As one of the first countries I have ever visited, Italy holds a special place in my heart. From the moment I first set foot on this boot-shaped peninsula, I was mesmerised by the Italian joy of living and the mouthwateringly delicious cuisine. Naturally, I was very happy when we chose Italy as the destination of our first proper holiday as a couple – with Naples, the birthplace of pizza, as our starting point. Bring on all the carbs and Aperol Spritz!
Where we stayed in Naples
We landed at the Naples Airport on a Monday morning and caught a €5 Alibus to the Napoli Centrale – Piazza Garibaldi Station. Luckily, our bed and breakfast was within walking distance, literally opposite the station.
For our first two nights in the city, we chose Glamour B&B. We paid only €118 for two nights including Italian breakfast in the form of a buffet. It was a tiny privately-owned B&B with just two rooms available, so you felt like you were getting a personalised experience.
And what a positive experience we had! After we checked in, the host kindly offered us a cup of coffee (by which he meant an espresso – just a heads-up) and asked if we needed any recommendations. He talked us through all the best places to see and things to do in Naples. Most importantly, he also recommended a pizza place that is the locals’ favourite and told us what to look out for.
This raw honesty is what I appreciated the most. Sadly, Naples isn’t the safest of places and you need to be very wary when out and about. The host carefully examined our belongings (“I see you’re not wearing any Rolex watches – that’s good”) and pinpointed the areas where we were better off not taking out our phones in public.
When doing your travel research, it’s sometimes hard to tell what to believe and what to take with a pinch of salt. That’s why we found this input from a local invaluable. Don’t get me wrong – I am not trying to scare you away from going. Just have your wits about you and you should be perfectly fine!
This place wasn’t available for our last night, so we chose a different one located in the same building for €52. It was fine, but out of the two, I definitely preferred Glamour B&B. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find them on Booking.com anymore, so I’m not sure if they’re still in operation, but we saw plenty of other B&B’s around that area!
Things to do in Naples
If you know me, you know I’m the kind of traveller that likes having her itinerary filled to the brim. I love following locals’ recommendations and exploring hidden gems, but I also really enjoy sightseeing in a traditional sense.
Although I spent my whole life living by the water, I’d take a museum over a trip to the beach anytime. Still, in Naples I was willing to trade that in for some sheer relaxation – and that says a lot.
Walk the streets of Naples and admire the architecture
Is there anyone who doesn’t enjoy strolling around the narrow cobblestone streets of Italy? Once we got our bearings and had late breakfast, the first thing we did was walk the streets of Naples all the way down to the historic centre. With more than 500 churches around the city, you are certain to find a sacred place at every corner, although lots of people seem to be praying to Diego Maradona instead.
We admired the exterior of the city’s most famous church, Duomo di Napoli (Naples Cathedral), while the unique facade of the Church of Gesù Nuovo drew us in. We spent quite some time admiring the church’s opulent interior filled with paintings and sculptures of leading baroque artists.
On our way to do some window shopping, we found ourselves on Piazza del Plebiscito where we marvelled at the Basilica of San Francesco di Paola. To me, it was like the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Square all in one. Wait, was I somehow transported to Rome…?
Engage in some retail therapy or window shopping
…or did I end up in Milan? I definitely wouldn’t blame you for having that impression after seeing the nearby Galleria Umberto I. The resemblance is no coincidence either. The Insta-favourite Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was actually the prototype for several other shopping arcades around the world, including this one.
The building itself is an architectural marvel with its beautiful glass dome, cornices, and the mosaics representing all twelve signs of the zodiac on the floor. When it comes to the shopping experience, however, don’t get your hopes up. There are only a handful of shops, including Sephora, and a couple of restaurants. It’s a great place to explore and escape from the noisy streets of Naples, but if you’re set on a shopping spree, you’ll be better off taking your money elsewhere!
See Europe’s most impressive metro station
Even though the best way to explore Naples is by walking through its narrow, winding streets, Toledo Station is definitely worth going underground for. It was named Europe’s most impressive metro station by CNN… and for good reason!
As part of the Art Stations project, various stations around the city were transformed with the help of artists and craftsmen, both local and international. The design of Toledo Station is themed around light and water. The station corridor is illuminated by light panels that mimic the movement of the sea along with rippling waves. In the lobby, you can find a spectacular wall mosaic presenting the history of Naples, as well as the remains of an Aragonese fortress. For the price of a metro ticket, you can see that Naples is a fascinating city both above and below the surface!
See the Heart of Naples
If you find yourself on Via Toledo, it is worth walking around Quartieri Spagnoli. Although it has a reputation as one of the most dangerous areas of Naples, at the same time it’s considered the place to go if you want to get a real feel of the city’s atmosphere and history. For this reason, it earned the nickname ‘the Heart of Naples’.
At the time we were there (August 2018), hundreds of hearts graced the streets, walls, and storefronts! As we later found out, it was for the fourth edition of the #CuoreDiNapoli project organised by the Course of New Technologies of Art of the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples. It celebrates the sense of belonging to the city and highlights that the beauties and differences of all cultures are welcome. I wish we could understand what the banners said, but we could feel the love in the air regardless!
Visit the Egg Castle
For breathtaking views of the Bay of Naples, you should visit the oldest fortification in the city – Castel dell’Ovo. In my opinion, even the walk along the waterfront towards the castle is a great attraction. I just couldn’t put my camera down as we walked past beautiful pastel buildings and beachfront restaurants!
Unless you’re after a guided tour, the entry to the Egg Castle is completely free! If you’re a history enthusiast, you might be a little disappointed as there weren’t a lot of signs to provide more information about the castle.
It’s definitely one of these places where you go mainly for the view. There are many spots where you can take in stunning views of the coast, including Mount Vesuvius in the distance. It’s a bit of an uphill stroll, but the views from the top make it worthwhile. And you can always reward yourself with an Aperol or two afterwards…
Stop for a coffee or a cocktail in one of the cafés
…which is what we did on many occasions! I was joking that by the end of our trip, I basically became 70% Aperol Spritz, 30% water. I mean, can you blame me when it’s so widely accessible and affordable? You can even buy pre-mixed cocktails in the supermarkets, including a lighter version with soda instead of Prosecco. There are also many bars serving it in plastic cups to-go for a fraction of the price. Italy is truly heaven for cocktail and caffeine enthusiasts like myself!
These two worlds collided in the first place we visited upon landing in Naples. We’d been walking for a good 30 minutes when we finally found a pasticceria that was open – Bellavita. We ordered our breakfast and looked as dozens of Italians gathered around the bar. It was a scene typically reminiscent of bars and clubs… only they were doing shots of espresso, not vodka. It was also where I had my very first caffè freddo. I compared every single freddo I had during our trip to the one from Bellavita and none came close!
We stumbled upon this unassuming building on our very first afternoon in Naples and it happened to be one of my favourite places in the city. This historic palace is a real gem hidden right in the historic centre of Naples. It’s definitely the place to go if you’re looking for a tranquil (and free!) haven away from the city’s lively streets.
Inside, you can find a collection of artworks and a really talented pianist that welcomes visitors with some live music. The palazzo’s first floor also houses a café that offers reasonably priced refreshments. You can then unwind with a cup of coffee or a cocktail in a magical hanging garden, surrounded by palms and citrus trees. It was a wonderful surprise and just what we needed after a long day of walking… and to think how easily we might have missed it!
Experience Upper Naples
So far, I have touched upon some of the most frequented tourist destinations… But what if I told you there’s a less commercialised side of Naples that is even more beautiful?
In Naples, there are four different funiculars to choose from and a single-ride ticket costs €1.10. We got on at Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and went all the way up to Piazza Fuga. The Central Funicular runs almost entirely inside tunnels, so do not expect any scenic views on the way, but rest assured that your trip will be worthwhile.
Once we got off, it felt as if we’d been whisked off to an entirely different city, away from the frenzy of Naples. It was quiet and serene, the streets got wider and cleaner, and the tourists were few and far between. We started by making our way to Villa Floridiana which provided a perfect escape from the crowds in the city centre.
There are a lot of cats walking around that you can pet (which is essentially my idea of heaven on Earth) and turtles swimming in a small pond. There’s also a grand museum that houses a collection of ceramics and a terrace overlooking the Bay of Naples.
The panorama is breathtakingly beautiful. I could easily while away an afternoon admiring all the elegant villas and blossoming rooftop gardens stretching beneath my feet. Sadly, that wasn’t a possibility as grey clouds started filling the sky. When we left the park, we walked around the area for a while before stopping at one of the local cafés for a mandatory coffee break. We made it back just in time, as it started pouring it down the second we stepped off the station at Corso Vittorio Emmanuele.
Eat your way around the birthplace of pizza
…and of course, it wouldn’t be a proper guide to Naples without addressing one of the main reasons so many tourists flock to the city every single year – all of the pizza!
When we were planning our trip to Naples, one name came up over and over again – L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. However, our B&B host was adamant that it’s a touristy place and the locals wouldn’t go there to eat. He strongly recommended Pizzeria Pellone instead, so we knew we had to check it out.
Now, if you’d told me we would be struggling to find pizza in Naples, I most likely would’ve laughed out loud and thought you were being absolutely ridiculous. Strangely, that’s just what happened to us. One thing we didn’t account for was how many Italians go away on holiday in the month of August. They close their businesses, often with zero notice, and take a couple of weeks off.
Pizzeria del Portico
When we had to leave Pellone empty-handed, we thought we’d try the tourist-favourite spot instead, but we didn’t have any luck there either. We walked around the area for a while before deciding to dine at the first pizza place that would be open, regardless of its reviews. That took us… drumroll, please… around 90 minutes. No biggie. Hangry and exhausted, we finally ended up at Pizzeria del Portico. Not the most luxurious place but a very affordable one, and I really LOVED their Napoletana.
Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba
On our last day in the city, we decided to visit what is believed to be the oldest pizzeria in the world. The choice of pizzas at Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba is almost overwhelming. It took me a while just to read the entire menu, let alone narrow down my choices! Thankfully, we were one of the few customers there, so when I finally made up my mind, we didn’t have to wait long. Before we knew it, our food was already on the table. We did a double take to make sure our orders hadn’t been mixed up – but there’d been no mistake.
I’m sure many of you are wondering by now… Was the pizza from the world’s oldest pizzeria any different from other pizzas we tried in Italy? My answer would be: not really. Maybe it’s because we had heightened expectations of this place, or maybe it’s hard for any particular pizza to stand out when you’re in the city where pizza making is essentially in people’s blood and somewhat of an art form. Either way, I think it’s a must if you visit Naples just to be able to say you had pizza from the oldest pizzeria in the world! I mean, if it’s good enough for Gordon Ramsay…
So, that’s the end of my mini guide to Naples… I hope you feel ready to navigate the pizza capital now! Are you going to add any of these places to your list? And do you also like to have a jam-packed itinerary like me, or do you prefer to take it slow? Let me know in the comments below!