Napoli travel guide

napoliNaples (Italian: Napoli, Neapolitan: Napule), in Italy, is the capital of the Campania region.

The city is the third most populated municipality (city proper) of Italy, but the second metropolitan area, after Milan. It was founded between the 7th and 6th centuries BC by the Greeks and was named Neapolis, which means new city. The historic centre of Naples has earned the UNESCO World Heritage Site denomination. It has one of the biggest historical city centres in the world, and its pride are the 448 historical and monumental churches, the highest number in the World for a single city.
You will find a vibrant city with plenty to see and do, a city where the large influx of tourists like in Rome, Venice, Florence etc… have not happened (for now) and have thus allowed the city to retain much of its original culture, allowing you to visit a hidden gem just 2 hours south of Rome. Its territory, particularly the iconic sight of the gulf of Naples (but also Mount Vesuvius, the music, etc. ) is arguably one of the most powerful symbolic images of Italy.

Districts

Naples is a huge city with several district articles containing sightseeing, restaurant, nightlife and accommodation listings — have a look at each of them.

Naples used to be divided into 30 quartieri (neighbourhoods), however today these neighbourhoods don’t hold much administrative use but are still used by locals to refer to parts of the city. Nowadays the city is divided into 10 municipalities. However this page will divide Naples into 5 districts and regions on the point of view of the traveller.

Central Naples

Centro Storico (Historic Centre)
A labyrinth of history built in several layers of one period over the other and Naples prime tourist attraction. With excellent pizzerias, barouque churches, underground greco-roman ruins, famous streets like Spaccanapoli with shops selling traditional Neapolitan nativity figures, mozzarella, costumes and souvenirs and a vibrant night-life and atmosphere makes this free-of-charge living museum a must see among the must sees of Naples.
Agnano
A volcanic crater famed and favoured by the Romans and the Greeks for its hot springs, now one of the centers of Neapolitan fun with one of the city’s largest discos and one of the biggest sporting centres of Naples. Also to be found within the area are thermal baths, ruins of Roman baths, la Grotta del Cane a mofetta and home to numerous vulcanic phenomenons and the Astroni crater a WWF oasis.
Posillipo and Chiaia
With Roman ruins both on land and underwater, the famous view of Naples, a walk by the sea with dark blue water contrasting with seagulls perched on white skerries, Norman castle Castel dell’Ovo, barouque churches, palaces and gardens make this one of Naples’ most charming destinations.
Arenella and Vomero
A nice neighbourhood dotted with trees, more churches and castles and villas.
San Carlo all’Arena
Nice neighbourhood with piazze a graveyard and the largest monumental palace of Naples, the Ospedale L’Albergo Reale dei Poveri (Bourbon Hospice for the Poor).

Understand

Both Naples and the locally Italian Napoli are acceptable; either way, it’s a derivative of the ancient Greek name Neapolis, which means new city. The Greeks first established the city and inhabited the region long before Roman times.

The most widely spoken language in Naples is Italian or a mixture of Italian and Napulitano (Neapolitan). Neapolitan is sometimes described as an Italian dialect, but may be considered a separate and sometimes unintelligible language. Neapolitan does not enjoy any official status, but it does have a rich literary tradition and it is still thriving in Campania and adjacent parts of Lazio, Abruzzo, Basilicata, Molise and Calabria. This said, the official language of Naples (as of all of Italy) is Italian and everyone speaks it. Neapolitan has strong Spanish and French influences originating from their occupation of the area. Therefore, more Spanish and French words are understood by the locals than in other parts of Italy. English is the most commonly spoken foreign language, although the average knowledge of English is far from excellent.

Get in

By plane

Naples is served by Naples Airport, also known as Capodichino Airport.

From the airport you can take a bus for €3 (called Alibus) which has two stops only: Stazione Centrale (Central station) and Piazza Municipio, near the main ferry port (molo Beverello). You can buy your ticket on the bus. Further connections are listed on this page of the official website of the airport. Some notes: The Alibus ticket is €4 if you buy it from the driver on the bus. Save €1 by purchasing it in the airport or at the Stazione Centrale from one of the shops. Note also that the Stazione Centrale stop is not right outside the train station – it’s about 200m or so down Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi. Exit the train station by the McDonalds, cross the street (Corso Novara) and head down the unnamed pedestrian street that parallels Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi (avoid the folks selling questionably obtained iPads). The bus stop will be on your left.

If you have time to spare, you can take the 3S bus that will take you to the same stops as the Alibus for a cheaper price. The difference is that the Alibus has limited stops but the 3S will take you to the backstreets leading to the Stazione continuing all the way to the port and a shopping district. Also, the Alibus is airconditioned whereas most 3S buses are not.

Beware of illegal, unauthorized taxis and of anyone who may approach you directly. Authorized taxis are clearly visible at the exit; fixed fares exist for a number of destinations, and must be clearly shown in the cab. Make sure they are before getting on the cab and threaten to call the police (“polizia”) should the taxi driver try to push back.

By train

The main station is Napoli Centrale – Piazza Garibaldi Station, connected to the Naples subway system. The buses R2 or 601 from the Piazza Garibaldi in front of the train station will take you within three blocks of the ferries at Stazione Marittima. Other stations include Mergellina, a magnificent Art Déco building and Campi Flegrei. The costs of trains from / to Rome vary a lot, ranging from a 10.50€ 3-hour regional train to 1-hour 10-minute high speed FrecciaRossa starting. The new high speed train Italo (provided by the private company NTV) offers competitive prices (booking in advance the price can be just 19€).

By boat

Cruise ships dock at Stazione Marittima, a large terminal located right in the city center, near Piazza Municipio.

  • MedMar Group operates several large ferry/passenger ships that connect Naples with Sardinia (Olbia), Corsica (Porto-Vecchio), Tunisia (Tunis), and the Aeolian Islands. These trips usually leave in the late afternoon or evening and arrive at their destination the next morning.
  • Tirrenia Navigazione operates an overnight ferry service that has two separate routes, one to Sardinia (Cagliari) and the other to Sicily (Palermo).

By car

Naples is directly connected with Rome by the A1 highway, and the trip takes generally less than 2 hours. Due to traffic jam and parking shortage in city center, it’s advisable to leave your car in a parking lot near the motorway exit or your accommodation, and to use public transportation

By bus

Many national and international private bus services operate in Naples, generally stopping at Piazza Garibaldi or Piazza Municipio.

Get around

Be forewarned: Traffic in Naples may be extremely heavy, just to compare: very similiar to New York’s. Traffic around the train station is nuts. Before attempting to cross the street, observe the locals. The idea is to spot a gap in the traffic and start across and hopefully people will stop.

There are several ways to see Naples and the surrounding area. These include by taxi, train/subway, bus.

Taxis are the quickest way to see Naples, but also the most expensive. Before getting into a taxi, make sure it is licensed. Licensed taxis will have a city crest on the door and a taxi number. Also, make sure it has a meter. By law, licensed taxis must display a list of pre-agreed fares in a number of languages (Italian, English, French, German, Spanish). Check the presence of such fares and agree to them before starting the journey.

You will be surprised how easily you can get around by foot, too. Interesting spots are almost on every corner and most distances – especially in the (historic) centre – are small and can easily be walked in a matter of minutes.

By public transportation on land

It is fairly difficult to get a clear picture of the public transportation system in Naples, since different lines are operated by different companies. Nonetheless, one can buy a daily pass for € 3,60 valid on all vehicles. With a € 1,30 ticket, instead, you can travel for 90 minutes on as many lines as you want (Bus, subway, funicolare). This pass is under the Unico Campania banner which has great integrated maps of the various lines in the city on their website.

  • Metropolitana di Napoli. There are three lines of underground subway in Naples. Many subway stations are regarded as fine examples of contemporary architecture and artistic urban decoration, being part of the Stazioni dell’Arte project. They are generally safer than the other public transport, because they are always monitored by cameras and security officers. But the subway does not run frequently, so do not rely on it if you are in a hurry. The most important ones:
  • Linea 1, built recently, connects the city center to the hill quarters, like Vomero and the hospitals area.
  • Linea 2, much older, connects the three main train stations to Pozzuoli. The tracks are shared with the ordinary railway
  • Linea 6, a new light subway connecting Fuorigrotta to Mergellina.
  • Funicolare. The subway company also operates four cable cars: three of them connect the city center to Vomero, the last connects Mergellina to Posillipo.
  • Trams. ANM operates two tram lines (1 and 4), of which one goes along the shore of Santa Lucia – Castelnuovo – Garibaldi (Central Station).
  • Buses. ANM also operated all bus lines within Naples, most of which are circular. Naples suffers from a serious problem of traffic jam and usually buses are overcrowded, so if you can (unless in the evening or on the weekend) try to avoid them. Another point to note is that unlike in Rome, tickets are not sold on buses. The bus company assigns staff to check if a passenger has a ticket. The staff members are notorious for targeting at tourists who are unfamiliar with the ticket-selling system. Once they see the tourists get into a bus, they will ask to see a ticket. No matter how much you explain, they will insist on getting your passport first and then requiring you to pay a penalty of 41.2 Euro. If you do not pay, they will threaten to call the police. Again, if you can, try to avoid taking a bus.

There are three different regional train services that operate in Naples and the surrounding areas. They are listed here:

  • Circumvesuviana. The Circumvesuviana railway operates from “Napoli Porta Nolana – Corco Garibaldi” and stops at the lower level of the central train station at Piazza Garibaldi and has six routes that service the local Naples area. One route goes from Naples to Sorrento with several stops in between, including Ercolano (Herculaneum) and Pompei Scavi (Pompeii) for the ruins. Another route travels around Vesuvius. Other routes go to Acerra and Nola-Baiano. The Circumvesuviana website has more information on timings, routes and cost of tickets.
  • Cumana. This railline that operates from Montesanto in Naples and follows the coastline for approximately 20 km before ending in Torregaveta (Bacoli). The Cumana runs the urban centres of Montesanto, Fuorigrotta, Bagnoli, Pozzuoli, Arco Felice, Baia, Fusaro before reaching Torregaveta.
  • Circumflegrea. This railline also starts in Montesanto and ends in Torregaveta. However, it runs along the western edge of Naples through the districts Soccavo, Pianurat, Quarto Flegreo, Licola and Cuma. It also approximately seven kilometers longer than the Cumana. because the Cumana and Circumflegra start and end in the same places one can quickly transfer from one train to the other. Both services are owned and operated by the same company and more information can be found at the S.E.P.S.A website.
  • Regional Trains. In Addition to the aforementioned trains, Trenitalia operates regional trains from Naples to Salerno.

By ferry/hydrofoil

There are several ferry/hydrofoil services that connect Naples and local ports/islands. Ferry and hydrofoil services leave from either Molo Beverello, Mergellina or Pozzuoli. Some then of them are listed here:

  • Metro del Mare has several lines that connect Naples and Sapri; Bacoli and Salerno and Sorrento; Monti di Procida and Salerno; and, Amalfi and Sapri. Besides the main stops the ferry service also connects many smaller communities. The Metro di Mare webpage has schedules, timetables and location of ticket counters.
  • L.N.G. has a hydrofoil service that connects Naples with the island of Capri, along with Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi. Schedules and timings can be found on its website.
  • AliLauro has a hydrofoil service that connects Naples with the islands of Ponza, Ventotene, Prochida, Ischia, Capri and Eolie, and the towns of Formia, Castellamare, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Salerno. Alilauro operates from both the Molo Beverello and Mergelina.
  • L.N.P. operates both hydrofoil and boats lines. It connects Naples with Sorrento and has other lines connecting Capri, Sorrento, Castellamare, Salerno, AMalfi and Positano. Schedule and timings can be downloaded from the L.N.P. website.

See

In Naples, some may find the actual conditions of many buildings and streets, and the rampant graffiti, off-putting. Others claim this is “the immense character and culture of Napoli…and even the dirt and grime has its own flavor…a Neapolitan recipe for reality, and great fun”. Naples’ peculiarity is that the city centre is not the elegant part of the city. Just do not expect in the city centre the pristine conditions of many other major European cities, since the historical centre, unlike most European cities, is not the “downtown”. If you want to visit the elegant part of the city, you can walk around the wonderful lungomare (the Riviera di Chiaia or Via Francesco Caracciolo), and visit Via dei Mille and Vomero hill (main shopping areas).

Most sites in Campania (including Pompeii) accept the Campania Card for tourists (free entry). Some cards also include a pass for the local public transportation.

Note: Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Castel Sant’Elmo, the Certosa and Museum of San Martino and the museum Duca di Martina can be visited FREE of cost until 31 May 2011 (timing restrictions might apply)

  • Castel dell’Ovo at Porto Santa Lucia Naples’ known port with the Egg Castle on a small peninsula. The castle currently houses the Museum of Prehistory.
  • Castelnuovo (Maschio Angioino) A huge medieval castle at the shore which houses the main city museum featuring various collections, but most importantly a picture gallery (with focus on 19th Century Italian painting). From the roof, you can get one of the best views of the city.
  • Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte – Napolitan National Gallery, a must-see! Displays the Burgia, Farnese and Borbon collections with mainly Renaissance and Baroque Italian painting. Among the famous artists on display: Caravaggio, Tizian, Giovanni Bellini, Annibale Caracci, de Ribera and Giordano. A beautiful park surrounds the museum.
  • Museo Archeologico Nazionale – It is the biggest roman architectural museum in the World, even bigger than the National Museum of Rome. Its collection is astonishing both considering the quality and the quantity of the objects on display. Naples Archeological Museum houses wall paintings and different objects removed from Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other excavation sites in the area. In addition, you can admire the Farnese collection of Roman sculptures (including the famous sculptures of the Caracala Baths). €9.00 for admission. European citizens pay € 6.5, children get in for free. If you are a EU-citizen, under 25 or over 60, you can get in for the reduced price of €3.25. There is also an audio guide available talking about the statue collection on the first floor, however most of the amazing artifacts such as original Roman murals of mostly Greek mythologies are not covered. All descriptions of the exhibits are in English and in Italian. It is a must-see, an incredible collection of artifacts. The Museum also contains the well signposted “secret room” containing the erotic sculptures, paintings and murals from Pompeii. Daily: 9:00 to 19:30 (closed: Tuesdays, 1st January, 1st May, 25th December).
  • View of Mergellina (from via Orazio or via Petrarca)
  • Certosa di San Martino A Carthusian monastery at the top of a hill near the city centre. It houses the Museum of City History.
  • Parco Virgiliano A nice park with a stunning view of the surrounding area. It is about half an hour off the city centre, but certainly worth the effort! Not to be confused with the Park in which Virgil’s Tomb is found.
  • Piazza del Gesù and Piazza S.Domenico Maggiore The New Jesuite Church is among the most extravagant Baroque churches in the world! Across the street you will find the Santa Chiara Monastery. It is worth a visit for its beautiful garden decorated with frescos and coulorful columns. If you continue towards S. Domenico Square you will pass by the St Angelo on the Nile Church with its Donatello’s altar. The Sansevero Chapel nearby is also well known for its marble sculptures of veiled figures.
  • Napoli Sotterranea Underneath San Lorenzo Maggiore medieval church.You can witness the remains of the Roman city. The tunnels served as shelters during WWII.
  • Castel Capuano
  • Castel Sant’Elmo
  • Catacombe di San Gennaro Medieval catacombs on Capodimonte hill.
  • Quadreria dei Girolamini A beautiful small picture gallery mainly of Italian Baroque painting and some works of famous De Ribera. Free of charge and just across the street from the Duomo.
  • Duomo Naples’ main church with two luxurious chapels. Underneath it you can find excavation of a Roman site. Near the duomo you can find the St. Gennaro Treasury Museum, with arts exhibits from the duomo and another heavily frescoed chappel.
  • Pio Monte della Misericordia A church and a picture gallery both belonging to an old charity organisation. The gallery mainly displays Napolitan Baroque paintings.
  • Teatro San Carlo Naples’ famous opera house.
  • Piazza del Plebiscito Naples’ main square. Surrounding it you will find the Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale – open to tourists), the San Carlo Theatre and the Galleria Umberto.
  • Acquario – Villa Comunale A park near the shore with Europe’s first public aquarium in its centre. Nearby is the Cortes Museum of Applied Arts. La Casina Pompeiana in the park is home to changing exhibitions focusing on photography.
  • Galleria Umberto A shopping passage from the 19th Century.
  • Villa Floridiana Seat of Duca di Martina Museum of Ceramics and Marchese di Civitanova Museum of Carriages.
  • Museo Civico Filanghieri Used to be a private collection mainly of applied arts.
  • Citta’ della Scienza
  • Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina
  • Pinacoteca della Accademia di Belle Arte Mainly features 19th Century Italian painting.
  • PAN – Palazzo delle Arti di Napoli Contemporary art.
  • Raccolta Mura – Museum of the Napolitan Song
  • Museo del corallo e del cammeoNeapolitan typical jewellery
  • Museo del Mare (Naval Museum)
  • Fondazione Pagliara
  • Piomonte di Pieta’ in Palazzo Carafa A Manierist church and a picture gallery. Open only on weekends.
  • Textil and Clothing Museum Elena Aldorandini
  • Museum of Music History at the San Pietro a Maiella Conservatory. Exhibits important manuscripts of the Scarlatti family.
  • Grotta di Seiano An artificial cave underneath Posillipo. It leads to an ancient Greek theatre.

Eat

Pizza

Pizza comes from Naples. Look for pizza margherita, the original one, with nothing more than fresh tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella and a little olive oil. Eating a pizza in Florence or in Rome is not the same as eating it in Naples! Here the dough is thicker (than in Rome, for example) and is a little chewy.

In Naples every pizzeria makes a decent pizza. Some places display the label “Vera Pizza Napoletana” [“True Neapolitan Pizza”] with a Pulcinella mask baking a pizza in a stylized Vesuvio, which indicates that the pizzerria follows the standards of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana [True Neapolitan Pizza Association].

In general it is easy to find a good pizzeria, just look for one without tourists!

General Cuisine

Neapolitan cuisine in general features much seafood, befitting its status as an ancient and still functioning port. You will find many sauces based on garlic sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil, tomatoes, and local red wines. Some of the more popular sauces are arrabbiata (“angry”) or fra diavolo (“Brother Devil”), which means they will contain hot pepper. It’s great cuisine. Enjoy!

Mozzarella is also typical of the region, you should not miss the opportunity to taste the fresh real one!

Sweets

The city and region are also famous for their pasticceria (pastries), including:

  • babà — found in virtually every caffe, bar and pasticceria in town
  • jaka pastiera — typical sweet of Easter (but found all year long), made of ricotta cheese melted with steamed corn and sugar, and then baked
  • sfogliatella — often filled with ricotta cheese (riccia) or cream with citrus flavor
  • roccocò and struffoli — typical Christmas sweets
  • zeppole

Pretty much anywhere that serves coffee will have some pastries, nutella-filled croissants or other sweets available.

Drink

Naples is becoming increasingly popular with a younger generation of both Italians and foreigners. In spite of false and stereotypical reports of adverse conditions, they flood into the city and lend renewed vitality to its nightlife. The hippest scene is around the bars and cafes on Piazza Bellini, Piazza Santa Maria la Nova and Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, becoming busy after about 11PM. You should also try the area around Piazza dei Martiri, expecially Vico Belledonne a Chiaia, where you can find many crowded bars, a winebar and lots of young people, expecially at weekends. If you want to venture to the outskirts of the city, there are many bars and clubs near the port and boardwalk (the ‘Lungomare’) of Pozzuoli.