Naples

Archaeology, street life, and the world’s best pizza

Overview

It’s Italy but not as you know it. Naples may not boast the sophisticated elegance of the high Renaissance sites of its northern neighbours in Florence and Venice, but this city by the bay has a unique identity of its own. Not to say Naples lacks cultural landmarks. On the contrary, the hilltop medieval Castel Sant’Elmo, fortress-like Monastery of San Martino, distinctive Castell D’Ovo, and the beautiful duomo are a history buff’s dream. The feel though is earthier, grittier, less refined perhaps than elsewhere. Neapolitans however remain unapologetic and fiercely proud of their ancient city, passionate about good food, wine, family, and not least their adored football team.

 

Weather-wise spring and autumn offer ideal temperatures for touring and not surprisingly draw big crowds. The worst time to travel though is July and August when Naples is steaming hot, super busy with holidaying families and prices rocket. The low season November to March is well worth considering for crowd-free bargains, so long as you avoid the Christmas period which sees a lot of visitors. The southern location means less cold and rain than the north of Italy and although you’ll need layers and a mac, you can expect average temperatures of 10-13°C. November in particular is the month of heaviest rain, but throughout winter you’ll see blue skies between the showers with good conditions for exploring without the exhausting heat of summer.

 

Italy’s 3rd Biggest City

Have fun exploring the varied sites on offer in this unique centre. From the impressive waterfront promenade with views of Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples reach the dramatic Castell D’Ovo. Head inland and find the city’s cathedral, the Duomo di San Gennaro, filled with stunning frescoes; the lavish Royal Palace; and the 13th century Castel Nuovo. Check out the beautiful cloisters and murals at Santa Chiara Monastery, the Veiled Christ at Sansevero Chapel and the fascinating Archaeological Museum. This last one however is best visited after experiencing Pompeii and Herculaneum to give context to the exhibits. Naples is fairly easy to navigate thanks to its many prominent landmarks, not least the steep Vomero Hill, home to Castel Sant’Elmo.

 

Vibrant Backstreets

Take a break from the shopping thoroughfare of Via Toledo and arrive in Naples’ small piazzas and cobbled lanes. Here you’ll experience the unique vibe of the city in the narrow alleys complete with pretty balconies, hanging washing and some seriously questionable overhead electrics. The colourful, crumbling Spanish Quarter, named for 16th military garrison sent from Spain to quell the unruly locals, has long held a seedy reputation. Today though, it’s a very Neapolitan neighbourhood, with lottery shops, trattorias, buskers and urban street art. Stop for a cappuccino and deliciously flaky sfogliatella while you recharge.

 

Day trips

With easy access to trains and ferries, there’s no excuse not to get out of the city for a day or two. The glamorous car free island of Capri and its lesser known neighbours, Ischia and Procida, are reachable by ferry crossing. Although winter winds can affect timings, and some of the island facilities shut down, you’ll have an idyllic environment and beautiful views all to yourself. Similarly, the coastal resort town of Sorrento is conveniently on the Circumvesuviana train service, running every 30 minutes from Naples and has events year round, including extravagant Christmas lights and a musical tree. Low season is an excellent time to visit the unmissable moving archaeological sites of the ruins at Pompeii to Herculaneum.

Low Season Months

Jan
9°C
80mm
4hrs
Feb
9°C
100mm
4hrs
Mar
12°C
80mm
5hrs
Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov
13°C
140mm
4hrs
Dec
10°C
100mm
3hrs

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Top Experiences

Climb to Castel’Elmo

Although you can take the funicular up Vomero Hill to St Elmo’s Castle, a great low season activity is to hike. Not only will you build up an appetite and see some interesting things en route, you’ll know you’ve earned the incredible vistas of Vesuvius, the old town and further across the whole city.

The Catacombs of San Gennaro

No one survived the devastating volcanic eruption of 79AD, instead the whole of the once booming port town was smothered and thus uniquely preserved for posterity. At low season you can wander the poignant place without the crowds or heat, gaining a somber insight into daily Roman life.

The Ruins at Pompeii

No one survived the devastating volcanic eruption of 79AD, instead the whole of the once booming port town was smothered and thus uniquely preserved for posterity. At low season you can wander the poignant place without the crowds or heat, gaining a somber insight into daily Roman life.

Insider Tips

  • Via S.Gregorio Armeno is the place to go for the famed year-round elaborate nativity figurines. Since the 17th century expert artisans have hand crafted these religious icons. Rows of shops sell typical biblical figures, although collections have grown now to include footballers and celebrities.
  • Baked over a crackling wood fire, Pizza Napoletana is a must-try in Naples. This simple and delicious fare has been a staple since the 18th century and consists of a dough base topped with raw tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil, and olive oil. Or at Christmas try an escarole stuffed pizza.
  • March 1944 saw the most recent eruption of Mount Vesuvius, hailing rocks the size of basketballs and covering areas with thick ash. Eruption images were used in the film ‘The War of the Worlds’. The mount is monitored constantly for activity so warning can be given of future blow outs.

Good To Know

  • On the first Sunday of each month, all state managed galleries, museums and archaeological sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum are free to enter. Depending on your priorities, save money by going on these days, or know to avoid the date if you’d rather explore with minimal crowds.
  • Naples is street food heaven. Don’t leave without snacking on taralli (pretzel), sciurilli (battered courgette flower), pizza a portafoglio (folded pizza), crocchè (potato croquette), or o’ brore e’ purp (octopus broth). Oh and try the incredible espresso pimped with nuts, cream and choc sauce.
  • Dodge low season showers by exploring Naples’ subterranean surprises. As well as the renowned catacombs, you find a Greco-Roman aqueduct, WWII air raid shelters, ruined theatre, and the ornate blue tiled Bourbon-era drains. Check out the subway stations for iconic art, mosaics, and sculptures.

Food & Drink

Ristorante Antonio & Antonio

Wood-fired pizza and calzone to die for with over 40 topping options and a delicious dough base. Quality salads, fresh seafood and pasta dishes are also served in this fab venue on the promenade with stunning views over the Castel dell’Ovo.

Ristorante La Cantinella di Napoli

Enjoy a good selection of fine wines in an elegant but cosy atmosphere, the restaurant is renowned for traditional and local dishes, and of course for its seafood. Speciality is Linguine Santa Lucia or for a real treat opt for the fish based tasting menu.

L’Europeo Mattozzi Restaurant

L’Europeo is a great typical trattoria. It’s the ideal place to taste the best traditional recipes passed through generations perfectly combined with the warm and convivial atmosphere created by the family owner. Try the parmigiana and roasted artichokes.

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