The intoxicating city of Naples is located on the western coast of Southern Italy. As the third largest city in Italy, it has been inhabited for centuries and over the course of time has seen its share of battles, sieges, and more. Naples oozes history from its pores, in its ruins, historical buildings, monuments and traditional squares. Here’s a list of places and activities, the best things to do in Naples, Italy, that will make your visit to ‘Bella Napoli’ memorable.
I lived in Naples for over three years while my husband was stationed in the area with the U.S. Navy. Here are my recommendations of the best things to do in Naples, Italy.
- Best Things to do in Naples, Italy
- Where to stay in Naples, Italy
- Is Naples, Italy worth visiting?
Best Things to do in Naples, Italy
Ruin of Pompeii
The renowned ancient city of Pompeii is a must-see when visiting Naples. Although a large portion of the city was covered in volcanic ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, Pompeii is well-preserved.
Visitors can walk among the excavated ruins of the city and see such sites as the Temple of Apollo, the Temple of Jupiter and the amphitheater. There are also preserved plaster casts of victims who couldn’t flee the deadly volcanic dust and rock, thermal baths and Villa of the Mysteries, richly decorated with colorful frescoes.
Ruins of Herculaneum
Another important ancient city destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is Herculaneum, buried under volcanic ash and pumice. Its nearly intact ruins are located in the more modern city of Ercalano. Although smaller than Pompeii, Herculaneum was a wealthier town and a popular seaside retreat for the Roman elite.
Villa of the Papyri and the House of Argus are two of the amazing sites in the city but there are so many other preserved buildings and baths. On display are several unearthed skeletons along with one called the ‘Ring Lady’ due to the many rings still present on her skeletal hand.
The more adventurous traveler may be into climbing Mount Vesuvius, the most famous volcano in the world, and peering into its massive crater. On some days, the crater releases steam or a subtle plume of smoke as volcanoes tend to do.
A 30-minute, somewhat arduous hike will take visitors from the park’s entrance to the summit offering panoramic views at the top.
Is it safe? Though Vesuvius is indeed an active volcano, it’s activity is constantly monitored by local geologists at the Vesuvius Observatory and volcanic events usually provide warnings before becoming ‘full-blown,’ so to speak.
One of the most impressive sights in the picturesque Bay of Naples and the first one visitors coming to the city via cruise ships see, is Castel Nuovo.
Built between 1279 and 1282, the medieval fortress with its five round towers and white marble triumphal arch is open for guided tours. Alternatively, you can roam through the castle on your own and climb the castle’s ramparts to take in stunning views of the city from above.
The Naples Cathedral
Duomo di Napoli, or Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, is a magnificent and impressive Gothic-style Roman Catholic church, the main church of the city. It was built on the foundations of two Christian basilicas and building excavations have revealed Greek and Roman artifacts.
The famous church also houses a vial of the blood of Saint Januarius, which is brought out three times a year, on the first Saturday in May, on 19 September and 16 December, when the dried blood usually liquefies. If the blood fails to liquefy, legend has it that disaster will befall Naples.
A royal palace that has visitors in total awe, Palazzo Reale is not only a palace but a museum and historical tourist destination. As the center of power in Naples and throughout southern Italy for over 300 centuries, this imposing structure houses paintings, stuccoes, tapestries, precious furnishings and the majestic Staircase of Honor, defined as the most beautiful in Europe.
Thirty rooms open to the public for tours include the must-see Court Theater, Throne Room and the Royal Chapel.
National Archaeological Museum
Not only does this incredible archeological museum contain fascinating finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum, but it’s also known for its collection of ancient Roman remains with collections from Greek, Roman and Renaissance designs.
Sculptures, busts, precious gems, pottery, terracotta, silver and ivory along with the ancient artifacts, make this an absolute treasure of Roman history and culture.
Galleria Umberto I
This is one of the most glorious shopping galleries we’ve seen in Italy. The 19th century structure named after the king at the time has a lovely combination of cafés, restaurants, shops, and social life, and is forever brimming with energy.
With its spectacular domed glass and steel roof, the gallery also features elegant murals and sculptures. And just directly across from the galleria is the San Carlo Theater, the oldest opera house in the world. The theater still offers live performances like Puccini’s La Bohème and Tosca and other classical music concerts.
Catacombs of San Gennaro
The Catacombs of San Gennaro comprise an underground series of tunnels and passageways under the City of Naples that date back to the 2nd or 3rd century AD.
A clear example of how history can be traced through its layers, these catacombs containing over 3,000 tombs were named after Naples’ patron saint. They are divided into two levels, one on top of the other. Taking a tour through this somewhat spooky but fascinating underground world is a must-do.
Cameo Factory de Paolo
The art of cameo processing has long been a proud art creation of Naples. It is believed the ancient Greeks practiced this form of art, then later Romans incorporated in its ceremonies of religious worship. But thanks to commercial exchanges coming from Central America and Africa, artisans had the basic needed coral with which to carve these magnificent pieces over time.
Naples has a lovely cameo factory in downtown where visitors can meet Italian master carvers, watch them perform their artisan work, and select from their many beautiful designs in the form of pendants, rings, pins and other pieces of fine jewelry.
Feast on Neapolitan Pizza
One of the best things to do in Naples, Italy is eating! Pizza is widely considered one of the world’s favorite foods, so, why not enjoy it in the birthplace of pizza – Naples, Italy?
Pizza Napolitana is Naples’ original style of pizza made with Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, olive oil and fresh basil. Over the years there have been additional variations that have grown in popularity in Naples and throughout Italy.
Where to find the best? It’s all good, but if you’re not sure, just ask a local for a recommendation, and be sure to pair your pizza with a nice Chianti. Oh, and pizza here is always eaten with a knife and fork, never with the hands.
Capodimonte National Museum
The amazing Museo di Capodimonte, located in the grand Bourbon palace of Naples, is the prime repository of Neapolitan painting and decorative art. The collection also includes other important works from other Italian schools of painting along with some important ancient Roman sculptures.
As one of the largest museums in Italy, its collections date back to 1738 and include works from Raphael, Titian, El Greco, Caravaggio, and more.
One of the oldest standing fortifications in Naples, the castle’s name comes from a legend about the Roman poet, Virgil, who in medieval times was believed to be a great sorcerer and predictor of the future.
Legend has it that Virgil placed a magical egg into the foundations of the castle. Had this egg ever been broken, the castle would have been destroyed, bringing on a series of disastrous events for the City of Naples.
Where to stay in Naples, Italy
Accommodations in Naples are numerous with many surprisingly economical options. Use the map below to find the one best for you.
Is Naples, Italy worth visiting?
In a city that seems to practice chaos on a daily basis, Naples is also one of Italy’s most romantic cities.
Vedi Napoli e poi muori (See Naples and die) is an Italian saying of unknown origin, but many have come to interpret this as that after one has seen Naples, there is nothing else worth seeing. That’s what the locals will always say.
For those of us who have fallen in love with Naple’s siren call, we appreciate its beautiful sunshine, azure waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Bay of Naples, its fascinating history, and its delightful food and wine.destinationhistoricNaplesseaside