The first stop on my big Italian adventure was Naples. This is a much less touristy city, with lots to offer if you’re willing to look past its rougher edges. If you love Italy, and you want to feel fully immersed in southern Italian life, this is a fascinating place to go.
I travelled with my long-time friend Steph. Eight days of the trip were part of the Gadventures “Local Living Italy – Amalfi Coast” tour, while our first night in Naples and last four days in Rome were independently planned by us. This was an amazing tour, and I cannot say enough good things about it.
We were only in Naples for two nights, which is not nearly enough time to experience Italy’s third largest city. So my observations in this post are based solely on first impressions, and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert.
Tip 1: Look in all directions. There’s an old saying about Naples – “Vedi Napoli e poi muori!” or in English, “See Naples and die.” The intention is that after you’ve seen Naples, you can die because you’ll never see another more beautiful city. In the modern day, you can interpret this phrase literally. If you don’t watch where you are going, you might get run over by a scooter. You have to be constantly vigilant. Even on a side street. There’s no such thing as a relaxing stroll through this city.
With that being said, the city is a visual feast, showcasing Italians’ daily lives. We watched families piled on a single Vespa – young kids without helmets, clutching mamma’s waist – unfazed while zooming down busy streets. Look up and see laundry hanging from almost every balcony, often with pulley systems going up multiple stories. You need not wonder what kind of underwear your neighbour is wearing – it’s on full display. Shopkeepers stand outside their stores, smoking cigarettes and watching the world go by, or gesturing while having animated calls on their cell phones.
Particularly delightful are the street shrines in almost every alleyway. One such shrine even had a life-sized Jesus (alas, not pictured). Here are some examples:
Graffiti in Italy often contains love messages or in this case, an adorable painting of a llama:
Tip 2: Don’t expect a peaceful night’s sleep. The night air is punctuated by the sound of accelerating Vespas, children wailing, men arguing in rapid-fire Italian, horns honking and dogs barking…all night long. On our second night, at around 4 am, a series of loud banging sounds went off. We were reassured the following morning that this was fireworks, and not a shoot-out. Apparently, Neapolitans believe in fireworks for all occasions – holidays, birthdays, Mondays.
Tip 3: Get ready to speak Italian. Naples offers the perfect opportunity to test out your Italian. Unlike northern Italy, our driver to the hotel explained that southern Italians often study Spanish instead of English in school. So if you start speaking Italian to a Neapolitan, they will respond accordingly.
Tip 4: Bring a map (or have one saved on your phone). The photo below perfectly illustrates why you will get lost in Naples:
Tip 5: Must love dogs. We saw so many pooches – hanging out the windows of Fiats, peering down over balconies, or running through the cobblestone streets. Neapolitan dogs live free and die young, unneutered and often unleashed. There were almost as many pet supply stores as gelato shops.
Tip 6: Watch life unfold in a piazza. Get some gelato, sit on a bench, and take in this city. As though from another era, children still play in the squares, kicking around a ball or throwing food at the pigeons, squabbling with each other and getting scolded by their parents.
Italy also takes its national security seriously. Every large piazza has at least two heavily armed military personnel with an accompanying jeep. This is a change from my last visit to Italy 9 years ago, but you can take in the view while knowing they’ve got your back. No, you cannot take pictures with the soldiers.
Tip 7: Take the stairs. To enjoy the view, expect to sweat. Steph and I decided to check out Castel Sant’Elmo. We didn’t realize just how many steps would be involved in this venture. According to the fitness app on Steph’s phone, we climbed 53 flights of stairs. My legs were literally shaking by the time we reached the top. But check out the view:
Upon reaching the top, you can find some family run cameo shops, with beautiful jewellery – perfect for souvenirs or gifts. Fortunately, there are also places to grab food, and more importantly, water – because you will definitely need some. There’s also nothing like eating pizza in Naples (the birthplace of pizza) while looking out over Mount Vesuvius and the coast.
Steph and I went to Certosa e Museo di San Martino (Charterhouse and Museum of St. Martin). There was an interesting display of nativity scenes inside, from miniature to life-sized, as well as beautiful garden views and an ancient courtyard. Here are some pics:
Tip 8: If you order fish, no part is spared. I learned this the hard way. If you order a fish dish, it will come with the whole fish, eyeballs and all. They do this so that you can see that it is fresh. It also affords you the opportunity to look your meal in the eye. You can ask for it to then be skinned and deboned, although there will still be many tiny bones in the body of the fish. No, I (regretfully) don’t have a photo of the shiny fish I downed. No, I did not eat the eyeballs.
Tip 9: Drop the paranoia. So many blogs and articles make it sound like you will inevitably get mugged while walking through Naples. As with many large European cities, you want to exercise caution, and this might not be the city to walk around with a huge camera around your neck. With that being said, Steph and I felt relatively safe while walking around the city centre and had no unfortunate incidents, nor were we harassed.
We had to wait in the train station for a couple of hours while en route to Rome and were impressed by how modern the station was. There are multiple cafes and gift shops, including a large bookstore (very similar to Indigo) and clothing stores.
In hindsight, I wish I’d taken way more photos of this lively city and its exuberant inhabitants, but I was spending too much time dodging the scooters.
To finish off, here are some pics from our artsy hotel (Hotel Correra 241). This place had a delicious breakfast included. I had figs and prosciutto in combination for the first time, and haven’t stopped craving it since. They also offered delicious sfogliatelle, a pastry native to the region.