One Day In Naples

In a world of globalized hipsterdom in which a cafe in Berlin could be a cafe in Istanbul could be a cafe in New York, etc, Naples transports you back in time to a beautifully chaotic and unique place. And it’s only a little over an hour from Rome by train

Every time I’m here for a day, I kick myself and say, “Why didn’t you plan a longer stay?!” Naples deserves at least a long weekend on it’s own, and an entire week if you want to add Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. However, if you only have one day in Naples, here are some ideas on what to do. 

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Wandering Around

If arriving by train to Naples - Napoli in Italian - the central station is connected to the metro. Take linea 1 (one ride is €1.10) and get off at the Toledo stop, one of Naples’ art stations that opened in 2012. As you ascend the escalator, sparkling silver and blue mosaics and natural light channel life into the deep layers of the station.   

Once outside, the crowded streets of Naples heave with life. The historic city center is the largest in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll among the vendors and sun-drenched laundry floating above you from every window.

Founded by the ancient Greeks, Naples is one of the oldest cities in the world, and you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time three or four or five decades. Hold onto your wallet and hop out of the way of rogue motorini.

If it’s hotter than hell, a seaside breeze might be what you’re after. Stroll down to the Lungomare and walk along the water. You’ll be able to see Mt Vesuvius and go inside Castel dell’Ovo for free.

What to See

Walking Tour
If you have time to do a walking tour with Raffaele or Marco, do it. In two hours, you’ll hit the highlights and hear the rich history of this city by the sea. The passion and pride these guys have for their hometown made me love Naples even more. No need to book; just show up. They work on a tip-only basis. Check the website for the latest days/times.

If you do a walking tour, and only have one day in Naples, you’ll only have time to do one other activity. Some ideas:

Creepy remnants from World War II underground in Naples.

Creepy remnants from World War II underground in Naples.

Naples Underground
This is pretty frickin’ cool (literally). They take you 40 meters down to tour the chilly Roman-Greek aqueduct, which is more than 2,000 years old. This tour is fascinating at any time and especially nice on a hot day. At one point, you’re given a candle and lead through a very tight passageway (this is optional for clausterphobes). Dear god, how did those poor souls 2,000 years ago carry around water with no electricity lighting their way? They wore lanterns around their neck.

You’ll also see air raid shelters. Naples was the most bombed Italian city during World War II, and underground you’ll see eery remains of bombs and children’s toys. I also saw a sign saying that until the 1950s, people were sleeping on beds outside because they feared their homes would be hit. Oddly, as part of the tour, you will also see an underground garden where botanists are doing research. English tours are held every two hours, so call or email them for timings.

Ancient Statues of Runners from Villa dei Papiri.

Ancient Statues of Runners from Villa dei Papiri.

National Archaeological Museum
This place is amazing! If you’re visiting Pompeii / Herculaneum (and you should), visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli to complete the experience. Most of the statues, mosaics and other art from those archeological sites are kept in this museum. There’s sooo much to see. I’d start with the mosaic area (which includes an ‘adult’ room), then move on to the frescoes, and the statues and other objects from the Villa of Papiri. If you don’t put a time limit on yourself, you might stay here all day. Note: the museum is closed on Tuesday and the audio guide is a complete waste of €5 (they should be ashamed about charging for this).

Sansevero Chapel Museum
I didn’t get a chance to go here, and my friend is still giving me grief about it. He’s right - the photos on the website look stunning, and so Museo Cappella Sansevero is first on my list when I return to Naples. It’s most famous for its Veiled Christ, "renowned the world over for the remarkable tissue-like quality of the marble.” This museum is also closed on Tuesday. 

Royal Palace Napoli

Royal Palace Napoli
While Naple's Castello Nuovo makes a strong impression, I was advised to skip going inside and instead visit the 17th-century Royal Palace. I ran out of time for this, too, so on my next trip to Naples, I will combine this with the Sansevero Chapel. The palace is closed on Wednesday. You could also split your day between here and the Capodimonte Museum, which is also closed on Wednesday and a bit of a hike from the city centre, but houses art by Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Titian, and other greats. It would be a stretch to do both of these, though, if you want to relax and see some of the city.

Where to Eat

Margarita pizza at Sorbillo.

Margarita pizza at Sorbillo.

You have to eat pizza in Naples - this is its birthplace! Everyone agrees that Da Michele is great (the place featured in Eat, Pray, Love). If you don’t want to compete with these fans, Sorbillo is ace. I’m a fan of the Margarita pizza, with its perfectly tangy sauce and buffalo mozzarella. The method and ingredients to make Neapolitan pizza (which is thicker than Roman pizza) is actually regulated by law. Side note: While Naples invented pizza, its immigrants to America made it famous.

Looking for a casual place to sit outside? L’etto serves loads of tasty veggie dishes, also wine and desserts if healthy isn’t your thing. You pick what you want and then pay by the weight of your plate. This restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and is not far from the archeology museum. 

As for sweets, popular desserts include babà (made with rum) and sfogliatelle (a shell-shaped pastry filled with a ricotta paste). I’m not a big fan of either, but I’m in the minority. For me, babà was too alcoholic and sticky and sfogliatelle too greasy and crinkly. Friends recommended two historic places: Il Vero Bar del Professore and Gambrinus. In the name of science, I tried both and 100% suggest choosing Caffè Gambrinus for both atmosphere and quality. 

Is Naples Safe?

Kind of. When people hear Naples, they often think of the mafia, corruption, and poverty. Fair enough. As a tourist, you probably don’t need to worry about the mob killing you, but pickpockets are a real problem. I kept my debit card in my pocket with the assumption that someone would steal my purse.

Galleria Umberto I, a shopping gallery similar to the one in Milan but less posh.

Galleria Umberto I, a shopping gallery similar to the one in Milan but less posh.

Is Naples worth it? Absolutely! I nearly missed my train back to Rome because I got so caught up following the twists and turns and the energy of the streets. You should definitely go to Naples — for more than a day if possible.