Its close proximity to Capri, Amalfi, Ischia and Pompeii and Herculaneum make southern Italy’s largest city a necessary gateway, but Naples and its culturally rich centro historico are an easy add-on, depending on your schedule. Here are a few of our favorite things to do when you’re in Naples, also known as the capital of Campania.
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1. Pizza is an obsession in Naples. This is fitting since the city is the accepted birthplace of the famous pie. Neapolitans will wait in line for the best pizza, because the top places don’t take reservations. Instead, you can put your name on the list and go for a walk until a table opens up. You can also go late to lunch or early to dinner in Naples. Our two favorites places are Gino Sorbillo’s restaurant on the water (which has a better atmosphere than his outpost in the historic center) or 50 Kalo. Both are Michelin-recommended. Sorbillo has tables outside facing the Bay of Naples and is easy walking distance to top hotels. 50 Kalo, whose name means great dough in Neapolitan slang, is known for its seasonal toppings, thin dough and for its fried calzone. Its owner uses only the freshest ingredients, including olive oil from the legendary farm Don Alfonso and the New York Times has declared 50 Kalo as having some of the best pizza in Italy.
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2. Top hotels are in a time warp. The top three hotels are all in a row on the Bay of Naples: The Vesuvio, Santa Lucia and Excelsior—and all have seen better days. Their facades are grand and their furnishings are faded, so appreciate the views and the history, but don’t expect the modern flourishes of top hotels in major European cities.
3. Getting there has become super easy, with lots of connecting flights to Naples on the low-cost carriers from around Europe. Plus, the fast train makes the trip from Florence in only two hours and 40 minutes and Rome is just over an hour. Even Milan is only a four-hour and 20-minute trip from Naples. There are rumors that next summer an Emirates-owned airline will fly direct from New York into Naples.
4. The art and antiquities are amazing. History and art lovers will find amazing treasures in and around Naples, starting with Pompeii and Herculaneum, which are worth at least a half day of exploring. This should be followed by a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, which houses many of the best-preserved statues, mosaics and frescoes from these ancient Roman towns. Another must-stop is the Capella Sansevero in the historic center, which has what many art historians believe is the finest marble statue ever created, The Veiled Christ, by Guiseppe Sanmartino. Naples is home to three important Caravaggios as well that should not be missed. One, The Seven Works of Mercy, is in the Pio Monte della Misericordia church; another, The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, which is believed to be Caravaggio’s last work, is in the Gallery of the Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, and The Flagellation of Christ is in the Museo di Capodimonte. The largest museum in Italy and one of its least known, the Capodimonte was built as a palace for Charles VII of Naples and its more than 100 rooms contain an incredible collection, including Titians, Raphaels and many other Renaissance masterpieces as well as period rooms and antiquities. The Capodimonte in Naples is an under-the-radar cultural powerhouse that cannot be missed.
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5. Wander the historic center. Naples’ historic center has been compared to Havana for its atmosphere of faded grandeur. Impressive palazzos and monumental baroque churches may be covered in graffiti or soot, but the beauty in stages of decline evoke a feeling of nostalgia and the poignant awareness of the fragility of civilizations.
6. A boat trip to Ischia or Capri is a must. Whether you take a ferry, hydrofoil or private boat from one of Naples’ ports, it is essential to take advantage of the city’s location on the Bay of Naples to get out on the water and explore one of the nearby islands or the Amalfi Coast. In less than an hour you can arrive at Capri or Ischia, which have fabulous hiking and beach clubs for swimming.
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