10 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Naples, Italy

November 20, 2019

Sophia Loren art mural in Naples, Italy

When you think of Naples, Italy do you think of the mafia? Trash in the streets? I’m here to debunk the negative stereotypes you may have about this interesting and complex Italian City. But there are things you need to know before going. Here are ten things you need to know before visiting Naples.

Tourism is booming in Naples, with the number of tourists visiting more than doubling since 2010. The success of Elena Ferrante’s My Brillant Friend series of novels set in Naples and the HBO adaptation of them has contributed to the increased interest in the largest city in Italy. But I think Naples and the Southern coast of Italy are just finally getting the recognition they deserve as a travel destination.

My reason for visiting Naples recently was deeply personal. I had visited the area twice before and while I thought the Amalfi Coast and Capri were lovely, another visit wouldn’t have been at the top of my list. But now I can’t get Naples out of my head and am trying to figure out how to get back to this complicated city.

Misconceptions About Visting Naples

Naples is gritty and real. This is not Visit Europe 101. It’s big, sprawling, congested, dirty in areas, and can be overwhelming.

But it’s complexity also means as a visitor you get the opportunity to find surprises where you least expect them. The courtyard to our apartment was not the most welcoming, but the apartment was lovely. The Duomo has graffiti near it, but once inside your breath is taken away with the ornate interiors. It’s a city of paradoxes.

Activities to do in Naples.  Interior of the Duomo in Naples, Italy.
Duomo – Naples, Italy

1) Is Naples Safe? Yes!

One of the biggest misconceptions about visiting Naples is that it isn’t a safe place. Graffiti and trash don’t equal risk to your personal safety. The biggest danger our family experienced while staying in the historic center of Naples was traffic, specifically motorcycles. More on that below.

We walked through the historic center in the evenings and throughout the day and never felt our personal safety was at risk. Same with the main train station, we were there several times and never felt unsafe. As with a visit to any big city, just be aware of your surroundings and don’t flash lots of cash or jewelry. I carried a bag with built-in safety features and felt very secure.

2) But You Have to Be Careful Walking

Where tourists have to be careful when visiting Naples is walking. The roads are narrow and walking through them is a little like a live video game where cars, motorcycles, and people are darting in and out. Was that a motorcycle whizzing by with a small child standing in the front while their parent drove?! Yes, it was. Again, Neapolitans know how to navigate and make it work. More than once we saw a car or motorcycle stop on a dime and we didn’t see a single accident.

Is Naples safe?  Narrow streets in Naples, Italy.
Those poles are there for your protection!

Traffic is like a big bowl of spaghetti. Traffic lights and signs are not everywhere and serve as more of a suggestion. When crossing a street, I waited until a local started crossing and followed them. If it was an elderly person, even better. Just make sure you are very aware of your surroundings. This is not the place to walk the streets with your earphones in.

3) There is Graffiti & Trash

Naples is the largest city in Italy and just like almost any city I have visited in Europe (or the US), there is graffiti and trash on the streets. But trash in a major city and graffiti on buildings doesn’t mean a place is unsafe. Remember that and you will be able to look past some of the grime and see how interesting Naples is.

Street art in Naples, Italy.  Image of Sophia Loren.
Naples hometown queen, the beautiful Sophia Loren

4) The Food in Naples is DELICIOUS

Hands down, one of my favorite things about visiting Naples was the food. It’s everywhere, affordable, and delicious! Neapolitans take their food seriously. Not in a pretentious way, but they know food fills the belly and warms the heart. From pizza to pasta, to gelato, to seafood, Naples is a foodie’s dream.

Food in Naples is delicious.  Here is a plate of spaghetti al vongole.
Spaghetti with clams

In the historic area of town, we primarily saw Italian food. Which is awesome as far as I’m concerned. But if you need a lot of variety, you may want to research other areas of town to see what’s available.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many restaurants not only offered vegetarian options but also gluten-free options. Which is a big deal for a town known for pasta and pizza. Look for “senza glutine” on menus.

5) Take a City Tour

Naples is big and can be a little challenging to navigate. There are so many things to see in Naples but they are spread out from the city center to the beaches. Knowing where to go and how to get there can be difficult.

Street art in Naples Italy.

We spent three days there and never left the city center. And we regretted it. When I visit again, I will take a city tour to get the lay of the land and a better idea of where attractions are located.

6) Neapolitans are Helpful

Residents in Naples aren’t overly friendly, but they are incredibly helpful. They are a tough bunch. Maybe it’s because Vesuvius looms over the city reminding them at every turn that the threat of impending disaster is a real possibility.

We were struggling to find our Airbnb apartment. Frankly, the courtyard of the building was not what we were expecting. Dark and unwelcoming, it didn’t look like the safest of places. But, a resident of the building saw we needed help and pointed us in the right direction. Whenever we saw her during our staff she greeted us with a buongiorno or buona sera. She never smiled and frankly looked like she was angry, but she was very nice and helpful.

Gentleman in Naples, Italy bakery
This gentleman was very eager to tell our tour group why this is the best bakery in the neighborhood.

We Americans are a smiley bunch and you typically don’t see that type of friendliness throughout Europe. But I found the Neapolitans were anxious to help whether it was telling our tour group why the bakery we were in was the best or a lady explaining to me that the container I was using was not for trash. I found residents loved to share and educate visitors to their city.

7) Not Everyone Speaks English

But again, they are so helpful that the language barrier is really not much of an issue. We did find that people working in shops and restaurants in tourist areas did speak some English. And guides, museum employees, and agents at the train station speak English and often other languages as well. Just don’t expect everyone you encounter to speak English. But it was in no way a problem for us during our time there. Also, I always like to learn a few phrases of a language before I visit a country.

laundry hanging outside an apartment in Naples, Italy

8) Wear Good Shoes

Naples is an ancient city and as such the streets and sidewalks are often made of cobblestones. There are also areas of the city that are very hilly which means good shoes are a must. You’ll want to wear supportive shoes that, but this is Italy so style is important too.

And whatever you do, don’t wear flip-flops!

9) Coffee in Naples is an Artform

It’s said that Starbucks founder Howard Schultz was inspired to transform his stores after a visit to Milan. If you are a coffee lover, Naples will give you coffee, but their coffee which is not what Americans are used to.

Now, I don’t drink coffee, but my daughter does. She tried coffee several times in Italy and struggled because coffee here is strong and served in small cups. Tradition dictates you stand at a counter and drink your coffee quickly. No huge to-go cups here. You’ll find sugar on the counter, but milk and fancy flavored creamers not so much.

girl drinking coffee at a coffee bar in Naples, Italy
Wow! That’s some strong coffee!

But you can get Nutella in your coffee here and that made my daughter very happy! You’ll find lots of coffee and charming coffee bars at every turn. Just don’t expect an extra grande pumpkin-latte.

10) There are Lots of Day Trips From Naples

Naples is very affordable, especially compared to other major cities in Italy. This makes it a great base to stay while exploring other areas in the region. Rome can be reached via a high-speed train in just over an hour. And the jewel that is the Amalfi Coast can be reached in less than an hour by train, bus, or ferry. A few days in Sorrento or Positano offer the perfect addition to your Naples itinerary.

Woman standing in front of the sea with the town of Amalfi, Italy in the background.  Amalfi is one of the many day trips from Naples.
Soaking in the sunshine in Amalfi, Italy

One of the most popular destinations in Southern Italy is Pompeii. A visit here is a must on any itinerary in this part of Italy. You can also visit Herculaneum, another city destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD. I haven’t been there (yet) but have been told its excavation is extraordinary and the site receives far fewer people than the better known Pompeii. Both can easily be accessed by train from Naples.

Conclusion

Have you been to Naples? What did you think of this interesting city?

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More about Candy Wafford

Candy Wafford is a US-based travel blogger and while she travels frequently for her job, she is happiest when traveling for pleasure. Preferably strolling along a cobblestoned street with an ice cream cone in her hand.

17 Comments
    1. Great write-up! I was in the area a few years ago but only had time to drive through Naples, which left me wanting more. I’ll be in Italy in the Spring and your article makes me want to add it to my itinerary. Thanks! — Lisa, Curiosity & Comfy Shoes

      1. It’s such an interesting place! I hope you get to spend some time there soon.

    1. I have always, always wanted to go there for the pizza! I am not a big fan, but when it is good it is absolutely amazing and I have to think it is very, very good there! I have been to Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice and now need to move on to get to the Amalfi Coast, Sicily and Naples!

    1. I visited Naples/Napoli very briefly a few years back. I was there mainly for nearby Herculaneum. So I only got to see a small amount of the city. My firsdt impresiond were that it was seedy. But now, going through your post, it’s got so much soul.I wish I stayed longer to get beyond this first impression. And yes,…THE BEST pizza I’ve ever had. I’ve still not had anything that rivals what I ate out in Naples.

      1. The city is so congested that I think it appears seedier than it actually is. And it definitely has soul!

    1. What an excellent post. My friend said don’t bother going to Naples…after reading your post I will most certainly be putting Naples on my list of places to visit.

      1. Thank you! It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea! But there is so much there and I’m kicking myself for not visiting the archeological museum, the waterfront, and the metro (they are supposed to be beautiful!).

    1. Great post. Totally agree about the amazing food and coffee. We loved our visit and it is the perfect place for day trips.

    1. An interesting read and you have taken a difficult subject and shown it for its true colours but not in a way to put people off so well done. `It is not a place many people blogs about as it is not on the usual Italian itineraries but I went many years ago and I get what you are saying about it.

      1. Thank you! I wasn’t impressed on my previous, albeit short trips, there before and am so glad I had a chance to go back and develop an appreciation for this city.

    1. I love Italy and have visited many times but always been slightly reticent to visit Napoli due to its reputation. It shouldn’t do, I know, but reading this I realised subconsciously that was in the back of my head! Being a self confessed street art lover, the graffiti is a big draw for me, as is that delicious looking food 😋 Thank you for enabling me to challenge my preconceptions!

      1. I love Italy too and each city for different reasons. I wouldn’t recommend Naples to someone going to Italy for the first time, but think it’s a perfect destination for those that have a better idea of what to expect in Europe.

      1. I find that most gritty places actually have a lot of soul once you move past the exterior. Thanks for the comment!

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