While there are guidebooks that will tell you to spend the night elsewhere in Campania and take one day-trip into Naples to check out the city’s famous museum, I’ll tell anyone who asks me that Naples deserves a few days of any trip that includes southern Italy. I understand why people might be inclined to spend less time there, but there’s plenty to do and see in Naples to keep a traveler busy – not to mention enough fabulous food to keep a traveler stuffed.
>> Pressed for time? Here are my suggestions for the top 10 things to do in Naples.
>> Need to make every euro count? Here are some free things to do in Naples.
>> And for a few of the more odd sights in the city, check out this list of weird attractions in Naples, too.
>> If you’d prefer to hire someone to show you around, let me recommend this local tour guide in Naples.
What to Do in Naples
Here’s an overview of the main things to do in Naples, but there’s plenty more to see and do in this enormous city.
- National Archaeological Museum – Naples’ most famous sight is its national museum, which is where you’ll find all the goodies found (and removed from) Pompeii and Herculaneum, including frescoes, mosaics, and statues.
- Historic Center – The historic center of Naples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is an extraordinary network of ancient Greek and Roman roads, absolutely overflowing with modern life. Notice that the famous Spaccanapoli isn’t the only street that cuts through the old center.
- Naples Underground – It’s hard to dig a hole throughout much of Italy without finding evidence of centuries past, and the ground underneath Naples’ historic center – full of Roman ruins – has been described as Swiss cheese.
- Capella dei Sansevero – This chapel may be small, but the Veiled Christ statue at its center is one of the most incredible works of sculpture you’re likely to see anywhere. Plus, there’s the semi-creepy “Bodyworlds”-esque basement exhibit.
- Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo – Don’t let the weird facade fool you, the interior of this huge church on the Piazza del Gesù is all about the ornate Baroque.
- Chiesa di San Lorenzo Maggiore – Aside from the church itself, it’s what’s in the basement that’s probably the biggest draw. The church has its own collection of Roman ruins underground, where you can walk along Roman streets and in and out of still-standing rooms.
- Capodimonte Museum – Naples’ top-notch collection of primarily Italian paintings, including Titian and Bellini.
- Palazzo Reale – The 17-18th century palace once used by the Bourbon royal family now houses a library, museum, theatre, and offices.
- Piazza Bellini – While the piazza itself is meh, you’ll want to check out the big hole in the ground offering a glimpse of not Roman but Greek ruins.
- Teatro San Carlo – This opera house is the oldest one in Europe that’s been in continuous use; it opened in 1737.
- Duomo – The Duomo is Naples’ main cathedral (though the city’s full of churches), and is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, San Gennaro. Twice a year, a vial of San Gennaro’s blood in the Duomo is said to liquefy (if it doesn’t it means bad luck for Naples).
- Basilica di San Francesco di Paola – This 19th-century church may be new compared to other Naples sights, but it’s an interesting building on Piazza Plebiscito that resembles Rome’s famous Pantheon – with collonaded “arms” reminiscent of St. Peter’s Square.
- Castel dell’Ovo – The name means “egg castle,” but it’s not egg-shaped. There is a magical egg in the legend of the founding of this 15th century castle, however.
- Castel Nuovo – This castle dates from the 13th century and was the site of both a Papal resignation and the subsequent Papal election just a few years after it was completed.
- Castel Sant’Elmo – Sitting on a hill overlooking Naples, this castle was started in the 14th century on the site of a 10th-century church dedicated to Sant’Erasmo (which later became Sant’Elmo).
- Piazza Plebiscito – Naples’ largest piazza, it’s bordered by the Palazzo Reale and the Basilica di San Francesco di Paola.
What to Eat in Naples
Everywhere you go in Italy there are local specialties you should make it a point to try, but in Naples eating is practically a tourist attraction.
- Pizza – This is the city that gave birth to one of the most famous Italian foods on earth, and while you may think you’ve had good pizza elsewhere you haven’t really lived until you’ve had pizza from one of the true pizzerias in Naples.
- Pastries – Next to pizza, the best-loved foodstuffs in Naples are its pastries. Perhaps the most famous (and challenging to say) is the sfogliatella (zfohl|yah|TELL|ah), a multi-layered confection filled with flavored ricotta and dusted with powdered sugar that dates to the 17th century.
- Fried Stuff – Neapolitans fry everything. Seriously. Just as a pizzeria is a restaurant serving mainly (if not only) pizza, a friggitoria is a place where you’ll find a wide array of deep-fried goodies, including what could be the perfect marriage of two of Naples’ favorite foods – pizza fritta or fried pizza.
Day Trips from Naples
If you’re spending more than a couple days in Naples and want to venture beyond the historic city center, there are lots of great day-trip options you can take advantage of.
- Pompeii – One of Italy’s most famous attractions, Pompeii is a really easy day-trip from Naples.
- Herculaneum – The often-overlooked Herculaneum is, in some ways, more interesting to visit than Naples; you can do both in one day.
- Paestum – Tired of Roman ruins? Paestum has some of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world, dating from the 6th century B.C.E.
- Islands – There are three islands just off the coast of Naples that each make nice day trips. Ischia is the largest, Capri is perhaps the most well-known, and Procida is the smallest and probably the most overlooked.