Naples is a vast city located on the western coast of Italy facing the Tyrrhenian Sea. This colossal metropolis is the third largest city in Italy behind Rome and Milan with a population of 975,000 and a greater metropolitan population of over 3.1 million. Naples and the surrounding region has been inhabited since the Neolithic period and it has seen some form of continuous human activity through ancient Greek times to the Roman Empire and further.
Throughout history Naples has been the sight of fierce battles and many civilisations have vied to gain power here. Naples port is one of the most important in the Mediterranean and the city has one of the largest economies in Italy. Due to the extensive history of this region, Naples is full of historical buildings, squares and churches plus a host of modern amenities and fantastic nightlife opportunities. Looming in the shadow of the legendary Mt. Vesuvius, this is a truly epic tourist destination.
Lets explore the best things to do in Naples:
1. Climb Mount Vesuvius
Classified as a Stratovolcano, Mount Vesuvius dominates the skyline and landscape surrounding Naples and is a legendary volcano that famously erupted in 79 AD and caused the destruction and burial of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Vesuvius stands as the only volcano in mainland Europe that has erupted in the last 100 years – It is considered extremely dangerous due to the amount of human settlements that are situated in its danger zone.
Today you can take a bus tour from Naples to visit this magnificent natural phenomenon and climb up its slopes to peer into the crater.
A hike will take between 20-30 minutes and is considered not too challenging – The views from the top on a clear day are simply fantastic and the caldera and crater are hugely interesting too.
Suggested tour: Vesuvius 4-Hour Wine Tasting Tour and Lunch from Naples
2. Visit the ruins of Pompeii
Pompeii was an ancient city that sat in the shadow of the iconic Mount Vesuvius.
This settlement was highly advanced and extensive and was destroyed at its peak during the devastating eruption of the volcano in 79 AD. Despite the devastation cause and the amount of lava that poured over the city, Pompeii stands today in a fantastic condition – This is due to the huge layer of ash that was deposited over the partial ruins and thus acted as a preserver.
Today you can visit Pompeii and walk through the extensive ruins – Particularly interesting sights include the Amphitheatre, the case del Fauno, the Temple of Apollo and the Temple of Jupiter.
Furthermore you can find plaster casts of many of the unfortunate victims who were buried under the ash and remain locked in their death pose for an eternity.
Recommended tour: Pompeii Ruins & Mount Vesuvius Day Tour
3. Naples National Archaeological Museum
Housed in a fine ornate building that was created in the 1750’s, the museum used to operate as a military and cavalry barracks and was turned into a museum in later years.
The museum is located to the north of the Harbor but there is a Metro station right next to the building.
Inside you can find an extensive collection that includes a wide array of Roman and Greek artefacts plus a selection of works from both Pompeii and Herculaneum.
This collection includes a selection of marble statues depicting scenes from ancient mythology, beautiful mosaics from the ruins of Pompeii, and a huge collection of objects from ancient Egypt such as mummified remains and death masks.
Anyone interested in ancient history and archaeology will find this museum an infinitely interesting place to visit.
4. San Gennaro Catacombs
Have you ever wanted to explore a secret underground world that holds a huge amount of detail and passageways? This is exactly what the San Gennaro Catacombs provide and you can find the entrance to this otherworldly place near the Basilica dell’Incoronata in northern part of Naples.
Once underground, you will find a network of tunnels and passageways that are lined with graves and crypts dating back to ancient history.
Spread over two levels, the lower floor contains a staggering 3000+ burials and is dimly lit to retain the spooky underground feeling.
The top level is more spacious but just as interesting and contains many detailed frescos and artwork.
A guided tour of the catacombs will provide a memorable experience and a true insight into the history of Naples.
5. Visit the ruins of Herculaneum
Another city that was devastated after the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius was Herculaneum – This city is the lesser known counterpart to Pompeii but is just as interesting and a fantastic sight to visit.
Although the city was located further away from Vesuvius than Pompeii, it was still completely destroyed.
Herculaneum is actually considered to be a better preserved example than Pompeii and still has some of its wooden structures, frames and roofing intact.
Interesting sights within the complex include the Villa of the Papyri and the House of Argus which both contain beautiful frescos and wall paintings.
Furthermore there is also a series of skeletal remains that show the demise of this unfortunate group of people.
If you visit Pompeii, ensure that you visit Herculaneum too for a detailed insight into an ancient period of time.
6. Castel Nuovo
The Castel Nuovo stands out as a main feature in the skyline of Naples and is one of the first sights that people entering via cruise ships will see.
Located in close proximity to the famous Piazza del Plebiscito the castle is easily accessible and is one of the main historical sites in Naples.
Created in 1282, the castle features 5 circular crenulated towers and a fantastic triumphal arch that was added at a later date.
Take a tour of the castle and admire the beautiful towers, stand inside the central courtyard, admire the painted ceiling of the Baron’s Hall and climb the castle ramparts for stunning views of Naples and the harbour.
7. Cappella Sansevero
There is many chapels and churches in the heart of Naples, and the Sansevero Chapel is a truly fine example.
Created in 1590, the chapel was once a private building for the Duke of Torremaggoire and then served as a family burial chapel from 1613. Located in the centre of Naples, the chapel is not far from the Harbor and the Castel Nuovo.
Although this chapel is quite plain and unassuming from the outside, it is the interior that is quite spectacular and is the true highlight.
The chapel contains a huge amount of artwork and several famous sculptures.
A detailed and magnificent fresco adorns the ceiling and many marble statues stand guard at each of the pillars.
Central to this fantastic display is the beautiful statue of the Veiled Christ created by Giuseppe Sanmartino.
8. Castel dell’Ovo
As you enter the port at Naples you will undoubtedly see this stunning sea bound castle.
Once an island, the land that the castle stands on is now connected to the mainland and is accessible by a footpath and road.
As the oldest remaining fortification in Naples, the Castel dell’Ovo was constructed in the early 6th century BC and some form of defensive structure has stood ever since.
The castle is open to the public and it is a fantastic structure to explore – Walk through the passageways and arches and look out into the Mediterranean sea.
You can also find several exhibits of art and displays about the history of the castle.
9. Naples Harbour
Naples is a hugely busy port and sea trade is the city’s main source of economy.
The network of ports is divided into separate docks and is a true hive of activity at any time of the day.
Stretching from the Castel Nuovo to the Piazza San Giovanni Battista you could easily spend hours walking through the docks and ports and watching the intriguing business that occurs here.
Furthermore, if you continue to the west you will find the Porto di Mergellina which is full of trendy restaurants and cafes and has a great vibrant atmosphere.
Come here to sample some local life and admire the different yachts that dock at the harbour.
10. Piazza del Plebiscito
Undoubtedly the main square in Naples, the Piazza del Plebiscito features the Royal Palace and the Basilica Royal and is a truly fantastic place to visit.
This vast open space is filled with important buildings and statues and aside from the aforementioned structures, it also contains the Palazzo Salerno, the Prefecture Palace and a statue dedicated to Charles III of Spain.
The semi-circular colonnades of the Basilica Royal stretch out and frame the square beautifully.
Use this place as a starting point for your tour of Naples and be sure to visit the fine historical buildings that sit here.
11. San Domenico Maggiore
Another of the beautifully decorated churches in Naples, the Sam Domenico Maggiore was founded by Dominican Friars and was constructed in 1324. The church is located in the centre of the old town of Naples near the university and the Dante Metro stop.
Whilst the exterior of the structure is not particularly impressive, the interior is the real treat.
Full of renaissance artwork, sculptures and decoration, the church is hugely opulent – The panelled ceiling is gilded with gold and the high altar is also a stunning masterpiece.
Furthermore, there is also a “treasure chamber” that contains a plethora of religious artefacts, clothing, accessories and other trinkets.
12. Naples Cathedral
Dating as far back as the 13th century, the Cathedral of Duomo is a magnificent structure and stands as the main church in Naples and indeed in southern Italy.
Located on the Via Duomo, the cathedral is accessible via the Museo metro stop but also has a regular bus service that passes the front façade.
This religious building combines a myriad of styles including Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque – This is due to the restorations and changes that have been made since its creation.
Outside, the front façade features a large central tower and many ornate sculptures and stone work.
Inside, the main knave is framed by a series of huge columns and the decoration is simply beautiful.
Don’t forget to visit the immaculately decorated chapel of San Gennaro that features a finely decorated altar and two vessels containing the saints blood.
13. Explore the district of Santa Lucia
To truly experience Naples from a local perspective and soak up some culture, head to the district of Santa Lucia.
Located to the west of the Piazza del Plebiscito, this district has a myriad of narrow cobbled streets that wind down to the sea and offer an array of craft shops, restaurants, cafes and shops.
Here you can experience Neapolitan life at its best – Locals will walk through the streets going about their daily business, clothes hang out on washing lines and children play without a care in the world.
14. Palazzo Reale
This stunning Royal Palace holds the centre of attention in the Piazza del Plebiscito and sits opposite the Basilica Reale.
The front facade of this building features a symmetrical series of black framing, brown render and many windows to create an official and imposing look.
Furthermore at the base of the palace stands 12 detailed statues of past Kings of Naples from Roger of Sicily to Frederick II the Holy Roman Emperor.
Inside this lavish building is a stunning array of preserved rooms that are full of ornate decorations – The initial hallway and staircase is unbelievably opulent and the throne room and the state theatre are just as fantastic.
A tour of the interior and rooms is a must and will complete your visit of this wonderful historic building.
15. Take a boat to explore the island of Capri
Capri is a small inhabited island that is known for its dramatic scenery, rugged coastline dotted with beautiful caves and its quaint and charming Italian villages.
A boat trip from Naples harbour takes just under two hours and there are regular ferries that travel between the island and mainland, and neighbouring Sorrento.
Walk through the wonderful Marina Grande, admire the boats in the harbour and then set off to explore the island.
Don’t forget to take a trip to see the famous Blue Grotto Sea Cave or the view from the top of Monte Solaro.
Available tour: Island of Capri: Full-Day Tour from Naples