Naples Destination Guide

History, tradition and pizza collide in Naples

A spectacular city under the volcano

'See Naples and die' – so said Johann Wolfgang Goethe in his Italian Journey, commenting that ‘once one has seen Naples, one can die peacefully, since nothing else can match its beauty’. It’s a sentiment many who visit the Campanian capital share, such is the city’s ancient beauty and intoxicating pace of life.

Naples is the energy, vigour and ‘la dolce vita’ of Italy writ large. Here, Roman-age passageways are hung with the laundry of the locals, as scooters zip to and fro through the labyrinth, negotiating walls and monuments which have stood for centuries. It’s a place of colour, authenticity and, of course, pizza – a dish fiercely beloved by locals, and viewed as a rite of passage for all who visit.

If you’re keen to experience another side to Italy than that afforded by the cities of the north, Naples is the place for you.

Must-See Sights

Naples is one of the oldest cities of the Mediterranean, with some 4,000 years of history to explore and discover. Take a look at a handful of the city’s must-see sights below.

Piazza Del Plebiscito

Piazza del Plebiscito
Set back from the water’s edge close to the historic centre of Naples, Piazza del Plebiscito is a magnificent city square, flanked by some of Napoli’s most esteemed neoclassical buildings. Established in the 19th century, the piazza is modelled on the Pantheon in Rome, with a curved colonnade which makes it one of the most striking architectural features in the city. The Royal Palace, Church of San Francesco di Paola and Fontana dei Leoni gardens line the perimeter of this spacious piazza, while on the northern side, Gran Caffé Gambrinus, Naples’ most luxurious and historic coffeehouse, continues to serve coffee and pastries amid elegant surrounds – just as it has since the 19th century.

Spaccanapoli

Spaccanapoli
Spaccanapoli, translated as ‘the Naples splitter’ from Latin, is an ancient byway which dissects the city’s old town from east to west, providing a handy touchpoint from which to see some of Naples’ most attractive historic buildings. Stretching from Vomero to Forcella, the street is remarkably old, with evidence of its ancient Greek origins still visible today (chiefly at Mura Greche on the historic Piazza Bellini). Part of Naples’ UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town, Spaccanapoli is home to a string of heritage treasures, from the Pio Monte Church with its invaluable Caravaggio collection, to ‘Subterranean Naples’, a network of tunnels which provide a unique insight into the city’s ancient past.

Castel Sant'Elmo

Castel Sant’Elmo
Visible from many parts of Naples and its Gulf, Castel Sant’Elmo is the city’s domineering hilltop fortress, located on a rocky crest in the lofty heights of Vomero. Since the 13th century, this imposing castle has watched over the city and its bay, and was once the seat of King Charles of Angiò, king of Naples and Sicily from 1266 to 1285. History aside, most visit Sant’Elmo for a different reason: the spectacular panoramic views offered from its ancient terraces. From Mount Vesuvius to the Isle of Capri, the castle provides stunning views of Naples and its coast that you simply can’t afford to miss. It’s also a great place to take in the sprawling beauty of the city itself, with wonderful views over Spaccanapoli, Chiaia and the Spanish Quarter.

Naples National Archaeological Museum

Naples National Archaeological Museum
Given Naples’ rich history and proximity to extraordinary heritage sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum, there’s small wonder its home to Italy’s National Archaeological Museum – easily one of the most significant museums in southern Europe. Founded in 1734 by Charles III of Bourbon, the museum houses a wonderful collection of ancient artefacts and works, many of which were transferred to the museum from Vesuvian settlements which were buried by the volcanic eruption of 79 AD. Since then, the museum has grown exponentially, enriched by archaeological findings from across the Campania region and beyond. Expect objects and artworks from every period in the history of southern Italy – from ancient Greek to Aragonese.

Cultural Highlights

Pizza, folklore and the brooding presence of Vesuvius have each helped shape the culture and heritage of Naples, giving the city a unique feel that’s unlike anywhere else in Europe. Here, we take a closer look at the city’s cultural highlights.

Pizza

pizza image
In Naples, pizza is more than just food. It has defined the culture here for over two centuries, bringing joy to locals and visitors alike. Given that Naples is the historic birthplace of pizza, the locals take their signature dish very seriously, with laws in place dictating how it should be made, as well as unofficial guidelines on how it should be eaten. Such is the beauty of a true Neapolitan pizza that trying it should be one of the first things you do when you reach the city. Look for pizzerias serving ‘pizza vera Napoletana’ for a truly authentic experience; some of the foremost and best-loved pizzerias in the city include Sorbillos, Pizzeria Di Matteo and L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele.

Pulcinella

Pulcinella
Whether you’re strolling the Spaccanapoli or enjoying a coffee on the Piazza Bellini, there’s a chance you’ll encounter a Pulcinella – a unique figure in the history and culture of Naples. Since ancient times, these masked figures have wandered Napoli’s ancient byways, offering street performances and entertainment entrenched in local folkloric tradition. Emerging in the courts of the 14th century, ‘Pulcinella’ are similar to the image of the court jester, though they wear a ‘lupo’ mask with a bent nose and wrinkly eyes. These odd figures are a unique part of the local culture in Naples, and are a much-loved aspect of the city’s historic cultural identity.

Mount Vesuvius

mount vesuvius
Nothing has contributed more to the shaping of Neapolitan life than Mount Vesuvius. It’s only when you visit Naples for the first time that you realise that it is literally built in the shadow of the volcano, and many believe that this is responsible for the city’s unique energy, cultural traditions and pace of life. Whether you choose to see it from Naples’ waterfront or take an excursion to the summit of the caldera; there’s no missing the monumental power and beauty of Vesuvius on your visit to Napoli. From local attitudes to life to the satisfying flavour of a Vesuvian San Marzano tomato – Mount Vesuvius continues to define life in the Campanian capital.

A glimpse into Naples' past

From the ancient Greeks to the Bourbons, countless civilisations and communities have left their mark on Naples, gifting the city a truly extraordinary timeline. Discover some of the formative moments in the city’s history below.

Local Gastronomy

Pizza may be the go-to for many who visit Naples, but there’s a whole lot more to the local gastronomy than this classic plate. Here, we take a closer look at the dishes and treats which define Neapolitan gastronomy.

Pizza

pizza image
Such is the significance of pizza in Naples that it deserves two mentions, so here we are. Classic Neapolitan pizza is defined by its simplicity, comprising of just four ingredients: tipo ‘00’ flour, salt, San Marzano tomatoes, and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. This classic combination is included on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage, and has received Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) status in Europe. But there are other ways to enjoy pizza in Naples, too, with several vendors offering a deep-fried option which, despite the calories, is utterly delicious.

Sfogliatella

Sfogliatella
Breakfast in Naples means a strong espresso and every local’s favourite pastry, the sfogliatella. In Italian, ‘sfogliatella’ means ‘small, thin leaf/layer’, which tells you all you need to know about this moreish breakfast delicacy. The dish comprises of thin layers of filo pastry, layered together and wrapped in a lobster tail shape. Traditionally, the filling is made from orange-flavoured ricotta, often containing candied lemon peel to bolster the citrus flavour. Alongside a strong espresso, there are few finer ways to start your day.

Spaghetti alle Vongole

Spaghetti alle Vongole
Seafood is an important facet of local cuisine throughout the Gulf of Naples, and few dishes showcase this quite so simply as a classic bowl of spaghetti alle vongole. Beloved throughout Campania, this simple pasta dish comprises of palourde or carpet-shell clams, cooked in white wine, garlic, parsley and olive oil, and tossed through strands of freshly-prepared spaghetti. As the clams cook, they open and release a natural liquid which helps season the dish, giving it a wonderfully aromatic seafood flavour. In Naples, spaghetti alle vongole is surprisingly affordable – a classic fishermen’s dish which promises distinct local flavour.

 

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