Naples, famed as the capital of pizza, is one of the most interesting Italian cities, brimming with history, culture, and vibrant energy. Its plethora of attractions can make planning your trip to Naples overwhelming. As someone who has wandered its alleys more times than I can count, I’ve selected the top 10 things to do in Naples to help you make the most of your visit.
This guide includes diving into the historic heart of Naples, experiencing the lively Spanish Quarter, venturing into the underground mysteries of the city, enjoying breathtaking panoramic views of Naples, and embarking on serene day trips away from the urban hustle.
It is important to note that Naples has a controversial reputation and is often portrayed as gritty, dirty, and even dangerous. The third largest Italian city is rough around its corners and is often dismissed by many cautious travelers, who, at best, rent a car at Naples Airport and drive straight to the more glamorous Amalfi Coast without even considering giving this fascinating city a chance.
While it takes some time to get used to the chaotic rhythm of Naples, I would like to encourage you to explore what the city has to offer, and you will eventually fall in love, just like I did.
Without further ado, let’s delve into the heart of Naples, uncovering the top sights that will enrich your journey with the soul of Italy.
Top 10 Best Things to Do in Naples
1. Explore the Historic Center (Centro Storico)
Go exploring the historic center of Naples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to many palatial buildings, narrow cobbled streets, and a rich history. If you are staying in the historic center of Naples, the majority of the important sights mentioned in this section will be within walking distance and close to each other.
Walk Through Spaccanapoli
Spaccanapoli is a famous thoroughfare, the pulsating heart of Naples’ historic center. It is one of the 3 historical decumani on ancient Naples’ grid, dating back to Roman-Greco times. Rather than being a single avenue, Spaccanapoli is a network of interconnected streets that flow into each other seamlessly.
This renowned set of streets spans roughly 2 kilometers, initiating at Piazza Gesù Nuovo square and forging a straight path eastward, slicing through the Centro Storico and crossing Via Duomo.
Walking through Spaccanapoli is like traversing the spine of Naples. The name Spaccanopoli, translating to “Naples’s splitter,” aptly describes its role in dividing Napoli into two. Along this path, you can observe life that connects the ancient with the modern.
The area is a pulsating vein full of shops, restaurants, and historic buildings, and of course, locals and tourists are always on the go. That said, walking through Spaccanapoli is a great way to experience the city’s vibrant culture and history.
Along the way, you will pass some of the most famous landmarks:
- Historic Gesù Nuovo square and the church, with its unusual, almost brutalist-style façade and impressive lavishly decorated Baroque interiors.
- Santa Chiara Monastery Complex – a serene oasis of tranquillity and historical beauty renowned for its beautiful Gothic architecture, intricate majolica tiled cloister, and rich artistic heritage.
- The Sansevero Chapel – a stunning testament to Baroque art, famously housing the Veiled Christ, a masterpiece of marble sculpture celebrated for its exquisite detailing and lifelike representation of a veiled Jesus.
Lined with many artisan shops offering everything from traditional crafts to modern Neapolitan creations and countless cafés and pizzerias serving up authentic dishes, Spaccanapoli is a place not to be missed when touring Naples.
Swing by Via San Gregorio Armeno
An alleyway of Via San Gregorio Armeno is an unmissable place in the historic center of Naples. It is famously known as Christmas Street, lined with shops and stalls filled to the brim with nativity scenes or ‘Presepe.’
These aren’t just any Christmas decorations. They’re a big deal in Italy, even more so than the fanciest Christmas tree. The art of presepe making has deep roots, going way back to when this street was dedicated to a Roman Goddess. Devotees would offer small terracotta figures made by local artisans as tokens of their worship. With the advent of Christianity, these figurines took on Christian motifs, evolving into a widespread tradition throughout Italy, particularly in Naples.
Today, this small street in Naples is the place to be for the most artistic nativity scenes, where local craftspeople add a modern twist by including everyday life scenes and even famous faces.
Pass Via dei Tribunali
One of the must-do things in Naples is passing by Via dei Tribunali, a vital artery in the heart of Naples. It is also one of the ancient Greek-Roman thoroughfares that defined the city’s layout.
This bustling street, sometimes also called ‘pizza street,’ is a must-visit for its historical depth and culinary richness. Here, you will also find significant landmarks like Naples Cathedral and San Lorenzo Maggiore Basilica, alongside remnants of its regal past through decaying palaces.
Parallel to Spaccanapoli and accessible from Via San Gregorio Armeno, Via dei Tribunali is alive with the essence of Naples depicted in Elena Ferrante’s novels. Its narrow cobblestone path is a chaotic mix of people, scooters, street vendors, coffee shops, and restaurants, offering an authentic slice of Neapolitan life amidst its historical backdrop.
2. Discover The Underground City Of Naples
Naples has a fascinating underground city that dates back to the Roman era. The underground tunnels and chambers were used for everything from water storage to burial sites. Today, visitors can take different guided tours and explore the underground city to learn about its history and see its impressive architecture.
That being said, a couple of underground excursions are worth visiting.
Napoli Sotterannea guided tour is one of the most interesting things to see in Naples. Led by a knowledgeable guide, you will descend into Naples’ belly.
Venturing 40 meters below, you enter a world carved from the earth, revealing a hidden network of ancient streets, catacombs, and tunnels that span back to the 4th century BC. This subterranean realm, expanded from ancient Greek foundations by the Romans for aqueducts and rediscovered as a vital shelter during WWII, offers a captivating glimpse into Neapolitan life across millennia.
The Naples Underground tour, a journey illuminated by torchlight, shares tales of survival, daily life, and resilience, inviting visitors to explore a side of Naples few know exists.
Here, you will discover how residents adapted to underground life, embracing everyday activities in this concealed world during WWI. Stories of underground weddings, births, and daily survival highlight the resilience of Neapolitans through history.
Note: The tour includes navigating narrow, dark tunnels and several steps, with alternatives for those uneasy in tight spaces.
San Genaro Catacombs
Nestled within the northern hills of the city, beneath the Rione Sanità neighborhood, the San Gennaro Catacombs is another underground section you can explore with a guide. This labyrinthine world of subterranean passageways and vaults serves as an ancient burial site.
Here lies a crypt for Naples’ earliest bishops and a vast, fifth-century underground basilica hewn from rock. This historic site also shelters some of Italy’s most ancient Christian artworks, with vibrant frescoes that have withstood the passage of time, some dating as far back as the second century.
This underground area is less claustrophobic compared to Napoli Sotterannea tunnels. The catacombs of San Genaro stretch across two levels and are quite grand and spacious.
If you only have one day in Naples, go for the Napoli Sotterannea tour, as it is conveniently located in the historic center.
3. Visit The Spanish Quarter – The Iconic Neighborhood Of Naples
If you want to experience the authentic and vibrant side of Naples, then the Spanish Quarter (also called Quartieri Spagnoli) is the place to be. This neighborhood is known for its narrow streets, tall buildings with laundry flipping from the balconies, street markets, and lively atmosphere.
Spanish Quarter became a magnet to tourists because of the murals of Diego Maradona, the legendary football player who played for Napoli. Maradona, for Neapolitans, is a literal football God. You can find dozens of murals of the celebrated icon on the walls of Naples’ buildings, but the most famous one is located in Via Emanuele de Deo.
The Spanish Quarter is a great place to explore on foot, and you can easily spend a few hours wandering around its streets. You will find plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants in the neighborhood, making it a great place to grab a bite or have a drink. However, it is not advisable to wander around at night, as it can be a bit sketchy.
That said, a former home for Spanish troops, over the centuries, Quartieri Spagnoli acquired a reputation as a dangerous place and was inaccessible to outside visitors until recently.
The other highlight of the Spanish Quarter worth mentioning is the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie a Toledo, which is a hidden gem in Naples. The church is known for its beautiful architecture and stunning artwork.
Also, don’t miss a local Pigneseca market that takes place daily. The busy market is a scene to not only watch but also buy some fresh produce and street food, like “portofolio pizza”.
4. Taste Authentic Neapolitan Pizza
Talking about pizzas, when in Naples, every visitor must taste at least one authentic Neapolitan pizza. I promise you your standards for pizza will rise high after sampling a few great pies.
The pizza in Napoli is made with simple yet high-quality ingredients, such as San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella fiordilatte, and artisanal dough, resulting in a deliciously charred and bubbly crust.
There are many pizzerias in Naples, but some of the most famous ones include Pizzeria Port’Alba, Gino e Sorbillo, and Pizzeria da Michele. These pizzerias have been around for decades and are known for their authentic and delicious Neapolitan pizzas.
If you want to try out different types of pizzas, Via dei Tribunali is a good place to go. This street is lined with many pizzerias and restaurants, each offering its unique take on the Neapolitan pizza. However, you almost cannot go wrong with popping into any authentic pizzeria in Napoli. Take a gamble, and you will most likely be pleasantly surprised by how good they are just about anywhere.
What makes Neapolitan pizza unique is not just the ingredients but also the way it is prepared. The pizza is cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven at a high temperature, resulting in a crispy crust and a slightly chewy center. It is also traditionally served uncut, with a fork and knife provided for you to cut and eat the pizza (by hand).
5. Panoramic Views From Castel Sant’Elmo
Nothing beats a great panoramic view. If you want to enjoy a breathtaking vista over the Napoli skyline, head to Castel Sant’Elmo in the Vomero district. This 14th-century fortress is located on top of a hill and offers a bird-eye view of the city and the Bay of Naples.
To reach the castle, you can take the funicular from Montesanto station to Morghen station in Vomero. Once you arrive, be sure to take a walk around the castle’s ramparts to fully appreciate the views. From here, you can see the entire city, including the historic center, the port, and Mount Vesuvius.
If you want to learn more about the castle’s history, you can visit the museum inside. The museum showcases the castle’s role in the defence of Naples and its evolution over the centuries.
You can also combine your visit to Castel Sant’Elmo with a visit to the adjacent Certosa di San Martino. This former monastery is now a museum that houses a collection of art and artifacts from Naples’ history.
If you have more time in Naples, explore the upbeat Vomero area. It has a very different feel to the historic center. It feels somewhat cleaner and more upscale, with many stylish bars. The center of action in Vomero is Piazza Vanvitelli, with its many coffee shops and restaurants.
6. Relax At The Bay Of Naples
Another iconic place in Naples, where you can observe local life and get some fresh air, is the Bay of Naples. This beautiful bay is beloved by locals and tourists for its stunning sea views, and there are plenty of activities to enjoy here.
Stroll Along The Lungomare
One of the best ways to take in the beauty of the Bay of Naples is by taking a leisurely stroll along the Lungomare. This promenade stretches for miles along the seafront and offers incredible views of the bay, with the volcano Vesuvius rising majestically on the horizon. You’ll see locals and tourists alike enjoying the sea breeze and taking in the sights.
Along the Lungomare, you’ll find several restaurants serving up delicious seafood dishes, as well as gelato shops and cafes. Take a break from your walk and enjoy a meal or a snack while taking in the stunning views of the bay. Make sure to come at sunset for the most romantic feel.
Visit Castel dell’Ovo
While strolling along the Lungomare, you cannot miss Castel dell’Ovo, a historic fortification located on its small island in the Bay of Naples. This castle dates back to the 12th century and is an iconic landmark in Naples.
Take a walk across the causeway to the castle and explore the grounds. You’ll find stunning views of the bay from the top of the castle, as well as a small museum and art gallery.
7. Taste The Best Coffee In Naples At Gran Caffè Gambrinus
A regular day in Italy begins with a frothy cappuccino and continues with another 2-3 shots of espresso, usually perfectly paired with deliciously fresh. Whether you are just starting your day in Naples or need some energy boost, make your way to Gran Caffè Gambrinus, a historic and one of the oldest cafes in the city.
Famed as a former haunt for intellectual giants and artists like Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway, this 19th-century café charms visitors with its Belle Epoque decor. Its artisan coffee, widely regarded as the finest in the city, is a must-try. The café’s storied past includes a closure during Mussolini’s rule for its anti-fascist leanings, but it triumphantly reopened post-dictatorship, maintaining its status as a beloved and genuine spot in Naples.
While Gran Café Gambrinus’s international acclaim does mean higher prices, especially for table service, which can double your bill, the experience is undoubtedly worth it. For a unique coffee choice, try the Caffé Gegé – an espresso “scrambled” with cocoa and sugar, using a special technique that enriches its sweet, nutty flavor. It’s best enjoyed at the bar, where you can watch the fascinating preparation process. This coffee stands out as one of the most remarkable I’ve ever enjoyed!
Try Sfogliatella – A Signature Pastry Of Naples
Don’t miss out on sfogliatella, a hallmark pastry of Naples and the Campania region. This delicious creation features a crispy, shell-shaped layered dough filled with creamy ricotta cheese and is an essential taste of the area.
While Gran Café Gambrinus offers it, expect to pay a little more there. Alternatively, you can grab one from the vendors near Galleria Umberto I, just a short walk away.
For those venturing into the historical center later in the day, places like Sfogliate e Sfogliatelle and Scaturchio are renowned for their sfogliatella. However, Naples is dotted with countless pasticcerias, so you’re never far from stumbling upon an excellent sfogliatella anywhere in the city.
8. Go On A Day Trip To Amalfi Coast
To rewind from the hectic streets, head to the Amalfi Coast, which is a must-visit destination in the Campagna region. Located just an hour’s drive from Naples, Amalfi Coast is a famous 50-kilometer stretch of coastline along the southern edge of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula. The Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is known for its stunning views, colorful villages, and crystal-clear waters.
One of the best ways to explore the Amalfi Coast is by driving along the coast. This gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace and stop at any of the picturesque villages along the way. Make sure to dedicate a full day or even stay on the Amalfi Coast for a couple of days.
Once you arrive at the Amalfi Coast, make sure to visit the charming town of Positano. This village is known for its colorful houses and steep streets that lead down to the sea. You can also visit the town of Amalfi, which is known for its beautiful cathedral and stunning views of the sea. And for the most authentic experience without crowds, head to Atrani, which is just a 10-minute walk from Amalfi town.
If you’re looking for a more active day trip, you can hike the Path of the Gods, a stunning hiking trail that offers breathtaking views of the Amalfi Coast. The hike takes about two to three hours and is four miles long.
9. Take A Ferry To Procida Island
Another fantastic thing to do in Naples is jump on a quick 1-hour ferry ride to nearby Procida Island. It is a colorful and unique destination to visit in Italy and has appeared in numerous films and TV series. Located in the Gulf of Naples, this petite island is lined with candy-colored houses and offers stunning views of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Procida Island is not only a romantic destination for couples but also a great place for families, photographers, and anyone who loves bright pastel colors. Although it’s not as famous as its sister islands of Ischia and Capri, Procida was selected as the Capital of Culture in Italy in 2022, which has helped put it on the international traveler’s bucket list.
One of the best things to do in Procida is to visit the Marina di Corricella viewpoint. This old, traffic-free fishing village is a postcard-perfect location with its colorful houses cascading down to the sea. The cheerful tones of Marina di Corricella will brighten the darkest day and lift the saddest mood.
To observe the magnificent beauty of Marina Corricella as a whole, you must either fly a drone or climb up to the highest point on the island where the historic fortified village of Terra Murata is located.
That said, another must-visit location on Procida Island is Terra Murata, the oldest fortified village. The walled streets of Terra Murata are a great place to explore and get a sense of the island’s ancient history.
Procida Island is also famous for its large, sweet lemons, and you can find some of the best beaches in Procida here.
It’s easy to visit Procida island from Naples for a half-day trip, and it’s worth the effort. Regular ferries are available from Molo Beverello port in Naples.
10. Visit Mount Vesuvius And Pompeii
If you’re planning a trip to Naples, Italy, visiting Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii are two must-see historical attractions that you don’t want to miss. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your visit to these ancient sites.
Climb Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano that famously erupted in 79 AD, burying the ancient Roman city of Pompeii and the nearby town of Herculaneum in ash and pumice. Today, the volcano is a popular destination for tourists who want to climb to the top, circumvent the perimeter of the crater, and take in the stunning views of the Bay of Naples.
The climb to the summit of Mount Vesuvius takes about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your fitness level. The trail is steep and rocky, so wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
You can get to Mount Vesuvius either by a rental car, train, or an organized tour.
Tour the Ancient Ruins of Pompeii
Pompeii is an ancient Roman city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The city was buried under layers of ash, preserving it for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 18th century. Today, Pompeii is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, attracting millions of visitors each year.
When you visit Pompeii, you’ll be able to explore the ancient ruins of the city, including its streets, homes, and public buildings. You can see the remains of the amphitheater, the forum, and the baths, as well as the plaster casts of the people who were killed by the eruption.
If you’re interested in ancient Greek and Roman history, visiting Pompeii is a must-do activity. You can learn about the daily life of the people who lived in the city and see firsthand the impact of the volcanic eruption that changed the course of history.
Top 10 Things To Do In Naples: Final Thoughts
Naples is a vibrant city, teeming with life and bursting with color. From the winding streets filled with historical marvels to the exquisite culinary delights, Naples offers an array of activities that cater to every taste.
To truly immerse yourself in the essence of Naples, consider spending a few days here. This allows you to slowly absorb the city’s unique vibe and explore all the significant sights at a relaxed pace, including eating more irresistible Neapolitan pizza.
Have you ever visited Naples? If so, what experiences captivated you the most?
About The Author Of “Top 10 Things To Do In Naples, Italy”
Ausra Osipaviciute is a Lithuanian freelance photographer and videographer with a base in Dubai, UAE. She channels her passion for exploration and visual storytelling into The Road Reel, a travel and photography blog. Through The Road Reel, Ausra shares detailed road trip itineraries, hiking routes, and guides to hidden gems alongside some practical photography tips. She aims to encourage others to venture off the beaten path, often accompanied by inspiring visuals. Ausra has a special place in her heart for Italy – a country she returns to at least once a year. Her journeys through Italy are far from ordinary, as she seeks out spots that are tucked away from the usual tourist trails. Through her eyes, readers are invited to explore the less-trodden paths of the Mediterranean, discovering the beauty and charm of its quieter corners.
If you want to explore more of Italy, check out the posts below.
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