There are so many other things in Naples that I would love to have seen had I had more time. I definitely want to go back. There’s a whole world below the streets of Naples that I would have liked to explore – catacombs and caves. I only touched the surface as it were! If you’ve been to Naples and got any thoughts on what to see next, please do drop me a line in the comments below. Meanwhile, my top 10 favourite things to do are:
1. Sunset walk from Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg! More on that below) to Mergellina (a coastal suburb) along the sea-front. Naples has a very Mediterranean coastline with beige, orangey and pinky buildings that, from a distance, seem to grow out of the sea. From Mergellina you can see lots of Naples, Castel dell’Ova and Vesuvius all bathed in a warm glow. There are lots of cats roaming about the marina here – presumably the fisherman let them have a few fish when they come in. Someone had even built them a little house on the rocks.
2. Check-out Castel dell’Ovo. Legend has it the great Roman poet Virgil put an egg into the foundations – if it breaks, disaster will strike. Now the castle is used as offices and exhibition halls but it still has it’s old charm. It’s free and interesting to wander around. It’s set on a little islet, connected to the seafront by a bridge. At the base of the castle there’s a collection of nice looking restaurants facing onto the harbour. There are some nice views when you get to the top. This month there is a contemporary art exhibition by Lello Bavenni – it wasn’t ‘my cup of tea’ but it’s free and it’s set in a cave which is always good!
3. Get lost in the area called Santa Lucia to the left of Via Toledo (one of the main shopping streets in Naples). It’s maze of streets are interesting to walk around during the day and you get the feeling this is the ‘real’ Naples. In the evening it’s positively bustling and full of places to have an aperitivo. If you keep walking up as high as you can go, you get to a nice panorama of the city alongside an old abandoned military barracks.
4. Explore the old town around ‘Spaccanapoli‘ (‘Divides Naples’) which is where the majority of shops are. Many are dedicated to selling tourist stuff like ‘portafortuna’ (good luck charms), primarily of the red “corna” or horn variety. If it’s not a shop selling those, then it’s selling models for “presepe” (nativity scenes) the making of which is a big tradition in Naples. They sometimes apply mechanics to the models so they move. I took pictures of my favourites less religious models (below): a dentist leaning repetitively into the mouth of this poor bloodied man and even George Michael and Prince (and someone else familiar I can’t put my finger on!). There are lots of food and drink places here too and a heavy smattering of churches.
5. Watch people try and walk through the two horses in Piazza Plebiscito blind folded. Apparently it’s a tradition (to do it, rather than watch it).
My favourite thing about Piazza Plebiscito are the sculptures of past Kings on the Royal Palace which borders the piazza, particularly this one…
5. Check out Galleria Umberto, near Piazza Plebiscito. It’s absolutely stunning with its glass ceilings. It’s a shopping mall so free to get in.
6. Walk up to Certosa di San Martino. It’s a very elegant building on top of the hill. You can get a funicular train for only 1 euro but it was shut when I tried. Alternatively, you can walk up there from the main road using the ‘Pedantina’ (this word means basically ‘nice pretty little walkway’ but in my opinion it was a ‘Pedantaccio’ (‘horrible walkway’) which seemed to go on forever and was covered in broken glass which I can only assume is the result of the youth launching bottles from the top piazza to the path below. The Certosa is 11 euros including an audio guide. Unless you’re an absolute art aficionado, the audio guide probably doesn’t add a lot. There’s impressive murals and veneered artwork and other interesting permanent exhibitions like the presepe (nativity scenes which Naples is known for), carts and boats which are all interesting to see. However, for me the views from the terraces and garden were well worth the price of the ticket.
My favourite picture in the Certosa was:
7. Visit the Santa Chiara monastery. It’s 6 euros to get in. There’s a museum element to the building but it’s worth paying just to have a few minutes relaxing amidst the orange trees and sit in the shade of the cloister. The decor is vibrant in the square to say the least, a little bit like a tacky seaside resort but it actually rather works I think!
8. Marvel at photo’s of the renown Veiled Christ marble sculpture on your laptop comfortably in your hotel room. Alternatively, spend 7 euros at Cappella di Sansevero queuing to see it, have your view blocked by tourists (pesky tourists) and then leave 5 minutes later (because there’s nothing much else to do there) without even being allowed to even take a photo. The statue is very impressive indeed, a real work of genius by Giuseppe Sanmartino in 1753, but in my opinion you can view it in more detail and get the same, indeed more of, a sense of awe from photos when you’re not surrounded by loads of other people. On the other hand, thousands of people on TripAdvisor have judged it the top thing to do out of hundreds of things to do in Naples so what do I know!
9. Have a sit down and relax in the Gesu’ Nuovo church. It’s pretty ugly on the outside but lovely, spacious and cool on the inside! There’s lots of other churches to see too and it’s worth popping into them to have a look when you go past one.
10. Whilst you’re in Naples, it’s important to try some traditional Napoletano delicacies!
- Margherita Pizza. I had mine at Acquolina on the coast at Castel dell’Ovo. Neapolitan pizza is doughy and soft; thin in the middle and bready and thick at the edges. Ask for Mozzarella di Buffalo which is the more superior mozzarella – you can really taste the difference. I’ve always preferred thin and crispy pizza’s but I could be converted by the one I had here. Great service too. I got two complimentary glasses of prosecco and a limoncello!
- Espresso Naples style. Have this at the Gran Caffe’ Gambrinus on the corner of Piazza Plebiscito. The woman at the till was horridly grumpy (you have to pay at the till first and then take your receipt to the bar to get your drink) but the barmen more than made up for it. You have to ask for a “caffe” and try not to feel short-changed that you’re getting about 3 millimeters of coffee in a cup that will burn the skin off your lips. Apart from being scalding, it really was a good espresso – not bitter at all. AND it came with a refreshing glass of fizzy water (which I assumed was to take the taste away of the coffee but it seems to be used as a palate cleanser before it).
- Sfogliatelle. These are traditional flakey pastry delights with a creamy centre. Mmmm.
On a slightly separate but related note; watch out for the waiters weaving in and out of traffic wielding cups of coffee. Good coffee seems such an important thing here people order it in rather than just making a cup in their office kitchen!
If you’ve seen Naples or have anything to add please do leave a comment…
Tune in for Part 3: Pompeii & Herculaneum.