One of the things budget travelers to Italy tend to look for are free things to do in any given city. While it’s true that you’re not going to spend as much on activities and attractions as you will on airfare or accommodation, mixing in free things to do with some of the more expensive attractions can definitely help keep your overall vacation costs down.
The thing is, a city like Naples is – relatively speaking – pretty cheap to visit overall, so it’s not as critical to arrive in Naples armed with a list of free attractions as it might be in a more expensive city like Venice, Rome, or Milan. Still, it’s nice to know that there are some free things to do in Naples, in case you’re saving your remaining euro for one last pizza.
Here, then, is a list of the free things to do in Naples, as well as some of the cheap things to do in Naples.
Always Free Naples
- Wandering the Historic Center – As is the case in Venice, just wandering in the historic center of the city is one of my favorite Naples activities. And it’s 100% free (except for any snacks you buy along the way, of course).
- Browse “Christmas Alley” – This is part of wandering the historic center, but I wandered for quite awhile before I found the famous Via San Gregorio Armeno (I was going map-less), so I wanted to point it out so you don’t miss it. Naples is famous for for the local craftsmen who make nativity scenes, so their shops – open year-round – are a fun way to experience Christmas anytime.
- Gesù Nuovo Church – This enormous church on the Piazza del Gesù is a converted former 15th century palazzo (hence the odd un-church-like exterior). The interior is very much a church, however, and all ornate Baroque.
- Cloister of Santa Chiara Monastery – Also on the Piazza del Gesù is the Santa Chiara Monastery, which is particularly noted for its beautiful majolica-covered 18th century cloister and garden. It’s being restored, but it’s open during the restorations so you can still visit.
- Duomo – Naples’ main cathedral, or Duomo, was actually once two churches put together – Santa Restituta and and Santa Stefania. Santa Restituta is the only historic church that remains (and it dates from the 4th century, making it the oldest church in the city), but the Duomo surrounding it was started in the 12th century. This is also the church that holds vials of the blood of San Gennaro (Naples’ patron saint) that’s said to miraculously liquefy twice each year. Inside the Duomo is the Chapel of San Gennaro, which contains the saint’s head as well as the vials of blood.
- Castel dell’Ovo – The “Egg Castle” is one of two castles in Naples, but this one is (partly) free to enter. The city’s Ethno-Prehistory Museum, housed inside the Castel dell’Ovo, is what’s free to get into, and you’ll get a feel for some of the castle interior there. Other parts of the castle are taken up by other exhibits, and the entry fee varies depending on the exhibit. Note that the Ethno-Prehistory Museum isn’t always open, so you might want to check at the Naples tourism office first.
- Visit the “Doll Hospital” – This “hospital” looks like any other shopfront in the historic center of Naples, except it’s a 4th-generation doll repair shop. The “Ospedale delle Bambole” is wall-to-wall doll parts, and definitely worth a peek.
- Museum of Human Anatomy – Who doesn’t love the idea of a whole museum with wax replicas of human organs? Not only do you get to see early 19th century wax models of thins like kidneys, stomachs, and bladders, you also get an entire museum section for “malformations” – including a one-eyed head and a two-faced head – preserved in alcohol. The squeamish need not apply.
- Museum of the Sea – The “Museo del Mare” is a treasure trove of historic instruments used to navigate on the ocean, as well as a whole section dedicated to documents like historic maps and atlases.
- Museum of Musical History – The music conservatory in San Pietro a Majella houses a museum full of antique musical instruments, and if you’re even more musically-interested the conservatory also has a library of material related to composers who lived in Naples.
Almost Free Naples
- Basement of the Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore – The Roman ruins underneath the San Lorenzo Maggiore church are exceptional, and include a Roman street and several buildings that are still intact (including a bakery and a laundry). Entry is only €4.
- National Archaeological Museum – At €6.50 for a ticket to get in, this may not seem like something that’s a great bargain attraction in Naples. But for what you get to see for that €6.50, it’s a steal. This is Italy’s premier archaeological museum, and it’s crammed with all kinds of goodies that were excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Also note that if you’re planning to visit other archaeological sites in the region – including the Phlegraean Fields or the Archaeological Park at Cuma – there’s a combo-ticket you can buy for €8.50 that’s good for three days at five sites.
- Eat the Local Specialites – Naples is the home of pizza, and you can get a mind-alteringly good pizza at any number of places in the historic center for under €5. Other local delicacies that are also cheap eats are the flaky sfogliatella pastries and all the various deep-fried snack foods many pizza places sell at street-side windows.
- Palazzo Reale – This palace – the Royal Palace, to translate the Italian – dates from the 17th century and once served as one of the homes used by the Bourbon royalty in the mid-18th century through the mid-19th century. It’s only €4 to visit.
- University Museums – The university in Naples is one of the oldest in Europe (it was founded in the early 13th century), and these days it’s home to more than just a bunch of students. It also houses four museums, each of which is extremely cheap to enter. There’s the Zoological Museum, the Anthropological Museum, the Minerals Museum, and the Paleontology Museum. The cost for one museum is only €2.50, two museums is €3.50, and to get into all four it’s €4.50.
- National Railway Museum of Pietrarsa – This railway museum is outside the city of Naples, but if you’ve got a train enthusiast (or a kid) in your travel group it might be worth the trip. It’s between Naples and Portici (near the “Pietrarsa” train station, hence the name), and is the first museum in Italy devoted entirely to trains. It’s €5 to get in, free to kids 6 and under.
- Astronomical Observatory – A visit to the observatory on the Capodimonte requires a reservation and you’ll pay a small fee (not that I can find out exactly what it costs, thanks to a largely unhelpful website), but if you’re into astronomy it may well be worth it. The observatory’s position overlooking the city also affords pretty views of Naples, too.
photo by Zingaro. I am a gipsy too.