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