Città del Sole, City of Sun.
Love Napoli or not, either way, you can't help but adore the eclectic vibrancy this historical city has to offer. Rich in personality, it's naturally the home of Italian pizza.
Naples is the arrogant shiny suit and gold chain, perfumed in cologne, smelling of lemon trees, sea salt and Vespa fumes. It's slick black hair and hazel eyes, suave, passion, and a people who love their land and would never live elsewhere but in the shadow of an active volcano.
'Vedi Napoli e poi muori' Once you've seen Naples, your life is accomplished and you can die, it's that unmissable.
A day in Naples.
Stay longer to truly appreciate this city but if you can't, here's a day full of things not to miss:
Start in Piazza del Municipio where you'll feel part of history itself with Castel Nuovo before you, backdropped by Vesuvius Volcano, and the grandiose Fountain of Neptune behind you. Cruise ships in the port and historical monuments all around (and underneath), take some time and an espresso to soak it all in. During excavations to build the Metro station for Line 1, thousands of archaeological artifacts were dug up right here, including the remains of a Roman spa complex nonetheless. The riches and diversity in this city will astound you as locals nonchalantly speed their Vespas over layers of ancient history, seemingly without a care in the world. They say see Naples and then die, erm pretty heavy, but you only get to see true Naples if you scratch the graffitied surface. Don't be put off by the scrappiness of this city, these people value things like family, football, religion, tradition, glorious sun and sea, good food and 'la bella vita', so, what's the rush?
Castel Nuovo, can't miss it. Since 1282 this formidable medieval fortress has stood in Napoli's port housing Kings of Naples, Aragon and Spain until 1815 when it became an armory and subsequently a museum. It's welcomed some special guests including Pope Boniface VIII, Pope Celestine V and Giotto himself. If you adore Giotto's skillful afreschi or are interested in historical weaponry, grab a ticket and your camera, the views are stunning from the towers, however, if you prefer a casual (and free) amble around the empty but historically grounding structure which you'll notice jutting out into the sea, Castel dell'Ovo was built in the 12th Century by the Normans. Used as a prison and grand Roman villa, it also boasts magical views of Mount Vesuvius. The legend of a buried magical egg within Castel del'Ovo's foundations remains as long as Neapoletans remain notoriously superstitious. If the egg is ever broken, disaster will strike.
From Castel dell'Ovo stroll the promenade Lungomare Caracciolo stopping for an espresso, cornetto or gelato, depending on the time of day, or head up the hill to Vomero.
Take the Funicolare Centrale at Piazza Augusteo till the last station, Piazza Fuga, where you'll step out into a 'fresher' quarter of Naples. Slightly elevated above the city fumes, shops and restaurants line Vomero's streets and the view over the bustling Centro Storico, with Vesuvius behind it, is spectacular, especially on a sunny day. There's also a fabulously authentic artisanal market with shoes, clothes, mediterranean delights and freshly-caught seafood, beautiful just to wander around and photograph, even if you're not shopping.
It's Christmas all year round in this narrow lane of Via S. Gregorio Armeno also known as the Via Dei Presepi, which will keep you mesmerised for much longer than you thought. Feel like a little child at Christmas and marvel at the sheer attention to detail in these Nativity Scene statues, some of them with moving parts animating the most menial of jobs in the most charming of ways. A wicked sense of irony and humour lies in the craftsmanship of Napoli's quirky tradition of caricatures, delighting particularly in celebrities such as football players, politicians and singers, one not be missed.
Capella San Severo - il Cristo Velato - a must see! Tucked into a narrow side street this chapel bears a famously beautiful marble statue - The Veiled Christ. Sculptured in1753 from one block of marble by Giuseppe Sanmartino, this masterpiece turns stone to liquid. If there's one thing you see, see this.
Napoli Sotteranea - you'll need a couple of hours for this tour but if you love history, mystery and aren't claustrophobic, then book a ticket online and meet up under the ominous carving just off Via del Tribunale. Together with a small group, be ready to be led down into darkness. There's so much to see under this city, like pure water reservoirs and Second World War graffiti, but the best bit is when your only light is a candle while the walls close in around you. It's hauntingly unforgettable but try not to be the last in the line and make sure you haven't had that pizza fritta yet, the dark tunnels really do get narrow.
You're in the heart of the Centro Storico with Via del Tribunale at your fingertips. You'll probably know we love street food (and bread shops and markets) to delve into a culture but Naples's street food needs to be happened upon con calma. While you walk the street, look out for bunches of people waiting at kiosks and windows, listen out for the sounds of excited chatter and 'smell' out for garlic, seafood and freshly fried dumplings. Naples' street food is carbohydrate-based; pizza al portafoglio (folded like a 'wallet' so you can walk and eat), pizza fritta (deep-fried filled pizza), sfogliatelle (delicate pastries with a sweet ricotta filling), panuozzo (crisp baked bread slices topped with sausage or grilled vegetables) and zeppulelle (deep-fried dough balls stuffed with anchovies or zucchini flowers).
Spaccanapoli - this iconic road cuts right through Naples. Its name means 'chop/divide Naples' and you'll notice it stretches in a straight line as far as the eye can see. But apart from how geographically significant it is, I see it as a one-way track into Neapolitan culture. It's a live wire of people, food, transport and business in one straight street. Eye-openingly diverse, rich and poor in buzzing contrast, walk the 2km of Spaccanapoli to really get a feel for this city's poeple and then jump into a queue for Naples's pride and joy (no, not Diego Maradona), la pizza.
Rome and Naples are rivals in so many ways, including pizza, but Naples can claim it was made first by a Napolitano pizzaiolo in Pizzeria Brandi or thereabouts, where a plaque sits saying so! Made to represent the Italian flag with only the best Marzano tomatoes, basil and mozzarella di bufala for her majesty Queen Margherita when she once craved a touch of street food 100 years ago. Da Michele is the most iconic pizzeria in Naples and you do feel you're squashed into a white and green tiled film set yet we recommend Sorbillo on Via del Tribunale. It's had its ups and downs, allegedly Gino Sorbillo once refused to pay the Camorra's pizzo (protection fee) so the local Mafia burnt the place down but it's world-famous now and back in forma and you'll always find a long queue of Napolitani outside. Happy to wait up to an hour and a half, they grab a beer and a bag of taralli from the shop next door and willingly stand in the street. Expect gooey and floppy, topped merely by mozzarella di bufala, salsa di pomodoro and basil leaves, well truly, what more could you need? With exquisite, high-quality ingredients which stand on their own, the divinity of Italian food lies in its simplicity. Expect loud chatter, squashed tables (but not as squashed as Da Michele), making friends with strangers seated beside you and glorious food. Pay a tip, make a Napolitan happy, say "Grazie mille, era fantastico!" and make him even happier. Pride and passion rule here, along with only two true pizze - Margherita and Marinana.
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Use the metro for transport. Neapoletans are the maddest drivers and do not necessarily use seat belts or stop signs, only their horns. Remember, this is the city that 'got the T-shirt'. When seatbelt laws were enforced in the 80s, some entrepreneurial genius printed a plain T-shirt with a diagonal stripe and made a small fortune. Point made?
Eat seafood - Naples is truly a treasure chest of culinary jewels from the sea. Any spaghetti with seafood will knock your socks off be it spaghetti al gransoporo (with crab), spaghetti alle vongole (clams) or frutti di mare (assorted shellfish). Trattorie and restaurants will have a menu which may also be in English, however, they'll have specials too, dependent on the catch of the day. Tricky to ask if you don't speak Italian but you could always try, "e il piatto del giorno?" - And the dish of the day? Looking over at other tables and pointing also does the trick.
Taste Pizza Fritta - Fried pizza sounds like a cholesterol downward spiral but if only for once, you just have to. When in Naples...
Pizza fritta comes with varied fillings - try zucchini flowers and ciccioli (crunchy pork fat), trust us, it's not as disastrous as it sounds, the pizza dough is thin and fried fast, you'll love it.
Know you're a tourist because you will be treated as such, even Italians outside of Campania do not qualify for the same level of hospitality as true locals. There is a hierarchy of favouritism and who-knows-who in this city. Expect to pay higher prices to sit outside or wait in queues while others walk straight in (for example). If this kind of thing bugs you, try to look past it and take Naples for who she is. If you can't shake the irritation, then perhaps this city is not for you.
Caffè napolitano is strong. One 'normal' espresso is about half the strength of the Neapolitan one. Don't overdose on coffee culture like I once did.
Accommodation in Naples may seem daunting due to tales of the city's notoriously dangerous quarters. We stayed at the top of Spaccanapoli in a beautiful neoclassical building with high ceilings and grand rooms which has since undergone a refurbishment. Run by the friendliest and most helpful of people who speak English well, we can highly recommend Spaccanapoli Comfort Suites.
Take a taxi from and to the airport, chances are your taxi driver is chatty and proud to show off his beautiful city in great detail and in his best English. If you have time to spare, ask him to show you around a little, for 10 euros extra? Maybe the most passionate tourist guides in town, our taxi driver once insisted we stop at a specific pasticceria for the best sfogliatelle in Naples. Be specific about money, Napolitani are infamous swindlers.
Avoid New Year's Eve - it gets incredibly raucous around Piazza Municipio with people injured and killed every year due to homemade fireworks being set off. The crush of the crowd is immense, along with the will to party hard. We were strongly advised against going into town by the hotel staff. Some say at New Year's Neapolitans traditionally throw out the old to make space for the new, out of the window that is.
As mentioned before, take this city for who she is. Yes, organised and petty crime is high and unemployment is low. There's litter and graffiti and ongoing chaos, noise, smoke and little regard for any rules whatsoever, but there's a burning heart full of pride, love and history underneath it all, a warmth, passion and conviction that may just make you a believer. Take Naples as the wayward friend, the wild one; who breaks the rules and laughs it off, skips class to go to the beach, drinks and smokes and dances till dawn and justifies it all with a charismatic bat of her eyelashes, this is she.
If you're in Naples for a day and then on to the Amalfi Coast, read our blog post on Glorious Amalfi Coast, where you least expect it for tips on what to see and where to stay.