Naples is an incredible cocktail made up of great ingredients: long and glorious history, rich culture, warm Mediterranean climate, expressive character of the locals, delicious food, stories about mafia clans, excellent football, and so on.
The beauty of Naples in the 18th century became proverbial. The catchphrase “to see Naples and die” served as a prototype for the creation of similar phrases about other world cities, for example, Paris or Venice.
Throughout its history, the capital of the region of Campania has combined wealth and poverty, rapid economic development, and respect for the historical traditions of Italy. Neapolitans consider themselves a separate ethnic group, which can be easily traced both in language, culture, and cuisine.
The daily and artistic life of Naples takes place in streets and quarters full of historical monuments. Let’s explore the best things to do in the largest city in southern Italy.
1. Spanish Quarter
The Spanish Quarter (Quartieri Spagnoli) is the old quarter, formed by the Spaniards in the 16th century, and today occupies 0.8 km²/0.3 sq mi. Most of the houses are multi-story here, the streets are very narrow and rarely wider than five meters (16.5 ft). The quarter is part of the historic heart of Naples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Wandering the streets of Quartieri Spagnoli gives you the feeling of true Naples, what it is all about. While to some it may be dirty and not particularly attractive I enjoyed people watching and seeing how the residents navigate and negotiate turns in the tight streets on their scooter.
2. St. Gregory of Armenia street
Located in the historic center of Naples between Piazza San Gaetano and Via San Biagio dei Librai, the pedestrianized St. Gregory of Armenia street (Via San Gregorio Armeno) is famous for its folk crafts, as there are many small shops here selling beautiful handmade Nativity figurines and scenes known as the presepio.
Even if you do not intend to stock up on appropriate souvenirs, it is still worth stopping by this famous street. Take your time and walk up and down a couple of times, absorbing all the atmosphere. I can only imagine how beautiful this must be at Christmas time!
3. Naples Underground
Naples Underground (Napoli Sotterranea) is a large network of tunnels, aqueducts, and cavities 40 meters (130 feet) below the historic streets of Naples, excavated more than 2,500 years ago by the Greeks and expanded later by the Romans.
Amazing experience, seeing Naples in a very unique way – the descent takes you down to the foundations of the city, where you navigate very narrow passages, see hydroponics labs, ancient mines, and learn the history of Naples through the Second World War.
Address: Piazza San Gaetano, 68, 80138 Napoli NA, Italy.
Excursions in English: 10.00, 12.00, 14.00, 16.00, 18.00 (every day).
Admission: 10 €.
4. The New Castle
The New Castle (Castel Nuovo) is a Renaissance castle with the Arc de Triomphe at the entrance, built in the 13th century. Located between the Galleria Umberto I and the port, it is one of the most famous buildings in Naples. The castle was rebuilt and renovated several times and under different kings, it served mostly in a double function as a fortress and residence.
The outside of the castle is very impressive. Inside there are a few things to see – chapel, hall, and upstairs there is an art gallery. You get good views of Mount Vesuvius and the port itself from the art gallery terrace.
Address: Via Vittorio Emanuele III, 80133 Napoli NA, Italy.
Opening hours: 8:30 to 18:00 (Monday to Saturday); 10:00 to 13:00 (Sunday).
Admission: 6 €.
5. St. Elmo Castle
The Castle of St. Elmo (Castel Sant’Elmo) is a medieval fortress located on the high hill of Vomero, near the former Carthusian monastery of St. Martin. It was built by King Robert of Naples in the first half of the 14th century and, after 200 years, reconstructed by Pedro de Toledo, the Spanish viceroy of Naples.
Today the castle houses the Bruno Molajoli Art History Museum and various temporary exhibitions, fairs, and events. San Elmo is a favorite tourist destination, a kind of Neapolitan “horizon” with a panoramic view of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, Tyrrhenian Sea, and the surrounding area of Campania.
Address: Via Tito Angelini, 20/A, 80129 Napoli NA, Italy.
Admission: 2,50 €.
Opening hours: 8.30–19.30 (every day).
6. Charterhouse and Museum of St. Martin
On the Vomero hill, next to Castel Sant’Elmo, there is the former Carthusian monastery – Certosa di San Martino, that has not only an extensive collection of artistic treasures but also an excellent observation deck overlooking Naples. The area is a complete contrast to the rest of the city – calm and chilled out. One of Naples’ unmissable gems.
The beautiful Neapolitan Baroque building of the monastery, erected in the 14th century, today houses the National Museum of San Martino. Its 90 rooms display various artifacts of the 18th-century Neapolitan life; there is also a huge collection of Neapolitan Christmas figurines – presepio. For anyone who likes art and architecture, it is worth taking the climb or the funicular for part of the way.
Address: Largo S. Martino, 5, 80129 Napoli NA, Italy.
Opening hours: 8.30–19.30 (every day, except Wednesday).
Admission: 6 €.
7. Galleria Umberto I
The Galleria Umberto I is a large indoor shopping complex located opposite the Teatro San Carlo, in the center of Naples. The passage was built in the Art Nouveau style at the end of the 19th century for the fashionable part of Neapolitan society.
As then, so today, people come here to spend money on jewelry and expensive clothes, drink a glass of wine, and listen to music: the gallery houses expensive boutiques of famous Italian and international brands, various restaurants and pastry shops, a hotel, beauty salons and much more.
Address: Via Manlio di Veroli, 6, Napoli.
Opening hours: round the clock (some shops close at night).
8. Monumental complex of St. Lawrence Major
The religious complex of St. Lawrence Major (San Lorenzo Maggiore) is a truly wonderful place located in the San Lorenzo district (the historical heart of Naples), in Piazza San Gaetano, at the intersection of Via San Gregorio Armeno and Via Dei Tribunali. The complex consists of a church (Basilica; 13th century; Gothic) and an adjacent (still functioning) monastery of the Franciscan order, also a museum and archaeological site.
Historically and artistically San Lorenzo Maggiore is one of the most important monumental complexes in Naples. During archaeological excavations under the church, the market of Roman origin was revealed, the ruins of which (for the most part, between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD) are now publicly displayed. The newly opened museum occupies three floors around the inner courtyard and explains the history of the place from classical antiquity to modern times.
Address: Piazza San Gaetano, 80138 Napoli NA, Italy.
Opening hours: 09:30–17:30 (all days).
Admission: 9 €.
9. Baroque Church of St. George Major
The Church of St. George Major (San Giorgio Maggiore) is a Baroque-style building located on the corner of Via vicaria Vecchia and Via Duomo, in the historic center of Naples, protected by UNESCO. This is a couple of minutes’ walk east of the famous Via San Gregorio Armeno street, and it is worth stopping at.
The church was build in the 13th–14th century as an early Christian church. In 1640, a fire destroyed a large part of the building, which was then renovated by the Italian architect Cosimo Fanzago. The current main entrance is located in what was once the apse of the former church. Inside, you can admire the Byzantine-style tables and wooden crucifixion dating back to 1200, as well as early frescoes by Francesco Solimena, Agniello Falcone, and other Italian painters.
Address: Via Duomo, 237/A, 80138 Napoli NA, Italy.
Opening hours: 8:00–12:00, 17:00–19:00 (Monday to Saturday), 8:00–13:00 (Sunday).
10. Naples business district
With modern skyscrapers, Centro Direzionale di Napoli is a major business district in Naples located in the Poggioreale neighborhood, near the main train station. Designed by the Japanese architect Kenzō Tange and completed in 1995, it is the largest complex of skyscrapers in Italy and all of Southern Europe.
If you are interested in architecture, especially in modern and post-modern buildings, you will enjoy seeing this area. It is such a refreshing contrast from what one would usually see in Naples. There is of course no entrance fee to enter the area and it is very central. I would certainly advise anyone to walk through the impressive business district of Naples.
The most important city in southern Italy and the third-largest city in the country, Naples is located in a picturesque place at the foot of the Vesuvius volcano on the northern coast of the Gulf of Naples.
Where to stay: Best Hotels in Naples, Italy
Before I visited Italy, Naples was the first city I wanted to see. And my dream came true! While traveling in Italy, I first visited it – a sunny, bustling, and big Napoli. This city is famous not only for its historic old town, the mafia, or an abundance of pickpockets and stray dogs. The sleeping volcano Vesuvius and the world-famous Pompeii are very close to the city, so your stay in Naples can be even more interesting.
I hope you enjoyed my 10 best things to do in Naples post. If you like Italy and its cities with a unique atmosphere and historical heritage, here are a few more posts that I recommend you read next:
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase or sign up for a program, I get a small commission at no additional cost to you.