Naples gets a bad rep. Sure, it’s busy, a little dirty, and has a bit of a mafia problem. But that’s also true of many places. Despite its flaws, it’s still an incredible city to visit. There are so many amazing things to do in Naples.
You’ll find many destinations in southern Italy that are far more beautiful than Naples. But nowhere comes close to matching Naples’ buzzing energy and vibrancy.
It’s full to bursting with culture, history, and some of the best food you’ll ever eat. And its location – on the stunning Bay of Naples, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius – is out of this world.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Naples is one of my favourite cities in Europe.
Here are my top 10 favourite things to do in Naples.
* Check out this post for some of the best places to stay in Naples. *
** If you’re looking for other alternative city break destinations, take a look at some of my other posts, including:
Best Things To Do In Naples
(To be honest, it was pretty hard whittling the number down to a mere 10. But “Top 17 Best Things To Do In Naples” doesn’t quite have the same ring…)
Naples is the birthplace of pizza, and home to some of the finest pizzerias in Italy (i.e. the world). Do yourself a favour – try at least one (and ideally several) during your time here.
Purists typically order pizza margherita – a delicious traditional pizza topped simply with the best tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, salt and olive oil. But you’ll find a range of other toppings too. (Just avoid the white pizzas – I’ve never understood why people would choose not to have tomato on their pizza.)
What’s the best pizza in Naples? As you’d expect, that is a pretty controversial topic in this city…
Many people claim that the best pizza can be found on Via Tribunali, a narrow street in the old historic centre of Naples that’s affectionally known as “Pizza Alley”. Sorbillo is a particularly famous pizzeria on this street, although you’ll probably have to queue for a while to get a table here.
To be honest though, it’s pretty hard to find bad pizza in Naples. If you (like me) don’t fancy having to queue, surrounded by throngs of tourists, why not try some of the city’s other (equally fantastic) pizzerias. Starita, on Via Materdei, is one of my personal favourites.
Discover Other Neapolitan Delicacies
It’s not all just about pizza, though. Naples has been famous for its exceptional cuisine for hundreds of years.
Traditional dishes typically showcase the region’s fresh local produce, including cheese (especially ricotta and mozzarella), seafood, and a range of vegetables. Vegetarians, feast on the best aubergine parmigiana you’ll probably ever eat.
Neapolitan cooking features less meat than the cuisines found in other parts of Italy. There’s a strong focus on fresh fish and seafood, mostly caught locally in the Tyrrhenian sea. Linguine ai frutti di mare (seafood linguine), spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams), and pasta con calamari (pasta with squid, usually cooked in white wine) are solid favourites.
My favourite restaurant in Naples is Il Ristorantino dell’Avvocato, on Via Santa Lucia, in the Santa Lucia district. The food, presentation, and service here is outstanding. A perfect spot for a treat!
Another fantastic option, Officina del Mare – at the foot of Castel dell’Ovo – specialises in fish and seafood. I had the best seafood pasta I’ve ever eaten here (and have dreamt about it since!).
Explore Centro Storico
Centro Storico is the historic centre of Naples. Almost 3,000 years old, the oldest part of the city dates back to the 8th century BC, when it was a Greek settlement.
It’s lively, noisy, hustling, bustling, and filled to the brim with people, historical buildings, traditional eateries, lively bars, shrines, chapels, and shops.
This energetic place is the beating heart of Naples, and has been for millennia. Lots of people live here too, making it a kind-of giant living museum (a bit like Split in Croatia, but a lot bigger).
As you walk through the narrow, winding backstreets, look up. Above, you’ll see people hanging their laundry between the ancient buildings, chatting with their neighbours, and going about their day-to-day lives.
One of the best things to do in Naples is to wander (no Google Maps) through Centro Storico, and just see where the city takes you. Keep your eyes and ears open, and you’ll start to get a feel for the “real” Naples.
You could do this every day for a year and see something new and amazing each day.
Visit Pompeii & Herculaneum
Okay, Pompeii isn’t technically in Naples… But no guide to the best things to do in Naples should neglect to mention this epic and unique place.
Pompeii was an ancient Roman city which was destroyed by an enormous volcanic eruption in 79 AD. The volcano in question, Mount Vesuvius, is still active today – slightly alarming when you see how close it is to modern-day Naples.
The eruption which destroyed Pompeii also deposited a thick layer of ash over the city. This helped to preserve large sections of the city in incredible detail.
Today, you can walk the streets of the ancient Roman city, which are mostly still intact. You can explore inside houses (complete with pools and fountains), bakeries, temples, and shops.
One of the most unique things to see at Pompeii is the plaster casts of several of the people, and their animals, who were killed by the eruption and frozen in time – many of them trying to find shelter.
I found these incredibly moving, and they lingered in my mind for a long time. Whilst undoubtedly morbid, they bring a real sense of human connection and feeling to this ancient archeological site.
It’s an incredible place – surreal and unique in equal measures. I was expecting Pompeii to be impressive, but when I visited it took my breath away.
The main downside is that Pompeii can get pretty crowded during peak months (i.e. school holidays and over the summer). Come during the winter if you want to avoid the crowds. I went in January, and there was hardly anybody else there. Having this world-famous place almost entirely to yourself makes it all the more mind-blowing.
Check out this excellent article on how to visit Pompeii as a day trip from Naples.
Pompeii may be more famous, but the ruins at Herculaneum are equally impressive (and even more important archeologically).
This Roman town was also destroyed by the same eruption in 79 AD. The site isn’t as large as Pompeii, but some of its features are even better preserved. These include wooden structures, fabrics, wall paintings, frescos, and even the roofs of some buildings.
Check out the Villa of the Papyri. Here, archeologists found a number of papyrus scrolls that (somehow) survived the eruption and were preserved for almost 2,000 years. Today, they are being read with the use of x-rays and other tools. Crazy!
It’s easy to combine a visit to both Pompeii and Herculaneum in one day trip from Naples. I recommend visiting Herculaneum first, as Pompeii is super atmospheric at sunset. (And even more so without the crowds!)
Climb Mount Vesuvius
Once you’ve seen the amount of devastation Mount Vesuvius caused in the past, why not now climb the volcano yourself?
This giant stratovolcano dominates the area around Naples. Today, millions of people live in Vesuvius’ Danger Zone.
The soil around the volcano is extremely fertile (due to all the past eruptions!), and the Bay of Naples is particularly scenic. Though most people here are well aware of the dangers lurking deep within their giant neighbour.
Not to worry though, it hasn’t erupted since 1944…
The easiest way to climb Mount Vesuvius is to take a bus up to Vesuvius Park. You can jump on a local bus, or a guided tour if you prefer. From here, it’s a moderate 20-30 minute hike up to the rim of the crater, which you can walk around. The panoramic views from the top are stunning, and you can look right down into the crater.
San Gennaro Catacombs
Built into the hills in the northern part of the city, the San Gennaro Catacombs are definitely worth a visit. Made up of a network of underground passageways and vaults, this amazing place is the site of thousands of ancient burials and interments.
Descending into the depths of the earth, you enter a vast subterranean city that lies beneath the Rione Sanità neighbourhood. Split over two levels, the tunnels and passageways are dimly lit, but are in no way claustrophobic. High arching ceilings and clever lighting give the place a sense of ethereal beauty and airy spaciousness.
The complex contains a crypt for the first bishops of Naples, as well as a large underground basilica (church) carved out of the rock, built in the fifth century.
The catacombs are also home to some of Italy’s oldest Christian art, including many colourful frescoes. Some of the oldest artwork dates back to the second century, which is incredible given how well it has been preserved.
The darkness, constant temperatures and levels of humidity inside the tunnels have all helped to ensure the preservation of the colourful paintings.
I definitely recommend taking a guided tour of the site (available in English as well as Italian). The guides are extremely knowledgeable and do a great job of explaining the history of the site, as well as pointing out many of its important features.
You’d think this would be a morbid place, but I found it both fascinating and eerily beautiful. It’s certainly one of the most unique things to do in Naples.
Santa Lucia District
The fashionable, laid-back Santa Lucia district, on Naples’ southern seafront, feels like a totally different city to the hustle and bustle of Centro Storico. It’s equally worth a visit, to get a feel for another of Naples’ many faces.
Here, you can find some of the city’s best restaurants – including my favourites (mentioned above), Il Ristorantino dell’Avvocato and Officina del Mare – arty cafes, and vendors selling (delicious) Neapolitan street food.
Castel dell’Ovo is the oldest standing fortification in Naples. Occupying the narrow strip of land separating Santa Lucia and the Borgo Marinaro peninsula, this imposing fortress was built by the Normans in the 12th century. Its name – Castle of the Egg – was inspired by the Roman poet Virgil, who is said to have buried an egg in the ground where the castle now stands. Apparently Virgil warned that, if the egg breaks, Naples will fall…
As you walk south to Santa Lucia from Centro Storico, don’t miss Castel Nuovo (a medieval fortress which guards the port of Naples), Piazza del Plebiscito (a huge public square that’s ideal for people-watching), and the Galleria Umberto I (an elegant 19th century shopping arcade covered by an ornate glass and iron roof).
Climb Vomero Hill
For incredible panoramic views out over the city, Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, head to the top of Vomero Hill.
Vomero is one of the most beautiful districts of Naples, crowned by the towering Castel Sant’Elmo which sits atop the hill.
You can easily walk up here from most parts of the city (depending on how many pizzas you’ve eaten).
Alternatively, there are three different funicular railways which you can ride up the hill – from Piazzetta Duca d’Aosta (just off Via Toledo), Piazza Montesanto (near Montesanto metro station), or Parco Margherita (near Piazza Amedeo metro station).
Museums & Churches
As you’d expect for a city with Naples’ history, there is a large number of museums here.
If you only have time to visit one museum in Naples, make it the National Archaeological Museum. This incredible museum showcases a large collection of ancient artefacts, statues and artwork, including some of the most significant Roman remains in the world. There’s a large section devoted to items discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The museum also contains huge numbers of important objects from ancient Greece and Egypt. It’s widely recognised as one of the largest and best archeological museums in the world and is definitely worth a visit.
There are hundreds of churches in Naples. Some of the most visit-worthy include:
- the Cathedral of Naples – perhaps the most important place of worship in the city.
- San Francesco di Paola – an iconic domed church located in Piazza del Plebiscito.
- Gesù Nuovo – a large, beautiful Neapolitan Baroque church behind a black stone facade in Gesù Nuovo Square.
- San Domenico Maggiore – one of the largest religious complexes in Naples, where Saint Thomas Aquinas studied, featuring a large Gothic basilica with a beautifully ornate interior.
Take A Boat Trip To Sorrento Or Capri
The stunning seaside town of Sorrento lies just across the Bay of Naples, and can easily be visited as a day trip from the city.
Sorrento’s colourful Old Town is built up – and into – the surrounding hillside. It is a little touristy (read: loads of shops selling fridge magnets and bottles of limoncello), but still beautiful nonetheless.
Head down to the waterfront and explore the town’s rustic fishing harbour. Here you’ll find many small family-run restaurants along the seafront serving deliciously fresh seafood and pasta. Feast, and linger to watch the sunset with a glass of local wine.
Similarly easy to reach, and equally beautiful, the small island of Capri is also worth a mention.
Here you’ll find stunning coastal scenery, jagged rocky hills, sea caves (including the famous Blue Grotto), and picturesque fishing villages.
You could, at a push, visit both Capri and Sorrento in one day. But you’d be quite pressed for time, so I wouldn’t recommend it. If you have the time, why not spend a night in each, to get a real feel for both places.
The ferry from Naples to Capri takes about 45 minutes. From neighbouring Sorrento, it’s only 20 minutes. Timetables and ticket info here.
... And Of Course
Drink Incredible Cheap Wine! (Definitely one of my favourite things to do in Naples!)
It’s everywhere, just ask anyone local!
These are my favourite things to do in Naples. Have you ever been? What are your favourites? Let me know in the comments below.