What to do in Naples: 10 Things You Should Not Miss!
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Nestled in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius and beside the Tyrrhenian Sea lies Naples, the third largest city in Italy. This is a city that has seen civilizations rise and fall and has played an important role in Italian history. While it may not have all the glitz and glamour of Venice or Rome, Naples is just as vibrant and is bursting with incredible historical sites in a more authentic setting. Plus, Naples is the birthplace of pizza, so it's a no-brainer that you add Naples on your must-visit list for your Italy holiday!
If you’re wondering what to do in Naples and around it, we’ve got you covered with this complete guide to all of Naples attractions.
1. See the Piazza del Plebiscito
All of your Naples sightseeing starts here in the Piazzo del Plebiscito. It’s a beautiful pedestrian square with views of the Basilica Royal and the Royal Palace. It’s the city’s central gathering place, right in the heart of Naples and a short distance from many of the main tourist attractions, like Castel Nuovo, Teatro di San Carlo, and the Quartieri Spagnoli.
The Piazzo del Plebiscito is open all hours of the day and is the perfect place to really get to know the spirit of Naples.
- Good to know: Stop in at the famous Gran Caffe Gambrinus for a coffee and do some people watching. This café features great works of art by contemporary Italian artists and is known as a meeting spot for the city’s artists and intellectuals.
2. Discover the ruins of Pompeii
Pompeii, the city that was frozen in time in the wake of Vesuvius’ eruption, is one of the most famous sites around Naples and has so much to offer its visitors. Explore the remarkably well preserved and restored large theatre, where if you stand center stage and speak everyone in the seats can hear you. Visit the brothel that is famous for its unique, lewd paintings positioned above each doorway detailing what went on inside. Pompeii is famous for the preserved remains of people trying to escape the volcanic eruption, now frozen forever in a thick coat of ash. The Garden of the Fugitives is one place where you can see 13 of these ashen figures in various positions. A trip to Pompeii is an experience that is surreal and unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere in the world.
- Good to know: Food inside the excavation site is expensive, we recommend packing a picnic lunch and snacks. There are a number of designated picnic areas where you can eat and take in the sight of the city and the volcano.
3. Visit the San Gennaro Catacombs
If you’re looking for something to do in Naples itself, visit the San Gennaro Catacombs. Hidden just 100 steps beneath the city, the catacombs are home to over 3000 burial sites, including that of San Gennaro, the celebrated patron of Naples.
The catacombs have two levels all carved out of stone with arched ceilings that reach up to 6 meters in height. The lower catacombs have a comforting regularity to the grid-like structure and would have housed the less wealthy members of society. The upper catacombs were known as the burial place of the bishops and actually, the catacombs stem from one ancient Christian tomb. Walking into the catacombs is like stepping into a time machine — it is like being in another world of times long past.
- Good to know: The catacombs feature some of the oldest Christian art in all of Italy, remarkably well preserved in the stony depths. We recommend getting a guided tour so you can fully understand and appreciate what you’re seeing.
4. Explore Herculaneum
Although Pompeii is the most famous, Herculaneum is another town that was smothered by the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius’ eruption and offers an even more culturally enriching and much less touristy experience, with more tourist-friendly signage to help you understand what you’re seeing. The small fishing village was quite wealthy in its time and the art and architecture of the city attest to that.
After the eruption of Vesuvius, the village was covered with volcanic ash that solidified in such a way that a lot of organic matter was preserved, meaning things like wooden features and fabrics and even a set of famous papyri scrolls have lasted through the centuries and can be seen now!
- Good to know: Make sure to visit the Villa of the Papyri. It’s one of the most luxurious villas preserved in Herculaneum and archeologists found a collection of preserved papyrus scrolls that they’re working hard to read using high tech x-ray software. It’s a hugely important archeological discovery and you should not miss it!
5. Visit Castel Nuovo
Castel Nuovo is a distinctive piece of the Naples’ skyline and an essential part of any Naples sightseeing. The castle features an intricate marble central façade surrounded by thick brick towers and fortifications. There’s a museum inside where you can see an incredible collection of sculptures, frescoes, and paintings from the 14th to the 19th centuries.
It’s only a short walk from the Piazza del Plebiscito, so it’s easy to get to. A tour of the castle will take you through the towers, the central courtyard, and let you climb the ramparts to snap some amazing pictures of Naples and the harbour!
- Good to know: The only two rooms inside the castle which have been restored to completely maintain their original appearance are the Palatina Chapel and the Hall of the Barons. Trust us on this, you don’t want to leave Naples without seeing the incredible Gothic architecture of this hall, which features a unique ribbed stone ceiling that opens up like a flower above you!
6. Climb Mount Vesuvius
Perhaps the most famous piece of Naples’ skyline is Mount Vesuvius, a volcano that has proved itself as deadly as it is picturesque. Mount Vesuvius is famous for its eruption in 79 AD that resulted in the destruction of both Pompeii and Herculaneum. It’s still considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Europe.
Don’t worry though, volcanoes move on massive timelines and this one is currently dormant. In fact, Vesuvius is a popular tourist attraction and no trip to Naples is complete without climbing up this iconic peak. It offers incredible panoramic views of the surrounding area for you to photograph.
- Good to know: Climbing Vesuvius only takes about 20–30 minutes if you start the climb at Vesuvius Park. You can get there on your own using the local bus, but it’s easier to take a tour up to the crater so that you can learn more about the volcano and its history.
7. Explore Capri Island
If you want to get off the mainland, consider hopping on a ferry and taking the hour-long ride to the stunning island of Capri. Surrounded by the startlingly blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea and characterized by craggy hills covered in trees, Capri island will capture your heart so you may never want to leave!
Day trips can be organized from the island to take you to explore the Blue Grotto by boat or head up into the mountains for a hike. Or, you can just relax on the beach and enjoy the sight of the colorful buildings by the sea. You can even take a small boat to Bagni di Tiberio, where you can swim surrounded by the ruins of a Roman villa.
- Good to know: Capri has something for everyone, whether you’re traveling with your family, heading on holiday with friends or just taking some you‐time. It is easy to access by ferry and you can easily hire a tour to make sure you get the most out of your trip to the island.
8. Try pizza in its birthplace
If you’re ever at a loss about what to do in Naples, take a deep breath and then go get some pizza. Really! Naples is known as the birthplace of pizza and it’s impossible to get a bad pizza anywhere in the city. When it comes to this famous dish, Neapolitans really know what they’re doing.
Naples hosts events like the “world pizza-making championships” and boasts that every neighborhood has a pizza joint worthy of winning. It’s a cultural and culinary point of pride. The Michelin Guide even has a list of the best pizzerias in Italy, with most of them located in Naples. Enjoying the local delicacy is one of the best things to do in Naples since Pizza is a classic dish amongst other Italian dishes.
- Good to know: Keep an eye out for pizza places certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. While you’ll get good pizza everywhere, only 100 out of 800 pizza places have this certification, meaning they use the ingredients and methods dictated by Neapolitan tradition.
9. Visit the Royal Palace of Naples
The Royal Palace of Naples or the Palazzo Reale is one of the most underrated attractions Naples has to offer. While the outside of the palace looks like something from a Wes Anderson film, the interior is full of massive rooms decorated in lavish colors with paintings, chandeliers and gold-leafed furniture.
A tour through the Royal Palace walks you back through history, through the various dynasties that have ruled Naples over the years. It’s a great place to step back from the hustle and bustle of the city and check out the more-stately side of Naples.
- Good to know: The palace is open from 9 am – 8 pm every day except for Wednesdays.
10. Check out the Naples National Archaeological Museum
The Naples National Archeological Museum is one of the largest archeological museums in the world and is famous for its Roman collections, as well as for one of the largest Egyptian collections in Europe. Many of the best frescoes and mosaics from nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum are now located in this museum, making it a natural addition to any trip that includes exploring the history of this region.
- Good to know: The museum building has a really interesting history. It was initially a cavalry barracks that became a seat of the city’s university. It didn’t become a museum until the late 18th century. If you don’t have a lot of time, make sure to go to the Farnese collection on the ground floor and see the Toro Farnese statue. Carved from a single massive piece of marble, this incredible sculpture was referenced in the writings of the famous Roman author Pliny the Elder!
3 Things to know before you go to Naples
- Naples is a big city and there’s a lot to see. Make sure you’ve given yourself at least three days in Naples to take in all that the city has to offer.
- Like with any major city in the world, pickpocketing and petty crime can be an issue. Just be aware of your surroundings and your belongings and everything should be fine.
- Italians take riposo, their afternoon naptime, pretty seriously. Plan your day with a midday break in mind.
Take a tour or go solo?
In a city as bursting with history as Naples, where every block reveals new historical buildings or fascinating landmarks, it’s useful to have a guide. As an independent traveler you can explore, but you miss a lot of the context that makes this such an amazing cultural place unless you’re constantly reading your guidebook.
It’s also important to note that this city has a history of being rougher than many other Italian cities and going with a tour in Naples with a planned itinerary with a guide decreases your chances of having an unpleasant encounter or issues while you’re in town.
Whether you’re a foodie, an amateur archeologist, or looking to relax for a few days, Naples has everything you’re looking for. And if you’re not sure what to do in Naples at any point, just revisit our list!
If you're feeling inspired to add Naples to your itinerary on your trip to Italy, we recommend you to get in touch with our local travel experts in the country to see where this city can be placed on your customized trip to Italy.
For more information, read our travel article on how many days to spend in Italy.