While most visitors to Italy flock to cities like Milan, Florence and Rome, Naples is often overlooked by many. Those that make it further south to the Campania region focus more on Naples’ surrounding areas like the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii or the nearby islands. So, why visit Naples? This post will give you seven great reasons why you shouldn’t skip this underrated city.
Naples tends to get a pretty bad reputation. Many people think of Naples as the mafia hotbed filled with crime, grime and despair. A city with nothing to see or do for your average tourist chasing the Italian dolce vita. But those that visit Naples find that it’s so much more.
7 Great reasons to visit Naples
Naples is a busy and densely populated city full of vibrant sounds and energy. Gritty yet secretly glamorous, Naples is full of great cultural and artistic surprises for those willing to explore. Like in many other similar cities, you will come across your share of garbage, graffiti and congestion that can seem overwhelming. That’s not a reason to avoid visiting a city that has so much to offer.
Visit Naples for the history
Naples, like many other cities in Italy, is very old. It was founded by the Greeks sometime during the 8th millennium BC as a small commercial port. By the 6th century BC, it became one of the prominent cities of Magna Graecia. It then fell under Roman rule sometime during the 5th century BC.
Romans improved and expanded the city, including its surrounding area. Nearby towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum became popular holiday destinations for wealthy Romans while Naples flourished as a port city.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Naples changed hands many times. It was ruled by the Byzantine Empire, the Normans, then Spanish and French kings. They all left their mark on the city and you can find them today.
Visit Naples for the architecture
If you love architecture and history, you should definitely visit Naples. With so much history behind it, Naples is a treasure trove of historical buildings, monuments, churches, palaces and Roman ruins. As one of Europe’s oldest cities, with its historic centre listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Naples has a lot to offer.
As the seat of monarchy, Naples was the focal point for art and architecture until the 18th century. Here you’ll find examples of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, Neo-Gothic and Liberty Napoletano architecture as well as 448 historical churches. Make sure you don’t miss the Galleria Umberto I, a public shopping gallery across from the San Carlo opera house. If you look closely enough, you will discover traces of the Greek and Roman influences all over the city.
Like many other Italian cities, Naples has its share of piazzas, fountains and castles waiting to be explored. One of the noteworthy piazzas is the Piazza del Plebiscito. Here you’ll find the church of San Francesco di Paola (that to me looks more like a museum rather than a church), the Royal Palace of Naples (Palazzo Reale di Napoli), the charming Palazzo Salerno and the Prefettura Ufficio Territoriale del Governo di Napoli.
Other pizzas to explore include Piazza Bellini, Piazza Dante and Piazza Sannazzaro, which is also nearby the port where you embark on ferries to nearby islands. Fountain lovers will enjoy the Fontana dell’ Immacolatella, Fontana del Nettuno and smaller fountains throughout the city.
Castle lovers can revisit Naples’ royal past by checking out the many palaces across the city, including the ancient Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle), the notable Castel Nuovo, Castel Capuano, Castel Sant’Elmo and the Carmine Castle.
Visit Naples for the museums and galleries
Museums and culture lovers will enjoy Naples for its variety of museums, galleries and art. Here you’ll find the Teatro di San Carlo, the oldest opera house in Italy. The National Archaeological Museum, Naples’ leading museums, is home to many artifacts from the Greek and Roman Empire periods, including many antiques recovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The Museo di Capodimonte, once a Bourbon palace, is now a museum and art gallery. Here you’ll find paintings by many masters from the 13th to the 18th centuries, antique furniture, and a porcelain collection. A great opportunity to see how the Bourbon kings used to live.
Other museums include the Coral Jewellery Museum, the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Museo Filangieri, Museo di San Marino, Museobottega della Tarsilignea and Pinacoteca Girolamini to name a few.
Visit Naples for the food
There is no denying that Naples is a foodie’s heaven. This is, after all, where pizza was born. Maybe it’s the rich soil from the volcano or the mild Mediterranean climate, but you can’t beat the way pizza tastes in Naples. Authentic Neapolitan pizza must be made according to stringent criteria set by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. This includes rules like using certain varieties of tomato and mozzarella made with buffalo milk and how to stretch the dough.
Mouth-watering pizza is not the only foodie attraction in Naples. As a port city, seafood is abundant, tasty and affordable. You can’t go wrong with any food here, but you should definitely try the sfogliatella, a shell-shaped pastry stuffed with creamy ricotta.
Where to eat in Naples? You might enjoy spots seen in Searching for Italy with Stanley Tucci
Naples is also known for its coffee. While coffee culture is synonymous with Italy, Naples is known as a coffee city. Maybe it’s the minerals in the water, or perhaps it’s the preparation. You shouldn’t leave Naples without trying the coffee.
Visit Naples for Roman ruins
As a city founded by the Greeks and built up by the Romans, there is plenty of treasure for history lovers to explore. While you can find traces of the ancient past in some of the structures and streets of Naples, to really explore it you must go underground.
Planning to visit Naples? You might enjoy Discovering Naples underground!
That’s where you’ll find remnants of a Roman amphitheatre where Emperor Nero performed for audiences, a 3rd-century Roman market and an ancient cistern. Many underground tunnels and caverns also served as escape routes for the Bourbon kings, bomb shelters, military hospitals during the war and warehouses for various contraband.
As you’re near many historical ruins, you can also travel to nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum to explore ancient Roman cities buried by the Vesuvius volcano. Naples doesn’t get too much recognition for its Roman past, but it’s a city that played a significant role during the Roman Empire.
Visit Naples for views and the waterfront
One of the most exciting things about Naples is the view of the Vesuvius volcano across the bay. Knowing the history and seeing the aftermath, I don’t understand how anyone can live here and not worry about an eruption. I guess if it’s something you grow up with, it becomes a part of life.
Nonetheless, Naples has a lovely waterfront along the Bay of Naples that is great for the views and enjoying all the city offers. During hot summer days, you’ll find many of the locals splashing in the water and sunning on the rocks. You can always take a ride in a funicular up the hill to visit Castel Sant’Elmo. There you’ll discover spectacular views of Vesuvius and the nearby islands of Capri and Ischia.
A walk along the promenade (lungomare) will show you just how lovely Naples is. Here you can stroll along the water with the locals or take a break for people watching on one of the numerous patios. Admire the pretty and colourful buildings facing the bay and wonder why you haven’t come here sooner.
Make Naples your base for exploring the region
While Naples has a lot to offer visitors, it’s also a great base for exploring the region. Whether you make Naples your base or a starting point, you won’t lack for things to discover in this part of Italy.
As a seaport, Naples is excellent for exploring the nearby islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida. With regular ferry service, you can visit the islands on day trips or stay there for a few days. There is also a ferry service to nearby Sorrento, from where you can access the Amalfi Coast and destinations further afield.
Those who visit Naples for history can explore the nearby towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Both cities were buried under the explosion of the Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD. For a trip further afield, you can check out the remnant of Greek temples at Paestum.
Read more about visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum!
Is it safe to visit Naples?
Naples might have a reputation as a crime-infested city, but it is actually a pretty safe place for tourists. Visitors should exercise caution just like they would in any other large city. Don’t leave their belongings unattended or wander alone into dark alleys.
Pickpocketing and petty theft are as prevalent as it is in many other touristy places. Visitors should exercise caution visitors should mind their valuables when they visit Naples. Be cautious of people trying to distract you while their accomplices relieve you of your belongings.
As in any busy and hectic city, tourists should be on the lookout for oncoming traffic from both cars and scooters. If you’re not willing to take on driving in the city, you’re better off walking or taking public transit.
Final thoughts on whether you should visit Naples
Our first visit to Naples many years ago wasn’t the most pleasant. However, upon our recent return, we were surprised at how much the city has changed over the years. It is a vibrant and lively city, filled with many cultural and culinary treasures. From museums, places and churches to views, shops and restaurants. There is something for everyone.
While Naples is still an impoverished and congested part of Italy, it has a lot of personality. The people of Naples are a hardy and unapologetic lot. They are helpful, friendly and real. I guess that’s what you get living in the shadow of a volcano that can destroy the city at any time. How can you resist it?