It's difficult to do justice to a city as spectacular as Naples. It has a raw beauty that is refreshingly unique in an increasingly homogenised Europe. A city that combines traditional architecture with modern skyscrapers almost seamlessly. I'll never forget arriving into Naples and seeing scooters piling on top of each other, street vendors covering the pavements, the smell of food from road side stalls and shops floating over the cobble stoned streets. From history to food, to insta-worthy landmarks, Naples is a city that has it all. You can read my detailed observations of the city here, but below are my 5 favourite things about Naples.
5. The Veiled Christ at Sansevero
I'm not the most cultured person in the world, and much of the time art seems to go right over my head. Just as you can get temple fatigued in places like Cambodia and Thailand, I had statue fatigue after spending close to a week in Rome. However, nothing prepared me for the unparalleled beauty of the Veiled Christ.
Located in the historical centre of the city, the chapel and museum of Sansevero almost blends into its surroundings a little too well, with a small sign for tickets stopping me from walking right past it. Entrance to the chapel and museum costs €7, but it's worth every last cent. The chapel itself dates back to the 16th century and you don't have to wait too long to get a view of one of the most famous statues in the world.
Just remember, as it's a chapel, you can't take any photos inside.
As you walk into the chapel, there are a number of statues around the perimeter, but laying in the middle of the room is the Veiled Christ. Designed in 1753 by Giuseppe Sanmartino, the statue is intricately detailed and looks incredibly real. It manages to be both strong and fragile at the same time. The veil in particular looks very realistic, with every ripple of fabric carved to perfection, and you can almost feel the emotion from the sculpture. It's definitely something you need to experience and words don't do it justice.
4. Pizza, in the home of pizza!
If you love pizza, you have the people of Naples to thank for it. It is commonly believed that this was the city where pizza was first created and became a food consumed by the masses. Emigration from Naples following Italian unification in the second half of the 19th century spread pizza around the world, with a particular concentration in New York following large scale emigration from the area to the new world (and you can read about my favourite New York pizza places here).
Neapolitans take their pizza very seriously, and find the concept of many toppings on a pizza is almost disrespectful. In Naples, you buy a margherita or a marinara - or you get some disappointed looks. In fact, in many pizza places, you don't get any further options.
Two of the most popular pizzerias in the city are Gino Sorbillo's and L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele. The former is an upmarket pizzeria that has since grown global, and on its menu includes a pizza priced at €8.5 million. Thankfully, most of the pizzas are a far more reasonable €5-6.
The latter pizzeria is less 'showy', with a sparsely decorated and almost understated interior, although it is no less tasty. In fact, at €4, pizzas are slightly cheaper, and I'll be honest, although you only have a choice of two toppings, I preferred the pizzas at L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele.
A word of warning. Both pizzerias are very popular, and queues start forming between 45-60 minutes before opening, so make sure you arrive in good time, and bring some cash with you as well (cards aren't widely accepted).
3. Catacombs of San Gennaro
Naples isn't just spectacular above the ground - underground there is a history that rivals that of Paris and Rome. The catacombs, ancient Roman and then Christian burial places are located in various parts of the city, the largest of which are to the north of the central historical area.
The catacombs of San Gennaro date back to the second century AD and its position in the north corresponds to being just outside the ancient city walls. A one hour tour costs €9, and I found the tour guide to be both passionate and knowledgable. In fact, I was encouraged to hear that the catacombs hire people from the local, underdeveloped area, and the catacombs are a source of both pride and revenue for the local community. This love and passion was apparent from the connection the tour guide had with the catacombs.
The catacombs are wider than those found in Rome, although shorter in length. The further you walk through the tunnels, the older the burial sites become.. On some of the burial places of richer city inhabitants, or bishops like Saint Januarius, there are some beautiful frescos, and these are some of the oldest Christian frescos outside of Rome.
The catacombs illustrate the incredible, and often overlooked history of Naples, and they are well worth a visit.
2. The views from Belvedere San Martino
I remember sitting at Bunkers el Carmel in Barcelona, looking over the city and wondering whether it was the best natural view I had ever seen. There's some strong contenders, especially places like Koh Nang Yuan in Thailand, Ollantaytambo in Peru, Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, or the views from temples in Angkor Wat in Cambodia amongst others. But as I found myself at Belvedere San Martino, I realised that I'd be adding another name to that list, and this name would be right near the top.
Located at the foot of Castel Sant Elmo, a balcony overlooking the city gives an incredible view of the city below. You can make out some of the famous Neapolitan landmarks, including the almost mile long Spaccanapoli cutting through the historical core of the city. A little further away is the port of Naples and the Mediterranean Sea and in the distance the imposing figure of Mount Vesuvius. Best of all, the area wasn't too busy, and there were more than enough places to relax and soak in the views.
You can get to the top of the hill via a light train, similar to the DLR for just €1.10 from near Castel Nuovo but I'd definitely recommend coming down the hill on foot. A staircase from the balcony leads you almost directly to Piazza Dante at the foot of the hill but the journey takes in small winding passageways that take you right behind a number of houses and apartments and every so often you get amazing glimpses of the city below.
1. Walking through Centro Storico
There aren't too many words I can use to describe the largest historical district in Europe. At roughly 4,000 acres, the equivalent 'old towns' in other major European cities pale in comparison.
Naples has been part of a number of cultures, from its original Greek founders, to the Romans, Arabs, Spanish and Italian - and all have left their imprints on the city. And many of these imprints can be found in these 4,000 acres.
The area is exactly what you'd think an historical district should look like; narrow cobbled streets packed with shops and street vendors, architecture dating back hundreds, and sometimes even thousands of years and of course Spaccanapoli, or the Naples Splitter.
Spaccanapoli is the main passageway going through the Centro Storico and at a mile long links some of the major squares and landmarks in the area. The street is lively during both the day and in the evening, with shops selling slices of pizza, gelato, clothes, toys - everything!
The San Gregorio Armano is a particularly narrow passageway that houses a monastery that spectacularly rises above the street. On either side of the narrow streets are vendors selling small religious figurines.
In the evening, the area becomes almost festive, with lights strewn across the buildings, and people sitting in open areas eating food. Streets radiating from Spaccanapoli house various bars, landmarks and other places of interest. You could walk around the area for hours and not get bored.
Naples is honestly one of my favourite cities that I have visited, and I encourage you to read my detailed review of the city here, if you are thinking about visiting it. It's a city that is often overshadowed by the likes of Venice, Milan, Florence and Rome, and I know it's a divisive city. But in my opinion, it's a jewel of a city that is well worth the visit..
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.