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The 20 best things to do in Naples

Italy’s third city is in the midst of a renaissance. Get around with our ultimate guide to the best things to do in Naples

Written by
Ashleigh Arnott
,
Kate Lloyd
&
Sophia Seymour
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Few places in Italy pique the curiosity quite like its third most populous city. Naples once had a reputation for being a city unto itself, rogue and violent all in one, but the assumptions you might have about the Neapolitan stunner need shaking up. Naples today isn’t the Naples of long ago media reports.

So what of the city today? What are the very best things to do in Naples? Sure, it feels very lived-in. But that leads to authenticity and charm as opposed to the identikit experience of more-visited cities further north. Naples is Naples, and defiantly so, all old-world knowledge and new-world energy with back-alleys peppered with laundry and markets brimming with sweet-smelling local produce. Make no mistake, this is a city that lives and breathes in its streets.

It is also a city with history oozing from every one of its pores. You’ll feel it in the narrow, cobbled streets and in the many bars, restaurants, pizzerias and galleries that dot the city and believe us, you’ll be spending plenty of time frequenting those. The cherry on this particularly addictive cake is the backdrop, a stunning scene with Vesuvius to the east, the ancient port of Pozzuoli to the west and the timeless islands of Ischia, Procida and Capri nestled in the glittering bay.

Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList and tag @TimeOutEverywhere. Find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world. 

Best things to do in Naples

What is it? Behind the restored Gothic basilica of the same name, you’ll find this network of cloisters belonging to the closed order of Santa Chiara. Bombed by the Allies during the Second World War, the vast complex’s walkways are lined with blossoming orange trees and covered in bright majolica tiles depicting typical 18th-century Neapolitan scenes.

Why go? Bang in the city’s chaotic centre, the ornately decorated cloisters provide a much-needed slice of calm  after a long day avoiding mopeds and three-wheeler Piaggio Apes.

What is it? A world-class museum of modern art that’s named after the 14th-century Gothic church within its walls. Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina’s beautiful main building holds site-specific works by Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and many other superstars of the visual arts.

Why go? You might, at some point, want to gaze appreciatively at something that’s not older than Italy itself. If you need a reason to visit a world-class art gallery, that's on you.

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What is it? A stunning medieval fortress sat on a hill overlooking the city, providing the best views of Naples and plenty of space for reflection. The funicular journey up is pretty spectacular too. 

Why go? For the panoramic views from the top. Take the Centrale line from Augusteo to Petraio then walk to the medieval Castel Sant’Elmo. The tangle of Naples city centre’s buildings is framed by the sea on one side and Vesuvius on the other.

Via San Gregorio Armeno
Photograph: Flickr / Umberto Rotundo

4. Via San Gregorio Armeno

What is it? The city’s most famous alleyway, dedicated to the selling of kitsch nativity souvenirs.

Why go? Sneak away from the crowds into the hidden cloister of the San Gregorio Armeno church, with its grand 17th-century enclosed garden filled with citrus trees. It’s only open for two hours in the morning before the nuns reclaim it for themselves.

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Via dei Tribunali
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Mattia Luigi Nappi

5. Via dei Tribunali

What is it? One of the few things all Neapolitans can agree on is that the best pizza can be found on Via Tribunali. You can get the signature fluffy, charred dough anywhere along ‘Pizza Alley’, but if you have the patience to queue for Sorbillo, this Rolls Royce of pizza restaurants really shouldn’t be missed. 

Why go? To try the best pizza in the world: from world-famous Sorbillo to Figlio del Presidente, a favourite of Bill Clinton’s, to Di Matteo, who make the city’s tastiest arancini (rice balls).

What is it? Over in the west of the city a spacious piazza is home to the almost brutalist-looking façade of a church called Gesù Nuovo. Take some time out and explore its ridiculously opulent interiors.

Why go? Learn more about Dr Giuseppe Moscati, who dedicated his career in the early 19th century to healing the poor. Thanks to a miracle or two he was made a saint in 1987.

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What is it? A meeting point for the young and thirsty of Naples, this bar-lined square bubbles over with students, locals and tourists come aperitivo time (and beyond). There are some ancient ruins left casually unprotected – and often covered in rubbish – at the square’s centre.

Why go? The walls at Intra Moenia are covered with rows upon rows of vintage postcards and curios. Buy one to send home then claim a table outside to sit back and tipple as the crowds gather.

What is it? At the less heralded end of Via Tribunali in the Forcella district you’ll find the dinky chapel of Pio Monte della Misericordia, home to one of the only Caravaggio paintings still left in situ. 

Why go? Compete with your travelling partner to spot the ‘seven acts of mercy’ depicted in Caravaggio’s most famous Neapolitan work. Or work together, the world has enough competitive anger, after all.

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What is it? The Archaeological Museum houses Naples’s most significant collection of Roman remains and displays much of the loot uncovered during the digs at Pompeii and Herculaneum.  

Why go? It may hold a treasure trove of ancient artefacts and statues, which taken together pretty much laid the foundations for the western canon of art as we know it today, but it’s the erotic art from Pompeii hidden in a tucked-away room that’s the real draw here.

Caffè Mexico
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Kristina G.

10. Caffè Mexico

What is it? Popular with everyone from local workmen to holidaying yopros, Caffè Mexico is the best coffee bar in town (no small achievement when you consider the relationship Neapolitans have with the stuff). Drop by for an espresso, which in Naples generally comes sweetened unless you ask otherwise.

Why go? Its sunny yellow awning and bright orange espresso machine will perk you up as much as the caffeine does. Bring a good book, but the hum of local chatter will prove even more engaging.

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What is it? An imposing castle that rises out of the sea on a small island connected to the mainland by a footbridge, it overshadows a small marina filled with sailing boats and surrounded by a plethora of smart seafood restaurants.

Why go? Climb the ramparts of the Norman castle, which marks the site where Greek colonisers founded the first settlement here more than 2,500 years ago.

What is it? It’s not just pizza that Neapolitans nail. This seaside city is awash with fantastic seafood, and Mimi alla Ferrovia is a great place to eat a load of it. As well as traditional food done right this local favourite also boasts excellent house wine and staff who could moonlight as Naples tour guides.

Why go? One of the restaurant’s many famous customers was legendary tenor (and food enthusiast) Luciano Pavarotti. Eating here isn't going to give you pipes like the great man, but stranger things have happened.

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What is it? Designed by alchemist and inventor John Francesco di Sangro, this chapel is home to one of the most beguiling marble sculptures in the world: Jesus lying down on a bed with a veil over his face, as he takes his last living breaths. 

Why go? Di Sangro’s tiny chapel is ornately decorated with sculptures and artworks rich with symbolism. This is a place where paying attention brings rewards in spades. 

What is it? Beneath the heat and bustle of Naples’s streets is an old quarry that became a burial site in the 17th century when a plague wiped out 250,000 of the city’s residents. Though the Fontanelle cemetery’s piles of bones are undeniably unnerving, the local tradition of caring for a lost soul’s skull lends the place a very spiritual feel. The cemetery is currently closed but has plans to open again soon, depending on how the autumn goes...

Why go? Watch for the odd Italian nonna on her way to tend to her designated skeleton in the hope of releasing its soul to heaven in return for a wish.

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What is it? The only belief system to rival that of the church here is football, and its much-loved poster boy is Diego Maradona. Go to the stadium named after him (formerly the San Paolo Stadium) to watch SSC Napoli and you’ll likely be rewarded with a world-class match; they play in Italy’s top league, Serie A.

Why go? When surrounded by 50,000 fans all chanting for a goal you’re guaranteed goosebumps. Remember to make the pilgrimage to Bar Nilo afterwards to visit the reliquary containing a strand of Maradona’s hair.

Procida

What is it? Of the Bay of Naples’s three islands, it’s Capri that’s most absurdly beautiful, though that also means it’s constantly smothered in tourists. Ischia offers thermal spas, but it is Procida’s charming colourful houses and cobblestone streets that make it the under-the-radar offshore choice.

Why go? The pretty fishing village of Corricella had a starring role in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’, the most aesthetically pleasing of all Jude Law’s great works. Apart from ‘Chocolat', of course.

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Pompeii

What is it? You know about Pompeii already, of course, but it’s genuinely overwhelming in real life. The town’s perfectly preserved streets manage to remain eerie despite rivalling the footfall of Oxford Circus on a Saturday.

Why go? Always nice to be reminded that humans are ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature. Few things say carpe diem like the plaster cast of a corpse of a Pompeiian who’d been looting a jewellery shop. The more things change...

The Linea 1 Metro
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Andrea Favia

18. The Linea 1 Metro

What is it? The city’s primary metro line hosts a wide array of striking art installations – more than 180 one-off commissions by pioneering international artists such as Sol LeWitt, Joseph Kosuth and Michelangelo Pistoletto. 

Why go? The glittering silver-blue walls at Toledo metro station were designed to make you feel like you’re traversing through the ground and into the sea.

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What is it? A 2.5km strip of pedestrianised road that runs along the seafront, providing the perfect stress-free route for a stroll. Stop for lemon granita at the beach kiosks, claim a rock to sunbathe on or stop for a sundowner.

Why go? The views of Mount Vesuvius, Capri and Naples itself are spectacular. Add a photo-worthy sunset and you’re basically in heaven.

Herculaneum

What is it? Pompeii may have got all the glory (if being wiped out by a volcanic eruption can be considered in such a way) but nearby Herculaneum also got completely engulfed by lava and revealed even better-preserved scenes of everyday Roman life. A row of 12 boathouses, for instance, which were excavated in the 1990s, turned out to be the final hiding place of more than 300 people.

Why go? Though still popular with visitors, you actually get a bit of personal space at Herculaneum. What better way to get to grips with such gruesome (and fascinating) history.

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