Napoli is one of the most historic, yet divisive cities in Italy. Possibly best known for its pizza, football passion and grungy ‘pick-pocketing’ streets, a recent visit to this ancient city saw us in no time moving beyond its alleged ‘bad side’ to discover some of its true beauty and character. When teamed with a side trip to Procida, the lesser known island in the Bay of Naples and a true hidden gem, the adventure brought together a beautiful balance of southern Italian character, city culture, grandeur and island life. If you’re joining us on our Tour of Puglia, Tour of Tuscany or L’Eroica & Tuscany Tour, the city of Napoli and its neighbouring Procida are definitely worth a visit, and are easily reached with a 2-3 hour train and ferry trip from our start and finish towns of Florence and Bari.
A 7 day adventure
Our 7 day highlights of Napoli and Procida provide you with an experience of some of Italy’s undiscovered southern character and charm, expressed through the everyday life and passion of locals, and not through the major sites and places to see. Of course, you can feed these ‘must see’s and do’s’ of Pompeii, Underground Napoli and the range of amazing museums, palaces and art houses into your own travel program, however our experience of Napoli and Procida centres around the people, food and culture.
Our suggestion is to stay 3 nights in Napoli and 3 nights in Procida, however if you do have an extra night, the decision of where to spend it is best based on whether you’re looking for an extra day of culture and history, or an extra day at the beach….with both providing the street theatre, noise and chaos that are all just part of life in and around Napoli.
With its incredible, grand architecture and historic piazza’s, a centro storico that oozes character and a location by the sea where glimpses of the Mediterranean can be seen from a range of vantage points, Napoli’s presence as a historic city is unparalleled. However its colourful and boisterous personality, best described as an open air theatre, with its soul expressed daily and freely accessible by all, is what we loved most about this amazing city.
Whether it was our morning walks along the bay or lungomare to discover Neapolitan life by the sea or our meanders through the Quartiere Spagnoli to discover this animated neighbourhood of narrow alleys, local trattoria’s and food artisans, and supposed home to the ‘poorer’ people of Naples (a past that has now been very much cleaned up), we enjoyed the local interactions with fishermen, pizza makers and Neapolitan coffee makers, all who exuded warmth and contentment with life.
See & Do
- Centro Storico – the historic centre of Napoli contains 27 centuries of history and when you meander the famous Spaccanapoli and all its side streets, it is easy to see why it has been awarded UNESCO world heritage status. Take a stroll through its narrow alleys, enjoying the street art, local artisans and shops, its beautiful piazza’s Bellini (perfect for an aperitivo) and San Domenico Maggiore (surrounded by amazing palazzo’s and architecture), amongst others;
- Piazza Plebiscito – enjoy a morning coffee and brioche, or an afternoon gelato or aperitivo at the famous Gambrinus Caffe, while admiring the splendour of the majestic Piazza Plebiscito; known as the symbolic centre of Napoli, this piazza is home to the architectural jewels of the Church of San Francesco and the Royal Palace, allowing you to admire history, grandeur and everyday life;
- Via Chiaia – Napoli is home to some fantastic shopping, with the best shopping found along Via Chiaia and in the surrounding streets of this chic neighbourhood. While luxury brands are in abundance here, there is still a Neapolitan feel to it, with many small and local boutiques and food options;
- Lungomare – walking along the 4km path that hugs the Bay of Naples, starting from Piazza Plebiscito, around past the famous Castel dell’Ovo and neighbourhoods of Santa Lucia, Chiaia and Mergellina, is a joy, morning and night. From the tranquillity of the morning and the simple life of fishermen and Neapolitans enjoying the sea, to the buzz of the evenings where the locals and visitors come out in droves to enjoy warm Summer nights at the many seaside street bars and restaurants, walking and soaking up life lungomare (or along the sea) is a must when in Napoli;
- Castel Sant’Elmo – catch a funicular up to this 14th century fortress located on a hilltop for amazing 360 degree panoramic views over Napoli city and the bay, and then take the walk back down the Discesa del Petraio, a path of stairs that secretly meander from the upper neighbourhood of Vomero to the lower neighbourhood of Chiaia. With glimpses of the Mediterranean before you and coloured houses lining its path, this descent makes for a nice ‘off the beaten path’ experience. Of course, you can ascend it also and catch the funicular back down, depending on your energy levels!
Eat & Drink
All within the neighbourhoods of Chiaia, Santa Lucia, the Quartiere Spagnoli and the Centro Storico, we found an array of incredible local tastes and experiences. Enjoy:
- Traditional Neapolitan coffee at the Cuccuma Caffe; celebrating ‘slow coffee’ and the art of tradition and conversation, this café honours the famous, old Neapolitan style of drinking coffee and when accompanied with a slice of its amazing pastiera, the traditional sweet of Napoli typically eaten at Easter, a stop here with its wonderful host makes for a nice little experience;
Via S. Giovanni Maggiore Pignatelli, 1a, 80134 Napoli
- Aperitivo in one of the trendy little backstreets of Chiaia, in Piazza Bellini or in the back street ‘piazza’s’ of the Centro Storico where you’ll find small bars with open air outdoor seating and standing room;
- Pizza at Pizzeria EVO50, situated in a tiny alley in the Centro Storico, this is simple, good Neapolitan pizza using high quality ingredients;
- Pizze fritte da Gennaro – this light, original Neapolitan fried pizza is classic street food and is at its best when made by the colourful Gennaro in the Quartiere Spagnoli. Take a seat in his tiny and simple little corner store and enjoy his authentic character and banter with locals and visitors alike;
- Amazing Neapolitan home made food at La Trattoria da Peppino ‘ritrovo degli Artisti’ in the back streets of Santa Lucia. You’ll feel like you’re dining in nonna’s home; the antipasti della casa and the pasta’s Siciliana and Sorrentina were amongst our fondest food memories of Napoli…just simple, home made goodness;
- Antica Osteria da Tonino also served up a memorable home cooked meal, Napoli style. Situated in the backstreets of Chiaia and on the same corner since 1880, the caprese salad, home made gnocchi and polpette della casa of this family run institution were all delicious;
Via Santa Teresa a Chiaia, 47
- Sfogliatelle; wherever you are in Napoli, you will see this delicious local taste sensation and you must try it. Both the riccia, ‘curly’ version made with puff pastry or frolla, ‘short’ version made with shortcrust pastry are traditionally filled with a ricotta cream with lemon and orange peel, and vanilla and are amazing, with the riccia being our favourite. Of course, you’ll come across this famous pastry dessert with a range of other fillings also, but be sure to try the original and traditional version;
- Relaix Bijoux, Chiaia Napoli; we stayed at this very stylish, yet comfortable B&B in a perfect location between Chiaia and Santa Lucia. With only 3 rooms and located in an old Palazzo with a quirky ‘back entrance’, this B&B felt more like you were in your own apartment and was beautifully run by Francesco the owner, who was most hospitable and friendly, and always available if needed
- Franz Guest House, Centro Storico Napoli; if you prefer to stay in the heart of the historical centre in an apartment style guesthouse, this small, yet simple and modern guesthouse has come recommended to us.
If an adventure to Napoli and/or Procida interests you pre or post one of our Italian Cycling Tours and you want to find out more, stay tuned for our Part 2 blog and talk to us anytime when booking in.