Naples, you either love it or hate it. For many people visiting Italy, Naples is a place you pass through on your way to Pompeii or Capri. For others, especially Americans, it is the city of their ancestors or at least the city their ancestors passed through on their way to America, so they have a connection with the city no matter how tenuous.
Chaotic and stressful, beautiful and lively, polluted and gritty all describe Naples. Naples is a city, there is nothing quaint about it. Look one way and you are looking out over the beautiful Bay of Naples, turn around and you are looking at urban sprawl.
Here is a Rick Steves video of Naples, Italy:
Whether Naples is a destination or you are just passing through on your way to Amalfi, there are a few things you need to know about Naples:
Don’t drive in Naples unless you are a native. All rules of traffic are observed at the whim of the driver, meaning they are usually ignored. You especially need to watch out for Vespa’s which often transport whole families on a single bike.
- Naples has taken the craft of making presepi (nativity scenes) and made it into an art form. During the holiday season presepi are set up all around the city. You can buy beautiful presepi all year round in Naples. I love Italian presepi because they are so busy, you can purchase people engaged in any number of activities for your presepi. You can get Jesus, Mary, Joseph as well as a baker, women carrying water, a young boy carrying a sheep and any number of other participants in the life of a village.
- You should not leave Naples without sampling a few slices of pizza. Pizza may not have originated in Italy, but the people of Naples have perfected the art of pizza making.Make sure you look for pizza cooked in a wood burning oven – that is what makes it so special.
- Naples is known for the large number of counterfeit goods sold in and around the city so be careful when buying things off the streets and in the stalls.
- Naples is home to the oldest Aquarium in Europe (it was established in the 1800’s.) The aquarium is worth seeing because it specializes in plants and fish found in the Bay of Naples. Given the pollution in the Bay it is shocking that anything survives there. Perhaps we can all learn a few survival skills from the inhabitants of the acquarium.
- Catacombe’s are not really my thing, but if they are of interest to you Catacombe di San Gennaro are some of the best. Dating from the 2nd century this two-story underground cemetery has worthwhile frescoes and mosaics. The tunnels are lined with early Christian burial niches.
- Teatro San Carlo is Italy’s largest opera house and the oldest theater in Europe. You can still see performances there. During their season the theater hosts operas, ballets and concerts.
- Walking the streets you will see such oddities as the Chapel of Maradona, a small altar in a wall dedicated to Diego Maradona, a soccer star that played for Naples in the 1980s. Soccer or calcio in Italian is the religion of Naples and Maradona was it’s god.
- Pompeii. Okay so it is not in Naples, but you generally have to go through Naples to get there. Buried by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD the site provides the best insight into the daily life of Romans at the time. The site is open to the public, be sure to allow 3 or 4 hours for your visit.
- Boats leave from Naples for the Isle of Capri. Capri is known for the grottos that are all along its coast particularly the Blue Grotto which is spectacular. For a fee you can take a boat into the grotto.