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Napoli is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is one of the largest cities in Italy after Milan, Rome and Torino. The port in Napoli is the second largest in the world after the port of Hong Kong. For tourists especially interested in history, you might be surprised to learn that UNESCO lists 448 historical churches in the historic center of Napoli; the highest number of any other city in the world. This alone makes Napoli one of the most historical cities in the world. Yet, many people that travel to Italy don’t visit this city.
Naples, Italy is constantly branded as a “dangerous city” or people advise you it’s not worth the visit, etc, the reasons are many. I really cannot understand these comments. Napoli is just another gorgeous city of many found in Italy. Don’t be fooled by misperception or the fear of the unknown and take it from me. Napoli is no more or less dangerous than any other city in Italy. Let me show you why you need to visit.
I first traveled here from Portugal in the Summer of 2013. I left towards the end of my summer days in Portugal to visit my Napolitano friend, Gianluigi. We first met at the University of Connecticut while playing soccer versus each other. After a day trip to Boston together I knew this was a cool guy. When Thanksgiving rolled around in the U.S. and I knew he would be alone for the holiday, I drove to pick him up and bring him to my large Portuguese family gathering to celebrate the American holiday. There are rare moments when you realize you have a best friend in the making in your company. This was one of those moments.
I booked the flight to Rome while in Portugal and the high speed train ticket I would need from Rome to Napoli (flights directly to Napoli are much more expensive). During the flight I ironically made friends with another guy from Napoli and a Brazilian guy. Raffaele secured a few shuttle bus tickets for us (about €8) to get from Fiumicino Airport to the center of Rome. Just look for the kiosk or stand selling them or walk outside and ask around for where the shuttle arrives and you can buy the ticket on the bus. Ignore the taxi cab hustlers trying to charge you €40-50 for the one-way trip. Another option, if it’s not under construction or too late at night is the train (also reasonably priced).
The shuttles final destination is Termini, a major metro/train station. From here you can catch the train to Napoli Centrale. You may instead have to take the train from Roma Tiburtina depending on the time you depart from Rome. I took the very nice, sleek high speed Italo Train round trip for €40. The trip took one-hour each way. When I arrived, Gianluigi was happily waiting for me. Neither of us could believe I was there!
He picked me up, so I did not deal with transport from the station. But as always, choose a taxi already there waiting and avoid “radio” taxis. Or, take the above ground tram for €1-2.
That same day I arrived in Napoli the futbol teams from our respected cities played each other in a friendly match. Naturally, we were at the stadium to see the match between S.S.C. Napoli and S.L. Benfica. I did not stay in the heart of Napoli with Gian, but with his family on the outskirts. I enjoyed a motorcycle ride on his Ducati, his very Italian family making sure I was stuffed to the brim with overly delicious food, and the constant comments of “he could be Italian” with warm smiles.
Okay, now, what should you see or do in Napoli?
First and foremost you should wander the narrow streets of the historic center. In particular, the city-dissecting street called Spaccanapoli. You will find an array of shops, fresh food, amazing pizzerias, baroque churches, Roman ruins, and Italian charm. If you are fortunate you will wander into a pizzeria containing a shrine to the great Diego Maradona which includes a framed locket of hair.
Wandering by the coastline you will find two castles, Castel dell’Ovo and Castel Nuovo, among the pretty shoreline vistas.
Stunning views over the islet of Nisida (part of the Flegrean Island archipelago) can be seen from Parco Virgiliano. It’s also a great place to relax. You will probably need a taxi to get here as it is outside the center of Naples.
Piazza del Plebiscito is one of the more photographed areas of Napoli. It’s a massive square that’s worth taking a stroll through.
Iconic views over Napoli can be seen by taking a walk to Posillipo hill and climbing it by means of a paved path. Stop at the terrace in front of the Sant’Anotnio church. This is where you will be able to take in the beauty of Napoli.
Another lookout point over the city is at the Largo San Martino. A museum is located here as well. I did not go in so I cannot recommend or dissuade you from going inside!
You cannot visit Napoli and not trip to Mount Vesuvius. Mount Vesuvius is the standout view from Napoli and is probably one of the most famous volcanoes in the world after it destroyed the city of Pompeii and Herculaneum. To get to Vesuvius from Napoli you can drive; take the train (using the Circumvesuviana railway (Sorrento line) to Ercolano (Scavi) then follow the Ercolano instructions) by buying tickets on the bottom level of Stazione Centrale; or by direct bus from Stazione Centrale.
Climbing Mount Vesuvius is an obligation much like climbing Fujisan in Japan. The climb to Vesuvius’s peak is beyond easy. The path is very clearly marked and free of any obstacles. Just bring plenty of water in the summer months because it will be very hot. The hike to the top should take about an hour.
I unfortunately did not get the chance to visit the archeological site of Pompeii, but what I hear is that it is an absolute must visit.
Lastly, you cannot leave Napoli without eating a classic Neapolitan pizza. Napoli is the birthplace of pizza and I say in all seriousness that you have not had a real pizza until you have eaten pizza from Napoli. This pizza is only made with San Marzano tomatoes that grow on the southern plains of Mount Vesuvius, mozzarella di bufala Campana, and fresh basil.
If you want to sentence yourself to death like me, you will on one occasion at least order a pizza with “toppings” as Gian says. This is absolutely unacceptable to a true Napolitano apparently. Gian was not pleased… One of the best parts? A Neapolitan Pizza here costs about €5-7 and you’ll probably struggle to finish the whole thing.
This post is dedicated to Gian. Thank you for hosting me at your wonderful home, playing tour guide for a week, introducing me to your awesome friends, and making me fall in love with Italy. Até a próxima meu amigo.
Photography by: Philip Moreira Photography