No visit to Italy would be complete without a visit to Naples and in particular its historic centre. Naples or Napoli in Italian is actually the third largest city in Italy. Located a few hours south of Rome, it’s location towards the south of Italy gives it the ideal climate for sightseeing. Of course, like me, you may have heard stories of Naples which put you off visiting. Dirty streets, walls covered in graffiti, not safe to wander around at night. Of course, you’d be put off by these things – I was too. As a matter of fact, some of them are true – the grime and the graffiti, at least. On the other hand, I never felt unsafe there ever – not even at night. Whatever you do, don’t let the rumours and scaremongering put you off. Visit Naples and see for yourself.
Yes, you’ll see rubbish piled in the streets at some times of the day. You’ll also see plenty of graffiti and not the kind you want to view for its artistic value either. At the same time, however, you’ll see some of the most amazing architecture anywhere in Italy. Not to mention the fascinating museums you can visit. Not to mention the fabulous food. You’ll enjoy pizza in the city that invented it. Eat in lively pavement restaurants and drink delicious Italian coffee in bustling piazzas. Naples is probably nothing like you imagine and so you really need to see it for yourself.
So, now I’ve convinced you that you need to visit Naples and see the historic city for yourself. What things must you see and do on your visit to Naples? Here’s a list to get you started. Bet you can’t manage them all! But don’t worry, once you’ve seen Naples for yourself, you’ll be back.
Things to do in Naples
- National Archaeological Museum
- Museo Capello Sansevero
- Castel Nuovo
- Naples Cathedral
- Museo del Tesero di San Gennaro
- Museo Capella Sansevero
- The Donnaregina Monumental Complex
- National Railway Museum of Pietrarsa
- Go Underground and Explore the Catacombs
- Eat gelato on the Naples Waterfront
- Take a day trip to Pompeii
- View Metro Art
National Archaeological Museum
If you regularly read my trip reports then you’ll know that I love a museum where the building is spectacular in its own right. The Naples Archaeological museum does not disappoint in that regard. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (don’t you just love the sound of Italian?) should be at the top of your list of things to do in the Historic Centre of Naples.
When you arrive, you stand in front of an imposing red brick building. It was originally a cavalry barracks and later part of the city university so it’s had a long and useful life. Climb the steps and enter this fabulous museum. Once, inside don’t forget to look up as the ceilings are stunning.
Artefacts from Pompeii
Here, you’ll see a world-class collection of exhibits. As you’d expect it houses artefacts taken from the archaeological excavations at nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum. For this reason, you should definitely visit here before heading to the ruins. The collection includes more than 1800 papyri discovered at Herculaneum. You’ll also find a number of mosaics and other artwork recovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum. I love the beware of the dog mosaic from Pompeii.
Also of particular note are the stunning Farnese Marbles. For instance, the collection includes sculptures of Hercules, Atlas, Venus to name just a few. You could spend hours exploring so allow plenty of time. If you visit on the first Sunday of the month it’s free. Otherwise, tickets are 15 Euros. The museum is open from 9 am to 7 pm every day. However, it is closed on Tuesdays.
You’ll find this imposing medieval castle in the historic centre of Naples. It looks particularly striking with the Bay of Naples in the background. It’s a very picturesque location as you look out across the water from the castle.
The castle was originally built in the late 13th century. It has royal connections. Interestingly, it served as the seat of the Kings of Naples, Aragon and surprisingly, Spain until the early 19th century.
Opening hours are 8.30am to 6.30pm Monday to Saturday. Don’t get caught out like us though as it only opens from 10am to 1pm on Sundays. Tickets cost 6 Euros.
The Duomo dei Napoli or Cathedral is also known as the Assumption of Mary. Naples cathedral has many names. It’s also known as the Cathedral of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. The cathedral keeps a vial of his blood although you can only see it occasionally.
As soon as you step into the highly decorated interior you can admire the many works of art which include canvases and mosaics as well as a magnificent altar centrepiece.
Further inside Naples cathedral, you’ll also find the Royal Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro. Famous for its ornate decoration you need to look up again as the domed ceiling is stunning.
Museo del Tesero di San Gennaro
Venture down below the cathedral to visit the Museo del Tesero di San Gennaro. As you might expect from the name, this museum is related to the Royal Chapel and also contains a quite tremendous collection of religious artefacts.
The museum is open every day. 9 am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday and 9 am to 5.30pm on Saturdays and holidays. Tickets are 6 Euros or 8 Euros with an audio guide.
Museo Capella Sansevero
You’ll find this small chapel in the middle of Naples. Inside you’ll find sculptures by some of the 18th century Italy’s most famous artists. For example, Giuseppe Sanmartino’s Veiled Christ and Antonio Corradini’s Modesty. These are both tomb sculptures. However, the chapel contains an absolute abundance of artworks. Of course, if you’re a regular reader I’m sure you’ll remember to look up. You won’t be disappointed. For instance, the chapel’s ceiling, Glory in Paradise, was painted by Francesco Maria Rosso and is absolutely gorgeous.
The Donnaregina Monumental Complex
We found this fabulous church and museum complex quite by accident when we were wandering around the historic centre. The Complesso Monumentale di Santa Chiara is actually two churches with a museum upstairs. Firstly, you visit the newer baroque church. Inside they showcase artworks within each alcove. You walk through into the older church which is a wonderful contrast. It’s more plainly decorated but no less impressive because of that.
Walk back into the new church then go up some stairs to the Diocesan Museum. Here, you can view displays of religious paintings, sculptures and artefacts. The entry fee is a very reasonable 6 Euros and you can spend as much time as you like wandering around.
National Railway Museum of Pietrarsa
You’ll find the railway museum just south of Naples but you’ll want to make the effort to visit if you love trains. You can hop on a regional train from Napoli Centrale station. Get off at Pietrarsa station and the railway museum is alongside. Watch out for the limited opening though as you can only visit Thursday to Sunday. Although you may also be able to catch one of their special holiday opening days so it’s worth checking before you go.
At the museum, you can view everything railway related. Inside you’ll see steam, diesel and electric locomotives as well as fabulous carriages such as the Royal Carriage. Outside you can see the cast iron Fiorenzuola d’Arda station shelter as well as an early 19th-century turntable. It’s definitely an attraction for all the family to enjoy.
Venture beneath the Historic Centre of Naples and Explore the Catacombs
You’ll find plenty of opportunities to get underground beneath Naples Historic centre. Firstly, you can take a guided tour with Napoli Sotteranea (Italian for Naples Underground) and see some of the diverse and fascinating sights below ground level. During the tour, you’ll see a Greek-Roman Aqueduct, a WWII air raid shelter and the War Museum. Would you believe that there’s a vegetable garden 40 metres under Naples? Well, you’ll get to see with your own eyes as you’ll also visit the Hypogeum Gardens. Tours are available in English and Italian several times a day. You can buy your ticket at the door and they cost 10 Euros per person.
The cathedral beneath Naples
Another way you can get underground is to visit the catacombs. The Catacombs of San Gennaro date back to around 2AD in parts and surprisingly contains an underground basilica dedicated to the Sant’Agrippino. In particular, you’ll be awestruck by the lofty ceilings and wide open spaces. Incredible to realise that mass is still celebrated today here deep underground.
Overall, one thing Naples is not short of is catacombs.
In fact, there are nine catacombs and caves although you can’t visit them all. If you’ve got a taste for life underground, you can also visit the Catacombs of San Gaudioso which are part of the same complex.
Eat gelato on the Naples Waterfront
When you’re in Italy you need to make time for gelato. You might think you’ve had ice-cream before but believe me, you’ve not tasted anything quite as good as Italian gelato. With this in mind, head down to the Via Caracciolo and walk along the seafront. Then enjoy this picturesque location where you can walk freely in the pedestrianised zone.
Take a Day Trip from the Historic Centre of Naples to Pompeii and Herculaneum
Although it’s not in the Naples Historic Centre you can’t visit the area and not see Pompeii. Take a short ride on the Circumvesiana train and visit the nearby archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
You can find more detailed information about all the amazing sights to see at Pompeii here. In fact, it was the highlight of our trip to Italy and I know you’ll love it.
Just when you think you’ve got the measure of Naples that’s when something new happens to surprise you. Go underground again, this time into the stations of Naples’ metro system. Here you’ll find a vast collection including 200 works of art by 100 leading contemporary artists. You can download a guide from the Metro website to help you explore the different stations. It’s an innovative idea which adds a new dimension to the presentation of art beneath the city.
Enjoy your visit to the Historic Centre of Naples
In conclusion. I hope that this guide will help you choose which sights you want to see when you visit Naples. There’s so much to choose from. All in all, I just know that Naples will surpass your expectations as it did mine. I thought it was just somewhere to stay on the way to Pompeii but it’s so much more than that.