"See Naples and then die" they say ... and maybe that's right. Naples (and the Neapolitans) either you love it or you hate it, it is not a city of half measures, it is excessive, in everything .. for better or for worse. I belong to the many who love it, together with Palermo, my Rome and Venice is the city I love most in Italy. You can stay there for a month without ever getting bored or seeing the same things. Then there is the sea which, I do not hide to say it, always makes the difference. Naples is an incredible city, both landscaped and culturally, without neglecting the gastronomic aspect: a fryer / pastry shop / pizzeria every meter! If I really have to find one flaw it is that after 3 days you find yourself with five extra kilos!
Naples is a decidedly monumental city, was the capital of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies (as well as the largest city in Europe in the '600 /' 700) and the glories of the past are still visible in its beautiful decadent buildings and monuments. It's hard for me to make a selection of things to see in Naples in 3 days, but I will try to do my best. As always I propose many: when I visit a city for the first time I run like crazy from morning to night to see as much as I can, but I don't expect you to do the same! Without calculating that, when you come to Naples, you cannot miss some places in the surrounding area (Pompeii, Caserta, Capri, etc.). If you want to orient yourself better I recommend you participate in a free tour of the historic center of Naples as soon as you arrive. It lasts 2h and will allow you to get to know the city and its main monuments. I warn you, for the greedy there is also a free tour of Neapolitan sweets: everyone can freely choose their priorities!
To save some money, you can consider buying the Campania Art Card. This pass allows you to visit the museums and cultural sites of Naples and to travel unlimited on the underground transport network for 3 days. The pass includes admission to 3 sites of your choice on the list, while from 4 onwards you are entitled to reduced admission. You can visit the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, the Museum and Real Bosco di Capodimonte, the Certosa di San Martino, the Mother Museum, the Royal Palace and many others (here you can find the complete list). If you plan to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and other places outside the city, there are other passes that allow you to save and you can find them on this site.
What to see in Naples: 10 places not to be missed
1. Royal Palace and San Carlo Theater
The first thing to see in Naples can only be its main and most important square: Piazza del Plebiscito. On this square stands the equestrian statue of Charles III of Bourbon made by Canova and the magnificent Royal Palace church of San Francesco di Paola with its colonnade, the oldest café in the city (Gambrinus coffee) and the Galleria Umberto I (almost identical to that of Milan). The Royal Palace it is absolutely worth visiting, as is the annex Teatro San Carlo. The Royal Palace was the historic residence of the Spanish viceroys, of the Bourbon dynasty, of Giuseppe Bonaparte and Gioacchino Murat during the French domination and, after the unification of Italy, of the Savoy family. What you visit today is the Royal Palace Museum, a collection of furniture, porcelain, etc., distributed in the sumptuous royal apartments (which are spectacular! Take note of the entrance staircase which is very similar to that of the Royal Palace of Caserta). Attached to the building is the San Carlo Theater, the largest and oldest Italian and European opera house. Built in 1737 and recently restored, it has returned to its former glory and can be visited with guided tours: here you will find all the timetables and information on how to book.
From Piazza del Plebiscito take Via Toledo (also called Via Roma), the main commercial street of Naples, overlooked by beautiful buildings and where Neapolitans come to stroll for the afternoon and evening strolls. All alleys that go up to your left are the famous ones Spanish Neighborhoods. Built to house the troops of the Spanish viceroys, in these narrow and dark alleys the real Naples is hidden. Here you will see clothes hanging, small and noisy trattorias, an incredible coming and going of mopeds (all strictly without helmets!) And a continuous shouting, especially in the unmissable Pignasecca market. Obviously it's not a rich neighborhood, far from it, but it's not nearly as dangerous as it used to be. In recent years it has become a tourist attraction and cultural organizations in the area also organize interesting tours of the neighborhood. the Quartieri Spagnoli are also full of street art works (find more info in the article Napoli Insolita).Osteria della Mattonella and the famous Trattoria da Nennella.
3.The Veiled Christ and the Sansevero Chapel
If I had to choose only one thing to see in Naples, I would definitely choose it San Severo Chapel! The Veiled Christ and the other sculptures of the Sansevero chapel I think are the most beautiful sculptures I have ever seen. Without taking anything away from Canova or Michelangelo ... in my opinion there is none for anyone! Veiled Christ, a sculpture by Giuseppe Sanmartino that looks like flesh and bone; depicts Jesus lying covered by a thin sheet. It is said that Canova would have liked to have given 10 years of his life to have been the creator of this incredible sculpture himself! The other sculptures in the chapel, erected in the XNUMXth century to house the tombs of the Di Sangro family, are no exception. But the wonder of this place does not end here! Going down a staircase there is a room that conserves two "anatomical machines", the skeletons of a man and a woman with perfectly preserved venous and arterial systems. It is not yet clear whether they are authentic or not, but the mystery surrounding its creator (the alchemist prince of Sansevero, Raimondo Sangro) is still alive. The chapel is small and you enter in stages so, especially in high season, there is a lot of queue. To avoid it, I recommend that you buy your ticket online from the official website in advance.
4.Spaccanapoli and the Cathedral of San Gennaro
The historic center of Naples revolves around two main streets, the famosa “Spaccanapoli” (consisting of Via B. Croce, Via S. Biagio dei Librai and Via Vicaria Vecchia) e Via dei Tribunali, which follow the road map of ancient Neapolis. Between these two streets there are hidden cloisters, sanctuaries, chapels (such as the Sansevero Chapel) and magnificent palaces. Among the things to see in these streets of Naples there are certainly 1) theHospital of the Incurables (for the description I refer you to the article Unusual Naples / napoli-insolita-10-places-not-to-miss /), 2) the Pio Monte della Misericordia (which preserves above the altar the canvas "The seven works of mercy" by Caravaggio, 3) Piazza San Domenico Maggiore (with the Spire of San Domenico, the Di Sangro palace and, above all, the famous Scaturchio pastry shop, 4) Via San Gregorio Armeno (famous for shops of traditional nativity scenes and lucky charms, 5) Piazzetta Nilo (where, in addition to venerating the god of the Nile, Maradona is also venerated at a special altar), 6) Underground Naples (an ancient labyrinth of aqueducts, tunnels and cisterns). Finally, at the intersection of Via dei Tribunali and Via Duomo there is the Naples Cathedral with the Royal Chapel of San Gennaro (or Cappella del Tesoro). It is here that the miracle of San Gennaro is repeated 3 times a year or the liquefaction of the blood which, according to tradition, was collected from the body of the patron saint of the city after his martyrdom. The ceremony involves the extraction of an ampoule with the presumed blood from a niche of the Royal Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro and the exhibition to the faithful. 'Liquefaction' almost always occurs and is considered an auspicious sign.
5. Monastery of Santa Chiara and San Lorenzo Maggiore
Returning towards Via Toledo, not far from the Duomo is the Monumental Complex of San Lorenzo Maggiore. It is a sumptuous multi-level sacred complex, whose basilica is considered the most extraordinary medieval building in the city, and is absolutely a must see in Naples. In the basement there is a vast network of ruins thanks to which you can relive the Greek-Roman Naples with its shops, taverns, etc. Within the complex there is also the Museum of the Opera of San Lorenzo Maggiore which houses a large collection of archaeological finds. Then go back to “Spaccanapoli” and follow it almost to the end to visit the magnificent monumental complex of Santa Chiara. The Basilica is very beautiful, but the main attraction of the monastery is undoubtedly its cloisters. The latter are embellished with splendid frescoes and colored majolica from the 600th century. Inside the Basilica there is a chapel where the tombs of the Bourbons are located, from Ferdinand I to Francesco II.
6.National Archaeological Museum
Museums are often mistreated compared to other tourist attractions, especially in cities where the sun always shines, but there are museums that you absolutely must see in Naples. One of these is definitely the National archeologic museum. Maybe I'm particularly fond of history and archeology, but here there are really some pieces of rare beauty! The museum's heritage consists mainly of many gods more valuable mosaics and frescoes that come from the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as from neoclassical sculptures such as the famous Toro Farnese. The Museum is quite large (spread over 4 floors) and was founded by Frederick IV of Bourbon at the end of the 1700s to house the Farnese collection. In addition to the musts, among the curiosities to see is the Secret Cabinet and with a small collection of ancient pornography. Unfortunately, due to lack of staff, some rooms are open on a rotating basis, so if you are interested in any particular collection, maybe make sure before it is open. They tell me that the situation should have improved lately, but it is still better to check.
7.Chiaia and Castel dell'Ovo
The great thing about Naples (and not the only one .. as you may have guessed) is that it overlooks the sea and you just have to take a few steps to get out of the frenzy of the city and find yourself walking in peace on the seafront (with a panic view, by the way! ). The first part of the promenade, starting from Piazza del Plebiscito, is completely pedestrian and is truly a godsend! After walking less than a kilometer you will find yourself in front of the seaside village of Castel dell'Ovo and you will hardly feel like you are in a city of 1 million inhabitants! It is a place that I particularly love, both for the magnificent view that can be enjoyed from the terraces of the Castle (you can see the islands and Vesuvius in all its splendor), and for its atmosphere of a seaside town that you breathe there, with the restaurants overlooking the water. The Neapolitans come here to get the photo book for the famous "previews" (of marriage, communion, 18th birthday ..) and it's worth coming here just for this! Walking further you reach the seafront Caracciolo in Chiaia, the chic area of the city, that of luxury shops and trendy clubs. Behind the promenade the gardens of the Villa Comunale, the neoclassical Villa Pignatelli (former residence of the Rothschilds) and a maze of streets where the most beautiful shops and bars in the city are concentrated (Via Calabritto, etc.). If you have time, from Chiaia you can take the funicular that goes up to Vomero, a beautiful neighborhood full of Art Nouveau villas.
8.Certosa di San Martino and Castel Sant'Elmo
Among the things to see in Naples can not miss the Certosa di San Martino and Castel Sant'Elmo, which are always located in Vomero. I'll start immediately by telling you that if you don't have enough time, give priority to the Charterhouse. Built by Charles of Anjou in 1325, this former Carthusian monastery it was decorated and embellished by the greatest exponents of Italian art and architecture. Today it houses the Museum of San Martino with a rich collection of Neapolitan art and history, but the real jewel, in my opinion, are the showrooms, the church and the two magnificent cloisters: the Cloister of the Procurators and Great Cloister. From the gardens you can also enjoy a magnificent view of the Gulf of Naples. Right next to the Charterhouse it stands majestically Castel Sant'Elmo, transformed by Roberto D'Angiò into a fortress, was used as a military prison until the 70s. Today it houses the Museo del Novecento, dedicated to the Neapolitan art of the twentieth century, but is famous for the breathtaking panorama that can be enjoyed from its terraces (especially towards sunset). To end the day with a flourish, enjoy a aperitif with a view on the terrace of Renzo and Lucia restaurant which is located just below. From here you can see the city that lights up before your eyes.
9.Rione Sanità and Fontanelle Cemetery
Another thing to see in Naples is the Rione Sanità, which is probably south of Capodimonte the neighborhood that most reflects the soul of the city and its inhabitants. It is a difficult neighborhood to categorize, where you will find incredible Baroque palaces, popular markets and ancient catacombs, and it is here that the great Totò was born (in via Santa Maria Antesaecula al 109). Among the baroque palaces not to be missed there are certainly the Palazzo dello Spagnuolo and Palazzo Sanfelice. The staircase that adorns the Palazzo dello Spagnuolo is truly a masterpiece, a double ramp that at the time was also used by horses to bring the riders to the top. It was designed by Sanfelice in 1738 and has also become the setting for several films by De Sica but not only. Also by the same architect (and no less beautiful), there is the staircase of the building that takes his name. These buildings are not open to the public, but the doors are often open and you can sneak in to see them. To not miss anything in this neighborhood you can participate in a 2h free-tour of the Rione Sanità (to book at this link) which also includes the Fontanelle cemetery. Find all the info on this very special place in the article on Unusual Naples)
10.Palazzo and Museum of Capodimonte
We close this article on the things to see in Naples with the Capodimonte Palace and Museum. This immense palace was built outside the center of Naples by Charles VII of Bourbon as a hunting reserve, but his delusions of grandeur increased and the palace consequently. During the French occupation (1806-1815) it was the official residence of Giuseppe Bonaparte and Gioacchino Murat. Today it is the seat of the immense Capodimonte Museum which mainly exhibits the precious Farnese collection that Charles of Bourbon inherited from his mother Elisabetta Farnese. They appear in the Museum works by Raphael, Titian, Bellini, Masaccio, as well as the famous painting by Caravaggio entitled "The Flagellation". Visiting the museum also visits the sumptuous Appartamenti Reali, with precious porcelain and inlaid marble, in fact it is really a "small" (so to speak!) Versailles. The third floor of the building is dedicated to modern art with works by Wharol and many others. The Capodimonte Museum requires at least 3h minimum to visit (running!), But second but it is still worth trying to see it even if you don't have much time. The museum is huge and never crowded so you can see the works almost in solitude and it is priceless!
How to get around Naples
Contrary to what one might imagine, for a tourist it is very easy to move around Naples. Most of the tourist attractions is within walking distance (especially if you are good walkers and love to get lost in the city). Other places of interest (such as the Archaeological Museum or Castel Sant'Elmo, San Martino, etc.) are easily accessible with the metro or the funicular (which in themselves are experiences to do!). The most distant monuments (such as the Capodimonte Museum) can be reached by taxi; unlike Rome or Milan, they have absolutely affordable prices and within everyone's reach (obviously if you don't get fooled! Always let them use the taximeter!). For reach the center of Naples from Capodichino Airport (located 7 km outside the center) you can take the Alibus airport shuttle that connects the airport with Piazza Garibaldi (Central Station) in 15 'and with Molo Beverello (in 35', where hydrofoils leave for the islands) every 20-30 '). The ticket costs 5 euros and can be purchased directly on board. The Central Station, on the other hand, is connected to the rest of the city by underground and to Pompeii, Herculaneum and Sorrento by the Circumvesuviana.
Where to sleep in Naples: the best areas and hotels
To optimize times and to be able to move on foot, the best areas to sleep in Naples in my opinion are the Historic Center (Via Toledo-Spaccanapoli-Università) and Chiaia. They are also beautiful Vomero and Mergellina, but they are more uncomfortable for travel. There are some very nice B & Bs in the area too Spanish Neighborhoods but you have to choose well, because in general the houses can be quite dark, being in the alleys. To meet everyone's needs (hostels, apartments and hotels of different prices), I recommend these facilities:
- Poggio Miramare apartment in Chiaia Jamme Jà (Chiaia): beautiful panoramic and bright apartment located on the third floor of a small period building (without lift) in the elegant and quiet area of the Chiaia district. It is a 5-minute walk from the Piazza Amedeo metro station and the Chiaia funicular and has a beautiful terrace overlooking the sea. It has 2 rooms and can accommodate up to 4 people.
- Hotel Piazza Bellini & Apartments (Centro Storico): as the name implies, this 3-star hotel is located near Piazza Bellini, a few meters from Spaccanapoli. The hotel is housed in a XNUMXth century building and the rooms are furnished with a mix of modern design and art objects. Despite being close to the nightlife area, the hotel is super quiet because it is located in an internal courtyard.
- Neapolitantrips Hostel (Historic Center): a modern and functional hostel located just behind Via Toledo and a stone's throw from Piazza del Plebiscito (more central than that you die!). It has rooms / dormitories from 3 to 12 beds, all with private bathroom. The hostel also has a nice furnished terrace.
- Hotel Britannique, Curio Collection by Hilton (Chiaia): if you are going to Naples for a special occasion or if you simply want to pamper yourself a little, I recommend this magnificent 5-star hotel in Chiaia. Almost all the rooms overlook the Gulf of Naples, otherwise you can still count on a beautiful terrace.
You might also be interested in these other articles I wrote about Naples and Campania:
- What to see on the Amalfi Coast in 3 or 5 days
- What to see around Naples: 7 trips out of town not to be missed
- Unusual Naples: 10 places not to be missed
- Where to eat in Naples, the best pizzerias and pastry shops
- Excavations of Pompeii: guide to the visit
- 10 beautiful farmhouses with swimming pool in Campania