Visit Naples to see first-hand where the Italian expression “che sceneggiata Napoletana!”, or “What a Neapolitan drama!” comes from. Naples is often described as vibrant or colorful, its people expressive and passionate, its street life gritty. It’s an ideal off-the-beaten-track destination for the right traveler. We have great recommendations below on what to see in Naples, but enjoy the in-between as well, because half of why you’ll love Naples will be because of the items on your checklist, and the other half will consist of what you see while you’re getting there.
So we recommend you focus not only on what to see in Naples but also on how to see it. More specifically, allow more time in the schedule between activities so that you can people-watch or follow your nose down that narrow winding street. If a native wants to practice their English, make time for them. But: keep your wits about you, and don’t make your bag or purse vulnerable to the famous moped purse snatchers. If you’re female, you may not have been whistled at elsewhere in Italy, but expect it here, and try to take it as a compliment.
What to see in Naples
With a 2,800-year history and 448 churches, it would take years to explore everything. So we recommend a balanced approach. A little of this, and a little of that: some architecture and history, some art, some shopping, some food, more food, and some plain old wandering.
The Caravaggio in Pio Monte della Misericordia is a show-stopper that only takes a few minutes to visit. If you have more time, head upstairs to the art museum; the contemporary collection is excellent and more compelling even than that of MADRE, the city’s contemporary art museum.
What to see in Naples? Its atmospheric streets.
Walk down the main shopping thoroughfare of Via Toledo all the way to Piazza del Plebiscito, then reward yourself with a coffee and pastry from the landmark Gambrinus (see below).
From Piazza del Plebiscito, amble down to the water and enjoy the lungomare (seafront promenade). Walk all the way to Castel dell’Ovo on the tiny islet set just off the coast and have a seafood dinner at one of the trattorias at the foot of the castle.
Get lost (with caution) in the maze-like streets of the Quartieri Spagnoli, cleaned up from their more dangerous past but still the heart of gritty Naples.
Explore the shops and eateries along Spaccanapoli (translation “split Napoli”), which cuts through the historic center of the city.
From the center of town, walk to one of the symbols of Naples, Castel Nuovo, which offers great city views from the rooftop.
Visit the seaside Castel dell’Ovo, a manageable walk from Piazza del Plebiscito. Click here to read about the castle’s connection to an actual egg.
What to do in Naples? Go shopping!
Head to Via Calabritto for high-end designer names.
For shoe shopping, check out the markets, of which there are many. One of the best for shoes and clothing is Mercato dei Vergini along Via dei Vergini. Take a break from browsing to admire Palazzo dello Spagnolo and Palazzo Sanfelice, both known for their elegant double staircases and located along this colorful road.
Head to Piazza dei Martiri, and then go up tiny Vicoletto della Cavallerizza for a great selection of shoe shops.
Stroll down Via San Gregorio Armeno and Via San Biagio dei Librai for stores filled with nativity scenes and religious figures.
Head to the Amalfi coast and visit Sorrento, Amalfi, Ravello, Vietri, or Positano (but you can’t do all that in one day).
Visit the Royal Palace in Caserta.
What NOT to do in Naples
Do not drive in Naples. Traffic is terrible, parking is impossible, and unless you are comfortable driving somewhere like Calcutta, India, driving in Naples will make you mad.
If you’ve traveled in northern Italy, do not expect Naples to be the same. Things don’t work quite as smoothly, in general. Just allow more leeway and expect to need some patience.
Do not expect Naples to be a pristine city. It’s had problems with trash collection in the past. It’s gritty and can be dirty in places. Because of that, it’s also much less touristy than many other Italian cities.