There are enough things to do in Naples to keep you occupied for a lifetime. I haven’t written about Naples a lot on this site because I lived there before I started to take my blog seriously, however I was based there for almost a year! My heritage is British and Italian, and the Italian side of my family are from Naples and nearby Sorrento. In all, I’ve spent a lot of time in Napoli and know the city centre like the back of my hand.
I’m tired of reading blogger’s lists of things to do in Naples when I can see that they just scurried through the city in a day or two, and barely scratched the surface in uncovering all of the wonderful things that the city has to offer.
In complete honesty, things like piazza del plebiscito and the Naples harbour seem to always be popping up in these lists. The reality is, they are nothing special. There are many more magical things to do in Naples that the locals have been keeping to themselves. I will share them with you here.
Things to do in Naples: Popular Highlights
Let’s get to the popular “must see” things to do in Naples first, then we will delve into the more unusual and lesser known.
#1 Eat Pizza at the Place That Invented it
Naples may be the birthplace of pizza but there is one little place in particular that is responsible for the delicious creation. That place is the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba.. Serving up steaming slices of piping hot portafoglio and margarita pizzas for more than 200 years, this is the world’s oldest pizzeria and it’s well worth a visit, even just for the story of being able to say you have been there.
A similarly popular historic pizza joint in town is the L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele which has surged even more in popularity after being featured as the place that Julia Roberts and her friend dine at in “Eat Pray Love”. The “specialty” here is the plain margarita. Because of its tourism appeal, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is seldom not crowded, and it is not uncommon to see a long line outside.
For additional pizzeria suggestions and ideas on what to order, take a peek at this Naples pizza guide.
#2 Hike up Mount Vesuvius
As one of the world’s largest and most active volcanoes, Vesuvius looms over Naples. From the city centre, every twist and turn into Neapolitan streets and alleyways leads to a jaw-dropping view of the volcano as it bellows smoke over the bay of Naples. The hike to the top of Vesuvius is relatively easy, and takes less than 30 minutes in each direction. Even those who are not avid hikers will not feel exerted by the trek. On a clear day, you can witness incredible panoramas over the city as you ascend towards the main crater.
#3 Take a History Lesson at Pompeii
The ruined ghost city of Pompeii is probably one of the most infamous and tragic archaeological sites in the world. Following the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, the city was buried under layers of volcanic ash and stone, killing over 2000 residents, but somehow perfectly preserving their bodies and a lot of the buildings.
Most mosaics, sculptures and artifacts have been removed from Pompeii and now sit within the Archaeological museum of Naples. As far as Roman historical sites go, Pompeii is incredibly well-preserved. Visitors can wander down the cobbled Roman streets, marvel at the imposing pillars of grand temples, meander through the houses, and even peer into a local brothel!
#4 Let the Frescoes of Neapolitan Chapels Take Your Breath Away
It’s a little known fact that Naples, Italy is the city that boasts the highest number of churches in the world. Many Southern Italians are Roman Catholic and deeply religious. Naples has become a city of spiritual importance and for centuries it has been known as “the city of 700 domes”.
Naples is an old city – one of the oldest, continually inhabited places in the world actually. The various churches, chapels and cathedrals reflect the city’s age; they have been constructed in an array of styles – baroque, gothic, neoclassical, etc. This makes for an interesting mishmash of various different architectural styles as you meander through the city streets. Seeing the churches from the outside is one thing, but the highlight is the vibrant, colourful frescoes painted within.
You can pretty much stop and stick your head inside most churches around Naples. Sometimes the oldest, most nondescript looking outers house the most breathtaking interiors. Some of the most notable churches to visit in Naples are:
- The Church of San Domenico Maggiore
- The Church of San Gregorio Armeno
- The Basilica of Santa Chiara
- Napoli Cathedral (“Duomo”)
- The Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore
#5 Hang Out with the Naples Couchsurfing Community
Meeting locals is always a highlight of travelling! While I don’t use Couchsurfing for the accommodation, I do use it for meeting people at events and hangouts. Naples has a really wonderful, close-knit Couchsurfing community that is ran by my friend Luca. Events typically take place twice a week at local bars and pizzerias. This is a great way to meet travel buddies to share your Italian adventures with.
#6 Browse Fascinating Exhibits at the Naples Archaeological Museum
Most of the artifacts that were recovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum have been taken to the Naples Archaeological Museum. Even if you don’t really consider yourself as a museum person, I would strongly recommend paying this place a visit. Everything from impressive Roman statues to breathtaking mosaics can be found within the display cabinets. More controversially, there are a lot of aroused penis sculptures! These were used to amuse dinner guests, or act as a good luck symbol of fertility during the Roman era.
#7 Sample Neapolitan Street Food Delicacies
Italian food is definitely not just pizza and pasta. Different regions of Italy boast different regional delicacies and street food is a huge part of Neapolitan culture. Sampling Naples street food is not only a delicious cultural experience, it also helps if you are travelling on a budget!
If you are not yet sick of pizza, try the fried pizza – something that you can pretty much only find in Naples, but which existed here before the traditional baked pizza! The recipe generally consists of provola and ricotta cheese, tomatoes and pork fried together in a dough. Just try not to think about the calories!
There is actually a local saying in Naples that states “anything that’s fried is good – even the soles of the shoes!” While your cholesterol might not necessarily agree, that mantra is definitely reflected in what you see from the street vendors! Try and order yourself a cuoppo – a little paper cone stuffed full of a weird and wonderful array of local fried delicacies. Take the street vendor’s suggestions, or stuff it with some panzerotti (meat stuffed potato croquettes), crispy arancini balls, and pasta cresciuta.
#8 Jet Off to the Glamorous Island of Capri
Chic, beautiful and effortlessly elegant, the island of Capri has become synonymous with being a travel destination that is beloved by the jetset. The stunning isle is accessible via boat from Naples harbor and makes for a perfect day trip from Naples. It’s not just the high-end living and upscale ambiance that makes Capri special though, it’s also the island’s natural beauty – its rugged landscapes and rock formations, its translucent azure waters, and its fragrant, plentiful lemon groves .
Capri is essentially split into two sections – Capri and Ana Capri. Mini buses and colourful convertible taxis transfer you between the two as they speed along nerve-wracking cliffside roads.
In Ana Capri, let your legs dangle free as you whizz up to the 589m peak of the island’s Mount Solaro. After your descent, visit the phenomenal holiday home of the Roman Emperor Tiberius at the Villa San Michele, and then head to the Capri side of the island for elegant shopping, dining and prosecco at piazzetta – the main piazza. I have also written this Capri itinerary to better assist with planning a trip to Capri.
The Underrated and the Non-Touristic Things to do in Naples
#9 Join Italian Folk Dancers as they Waltz Through Ancient Ruins
There are a number of traditional folk dances that originated in the Naples area. The tammurriata and the tarantella are the main folk dances of Naples. Couples dance to the beating rhythm of the tamorra drum which is accompanied by singing, gypsy trumpets, and putipùs.
If you are travelling to Naples at certain times throughout the year, you can attend one of the many festivals dedicated to Neapolitan folk dancing. The Tamorra festival, and the festivals of the Seven Madonnas are two such examples. There are also a group of people that take to the streets of the city after dark and dance beside ancient ruins. You can find them via Couchsurfing (post a question about wanting to join them if you cannot see any events listed).
#10 Browse the Markets at Piazza Dante
Piazza Dante is one of Napoli’s many sprawling piazzas. It is surrounded by bars and restaurants where locals enjoy an aperitivo beneath the Italian sun. Local artisanal markets are often hosted in the centre of the piazza. Here, vendors sell an array of handicrafts and premium Italian foodstuffs – balsamic and parmesan wheels from Modena, sparkling wines from Veneto, and buffalo mozzarella from Campania.
Via Port’Alba: a narrow, arched alleyway at the back left of the piazza leads to Piazza Bellini passed ramshackle second-hand bookstores, quirky coffee places, and cocktail bars come art galleries.
#11 Embrace the Night-life of Piazza Bellini
Piazza Bellini is a small piazza that is located just off from Piazza Dante. Bellini oozes an alternative, Bohemian vibe. It is here where dozens of young Neapolitans gather every evening to drink and socialise at the bars – it’s the perfect place to sip an aperol spritz and people watch after the sun goes down. At the piazza’s centre lies the crumbling ruins of the ancient Greek city of Neapolis which was once situated here.
#12 Visit the Beautiful Beach Town of Bacoli
When I first moved to Naples, I actually lived in Bacoli – a beautiful little beach town packed with quaint harbors, sandy white beaches and beautiful lakes. While the tourists may all flock to Positano and the Amalfi Coast during summer in Southern Italy, the locals will venture out to Baccoli for the day. Lago Miseno is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll by the lake, followed by gelato at one of the quaint places that overlook its waters. The coastal roads of Baccoli are packed with beach clubs and waterfront eateries.
Bacoli, Baia and Pozzuoli are all relatively close to each other and can be visited together during one day of your Naples itinerary. It’s preferable to have your own transport if exploring these off the beaten track things to do in Naples as the local buses are infrequent, however you can also get a bus from the Napoli Centrale station to Bacoli. Buses run hourly so check the times accordingly.
#13 Stop by Baia – Las Vegas for the Romans
Bordering Bacoli and Pozzuoli, the town of Baia was a place of significance during the Roman era. For centuries, it was a spot where the rich and famous would travel to have fun and blow off some steam. Eventually though, the town was ransacked and abandoned. As water levels in the area rose, most of Baia sunk.
Today, there are only a few crumbled ruins above ground at Baia. Below the surface though, the sunken city of Baia is still incredibly well-preserved and is one of only a small few underwater archaeological parks in the world. Statues of Roman gods and prominent figures still stand watch, and the remnants of bathhouses and structures remain. Visitors to Bacoli can admire the sunken city on a glass bottom boat tour, or by snorkelling down to the ruins.
#14 Step Over the Fumaroles of the Volcano More Dangerous than Vesuvius
Mention of Naples often conjures up images of Vesuvius and the risk that it poses. However, the reality is that Vesuvius is not the only volcanic threat in the area, and in fact a much more dangerous volcano bubbles away beneath the surface.
Campi Flegrei is a supervolcano, like that at Yellowstone National Park. It is one of the most monitored volcanoes in the world – an eruption here would cause catastrophic damage across Europe. One of the most notable sites within the Campi Flegrei complex is the Solfatara in Pozzuoli. The Solfatara di Pozzuoli boasts a pleasant and informative walk through otherworldly landscapes – past pools of bubbling sulphur and steaming fumaroles. It is one of the most active sites of volcanic activity in the Campi Flegrei complex.
#15 Window Shop at the Street Where it’s Always Christmas
Whether you are visiting Naples in December, or you are visiting in July, there is one street where it will always be Christmas: Via San Gregorio Armeno. The narrow winding alley boasts store after store of shops selling Christmas items. The presepi (scenes of the Neapolitan nativity) are displayed in the store fronts, and artisans sell hand-made figurines and local handicrafts.
#16 Take a Day Trip to Procida – Capri’s Underrated Neighbour
Capri has come to become the essential island day trip to take from Naples, but there are also other, equally charming alternatives to consider. Capri, Procida and Ischia are the three “Poet’s islands” that await just a short boat trip away from the coast of Naples. While Capri can get very crowded, particularly during the summer months, most of Procida’s visitors are local Italians.
Scale the walls of the Terra Murata – an old 15th century town, indulge in fresh seafood delicacies at one of the picturesque eateries in Corricalla Bay, and unwind at one of the island’s beaches. Procida is so small that you could pretty much walk its circumference in a day. That said, there is plenty of charm packed into its tiny size.
#17 Indulge in Neapolitan Pastries and Sweet Treats
Practically every street in Naples is home to a local patisserie. Rich, decadent desserts and pastries are a huge part of Neapolitan food culture. To fit in with the locals, head inside one of the numerous patisseries off Spaccanapoli early in the morning and order up an espresso with a sfogliatelle. The latter is crusty pastry filled with ricotta, semolina, and a dash of cinnamon. Italian breakfasts are usually sweet, and sfogliatelle is the quintessential Naples breakfast pastry, best enjoyed hot and fresh from the oven.
Baba au Rhum is a second Neapolitan pastry that should not be missed – a plain, simple sponge cake soaked in rum and syrup, it has become pretty much a symbol of Naples. Variations of Baba au Rhum that are stuffed with ricotta, chocolate, and nutella are also available.
#18 Enjoy a Walk Along the Seafront in Upscale Chiaia
Naples may have a reputation for being raw and gritty but like most cities, it also has its share of upscale neighbourhoods. The most elegant of the Neapolitan districts is Chiaia – a waterfront neighbourhood whose tree-lined boulevards are filled with designer boutique stores, chic cocktail bars and stylish eateries. The seafront path is a pleasant route to walk and leads all the way from Chiaia to the Naples harbor via the Ovo Castle and Castel Nuovo.
#19 Take in the Sunset Views from Castel Sant’Elmo
There are three fortresses situated within Naples’ city limits: Castel Nuovo, Ovo Castel and Castel Sant’Elmo, all well worth visiting. The Ovo Castel and the Castel Nuovo are both situated on the seafront, whereas Castel Sant’Elmo is perched on a hill by the Certosa di San Martino. Getting to the latter requires a little more effort, though it is possible to take the funicular to its entrance. Dating back to the 12th century, Castel Sant’Elmo was once a church that was transformed into a castle, and then further fortified.
The highlight of Castel Sant’Elmo is not the building itself, but the incredible views that you an enjoy over the bay of Naples from its upper levels. In one of the annexes, there is also the Museo del Novecento museum of contemporary Neopolitan art. If you can time your visit accordingly, this is a perfect place to watch the sunset.
#20 Drink Cocktails While Overlooking Roman Ruins in Pozzuoli
Just thirty minutes west of Naples awaits Pozzuoli – a calmer, quieter alternative to the Campania capital. There is something undeniably charming about Pozzuoli. The town is littered with ancient ruins that stand as centrepieces for various piazzas and boulevards. Enjoy a light lunch and an aperitivo overlooking the Temple of Serapis, and pay a visit to the town’s Flavian amphitheatre – the third largest Roman amphitheatre in Italy. Pozzuoli’s location is perfect for tying a trip to the town in with a visit to the nearby solfatara Pozzuoli.
#21 Spend a Day on the Beaches of Ischia
Ischia, along with Procida and Capri, makes up the three Poet’s islands of Southern Italy. Though lesser known, Ischia is actually the largest of the islands and is locally renowned for its thermal baths, luxurious spas, beautiful gardens and pristine beaches. Scale the walls of the Aragonese castle for incredible panoramas over the island, and relax on the secluded beaches that border azure waters.
#22 Visit Ercolano – the Better Preserved Pompeii
Pompeii may be renowned for being the city that was frozen in time following the 79 AD eruption by Vesuvius but it wasn’t the only place that was affected. The nearby town of Herculaneum (“Ercolano”) was set to suffer the same fate. The Herculaneum site, although smaller than Pompeii, is much better preserved and representative of what a working Roman town looked like. It is possible to tie in a visit to the two sites in one day.
#23 Experience the Macabre at the Fontanelle Cemetery
Dozens of meters deep beneath the surface of modern-day Naples are several burial sites containing mass graves of the common dead. The Fontanelle Cemetery is an old quarry that was transformed into an underground cemetery in the 17th century after 250,000 Naples residents died of the plague. Mass, unmarked graves and piles of skulls adds a creepy, unnerving atmosphere, however the site is also steeped in spirituality and superstition.
According to local legend, caring for a skull here helps to release its soul to heaven. Superstitious older Italian nonnas believe that they will be granted a wish in return so don’t be alarmed if you see a few locals whipping out their old handkerchiefs and polishing random skulls.
#24 Watch a Performance at the Oldest Working Opera House in the World
Dating back to the 1700’s, the Teatro di San Carlo opera house in Naples is the oldest working opera house in the world. Even if you cannot speak Italian, a visit to a live performance is a wonderful thing to experience at least once. Small electronic translator devices are located in front of the seats which provide English translations and honestly, the shows are so emotive that you have a good grasp of what is happening anyway.
Naples Travel Tip:
The Campania Art Card
Like a lot of cities and travel destinations, it’s possible to purchase a discount card in Naples that enables you to have free/discounted access to various historical and cultural sites around the city. Sometimes these things are worth it, sometimes they are not. In Naples however, I would strongly advise picking up a Campania Art Card swiftly after arriving in the city. It can be purchased at the airport, and at the ticket office of various tourist sites (at the archaeological museum, at Pompeii, etc).
There are variations of the Campania Art Card available and the most suitable will depend on your personal interests and your intended Naples itinerary. The cards allow free access to five sites, free use of public transportation, and reduced entry at additional sites. Prices start from $12 for those under 25, and $21 for those over 25. Either way, it will save you a fair bit.
Things to do in Naples:
When to Travel to Naples
Owing to its warm Mediterranean climate, it is possible to travel to Southern Italy and enjoy this list of things to do in Naples at any time throughout the year. That said, there are seasonal factors to take into consideration, as outlined below.
Spring (March to May)
Spring is a pleasant time to travel to Naples and Southern Italy. Temperatures are warm and rainfall is low – expect conditions of 25-30 degrees celsius. This is the shoulder season and with fewer crowds and lower prices than the summer months, this is the perfect time to travel to Naples, especially if you are hoping to venture on to the Amalfi Coast and Capri
Be mindful of travelling during Easter which is major cause for celebration in Italy. Many places will be closed during specific dates, though equally, being in Naples provides the opportunity to join in with some unique Italian cultural celebrations.
Summer (June to August)
Summer in Naples is hot and humid with temperatures often rising over 35 degrees celsius. Many stores and businesses often close over the summer as the locals head off to the coastal areas for their annual vacations. This is the peak season and the summer brings hundreds of tourists and cruise ships into Naples. Though the weather is perfect for relaxing and beach-going, it can be a little uncomfortable spending extended periods walking and exploring outside. Not to mention, very few places have air conditioning in Southern Italy .
Autumn (September to November)
The arrival of Autumn in Naples sees a reduction in the number of cruise ships and tourists. Conditions are very similar to the Spring months, with temperatures of between 25 and 30 degrees celsius. Arguably this is one of the best times to visit Naples.
Winter (December to February)
Naples sees relatively mild winters with daytime temperatures rarely dipping below 10-15 degrees celsius. Although chilly, winter is a fine time for travelling to Southern Italy if city exploration, history and culture are the main purposes of your visit. Accommodation costs are typically lower in Naples during the winter, as this is the off-peak season.
Things to do in Naples:
Is Naples Safe?
One thing that always comes up at any slight mention of Naples is the question of whether or not it is safe to travel there. It’s sad, but Naples has earned itself a bit of reputation for being a “dangerous” city. A bunch of people seem to have stories about negative things that happened in Naples and it puts other people off going – stop with the negativity!
Petty crime and the Mafia seem to be the main causes for concern, though petty crime such as pickpocketing and theft happens in major cities worldwide. Someone tried to steal my friend’s bag while we were on the metro in Paris but you never hear people say you shouldn’t go to Paris, should you? I’ve written an entire article answering the question “Is Naples safe?” It’s worth reviewing this if you are concerned.
If you utilise basic common sense (i.e. don’t walk alone at night, don’t flash expensive items) then you will have a perfectly safe, trouble-free time in wonderful Naples. I lived there for almost a year and I’m still standing!
Have any further questions about things to do in Naples or travel in Southern Italy in general? I used to live in Naples and would be happy to assist! Feel free to reach out to me via email or to drop me a comment below. Safe Travels, Melissa xo
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