Ah – the beautiful chaos of Napoli! I’m in love with this city.
Did you know that Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world?? Bronze Age Greek settlements were established in the second millennium BC.
|lovers and families in Naples|
Naples is gritty and raw, and a bit dirty. It is also fast, sexy and very exciting.
This beautiful city is the gateway to the more refined and subdued Amalfi Coast, the main access point to the incredibly chic Capri, the spa-like island of Ischia, and to one of the 10 most colorful places on earth, the gorgeous and quaint little island of Procida. Her suburbs include Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Naples is a heartbeat city. Alive, vibrant and fun, a city you absolutely need to experience.
On foot. Even with all the miles I have racked up driving the length and breadth of Italy and Sicily you couldn’t pay me to drive in the madness that is Naples. Even on a scooter.
A vacation on the Amalfi Coast needs at least a day devoted to Napoli. But once you’ve spent a day in Naples you will leave itching to get back for more. A week wouldn’t be enough time to see it all in Naples!
Here are 8 Things You Must Do In Naples.
1. Drink Coffee.
Italy has the best coffee in the world, and Naples has the best coffee in all of Italy. Start your day in Naples with a quick caffe or macchiato, and then stop throughout the day to get refueled.
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Neopolitan coffee is very, very strong. It tastes like no other coffee on earth. In a way, it ruins you, because after coffee in Napoli every coffee you drink pales by comparison. Just don’t go past 9 in one day…
News articles have told of unfortunates who drank ten espressi in one day and keeled over dead as a result.
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2. Walk Spaccanapoli
Spaccanapoli, literally split Naples, is a perfectly straight street that dates back 2000 years to Greek times. It runs right through the heart of Naples’ historic center.
Walking Spaccanapoli you experience a sensory overload of everything you’ve ever thought Naples to be. It is narrow and vertical, built up high with fantastic old buildings. At street level it is teeming with life, a visual explosion of shops and people and restaurants, and, well, life!
The sounds of Spaccanapoli are wonderful and loud. Neopolitans don’t talk, they shout. And gesture, and emote. They are wonderful!
Don’t forget to look up and see the laundry strung out across the street, drying in the coastal breeze.
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3. Eat Baba.
This light as air cake is smothered in a rum syrup. Or maybe it’s pure rum? Who knows – I could swear I got a little buzz from it.
Either way Baba is a must.
4. Walk and walk and walk.
This is definitely not a city to view from a bus window. Hit the street and make a circuit from the train station down past the university, cut through to the Plaza Plebiscito, walk up through San Carlos, the mall Galleria Umberto and see the exquisite Buildings being restored to their former elegance.
From there head up to Spaccanapoli, a lone, narrow road that literally splits Naples in half. There is so much to see here! Santa Chiara and it’s amazing cloisters, the cathedral of San Gregorio Armeno and via San Gregorio Armeno where you can buy the world famous presepi.
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These are nativity scenes and individual items from nativity scenes which are an integral part of the Italian Christmas. Every home has one.
They are not just the 3 Wise Men and Jesus in the manger, the Neopolitan presepi include everyone who lives in the village. They are so detailed and spectacular and special!You can buy entire nativity scenes to bring home, or individual Christmas decoration pieces.
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One thing I found amazing about spending time in Campania in December was the presepi set up on random little streets by members of the community, replete with hundreds of individual pieces, some of them very very old.
|part of a presepi outside on the street in Salerno|
No one stole any pieces, no one damaged any of it, stray cats didn’t knock anything over. They were just there for everyone to enjoy. I can’t imagine one lasting one night here in America.
5 Visit subterranean Napoli.
Beneath the heart of the espresso-fueled madness of the city is a geothermal zone called Campi Flegrei, full of fascinating tunnels, catacombs and caves, galleries, Roman roads, early Christian burial sites, frescoes and mosaics. Take a tour and see the galleries the Romans used for their engineering works, see ruins of a Roman theater and typical Neopolitan houses called basso.
After the volume life is lived at up above you will welcome the almost silence here below.
6 Visit The Veiled Christ
The Veiled Christ at Cappella Sansevero will take your breath away.
How on earth did Giuseppe Sammartino do that?
Sculpted in marble in 1753, the veiled Christ is considered to be one of the world’s sculptural masterpieces. The veil actually brings out the body even more than a regular sculpture (did that make sense?), the shroud or veil adhering perfectly to his form, somehow making Jesus’ suffering and the pain in his face palpable.
Don’t be surprised if this statue brings you to tears. And don’t miss it if you are in the Naples area. ( the Cappello Sansavero is closed on Tuesdays, so work your entire trip around being in Naples on any other of the 6 days of the week).
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7 Visit The Caravaggios.
Caravaggio lived and painted for a little less than 4 years in Naples. After murdering a man in Malta he returned to Naples, where he in turn was murdered to avenge the Maltese.
Of the three remaining Caravaggios in Napoli, perhaps the most spectacular is the Seven Acts Of Mercy, a life sized dark and chaotic piece housed in Pio Monte Della Misericordia.
This is art historian Andrew Graham Dixon’s favorite painting by his favorite painter. Hearing him speak about it, or reading his book on Caravaggio (A Life Sacred And Profane) will turn you too into a devotee. If you only see one Caravaggio while you are in Naples, make it this one.
8 Eat Pizza
Of course you know you have to eat pizza in Naples! This is the best pizza in the world.
A couple of notes on Napoli
The best way to arrive and depart Napoli is by sea.
I have arrived by overnight ferry from Sicily at 6 in the morning, and I have sailed to Sicily from Naples as the sun was going down.
The Bay of Naples is really beautiful.
Arriving by car or by train you have to traverse endless awful suburbs crawling with run-down housing projects that bring to mind every mafia story you have ever heard. It can be unnerving.
First impressions stay with you forever, so make your first view of Naples be the staggeringly beautiful view from the bay as your boat arrives. You will see the city, the mountains, and Vesuvius lazing menacingly to the side.
|watching the sun set over Naples from the deck of our boat|
Leave your jewels behind, or if you have to bring them with you, don’t wear them in Naples. Naples is known for having wily pickpockets and con artists who excel at separating tourists from their diamond rings and Rolex.
The police have cleaned things up massively, so crime is down, but don’t tempt fate.
I was always told to wear a cross-body bag in Naples so that boys racing past on scooters couldn’t grab it and be in the wind.
I haven’t had any problems there, and haven’t seen anything going on, but may err on the side of caution.
I met the most fantastic people in Naples. Loud, gregarious, warm, fun and friendly – I can’t wait to go back.