Travelers to Italy generally have Rome, Venice, Milan, and the Amalfi Coast on their minds, but little attention is given to Naples. This is a mistake. Located 2 hours south of Rome in southern Italy, Naples is situated along the Bay of Naples under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Its historic downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is dotted with archaeological treasures, magnificent palaces, and impressive architecture. Visitors won’t want to miss the Royal Palace of Naples, the frescoes of Duomo di San Gennaro Cathedral, or the 13th century Castel Nuovo. These 25 things to do and see in Naples will make visitors wonder why they didn’t come here sooner.
1.National Archaeological Museum
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The National Archaeological Museum in Naples was established at the end of the 18th century by King Charles VII of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty. The king commissioned the museum to house antiquities his mother left him as an inheritance. They became the museum’s Farnese Collection. Three other collections at the museum include the treasures from Herculaneum and Pompeii, gifts to the museum from minor collections, and items from archaeological excavations in Naples. Must-see highlights of the museum include the sculpted Toro Farnese (the Farnese Bull), Ercole Farnese (the Farnese Hercules), the mosaics on the mezzanine level, and the Farnese Atlas (Atlas carrying the celestial spheres) on the first level.
Piazza Museo, 19, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-08-14-42-21-49
2.Royal Palace of Naples
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The Royal Palace of Naples is situated downtown along one side of the Piazza del Plebiscito. The first striking feature about the palace is the exquisite double staircase leading to the Museum of Furnishings in what was once the palace’s royal apartments. Here, visitors can peruse the collection of neoclassical and baroque furnishings, tapestries, paintings, sculptures, and porcelain. Other highlights include a lavish theater – Teatrino di Corte – as well as a royal chapel known as Capella Royale, with a nativity scene from the 18th century, and the National Library – Biblioteca Nazionale – where visitors will find fragments of a Coptic Bible dating back to the 5th century as well as a 2,000-year-old papyrus.
Piazza del Plebiscito, 1, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-08-15-80-82-55
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The Flavian Amphitheater of Pozzuoli comes in third behind the Amphitheater of Capua and the Roman Colosseum when it comes to large-scale coliseums. The ancient oval amphitheater is situated at the intersection of two dominant streets in Pozzuoli – one of them leading to Naples. Divided into three levels, it’s similar to sports stadiums today. The ima is the arena level seating with the best seats, the media section is above it where the middle class sat, and the suma is the highest and least favorable section, where women and children sat. It is encircled by a wide, pillared portico. Tickets also provide entrance to Phlegrean Fields Museum and Cuma Archaeological Park.
Corso Nicola Terracciano, 75, Pozzuoli, Italy, Phone: +39-08-15-26-60-07
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Castel Nuovo, also known as Maschio Angioino, is a 13th century castle completed in 1282 for the new Charles I of the House of Anjou. Realizing how vast his possessions were, he needed a central ruling location, and Naples was it. The castle was popular among those in the intellectual class. Charles I was also a patron of great artists like Giotto, whose fragmented frescoes can still be seen on the chapel window splays. A must-see are the Roman ruins visible through a glass floor in the Armoury Hall. Other highlights include Neapolitan paintings from the 17th to 20th centuries, especially those on the top floor – Luigi Crisconio’s landscapes and Carlo Vanvitelli’s watercolors.
Via Vittorio Emanuele III, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-08-17-95-77-22
5.Pausilypon Archaeological Park
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Pausilypon Archaeological Park sits high atop Posillipo Hill. Some of what was at one time a 22-acre villa is now underwater. What remains dates back to the 1st century BC through the 4th century AD. Visitor access to the villa is via a nearly half-mile (770-meter) tunnel called the Seiano Grotto. Tunnels originally connected villas to each other and Naples to other ports. Once inside the villa, visitors will see the remains of an amphitheater seating 2,000. In keeping with Greek theaters, it follows the natural slope of the hillside. Other highlights at the site include the Odeion – a small theater used for intimate musical and poetic performances – as well as a temple, a nymphaeum, a vineyard, and a thermal bathhouse.
L’ingresso è dalla Grotta di Seiano, Discesa Coroglio, 36, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-08-12-30-10-30
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The 12th century Castel dell’Ovo, which translates to Castle of the Egg, is the oldest castle in Naples. Allegedly, its unusual name is owed to Virgil, a Roman poet, who is said to have buried an egg there saying Naples and the castle would fall when the egg broke. Situated on tiny Borgo Marinaro, it’s the primary reason for visiting the islet. Visitors who climb to the ramparts will experience epic views. The castle is host to occasional temporary art exhibitions and other community events. It is also a popular wedding spot. There is an array of trendy restaurants on the islet offering sea views.
Via Eldorado, 3, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-08-17-95-45-93
7.Vesuvius National Park
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Avid hikers will adore Vesuvius National Park. Wrapped around the active volcano complex Somma-Vesuvius, the park has a reach of over 83 square miles with 13 towns and nine distinctive hiking trails. Those wanting to hike to the crater’s edge could start with Trail 1 – the Valle dell’Inferno – and continue on Trail 5 – The Gran Cono – up to the edge of the crater. Each of the park’s 13 municipalities has something different to offer visitors, from the enchanting medieval district of Trocchia to the Golden Mile of Ercolano to Boscotrecase, the closest town to the Pompeii ruins; there is so much history and culture to explore.
City of Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-08-18-65-39-11
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Galleria Borbonica, or the Bourbon Tunnel, is an 1853 tunnel that connects Palazzo Reale to the military barracks and to the sea. It was the idea of Ferdinand II to have an escape route that followed the 17th century Carmignano aqueduct system. During World War II, the underground tunnel system doubled as a shelter during air raids and as a military hospital. Tours start at the Morelli parking area near the second entrance to the tunnels. Regular tours don’t need advanced reservations. The 80-minute Adventure Tour is a combination walk/raft tour that must be pre-booked. History and archaeology buffs may prefer the 2.5-hour Speleo Tour, which is for adults only.
Via Domenico Morelli 40, Parcheggio Morelli, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-08-17-64-58-08
9.Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano
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Zevallos Palace was turned into an opulent museum in 2014. It’s the sister of two other Italian museums, one at Milan’s Gallerie di Piazza Scala and the other at Vicenza’s Palazzo Leoni Montanari. It was originally built by the Duke of Ostuni in 1639, and it has changed hands numerous times over the centuries. Today, it houses artworks from the 17th to 20th centuries, primarily Italian and Neapolitan. One must-see at the museum is The Martyrdom of St. Ursula, the famous final painting by Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. There are historical paintings, landscape paintings, and terracotta and bronze sculptures – 120 works in all.
Via Toledo, 185, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-08-17-91-73-92
10.San Gregorio Armeno
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Visitors to San Gregorio Armeno can indulge in the wide-eyed glee of Christmas all year long. This street of shops specializes in artisan Christmas nativity items. Visiting off-season, of course, means a more leisurely pace. Travelers can anticipate ample time to watch the artisans in action as they create nativity sets in their own styles. From whimsical celebrity figurines and parody characters to serious masterpieces by second or third generation skilled craftsmen, the choices are vast. Visitors will find nativity pieces and scenes in a wide variety of sizes from miniature to giant. Visiting during the weeks before Christmas is magical, when many people flock to the street out of tradition.
Via S. Gregorio, Armeno, 1, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-08-15-52-01-86
11.Naples Underground Geothermal Zone
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This guided tour of the underground aqueduct system of Naples descends to a depth of over 130 feet. Participants will explore the cavities, tanks, and labyrinth of Naples’s tunnels while guides share their history, legends, stories, mysteries, and myths. Tours are family-friendly. Some of the tour is by candlelight, and a few tunnels are extremely narrow, which may be uncomfortable for some people. Keep in mind that the tunnels are a near constant 62°F with 90% humidity. Travelers should meet at Piazza Trieste e Trento. Tours in English are on Saturdays and Sundays, and there is an Italian-only tour on Thursdays.
Vico S. Anna di Palazzo, 52, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-0-81-40-02-56
12.Zoo di Napoli
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The 25-acre Naples Zoo (Zoo di Napoli), located on the city’s west side, has been entertaining and educating visitors since the 1940s. Like many zoos, it not only introduces guests to a large number of animals, but it does it in a vast botanical garden where unique and colorful plants from around the world are on full display, creating an exotic ambience. There are more than 400 animals here, including tigers, zebras, camels, elephants, leopards, and many more species. This kid-friendly zoo also hosts events during the year, like Darwin Day in February where kids can learn about evolution, and World Water Day in March where kids learn about water through play and experimentation.
Viale John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 76, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-0-81-19-36-31-54
13.Museo di Capodimonte
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Located in the Palace of Capodimonte, the Museo di Capodimonte is one of the biggest and most important galleries in Italy. Its collection of art comprises the Farnese collection as well as a series of paintings received from Neapolitan churches, including two Caravaggio masterpieces, one of which is the iconic Flagellation of Christ. They also boast paintings from the Ligurian - Provencal school and from 15th century Verona and Tuscany as well as works from the Veneto and Emilia schools from the 16th to 18th centuries. Additional collections include works by Flemish painters and mannerists during the 15th and 16th centuries and a series of paintings from the Neapolitan school from the 15th century to the 17th century.
Via Miano, 2, 80131 Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-08-17-49-91-11
© Cappella Sansevero
Located in the historic center of Naples, Cappella Sansevero is a true gem of the world’s artistic heritage. The chapel was originally built at the end of the 16th century to serve as the resting place for the di Sangro family, but received a magnificent Masonic-inspired baroque-style facelift between 1749 and 1766 by Prince Raimondo di Sangro, who was known as the Leonardo di Vinci of his time. During these years he also commissioned the best artists of the 18th century to decorate its interior. Among its many priceless pieces are numerous artistic wonders including the sculpture Cristo Velato (Veiled Christ) created by Giuseppe Sanmartino and the sculpture Disinganno (Disillusion) by Francesco Queirolo.
Via de Sanctis Francesco, 19/21, 80134 Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-08-15-51-84-70
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The Museo Mediterraneo dell’Arte, della Musica e delle Tradizioni, more commonly referred to as MAMT, is located in a wing of the former Grand Hotel de Londres, a historic building. It was established by the Fondazione Mediterraneo to “experience in an interactive way, the positive emotions of Our Sea through Arts, Music, and Traditions.” Exhibitions such as the Last Neapolitan Supper; a Sea, Three Faiths, and Peace; as well as the Ferrigno Nativity Scene are among its most prominent attractions. Additional artists’ works displayed include those by Mario Molinari, John Crown, Pino Daniele, Marco Introini, Vittorio di Pace, and Alvaro Siza.
Via Depretis, 130, Vicino Metro e Municipio, Naples, Italy, Phone: +39-34-08-06-29-08
16.Piazza San Domenico Maggiore
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Piazza San Domenico Maggiore is Naples’s most popular plaza, a lively gathering place for university students, tourists, and people watchers. On one side is the stunning San Domenico Maggiore Church, from which the piazza gets its name. The piazza is encircled by palazzi on three of its sides. An alleyway on the church’s side leads a short distance to Sansevero Chapel, another must-see. Palazzo Corigliano, part of the university, is along another side, and Palazzo Petrucci is on the third side, where visitors will find Ristorante Palazzo Petrucci – a Michelin-starred restaurant. There are lots of outdoor cafés lining the piazza. The locally famous bakery, Scaturchio’s, serves delectable puff pastries, rum cakes, and St. Joseph’s Day fritters.
Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, 1, 80134 Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-0-81-40-52-00
17.San Domenico Maggiore
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Situated along one side of popular San Domenico Maggiore Piazza, a popular tourist hub, is San Domenico Maggiore, arguably Naples’s most beautiful church. This 14th century church (completed in 1324) is home to a large convent complex and monastery, where Saint Thomas Aquinas studied. A major highlight here is just past the Saint’s Chapel (one of 24 chapels) in the nave’s sacristy, where visitors will see the fresco Triumph of Faith over Heresy by the Dominicans, painted on the ceiling by Francesco Solimena. Other highlights include fragments of Giotto-esque frescoes dating to the 14th century, sculptures from the 16th century, and a baroque ceiling and high altar from the 17th century.
Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, 8A, 80134 Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-0-81-45-92-98
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Palazzo Venezia is one of the highlights of a stroll along Spaccanapoli Street in the city’s historic center, along with Filomarino Palace, Petrucci Palace, and Carafa della Spina Palace. The palace, completed in 1412, was given to the Republic of Venice by the Neapolitan king Ladislao I. Today, the Pompeian-style palace is host to numerous exhibitions, but the terraced garden is the real must-see attraction here. Nestled between the palace and the San Domenico Maggiore cloister, the garden, in classic Neapolitan form, is a world of its own apart from the bustling neighborhood. Visitors will experience narrow paths connecting intimate, contemplative spaces infused with tranquility.
Via Benedetto Corce, n. 19, Naples, Italy, Phone: 08-15-52-87-39
19. Museo Nazionale di San Martino
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Located atop Vomero Hill in the monastery complex of San Martino, the National Museum of San Martino is one of Naples’s most significant museums. Visitors will find a church, charterhouse, and beautiful landscaping along with a terraced garden in the monastery complex. The museum makes use of 70 halls in the monks’ former home to display 13th century to 19th century sculptures and paintings, folk art exhibits, and more. A highlight of the museum is the Cuciniello crib (Presepe Cuciniello), regarded as one of the world’s best nativity scenes, with over 150 figures and 450 items. It can be found among the museum’s collection of nativity scenes. Visitors to the terraced gardens are rewarded with expansive views of the Gulf of Naples.
Largo S. Martino, 5, 80129 Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-08-12-29-45-03
20.Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro
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Adjacent to the Cathedral of Naples, visitors will find the beloved Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro. It is not only the city’s legacy from their patron saint, but it is also regarded as having one of the world’s most spectacular collections of jewels. The 18th century Mitre de San Gennaro with 3,328 diamonds, an impressive 198 emeralds, plus 168 rubies – 3,694 jewels in total – is in itself worth a visit to the museum. Visitors will also appreciate stunning bronze busts, a gilded sedan chair from the 18th century, and precious 17th century frescoes painted by Giacomo Farelli and Luca Giordano.
Via Duomo, 149, 80138 Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-0-81-29-49-80
21.Catacombs of San Gennaro
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Outside of Rome, the Catacombs of San Gennaro are thought to be the most impressive paleo-Christian ruins of southern Italy. Once three separate cemeteries – San Gennaro, San Gaudioso, and San Severo – they are now collectively known as the catacombs. Visitors will find this significant historic site below Capodimonte in the city’s northern region. There are two levels, with the lower level being the oldest and holding the remains of Naples’s Bishop Agrippinus. The second level is where the three previous cemeteries merge. The 5th century remains of St. Januarius were once entombed there, but were moved to the Cathedral of Naples, where they still are today. Access is in an alleyway along the Madre del Buon Consiglio church.
Via Capodimonte, 13, Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-08-17-44-37-14
22.Fontanelle Cemetery Caves
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Fontanelle Cemetery Caves are a mixture of natural caves, ancient tunnels built by both Greeks and Romans, and tufa mines turned ossuary. During a 1656 plague outbreak and cholera outbreaks during the 1830s, the dead were tossed into the ossuary with little regard and no ritual. Eventually, after a rain-induced flood which caused numerous bones and skulls to be washed onto the streets of Naples, Fr. Gaetano Barbati organized and catalogued the remains. During WWII, the ossuary became a bomb shelter for the living. Following the war, it developed a cult following that caused the Cardinal of Naples to close it to the public. Today, visitors can tour the ossuary by appointment.
Via Fontanelle, 80, Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-08-17-95-61-60
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Nearly ten million passengers annually take advantage of Naples’s Funicolore Centrale. First opened in 1928, the funicular was designed to ease traffic between Naples’s lower central precincts and Piazza Vanvitelli. Visitors will find four stations along the line, which stretches 4,167 feet. It ascends a 558-foot elevation, stopping from bottom to top at Piazza Fuga, then Petraio, next Corso Vittorio Emmanuel, and finally Piazza Vanvitelli. The train capacity is 450 passengers, and the trip from bottom to top takes about 5 minutes. Since it is a major mode of transportation for working Neapolitans, visitors may want to experience it on the weekend, when the number of passengers drops from 28,000 daily to 10,000 daily.
Piazzetta Duca D’Aosta, Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-08-13-94
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Gabinetto Segreto, translated as the Secret Cabinet but also known as the Secret Museum, is located in its own section of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Beyond the museum’s favorite classics Toro Farnese, Farnese Ercole, the mosaics, and Farnese Atlas, a separate area displays the erotic art of Herculaneum and Pompeii excavations. Its long history of being a hidden collection available only to men with the money to bribe museum staff made it a rite of passage for many to view its contents. Finally made available to the general public in 2000, it was moved to its own space in the museum in 2005. Visitors can expect erotic statuary, paintings, mosaics, and all things phallic here.
Via San Carlo, 9, Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-0-81-40-23-94
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Castel Sant’Elmo is an imposing medieval fortress that sits high on top of a hill overlooking Naples. Named for St. Erasmus, the church it once was, it was made into a castle by Robert of Anjou in 1349, and into a fortress by Don Pedro de Toledo in 1538. In the 1970s it became a prison for Italy’s military. Today, it’s known for the Museo del Novecento, the contemporary Neapolitan art museum located there, and for its extraordinary panoramic views. Visitors to the museum will experience a collection of sculptures, paintings, and installations that reflect Naples’s contemporary art scene.
Via Tito Angelini, 20, Napoli, Italy, Phone: +39-06-39-96-70-50
25 Best Things to Do in Naples, Italy
- National Archaeological Museum, Photo: Courtesy of ArTo - Fotolia.com
- Royal Palace of Naples, Photo: Courtesy of chicco79 - Fotolia.com
- Flavian Amphitheater, Photo: Courtesy of Karin Witschi - Fotolia.com
- Castel Nuovo, Photo: Courtesy of romas_ph - Fotolia.com
- Pausilypon Archaeological Park, Photo: Courtesy of francesca sciarra - Fotolia.com
- Castel dell'Ovo, Photo: Courtesy of riccardomotti - Fotolia.com
- Vesuvius National Park, Photo: Courtesy of gdvcom - Fotolia.com
- Galleria Borbonica, Photo: Courtesy of angelo chiariello - Fotolia.com
- Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, Photo: Courtesy of Enrico Della Pietra - Fotolia.com
- San Gregorio Armeno, Photo: Courtesy of photogolfer - Fotolia.com
- Naples Underground Geothermal Zone, Photo: Courtesy of angelo chiariello - Fotolia.com
- Zoo di Napoli, Photo: Courtesy of filippo - Fotolia.com
- Museo di Capodimonte, Photo: Courtesy of Rick Henzel - Fotolia.com
- Cappella Sansevero, Photo: Cappella Sansevero
- MAMT, Photo: Courtesy of schankz - Fotolia.com
- Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, Photo: Courtesy of elephotos - Fotolia.com
- San Domenico Maggiore, Photo: Courtesy of photogolfer - Fotolia.com
- Palazzo Venezia, Photo: Courtesy of Enrico Della Pietra - Fotolia.com
- Museo Nazionale di San Martino, Photo: Courtesy of anghifoto - Fotolia.com
- Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro, Photo: Courtesy of fan1975 - Fotolia.com
- Catacombs of San Gennaro, Photo: Courtesy of Matyas Rehak - Fotolia.com
- Fontanelle Cemetery Caves, Photo: Courtesy of ssviluppo - Fotolia.com
- Funicolore Centrale, Photo: Courtesy of sphraner - Fotolia.com
- Gabinetto Segreto, Photo: Courtesy of schank - Fotolia.com
- Castel Sant'Elmo, Photo: Courtesy of fusolino - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of lucianofochi - Fotolia.com