Mt. Vesuvius, the only active volcano in continental Europe, is best known for its role in destroying the city of Pompeii one fateful summer day in 79 A.D. Today, you can visit the national park and climb Mt. Vesuvius yourself to peek into the crater at 3,900 ft (1.2 km), from which plumes of steam rise from the sleeping, but still active, volcano. Another priceless sight on your journey up the mountain is the panoramic view from the summit of the Bay of Naples.
Castel dell'Ovo (Egg Castle) is a fortified castle perched in the Bay of Naples. Built on the small island of Megaride, it is now connected to the mainland by a causeway. The site was originally settled by Greek colonists in the 6th century BC. Then the ancient Romans built a villa, finally exiling the last western Roman emperor here in the 5th century AD. After that it became a monastery, then was destroyed before a castle was built by the Normans in the 12th century. The current castle was built in the 15th century. The name come s from the legend that the Roman poet Virgil buried an egg on the site for protection.
These days the castle contains the Museum of Prehistory and is also used for events and exhibitions. You can wander the rooms and admire the wonderful views from the towers. A fishing village grew up around the base of the castle in the 19th century, Borgo Marinari, which is now known for its restaurants and marina.
Palazzo Reale was the royal palace located in downtown Naples, still the heart of Naples today. Built around 1600 when Naples was under Spanish rule, it was not completed for two centuries. Inside, a beautiful double staircase leads you up to the royal apartments which these days house the palace's museum of furnishings and etc. Don't miss the huge 18th century nativity scene in the Cappella Reale (Royal Chapel). The Palazzo Reale also houses the national library which contains thousands of papyrus scrolls found at Herculaneum and the remains of a 5th century Coptic bible.
The palace is situated on the elegant Piazza Plebiscito, the largest square in Naples and named after the vote in 1870 which brought Naples into the unified Kingdom of Italy. The palace makes up one side of this square, alongside the domed church of San Francesco di Paolo and the elegant curve of Doric columns.
You’ll catch your breath at the sight of Mt. Vesuvius hovering on the horizon as you enter the Bay of Naples, and the encircling panorama of Naples lining the harbor. Naples’ busy shipping port is the gateway city for some of Italy’s most famous attractions, with the island of Capri, the ancient ruins of Pompeii and the beautiful Amalfi Coast on its doorstep.
How to Get to Naples
Most cruise liners dock right by the city-center wharf at Naples’ Stazione Marittima, while others may anchor in the Bay of Naples and whisk you ashore aboard a tender. When you land, the waterfront sights are just a short stroll away.
One Day in Naples
One of the first sights you’ll see when you dock is Castel Nuovo, one of the symbols of Naples. If you’d like to learn more about Naples’ history, join a Small Group Sightseeing Tour of the city’s palaces, churches and other highlights. Complete your Napoli experience by strolling to Piazza del Plebiscito, and order authentic pizza at a waterfront restaurant.
If you've been to the city center of Milan, you've no doubt seen the Galleria Emanuele II, which is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world – as well as one of the prettiest. So it's not surprising that when Naples wanted a shopping arcade built, the designer took his cues from Milan's building. Walking through Naples' Galleria Umberto I, you'll feel momentarily like you've been transported to Milan.
The Galleria Umberto I was built starting in 1887. It's in the shape of a cross, with the roof of each wing made from glass. Like the Galleria in Milan, the one in Naples is also topped by a glass dome. One of the wings opens onto Via Toledo, a main thoroughfare in Naples, and another feeds onto the San Carlo Theater.
In a city that can be as overwhelming as Naples, it’s nice to have the expanse of a public square like the enormous Piazza del Plebiscito. This is one of the biggest public piazzas in Naples, and it sits right next to the bay on the edge of the city’s historic center.
The Piazza del Plebiscito and the church of San Francesco di Paola, which borders the square to the west, were both planned in the early 19th century as monuments in honor of then-emperor Napoleon - his brother-in-law being the King of Naples at the time. Construction of both the piazza and the church were completed in 1816, after Napoleon had been exiled.
On the opposite side of the Piazza del Plebiscito, you’ll find the Royal Palace of Naples, a former residence of the Bourbon Kings who ruled in the 18th-19th centuries. The side of the palace that faces the piazza contains niches where the statues of major rulers over the Kingdom of Naples are displayed.
Castel Nuovo, better known locally as Maschio Angioino, looks the way a castle should look - fierce stone, towers and turrets. Built as the new royal residence between 1279 and 1282 by Charles I of Anjou, it is rightfully one of Naples' most striking buildings. Mind you, most of what we see today was built in the 15th century by the Aragon king Alfonso V, and via later renovations. At the end of the 15th century, Naples was annexed to Spain and the castle was downgraded to military fortress, but Charles III moved back in as King of Naples in 1734 restoring it to a royal castle.
These days Castel Nuovo, once scene of papal resignations, artists' parties including Giotto, Plutarch and Boccaccio, and fierce battles, is today home to a museum exhibiting 14th and 15th century frescoes and sculptures, silver and bronzes, and paintings by Neapolitan artists from the 17th-20th centuries.
The Bay of Naples is the body of water located between Naples, Italy and the Sorrentine Peninsula. It also refers to the region that borders the water and includes many worthwhile attractions. It's the perfect place to enjoy seaside relaxation, culture and history all within a few hours. The city of Naples can be a good hub for people interested in traveling throughout the area. Visitors can reach the famous ruins of Pompeii just a short distance away. An entire civilization was preserved here when Mount Vesuvius erupted almost 2,000 years ago.
Three popular islands in the Bay of Naples are Procida, Capri, and Ischia. Visitors can reach these islands by boat from Naples or Sorrento. Another impressive town that sits on the Bay of Naples is Sorrento, which is on the northern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula. This quiet town attracts visitors due to its seaside views, and it is a good base for visiting Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast.
Naples' opera house, the Teatro di San Carlo, is not only Italy's oldest opera house—it's also the longest-running opera house in Europe, open since 1737.
The site was built under King Charles VII, a member of the Bourbon monarchy, so the theater was originally called the “Royal” opera house. In November 1737, the opera house opened its doors for the first time, but an 1816 fire consumed the entire interior of the building—only the outer structure was left standing. The theater was rebuilt, and it reopened the next year. Today, the opera season begins in late January and continues through May. You can also see ballet performances at the theater—that season runs from April through the beginning of June.
It's too much to try to take Naples as a whole. This city is all noise and speed and grit, thrown at you from the moment you step out of the train station or off of a cruise ship, and the greater metropolitan area of Naples spreads so far it even creeps up the sides of the surrounding mountains, including one very famous volcano – Mount Vesuvius. If you're willing to look beyond the sensory overload, however, you'll see why UNESCO named the historic centre of Naples a World Heritage Site in 1995.
The historic centre of Naples – sometimes called the “centro storico” or “antico storico” in Italian – is made up of more than 10 different city neighborhoods that funnel down the hills to the port. Walking through this historic centre gives us a chance to walk back in time – Naples is something of a museum piece, one that's never been off-limits behind red velvet ropes. This is the sort of museum that rewards those who dig in.
One of Naples' more interesting religious sites is the church of Gesù Nuovo in the city's historic center. Its spiky stone facade overlooks the wide open Piazza del Gesu, a popular spot for Neapolitans to meet, mingle and enjoy the fine Mediterranean weather.
The piazza used to be one of the main entrances to the city of Naples, while today it is notable for the two churches that face onto the square and the spire at its center. The 15th-century church of Gesù Nuovo, as mentioned, has an intimidating stone facade that belies its ornately decorated interior. The 14th-century church of Santa Chiara is a monastery and also houses an archaeological museum.
The center of the Piazza del Gesu is marked by an ornate statue called the “Guglia dell'Immacolata,” or Spire of the Immaculate Virgin. It was commissioned in the 17th century to ask the Virgin Mary to protect the city from the plague.
At one point in history, Naples was divided into more than two dozen neighborhoods. Present day city geography breaks Naples into 10 municipalities, but the neighborhood names like Saint Lucia are often still used when referring to various parts of the city.
Saint Lucia refers to the area surrounding the Castel dell'Ovo or Egg Castle. The neighborhood has been the subject and inspiration for some traditional Neapolitan songs, the best-known simple titled Santa Lucia. Numerous lyric renditions are known and recognized around the world.
Cala di Mitigliano is an unspoiled beach at the tip of the Sorrentine Peninsula in Italy. It can only be reached by walking down a steep footpath for about 30 minutes, but once you get there, you will enjoy beautiful scenery and views of Punta Campanella and the island of Capri. With a pebble beach and crystal-clear water, Cala di Mitigliano is in a cove surrounded by steep vertical rocks, making for a dramatic landscape.
On the right side of the beach is a circular building, similar to a tower, that was once used for lime production. While no longer in use, the structure adds to the landscape and stands as a reminder of the area’s history. Nearby, a 50-foot deep circular grotto is a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving, although it is only possible to enter when the sea is calm and the tide is low.
The Duomo is the main church of Naples. A wonderful Gothic cathedral built in the 13th century, it stands on the site of an earlier church dating from around 570 AD. It is dedicated to Naples' patron saint, San Gennaro, whose blood is brought out in a vial three times a year - on the first Saturday in May, September 19 and December 16. If it liquefies, all is well. If it doesn't...fears are held for the safety of Naples. Luckily, it nearly always liquefies.
The cathedral contains some excellent artworks including frescoes in the Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro and some 4th-century mosaics. To one side of the Duomo is the 4th century Basilica Santa Restituta, the oldest chapel in Naples, containing columns believed to be from the Temple of Apollo. Under here is an interesting archaeological site tracing the Greek, Roman and early Christian city.
Naples is an enormous, sprawling city, and although some of the population lives in the historic center – where most visitors spend their time – most live in neighborhoods surrounding the city center. One of the prettiest and wealthiest neighborhoods in Naples is Posillipo, located on the northern side of the Gulf of Naples atop a hill that overlooks the water.
From the port in Naples you'll wind your way north through the city center and then along the coast to Posillipo Hill, where you'll see some of the city's most beautiful houses. In some cases, these villas have been broken up more recently into apartments – but many of them are still private homes for elite Neapolitan families. Without a car, you can take the funicular from the Mergellina neighborhood below up to the top of Posillipo Hill.</[>
Shopping is a popular pastime in Italy, for tourists and Italians alike, but don't be fooled into thinking the Italians are always paying top prices for designer duds. They're often shopping at outlet malls, too. Near Naples, the outlet mall of choice is La Reggia Designer Outlet.
La Reggia is located just south of Caserta, near the town of Marcianise, roughly 30 miles north of Naples. The outlet is designed like a modern outdoor mall, with arcades lined with shops on both sides. There are more than 100 shops in all at La Reggia, featuring discounts of 30 to 70 percent off retail prices. You'll find Italian, European, American and many other international brands, including Armani, Diesel, Camper, Guess, Michael Kors, Prada, Roberto Cavalli, Replay, Timberland and Valentino.
If you go to one archeological museum in the world, make it this one in Naples. They have incredible finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum, lots of classical sculpture and a treasure trove in the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Chamber)!
The museum has one of the best collections of Greek and Roman antiquities, mosaics, gems, glass and silver. They even have some Egyptian and Etruscan treasures in amongst it all. Opened in the late 18th century to house King Charles VII's private collection, it became the property of the state in 1860.
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.
Located on the vibrant street of Spaccanapoli, which cuts through the heart of Naples’ centro storico, the ethereal Cappella Sansevero had its origins in the tail end of the 16th century, when it was the mausoleum of the patrician Di Sangro dynasty. The name translates into English as the ‘alchemist’s chapel’ and it was extended by the eccentric Raimondo di Sangro, the seventh Prince of Sansevero, who lived between 1710 and 1771; he was an extraordinarily gifted man but as a Mason, he was considered by contemporary Neapolitans to have made a pact with the devil. Clad in ghostly white marble, with a multi-colored marble floor and ceiling frescoes of almost frenzied ornateness by Francesco Maria Russo, the chapel is stuffed with works by some of the greatest names on the 18th-century Naples art scene – among its treasures are Giuseppe Sanmartino’s amazingly realistic sculpture Cristo Velato (The Veiled Christ).
It’s Christmas all year round at San Gregorio Armeno. The fun, colorful and sometimes crowded alley offers a place to wander and see Naples famed nativity settings and figures called Presepe or Presepio.
First displayed in monasteries in the 16th and 17th century, nativity scenes made their way into aristocratic homes, eventually becoming a tradition for all. Many people put up their nativity scene December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, but wait until Christmas Eve to add baby Jesus. Displays often go beyond a manager scene, and can represent the life of an entire community or village.
With a warren of narrow alleyways and roughly cobblestoned streets, crammed with small stores, barber’s shops and dimly lit bars, the Quartiere Spagnoli is one of Naples’ most atmospheric local districts. Built to house troops during the Spanish occupation, the historic quarter might be somewhat rundown these days, but it still buzzes with life, with colorful laundry flapping from the balconies, residents sipping espresso on their doorsteps and motorbikes juddering by at all hours of the day and night.
Despite earning itself a rather unsavory reputation in recent years due to an abundance of petty crime and pickpocketing, the Quartiere Spagnoli is still one of Naples’ most characteristic areas and makes a unique addition to a tour itinerary. As well as offering a unique glimpse into everyday life in the city, it’s home to landmarks like the Baroque church of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the 18th-century Palazzo Serra di Cassano..