Naples, the largest city in southern Italy, is a vibrant Mediterranean port city, known for being the birthplace of pizza. It’s one of Europe’s oldest cities, having been founded by the Greeks in the 9th century BC. Naples has a fascinating historic center that’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, a top archaeological museum, two castles and a royal palace, a historic opera house, and a pretty seafront area. In addition to having many interesting things to see and do, Naples is also near some of Southern Italy’s top sites, making it a good base for day trips.
Things to See and Do in Naples
Naples Historic Center: Walk along Via San Biaggio, or Spaccanapoli, the historic center’s main street where you’ll see churches, shops, monuments, and lots of people. Originally the heart of the Greek and then the Roman city, the Spaccanapoli district is mainly a pedestrian zone, a good place to wander along its narrow streets. There are several places to go underground to see remains of the ancient Roman city. Via San Gregorio Armeno, known as the street of nativity workshops, is lined with both touristy souvenir shops and artisan workshops. On Piazza San Domenico Maggiore is the 15th-century Palazzo Petrucci and the Church of San Domenico Maggiore with remnants of the original 10th-century Romanesque basilica and early Renaissance art. Inside Sansevero Chapel are 18th century marble sculptures, including the famous Veiled Christ by Sanmartino.
Santa Chiara Monastery Complex, one of my favorite places in Naples, is a religious complex consisting of a monastery, church, an archeological museum, tombs of the Angevin monarchs, and relics of Saint Louis of Toulouse, including his brain. Next to the church, the nun’s choir has fragments of frescoes attributed to Giotto. The top site is the 18th century cloister filled with beautiful majolica-tiled columns and benches and 17th-century frescoes representing Old Testament scenes and saints. Part of the small but interesting museum includes a Roman bathhouse. See Santa Chiara Monastery for visiting information.
The 13th-century cathedral, dedicated to Naples’ patron saint San Gennaro, holds the saint’s relics, including two vials of his coagulated blood. Each year on September 19th, the Feast Day of San Gennaro, a huge crowd gathers to witness the miracle of the saint’s blood liquefying. Processions and celebrations go on for eight days. The cathedral itself is Gothic with Baroque decor inside. Beneath it, the archeological area has ruins from ancient Greece to the Middle Ages. Also see the 5th-century baptistery, decorated with Byzantine-style mosaics.
The National Archaeological Museum of Naples has one of the world’s best collections of Greek and Roman artifacts that includes mosaics, frescoes, sculptures, metal, and a collection of Roman erotica from Pompeii. Most of the items on display come from excavations at Pompeii, Naples, and other nearby archaeological sites. Also in the museum are a model of Pompeii, an Egyptian room, a prehistory exhibit, and special exhibitions and events. The museum is usually open Wednesday through Monday, 9AM to 7:30PM. See the museum’s current hours and visitor information.
The Capodimonte Museum and Park, built as King Charles III’s hunting lodge, has a large picture gallery and an outstanding collection of majolica and porcelain as well as royal apartments arranged on two floors (with different closing times). The museum is usually open from 8:30AM Thursdays through Tuesdays. See Capodimonte Museum Visiting Information for current hours, special exhibits, and ticket prices.
- Buy an Artecard for National Archaeological Museum & Capodimonte for skip the line tickets and free bus transfer
Piazza del Plebiscito is the center of modern Naples. Visit the extravagant Palazzo Reale, the Royal Palace, (closed Wednesdays) to see the royal apartments with period furniture and tapestries, the Throne Room, and the stunning Grand Staircase. Go up on the roof for fantastic views of the Bay of Naples. See Palazzo Reale hours and ticket prices. Also on the square are the domed church of San Francesco di Paola, Palazzo Salerno, and Palazzo della Prefettura. From the piazza, walk along Via Toledo, a pedestrian area with shops and businesses to Galleria Umberto.
San Carlo Theater, dating from 1737, is the oldest opera house in Europe. Opera, ballet, and symphonies are performed in the theater but you can also take a 45 minute guided tour during the day from Monday through Saturday.
Castel Nuovo, a huge fortification built in the late 13th century, houses the Civic Museum (closed Sundays) with 14th-15th century frescoes and paintings and bronzes dating from the 15th century to present. The older Castel dell’Ovo, built in 1154, sits in a picturesque position in the harbor. Once a royal residence, it’s now used mainly for exhibitions and concerts. Stroll out to the castle for good sea views.
- Save time and money with an Artecard Naples that includes admission to 3 museums, 50% off additional venues and free public transportation for 3 days.
Take a funiculare from Via Toledo up to Vomero Hill to visit the National Museum of San Martino, housed in Saint Martin’s Charterhouse, a large 14th century monastery complex. Exhibits are displayed in the monks’ former rooms, decorated with frescoes, mosaics, and carvings. A highlight of the museum is the large display of traditional Neopolitan presepi (nativity displays) from the 18th to 20th centuries. There are also paintings, sculptures, beautiful cloisters, the monks’ cemetery, and gardens. This is another of my favorite places, not only for the museum but also for the great views of Naples and beyond. See San Martino website for visiting information.
Plan Your Visit to Naples
Where to Stay
In the historic center, we stayed at the very nice Decumani Hotel de Charme, housed in a historic building. Another good choice is Costantinopoli 104 with a small swimming pool. Right by the sea, Grand Hotel Vesuvio is a top luxury choice.
- See the hotels map at the bottom of the page for more lodging.
Public transportation within the city includes a large network of buses, trams, a subway, and inclined railways going up the hills. Walking is the best way to see most of the sights in the center.
- We highly recommend NOT driving in Naples!
Naples has an airport serving flights from Italian and European cities and a ferry and cruise ship port. It’s on a major rail line, connecting it to Rome by fast train in just over an hour and to towns to the south. The main train and bus stations are in Piazza Garibaldi, on the eastern side of the city. A suburban train line, the Ferrovia Circumvesuviana, leaves from the lower level of the Piazza Garibaldi train station and goes to Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Sorrento with other stops along the way. Ferries and hydrofoils leave from Molo Beverello for the islands of Capri, Ischia, Procida, and Sardinia.
When to Go: Naples can be visited year-round but summers are very hot. See Weather and Historic Climate
Naples Day Trips
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