crazy, brash, loud and gritty. naples is italy’s third largest city after milan and rome, with a population of about 3 million. it’s one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, situated just 9km from mt. vesuvius, the volcano that wiped out pompeii and herculaneum*. it’s the home of pizza, so it’s arguably the most important city in the world. naples is one of those cities that gets a bad rap from older italians. it’s thought of to be italy’s “most dangeous city”, that everyone is out to rob or shoot you – but in the two times i’ve been there, it hasn’t felt any less safe than rome or milan. (and the most recent time, i was travelling alone, walking alone at night).
if rome is the heart of italy, as they say, i’d have to say that naples is it’s soul. it’s the city that feels the most alive. it’s rebellious: different than the rest of italy’s scenes that look like they’re props from a movie set, naples is rough around the edges. it’s beautiful in an unassuming way. the weathered and cracked buildings can feel unloved, but when you think about the history in those walls, you start to see them in a different light.
the scenes to me are so typically italian: lines and lines of laundry airing between the narrow houses, packed like sardines so tightly together; the old ladies hanging out of their balconies in their aprons, watching the people down below; deep golden brown skinned teens, sometimes 3 to a seat, zooming by down the cobblestone streets, so quickly and so sure of themselves, honking at pedestrians to get the hell out of their way; the 3 ladies sitting on their stoop, where you can find them smoking and gossiping at any time during the day – they became my landmark to know that i was walking the right way home (because seriously they were there at all hours).
at midnight on any given night, through the open window of my airbnb bedroom, i could hear a man singing beautiful opera and the claps of appreciation; a soccer match being played somewhere on tv, the clinking of washing dishes and the soft rustling of laundry being hung to dry.
i could honestly go on forever about the sights and sounds; it’s one of my favourite cities of all time! but lets get into where to eat, what to see and where to stay so you can start planning your next trip!
where to stay:
airbnb’s are the best option in naples; you can find charming little places that feel authentically italian, and it’s great to have a host to give you their favourite city spots to add to your travel list. you want to find a place in old naples, by the intersection via tribunali and via duomo. this is walking distance to the world’s most famous pizza spots, vibrant nightlife, the subway, and the train station.
another option is to stay in the area called chiaia. it’s a waterfront neighbourhood, close to the harbour and filled with great little shops and restaurants. it’s a less hectic than the rest of naples; quieter and a little more low-key. it’s on the lungomare, which is wonderful for a stroll as the sunsets over vesuvius.
what to see:
orto botanico – botanical gardens! free entry, and stunning.
spaccanapoli – literally translanted means “naples splitter” because it’s a long straight street that goes right through the center of old naples (where you should be staying!). there’s a ton of touristy-must sees along the route as well as some amazing streetfood. stop for a suppli (arancini) and beer along the way.
vanvitelli – this is a bougie part of naples. when you come up from the subway it will feel like you’re transported to another italian city. this is the place to explore if you want to do some shopping in a nicer area than toledo, and drink expensive coffee.
castle del nuovo – cool mediaval castle, do a touristy tour, go up to the towers and see the amazing view of all of naples
via toledo – long pedestrian only street with tons of stores and great restaurants
PROCIDA! take the first ferry in the morning to the tiny island of procida. it’s just under an hour on the hydrofoil, and if you get there early enough you can get an umbrella and beach chair right in front of the water at one the good beaches. plan the night before and bring some sandwiches, chips and fruit, and buy ice cold beers for like 1 euro on the beach the day of. spend the day napping, swimming and tanning, then have a beautiful seafood dinner at either il maestrale or la lampara, then take the last ferry home.
what to eat:
*gino sorbillo pizza – arugably the best pizza in the city. order the one with buffalo mozzarella *and n’duja sausage because it’s fucking incredible
*di matteo pizza – i ordered the diavolo and it was FIRE 10/10 would order again 😉
pizza michelle – THE OG PIZZA JOINT. legit the first pizza spot in the world, nuff said.
la masadorna – fried pizzaaaaaa! this unassuming little spot has wonderfully friendly staff and traditional neapolitan street food.
trattoria nennella – cute spot in the heart of the spanish neighbourhood. it’s loud and fun, and full of locals.
leon d’oro – it’s located in the beautiful piazza dante, which at night fills with locals who feel like family, chatting, smoking and laughing.
zia esterina – the bessssssttt pizza fritte everrrrrr! it’s right by toledo station, so after walking the strip and shopping, make sure to stop by and eat! (be wary, the lines are long, but that’s because it’s BOMB!)
salumeria upnea – quirky, trendy restaurant that serves delicious burgers, in case you need a break from pizza!
antica capri – we stumbled upon this place last year, hidden in an unassuming ally way. they had the best frutti di mare i’ve ever tasted, i legit still have dreams about it, and the staff are wonderfully warm and happy to have you! it’s authentically naples!
gay odin – fancy ass chocolatier. it’s a chain and they have multiple locations across italy, but totally worth the visit!
mignone – stunning pastry shop close to old naples, filled with beautifully decorated cakes, amazing sfogliatelle, and traditional baba (a fluffy alcohol soaked cake); everything is instagram worthy!
sfogliatelle attanasio – the bestttttt sfogliatelle in italy. sfogliatelle are my FAVE and this place did not disappoint. it’s right by the train station so grab one when you arrive and when you depart and thank me later.
cafe mexico – traditional, delicious coffee & pastries!
*gino sorbillo and di matteo are steps away from eachother, and get reallllly crazy at night – i’m talking 2 hour waits for a table. sneak inside and order to go, then head down the street to a patio and order beers and people watch.
*another note on coffee: coffee in naples is good pretty much anywhere, so have an espresso in each neighbourhood you visit 🙂
*vesuvius is actually still active – it’s the only volcano on the mainland to have erupted within 100 years, which also makes it the most dangerous considering there’s around 3 million people living in it’s wake. those napolitanos are ballsy!
**one last note about vesuvius i find super interesting: volcanic soil is incredibly rich, meaning the produce found in naples is some of the best. it’s home to san marzano tomatoes (the only tomatoes you should be using to cook with!) and specific lacryma christi grapes, an abundance of fruit, and amazing coffee that’s grown right on the base of the mountain!