Naples is the third most populated city in Italy. At times it feels as if all of the city’s one million inhabitants, plus a few thousand tourists, are walking in unison down Spaccanapoli Street. There’s a chaotic beauty that may overwhelm tourists looking for a tranquil getaway. But spend some time in this stunning coastal city and you’ll expose yourself a range of things to do in Naples. You’ll be rewarded with incredible views, an array of day trips, fascinating history dating back to the 700 B.C., and some of the best pizza you could wish for.
1. Experience pizza nirvana
Calling Naples the home of pizza is no hyperbole. This is the birthplace of the modern pizza, and you’ll never be more than a few feet away from a crackling pizza oven. There are three types of pizza to look out for in Naples – napoletana marinara (locally grown tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and oregano), napoletana margherita and napoletana margherita DOC (which is a traditional margarita which uses buffalo mozzarella). You’ll have to sample all of them at least once during a trip to Naples.
Insider tip: The best pizzas are often at the cheapest dives, so look for the queues and prepare to stand in line. Turnover is usually quick and well worth the wait.
2. Visit the most beautiful underground station in Europe
With so much action, history, and culture above ground, it may seem strange to seek out a modern metro station in Naples. But the Toledo station, built in 2012, is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful in Europe. It takes you 50 meters beneath the surface of Naples – well below the water table. The experience is truly magical and worth the price of the metro ticket alone.
Insider tip: Be the ultimate tourist and make sure you travel both up and down the escalators. The experience is unique from each perspective.
3. See Naples through Caravaggio’s eyes
Famous Italian artist Caravaggio spent only a few years in Naples in the late 1500s before fleeing to Rome. But during that time he painted several iconic works. Only three paintings still hang in the city, and they offer an intriguing window back to an altogether different era.
Inside tip: You’ll find Seven Acts of Mercy in Pio Monte della Misericordia; The Flagellation in the Capodimonte museum; and The Martyrdom of St Ursula in Banca Intesa Sanpaolo on Via Toledo.
4. Knock back a powerful espresso
Naples is famous for its strong, bitter coffee that will help kick your day into gear. Drinking coffee in Naples may be a largely functional process for locals. They duck into their favorite joint, throw a few coins on the counter, and down a shot or two of the black liquid before shuffling back outside. As an outsider it’s a fascinating spectacle to watch. Dozens of popular coffee shops are in and around the city, but few are as vibrant and quirky as Mexico on Piazza Dante.
Insider tip: Sugared espresso in Naples is the traditional way to go. But if you’d like it unsweetened, ask for it amaro.
5. Walk the seafront
To escape Naples’s inner city chaos, go to the tranquil seafront. A walk through the city to the Bay of Naples is rewarding and won’t cost you a cent. The views of the ocean and Mount Vesuvius at the very end are some of the most dramatic.
Insider tip: Make your way to Castel dell’Ovo. It’s an impressive seaside castle that is free to enter and offers stunning views back up towards the city.
6. See traditional tombs
The way some Neapolitans show respect for the dead has drawn fascination and shock from outsiders. But it adds just another layer of intrigue to this ancient city. Many locals still practice the art of adopting and caring for skulls, and they take gifts to the city’s underground tombs as a show of respect. While there’s no obligation for you to do the same, a visit to the hypogea, or underground tombs, is one of the more interesting, albeit creepy, things to do in Naples.
Insider tip: Visit the hypogeum of the Purgatorio church on Saturday mornings to see this practice in action. It’s one of the last remaining churches in the city where it is still acceptable.
7. Day trip to Pompeii and Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius looms large above the city of Naples. It’ll be hard to resist a day trip to the slopes of the mountain and the nearby ruins of Pompeii while there. The archeological sites of Pompeii feature in history classes the world over. While excavations and reconstructions are still ongoing, a visit to the site is a profound experience. The volcano that caused all the trouble is still active, and you can journey to its summit with ease on a day trip from Naples.
Insider tip: You can reach Pompeii easily by train. Take the Circumvesuviana Napoli-Sorrento line and purchase your Pompeii tickets directly at the entrance to the ruins.
8. Visit the theater
San Carlo is one of the most impressive – and oldest active – opera houses in Italy. Many of the shows are traditional, and few modern performances withstand the tough critics in the audience. There are also ballet shows and concerts. Opera fan or not, witnessing a performance here is a truly enthralling experience.
Insider tip: Annual subscribers snap many of the good seats up well ahead of time. But there are often distant cheap seats and reasonable stall seats available throughout opera season (January to May). Look for something central to avoid obstructions.
Many travellers make the mistake of overlooking Naples in favour of her more glamorous neighbors of Capri, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Coast. And while there are several spectacular cities and day trips nearby, it would be a mistake to miss this vibrant, bustling city.
Originally published on Eurail.com