Things to do in Naples
Published: 12th March 2021
Naples: the city of scooters, espresso, pizza and absolute chaos.
It’s gritty and unforgiving but unforgettably beautiful, all at the same time.
An ancient city where laundry proudly dangles off balconies between streets, crumbling facades are strangled by knotted power lines and screeching Vespas squirm between honking battered cars, Naples is in-your-face and does nothing to cover up its authentic personality.
Always alive, fast-paced and full of life, it’s a city overshadowed by its unfair reputation. Home to over 3 million passionate people who live everyday as though it’s their last under the looming sight of Mount Vesuvius, it’s hard not to fall in love with the city’s disorderly charm.
Packed full of so many historic attractions and interesting things to do, it can be difficult deciding what to see when in Naples. Hopefully this travel guide can help recommend some of the best.
Table of contents
- Things to do in Naples
# Capodimonte Museum
# Santa Chiara Courtyard
# Palace of Caserta
# Castel Sant’Elmo views
# Santa Lucia swimming
# Wander Herculaneum
# Find Gaiola Beach
# Piazza Bellini drinks
# Explore Castel dell’Ovo
# Parco Virgiliano sunset
# Archaeological Museum
# Neapolitan ice cream
# Climb Mount Vesuvius
# Royal Palace of Naples
# Espresso at Gambrinus
# Eat a Neapolitan pizza
- Where to hire a scooter
- General advice
- Common questions
Things to do in Naples
# Visit the Capodimonte Museum & Royal Park
Originally built in 1742 as a striking Bourbon palace for Charles VII and his exceptional Farnese art collection, the Palace of Capodimonte and its beautiful Royal Park is today home to the National Museum of Capodimonte (Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte). Easily reached from the city centre by bus, scooter or car, the fantastic museum and unspoiled park is very rarely mentioned in travel guides about Naples!
One of Italy’s largest museums, the esteemed permanent art collection includes Neapolitan pieces, decorative art, tapestries, and paintings from the 13th to 18th centuries including significant works by Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian. Alongside a calendar of world-class temporary exhibitions such as Paolo La Motta, the brilliant Depositi di Capodimonte and Caravaggio Napoli, the Capodimonte Museum is a must-visit when in Naples. Spanning across three vast floors, the national museum has an array of 126 impressive rooms full of art and artefacts that require several hours to fully admire. There’s even a Royal Apartment to visit and a contemporary art space that displays Andy Warhol’s erupting Vesuvius.
After enjoying the palace and its artworks, you can step out into the free public park to enjoy the fresh air and green space. The luscious, immaculately kept grounds (which is rare to find in Naples) that immediately surround the impressive pink facade are an oasis of calm in the middle of a mad city. Offering up some of the most breathtaking views from above Naples (Capodimonte translates as ‘top of the hill’), it’s a picture-worthy spot to soak up.
There’s also an enormous wooded park to explore that’s accessed through the grand entrance of Porta di Mezzo. Home to hundreds of exotic plant species, the royal park is full of interesting buildings to find, including the Royal Capodimonte Porcelain Factory. Once the royal hunting reserve outside of Naples, the park is now fully surrounded by the sprawling city!
Good to know
■ Admission to the museum costs €10 with a €2 reduced price for 18-25yrs – under 18’s and arts students are free. After 7:30pm on Fridays, standard adult entry costs just €2.
■ The museum’s floors have different opening times so check the opening hours before visiting if you have something in particular to see.
■ The royal park is a local hotspot for exercising and sunbathing, and is a great place to go when you feel like some space away from the busy city.
■ The park’s gates are locked at night (5pm earliest) with closing times varying between months, so check the boards as you enter.
# See the beautiful tiled cloisters of Santa Chiara
Tucked away deep in the heart of Naples’s historic centre, lies the peaceful oasis courtyard of Santa Chiara (Complesso Monumentale di Santa Chiara). A real hidden gem that’s just metres away from the hustle and bustle of the city’s busiest street Spaccanapoli, it’s a must-visit attraction that’s missed by many passing tourists.
Bursting with elaborately tiled octagonal columns and adjourning benches that are surrounded by mature orange trees, the secret cloister garden is the perfect spot for some much-needed respite after wandering the chaotic city.
Elegantly enclosed by shaded walkways that are filled with fragments of vibrant frescoes, the courtyard provides a tranquil and reflective space where you can relax for a few hours with a good book or try your hand at sketching scenes depicted on the eye-catching 18th century Rococo-style tiles.
Included in the ticket price is access to the Church of Santa Chiara and a small archaeological museum, which is full of interesting artefacts and information about the complex’s turbulent history (during WWII, the church was heavily bombed but the cloister garden was miraculously not damaged). There’s even a gift shop that actually has some decent souvenirs!
Good to know
■ Tickets can be purchased from the entry desk and cost €6 or €4.50 for students and over-65s (last entry is 30mins before closing).
■ You are not allowed to sit directly on the tiled benches – instead, seating is provided under the portico walkways, which on baking hot days, nicely provides some much needed shade.
■ Entrance to the cloister courtyard can sometimes be difficult to find due to poor signage: access Via Benedetto Croce or Via Santa Chiara.
# Soak up the grandeur at the Royal Palace of Caserta
Commissioned by King Charles of Bourbon in 1752, as his new Kingdom of Naples, the Royal Palace of Caserta (Reggia di Caserta) is the ultimate statement of wealth and power. With a facade that stretches as far as the eye can see, 1,200 rooms and 120 hectares of manicured gardens and fountains, the palace is said to be one of the largest royal residences in the world!
A masterpiece of Italian Baroque, every room is jaw-droppingly opulent with interiors extravagantly decorated with gold and pristine frescos; over 40 of its mega-sized royal rooms are magnificently covered with mural wall paintings, in comparison, to the Palace of Versailles, which only has a meagre 22.
After exploring the grotesquely beautiful Royal Apartment, you can take a stroll through the vast gardens, along the series of aligned fountains and ponds that telescopically extend out into the park for more than 3km. From the palace to the spectacular waterfall on the hillside fed by an impressive aqueduct that’s also worth visiting, it’s a gentle walk that can take several hours. Or, if you prefer, you can make the most of the paid minibus, cycle on a hired bike or ride through the garden in style on a horse drawn carriage. There’s even a picturesque English botanical garden to explore, that’s home to an array of precious plants from around the globe.
Somewhat ironically, King Charles of Bourbon never actually stayed a night in his new swanky residence. Nevertheless, the Royal Palace of Caserta, which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, remains at the very top of the list of amazing things to see when visiting Naples.
Good to know
■ Tickets cost €14 with reduced rates for many visitor types (park and garden ONLY tickets are available).
■ You can easily reach the Royal Palace in about 30mins by car or on a scooter from Naples by jumping on E45 to Caserta and then following Viale Carlo III di Borbone.
■ From Naples Central station, you can also take a train to Caserta which drops you off right outside the palace. There’s even a Sightseeing shuttle bus from Naples city centre that drives directly to Caserta once a day.
■ Suitable footwear and drinking water is advisable as there’s lots of walking, and there is a cafe in the palace where you get a tasty espresso.
# Take in the breathtaking views at Castel Sant’Elmo
Situated high above the city in the leafy district of Vomero, the medieval fortress of Castel Sant’Elmo commands some of the most incredible 360° views of the city and the surrounding Bay of Naples.
Walking the perimeter wall at the top gives you a real sense of the city’s vast size and opens your eyes to just how tightly packed it’s inhabitants live, under the brooding sight of Mount Vesuvius. Looking down over the colourful city, you can hear signs of life; vespas roaring down narrow streets, ambulances blaring to push through stationary traffic and church bells ringing on the hour. From every angle, it’s hard not to feel life rising up from the city as you watch it’s bustling piazzas and it’s beating arteries shuffling hordes of traffic.
Admission to the 13th century fort is worth every penny to see the spectacular views. Included in the ticket price is access to Museo Novecento, a small and intimate gallery space located on the roof terrace, that’s dedicated to the progression of Italian art through the 20th century.
Tickets can be purchased at the entrance desk and cost €5 for adults and €2.50 for students and those aged between 18-25 years old, under 18’s are free. Ticket prices are reduced after 4pm, which during the summer months is a much better time to visit anyway as it’s usually quieter and not so hot! The easiest way to get to Castel Sant’Elmo is to follow signs up to Vomero on a scooter or in a car and park up as close as you can reach.
You can also use one of the city’s hidden funicular lines and walk a short distance to the fort’s entrance from several Vomero stations. From downtown Naples, use Central Funicular from Piazzetta Duca d’Aosta (found on Via Toledo) to Piazza Ferdinando Fuga which is right in the heart of Vomero. You can also use Montesanto Funicular from Piazza Montesanto to and Funicular of Chaia from Piazza Amedeo. Tickets for the funicular can be purchased at each station and cost just over €1 for a one-way trip.
Good to know
■ As with all cultural sites owned by the state in Naples, entry is free on the first Sunday of the month from October to March. Due to COVID-19 this has been suspended – check this page for updates.
■ To reach the top terrace of Castel Sant’Elmo you can walk up the historic stone walkway which winds through the fort (suitable footwear required) or you can use a small lift located near the entrance desk. A popular choice is to take the lift up and walk down whilst soaking in the view.
■ If you’re visiting Naples during the winter months, Castel Sant’Elmo offers the perfect spot to watch the sunset just before the fort closes at 6:30pm.
# Jump in the sea at the seafront of Santa Lucia
A popular spot where many city-dwelling locals take a dip and sunbathe on warm days, the seafront rocks of Naples’s beautiful Lungomare Santa Lucia provide a rustic area where you can jump into the turquoise blue colours of the mediterranean sea to cool off.
Directly looking out across the bay, over a collection of colourful little fishing boats, the waterfront area offers uninterrupted panoramas that put the striking profile of Mount Vesuvius at the centre of every picture.
Access onto the rocks is rudimentary to put it plainly. Once you’re on them, it’s all about making your own ‘rock nest’ (much like the local in the photo) where you can try and get comfortable to take in possibly the city’s most photographed view and safely access the water. Take extra care of your possessions as it’s too easy for them to disappear between the gaps in the rocks. If you’ve got trunks, that’s great, but like many tourists who visit Naples on a city break, taking a dip in your underwear is quite all right too!
After your refreshing dip, walking the length of Naples’s Lungomare is highly recommended. The promenade, that’s dominated by prestigious hotels such as Eurostars Excelsior, hugs the waterfront from Santa Lucia to Mergellina and is a much-loved stretch of the city that’s enjoyed day and night by everyone. There’s lots of bars along the front where you can stop for a well-earned drink and even a little beach (Mappatella Beach) over on the Chiaia side.
Good to know
■ Naples’s Lungomare is a beautiful spot to wander around during sunset – so take your camera, a few beers and find a rock to perch on.
■ Packed on most weekend nights with locals enjoying themselves, it’s a happening and lively place to enjoy a meal or a drink in one of the many bars and restaurants.
■ If you’re looking for somewhere to exercise in the centre of the city, the Lungomare offers a great option (part of the promenade is pedestrianised).
# See the uncovered wonders of Herculaneum
Unrightfully considered second best by many to Pompeii, Herculaneum (Parco Acheologico di Ercolano) is a buried ancient town that should not be missed when visiting Naples. More intimate and in many ways better preserved than it’s unfortunate neighboring city, the rediscovered Roman town gives a glimpse into the wealthy and luxurious lives being lived before Mount Vesuvius’s deadly eruption in 79AD.
Buried under five times as much volcanic ash and pumice than Pompeii (up to 30 metres), the pyroclastic material that smothered Herculaneum actually carbonized and preserved many of its buildings and artefacts. Across Herculaneum’s cobbled ancient streets, once ultra-grand villas and houses such as Villa of the Papyri remain largely intact for visitors to peek inside. Although much of the original town still remains buried under the new town of Ercolano, this hasn’t stopped Herculaneum becoming one of the world’s most well-preserved ancient towns.
From extraordinary lavish interiors filled with 2,000 year old frescoes and mosaics, to boat houses crowded with the skeletal remains of those who were too late to escape, it truly is a fascinating and sobering site to wander around. A once coastal town that is now some 500 metres back from the sea, its charred wooden roofs, mosaic courtyards and elaborate baths appear to be untouched in time. Delicate excavators have even uncovered remains of many organic objects including pottery, bread and scrolls of papyri that contain Greek philosophical texts!
Admission from the ticket office costs €13 with reduced rates for many visitor types (the site is free to visit on the first Sunday of the month between October to March). Much smaller in size and having fewer visitors than Pompeii, Herculaneum is a peaceful place to experience over a couple of hours and is a remarkable site of conservation that does not disappoint.
Good to know
■ You can very cheaply reach Herculaneum from Naples by taking a grubby Circumvesuviana train from Naples Central station to Ercolano Scavi station, which is then just a 10 minute walk to the site’s ticket office. There is also a Sightseeing shuttle bus from the city centre that goes to Herculaneum after visiting Vesuvius.
■ If you’re driving, you can park in Parcheggio comunale scavi di Ercolano.
■ Don’t forget to pick up a free paper map that guides you through the town and wearing good sturdy footwear is a must as many of Herculaneum’s streets are made from centuries-old cobbles!
# Find the secret Gaiola Beach in Posillipo
Secluded at the bottom of an ancient staircase (that’s found on Discesa Gaiola in Posillipo) is a beautiful small beach that’s free to visit. It’s also the entrance point to the protected snorkelling area of Gaiola Island (Parco Sommerso di Gaiola) which has an entry fee.
With cool, crystal clear waters and incredible views looking back across the bay towards Mount Vesuvius, Gaiola beach offers the perfect place to soak up the sun like a local after exploring the busy city.
The little beach can quickly get overcrowded on busy days, so be prepared to clamber all over the rocks and paths that surround the beach to find a spot. Take extra care of your possessions if on the rocks. There’s no place to buy refreshments, so take plenty of supplies with you (there are toilets apparently somewhere!).
The beach is best accessed on a scooter: from Naples, follow the coast road Via Posillipo and turn onto Via Tito Lucrezio Caro – you can park for free at the end of Discesa Gaiola, just before the stairs. If you arrive by car, do not attempt to go down this lane as it is very tight! From Naples, you can also jump on bus 140 and hop off at stop Discesa Coroglio – Marechiaro, leaving you a 20 minute walk to the beach.
Good to know
■ The free beach at Gaiola is always busy on warm weekends so if you can, try to visit on a weekday.
■ The area of Gaiola Beach is split into two areas: Zone B is the free beach area and Zone A is the protected marine area that you have to pay to access.
■ Access to the protected marine area of Gaiola Island can be very confusing – the entrance is up some stairs at the back of the beach. There is a strict limit on the number of tickets given out each day, which currently due to COVID-19 restrictions happens on a first-come-first-served basis across two timed slots. Online booking for entry to the snorkelling area may return which makes things much easier, so keep an eye out before you visit.
# Enjoy a drink in Piazza Bellini
Bordering the city’s busy historic centre, Piazza Bellini is an authentically Neapolitan square with a chilled out vibe and crudely exposed ancient Greek walls of Neapolis.
Easily accessible from Piazza Dante via Port’Alba, through a messy and narrow historic walkway that’s full of life (Via d’Alba), it’s the perfect spot to relax and unwind of an evening with an Aperol Spritz or a glass of smooth Montepulciano d’Abruzzo!
A popular hang out area that’s always full of students and locals, the surprisingly leafy square is lined with a mix of trendy bars and restaurants that open from early evening till very late.
With plenty of outdoor seating, there’s always a free table to grab where you can sit down with a drink and some tasty free snacks to soak up Naples’s distinctive lively atmosphere.
Good to know
■ A highly recommended bar, just a few steps away from the busy square is Vinarte – prices are good value, service is always friendly and they are generous with the snacks (you can even play chess on your table!).
■ A service charge is normal on top of drinks when sitting down at the more ‘touristy’ bars in Piazza Bellini.
■ If you’re trying to reach the square by car, Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli is a one-way street so just park as close as you can. If you’re on a scooter, you can just drive down the one-way street the wrong way like a local and park all over the pavement!
# Explore the fort of Castel dell’Ovo
Named after a legend about a Roman poet called Virgil who put a magical egg into the foundations, Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle) is an impressive fortress located on the seafront close to the harbour of Santa Lucia and the waterfront area of Borgo Marinaro.
Free to visit all year round and easily accessible across a solid bridge on Via Partenope, which forms part of Naples’s Lungomare, the castle is a must-do free activity when wandering the city. Offering picturesque views and fresh sea air, it’s a space that can provide you with a little serenity to balance the madness that is Naples!
Aside from a temporary art exhibition that’s housed in one of the castle’s rooms, there’s really not much to see on the inside apart from centuries old stone walls and walkways. Instead, it’s the views that do the talking with every sand-coloured archway providing a picture-perfect view across the deep blue mediterranean sea towards Mount Vesuvius.
At the top of the castle is a sun-drenched roof terrace which on one side, offers spectacular views of Naples’s layered and colourful architecture whilst on the other, beautiful panoramic views out to Capri and the Bay of Naples (there’s even a few cannons and a couple of death-defying sheer drops down to the sea below).
Good to know
■ Castel dell’Ovo is a romantic place to watch the sun go down and a must-do if you can time your day just right. The castle is also floodlit at night, which makes for a magical site to see if you’re in the area.
■ If you’re interested in the castle’s history, do some research before you visit as there’s very few information boards – there are no guided tours or audio guides available at the location.
■ Suitable footwear is a must as walkways throughout the castle are cobbled and sometimes uneven.
# Watch the sunset at Parco Virgiliano
Perched on top of Posillipo with breathtaking views of the Bay of Naples, Parco Virgiliano (the Park of Remembrance) is a rustic green oasis located in the perfect spot to watch the sun go down over the horizon.
From the sun drenched terraces, where locals can be found enjoying a card game and a few beers, you can soak up sweeping panoramas of the Gulf of Naples from Pozzuoli Bay all the way round to Mount Vesuvius, Sorrento and Capri. Uninterrupted views of some of the beautiful Phlegraean Islands including Ischia, Procida and Nisida act as the ideal sunset backdrop, turning into silhouettes as the burning ball of gas disappears at the end of a long hot summer day.
Accessible on a scooter or by car from the city centre in about 30mins (depending on the level of Neopolitan traffic) the most scenic route to the park is to hug the coast road Via Mergellina which turns into Via Posillipo. As with most Neapolitan parking situations, unless you’re on a scooter, in which case you can pull up anywhere, it’s a mystery how it works and how much it costs, so try to park on a side road if you’re in a car.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also reach Parco Virgiliano by jumping on bus route 140 which drops you outside Discesa Coroglio – Istituto Denza in Posillipo, leaving you just a short walk up the hill to the park’s entrance.
Good to know
■ Parco Virgiliano is a local’s park that’s a hidden secret to many tourists so it’s a little neglected with poor signage – the terraces with the best views are located at the back of the park.
■ As it’s a way out of Naples city centre, give yourself plenty of time to crawl through the crazy traffic to reach the park for sun down.
■ There is a snack shack located near the viewing terraces where you can grab an espresso, pistachios and even a beer to savour whilst taking in the views.
# See the antiquities inside Archaeological Museum
Crammed full of the world’s greatest collection of Greek and Roman artefacts including buried treasures from Pompeii and Herculaneum, the National Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli) is an absolute must-visit attraction in Naples.
Housed behind the beautiful pink facade of a 16th century cavalry barracks, the esteemed museum elegantly exhibits a Farnese collection of classical Greek sculptures including Hercules, bronzes from the Villa of the Papyri, recovered ancient mosaics, and even a secret room (Gabinetto Segreto) that’s full of erotic Roman pieces.
Throughout the museum’s marble floored white corridors and fresco covered rooms, visitors can get up close and personal with the vast collection of impressive artworks and ancient objects that date back before the fatal eruption of 79AD. There’s also a lovely internal courtyard and the enormous Grand Hall (Sala Meridiana) to explore that’s home an impressive floor sundial.
Located in Piazza Museo in the middle of the city, the museum is easily reachable on foot or by using Metro L1/L2 to stations: Museo or Piazza Cavour. Sightseeing Line A ‘hop on hop off’ buses also stop directly outside. Admission at the entrance currently costs €10 with reduced rates for many visitor types. Under-18’s, Erasmus students and students who study arts subjects get in for free.
Good to know
■ The National Archaeological Museum is a HUGE place so allow plenty of time to wander around (3 hours or more).
■ Due to COVID-19 restrictions some collections are currently closed so check what’s open before visiting.
■ Comfy shoes are a must as you’ll be doing lots of walking and there’s also a small cafe where you can grab a coffee.
■ Audio guides are useful as much of the signage throughout the museum is only in Italian.
# Eat a delicious ice cream from Il Gelato Mennella
When people think of Naples, they usually think of pizza, and rightly so, the Neopolitans invented it! However, after you’ve tasted the dreamy ice cream flavours made by Il Gelato Mennella, you too will add ice cream to that list. With three easily accessible shops located in the heart of the city; 2 shops down Via Toledo and 1 down Corso Umberto I, you’re never too far away from a deliciously creamy gelato.
Best of all, unlike other Italian cities such as Florence or Rome, where an ice cream can set you back a small fortune, Il Gelato Mennella’s prices are extremely good value and not at all aimed at making money from passing tourists (the mountains of ice cream shown in the pictures above only cost €2.50 each!)
Made from 100% natural ingredients including fresh local milk and cream, Il Gelato Mennella’s mouth watering flavours are a feast for the eyes behind the counter in every store and can be enjoyed in a freshly baked wafer cone (cono), tub (secchiello) or takeaway box (vaschetta da asporto).
Must-try ice cream flavours include Fior di Latte (flower of milk) which is a simple and delightfully creamy taste, Crema Mennella (peanut & almond), Mennella Rock (cookies and cream) and if you want to feel like a real Neapolitan, Pistacchio (pistachio).
Good to know
■ Ice cream scoops are always generous so unless you have a monstrous appetite ‘piccolo’ sizes (2 scoops) are recommended.
■ After paying for your order at a separate till (only at some stores), you simply wait your turn for your number to be called out which is printed on your receipt. Waiting times can be long but it’s a great place to watch and smell the skilled team making the delicious wafer cones!
# Climb to the crater of Mount Vesuvius
You can’t say you’ve honestly been to Naples until you have walked up the rocky red dust path of Mount Vesuvius and looked into its ominous, 230 meter deep crater for yourself.
At 1,281 metres above sea level, walking to Vesuvius’s crater (which can sometimes be spewing sulphur gases) is a gradual climb that takes around 30 minutes from the upper-level visitor car park. Offering spectacular 360° panoramic views as far as the eye can see of the Bay of Naples and its inhabitants down below, you can also walk part of the crater’s perimeter right at the very top.
In the cool air and stillness on Vesuvius’s summit (which can sometimes be in the clouds) you can sense the immense power of the active, but sleeping giant beneath your feet. Surprisingly, Mount Vesuvius last erupted in 1944 which puts it on the world’s most dangerous volcanoes list!
If you’re visiting the volcano on a day-trip from the city, you can drive or take a scruffy Circumvesuviana train from Naples Central station to Ercolano Scavi station. Out the front, you can buy tickets for Vesuvio Express which includes entrance to the volcano site and a return shuttle bus service, costing around €20 (cash only). The bus drives you up to the upper car park and waits around 90 minutes before returning. In the true Neapolitan style, Vesuvio Express buses rarely run on time and the service can be crude (but, it’s one of the cheapest and easiest options to get you there). There’s also a Sightseeing shuttle bus that runs daily from Naples city centre.
If you’re visiting Pompeii first, you can reach the volcano on a public EAV bus that picks up opposite Pompeii Scavi train station – look for the EAV srl sign. Return tickets cost around €6, dropping you off at the lower car park where you’ll then need to buy entry to Vesuvius National Park (around €10). Like with all local buses, timetables are a rough guide of service so be prepared to wait around at both ends. Busvia del Vesuvio also offers pricey tours directly from Pompeii up to Vesuvius that are worth a look.
Good to know
■ Due to COVID-19 restrictions, at the moment, entry to Vesuvius National Park can ONLY be purchased online and prices have increased – this also means that services that sell a combined entry+bus ticket such as Vesuvio Express have increased in price too.
■ Walking up to the crater is a must-do activity when visiting Naples – it can be a whole day event (after all the hassle of travelling) so plan your trip with enough time to visit.
■ Facilities on the volcano make it look like tourists really are not wanted – this is unfortunately the Neapolitan way. There are a few grim toilets which cost to use and a little bar at the top for refreshments.
■ Pick a clear day to walk up, wear covered shoes, take plenty of water and pack a jumper as it can be chilly at the top!
# Admire the opulence at the Royal Palace of Naples
Fronting onto Piazza del Plebiscito and adorned with 8 statues of kings of Naples, the Royal Palace of Naples (Palazzo Reale) gives you a real sense of what it was like to live like a royal in this rich and historic city.
As one of the four royal residences in Naples, the palace has a magnificently super-sized pink marble double-staircase (Scalone d’onore) and is lavishly decorated throughout with Gobelin tapestries, Empire furniture, gold chandeliers and impressive ceiling frescos.
Although quite a lot of rooms inside the palace are closed for restoration, you do get to freely explore the regal royal apartments, many luxurious chamber rooms, a ballroom and a throne room, that’s just dripping in gold. From many of the pretty palace windows, you also get to enjoy picturesque views of the lively piazza down below and glimpses of the Bay of Naples in the distance.
Admission to the grand palace costs a reasonable €6 with reduced rates available. The ticket office can be found through a poorly signposted, nondescript entrance that’s located on the left hand side through the main archway at the front of the palace. As a must-see tourist attraction in Naples, give yourself a few hours to really soak up the palace and admire its wonderful interiors. Information inside the Royal Palace of Naples is a little sparse, so audio guides are recommended.
Good to know
■ Guards sometimes stand at the archway entrance to the palace but don’t worry, you can walk straight past them to reach the ticket office.
■ Ticket prices are slashed by 50% an hour so before closing time which is worth waiting for. The palace is also free to visit on the first sunday of the month from October to March – due to COVID-19 this has currently been suspended.
■ Piazza del Plebiscito is possibly the best place in Naples to people watch, with the square often being used for military parades. So, grab yourself an ice cream from Via Toledo and enjoy some free entertainment!
# Have an espresso at Gran Caffé Gambrinus
Coffee in Naples is like a religion and there’s no better place to experience the city’s love of espresso than at Gran Caffé Gambrinus. Beautiful floor to ceiling frescos act as the backdrop to the Art Nouveau coffee bar where several times a day, locals zip in and out to quickly drink their espressos laced with sugar, giving them the much-needed caffeine hit they need to go about their business in the frenzied city.
Having a coffee in Naples is an experience unlike anywhere else in Italy or across the world. Not just in Gambrinus but across the city, proud baristas who look to have stepped back in time wear hats and aprons, churning out coffees at speed using traditional manual machines that require clockwork timing of pull-down levers to extract the dark stuff.
Visited in the past by the likes of Oscar Wilde, Gabriele D’Annunzio and Ernest Hemingway, Gambrinus has become the city’s most prestigious place to take a coffee. Situated close to the Royal Palace of Naples, just to the side of Piazza del Plebiscito, it’s the place to visit to experience the most authentic coffee culture in Naples (even if you’re not a coffee lover!).
Good to know
■ Online reviews for Gran Caffé Gambrinus are a mixed bag, with many tourists having a terrible experience. ALWAYS drink your coffee and eat your pastries at the bar, as prices are up to 300% more expensive if you are seated on the terrace or inside (espresso €1.20 at the bar vs €4+ on the terrace).
■ As with most coffee bars in Naples, you pay for your order at a separate till and then fight your way to the front of the bar with your receipt, ready to get served in the authentically abrupt Neapolitan way.
# Eat an authentically delicious Neapolitan pizza
As the birthplace of pizza (pizza Napoletana), Naples really does serve up the world’s best. Authentically made the same way for centuries by proud pizzaiuolo in their smart whites, a delicious Neapolitan pizza has a soft and puffy crust, a wet saucy centre and is topped with local mozzarella, fresh basil and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Ready in a lightning fast 90 seconds, this beautiful food is a true Neapolitan staple, that’s also enjoyed by locals folded into a calzone, deep fried (pizza frita) or sometimes even smothered in nutella for dessert. There’s even a Neapolitan Pizza Association that sets out traditional pizza standards! With over 800 pizzerias dotted down just about every street in the city, it’s far too easy to eat pizza three times a day.
Unlike most other travel guides that only seem to mention the touristy pizza restaurants such as L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba and Sorbillo, this post is all about recommending a few local joints that are definitely worth a try. At these pizzerias, prices are extremely reasonable, service is much more friendly and you definitely won’t have to wait in a queue.
Pizzeria e Trattoria Regina Vittoria: a true Neapolitan pizzeria with a rustically simple interior, that’s run by a proud and friendly owner called Pino. Pizzas are cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven (forno a legna) and are ridiculously good value. Located down Via S. Antonio a Capodimonte, which is not a touristy area, the restaurant is the perfect spot for a bite to eat after visiting the Capodimonte Museum.
Pizzeria Pavia: an authentic hidden gem, that’s tucked away on Via Solitaria behind Piazza del Pebiscito. Don’t judge this pizzeria’s exterior or basic interior when deciding where to eat, it’s pizzas are so delicious, Peroni beer is extra cold and the prices are unbelievably cheap considering you’re so close to the city centre (margherita costs just €3!).
Pizzeria Anni ’80: a funky little pizzeria that’s situated on the busy main road of Corso Duca d’Aosta Amedeo di Savoia which runs up to the Catacombs of San Gennaro. It’s a real local’s place that is extremely popular for takeaways. Pizzas are always very tasty, a very generous size and incredibly good value. The interior is an 80’s disco style which is rather entertaining and the place seems to be 100% female run and owned, which is really cool to see in Naples.
Good to know
■ If you can, try and stay away from the usual tourist-trap restaurants – all over the city, there are so many other great, local pizzerias where you money could be better spent (never judge a pizzeria by its looks!).
■ A service charge is very normal across pizzerias in Naples – expect to pay around €1 extra per pizza when dining in the restaurant.
■ When ordering you might get asked to upgrade to buffalo mozzarella (mozzarella di bufala) instead or normal mozzarella on your pizza – it usually costs a couple of extra euros and really isn’t worth it!
■ And finally, don’t expect for your pizza to be served sliced: Neapolitan pizzas are always served whole!
Where to hire a scooter in Naples
When it comes to renting a scooter in the crazy city, there’s only one place worth mentioning – Gallo Sprint. Located in the relaxed area of Santa Lucia, the friendly, family-run garage is just off Via Santa Lucia and is a quick five minute walk from Piazza del Plebiscito.
Customers are always welcomed in the true Neapolitan way by Mario or Luciano with a strong espresso and a smile. Highly recommended by many happy tourists, Gallo Sprint offers a colourful range of iconic Vespas that are perfect for zipping around the city and more powerful scooters that are great for longer journeys.
Rental agreements are straightforward with no hidden charges or deposits, with rates starting at around €50 per day (long-term rentals can be negotiated). Before riding off, the owners always make sure that you feel comfortable controlling the bike and may even take you on a complimentary tour around the backstreets so you can get to grips with the city’s bizarre one-way road systems!
Buzzing around Naples’s like a local on a scooter is incredibly good fun. Whizzing through the narrow cobbled streets you get to see the ‘real’ Naples and feel part of the beating city. There’s nothing quite like being part of a swarm of Vespas scooting chaotically together with some carrying 3 adults without helmets or even a sofa! Parking anywhere you can fit is also a thrilling experience after you get over the craziness of it the very first time.
Ideally, you need some guts and a little prior riding experience as Neapolitan roads can feel much like navigating the jam-packed roads of Delhi (just without the holy cows). A good rule to follow is to behave like a local, look out for yourself and your scooter and everything will be just fine.
In a city where it can sometimes feel hard knowing what businesses to trust, Gallo Sprint provides the best service and best scooter rentals in Naples, allowing you to get out there and discover the wonderful region!
General advice about Naples
Cash is king
Unlike most other European cities, local Neapolitans love to use cash when paying for coffee, pizzas, petrol and shopping, along with many other things.
Many local businesses and services DO NOT accept card payments, preferring coins and notes instead (you’ll spot the little trays on counters where you put your money when paying). Most tourist hotspots such as museums and major attractions do accept card payments but don’t rely on it.
There’s plenty of ATMs about so to avoid cash issues, take regular, small amounts out when you can.
There is a real rubbish (and graffiti) problem in Naples that doesn’t go unnoticed by many offended tourists.
A stereotype of the city, bins do regularly overflow and pile up everywhere, but it’s part and parcel of the city’s gritty personality. How the city deals with its waste does not take anything away from all the wonderful things you can see and do.
Graffiti and street art around the city has actually become a popular tourist attraction in itself with shrines to Maradona being a particular favourite. Many colourful murals and artworks cover crumbling buildings, adding some interesting sights to see.
Like every major city in the world, Naples’s has its good and bad areas and pickpockets will take an opportunity if given one.
Take extra caution at night in areas around Piazza Garibaldi (Naples’s main train station), the neighbourhood of Sanità and Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish quarter). Locals love fireworks so don’t be alarmed if you hear squealing rockets going off in the dark!
As long as you take good care of your belongings when wandering around or taking public transport, like you would do anywhere else, there really is nothing to worry about. Do keep an eye out when crossing roads as Neapolitans are famous for taking little notice of traffic lights!
There’s only one way to describe traffic in Naples: it’s insane.
A sort of road dance with very few rules, dented cars, noisy Vespas and deafening ambulances inch along the bumpy narrow streets, creating the background noise to Naples’s energetic atmosphere.
Whole families without helmets seem to somehow share a scooter whilst others ride tatty old Vespas with gas bottles precariously tucked under their feet.
It’s not a city to drive in for the faint-hearted but it’s one hell of an experience if you do, especially if you’re on a scooter!
Common questions about Naples
What’s the best way to get to the city from the airport?
The easiest and quickest way to get into Naples from the airport is to jump in a taxi using the busy rank by the arrivals entrance. Unless you speak fluent Italian, it’s extremely likely you’ll be overcharged by the driver (minimum €30 wherever you go!). To combat this, you could share the ride with other passengers you might meet or ask the accommodation you are staying in to arrange a taxi for you as they may get discounted rates (some lovely Airbnb hosts may also offer airport pick ups).
The cheapest way to reach the city centre is to jump on the Alibus Airport Shuttle, which runs every 20 mins or so and costs €5 one-way (purchased on-board). The shuttle picks up from a bus stop that’s located around 100 meters from the airport’s main entrance, and stops at three locations in the city: Piazza Garibaldi (close to Naples’s central train station) and ferry port gates of Porta di Massa and Porto di Molo Beverello. You can then walk or jump on a Metro line to your final destination.
Are attractions free to visit on the first Sunday of the month?
Yes, but only from October to March. As part of a government cultural initiative, all state owned museums and archeological areas across Naples are free to enter on the first Sunday of the month between October to March.
Due to COVID-19 this initiative has been suspended but this page on Napolike.com is regularly updated and lists attractions you can visit. Although you can save some money, free visitor days can create unbearable crowds. Remember that most attractions offer heavily reduced ticket prices for a wide range of visitors types (including age, students, time of entry) so it’s usually better to just visit them whenever you like anyway.
Where to stay in Naples?
With so many accommodation options available in and around Naples, it can be hard knowing which area to book, especially if you’ve never visited before. Different areas across the city suit different types of traveller with some areas being more relaxing or lively than others. Here’s a run-down on some of the areas across the city where you could book accommodation.
Chiaia: an affluent area that stretches from the seafront up towards Vomero hill, the Chiaia district is a cool spot that’s a hybrid of chaos and class. Accommodation prices can get expensive but it’s worth it for the views you get and for the amazing buildings you can stay in. If you can, try to book accommodation on the side near Piazza dei Martiri as this puts you in a great spot to be able to walk to most places easily across the city.
Santa Lucia: the area close to the seafront in between Piazza del Plebiscito and Castel dell’Ovo, Santa Lucia is an affluent area offering spectacular views of the bay and Vesuvius. Full of prestigious hotels, the area has plenty of bars and buzzing restaurants but is not overcrowded or noisy at night. As it’s a gentle stroll to the city centre, accommodation can be relatively expensive versus other parts of the city.
Sanita: stretching from behind Naples Archaeological Museum all the way up to the Capodimonte area, Sanita is a local’s area that’s packed full of some of the city’s most interesting history. Densely populated, the area has a gritty reputation but it’s a great place to stay where accommodation can be extremely cheap. Sanita is a big district so try to book accommodation towards the side of Piazza Cavour which is a shorter walk to the city centre.
Historic centre: right in the heart of Naples, located on its east side, the historic centre is a very lively, noisy and bustling area to stay in the city. Full of narrow streets, where laundry dangles from side to side, it’s the perfect spot where you can soak up the ‘real’ Naples and feel part of the busy city. You can easily access many major attractions and restaurants on foot and there’s always plenty of available accommodation that can be very good value.
Spanish quarter: much like the city’s historic centre (Centro Storico), it’s an area full of life offering an authentic Neapolitan city break experience. With lots of bars tucked away, it can get very noisy at night with local crowds. Accommodation in the Spanish quarter is one of the cheaper areas to book in the city but views can be very limited!
Vomero: the area located up on the hill where you can visit Castel Sant’Elmo, Vomero is a leafy and smart district that offers lots of magnificent views out across the Bay of Naples. More cosmopolitan and less frantic than downtown Naples, it’s connected by three funicular lines that you’ll need to use to wander the city (unless you hire transport). Accommodation prices can be a little more pricey, but it’s a much more relaxing area to stay.
Capodimonte: a hilltop district, in the north of the city, that’s home to the palatial Capodimonte Museum and Royal Park – the area is authentic to stay in but hiring a scooter (or a car) is definitely recommended as it’s a way out! Offering some great views and easy access to Catacombs of San Gennaro and Naples’s Capodichino airport, accommodation prices are reasonable however it’s a long walk down and back up from the city, which can get very sweaty on a hot summer day!
Mergellina: located over on the city’s west side in between the district of Chiaia and Posillipo, Mergellina is a lovely coastal area that’s a surprisingly inconvenient distance from Naples. Offering amazing views looking back towards Naples, unless you have access to transport or don’t mind walking along the Lungomare to reach the city, it’s not an ideal accommodation spot. Having said that, some visitors have commented that the distance from the sights was a minor issue compared with the beauty of Mergellina, especially at dusk!
How do you buy bus, Metro and funicular tickets in Naples?
Bus, Metro and funicular tickets can be purchased before travelling from the newspaper kiosks and tobacco shops that are located everywhere across the city. Most Metro and funicular stations also have self-service machines and manned booths.
Hourly tickets which can be used for up to 90 minutes of travel and daily tickets which can be used till midnight on the day of purchasing are the most common ticket types. Tickets must be validated before using a service.
Should I hire a car?
It’s strongly recommended that you DON’T hire a car when visiting/staying in Naples. With local traffic being more than manic and parking situations futile, hiring a car can quickly become a hassle that’s not needed during your trip.
You can easily visit all the major attractions on public transport or by tourist buses, with many local sights easily walkable within the city centre. If you fancy a real experience during your trip, hiring a Vespa can be good fun to explore the city or visit somewhere not far from town. But be warned, driving in Naples can be crazy!
Is there a Neapolitan dialect?
Yes, there definitely is. In Naples and the surrounding areas, many locals speak in a Neapolitan dialect, which is a form of Italian. Full of wonderful expressions and weird grammar rules, it can be hard to understand even if you already speak good Italian!
However, for tourists who visit the city, this is not a problem at all. Major tourist attractions, popular restaurants and bars always have staff who can speak English. If you speak Italian, you’ll be understood just fine too – you might even pick up some local slang! If you want to learn a few common Italian phrases before visiting Naples, this guide is for you.
Are there any local delicacies I should try?
There’s no better way to experience Naples than trying the city’s delicious food delicacies. Along with the obvious Neapolitan pizza and strong espresso, here are a few more you need to try.
Fried pizza: yes, this really is a thing. Stuffed full of toppings, folded in half and deep fried, pizza frita is very popular with locals and intrigued tourists. For an authentic experience, try Antica Pizza Fritta da Zia Esterina Sorbillo at the bottom of Via Toledo, which always has a queue out the door.
Sfogliatella: pronounced sfol-ya-tel-la, these crispy pastries are a true Neapolitan tradition. Best enjoyed warm with a cappuccino, they can be found with various sweet fillings in just about every counter across the city. Read this blog about where to find the best sfogliatelle.
Cuoppo: a paper cone filled with deep-fried local delicacies of the sea (di mare) or land (di terra), cuoppi are a classic Neapolitan street food. A must-try when visiting Naples, they are a great lunchtime bite that can be enjoyed on-the-go or sat down on the Lungomare rocks.
Where are the best photo spots in Naples?
The city is full of amazing photo opportunities. From scenic panoramas over the bay to narrow side streets glimpses that capture everyday life, it’s hard not to be looking through your phone every step you wander.
The four areas listed below have a what3words location so you can pinpoint some of the city’s most recommended photo spots.
Capodimonte Royal Park – ///tent.bravo.goodbye
Castel Sant’Elmo – ///deadline.ballots.victory
Santa Lucia waterfront – ///arriving.torches.elevated
Via Ottavio Morisani – ///animated.figs.navy
Written by Mike the Freelancer
Hey, I’m Mike – a digital marketer with a love of Naples.
Having lived in the crazy city for a few months and visited countless times, it’s a place that just keeps drawing me back. The Grand Tour travellers used to say ‘see Naples and die’ and I think they couldn’t have been more right! Naples is unlike anywhere else in the world and somewhere you have to experience.
I wrote this travel guide to help people discover a few more things to do in Naples, outside of the usual touristy spots. It’s always good fun finding out about amazing local hotspots and experiencing them for yourself. I hope the general advice and ‘good to know’ tips will also be useful when you visit.
Happy & safe travels 🙂