The 7 Top Things to Do in Naplesby Dana McMahan | February 01, 2017
This frenetic southern Italian city in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius has a reputation as polluted, crime-ridden, and gritty. But it's also irresistible, a relentlessly colorful and exuberant city overflowing with delicious foods (yes, pizza!), ancient history, and modern excesses. Embrace the chaos, and chances are you will fall in love with Naples. Here are our seven favorite things to do in town.
1. Eat as much pizza as you can.
If you only do one thing in Naples, get yourself to a pizzeria. Here in its birthplace, the art of making pizza has been perfected by a lifetime of practice. Look for shops with the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association) symbol; only the pizzaiolo who follow tradition to the letter earn this designation. What does that mean for you? A pie hot from the oven worth that overnight flight. Our personal favorite: the montanara (made with flash fried dough, yet not at all greasy) at Starita, but there are dozens of choices.
2. Enter an underground maze.
Enter a parallel universe through a trap door by descending some 12 stories to Napoli Sotterranea, a maze of underground Greek and Roman ruins. This guided tour is a trip back in time through narrow passages (claustrophobes need not apply) and hollow areas far below modern Naples. For a self-guided underground tour at your own pace, visit the archaeological excavations in the San Lorenzo Maggiore complex.
3. Book an excursion to Pompeii.
Get out of town with a day trip to the ruins of Pompeii, about a half-hour drive away. You can imagine ancient Roman life in this city preserved by the ashes of the volcanic eruption that destroyed it. Frozen in time since Mount Vesuvius buried it in 79 A.D., this vast archaeological site is best explored with a guide who can bring to life the haunting ruins of the baths, mansions, brothels, and more. Just be sure to pack your sunscreen and a hat. It's broiling out there.
4. See ancient relics right in Naples.
If you can't make it to Pompeii (actually, even if you do), hit the National Archaeological Museum of Naples for an in-depth look at art and decorations from excavations at Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other sites. You'll find mosaics and frescoes that once adorned walls at Pompeii, a model of pre-disaster Pompeii, any number of Greek and Roman sculptures, coins, and metals, and the once-forbidden Secret Cabinet, home to an R-rated collected of Roman art from Pompeii.
5. Pay your respects to San Gennaro.
It is said that three times a year, the blood of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, liquefies during a service at Il Duomo. If you miss this Festival of San Gennaro at this Gothic cathedral, you can still check out treasures including the oldest baptistry in western Europe and chapels adorned with centuries worth of sumptuous art.
6. See the local bounty at Porta Nolana.
Get ready to blow up your Instagram feed at the Porta Nolana open-air fish market north of the port. Watch your step on the slippery cobblestone as you dart from stall to stall where fish flop about and locals bargain for their dinner ingredients. Produce, cheese, and bread add to the visual (and olfactory) cacophony.
7. Get lost.
Turn off Google Maps and get lost exploring the tangle of narrow streets in the city center. Hopscotch among the shadows of laundry fluttering overhead and pop into a gelateria for a scoop or three, stop at a bar for an electrifying espresso, and wander through any antique shops you stumble upon.
Dana McMahan is a Detroit-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for the Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post.