Top 10 things to do in Naples Italy | How to explore the city

Naples, colourful, gritty and full of life
Naples, colourful, gritty and full of life
Naples, a city with a magnificent backdrop
Naples, a city with a magnificent backdrop

Why Visit Naples

We have been to Naples a few times and we’ve always loved this city.  Its got great places to stay, great food and drink, great trips out of the city and a history that is captivating and keeps you wanting more.  Oh and the public transport is fantastic.  If you find yourself visiting Naples then we’ve provided our Top 10 Naples attractions for you.

1 | Veiled Christ Statue – Capella San Severo.

This was an exhibit that I had wanted to see for a long time. The Cappella Sansevero is a chapel located on Via Francesco de Sanctis 19, just northwest of the church of San Domenico Maggiore, in the historic center of the city.  Inside there is the main church area where the statue lays.  You can’t take pictures of the statue but I bought a fridge magnet from the gift store instead which was great.  The best compromise. 

The museum has some other really interesting exhibits including an anatomical display downstairs which is a bit weird but still incredibly fascinating. On the other floors there are statues and mosaics that are just stunning. 

Veiled Christ Fridge Magnet Naples
Veiled Christ Fridge Magnet Naples
Anatomical Display Naples
Anatomical Display Naples

2 | Churches of Naples

There are some fascinating churches in Naples with hidden crypts and priceless artworks here are just two to consider.  In Naples Caravaggio painted three famous works of art, the stunning Seven Works of Mercy he painted for the high altar of the Church of Pio Monte della Misericordia is still hanging in its original position today.  You can just walk in and see it in all its glory. I love this painting because it wasn’t painted to hang in a museum, it was painted specifically for the church.  The rest of the church also has some other fantastic works of art.   Upstairs there is a little balcony where you can look down on the Caravaggio giving it a completely different perspective so definitely go upstairs if you have time.  

Just around the corner in the Santa Maria della Anime ad Arco (Saint Mary of the Souls of Purgatory) Church. Is a very unusual hidden underground church. It’s dedicated to one of Naples most interesting religious cults, The cult of the dead. The Black Death kill half of the population of Naples in 1656 with nowhere to put the remains the city s churches started to fill. Now catholics believe that if your not given a proper burial you soul remain in purgatory and cannot enter heaven. 

Neopolitans started adopting the bones of the dead and praying for them. In return they would get good grace and the soul of the dead person would get to enter heaven. One of the most famous of these is in an alcove behind the alter of this underground church, The virgin Bride believed to be a princess who died on her wedding day. You can see her skull is adorned with a tiara and a veil. The cult was outlawed in the 1960’s but you can see the evidence in the crypt that it is still part of everyday life in this fascinating city.

Caravaggio in a church Naples
Caravaggio in a church Naples
The crypt under the Caravaggio Naples
The crypt under the Caravaggio Naples

3 | Flavian Amphitheatre

Just north of Naples and easily accessible by train you can find the ancient archeological site of the Flavian Amphitheatre.   You will find this in the town of Pozzuoli and is only a five minute walk from the train station.  This amphitheatre is the third largest in Italy and was most likely built by the same people that built the Colosseum in Rome. 

There is a great deal to see here from statues to the main entertainment area to seating and tunnels the run the whole length of the site on several levels.  If you have time, then pop down to Pozzuoli.  You won’t be disappointed. 

Flavian Amphitheatre Pozzuoli
Flavian Amphitheatre Pozzuoli
Tunnels of the Flavian Amphitheatre Pozzuoli
Tunnels of the Flavian Amphitheatre Pozzuoli

4 | The Catacombs of Naples

There are two fantastic, if not a little macabre, sites here which can be accessed on the same entrance ticket.  They are the Catacombs of San Gaudioso which tells a fantastic story of how the tombs were used through the ages and offer a fantastic tour down into the crypts with guides who offer tours in various languages.   Do wear comfortable footwear as there are some steep stony steps and the site is quite large so there’s a lot of walking.

The second site is the Catacombs of San Gennaro which is an incredible wander through various tomb chambers through the ages. The tours here are in various languages and incredibly informative.  The church itself is really impressive and the stories that the guides tell of the crypts through the ages is fascinating. With the same ticket you can also visit the Fontanelle Cemetery where the bones of ancient Neopolitans are laid.  

After all the crypts and catacombs you can then take a  wander down the Miglio Sacro (The holy mile) where you really get a feel for ancient Naples.  All of these sites are pretty much accessible from central Naples.  Just be mindful of the opening times and tour times so you make sure you have time for it all.  There is an information desk at the San Gaudioso site where  you can buy your tickets and get information on how best to access the 3 areas.

Naples Catacombs
Naples Catacombs
The Fontanelle cemetery Naples
The Fontanelle cemetery Naples

5 | The Metro Art, Linea 1

The city’s primary metro line “Linea 1” hosts a wide array of striking art installations – more than 180 one off commissions by pioneering international artists such as Sol LeWitt, Joseph Kosuth and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

The glittering silver-blue walls at Toledo metro station were designed to make you feel like you’re traversing through the ground and into the sea. Take a ride on the metro and jump of at different stops to see if you can spot this amazing art installation in the city. 

Naples metro station
Naples metro station
Naples metro station
Naples metro station

6 | Pizza Pizza Pizza 

Naples claims, with good reason, to be the home of pizza and there are plenty of restaurants where you can sample the famous Neapolitan pizza.  Some say its the crust, some say its the tomato topping and some say its like no other pizza in the world and that is pretty true.

There are several restaurants claiming to be the official home of pizza but we chose the one with the largest crowd waiting outside and a queue to get a table within the famous walls.  Sorbillo is an iconic name associated with Neopolitan Pizza and the family has been serving pizzas in the city for generations.  I can honestly say this was great pizza and well worth the wait. 

Sorbillo Pizza Naples
Sorbillo Pizza Naples
Sorbillo Pizza Naples
Sorbillo Pizza Naples

7 | Napoli Sotterranea, Naples Underground

Naples Underground is one of the best tours in Naples today.  It takes you through a myriad of tunnels and chambers which signifies approx 2400 years of usage. 

The tour takes you down several steep and narrow staircases, through tunnels and chambers and in one section there is no lighting to the guides provide you with a candle to light your way through some really narrow passageways which was quite exciting to do.  The tour is extremely well thought out and surprises and delights with the discoveries that they’ve made, sometimes even in the basements of peoples houses.  Its one of the best things we’ve done in Naples by far. 

Naples Underground Entrance
Naples Underground Entrance
Naples Underground Tour
Naples Underground Tour

8 | Visit the ruins of Pompeii

Pompeii and Herculaneum are 2 towns just south of Naples that are world famous.  I think everyone knows the story of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in approximately 79 AD and that the eruption destroyed the towns of Pompeii & Herculaneum leaving them as time capsules of the night the eruption devastated them both. 

You can still see houses, rooms, streets, theatres, brothels, bars and shops and in the museum on site you can see casts of citizens and their pets.  Its a truly magnificent site and you can find out much more information on how to get there and some hints and tips to make the best of your trip to Pompeii by visiting our How to best explore Pompeii & Herculaneum post.

Pompeii ruins
Pompeii ruins
Pompeii Villa
Pompeii Villa

9 | Take a trip on the water

The bay of Naples has some spectacular islands that you can visit for a day trip or more if you have time.  The three that we’ve visited are Procida, Capri and Ischia and Ischia we’ve visited a couple of times as there’s just so much to do.

The ferry terminal is down a the port of Naples and can be reached easily by the metro or within walking distance from the centre of Naples.  There are a few different ferry operators who visit the islands and once you reach the ticket offices you’ll see destinations, times and costs clearly displayed so you can choose which trip you fancy.  For more information on the individual islands then pop over to our Procida, Ischia & Capri | Three beautiful islands off Naples blog post

Medieval Castle Ischia
Medieval Castle Ischia
Procida Harbour
Procida Harbour

10 | Centro Historico, the historical centre of Naples

In most large Italian cities there is an old town with streets, buildings, churches which tell the story of the city through the ages.  In Naples you will find around 300 churches but the most important is the Duomo or Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta as its more commonly known.  In the historical centre you will also find one of Naples most famous streets Spaccanapoli which spans or splits the Centro Historico right down the middle.  On this street you’ll find shops, bars, restaurants, trinkets typical to Naples and so much more.  At all times of the day is alive, vibrant and gives you a fantastic impression of the true Naples. 

There are little streets that dart off the Spaccanapoli which also are filled with traditional trattorias and gift shops and the most famous of these little streets is Via San Gregorio Armeno where you can find nativity scenes and Christmas ornaments.  We call this street Christmas Street and its a must for anyone visiting Naples. 

Piazza san Domenico maggiore Naples
Piazza san Domenico maggiore Naples
Il Duomo Naples
Il Duomo Naples
Centro Historico Naples
Centro Historico Naples

Our view

There are so many interesting and unique sights to be seen in Naples it would be impossible to list them all it is such an amazing part of Italy and one of our favourite places to visit and explore. If you get the chance spend a weekend here I guarantee you will love it once you get under the skin of this amazing gritty city.

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