It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by Naples, a vibrant city that often seems about to boil over into chaos. Look past the streets teeming with scooters, vendors, and Neapolitans, however, and you’ll spot signs of the 2,500 years of history that makes its UNESCO-listed historic center one of the most fascinating in Italy.
Naples’ historic center, or centro storico, is made up of more than 10 distinct neighborhoods that cover the hillsides encircling the Bay of Naples down to the water’s edge. To walk through is to stroll back in time, from the stick-straight Roman roads of the Spaccanapoli and imposing 13th-century Castel Nuovo to the graceful 18th-century Teatro di San Carlo (the oldest opera house in Italy) and 19th-century Piazza Plebiscito. Underneath the city's streets are the remains of both Roman and Greek settlements, and the National Archaeological Museum is home to most of the artifacts removed from the nearby excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Savor the culture and history of the historic center on a guided walking or Segway tour that includes famous sights like Piazza del Gesù, the Duomo, the Church of Santa Chiara, and Via San Gregorio Armeno. One of Naples’ most characteristic features is its cuisine, and many tours combine sightseeing with tastings of pizza and other local street food. The ruins of Pompeii are just outside the city, so consider a tour that includes combines a visit to this famous archaeological park with the historic center.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Walking tours of Naples’ historic center are mostly outdoors; wear sunscreen and a hat in summer.
- You’ll be doing a considerable amount of walking in the largely pedestrian historic center, so choose comfortable footwear.
- Churches require modest attire that covers knees and shoulders.
- Some churches and monuments aren’t wheelchair accessible, and much of the historic center is paved with cobblestones that may be difficult to navigate on wheels.
How to Get There
The historic center of Naples is an easy walk from both the city’s port and main train station, and covers much of the downtown along the waterfront. Naples is a major transportation and cruise ship hub, with direct trains from major Italian cities as well as ferries from Salerno and Sorrento.
When to Get There
Much of southern Italy can be uncomfortably hot in summer, and Naples is no exception. Try to visit in spring or fall, or schedule your tour to begin in the early morning before the temperatures soar. Naples has a number of annual festivals, but perhaps the most famous is the Festa di San Gennaro (September 19), the feast day of the city’s patron saint that includes eight days of religious processions, markets, and other celebratory festivities.
The Archaeological Park at Pompeii
Pompeii, a thriving Roman city buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, is among the important archaeological sites in the world. Located just outside the modern city of Naples, this excavated city includes remains of houses, shops, restaurants, temples, and public buildings, many with original frescoes, mosaics, and other decorative features still somewhat intact.