Naples is a very special city. The metropolis at the foot of Mount Vesuvius is loud, dirty, a bit run-down in many places and extremely chaotic. But Naples is also colorful, rich in culture and incredibly lively.
So if you’re coming to Naples for the first time, it’s best to throw out any ideas you might have about an ideal city.
Naples is by no means ideal, but if you approach the city with an open mind, you’ll have a great time.
Naples has an incredible amount of sights. The city has magnificent buildings, ancient archaeological sites, underground tunnels and wonderful viewpoints.
But not only that, there is such a charged atmosphere in Naples that is simply hard to describe. You simply have to experience Naples.
Tip 1: Vesuv
On the Gulf of Naples in the Campania region is Mount Vesuvius. The volcano, which erupted for the last time in 1944, is still active, which makes it particularly fascinating for every visitor.
Vesuvius, in Italian “Vesuvio”, is a ring volcano and unlike other still active volcanoes in Europe, it is located on the mainland. Volcanoes like Etna or Stromboli are located on islands. In total, Vesuvius measures 1281 meters at the highest point and the foot in circumference 80 kilometers. An area of about 480 square kilometers are covered by Vesuvius. According to assumptions, Vesuvius was formed about 30,000 years ago and was once an underwater volcano in the Gulf of Naples. In the course of time it rose as an island and after its eruption it connected with the mainland.
Vesuvius captivates every visitor with its long history. In 79 A.D. there was the unexpected catastrophe. Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried under a high layer of ash and lava by an eruption of Vesuvius. A quarter of all the citizens of Pompeii at that time died in the great natural disaster. In 1944, Vesuvius erupted for the last time.
This dramatic and at the same time breathtaking history of Vesuvius can be clearly felt on site. The volcano is thoroughly monitored for the safety of visitors, residents and surrounding towns so that changes can be detected early. This ensures that no visitor puts himself in danger when visiting Vesuvius. After all, viewing Vesuvius with one’s own eyes is a highly exciting affair that should not be missed.
Tip 2: Castel Nuovo
The Castel Nuovo, often called Maschio Angioino, is one of the most famous and important buildings of the city. It served under various kings mostly in a dual function as a fortress and residence.
Until 1266 Palermo was the capital of the Kingdom of Naples. Thus, with Castel Capuano, there was already a royal residence, but after the transfer of the capital to Naples, Charles I of Anjou gave orders for the construction of a new castle. It was to be near the sea to house his court. The construction as well as the works began in 1279 under the supervision of the priest Pierre de Chaule as architect and lasted a total of three years.
In 1347 the Castel Nuovo was heavily destroyed by the army of Louis I of Hungary and then in 1443 the magnificent triumphal arch was built at the entrance of the castle. It is still a popular photo motif today.
The Castel Nuovo has witnessed many a historically significant moment. Shattered by many wars and times of turmoil, the fortress nevertheless remains a symbol of resistance and strength. At the beginning of the 20th century, all the buildings around the site were finally demolished in order to pay proper tribute to its historical importance. Since then, the Castel Nuovo has once again towered over the city streets. Today, visitors can admire the splendor of the Castel both from the outside and the inside. Part of the castle is also the Museo Civio, which is housed in the old Gothic chapel.
Tip 3: Catacombs of San Gennaro
Deep beneath the lively alleys of Naples it lies: “The city beneath the city” – An unimagined sight. A labyrinth of impressive caves, cisterns and wells, about eighty kilometers long, runs through the entire underground of Naples. 40 meters below the city, a fascinating world has emerged here over the millennia. A walk through the legendary caves changes the view of the city and is therefore an essential part of a sightseeing tour of the southern Italian city.
Since the fourth century BC, for example, the mysterious tunnels have been used for a variety of purposes. Whether as a burial ground or a place of refuge, the underground is a thousand-year-old monument to the Neapolitans. Under the hill of Capodimonte, for example, lies the Catacomb of San Gennaro, which houses over 2000 tombs. Guides dressed as they once were take interested tourists here on a mysterious journey through the city’s past. The catacombs were also home to many poor families in centuries past. According to stories, hungry children sometimes even managed to get into other people’s houses through underground tunnels in order to get food there. This gave rise to the legend of the house ghost Munaciello, who makes objects disappear overnight. Nowadays, however, the friendly ghost is supposed to help in the recovery of lost objects and is a landmark of the Italian metropolis.
Tip 4: Castel dell’Ovo
The fortress “Castel dell’Ovo” rises above the island of Megaride in the district of San Fernandino. The name of the castle comes from the legend that Naples remains intact as long as egg located on the tuff foundation of the fortress. The popular stage during the walks along the wide promenade, offers a fantastic view of the Gulf of Naples and Posillipo. The fortress, dating from the 1st century BC, is connected to the mainland by a small road and offers alternating thematic exhibitions and a prehistoric museum (Museo di Etnopreistoria).
On the shore of the island of Megaride, the siren Parthenope is said to have been washed up after throwing herself into the sea because she could not charm Odysseus with her song. At the foot of the castle lies the picturesque district of Borgo Santa Lucia with its small marina, today particularly renowned for its upscale fish restaurants.
Borgo Santa Lucia is the cornerstone of Naples. The origins of this ancient district lie in distant times, in the VIII century BC when the Greek colonists from Cuma decided to found Parthènope. This ancient port city included the area between the island of Megaride and the hills of Pizzofalcone. Two centuries later, Parthènope was renamed as Neapolis or “new city”.
Tip 5: Spaccanapoli
Spaccanapoli is the most famous street in Naples. Literally translated, the name means “Naples splitter” and if you look at the street from the surrounding hills, you will understand why.
The street divides the old town of Naples in two in a dead straight line and passes near many landmarks. So a stroll along Spaccanapoli is the ideal starting point for your exploration of the city.
However, don’t expect a relaxing city walk in any case. Spaccanapoli is noisy, crowded and always packed. Tourists as well as the real Neapolitans push their way through the narrow street at any time of the day or night.
Be sure to take your time walking along Spaccanapoli, because there is so much to see.
In addition to countless churches from different eras, there is one store after another. There are fashion boutiques, souvenir stores, street food stalls, bars and restaurants and some curiosities.
For example, along the street is an altar in honor of Diego Maradona, the former SSC Naples soccer player. Yes, soccer is at least as important in Naples as the church and Maradona is something of a saint for the locals.
In addition, along Spaccanapoli, there is also a real doll hospital, complete with its flagship “ambulance service,” dating back to 1840, which is how long dolls of all sizes have been lovingly patched up here.