The entire city of Naples can be overwhelming - it sprawls away from the bay and even up the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius - but visitors need only concentrate on the historic center, the “Centro Storico,” to enjoy the best of what Naples has to offer.
Naples’ historic center was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, including 14 city districts and more than 2,425 acres. Even this area is too much for most tourists to tackle in a short visit, but thankfully most of what you’ll want to do and see in the city is concentrated in the heart of the Centro Storico.
Radiating away from the Bay of Naples, the Centro Storico spans more than 2,500 years of history. Even today you can see some ruins of the Greek city that once occupied this spot. More plentiful are monuments from the Roman-era, including the roads that run straight as an arrow through the historic center and the treasures from Pompeii and Herculaneum that are kept in Naples’ spectacular archaeological museum.
Tour the medieval Castel Nuovo, located right on the water, the odd facade of which belies its many renovations during different architectural eras. Marvel at the exquisite sculpture of “The Veiled Christ” in the Sansevero Chapel. Take in a performance at the Teatro San Carlo, Italy’s oldest opera house. See Christmas year-round in the nativity shops along Via San Gregorio Armeno. Eat in a pizzeria on Via dei Tribunali or Via Spaccanapoli, since Naples is where pizza originates. And if you’re starting to feel a little closed-in-upon, head for the enormous Piazza del Plebiscito, one of the city’s grandest squares.
The historic center, as old as it is, is very much alive today. Those ancient Roman roads are busy with car and scooter traffic, and the buildings on either side house shops and restaurants frequented by locals and visitors alike. Choose a hotel in the historic center so you’re close to all the action, and then get out and enjoy this energetic and exciting city.