Surrounded by Mount Vesuvius, islands and mountains, Naples is known – rightfully – as the ‘city of the sun,’ the southern Italian metropolis is one of the most beautiful places in the Mediterranean.
Known by many for its dark side – corruption, the Mafia, litter – as well as its famous pizza and mandolin, the capital of the Campania region is one of the richest Italian cities for history, art and is steeped in tradition.
There are castles, churches, – from the top of a building in Piazza Cavour you can count eleven! – museums and more, as well as having a vibrant contemporary art scene. The strong tradition of resisting gentrification helps make Naples so unique, leaving it a true Italian treasure.
Here are the key things you can’t miss in Naples…
The name literally means ‘Naples splitter’ and derives from the fact that from above it looks like the narrow street splits the city in two. Spaccanapoli is one of the best promenades in the city, providing access to places such as Santa Chiara, Palazzo Venezia, San Domenico
Maggiore. It starts at Piazza Gesù Nuovo, crossing Via Duomo – where the Cathedral is – and moves down to the old centre of town.
Located on Via Francesco de Sanctis, the chapel contains art pieces by the Italian leading artists of the 18th century, such as Antonio Corradini, Francesco Queirolo and Francesco Maria Russo. The Veiled Christ (1753), by Giuseppe Sanmartino, is one of the most remarkable sculptures in the world and is also contained in the chapel – a must see!
Teatro di San Carlo
Connected to the Royal Palace and close to the central Piazza del Plebiscito, the opera house opened in 1737 and is the oldest active venue for public opera in the world, making it well worth a visit. Bring a camera!
San Gregorio Armeno
Located in the Homonym Street, the church and monastery is one of the most important Baroque complexes in the city. It was built in the 10th century over the remains of a Roman temple dedicated to Cere by a group of nuns, and the cupola was painted by none other than Luca Giordano.
The seaside castle on the Gulf of Naples is one of the oldest standing fortifications in the world. It is now used for arts exhibitions and events, and it hosts the Museum of Prehistory. You can visit the castle’s rooms or just go to the towers to enjoy the sensational view!
Museo Madre. Pic: Marco Chianese
If you want to see some art you can’t miss out on the contemporary art Museo Madre. In the heart of the historic centre (on Via dei Musei), it contains a permanent collection and hosts different exhibitions during the year. Among the permanent collections, you can find works of Jeff Koons, Mario Merz, Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Sol LeWitt and many other major artists.
If you get the tube, do not forget to have a look at the stations of Toledo, Dante, Museo, Garibaldi and Università, where you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the architecture, artwork, statues and more.
Where to eat:
Food is a huge part of Neapolitan culture. From the famous pizzas – Naples is its birthplace! – to the classic treats, these are the places to go for some true Italian food.
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
Ranked by The Telegraph one of the world’s best pizzerias, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele was funded in 1870 by Salvatore Condurro and is still now run by the same family. Very close to the train station Garibaldi, it is one of the Neapolitans’ most loved places. It’s a no-frills menu with just two types of pizza – Margherita and Marinara. If the pizzeria sounds familiar, you may have seen it featured in the hit Julia Roberts film, Eat Pray Love.
If you’re looking for typical pastries, you’ll fall completely in love with Leopoldo. Here’s where you’ll find the amazing babà and all of the famous Neapolitan treats.
If you are staying in Naples for the night, remember to go to Piazza Bellini – it’s one of the best places to chill, have a drink and meet Italian students for a chat.
“See Naples and die” is surely one of the most famous things that’s ever been said about the southern city, and it promotes the idea that nothing could possibly outshine it. With its loud people, eternal joy and passion for life, strong coffees, traditional melodies and graffiti, as well as the contrasting chaos and extravagance, Naples will surely not disappoint you.
P.S. Don’t forget sun-cream!
Words & pictures, Benedetta Ricci