Are you planning a trip to Italy? Not surprisingly, most people dream of Rome, Florence, Venice and the Tuscan hills and indeed, they're not to be missed. But if you want a different experience, especially if this isn't your first trip to Italy, we heartily recommend Naples.
We had never been south of Rome, so Naples was high on our list. We had heard how dangerous is it; pickpockets on every corner and mafioso galore. But we had also heard about its famous pizza, and hey it's just up the road from the Amalfi coast, Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius, so we decided to give it a try and we're so glad we did. Naples' population is just over 2 million, about half the size of Rome, and it was very easy to navigate.
We spent five days there which included a couple of day trips so we had about three full days in Naples itself which was barely enough.
If Rome is Italy's beating heart, Naples is its soul.
We generally like to stay in the old part of European cities. In Naples it's called the Quartieri Spagnoli or Spanish Quarter. It's a small, fairly rectangular section in the southeastern part of the city only a few minutes' walk from the port and many other areas of interest.
It's hard to find words to describe it and pictures don't do it justice. The "streets" are more like alleyways, 15 feet wide at most. Trucks, cars, buses, pedestrians and most of all scooters vie for every square inch. The scooters race through the alleys at breakneck speed, honking just before every cross street to alert whatever poor soul may be attempting to cross their path. You take your life in your hands just walking out the door, but it's exciting and real.
One of the things that strikes you in Naples, especially in the Quartieri Spagnoli, is the laundry hanging from balconies. You need to look up to fully experience the city. We realized that there isn't one particular laundry day; every day is laundry day!
I love the laundry hanging across the street!
This is the view from the balcony of our hotel.
One of the advantages of the Quarteri Spagnoli is that it's a short walk to many areas most people want to see in Naples. The sea was just a few minutes away by foot. On a clear day Mt. Vesuvius, just across the bay, is beautiful.
The Galleria Umberto
The Galleria Umberto is said to be the oldest mall in the world, built in the late 1880's. Named after Umberto I who ruled from 1878 - 1900, it now contains a few restaurants (including a very busy McDonald's) and shops. It borders Via Toledo, the north/south, mainly pedestrian avenue to its west, and the Naples Opera House to its south. We loved the architecture and the beautiful mosaic-tiled floor.
The Day We Walked to the Top
Naples itself is relatively flat, but it's surrounded by hills. There are a few funiculars which ascend to greater heights from which visitors can take in the expansive views below, including the beautiful Bay of Naples. Katie and I decided to take the Funicolare Centrale di Napoli which was on Via Toledo, a few blocks from our hotel. Unfortunately, we chose the one day that the transportation workers were on strike, so we decided to walk up. In hindsight I'm glad I didn't know what an arduous trip it would be, but it was worth it! If you aren't one for climbing hundreds of steps you might want to make sure there isn't a transportation strike. I recommend taking the funicular up and walking down to get the real flavor of this area.
On the way up...
We finally made it to the top, or close enough. Notice Vesuvius peeking out of the mist. There were lots of apartments, but no stores - at least that we saw We passed many people carrying bags of groceries and other purchases. I can't even imagine, but I guess if you live there you're accustomed to it and you have a lot of stamina and good leg muscles!
Despite the long walk up with the sun beating down on us, it was so interesting to see the homes, people and scenery along the way and we were glad we made the trek. Katie is taking a picture of me taking a picture of her while we reward ourselves with an Aperol Spritz on the way down.
Originally built as a palace in the late 15th century, Gesù Nuovo was sold to the Jesuits in the late 16th century and underwent reconstruction to convert it into a church.
The interesting exterior of this church belies the gorgeous interior! It's just outside the Quarteri Spagnoli, but an easy walk from our hotel.
Via San Gregorio Armeno
Also just outside the Quarteri Spagnoli is the Via S. Gregorio Armeno, the Christmas Street of Naples. Everything I had read made it seem like a very special street. It was, but also a bit different from other Christmas streets and markets I've visited! Take a look...
Very interesting nativity scenes!
And this is an interesting combination of folks!
As is this...
Naples is easy to navigate on foot. One of the things we loved is the juxtaposition of beautiful architecture with the rough and tumble neighborhoods.
If you've done much traveling in Europe, especially to Italy or other areas in the southern part of Europe, you've probably experienced the passeggiata. Around dusk it seems like every person in the city comes out for a stroll. It's a leisurely walk with no apparent destination. Families walk together and friends greet each other while heading off into the sunset. We love it. It's a feeling of community that seems to be missing in many parts of the world. Below is the passeggiata one evening in Naples.
A Word About Our Hotel
The Hotel Il Convento is located right in the Quarteri Spagnoli, a perfect location for visiting the port and within walking distance of most of the main sites of Naples. It's a small hotel, not fancy, but clean and very comfortable. The cost was about $120 per night through Expedia. A European/American breakfast buffet was included in the rate. And they make a great cappuccino!
The hotel is two short blocks from Via Toledo, and a two - three minute walk from the Toledo metro. We'd absolutely stay there again, and I hope we can someday.
The entrance of the hotel and the lovely little reception area.
Our room. Katie's bed was on the landing up the stairs.
The breakfast area
The tiny bar!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention safety. Whether we travel within our own country or abroad, we're always aware of our surroundings and mindful of people who want to separate us from our belongings. Despite its reputation for petty theft, I can honestly say that we felt very safe in Naples. Does that mean that there are no potential dangers? Of course not, but at no time did we feel threatened and we were warmly welcomed wherever we went. Naples is a fabulous destination; don't let what you might hear about it prevent you from visiting. You can probably tell that we love this vibrant, beautiful and welcoming city.
Ciao, Naples. Fino alla prossima volta...
➜ Top Tips
Stay in the Quartieri Spagnoli if you want the real flavor of Naples, or plan to walk around it if you stay in another area of the city.
Naples is a great base for day trips; Pompeii, Herculaneum, Vesuvius, the Amalfi Coast...
Come with an appetite and be prepared to fall in love!