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Italy's third largest city is crowded, gritty, polluted and a bit chaotic. But as travel writer Rick Steves says, “This tangled mess still somehow manages to breathe, laugh, and sing with a joyful Italian accent. It's the closest thing to 'reality travel' in Western Europe — fertile, churning, exuberant, and fun.”
Since late 1993, the city has sought to overcome its high crime rate by opening more museums and galleries, thereby attracting a cultured group of visitors and residents. The unconventional strategy is starting to pay off, as crime is down 25 percent. The resulting feeling of security has increased tourism by almost 50 percent.
The cruise port of Naples is one of the largest in the Mediterranean and therefore has a large, modern cruise terminal with many facilities for passengers. Most of the main attractions are within walking distance.
If Italy is the place to go for the best pizza and pasta in the world, and Naples is the best place to enjoy them in Italy, that would make Naples the pizza and pasta capital of the world, right? So bring your appetite!
Naples is a city full of museums, and you would be remiss if you didn't visit them. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale holds some of Europe's most fascinating archaeological collections. There is a display of mosaics taken from what remained of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and an array of Greek and Roman sculptures.
A visit to the Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte is highlighted by a collection of Flemish tapestries. There is another room filled with Renaissance-era paintings by Raphael and Botticelli, among others. In the process of being restored after heavy damage during World War II, Santa Chiara is a Gothic-style church that merits a look for its architecture. The Cappella Sansevero is notable for its amazing sculptures, including the breathtaking Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sammartino.
If your visit happens to fall in the month of May, you are in for a special treat. Maggio dei Monumenti, or May of Monuments, is a month dedicated to showcasing the best of what Naples has to offer, with special events planned throughout the month.
The ancient city, buried during an eruption by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, was dug out from under the tons of ash and stone that covered it. The opportunity to see a city seemingly frozen in time is one you won't want to pass up. The tourist office (Via Sacra +1 081-850-7255) will help you find your way around.
Naples doesn't offer the rich shopping opportunities found in other major Italian cities. But if you need to find something while you're in town, the best place to start is Piazza dei Martiri. There are lots of small shops surrounding the piazza, and you're sure to find something you like. Coral is a popular item in Naples, so you should be able to get some good deals on it while you're here.
The Galleria Umberto I (Via San Carlo) was built in the late 19th century as part of a plan to renew the city after a devastating outbreak of cholera. The Galleria was damaged by air strikes during World War II, and while it has been rebuilt, it is still not what it once was. Nevertheless, there are quite a few craft stores here, centering on ceramics and clothing.
If you have a sweet tooth, you may want to visit Gay Odin for some excellent handmade chocolate in creative shapes. Your taste buds will erupt when you bite into a chocolate Mount Vesuvius! And for the self-described best ties in the world, visit Marinella.
After hours, head over to Kiss Kiss (Via Sgambati 47, 081-546-6566). Two stories of wall-to-wall dancing await you. If you aren't content with Kiss Kiss, slip into Tongue (Via Manzoni 201, 081-769-0800), another hot Naples nightclub. If you would prefer a quieter evening, visit the Otto Jazz Club (Piazzetta Cariati 23, 081-552-4373) or Riot (Via San Biagio dei Librai 38, 081-552-3231).
Naples is famous for pizza and spaghetti. If that sounds like a little slice of heaven, you're in for a Neapolitan treat. Masaniello (Via Donnalbina 28, 081-552-8863) will treat you like a king. There are no menus here. Instead, your server will probe you about your tastes for your upcoming meal, and the dish is cooked to order by your answers. For outstanding pizza, you'll be hard pressed to top Pizzeria Brandi. Every time you bite into a pizza margherita, you are enjoying a slice of history. In the 19th century, the owner of the pizzeria was invited to cook for the Queen of Italy, Margherita di Savoia. His concoction of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil was so delicious that the Queen honored the creation by allowing it to be named after her. Pizzeria Umberto is another excellent choice for pizza connoisseurs.
For a truly unique dining experience, try and catch the banquet at Simposium (Via Benedetto Croce 38, 081-551-8510). Reserve your place early for Saturday evening at 9 pm. The meal is preceded by a lecture on a chosen historical event, and the food served matches the lecture, right down to the servers' costumes. Men and women dine separately, and the wine flows freely from authentic clay pitchers.
The best time to visit Naples is between March and May. The sun will be out, and daytime temperatures stay in the 80s. More importantly, you'll also miss the winter price hikes. Winter is peak season because many visitors are willing to absorb the exorbitant costs for high average temps in the mid 70s. Summer is popular because of school vacation, but 90s with high humidity, even at the beach, is uncomfortable.
Most cruise ships dock in the south of the city at Molo Beverello and the cruise ship terminal, Stazione Marittima. This area is within walking distance of the historic city center and almost adjacent to the docks where ferries come and go from Capri, Sorrento and Ischia. A few ships anchor in the Bay of Naples and tender passengers ashore, while on busy days ships may also dock at Molo Pisacane, where shuttle busses transport passengers on the short ride to Stazione Marittima. In addition to ferry service, there are also road and rail links available from the port.
Use the Metro, which is very efficient and widely used. Funiculars connect lowland points with places up in the hills. Taxis are always an easy way to get around, but make sure that any taxi you get into has a meter. Call Napoli (081/556-4444) for a trustworthy cab. Buses run along four city routes, stopping at pretty much every point of interest.
Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens will need a valid passport.
Store hours: Opening hours for stores are generally Monday to Saturday from 10:30 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 7:30 pm.
Tipping: As in most of Europe tipping isn’t expected in Italy. A service charge is sometimes added to the bill. Some may also add an extra charge for the dinnerware and extras (tablecloth, silverware, plates, bread, etc.); this is normal.
Currency: The Euro.
Safety: Naples is not an especially dangerous city but always beware of pickpockets and purse snatchers, which are very common here, especially on street corners, public transportation, in train stations and high-traffic tourist areas such as Plaza Garibaldi near the cruise terminal. Some travelers believe it's best to opt for the slightly more expensive hydrofoils to Sorrento, for example, rather than the train, on the theory that pickpockets will choose the less expensive transportation for their crimes. It is recommended only to carry with you what you need and keep the rest locked up on the ship.
It's also important to be aware that traffic in Naples can be crazy. It's not unusual for taxis and scooters to suddenly take to the sidewalks if the streets are jammed, and almost everyone drives at high speeds, changing lanes and zipping back and forth over the center line at will. Pedestrians in Naples should be very, very aware of vehicles, including scooters and motorcycles, at all times.
How about you? Have you been to Naples? What would you recommend to a day visitor? Share a photo or tip!
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Updated September 5, 2015
“Naples' finest attraction is its Archaeological Museum, north of Spaccanapoli. This is where you'll get the best possible peek at the art and decorations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the two ancient towns buried in ash by Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.”