Naples is a thriving Italian coastal city full of brash Baroque architecture, scooters and pedestrians zipping around the streets, plus a rich tradition of satisfying Italian cuisine.
The still-active Vesuvius stratovolcano watches over Naples, a place that has seen its reputation sporadically battered over the years as a less-than-glossy Italian city. Ultimately, any gossip you may have heard about Naples only adds to its gritty charm.
Discover the best things to do in Naples, Italy and plan your visit to this atmospheric city.
Shop for Handmade Statuettes Along Via San Gregorio Armeno
People-watching and drifting through the narrow streets, while ducking in and out of little shops or bistros are among the best things to do in Naples, Italy.
If you’re after some unique trinkets or souvenirs to commemorate your time in the city, San Gregorio Armeno Street (aka Christmas Alley), with its tradition of selling handcrafted figurines and statuettes, will delight you.
San Gregorio Armeno, during the Roman era, was home to the Temple of the Goddess Ceres. Followers of this ferity goddess would visit this site with small, sacred figurines in their hands.
Today, the local artisans here specialize in handmade pastori statuettes, which depict nativity scenes. You can also pick up little statues of famous musicians, politicians, sports stars, and other well-known contemporary characters.
While you’re in the area, try to swing by the Baroque San Gregorio Armeno Church, which features a stunning ceiling painted by the renowned Flemish painter Teodoro D’Errico.
Wander Down Spaccanapoli Street
Right next to San Gregorio Armeno, you’ll find the much-visited Spaccanapoli Street, which is a bustling series of connected roads that essentially divide the historic center in two.
Spaccanapoli Street is a literal cross-section of Napolitano life, offering you a straight shot (it’s a straight road) into the heart of the city. This long, narrow thoroughfare, with some hilly parts, is comprised of three main roads: Via Benedetto Croce, Via San Biagio dei Librai, and Via Vicaria Vecchia.
Wander down Spaccanapoli to soak in the local ambiance. During your saunters, you can stop by old churches and chapels, like the San Lorenzo Maggiore Basilica, Sansevero Chapel, or Gesu Nuovo Church and square.
Then, when you need a rest, drop by a café, bar, bakery, bistro, or trattoria for a drink or bite to eat before you continue taking in Spaccanapoli’s mercantile charms.
Survey Castel Nuovo
If you’d like a wonderful view of this port city, head up to the medieval Castel Nuovo, also called Maschio Angioino. Survey the main keep, grounds, and five enormous rounded stone towers of this arresting Italian castle.
Castel Nuovo, built in the 13th century, then reworked in the middle of the 15th century by the Spanish ruler Alfonso the Magnanimous (Alfonso V), is a blend of medieval and renaissance architectural styles.
You can walk the fortress’s walls for grand vistas over the port of Naples, then stop by the 14th-century Palatine Chapel and admire its rose window and the remnants of its Giotto frescoes.
The Aragonese “crocodile pit” prison is also of interest; legend says an Egyptian crocodile used to drag prisoners to their deaths here. The castle’s museum galleries, with assorted collections of beautiful paintings and sculptures spanning the centuries, should captivate your attention as well.
Sample Neapolitan Pizza
Pizza lovers the world over come to Naples to sample the city’s legendary pizza. This is the place, after all, where pizza was born. Therefore, it makes sense to enjoy a tasty lunch at a Neapolitan pizzeria while you’re in town.
Queen Margherita of Savoy is credited with inspiring the pizza craze. While the queen was staying in the coastal Italian town of Naples, she requested a simpler type of cuisine to dine upon.
After she was offered several pizzas to choose from, she selected the pie that reflected the colors of the Italian flag: Red, from the tomatoes; white, from the mozzarella; and green, from the basil. The name Margherita, coined in her honor, came into use somewhat later.
As one of the best food cities in Italy, take advantage of the chance to stop by a typical Neapolitan pizzeria, where you can select whatever pizza appeals to you the most. If you want to blend in with the locals in the more traditional pizzerias, keep it simple; Italians don’t eat pineapple on their pizza.
You can also head over to Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, which, by most accounts, is the planet’s first pizzeria, dating back to 1830. While you’re rambling down Spaccanapoli Street, note that Di Matteo is another great spot for some mouthwatering pies.
Neapolitans know how to do pizza right, so chances are, no matter where you end up, you’ll be treated to some fantastic food that Italy is known for.
Check Out the Seaside Castel dell’Ovo
If European strongholds intrigue you, among the best things to do in Naples, apart from calling upon Castel Nuovo, is to check out the 12th-century Norman seaside fortress known as Castel dell’Ovo. This weathered citadel is also referred to as the “egg” castle.
Castel dell’Ovo, which once served as a prison, is Naples’ oldest castle. The site, where the Greeks first settled the region during the seventh century BC, affords sweeping views of the Gulf of Naples. The panoramas are even better from the fortress’s ramparts.
The “egg” castle got its nickname due to a legend claiming that the Roman poet Virgil concealed a magical egg, tied to the fate of the city, among its stones. These days, the castle is a popular space for special events, musical performances, and art exhibitions.
Visit the National Archaeological Museum of Naples
Travelers interested in art and history, as well as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, along with the subsequent destruction of Pompeii, should visit the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli), or MANN.
One of the best art museums in Italy, MANN is an excellent spot to dig into the region’s artistic and volcanic past and if you plan to visit the archaeological site of Pompeii, it puts the findings there into context.
Located in the Piazza Museo, MANN, with its expansive brick-red façade, is a former cavalry barracks. The museum now houses the rich archeological finds from Herculaneum and Pompeii, once buried in volcanic ash, then uncovered, with work still ongoing, by archeologists and researchers.
MANN is also home to many ancient Greek and Roman art pieces and relics, plus the Greco-Roman sculptures of the Farnese Collection, which were swept up by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (who later became Pope) during the 16th century.
The museum also boasts an impressive Egyptian section, divided into five sections, assembled from private collections.
Stroll Among Posillipo Hill’s Ritzy Villas
Dream of walking among the ritzy splendor of Naples’ wealthier residents? The historic villas, some in great shape, others less so, of the hilly Posillipo neighborhood, with its clifftop locale, will offer you a peek into a different side of Neapolitan life.
Posillipo Hill, situated in the city’s southwest, hosts gorgeous homes and comes with wide-ranging views across the Gulf of Naples, with Mount Vesuvius in the distance.
In addition to taking in the fancy homes here, you can pass through the excavated Grotta di Seiano to visit the Parco Archeologico del Pausilypon. This site features the imperial villa of Publius Vedius Pollio, a favorite of emperor Augustus, an ancient amphitheater, and dramatic vistas from the cliffs down to the sea below.
Drop by Piazza del Plebiscito
For a window into the regal side of Naples, make your way to the Piazza del Plebiscito. This large and graceful square will offer you a reprieve from the city’s hustle and bustle, plus two significant structures of note: The Royal Palace of Naples, and the Neoclassical San Francesco di Paola Basilica.
The San Francesco di Paola Basilica is unmistakable in its distinctive design. This church features a massive Pantheon-esque central dome and a central portico supported by tall Doric columns.
The entrance is flanked on both sides by a long, curved line of columns, all looking out onto the square. The decorated interior is exquisite, with dazzling white marble and a gorgeous altar, inlaid with rare stones, like blue lapis lazuli.
Tour the Royal Palace of Naples
Another great thing about Piazza del Plebiscito, and one of the best things to do in Naples, is to take a tour through the Royal Palace of Naples. The palace, built by the city’s Spanish Bourbon rulers in the 1600s, will reveal the extravagant existences of the ruling classes in centuries past.
A few of the palace’s highlights include the fetching throne room, the royal apartments, the regal Grand Staircase of Honor designed by Luigi Vanvitelli, the Royal Court Theatre (also designed by Vanvitelli), the Courtyard of Honor, and the royal gardens.
If you plan to explore this enormous Royal Palace, get ready for a whirlwind circuit through Neapolitan imperial history.
Book a Guided Tour of the San Carlo Theatre
While visiting Piazza del Plebiscito and the Royal Palace of Naples, consider booking a tour of the San Carlo Theater.
This phenomenal theater is part of the Royal Palace’s buildings. The opera house, which predates Milan’s La Scala, has the distinguished honor of being the oldest working opera house in the world.
The magnificently lavish San Carlo Theater, with close to 1,400 seats, was commissioned by the Bourbon King Charles III in 1737. The building was designed by the military architect Giovanni Antonio Medrano.
The neoclassical exterior and sumptuous interior, rebuilt after an 1816 fire, are a must for any opera aficionado. You can opt for a tour, offered in English and Italian, of the foyers, auditorium, and several other spaces. Better yet, if you have time to spare, buy a ticket for a live performance, then witness this stunning temple, dedicated to the art of opera, come to life for yourself.
“Tunnel” Through the Bourbon Gallery
If spelunking beneath an ancient city appeals to your sense of adventure, “tunneling” through the Bourbon Gallery should make an enjoyable subterranean excursion during your explorations of Naples.
During the somewhat riotous epoch of the Bourbon dynasty, King Ferdinand II thought it prudent to come up with a royal escape plan.
To that end, he commissioned the construction of an underground tunnel in the mid-1800s, connecting the Royal Palace to the city’s military barracks—although the king died before the tunnel was finished.
Over the years, the tunnel has been forgotten and rediscovered several times. During the Second World War, it was used as an air raid shelter for citizens. The tunnel then became something of a graveyard for old cars and other unwanted artifacts.
A walking tour through the Bourbon Tunnel comes with the option of a bit of rafting through an abandoned transit tunnel and a visit to the old aqueducts. Underground, you’ll get the chance to see the relics left behind by Neapolitans sheltering here during the war.
As you descend into the earth, you’ll observe other discarded monuments too; one notably of the fascist leader Aurelio Padovani. If you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, the Bourbon Tunnel will offer you a fascinating glimpse into Italy’s past.
Admire Artistic Masterpieces
The best thing to do in Naples for lovers of classical art and sculpture is to head over to the Sansevero Chapel Museum, which is a place for appreciating artistic masterpieces.
This ornate baroque church, which you can visit while wandering around Spaccanapoli Street, is home to Giuseppe Sanmartino’s incredibly realistic-looking Veiled Christ, with the marble resembling real human flesh beneath the stone veil.
You’ll also likely be impressed by Francesco Maria Russo’s handsome frescos, which decorate the church, and by the Francesco Queirolo sculpture entitled Disinganno, featuring a large net cut out of marble. The meticulous craftsmanship of this stone net will astound you.
Learn more about the city’s long history, vibrant modern-day culture, and appetizing gastronomical traditions on a cruise to Naples with Celebrity Cruises. Browse itineraries and book your next Mediterranean getaway today.