Looking for amazing places to visit in Naples and surrounding area? Here is the complete guide to explore Naples and discover the best things to do in Naples
What’s the smell in the air in Naples? The smell of the sea, history, sfogliatelle and pizza.
In Naples there are as many stops to admire its majestic resilience among churches, ancient palaces and monuments, as there are to taste all the food and wine specialties. It is impossibile to explore this wonderful city without a list of the unmissable things to do in Naples!
Visiting Naples, strolling through the colourful alleyways of the capital of Southern Italy, will help you understand where the warmth and distant melancholy of Pino Daniele’s songs come from.
“Napule è tutto ‘nu suonno
E ‘a sape tutto o’ munno
Ma nun sanno a verità”
So he sang in Neapolitan, in the musical language of his native land, in one of his most famous songs dedicated to Naples.
“Naples is all a dream, and the whole world knows it, but they don’t know the truth” is the English translation that puts us in front of a great reality: Naples is known all over the world as a fascinating, dreamlike city and keeps its essence a secret, only from those who have lived there.
An essence that mingles with the hubbub, the locals, the sun and Mount Vesuvius, which makes your heart tremble with the excitement of its boundless beauty and the fear of its dangerous silent activity.
Explore Naples by interacting with the warmth of the Neapolitans and letting yourself be carried away by the city, only then will you truly know best the best things to do in Naples and surrounding area.
Below you will find a guide who will accompany you to discover the most important tourist attractions in Naples. You will see with your own eyes the ancient and modern artistic heritage of the city and use all your other senses to hear the voices, music, smells and flavours of the Neapolitan city.
Whether you have only one day or more, it doesn’t matter. You’ll be able to choose among many interesting places to see in Naples and compose your perfect itinerary.
Read on to find out what to do in Naples
The best things to do in Naples
The city is amazing, but to know it thoroughly you need a guide to discover in Naples tourist attractions and more. Here are the unmissable places to visit in Naples!
Spaccanapoli splits the city in half: it is the lower decumanus, one of the three main streets of Naples, with ancient origins dating back to the Greek era.
It was once the connection between via Duomo and Piazza San Domenico. Gradually over the centuries the street has continued to expand, coming to be, for a long time, the point where the political and ecclesiastical life of the city unfolded with the main convents and the residences of the lords of the time.
Today the street starts from the Quartieri Spagnoli and ends in the Forcella district. The characteristic morphology of its buildings has changed following the succession of ages and artistic styles. Greek and Roman ruins, Gothic structures, Renaissance works: all this can be found in this pulsating artery of Naples’ history.
A reference point to take into consideration while deciding in Naples what to do.
The Cathedral of Naples and the Treasure of San Gennaro
The Cathedral of Naples is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, one of the most beautiful and majestic churches in the city.
For its construction on Via del Duomo, the Basilica of Santa Stefania was demolished and kept instead the inner part of that of Santa Restituta, which was used as a side chapel. The building was commissioned by Charles of Anjou in 1294. Over the years, it underwent several renovations which, together with the devastating earthquakes and the eruptions of Vesuvius, caused the loss of several characteristic parts of the cathedral such as various monuments, the original façade and the bell tower.
On the façade you can still admire the original lions, which are supposed to date back to the tomb of Charles Martel that was destroyed, and in the central lunette the Madonna and Child of the past still resides.
San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples and the citizens built the Royal Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro in his name, fulfilling a vow they made at a time of great distress, asking the saint for protection.
The Chapel contains a treasure preserved intact to this day. It is not just relics and statues depicting saints, but an artistic heritage that has grown over time: from the construction of the floors and the gilded bronze gate (which gives access to the two-faced brass and bronze bust of St. Gennaro) to the splendid frescoes that have enriched the chapel over time, making it the real treasure itself.
Sansevero Chapel Museum and the Veiled Christ
The Sansevero Chapel is one of the most important tourist attractions in Naples to admire artistic masterpieces.
It is also known as the Church of Santa Maria della Pietà or Pietanella. Today it houses the Museum, with famous works of art including the Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino, the Disinganno by Francesco Queirolo Francesco and the Anatomical Machines.
Perhaps the most renowned work is the Veiled Christ, one of the most astonishing sculptural masterpieces in the world. The transparent veil seems almost lifelike and hints at the suffering of the body lying there.
The work of art was the result of Giuseppe Sanmartino’s mastery and was sculpted from a single block of marble. No alchemical effect helped the transparency, a legend that comes from the wonder of such an impressive work.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out what lies beneath our feet?
In Naples, you can! All the secrets of the city’s underground have been rediscovered and recovered so that the public can visit them. The “Napoli Sotterranea” association takes care of this place and offers guided tours that take you through centuries of history at a depth of 40 metres. Wars, bombardments and eruptions have buried a treasure that is still partly intact.
You can admire the Greek-Roman aqueduct, the air raid shelters of the Second World War, the “Arianna” seismic station and other surprising places such as the underground gardens to discover that, even in the belly of Naples, there is life.
The visit lasts about 2 hours and the temperature even in summer is cool; the advice is to always bring a sweatshirt and dress comfortably to move with agility.
The Naples Metro
In Naples, the metro is not only a way of getting around but also a place where people can be introduced to art. In fact, thanks to a project by the city council, the stations house around 200 works of contemporary art both inside and outside the city.
This is a great act of courage on the part of the city, which has managed to make something ordinary so unique, upgrading it and giving it enormous value. Everything was possible thanks to the collaboration of great artists and architects.
The escalators, platforms, floors, panels and the space itself all become available for art, and art responds by mixing fantastically with the function of the metro and the rhythms of the city. The installations at Garibaldi station, with works by Michelangelo Pistoletto, fully reflect this idea.
The themes of the works are many: William Kentdrige’s large mosaics in Toledo station are always striking and are often the subject of photos posted on Instagram. The colours of the University of Naples metro station by artist Karim Rashid as well as the photographs and installations in the Rione Alto are also very beautiful.
Each metro station has got its own particularity and if someone asks you what to do in Naples, you can answer “visit the metro!” to their amazement.
Who would have thought that a metro ride could be so exciting!
Piazza Plebiscito and Royal Palace
In the historic centre of Naples, at the end of Via Toledo (a favourite shopping destination), there is one of the largest and most beautiful squares in Italy: Piazza Plebiscito.
The colonnade that delimits the square makes it characteristic: it accommodates the large space like arms that continue with the Palazzo della Prefettura, Palazzo Salerno, Palazzo Reale and the Church of San Francesco di Paola.
These columns were part of a great project by King Joachim Murat, dating back to the early 1800s and never completed, to transform the square into a large amphitheatre.
And this square is indeed a stage where tournaments, banquets and weddings have been held over the centuries. Today it is used for events, plays, concerts and demonstrations.
A well-known game, which will show you the slight slope of the square, is to blindfold yourself and try to cross the square walking as straight as possible step by step on the cobblestones. From the door of the Royal Palace towards the exact centre of the space between the two statues.
As you will see, it is not easy and you will be amazed at the difficulty involved in staying on the imagined straight line.
The two equestrian statues you can admire were made by Antonio Canova and Antonio Calì and represent Charles III of Bourbon and his son Ferdinand I.
The entrance to the Royal Palace overlooks Piazza Plebiscito. It historically housed the Spanish viceroys and, for a shorter period, the French Giuseppe Bonaparte and Joachim Murat, and finally the Savoys.
Many illustrious architects were involved in the design, restoration and construction of this Royal Palace including Gaetano Genovese, Antonio Fontana and Luigi Vanvitelli.
The Royal Flats can be visited and today the Royal Palace of Naples houses the National Library.
Theatre of San Carlo
Among the things to do in Naples, the Theatre of San Carlo, also known as San Carlo Theatre, is at the top of the list. It is Naples’ Opera House and was already appreciated in the 19th century as one of the most beautiful theatres in Europe.
Built under the Bourbon dynasty, more precisely commissioned by Charles of Bourbon (from whom it takes its name), it inaugurated its success with performances by artists of the Neapolitan school. Later, with the fame it acquired, the theatre hosted international artists such as Bach.
Great Italian opera artists have passed through this temple of art such as Niccolò Piccinni, Gaspare Pacchierotti, Gioacchino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi.
The theatre is surmounted by a 500 square metre canvas: it depicts Apollo presenting the world’s greatest poets to Minerva. Another interesting detail is the clock depicted under the coat of arms of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies on the stage arch (just above the curtain).
Here we find a very symbolic representation of time passing and being held back by the siren of the arts. Art is stronger than time.
And with this in mind, as you admire the magnificent theatre, you will realise how much the art of yesteryear still moves us today despite the time that has passed.
Among all the fun things to do in Naples Italy, you’ll find yourself gazing out over the panorama of the Gulf. Right here you’ll find Castel dell’Ovo (Castrum Lucullianum), a fortress of Norman origin with modernisations during the Angevin and Aragonese periods. It is the oldest castle in Naples.
As it happens, the legend that imaginatively explains the name of this particular building came about only several years after the castle itself was built. It tells of the mythological exploits of Virgil (a very important figure in Naples). He hid a magic egg in the castle dungeon containing all the strength of the fortress and, if it broke, the castle would collapse.
In reality, earlier documents show that the popular name given to the castle originated simply because of its former ovoid shape.
Charles of Anjou promoted Naples to the capital of the kingdom of Sicily. He also decided to build a third castle in the city (after Castel dell’Ovo and Castel Capuano) as he considered them too antiquated.
The official name of the castle is Castel Nuovo, but over time the popular and most used name became Maschio Angioino. “Maschio” or “mastio” indicates the towers in the fortress and “angioino” is a sign of recognition for the founding family.
It is an imposing castle in Medieval and Renaissance style, located in Piazza Municipio.
The rooms of this castle, frescoed by great masters such as Pietro Cavallini and Montano d’Arezzo, have hosted illustrious figures such as Boniface VIII, Petrarch and Boccaccio. Many renovations have taken place and many styles have overlapped, creating what we see today. On the other hand, the Palatine Chapel retains its original style (it once contained a fresco by Giotto, which was later removed).
The castle is the headquarters of the Neapolitan Society of National History and houses the Naples committee of the Institute for the History of the Italian Risorgimento. It also houses the Civic Museum and is often used for artistic and cultural events.
National Archaeological Museum of Naples (MANN)
Recognised worldwide as one of the most important museums for the preservation of Roman art, the National Archaeological Museum of Naples is one of the most interesting places to see in Naples.
It is housed in the Palazzo degli Studi, one of the city’s most popular monumental buildings, originally used as a cavalry barracks.
There are many pieces in the museum and only a quarter of the collection is actually on display. The museum exhibits the Farnese collection with artefacts dating back to the 18th century, the Pompeian collections and the Egyptian collection.
The Museum of Capodimonte
In the Capodimonte Palace, where historical dynasties such as the Bourbons of Naples, the Bonapartes and the Savoy dynasties resided, you will find the National Museum of Capodimonte.
Here ancient and contemporary art coexist. The museum houses: the Farnese collection with works of art by Raphael, Titian, Ludovico Carracci and Guido Reni, the Neapolitan Gallery with paintings by Caravaggio and Ribera and, last but not least, a contemporary exhibition where you can admire the iconic Vesuvius by Andy Warhol.
A true immersion in the art of this city, to enjoy the expression that each artist wanted to leave behind. Absolutely recommended as one of the best things to do in Naples.
In Via Filangieri stands Palazzo Mannajuolo, a perfect expression of Art Nouveau architecture in Naples.
It was built between 1909 and 1911 on a project by Giulio Arata and engineer Mannajuolo.
It is a fascinating and extremely scenic building, both externally and internally.
From Via dei Mille, you can already see the façade made up of large windows. They conceal the famous central ellipsoidal staircase which, in 2017, was the protagonist of some scenes in “Napoli Velata”, a film by Ferzan Özpetek. The director has captured the magnificence of this building and shows it on the big screen with all its delicacy and drama.
The Certosa di San Martino and Castel Sant’Elmo
The Vomero is a hilly district of Naples. It had been used for agriculture for centuries and then used since 1600 by the aristocracy as a holiday resort. It is no coincidence that today we find many historical buildings with an elegant character. In Naples sightseeing attractions such as the amazing Certosa di San Martino and Castel Sant’Elmo are therefore unmissable!
The Certosa di San Martino is a complex of monumental religious buildings in Baroque style: the three cloisters, two churches, the multitude of rooms and gardens fully justify its title of National Monument. Today it houses the National Museum of San Martino.
Castel Sant’Elmo has medieval origins and was of great strategic importance in the past, due to its grandeur and position. Today you can still admire a wonderful view over the gulf and the streets of the city, which is absolutely among the top things to do in Naples.
The castle houses a permanent museum called “Napoli Novecento” as well as temporary exhibitions, events and shows.
We move on to the Posillipo district, a hilly area with one of the most beautiful views over Naples.
Here I recommend a walk in the Parco Virgiliano (also called Park of Remembrance). From here you can admire, among the Mediterranean maquis, a suggestive view over the sea and Naples. You can see the island of Nisida, the Campi Flegrei area and the Gaiola Marine Reserve.
The Monastic Complex of Santa Chiara
Which is one of the most interesting places to see in Naples?
It is definitely the Monastery of Santa Chiara, an ancient monumental complex built at the behest of King Robert of Anjou. It includes a church and two Franciscan convents, one for men and one for women.
The church has remained unchanged over time, with its wide façade and pierced rose window.
I will not dwell on the architecture of the church, but I would like to draw your attention to the monastery’s majolica cloister. The 18th century restoration by Vaccaro was very important because he divided the cloister into four (two Italian-style gardens and two areas used for cultivation), thanks to two avenues enriched by pillars. The latter, octagonal in shape, were covered in majolica with floral patterns by Donato and Giuseppe Massa, two ceramists from Campania.
The pillars surrounding the garden are connected to each other by seats, tiled with backs depicting popular and mythological scenes. One of these is even dedicated to life in the monastery: it represents a nun (a Clarissa) intent on feeding the cats wandering around the cloister.
Passing through the cloister, you come to the Museum of the Franciscan Work, which houses the treasures of the monastery that escaped the 1943 bombing that destroyed much of the church.
On your way out of the cloister, take a look at the room housing a nativity scene with shepherds from the 18th and 19th centuries. Needless to say, the nativity scene tradition is sacred in Naples, and the Via dei Presepi (Via San Gregorio Armeno) is still famous today, showcasing handicrafts with the most unusual nativity scenes.
The Neapolitan nativity scene not only depicts the nativity, usually placed centrally, but also reproduces the entire scene around it, made up of handmade figurines and scaffolding.
The 10 best things to do in Naples
If you’re short on time and need to pick out the most amazing places to see in Naples, this list of 10 top Naples attractions may help.
2. THE CATHEDRAL OF NAPLES (and the Treasure of San Gennaro)
3. SANSEVERO CHAPEL MUSEUM (and the Veiled Christ)
5. THE NAPLES METRO
6. PIAZZA PLEBISCITO AND THE ROYAL PALACE
7. THEATRE OF SAN CARLO
8. MASCHIO ANGIOINO
9. NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF NAPLES
10. THE MONASTIC COMPLEX OF SANTA CHIARA
The Surroundings of Naples
We have talked about the best of Naples, but there are also many interesting things to do near Naples.
Mount Vesuvius has always been the centre of attention for scholars and nature enthusiasts, as it is one of the most fascinating and dangerous volcanoes in continental Europe. We are actually still in Naples, more precisely in the south-eastern part of the city, and its features complete the postcard silhouette of the Gulf of Naples.
The volcano is located in the Vesuvius National Park, where it is possible to go trekking thanks to the paths created in the project called “La Sentieristica del Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio” (the Vesuvius National Park Paths), which includes 11 suggestive and wild paths to admire unique views.
More than 50 km for excursions of all difficulties. But we know that the most coveted spot is the crater, where it is difficult not to feel a thrill of excitement while looking at the beautiful landscape after the physical effort of the walk.
After the descent, stop for a glass of Lacryma Christi, a wine produced from the fertile soil of Mount Vesuvius that will round off your walk nicely.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of this fine wine from Campania, I recommend the Italia Delight Lacryma Christi tasting experience with a view of the vines that cover the slopes of Vesuvius.
Many legends and folk tales tell of the origins of Vesuvius and its often catastrophic eruptions. It is impossible not to learn more about the history of Herculaneum and Pompeii, which are only a few kilometres away.
Your itinerary to explore Naples and the surrounding area must include a stop at the Herculaneum and Pompeii Archaeological Parks.
We are not talking about mere boring history, but about a journey that will take you back to Ancient Rome: you can walk through the streets of the past and have a look at the wine taverns, the frescoed domus, the baths where the ancient Romans loved to spend their time. Pompeii’s casts are impressive, stopping in time the fateful moment of the eruption in 79 AD.
An excursion that can also be enjoyed by the family.
Among the most popular things to do near Naples, there is a visit to the Phlegraean Fields (Campi Flegrei), in the Gulf of Pozzuoli. Named “burning fields” due to the high volcanic activity that characterises it, in antiquity it was the setting for many myths and legends including that of Aeneas and the supreme Virgil.
In the natural beauty of the Phlegraean Fields, the Romans left behind great works of sculpture and architecture: aqueducts, amphitheatres and ingenious structures such as the “cento caramelle” of the Patrician villas (an intricate construction) and the “piscina mirabilis” (an enormous Roman cistern located underground).
Don’t miss the underwater city of Baia, which you can visit with a transparent bottom boat.
If you are in Naples for more than one day, you will certainly not regret spending a day on Capri and the Islands of the Gulf. Among the sea, a boat ride and a stroll through the historic centre of Capri, the hours will pass all too quickly for entertainment. But these are the best memories.
On Ischia island, you can visit the Aragonese Castle or enjoy a boat tour around the coast to discover the most beautiful beaches and caves.
Procida is also fascinating: an island of fishermen where the rhythms are slow and the spontaneity of nature has a profound effect on the area.
What better place to visit in Naples and around the city than the largest royal residence in terms of volume?
Yes, I’m talking about the Royal Palace of Caserta, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, together with the Caroline Aqueduct and the San Leucio complex.
Whether in winter or summer, Sorrento does not disappoint. Overlooking the sea, it is a hub for Campania’s history and culture. Before returning home, stop here to taste limoncello made from the famous local citrus fruits.
And why not take a trip to Gragnano, the city of pasta? This is a stop in the heart of Italian gastronomy. Let Italia Delight’s food experts take you to a local winery to sample food and wine specialities.
What to do in Naples and around the city
In this article, we’ve captured the richness of Campania’s art, history and culture by looking at what to do in Naples and around the city.
In Naples things to do are so many… But visiting Naples also means strolling through the streets with a traditional fried pizza in your hand, freshly made and piping hot, perhaps from the historic Antica Pizza Fritta di Zia Esterina Sorbillo. Neapolitans know how to make street food: between a “cuoppo” (a small bag full of fried snacks) and a frittatina di pasta, it is difficult to remain unsatisfied.
Dessert lovers won’t resist Neapolitan sfogliatelle and will certainly have great difficulty in deciding which type is the tastiest one.
There are many historic pastry shops in and around Naples and it is normal to stop several times, attracted by the smell of a baba or a Neapolitan pastiera.
It’s a crime to explore Naples and not to sample the traditional Neapolitan pastries! So let yourself go in search of the best places without remorse.
The following day, you can always organise a day of trekking in the Vesuvius National Park, or you can go trekking around the city, following the amazing Naples stairways linking the various neighbourhoods. The Pedamentina, the Rampe del Petraio and the Calata San Francesco are just some of the more than 200 stairways in the city that will take you to the most spectacular views.
As mentioned above, Naples is famous for its nativity scene tradition and a walk through San Gregorio will confirm this lovely tradition.
Some people pack their bags for Naples just to taste the traditional Neapolitan pizza with its soft crust. The city invented this delicious food and today makes it a true cult.
Italia Delight offers you plenty of experiences to explore Naples and the surrounding area: from Neapolitan cookery lessons to visits to the winery with Ancient Roman cuisine and wine tastings.
A wine tasting in Castelfranci, in the province of Avellino, to discover the glorious Taurasi wine, or an afternoon in a family-run organic farm in Carinola will be the icing on the cake of your holiday in Campania.
Thanks to Italia Delight, your tour among the most interesting places to see in Naples and surrounding areas will be truly complete!
Did you like this guide on the best things to do in Naples and around the city by Nur Migahed, a graduate in Food and Wine Sciences and Cultures at Roma Tre University? Discover all the experiences and travel around Campania with Italia Delight!