Naples has a fairly bad reputation as being a bit rough and dirty. But this should really be seen as a strength rather than a problem.
So many Italian tourist towns are perfectly manicured and filled with no one but foreigners taking pictures of ruins, sunsets and beach umbrellas. And, while many of these sites are visually stunning and full of history, they can feel a bit ingenuine and artificial.
Naples, on the other hand, is bursting with Napolitana character. The noises on the busy streets are made by locals going about their business. And you rub shoulders with locals in busy markets, restaurants and bars. It is authentically Italian, in all its beauty and ugliness. You can’t have one without the other.
One of the best places to experience authentic Naples culture is out on the streets. During the day, the best spots for people watching are at the local markets. Pignasecca is a winding stretch of stalls where people sell their antiques, fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables, and all kinds of local wares.
The flea market located south west of the main station, around Porta Nolana, is also a super random and fun find. It runs most mornings with people selling just about anything (even used underwear). It’s a bit mental but so very entertaining. Go with lots of small change as most clothes cost about 50 cents.
The streets of the historic centre are also bursting with people drinking and dancing at night. Piazza San Domenico is especially popular with young people and students, with several small bars serving cheap booze.
The nightlife here is so big that many different kinds of stores change their offering for the evening. Perditempo is our favourite, being a bookshop by day and quirky bar by night.
The number one thing Naples has going for it is the food scene. It is ancient, unapologetically refusing to join in on the modern foodie trends of making Instagrammable food. Here, sometimes your food will look like moosh on a plate, but the flavours will never ever disappoint.
People flock here from all over the world to try the famous Napolitana pizza. And in this city you will find the very best versions. L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is known for having the best pizza on the planet, and with Julia Roberts eating here in Eat Pray Love, that claim must be true.
You will have to line up for a decent amount of time to get in, after grabbing a ticket from the staff at the door. But, once you get inside, be sure to milk the experience for all its worth. They only do two flavours (pizza Marinara with tomato, garlic and oregano, and pizza Margherita with tomato, basil, garlic and heavenly buffalo mozzarella). Grab a few beers, eat all the wood fired pizza you can fit in your stomach, and soak up the old school pizzeria atmosphere.
But do also try others like Trianon de Circo (for the seven cheese pizza) as well as Pellone, Sorbillo and Gorizia 1916. You can seriously eat pizza here for every meal and not get sick of it.
Naples is also perfect for those with a sweet tooth. There are countless patisseries scattered all over the city but our favourite would have to be Dolcezze do Sicilia, hidden within the ferry port Molo Immacolotella Vecchia.
Find one of the area’s workers and ask them for a more specific location. They’ll point you towards the tiny shop selling pastries freshly arriving from Palermo every day. Grab a big box of everything and park up in the neighbouring coffee shop.
Also, look out for more classic trattoria-style food at La Cantina da via Sapienza, Vicolo Basilio Puoti, and La Taverna del Buongustaio. Each offers up sensational Napolitana cuisine.
Art and culture
Naples, like most ancient city’s in Italy, has some impressive museums full of ancient artefacts. The Archaeological Museum is one of our favourites as it is situated within a beautiful old mansion and is where you find some of the best preserved Pompei relics. You could wander around here all day before checking out some of the live music events taking place in the gardens.
The Royal Palace is where you’ll find old masters, porcelain, tapestries and furniture, while what is deemed Caravaggio’s most important painting, Le sette opere di Misericordia, can be found at Pio Monte della Misericordia. Modern art also flourishes here. Be sure to visit MADRE for modern and contemporary paintings, sculpture and site-specific installations from prolific Italian and international artists, and Galleria Lia Rumma for big name modern artists in the former home of an uber rich art collector.
Naples is both an ancient and modern Italian city which is sorely overlooked by tourists passing through on their way to Pompei and the Amalfi Coast. Don’t be one of these foolish souls.