The City of Naples in southern Italy has one of the densest urban populations in Europe. Its inner neighborhoods are packed into alleys where families have lived in the same homes for generations. It’s impoverished, yet rich with culture, history and tradition.
by David Stone
Getting to Know the City of Naples
Life in Naples is a never-ending celebration of food, family and tradition. From the vibrant colors of the market stalls to passionate amore stories locals love telling, there’s always something new. Despite its challenges, Naples is a place where life is lived to the fullest.
15 ways to capture the essence of this wonderful city:
- 1. Eat a Neapolitan Pizza – Though pizza was invented in Ancient Rome, Naples can claim itself as its birthplace thanks to a little place known as “Pizzeria”, which opened up shop in 1738. Today, more than 100 years later, there are still six pizzerias on the official list of places that can call their pies “Pizza Napoletana.”
- 2. Get to know the city’s street life – Fed up with the heavy traffic and high cost of public transportation, many people in Naples have decided to go back to using bikes for local transport, which has resulted in a noticeable increase of riders on the city’s streets.
- 3. See a soccer match – Even if you’re not a fan of the sport, it’s hard to ignore how much Italians love their “calcio.” In Naples, one of the biggest clubs is known as SSC Napoli and its supporters are known as “The Partenopei.”
- 4. Taste a pizza fritta – Another specialty from Naples is a deep fried calzone-style pizza, called a “pizza fritta” or a “calzone napoletana.” It consists of a piece of deep fried dough with tomato and mozzarella cheese inside.
- 5. Eat fresh fish – Along the coast of Italy, this means fish caught right off the coast. Depending on where you are in Naples, some of these popular dishes include spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams), or spaghetti cozze e pistacchi (spaghetti with mussels and ground pistachios).
- 6. Join the chic crowd at Piazza del Gesu – This is the heart of so-called “Chiaia” neighborhood, where blue blood Neapolitans have lived for centuries.
- 7. Visit Villa Floridiana – If you want to see a unique example of an 18th century English garden in Italy, this villa is the perfect place.
- 8. Get mesmerized at Galleria Umberto I – This gorgeous building is known for its glass domed roof, which reflects sunlight down onto the surrounding shoppers.
- 9. Watch a drama unfold in Vomero – Atop the hill of “Vomero,” this neighborhood offers breathtaking views over Naples and out to sea. It’s also where the Museo Nazionale di San Martino is located, which has a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance art on display.
- 10. Explore the sea life at Acquario – Located right on the coast just north of Naples’ main train station, this aquarium offers an amazing look into the vast array of fascinating creatures that live under the sea.
- 11. Grab some candy at Gran Caffe Gambrinus – Situated in the heart of Piazza del Plebiscito, this is one of the most beautiful cafes in Naples. It’s known for its delicious pastries and coffee drinks, though it also used to be a popular haunt for writers like D’Annunzio and D’Angelo, who came here to chat and sip espresso.
- 12. Tour Castel dell’Ovo – This medieval castle is known as the “Egg Castle,” thanks to a legend that says two seagulls will fly overhead when it’s time for Naples to fall… so keep your eyes on the sky!
- 13. Wander through Via Toledo – With its long row of luxury shops and romantic cafes, this is the heart of Naples’ shopping district.
- 14. Experience a “ghostly” festival in Santa Lucia – During La Notte dei Morti Viventi (The Night of the Living Dead), costumed actors roam the streets and tell spooky stories.
- 15. Grab a front row seat for the Naples’ San Gennaro Festival – Every September, this is Italy’s most important religious festival, which brings more than 1 million visitors to the city. During it, there are processions of saints and offerings of flowers at churches throughout town. And don’t miss out on the “befana,” which is when people bring small gifts to children in exchange for sweets.
A little history…
Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It’s been a Roman province, an imperial capital, a kingdom and a republic. The city has a long and eventful history, evident in its architecture, art and food.
Some of the most popular attractions in Naples are its churches, decorated with beautiful frescoes and marble sculptures. The Museo Nazionale di San Martino is known for its Renaissance art. The 17th century Pio Monte della Misericordia, likewise, is known for its large collection of paintings.
Food is one of the most important parts of experiencing Naples. Tourists flock to restaurants like Da Michele, which claims to have invented Spaghetti alla Marinara in 1860. For other seafood specialties, try Caffe Gambrinus, once a haunt for writers like D’Annunzio and D’Angelo. They and others chatted about literature over an espresso.
If you want quieter Neapolitan culture, family-run workshops offer visitors the chance to watch glassblowing an mosaics made by hand.
Prefer luxury? Shops like Bulgari and Tiffany & Co. offer jewelry and watches to those with money to splurge.
In the Piazza del Plebiscito, the heart of Naples’ shopping district, visitors find international brands like Zara and H&M. It’s perfect for picking up some souvenirs.
The Naples Archaeological Museum is one of the finest in Europe, covering all areas of ancient history. Prehistoric, Greek and Roman are on display. There is a large collection of sarcophagi (stone coffins) dating back to the 3rd century BC.
Getting away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Naples, there is a beautiful park, Villa Floridiana. It has lush gardens and quiet walkways. On view is an Egyptian obelisk discovered at Pompeii in 1836 and brought to the City of Naples several years later.
Locals also suggest Castel dell’Ovo , which has a beautiful view of the bay and castle ruins.
During La Notte dei Morti Viventi (The Night of the Living Dead), costumed actors roam the streets and tell spooky stories. It is similar to Halloween in that people dress up as zombies or famous people from movies or books. It takes place on Nov. 1 and 2 and is a lot of fun for those wanting something different.
Although it has no beaches, the city does have public beaches that allow tourists to relax and take in views of the beautiful bay. Other popular activities include art galleries, shopping at local boutiques or simply enjoying an espresso at one of many cafes .
It’s a gorgeous city with so much to offer, and it is one of those places that becomes more beautiful the longer you stay. Everyone should visit at least once in their lives.
Crime in Naples
Crime is a problem in Naples, just as it is in some other areas of Italy. However, there are certain neighborhoods that are more affected than others. If visiting, be aware of these areas and to take precautions when traveling in them. One example is “Vomero,” which is the neighborhood up on the hill. The nice views belie a high crime rate, mostly pick-pockets and petty thefts, though assaults happen sometimes. It’s important to lock your car doors at night (and never leave anything inside), carry limited cash and credit cards, and use a safe taxi company if you travel at night.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Naples is “Piazza del Plebiscito.” This is where all the city’s main parades take place during La Notte dei Morti Viventi (The Night of the Living Dead) and other special occasions. However, you can’t compare this area with a place like “Via Toledo,” a more upscale area where the chic crowd hangs out during the day. Here, there’s less pick-pocketing going on, but tourists should still be aware of scams that attempt to pass off counterfeit money or demand a “tax.”
Another place to watch out for pick-pockets is in the city’s ‘subway,” otherwise known as the Metropolitana di Napoli. Keep a close eye on your wallet, phone and other belongings while riding these trains.
In the south of Naples, there is the “Quartieri Spagnoli” neighborhood. It’s one of the city’s most dangerous areas. Police often patrol here, but tourists should still be extra careful and avoid any confrontations with the locals.
Of course, it’s smart to be aware of your surroundings in any neighborhood of Naples, especially when hailing a taxi or walking the streets at night.
There is still a good amount of organized crime in Naples. This includes activities like extortion, loan sharking, money laundering, and racketeering. However, the Italian police are constantly cracking down on these activities. The situation is improving.
Be aware of the city’s history with organized crime, but don’t worry about it. These activities seldom involve outsiders.
Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano located close to Naples. An eruption destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD. Recent eruptions have been less violent, but it is still a major hazard for the city of Naples.
The city of Naples has a population of over 1 million people, and because Mount Vesuvius is so close, a major eruption could cause a lot of damage. In addition, the city’s infrastructure can not withstand a major eruption. The risk of an eruption increases every year, and scientists routinely monitor the volcano for any signs of activity.
Because of this risk, it is important for tourists to know about Mount Vesuvius before they visit Naples. It’s one thing to take pictures in front of the volcano, but it’s another thing entirely to be too close if the mountain were to suddenly erupt. However, it’s extremely unlikely, and with constant monitoring, there should be plenty of advance warning.
If you want to learn more about Mount Vesuvius, you can take a tour of the inside of the volcano with an experienced guide. These tours are affordable and fun. They’re worth considering if you want to learn more about this historic and natural landmark in Italy.
The City of Naples is rich with culture and tradition, and religious traditions are a big part of that. Most of the city’s inhabitants are Catholic, and there are many churches and other places of worship throughout Naples.
One of the most important religious traditions in Naples is the celebration of La Notte dei Morti Viventi (The Night of the Living Dead). This is a Halloween-like event that takes place every year on November 2nd. It commemorates the dead, and families visit the graves of their loved ones, leaving food and flowers.
Another important religious tradition in Naples is the celebration of Easter. They celebrate this holiday with a lot of pomp and ceremony, and there are many special events and processions during Holy Week. It lasts from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday.
Catholics aren’t the only people in Naples celebrating religious traditions. There are also small ethnic communities that celebrate unique holidays like Muslims and Jews. Still other locals practice Voodoo or Santeria (a blend of Catholicism and African religions). Because of this diversity, visitors to Naples will have a lot of opportunities for learning about different religious traditions.
Conclusion: Visit the City of Naples
Naples is a city of contrasts. The alleged birthplace of pizza, has one of the densest urban populations in Europe. Its inner neighborhoods feature alleys where families have lived in the same homes for generations. Yet just outside this densely populated area are beautiful seaside towns with sweeping views that rival any beach on Earth. The juxtaposition between poverty and privilege here is startling, yet it’s also a big part of what makes Neapolitan life so fascinating.
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