-life Italy, not a spectacle for tourists: the city’s neighborhoods teem with street life, street food and street art.
Find yourself in a maze of heady lanes and alleys, leading to the quiet hilltops and harbor bays of the wider region and immerse yourself in the unrivaled passion, pride and pace of the Neapolitan lifestyle. It won’t take you long to see the city differently.
What to do
Street art, shrines and spritz in Quartieri Spagnoli
Walk down the old street Via Toledo and enter one of the liveliest areas of Naples. The “Spanish Quarter” (named for its role in housing the Spanish army in the 16th century) is a densely populated, tight-knit neighborhood that has become a no-go zone under former mob control. Napoli’s cleanup over the past decade has set him on a path of creative renewal. Walk down the ancient street of Via Toledo and enter one of Naples’ liveliest areas – start at Via Emanuele de Deo and work your way up the long, sloping lane. You’ll accidentally discover fabulous open days by following a self-guided street art trail to the city’s Maradona Shrine. Then, weave your way through the dozen or so city blocks in the gridded streets on either side, avoiding mopeds and following booming Latin American beats to dive bars serving the strongest Aperol Spritz. from the city.
Stroll through the historic alleys of the Centro Storico
Weave your way through the maze of narrow stone streets, small alleyways and converted alleyways of the historic center – you’ll see a treadmill of Roman ruins against graffiti-adorned walls and the grand facades of buildings containing works of art. world-renowned art, including the marbled Veiled Christ at the Museo Cappella Sansevero. Begin at the western end with the fresco-filled Basilica Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo before seeing the painted tile complex of the Complesso Monumentale di Santa Chiara; then walk along the oldest street, Via San Biagio Dei Librai. It is known as “Spaccanapoli” because it seems to divide Naples in two when viewed from above.
Watch the sunset at Lungomare
Grab a street kiosk granita or a slice of pizza and join the locals on the rocky seafront promenade along Via Partenope. Perch on one of Borgo Marinari’s piers for a sunset picnic, from where you’ll see the Castel dell’Ovo fortress glowing in the harbor lights after dark.
Day trip to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius
The looming bump of Vesuvius behind the Naples skyline reminds you how close Pompeii is. Take the 30-minute Circumvesuviana train south to the world-famous historic site, where archaeologists are still unearthing the Roman city submerged in volcanic ash by the devastating eruption of 79 AD. Arrive early and hire a guide upon arrival to visit the best-preserved places and newly discovered artifacts. If you start in Pompeii in the morning, you can sneak up the short but steep Mount Vesuvius hike in the afternoon to take in views of the Gulf of Naples before sunset. Pre-book your timeslot ticket online and hop on the bus at the archaeological site which takes you on a winding ride to the volcano’s gateway.
Where to stay
The Art Nouveau Pinto-Storey hotel is the pinnacle of elegance in the chic Chiaia district. Rooms are decorated with dark wood furniture, wrought-iron beds, and tiled floors, respecting the property’s 1878 period origins. From €78 (£66), room only. pintostorey.it/en
A quiet side of Naples exists on the hill of Vomero. Discover Weekend a Napoli – an Italian Liberty-style villa with a magnificent patio garden. The owners of this historic, family-run B&B are appreciated for their personal touch in showing you the best of their city. From €117/£99, bed and breakfast. weekendanapoli.com
Want to be right in the historic heart of the city? Try The Church B&B – the Centro Storico is full of B&Bs, but this one has more character. It sits on the roof of the San Gennaro all’Olmo church, with eco-friendly wood and metal trim and a rustic terrace. From €71/£60 room only. the church.it
Where to eat
Start sweet with a shell-shaped Sfogliatella puff pastry and an espresso. For a traditional setting, head to Gran Caffè Gambrinus near Plaza Plebiscito – a classic café with wooden chairs, framed artwork and chandeliers, with views of the Royal Palace.
Support a small business by buying lunch from one of the street vendors in the historic center – most serve fried treats, like a cuppo (a cone of fried seafood and vegetables in bite-size pieces) from La Sicilia Di Serafino Napoli and Arancini (stuffed and fried rice balls) from Di Matteo along the Spaccanapoli.
For a traditional dinner, Tandem Ragù offers an authentic menu featuring the meaty, tomato-based Neapolitan sauce – with tender chunks of meat rather than ground meat in a thick, stew-like liquid. Finish with the yeast cake drizzled with Baba au Rhum syrup.
In this birthplace of pizza, there’s a long list of doughy treats to browse. Antica Pizzeria Da Michele offers one of the best Neapolitan-style creations, immortalized by Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love and known for its margheritas and marinaras.
For a slice of history, head to Pizzeria Brandi (Salita S. Anna di Palazzo, 1/2), which invented the margherita in 1889 in honor of the Queen of Italy; or Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, the oldest pizzeria in Naples. Or swap out the thin crust for one of Naples’ famous fried pizzas – Sorbillo is the place to try it.
where to drink
To blend in with the locals, get up and sip an espresso at the family-run Centrale del Caffè coffee bar. It’s been a staple in the historic center since the 1960s, roasting its own blends on site. It’s also a great place to pick up some freshly ground beans – try the classic Neopolitan espresso blend – as a gift or souvenir.
The Libreria Berisio in the Dante district is a bookstore-café by day that turns into a cocktail bar by night. Read or sip in its atmospheric floor-to-ceiling library before heading to the nearby bar-lined piazza, Piazza Bellini.
With a focus on local beers, tap into Italian microbrews and browse a changing menu of local wines at OAK Napoli Wine And Craft Beer. This is one of many youth bars tucked away in a side alley not far from Via Toledo.
If you want a hidden and discreet bar, you should head to the Chiaia district. In keeping with the collection of antique shops in the area, the window of L’Antiquario blends in. Behind its doors, you’ll find an old-fashioned speakeasy-style cocktail bar with velvet seating and sultry dim lighting. It opens daily from 7:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Where to shop
Designer labels, clothing boutiques and Italian tailors like Ex Voto and Deliberti jostle with Gucci and Emporio Armani in the Chiaia district. Start at Piazza dei Martiri, in the polished eastern group of streets above the Villa Comunale di Napoli park, and take any path from there.
Neapolitan craftsmen present their craft all year round on Via San Gregorio Armebo, aptly called “Christmas Alley”. Wander this 150m long street of artisan workshops and craft shops to admire the full range of traditional nativity scenes and novelty figurines, including some where you can add your footballers, politicians or movie stars. favorite music at the sacred stage.
Artistic creation extends beyond architectural facades and museum collections in the narrow streets of the historic center. Wander the lanes between the main thoroughfares of Via Tribunali and Via San Biagio Dei Librai and you’ll find glass, pottery and ceramic shops, leather craftsmen and tailors. There is even a “Doll Hospital”, a centuries-old repair shop that has become a strange cave of doll parts (Via San Biagio Dei Librai, 39).
You don’t need to shop to admire the stunning 19th century Galleria Umberto I shopping arcade with iron and glass domed ceilings, marble columns, vaulted galleries with mosaic floors. Get off at Municipio metro station and discover this magnificent structure in front of the Teatro San Carlo, the oldest opera house in Italy (Via San Carlo, 15).
Nuts and bolts
What currency do I need?
What language do they speak?
Italian, although English is widely spoken.
Should I tip?
Tipping is appreciated for excellent service. Aim for 10%.
What is the time difference?
One hour ahead of GMT.
How should I get around?
Naples is a pedestrian city, but extended and hilly. For long intercity journeys, the metro system and funicular are easiest to navigate, rather than buses and trams.
What is the best view?
Enjoy sweeping views of the waterfront and historic quarter, with the added bonus of Mount Vesuvius, from the medieval ramparts of Castel Sant’Elmo on Vomero Hill. Entry tickets cost €5 (£4.30).
Walk 15 minutes north of the historic center to the Rione Sanita neighborhood – a former off-limits area transformed into a bustling neighborhood with street markets and street art, wine bars and pizzerias, rejuvenated after tourists took it increasingly crossed to visit the catacombs of San Gennaro Archaeological Site.
Try to fly less?
Like much of Italy, you can get to Naples entirely by train. Take the Eurostar to Gare du Nord in Paris, before reaching Gare de Lyon. From there there is a train twice a day to Milan in northern Italy, from where you can catch a train to Napoli Centrale.
Good with flying?
Airlines such as British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair fly from UK airports directly to Naples.