Naples is a different kind of travel destination as compared to Italy’s more popular Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice. However, it doesn’t take long to understand it. Certainly, Naples can feel anarchic, tattered and unloved. But there are quite a few reasons to consider a stay in Napoli, whether just for a quick visit from your cruise ship or as one of the destinations for a few days vacation in the area.
When you are in Naples, especially the food lingers in the mind — the city is one of Italy’s culinary heavyweights, serving up the country’s best pizza, pasta and coffee. “Given that the best pizza in Italy is from Naples, and the best pizza in the world is from Italy, which means that this pizzeria must offer…I’m almost too superstitious to say it…the best pizza in the world?” — is the question Elizabeth Gilbert asks herself in her book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by talking about a simple margherita pizza at Da Michele (map).
“I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair… There’s not a menu. They have only two varieties of pizza here—regular and extra cheese. None of this new age southern California olives-and-sun-dried-tomato wannabe pizza twaddle. The dough it takes me half my meal to figure out, tastes more like Indian nan than like any pizza dough I ever tried. It’s soft and chewy and yielding, but incredibly thin. I always thought we had two choices in our lives when it came to pizza crust—thin and crispy, or thick and doughty. How was I have to have known there could be a crust in this world that was thin and doughy? Holy of holies! Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise. On top, there is a sweet tomato sauce that foams up all bubbly and creamy when it melts the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the one sprig of basil in the middle of the whole deal somehow infuses the entire pizza with herbal radiance, much the same one shimmering movie star in the middle of a party brings contact high of glamour to everyone around her. It’s technically impossible to eat this thing of course. You try to take a bit off your slice and the gummy crust folds, and the hot cheese runs away like topsoil in a landslides, makes a mess of you and your surroundings, but just deal with it.”
Of course, in the birthplace of pizza there are quite a few renowned pizzerias for an epic pizza you will never forget: Gino Sorbillo, Dal Presidente and Di Matteo (see these pizzerias on a map or get a ready-to-print leaflet with a map).
The coffee, like pizza, is a tradition, a habit, a ritual, a daily activity that few dare to avoid. The Neapolitan coffee has well defined characteristics, ranging from roasting to the ritual of preparation — qualities that make it a unique product of its kind. Every neighborhood in Naples has its own reference bar, even more than one, where according to the inhabitants you drink the best coffee in the city. Here are some of the best bars for a perfect espresso: Gran Caffè Neapolis, Caffetteria Ceraldi, Gran Caffè Ciorfito, La Caffettiera and Caffè Mexico.
Naples’ centro storico is a UNESCO World Heritage Site — it encompasses 27 centuries of history and is the largest in Europe. Take a walk on Spaccanapoli (from the Italian word “spaccare” to split) the ancient narrow street slicing down the middle of the old city. This is the main promenade for the visitors as it provides access to many important sights, especially the churches. Naples is the city with the highest number of monumental churches in the world — 448 places of worship are spread across the city that even earned itself a nickname — city of 500 cupolas! It’s hard to choose the best ones, but a short must-see list should definitely include: Church of Gesù Nuovo, Santa Chiara (with a garden lined with colorful majolica columns), San Domenico Maggiore, Museo Cappella Sansevero (with an unbelievably realistic sculpture of Veiled Christ), San Gregorio Armeno, San Lorenzo Maggiore and Duomo (see these churches on a map or download a ready-to-print walking directions). If you’re planning on making a trip to Pompeii or Herculaneum, you should consider visiting Naples’s Archaeological Museum, with its vast rooms of ancient statuary and frescoes from the cities buried by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD (although don’t be surprised if many rooms are closed due to the lack of funding for guards). While walking along Spaccanapoli, don’t miss Piazzetta Nilo with the Nile God statue erected during the Roman period and only recently restored.
High above the city
Consider on going to one of the highest points of the city — Castel Sant’Elmo or Certosa di San Martino. The former is a medieval fortress from the era of Charles d’Anjou and the most visible landmark of the city; the latter, once a Carthusian monastery, is now a museum with a display of Spanish and Bourbon era artifacts. Both buildings sit atop the Vomero hill and offer a stunning view of the bay — the crumbling, close-packed houses, satellite dishes, the cupolas of churches, the port, the castle, Spaccanapoli street that cuts the city in two and, in the distance, Mount Vesuvius. To get there, you may take the funicular or the metro, in which case you should definitely stop at Toledo station that was given the title of the most beautiful metro station in Europe.
Don’t miss this unique city, because with daily fast trains that connect Naples to Rome, Florence and Milan (Frecciarossa and Italo) and affordable flights easily found on Momondo — it is a no-brainer.