Charming, beautiful, heartbreaking and gritty, Naples, Italy, is a torrid love affair you’re meant to explore for a day or a lifetime. For centuries, locals and visitors alike have constantly proved the proverb “See Naples and Die” true. Napoli is a city that never leaves you and, for some, it is a destination that proves impossible to leave. But sometimes I only have just a day, make that 9 hours, to enjoy this seaside siren. For all you day-trippers, here are my Cinderella tips to a day enjoying Napoli.
The When and How
Naples is amazing any time of the year. My favourite months to visit are October through May because June, July, August and even September are months where the sun is hot and the temperatures soar. I also particular love walking around the city during feste (religious holidays and festivals) like , September 19 Feast of San Gennaro (the patron saint of Naples), when the city crowds into the Naples Cathedral. From Advent Sunday (first Sunday in December) to Ash Wednesday, Naples is a carnival of celebrations.
A day trip to Naples from Rome is as easy as a train ride, especially on Italy’s high-velocity rail service. Just 70 minutes from Roma Termini to Napoli Centrale, there are departures every hour on Italy (www.italotreno.com) and Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com), both are stylish, comfortable and equipped with free Wi-Fi. Would I drive? Nah, it’s faster on a train.
What to do in Naples
Plan Your Pizza
Probably the best reason for a day trip to Naples is for pizza. Don’t kid yourself that you know pizza, you don’t until you’ve been to Naples. These days most pizzeria offer creative toppings that can reflect the local flavours, but I say, keep it simple. Get a margherita (mozzarella and red sauce) and a marinara, a no-cheese pizza with Napoli’s delicious marinara sauce seasoned with oregano and garlic.
If you are visiting Naples for just a few hours, you must plan your itinerary based on exactly when and where you be eating pizza. Local favorites, such as Da Michele, Gino Sorbillo, Pizzeria La Notizia 94 and 50 Kalò, all have queues, especially around lunchtime.Make sure to give yourself at least 30 minutes of waiting in line. And just to be on the safe side, bring euros — not all pizza joints accept credit cards.
And you’ll want to keep your change for Napoli’s pizza street food- fried pizza, pizza al portafoglio
There is so much to see in Napoli, and the best way to take it all in is by foot. The historic center is a massive UNESCO World Heritage Site and an overlap of history for its Greek foundations to 20th century palace. The centro has the unique characteristic of being split in half by a decumanus, an ancient road which overtime is the Spaccanapoli meaning “split Naples:. The long and narrow Via San Biagio dei Librai is the road to walk.
Follow the art
When ever I walk around Naples, I find amazing street art. You can’t miss Piazza San Domenico Maggiore and the larger-than-life mural of San Gennaro by street artist Jorit Agoch, and then keep looking. There is a great art from across the ages everywhere. There is a hidden Caravaggio -The Seven Works of Mercy – in Pio Monte della Misericordia, while The Flagellation of Christ hangs in Capodimonte Museum. Caravaggio’s St. Ursula is part of the Galleria d’Italia collection an incredible collection of Intesa San Paolo currently in Palazzo Zevallos Stigliana , a gorgeous early 20th-century former bank.
Contemporary art lovers make way to the Madre, Naples’ contemporary museum, or head to the Naples Metro, where the stations are art exhibitions, site specific installations by international artists like William Kentridge, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Anish Kapoor and Sol Le Witt. Kids and romantics will want to visit one of the city’s numerous medieval castles, such as Castel Sant’Elmo and Castel dell’Ovo.
For a truly Neapolitan way to finish off your meal, stop by the historic Gran Caffe Gambrinus for an espresso and a fresh pastry (like a fragrant rum babà — a rum-soaked cake — or flaky cannoli) and then enjoy the beautiful Piazza del Plebiscito.
Explore the history of Naples
Naples can be chaotic and, sometimes, the best solution is to head underground to explore the city’s ancient origins. Miles of subterranean tunnels, carved by early Greek settlers, lie beneath the city’s surface. Expanded by the Romans, the underground metropolis was used up until the 20th century, when it served as an air raid shelter during both World Wars. All of this history is hidden from the modern surface, but can be explored with Napoli Sotterranea.
For a deeper dive into the city’s past, plan a pit stop at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli to dig into its impressive collection of Greco-Roman art and artifacts. Among the exhibits, you’ll find pieces from Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as the racy Gabinetto Segreto (secret cabinet).
A version of the article appeared in Forbes Travel, May 2018.