An old proverb says: "See Naples and then die". Naples is truly a unique city, it has its own language, and offers indescribable wonders to the eyes. To capture the essence of Naples, you need to walk through its alleys, hear people speak, and accept that you won’t understand anything. In fact, “Neapolitan “is not just a simple dialect, but an actual language.
Naples welcomes tourists and embraces them with its colourful houses, narrow streets, vendors selling unique items in front of their shops along the street, and the smell of "sfogliatelle" permeating the air from the morning on.
Over centuries, Naples has been the capital of Middle Eastern Italy, and it has been continuously attacked by other peoples, destroyed, conquered, and rebuilt. It has survived numerous natural disasters: eruptions of volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and pestilences. All this allowed Naples to develop a particular history, as well as an artistic and monumental heritage, different from any other European city.
It is a microcosm to discover and one of the most beautiful places on earth to visit. At Costa cruises, we have selected 15 things to see and do in Naples and its surroundings:
- Plebiscito and Royal Palace
- San Carlo Theater (St. Charles Theater)
- Naples Underground
- Maschio Angioino
- Ovo Castle
- Duomo and Treasure of San Gennaro (St. Januarius)
- Naples Subway
- Archeological Museum of Naples
- St. Elmo Castle and Charterhouse of St. Martin
- Tasting the original Neapolitan Pizza
- Naples Surroundings: Vesuvio
- Naples Surroundings: Anacapri and Capri
- Naples Surroundings: Royal Palace of Caserta
- Naples Surroundings: Ercolano and Pompei
Spaccanapoli, also called the Babel of Naples, is a perfectly linear street, about a kilometer long, which divides the ancient city between the north and south in half. It starts from Piazza San Domenico Maggiore (St. Dominic Square) and continues to Piazza del Gesù Nuovo (New Jesus Square). Over the centuries, the street has undergone numerous architectural changes, so it doesn’t sound daring to say that Spaccanapoli mirrors the history of Naples.
It is one of the most important streets of the capital of Campania, not only for its history, but also because it is the home of some of the most famous buildings and obelisks. Along Spaccanapoli, we can find the Carafa di Maddaloni Palace, the church of Santa Maria del Presidio (St. Mary of Presidium), the Complex of Santa Maria dello Splendore (St. Mary of Splendum) and the Church of Santa Maria ad Ogni Bene dei Sette Dolori (Seven Sorrows).
Along Spaccanapoli, there are monuments of historical and artistic interest. While walking, you will find the famous statue of the God Nile dating back to the Greek-Roman era. Or the massive obelisks of Naples, those of San Gennaro (St. Januarius) and San Domenico (St. Dominic). Additionally, you can find popular places of worship, such as the Church of Crocelle ai Mannesi or the Church of San Gennaro all'Olmo.
The original name of Spaccanapoli comes from Latin, and it is Inferior Decumanus. Along with the other two decumanus of Naples - the Major Decumanus and the Upper Decumanus - it is one of the main three streets designed by urban planners in the Greek era. It would be more appropriate to talk about the greek “plateia” instead of decumanus (terminology dating back to the Roman period).
Plebiscito and Royal Palace
Piazza Plebiscito (Plebiscito Square) is located in the historic centre of Naples, at the end of Toledo street. With its 25 thousand meters of surface, it is one of the largest squares in Italy, which is the reason why it houses events and concerts, including the popular “May 1st”. The architect Domenico Fontana designed the Royal Palace in the late Renaissance period which is is located in the middle of the square. In 1600, following the construction of the building, which was the home of Spanish rulers, Piazza Plebiscito (Plebiscito Square) became the centre of the city and courtly life. Today, the Royal Palace is the headquarter of the national library and a museum, where tourists can visit the Royal Apartments.
San Carlo Theater (St. Charles Theater)
San Carlo Theatre (St. Charles Theater) is one of the oldest closed opera theatres still active in Europe. Its construction was commissioned in 1737 by Charles of Bourbon, King of the Two Sicilies, to show everyone that Naples was a real European capital. San Carlo (St. Charles) is one of the most famous and prestigious theatres in the world. It has also been the stage of great artists such as Tommaso Traetta, Leonardo Leo, Leonardo de Vinci, and Farinelli (considered the most famous opera singer ever).
It could accommodate up to 3,285 people but, following the approval of safety regulations, the capacity was reduced to 1,386 seats. San Carlo Theatre has five horseshoe-shaped stages, a royal stage, a gallery, and an onstage. Its layout was used as a model for the construction of other European theatres, though none have equalled its majesty. Even the great writer Stendhal mentioned the San Carlo Theatre, saying that “there is nothing in all of Europe that not only comes close, but let alone bears a pale resemblance to this theatre."
Is it possible that there is an underground city in Naples? When you cross the above-ground streets of the city, remember that there are other streets and tunnels below you, built at the end of the prehistoric era. It is the Naples underground; whose construction began about 5 thousand years ago. In the third century BC, the Greeks continued digging to build the famous funerary hypogeum of Naples and acquire tuff blocks for the construction of walls and temples. However, it was in Roman times that Naples underground was developed and began to take on the shape it has today.
As many people know, the Romans were great builders of aqueducts, not only in the capital, but also in many other Italian cities. Naples is one of them. Many ducts have been built in the city’s ‘basements’ and were used to feed the Mirabilis Pool, once a potable water cistern supplying Naples with water.
In the Second World War, these tunnels were used as emergency shelters during aerial bombardments. In fact, there are remains of furniture and other artefacts in excellent condition, precious evidence of that tragic historical period.
The Maschio Angioino, also known as Castel Nuovo (New Castle), is one of the most famous icons of Naples. It is a medieval and Renaissance castle overlooking Piazza Municipio (Municipium Square). Today, it is the headquarter of the civic museum, the institute for the history of the Italian Renaissance and the Neapolitan Society. Once, it served as the residence of the royal family.
The castle was built in 1231 and remained unused until 1285, the year of the death of Charles I. The first king living there was Charles II “The Cripple”, who proceeded to enlarge and embellish the castle. The Maschio Angioino has hosted some of the most influential Italian personalities, such as the painter Giotto, the writer Giovanni Boccaccio, the poet Francesco Petrarca, and the Popes Bonifacio VIII and Celestino V. The latter specifically chose the Maschio Angioino as the place for his famous abdication, also mentioned by Dante in the Divine Comedy as "the one who turned ‘viltade’ into the great refusal".
The Ovo Castle is the oldest castle in Naples. It faces Partenope street, and it is between the districts of Chiaia and San Ferdinando. It is also the most visible building in the landscape of the gulf and one of the most photographed places by tourists coming from all over the world. The Ovo Castle was built in the 1st century BC, it stands on the Tufo islet of Megaride and has been rebuilt and renovated several times. Even if the name comes from its shape, according to legend, it derives from the fact that the great poet Virgil hid an egg among its underground passages. An egg with great powers that, if broken, would have caused the castle’s collapse and a series of catastrophes would have befallen the city of Naples.
People relied on this legend so much that in the 14th century, following the collapse of the castle’s arch, Queen Giovanna I is said to have replaced the egg, to avoid a panic reaction from the public. Although this never happened.
Duomo and Treasure of San Gennaro (St. Januarius)
Also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (St. Mary of the Assumption), the Duomo of Naples includes the church of Santa Restituita and the royal chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro (St. Januarius). It is one of the most important places of historical and artistic interest in Naples. The cathedral hosts the baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte, the oldest in the West, while the royal chapel hosts the relics of the city's patron saint from which it takes the name. Here, you can see the famous ritual of the San Gennaro blood melting, which happens three times a year. The construction of this important church began in the 13th century by order of King Charles II of Naples. French architects were summoned to design the structure, which was later completed by Italians, including the brothers Giovanni and Nicola Pisano.
Next to the Cathedral of Naples is the Treasure of San Gennaro Museum. Opened to the public in 2003, it contains numerous precious objects, including a clerical headdress from 1713 made with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and seventy types silvers created by the masters of the Neapolitan school. It is also possible to visit the three sacristies of the Treasure Chapel, containing paintings created by famous painters such as Luca Giordano, Massimo Stanzione, Giacomo Farelli, and Aniello Falcone.
To move around Naples conveniently and quickly, you can take the subway. It consists of two urban lines - line 1 and line 6 - and is connected with three funiculars to the ex Circumvesuviana and the Naples-Giugliano-Aversa line. Several archaeological remains were found during its construction and are now in the Neapolis Station, a museum built inside the Station-Museum.
Archaeological Museum of Naples
The Archaeological Museum of Naples is one of the most important and wealthiest museums in Europe. It contains some of the most significant works of the Italian artistic heritage, and it is considered the most important archaeological museum in the world concerning Roman history. It covers an area of 12,650 square kilometres and is divided into three main sections: Farnese, Pompeian, and Egyptian. The first section hosts the archaeological findings collected in the 16th century by Alessandro Farnese (who became Pope Paul III). The second contains the collections taken from the archaeological excavations of Pompeii, while the third includes Egyptian artefacts and is considered the second most important collection of Egyptian relics in Italy after the Cairo Museum in Turin.
Sant’Elmo Castle and Certosa of San Martino
Naples. Characteristic of the castle was obtained from the living rock in which it was built. Positioned in a strategic location, it has always been an aspiring estate. Today, it hosts trade shows, events, temporary exhibitions, and a permanent museum, the "Naples of 1900s".
Throughout its history, many have tried to conquer the castle. It was built in 1329 and was besieged by Ludovico of Hungary in 1348. In 1587 it was destroyed by lightning, while in 1647, during the Masaniello revolution, it was the refuge of the viceroy Duke of Arcos. People have tried many times to attack and take over Sant’Elmo Castle. But because of its strategic position, the royals bombed the besiegers, forcing them to retreat. Later, it became a prison, where some Jacobin exponents were locked up during the French Revolution.
The Certosa of San Martino is also located on the Vomero hill, next to Sant’Elmo Castle. After the Unification of Italy, it was proclaimed a national monument, hosting the famous Museum of San Martino, which tells the story of Naples from the Bourbon era to the post-unification period. It is a massive and impressive construction with approximately a hundred rooms, two churches (one is exclusively for women), four chapels, three cloisters, and several hanging gardens. Below the Certosa of San Martino, you can see the Gothic undergrounds dug into the hill, one of the finest works from an architectural and an engineering point of view. It hosts over one hundred and fifty works, dating from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, which are some of the most prestigious treasures of the artistic heritage of Naples.
Tasting the original Napolitan Pizza
Going to Naples without eating pizza is like playing soccer without a ball. This is a real speciality of the Campanian capital, both for its seasoning variations, and the high dough (and the stuffed crust for food lovers), a real flagship of the city of Naples. While some don't agree, it is difficult to find a pizza in Naples which doesn't deserve its name.
However, if you’d like to play it safe, you can try the Gino Sorbillo pizzeria, located in Tribunali street, and on the seafront in Partenope street. Also, the Antica Pizzeria da Michele, between Corso Garibaldi and the beginning of Forcella. Here, Queen Margherita tasted pizza for the first time, giving the dish the famous name still known around the world. You can order only two flavours: margherita and marinara. I Decumani and Di Matteo are also located in Tribunali street. The latter is famous for the take-away 'wallet pizza’, and you’ll recognise it from the long line in front of the entrance.
Vesuvio (about 20 km from Naples)
It is one of the few active volcanoes in continental Europe, and it is growing. For this reason, it is one of the most dangerous. Vesuvio could erupt at any time, which is why it is continuously monitored. The last eruption dates back to 1944, and according to its natural cycle, the recovery activity is behind schedule. The Vesuvio National Park was born on June 5, 1995, to preserve the animal and plant species living in the area.
Every year, thousands of tourists go there to hike the trails or visit the Great Cone of the Vesuvio, one of the most unforgettable experiences to have once in a lifetime. Those who love walking and enjoy the beauties of nature (and those of Vesuvius are spectacular) can choose from eleven paths for a total of 54 kilometres, or walk on the crater of an active volcano.
Surroundings of Naples: Anacapri and Capri
The island of Capri is one of the most beautiful places to see in Campania. Here, many movies have been filmed, including the famous “The Disdain” by the great director Jean-Luc Godard, “Totò a Colori” and “The Second Tragic Fantozzi”. The island is surrounded by a blue sea and is a popular tourist destination. for thousands of tourists every year. The Island is divided into two by Mount Solaro, defining the municipality of Capri on one side and Anacapri on the other side.
The municipality of Anacapri is characterized by wild nature and is the destination of low-cost tourism, while Capri has always been the favourite place of VIPs. Both have sites that cannot be missed. In Capri, you must visit the famous beaches of Marina Piccola and Marina Grande, as well as the three Stacks rising from the sea. Cited by Homer in the Odyssey, the Stacks are the three boulders thrown into the water by Polyphemus and they are divided into the Stack of Earth, Stack of “Mezzo” and Stack of “Fuori”, also known to be the only habitat of the blue lizard. Then there are the Gardens of Augustus, an original botanical garden containing several specimens of the island's flora; Villa Jovis, home of the Roman emperor Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus; and the Salto di Tiberio, a sheer cliff overlooking the sea where, according to the legend, the emperor had the condemned thrown to their deaths.
Royal Palace of Caserta (about 30 km from Naples)
It is impossible to have never heard of the world's largest royal residence, home of the Bourbon dynasty, and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997. It was commissioned by the King of Naples, Charles of Bourbon, to compete with the French on the Royal Palace of Versailles, designed by the architect Luigi Vanvitelli and completed by his son Carlo. It is one of the most famous monuments in the world, called "the last great achievement of the Italian Baroque". In front of the Royal Palace of Caserta, a large park extends for three kilometres, and it is rich in fountains and gardens curated to the smallest details.
Ercolano and Pompei (about 11 and 25 km from Naples)
Ercolano and Pompei are the two cities destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, declared a World Heritage by UNESCO. Every year, thousands of visitors come to witness the eruption that stopped time in these two cities two thousand years ago. Pompei has been the most visited place in the world for years. The House of the Surgeon, the Fauno, the Chaste Lovers, and the Villa of the Mysteries are breathtaking places that show the life of that period. Pompei has been the focus of many movies and documentaries, and even today, many mysteries surround the Pompeians life concerning that historical period. A place that is still the subject of studies and research, which has always fascinated not just tourists, but also historians and archaeologists.
On the other hand, Ercolano was buried more deeply than Pompei. It is said to have been founded by Hercules, and its buildings remained practically intact despite the violent eruption of Vesuvio in 79 AD. It is possible to admire the House of Cerci, the House of Bicentenary, the Baths, and the College of Priests of Augustus. Frescoes, sculptures, and paintings are still visible and show the daily life of Ercolano, of which there is still much to discover. Although two thousand years have passed since the eruption of Vesuvio that buried the two cities, archaeological excavations continue to unearth new discoveries
Travel to Naples with Costa Cruises
Rich in history and art, Naples will surprise you with its colours and flavours: take advantage of the Costa Cruises excursions to visit some of the most beautiful places in this wonderful city, such as Piazza Plebiscito and Ovo Castle.