Naples – The Armpit of Italy
I have to say I am not a big fan of Naples (Napoli). While there were some pretty interesting sites to see, I found the town not only dirty and run down, but also filled with thieves. I usually rave about the cities I visit, but I have to say Naples is pretty low on my list of cities to like. I felt more like I was in downtown Mexico City, or the bad areas of Buenos Aires than I did a quaint seaside Italian town. First, the city is just plain dirty and not well maintained at all. Many of the buildings are run down (there are definitely some nice streets but not in the historic / tourist district). Graffiti is everywhere and although graffiti can also be a form of art, that is not my experience in Naples. It just makes the place look worse.
While I don’t like a dirty and rundown city, I can at least look past it to find the beauty (and yes there was some beauty in Naples which we will get to). What I could not get past, was constantly being ripped off. The taxi drivers are the worst. The driver will either quote you a fare right when you get into the taxi or just tell you at the end of the ride. Either way, you will most assuredly get taken for few bucks. Here is a travelers tip: If the driver does not turn on the meter, require that he does so, or get out of the taxi. Another trick used is that they set the starting fare of the meter higher than it should be (like double). I got ripped off (or an attempt) in 50% of my taxi rides. One other word of caution if traveling in Naples, incidences of pick pocketing are very high, so watch yourself. Guys, get used to putting your wallets in your front pocket or you might not have a wallet.
Don’t get me started about the hotel. Most of you know I am pretty picky when it comes to hotels. So, I booked one of the top 5 in the city with a room facing the sea. The quality of the hotel was like a bad Holiday Inn. Internet access was horrible and the bed was one that Motel 6 must have gotten rid of. Oh, and I loved the fact that the room did not come with an iron. No problem, I would just ask for one, but apparently in Naples (or at least at this hotel), you are not allowed to have an iron in your room. Instead they charge you 7,50e per shirt to iron. Another rip off!
The Good Things About Naples
If you are forced to travel to Naples for some unknown reason, there were a handful of interesting and beautiful sites to see. The city is actually quite old dating back to the 7 century BC. The city was controlled by the Greeks at that time. The new city (built-in the 4 century BC by the Romans. At the height of the city, it was actually the 3rd largest city in Europe and considered a very important city. The Spanish controlled the city in the 16th and 17th centuries where they built beautiful palaces and stately mansions around the city.
Naples actually has a lot of potential as a city. It sits right on the Mediterranean sea with sweeping views of the Gulf of Naples. The seaside of Naples is very beautiful. Naples is also the gateway to incredible vacation destinations like the beautiful island of Capri (which I will be going to in July) and Sorrento. Naples is also next the historical city of Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius.
Here is a list of my Top things to do in Naples:
- The Food – The best part about Naples is the food. It is the birthplace of pizza and everywhere you turn there is a Pizzeria. You can and should eat Pizza every day that you are there. Travelers Tip: The most authentic pizza in Naples can be found along Via dei Tribunali. I recommend Sorbillo which is considered one of the best authentic pizzerias in Naples. The line was out the door from the moment they opened. Pizza from Naples is very thin crust so you can eat as many as you want!!!
- Napoli (Naples) is also known for their pastries. The traditional pastry of Naples is called the Sfogliatella (see picture). This shell-shaped Italian pastry is small, with thin layers of pastry dough and can be filled with many things. I chose to eat the pastry filled with custard. The many layers of thin dough makes the pastry very crunchy and delicious. Oh yes, topped with a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top.
- Capodimonte (Reggia di Capodimonte) – Designed as a royal hunting lodge, this museum houses the precious collections of paintings, sculptures and other pieces of art from the Farnese family, which are somehow connected to Napoli via some marriage (but all too much to keep track of). I highly recommend going to the museum. Lots of religious artwork, but also you can see another royal residence. The museum is located high atop a hill so the views of the city from the gardens is amazing. Also, a relaxing place to go and hang out in the gardens (very quiet and peaceful away from the insanity of Naples).
- Palazzo Reale – While not the most spectacular royal palace that I have ever seen, you cannot pass up hanging out in a royal palace for an hour or so. Built for the King of Spain when the city was under Spanish rule (of course the king actually never stayed in the palace). You can view 33 of the more than 600 rooms in the palace and get an idea of what it was like to live like a king.
- Cappella Sansevero – This chapel was built in the 16th century contains incredible sculpture of The Veiled Christ (Cristo Velato) and was completed in 1753. The sculpture is completely made out of one piece of marble and looks incredibly life-like. The rest of the chapel is filled with sculptures depicting the virtues of various individuals.
- Castel del’ Ovo – I loved this place because of the amazing views of Naples. You literally can see the entire city of Naples from this location. The castle was built in the 5th century and was once on an island in the Gulf of Naples.
- Duomo – While there are over 400 churches in Naples, this is the church you must see. It is spectacular and houses the body of the patron saint of Naples, St Gennaro. The Duomo is the centerpiece of Naples.
- Monastero d Santa Chiara – If you are not paying attention, you will miss one of the most beautiful sites in Naples. The monastery is tucked away in the back of a historic church and visually unappealing. This church has an amazing courtyard that was used by the nuns who lived at the monastery (and never left the grounds of the monastery). The tiled courtyard is surrounded by beautiful frescoes but the center of the courtyard are columns and benches tiled with scenes of life on the outside of the monastery as the nuns imagined it.
- Visit Pompeii – The ancient city of Pompeii is literally less than 30 minutes from the center of Naples. I highly recommend visiting this historic site. Covered in 18 ft of ash for more than 1000 years, this ancient roman city is amazingly well-preserved. If you want to get an idea of how the Romans really lived, you have to visit Pompeii. I also recommend a guide as you walk through the town, as it is fascinating to hear all the interesting stories about life in Pompeii.
- Mt Vesuvius – This is the volcano that burned Pompeii to ash in 79AD. Also, 30 minutes from the city, you can visit the crater. The mountain is only about 1000m (3000 ft) high, so it is pretty easy to get up to the crater with the exception of the last mile, you will have to hike that yourself (a good way to burn off the pizza you have been eating).
While there were many things I did not like about Naples, there were a handful of gems that make spending a few days in Naples pretty nice. If you are planning on visiting Naples, I recommend between 2 – 3 days as the ideal amount of time to eat some delicious pizza, pastries and see a few really cool sites.
Ciao from Napoli