Neapolitan Activities You Shouldn't Miss

Neapolitan Activities You Shouldn't Miss
Courtesy of National Geographic 

Rich Report takes you on a 48-hour journey through Naples, one of Italy's most vibrant cities.

Naples isn't unique; despite so many guidebooks describing it as such, Naples has just as much pretence and aspiration, and just as many layers of emperor's new clothes as other European cities.

One of the things that makes Naples unique is that there is no other city in Western Europe that cares less about what you think. From the partially rejuvenated former inner city slum of La Sanita to the crumbling dockside to the rococo opera houses to sensational street food to the anarchic traffic, it has it all. From the moment you land, Naples expects you to keep up with it and it does what it does.

Although it isn't a city for the faint-hearted, it would never want to be one. You will leave Naples with a sense of energizing, cultured, and firmly addicted to what it offers you on its inevitably olive oil smeared plate if you let it work on you for two days.

Naples in two days is enough?

You will take a lot of steps in Naples in 48 hours and your walking app will delight with how many steps you will take. Naples has attractions that stretch out into its vast outer neighborhoods and across its central area, unlike so many historic European cities that have postcard-sized centers and somnambulant suburbs. 

Rather than being used for walking, this area is vertiginous, confusing, and teeming with waste disposal alleyways, side streets, and sidewalks. 

The Royal Palace of Naples. Courtesy of Trip Advisor 

You should stick to the area around Royal Naples, Centro Storico and upscale Chiaia if you only have 48 hours. You should also take a detour to La Sanita and check out the dockside area for one very special experience.

Naples has a very good underground metro system that is easy to navigate. Uber does not exist and meter taxis are very expensive. If you want to experience the true vibe of Naples, you should buy sturdy walking shoes and be brave when crossing the streets. 

Cars will stop for no reason other than to avoid getting their bonnet dented any more than it already is. A city center hotel is within a 30-minute walk of most of the more central sites.

Centro Storico. Courtesy of 

How do you spend a day in Naples?

The best pizza in the world is waiting for you

This tiny pizzeria da Michele, located in the scruffy, utterly nondescript Via Cesare Sersale, has been serving up the most sensational margherita in Italy (and anywhere else for that matter). 

Pizzeria da Michele. Courtesy of Trip Advisor

Even though it isn't the oldest pizzeria in Naples, it is the best one there is. In the two-room restaurant, where locals easily outnumber tourists each evening, locals enter through the tiny front door to collect a token and wait for 45 minutes before securing a table; the restaurant has green and white tiled walls and wipe-clean tables, and it is as simple as it gets. 

Degas could have created a similar impressionist colourscape of reds and soft whites on this pizza, if he had been familiar with a 500-degree oven. In fact, it's just San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and soybean oil drizzled generously. It's this last ingredient that gives a Da Michele pizza its smoky, tangy, crunchy taste that's totally grease-free, for many devotees. 

The pizza is only available in four varieties (two were available until recently), but ordering anything other than a margherita (and a crisp Azzurro lager to wash it down) will defeat the whole point. It's all for just €5.50 (around £4.40) for a whole pizza.

Discover Caravaggio's greatest (and strangest) masterpiece

Even though Caravaggio was born in Milan, he produced the most rewarding, odd and absorbing work here in Spaccanpoli. His chiaroscuro tableau depicting the Virgin and Child being lifted to heaven by winged chariots is set against the gritty streets of Spaccanpoli.

An unprepossessing octagonal church off the narrow Via dei Tribunal, where the 12 foot high piece resides, plays a crucial role in the story. In an effort to provide interest-free loans to needy locals in exchange for goods, the church (and still does) operated a conformity commissioned by a group of Naples nobles called the Pio Monte della Misericordia. If the loan wasn't repaid, the goods would be auctioned off. 

While you may not be able to afford some ready Euros in cash, the painting can captivate you for a half hour with its otherworldly details. There are bare-chested derelicts lying at St. Martin's feet and an ancient Cimon being breastfed by his own daughter in prison. As your eyes wander across the canvas, the chiaroscuro is masterful; the characters seem to be stepping into and out of the darkness and into the light as you look everywhere. 

Catacombs of San Gennaro. Courtesy of 

A former no-go zone offers an array of ancient catacombs to explore

A native of La Sanita would have told you a decade ago to stay away from the area.

Outsiders are less likely to be at risk in this narrow neighbourhood today, despite its problems. The tiny doorways reveal tiny coffee shops where an espresso costs a maximum of one euro at the counter, while others reveal minuscule grocers and fishmongers selling their wares to the locals. 

Using a bucket system, some residents of the apartment buildings get their shopping up to the upper floors by dropping baskets from their balconies to the street so that shopkeepers can fill them with fruit, vegetables, fish, and pasta.

The subterranean Neapolitan world is accessible through two of these doorways. These ancient catacombs were closed until 2008, when a local not-for-profit organization called La Paranza opened them up to the public and trained locals as tour guides.

Naples seems to be a great place for a non-flammable saint, since the Catacomb of San Gennaro lies beside a still-active volcano. San Gennaro was beheaded in 305 AD after his killers discovered he would not alight when burned. 

An ampule in Naples cathedral holds San Gennaro's body and some of his blood, which are liquefied three times a year in a ceremony known as a miracle. The catacombs were home to him for 400 years until they were moved, along with ancient, recently restored sarcophagi painted onto the porous, volcanic ‘tufa’ rock walls, and shelf-like coffin slots. 

It contains a number of mosaics and frescoes dating from the fifth to the 18th century in San Gaudioso catacombs, named after a bishop and hermit from North Africa. As the catacombs continued to be used regularly in Naples, a unique method of burial became the norm for the more prestigious new residents, who were buried upright with their skulls cemented into the rear wall. It was customary to place a fresco portrait of the deceased on top of the skull after it was drained of all bodily fluids. 

Courtesy of Vesuvius National Park 

Take a walk up Vesuvius' summit

As long as you take the convenient Circumvesuviana train from the city centre and then a minibus to the entrance of the site, you will be able to hike up to Vesuvius' crater and summit in well under an hour. In winter, landslides, heavy rain or snow can cause the park to close quickly, so call ahead if possible. It's €10 (around £9) to get into what is now a national park.

If you hike in the early morning before the crowds arrive, you will only see nightingales, thrushes, and red valerian flowers. Since there is no smoke coming from the crater (that stopped after the last eruption in 1944), much of the park is off limits for safety reasons. 

In spite of this, the view down into Vesuvius is a deep and sinister one, and the museum (in the old observatory) is filled with sobering warnings about when (and certainly not 'if') it might blow its top again. According to volcanologists, this could happen in the next 20 years or 200 years. 

Seafood, street snacks, and cakes on sale at basement prices

There are just too many calorific delights on every corner in Naples for weight loss to be possible. Do lots of street walking and you might think you've had a healthy holiday. 

Café Gambrinus. Courtesy of

Don't let anything get in your way and enjoy the crazy cheap prices of Neapolitan cuisine. Don't forget to head over to Gambrinus Café next to the opera house in the morning. If you take a table, you'll probably pay at least double, so eat a sfogliatella, a lobster tail shaped pastry filled with ricotta, cinnamon, and fruit while you lean against the counter. 

It was once a haunt of Oscar Wilde that this grand establishment holds the gold imprint of the late Diego Maradona's foot. He led Napoli to its first Serie A title in the late 1980s, which they haven't repeated since. You won't spend more than five euros on an espresso and a pastry here, even in this decadent palace of a café.

Takeaway bags of deep fried delights, called friggitoria, are available from Di Matteo in the evening (though they don't wait as long as at Da Michele). A paper bag containing deliciously decadent pork-filled arancini balls, deep fried dough balls, and eggplant fritters costs €6 (around £5). 

In the middle of Naples, you can enjoy the best, and the cheapest, piscine pleasures at the completely unprepossessing-looking Piccolo Ristoro. Get here before 1pm at lunch to be sure of a table and be joined by dock workers and local foodies at this bijou, bare-bones spot to sample gargantuan dishes like lobster pasta, calamari and octopus for €10 (about £9) for most main dishes. 

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