Postcards from Italy

48 Hours: (Napoli) Naples

Much has been said about the risks of visiting Naples, and, alas, much of what has been said is true. Bella Napoli is, indeed, not a city for the faint of heart: sprawling, chaotic, rife with petty crime, picturesquely (and not) decaying.

Napoli, Italia / Naples, Italy - night HDR

(Photo via Flickr by Paolo Margari)

That said, it would be remiss to skip Naples (and environs) entirely, for perhaps this very reason. Many of Italy’s most important cities—RomeFlorence, and Venice, in particular—survive at least partially on tourism, which smooths out many of the rough edges of those cities. However, in the process of rendering them more user-friendly to tourists, some of what makes these cities uniquely Italian is inevitably lost in the process.

Naples has none of that. Naples is what it is, pure and simple, take it or leave it. And what you should take is the passion of the vibrant Napolitani, their love of food, family, faith, and of Naples, itself.

Use this guide to help you navigate the best of Naples, while avoiding the worst.

Day One: Getting to Know Napoli

4:00 p.m. Plotting Your Escape
Naples can be overwhelming, which is why it’s especially important to choose a hotel that is more an oasis than a place to drop your bags (while avoiding the “I could be in any hotel in any city in the world” anonymity). For the perfect combination of soothing retreat and sense of place, we love the stately Grand Hotel Parkers.

Naples Panorama. Nikon D3100. DSC_0109-0115.

 (Photo by Robert Pittman via Flickr)

The classic elegance of this historic five star luxury hotel is a reminder of Naples’ salad days, when the city was one of the destinations along the European Grand Tour of the late 1800’s. Like Naples, itself, the Parkers has survived monarchies, republics, world war and an earthquake and today is a welcoming Belle Epoque palazzo on the Bay of Naples. Check in and head directly upstairs to the terrace, drinking in the view over the Bay of Naples before diving in to the city.

6:00 p.m. The Passeggiata
Naples is unfortunately not a very walkable city, as its main sites are far-flung and many of the more interesting neighborhoods hard to reach by public transport (which, if you do opt to use, should be done with a vigilant eye on your wallet). How to best get to acquainted with this historic city and its famously authentic neighborhoods? With a local driver and guide.

[Explored] Laundry day in Naples

(Photo by Jeroen Bennick via Flickr)

Take a few hours on your first evening in the city to wander some of the most famed quarters of the city center, wandering the Spaccanapoli and wandering warrens of alleyways for the early evening passeggiata…an important local tradition. Stop in for quick caffè at a corner bar, feast on a pick-me-up Baba al rhum or other decadent pastry from a landmark pasticceria, poke your nose into the teeming shops and markets…all under the guiding hand of a local who knows the best corners of the city (and, ahem, the worst).


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

8:00 p.m. A Taste of Naples
Napolitani are known as the most excitable people in Italy. You know the Disney Italian cooks who sing, cry, and fight at the drop of a hat and within seconds? Those stereotypical characters are based on Neapolitans, not Tuscans. And of all that will excite a native of this city (just bring up soccer, politics, music, religion…), nothing is more of a sure thing than food.

The further you go south in Italy, the more visceral the connection to food becomes. In Naples, some of the best food in Italy can be found. Mozzarella di bufala (which has recently come under fire because of environmental contamination, so be cautious), artisanal Setaro dried pasta from nearby Torre Annunziata, and excellent fish and seafood dishes are all mainstays of the local cuisine.

Grand Hotel Parkers has an excellent restaurant (with a gorgeous view), but to round out your afternoon of authentic Napoli, we suggest you stop in at a rollicking local trattoria (get a suggestion from your guide, and pre-arrange a taxi pick-up to transport you back to your hotel after your meal). The food, festive atmosphere, animated conversation, and uniquely Neapolitan mix of leisurely pace marked by frenetic gesticulation will make for an unforgettable meal.

Day Two: Naples Out of Town

9:00 a.m. Pompeii Done Well
To be honest, Naples was one of the most important stops along the Grand Tour not for the city, itself, but for the important archaeological sites a short drive outside the city. After your total immersion into Naples last night, today you will head outside the city as the noble ladies and gentlemen of yore once did and visit these sites with an expert guide.

Pompei 2

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

First, you and your guide will take a walking tour of the ancient metropolis of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Pompei is a unique window into ancient Roman life, as this bustling city was brought to an abrupt end in one day, leaving a fascinating tableau of the daily workings of that society fixed in ash. Though preserved in incredible detail, the site remains particularly impenetrable if not toured with a guide who is able to put the ruins into context, so we strongly recommend not attempting a visit without one.

Cantina del Vesuvio

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

1:00 p.m. Lunch Like the Romans
After your tour here, you will head to the source of it all this trouble: Mount Vesuvius. Here, you’ll be treated to a traditional Neapolitan lunch at a vineyard on the slopes of the volcano, where they are cultivating the rich black volcanic soil much as the Romans did. You’ll feast on local dishes, accompanied by their Falanghina white wine and Lacryma Christi reds while enjoying views of both the volcano and the bay from this stunning location.

Vineyard in Spring

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

4:00 p.m. Archaeology, Take Two
After you’ve digested, it’s time for a final bit of archaeology. You can opt to take a wander through the significantly smaller—but much better preserved—Herculaneum. This town was destroyed on the same day as Pompeii, but, unlike Pompeii, it was buried deeply enough in hotter ash to preserve the upper stories of buildings, wooden household objects, and even food. Herculaneum was also wealthier than Pompeii, with elegant houses and more lavish decoration, and is well worth a visit.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Otherwise, if you’d rather head back to Naples, take a few hours to visit the city’s excellent Archaeological Museum, considered the best collection of ancient artifacts in Italy. Here, much of what has been unearthed over the years of excavating in Pompeii and Herculaneum is now displayed, along with pieces from ancient Greece and Rome. Parts of the collection are closed in the afternoon, but the bulk of the museum is open through the evening.

8:00 p.m. Pizza, Pizza!

Pizza Margherita

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

It’s been a long day, punctuated by a long lunch. Tonight treat yourself to a casual, no-nonsense dinner of one of Naples most traditional dishes: pizza! It was in this city that pizza is said to have been invented, and it is here that the most iconic of all Italy’s pizzas, the pizza margherita, was certainly first made in 1889 (in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita, for whom a topping honoring the Italian flag–red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella)—was created). Head to a traditional (and often packed) pizzeria for a steaming pie. President Clinton dined at Pizzeria di Matteo (Via dei Tribunali, 94) and Julia Roberts at Pizzeria Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale, 1), but we happen to like Pizzeria Sparita (Via Materdei, 27) best.

Looking for a special night out? Naples’ sumptuous Teatro San Carlo, connected to the Royal Palace in the central Piazza del Plebescito, is the oldest in Europe. It first opened in 1737, the largest at the time, and before both La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice, and has been active ever since. Renovated a number of times (notably after a fire in 1817 and after World War II bombings), Teatro San Carlo has an active opera season that runs from January to May and a ballet season from April to early June.

Day Three: Around Naples by Land or Sea

9:00 a.m. The Treasures of Naples
For your final morning, you’ll be leaving the city center again to see Naples’ jewels a bit further afield. But don’t leave yet! There is a shining diamond right here, with the best espresso and pastries in this city of amazing espresso and pastries: the landmark Grand Caffe Gambrinus (Piazza Trieste e Trento). Linger for a leisurely breakfast here, drinking in the elegant old world atmosphere along with your cappuccino. When you can finally pull yourself away,you can either head to Caserta by land to tour the regal Palazzo Reale and gardens, or to either Capri by sea.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Caserta’s Palazzo Reale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an eye-popping example of late Baroque architecture and design. This former royal residence was constructed in 1752 (and never fully completed) for Naples’ ruling Bourbon monarchs and was the largest palace erected in Europe at the time. If you prefer your jewels polished by nature rather than man, hop a boat to the perfect sea pearls of Capri or Ischia. Here you can take a sail around the pretty coasts of either, disembark for a quick visit to the island, or take a swim in one of the hidden coves that dot each of their jagged coasts.

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore