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Top 10 Things to do in Naples

Naples seems for many at the first look to be messy and chaotic, but I’d rather call it lively and vibrant. The city's cars don’t seem to have a break and the scooters honk while navigating through tight gaps between cars and narrow streets while mingling with pedestrians – this is as Italian as it can get. There is a lot going on in this city even though it might not seem this way and sometimes you may have to look for it. The city also makes for a great base to explore the nearby Vesuvio Mountain, the Herculaneum and Pompeii easily reached by public transport which you can find further down on the list of the top 10 things to do in Naples.

Castel Nuovo - an imposing medieval castle

1. Castel Nuovo

Surrounded by the city and waterfront alike towers “Castel Nuovo” with its large five cylindrical towers, an imposing medieval castle located in the centre of Naples. “Castel Nuovo” in fact means “New Castle”, never mind that it was built around 1279 and you might therefore call it “old” by now. In order to distinguish it from the city’s other and more ancient castles though, King Charles I of Anjou named the castle “New Castle”. After the Spanish Empire conquered Naples in the 15th century, the castle was completely rebuilt by Alfonso V of Aragon, creating the Medieval Renaissance castle you see today. Its scenic location and imposing size turn the castle into an architectural landmark and one of the most striking buildings in Naples, so your trip to Naples wouldn’t be complete without a stroll on top of the castle providing you with striking views over the bay and city.

Castel dell’Ovo is the oldest standing fortress in Naples

2. Castel dell'Ovo

Contrary to “Castell Nuovo”, there is another, more ancient, castle in Naples which is worth visiting; the castle is called “Castel dell’Ovo” which translated means “Egg Castle”. Located on the coastline of the Gulf of Naples on a small islet called Megaride, “Castel dell’Ovo” is the oldest standing fortress in Naples, dating back to the 12th century. According to history, this islet of Megaride was the first place where the Greek began to settle in the 7th century BC. Later on, the mainland was colonized where the first inhabited centre was built and eventually led to the establishment of a physical connection to the mainland. The special name of the castle originates from a legend, according to which the Roman poet Virgil hid a magical egg in the foundations of the fortress, promising that if the egg would break, the castle would be destroyed, together with some disastrous events occurring in the city. Hence, the name “Egg Castle” got stuck and still goes by this name today.

This underground world made up of caves, tunnels and aqueducts will give you a glimpse of Naples history

3. Underground Naples

In a small gap tucked in between two buildings in the middle of the historic centre of Naples you will find an anonymous entrance to an entirely different world of Naples. Lying about 40-meter below the lively streets of Naples, you will enter a very different world from the one above the surface. This underground world made up of caves, tunnels and aqueducts will give you a glimpse of Naples history dating back thousands of years with a space so vast that it stretches below the entire old town. After descending 136 steps underneath the surface you will be led into the tuffaceous cavities excavated during the Greek era which were used as cisterns to supply the city with water for several thousand years. The continuous use of the vast underground space throughout the city’s history is evident through remnants from World War II, a Roman Theatre, a tunnel carved out in the 19th century and so much more.

Via San Gregorio Armeno - a place where Christmas lasts all year

4. Via San Gregorio Armeno

In the heart of Naples lays a picturesque alley called “Via San Gregorio Armeno”, a place where Christmas lasts all year. While walking up the street it is hard to capture all the details of the handcrafted goods to your left and right as the atmosphere in the street is already overwhelming. Tightly tucked in small nooks you will find one shop after the other displaying meticulously handcrafted nativity-scene figures. In Naples this street is also known as “Christmas Alley”, and walking up the street, with a vast selection of cribs and Christmas figurines to you left and right, you will understand why. The reason behind the many crib shops, displaying primarily nativity-scene figures, is dating back to a time where it was home to a temple devoted to the Roman Goddess “Ceres” to whom faithful devotees brought offerings of small terracotta figurines, which were handcrafted in nearby workshops. If you find yourself in need for a break from the many impressions, you will find a place called “Sfogliate e Sfogliatelle” halfway up the street. I feel the obligation to mention this to you since it simply is THE best place for THE most delicious Italian baked goods. The water in my mouth already starts running by just thinking about this indescribably delicious dessert.

The “Aquario di Napoli” is in fact the first aquarium ever built in Italy

5. Aquario di Napoli

Shortly before our arrival to Naples, the historic aquarium in the Anton Dohrn Zoological Station had just been reopened after a complete renovation. After taking a relaxed stroll along the waterfront, you will find the aquarium hidden few metres away from the seafront in a park called “Villa Communale”. Recommending this aquarium to you might have you wondering why this should be on your sightseeing list for Naples. But this aquarium isn’t just like any other; the “Aquario di Napoli” is in fact the first aquarium ever built in Italy and one of the oldest in the world. It was opened to the public in January 1874 and is today the only example of a 19th century Italian aquarium.

6. National Archaeological Museum of Naples

While having the “National Archaeological Museum of Naples” on our sightseeing list, unfortunately, we didn’t manage to visit this place...this time. However, it will undoubtedly be one of the first places on my list to visit next time I’m in Naples! The history of the Greek and Roman times is so extensive, it will probably take a whole lifetime and even more to explore it all. Regardless, how much there is to the Roman history, the many details, artifacts and stories, it never gets boring to explore more. Hence, the National Archaeological Museum of Naples will give you yet another glimpse into the Greek and Roman history and will even take you as far as to the Renaissance. With its close proximity to the nearby Herculaneum and Pompeii, who both were victim of tragic events, Naples makes for a perfect base. Both are sites of enormous importance when it comes to archaeological locations in Italy. The National Archaeological Museum of Naples is therefore an essential stop for you to see the huge collection of Greek and Roman antiquities connected to Herculaneum and Pompeii. Have fun!

Lungomare Caracciolo makes for a perfect stroll

7. Lungomare Caracciolo

Naples has a wonderful stretch at the seafront called “Lungomare Caracciolo” and makes for a perfect stroll, leading you through different districts of the city. The promenade of the “Lungomare Caracciolo” begins around the height of “Piazza del Plebiscito”, then crossing many areas and different districts. Amongst the first part of the stretch lays the area of “Santa Lucia” with a fantastic view of the bay area. Furthermore, you will stroll through the harbour part of “Borgo Marinari” where the famous “Castel dell’Ovo” is located. Following the seafront promenade it will lead you to the part called “Riviera di Chiaia” where the “Aquario di Napoli” is located and which is equally well-known for its shopping and nightlife. Finally, you will walk into the “Posillipo” district, located on a lush hill, known for its seafood restaurants and stylish cocktail bars. The coastline is beautiful and despite leading you on quite a walk, the views are very much worth it, showing you a different site of Naples.

Mount Vesuvius is one of the most famous volcanoes in the world

8. Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius is one of the most famous volcanoes in the world, especially famous for being the volcano that erupted in Roman times and buried Pompeii in 79 AD. With its close proximity to Naples, a hike to the top of Mount Vesuvius is an iconic experience you shouldn’t miss. The volcano towers over the Gulf of Naples, silently ensuring that its presence is never forgotten. With an eruption cycle of around 20 years, it’s been a while with the last eruption being in 1944. In order to get there, you can easily take the bus to the lower slope of Mount Vesuvius and after that climbing the last part of it by foot, which, by the way, isn’t particularly difficult and therefore can be done by anyone, even without hiking experiences. From the top of the volcano, you can steer deeply into its crater and if you are particularly observant you can see a small hole, frequently releasing smoke, reminding everyone that it’s still active and currently just resting.

Herculaneum was a very thriving, ancient Roman city

9. Herculaneum

Pompeii might be the buried city everyone has heard of, but a visit to the “Herculaneum” is even more recommendable, especially combined with a visit to Mount Vesuvius. “Herculaneum” was a very thriving, ancient Roman city which, unlike the neighbouring city of Pompeii, inhabited far richer people. This city was also smaller than Pompeii with mere 5.000 inhabitants. The traces indicating that Herculaneum was a wealthier city than Pompeii are the missing deep marks in the street from cart wheels, or the missing graffiti on the walls of political messages. Even the lack of ford stones for pedestrians to cross the street without getting dirty from the sewer water are the evidence for the richness of this city. Pompeii might be the better-known city for being buried under the volcano ashes in 79 AD., but Herculaneum is even more rewarding to visit since its better preserved and receives only a tenth of the visitors compared to Pompeii. It was originally thought that the inhabitants had escaped the eruption, until the remains of 300 skeletons were found in some old boat chambers close to what once had been the shoreline. These skeletons remain at the very same location until the day today where they once had hoped to get rescued.

I was astonished by the size and complexity of Pompeii

10. Pompeii

If you have the time and luxury to visit both Herculaneum and Pompeii, I would highly recommend you doing that. A visit to both will show you the clear differences between the two contrasting cities. After having visited Herculaneum, I was astonished by the size and complexity of Pompeii. Being twice the size, Pompeii has everything you can imagine a Roman city has to offer; an arena, taverns, public buildings, shops, private houses and even brothels. Being this huge, one day is not merely enough to see it all. The falling ashes of the eruption in 79 AD. came so fast that it buried the city as it was in that very moment, being completely frozen in time. Some managed to escape after the first phase of pumice rain; since the discovery of bodies until this day counts around 1.100 makes it evident that in a city with over 11.000 inhabitants some were lucky enough to escape. The excavation of the buried bodies tells a sad story of their attempt to escape as they were found with their most valuable belongings; jewellery, coins and silver ware.


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