Bella Napoli is a true Italian connoisseurs Italy but can be a bit overwhelming for first time visitors. The trick is to take it slow, wander and get to know her a bit better.
In all truth, Naples is chaotic, full on in your face, and even feel a bit scary. Don’t let that discourage you, as Naples is also exhilarating, with a passion for life, and many say the “real” Italy. Probably the best way to approach Naples is in small doses. A day stop here before heading up the Amalfi Coast is a perfect way to take in this vibrating city and then continue on to calmer surroundings. Be warned, once you get to know this Italian gem, Napoli will call you back.
First things first: coffee! And Naples has the best coffee in the world! Head over to Gran Caffe Gambrinus just off the vast imposing Piazza del Plebiscito. Gambrinus is a Naples institution, and a grand old world cafe at its finest with its guild trimmings and crystal accents. Belly up to the counter and order a strong drink, that being a cup of espresso. It will take all of 45 seconds for the spoonful sized portion be served and downed in one gulp. But definitely linger and enjoy the people watching, perhaps have one of the luscious Neapolitan pastries. Other coffee options nearby are the Il Vero Bar del Professore and Caffe del Professore, both 30 seconds away around the Fontana del Carciofo.
Caffe at Gambrinus
After coffee wander for a short distance up Via San Carlo and happen upon the Galleria Umberto 1. If it looks familiar, it is because it is very like the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle in Milan, though Naples is distinctively a bit more low key. Wander through and spot the differences before jumping in a cab to Via San Gregorio Armeno which is a street dedicated to one of Naples celebrated handcrafts, the art of the Nativity. Shop upon shop filled with characters for making your own Nativity. Nativity scenes are very popular in Southern Italy and are unique as they add popular figures to their nativities alongside the traditional baby in the manger. And you will find that too along “Nativity Road,” look for famous football players, the Pope, and the folkloric Pulcinella (Punch) in his white pantaloons and black mask making mischief in poses like dancing or eating a plate of pasta.
Galleria Umberto I
At the end of Via San Gregorio Armeno you will hit another main road, take a right and a short distance from that you will find one of the top pizzeria’s in Naples, Pizzeria Di Matteo. You can choose to take a fried pizza, a Neapolitan specialty and local street food, to take away, or you can sit inside the restaurant and order traditional pizza off the menu. This place does get busy at peak times.
Via San Gregorio Armeno
Make your way to Piazza San Domenico Maggiore by going back down Via Gregorio Armeno and taking a right. This is the heart of the Spaccanapoli quarter filled with little shops and cafes. Once at the Piazza San Domenico Maggiore head a short walk up and behind the piazza to find Naples’ most impressive and moving sculpture inside the chapel Cappella Sansevero. The Cristo Velato (Veiled Christ) by Giuseppe Sanmartino is perhaps one of the most moving sculptures of a dead Christ. Made all the more astonishing by the marble veil he is covered in. It is not to be missed.
Back on the Piazza San Domenico Maggiore take a rest in one of the caffes on the piazza, and if you fancy something sweet, it is worth a stop into pastry shop Scaturchio for one of their famed Babás. A fluffy muffin shaped cake covered in a sweet rum flavoured syrup and a beloved sweet treat of the city. You must try it out while in Naples as you will not find better. You can get one to go or you can sit and enjoy at one of the cafe tables on the piazza. Even if you don’t fancy the babá, Scaturchio makes a nice place to relax, have a refreshment on the piazza and take in the attractive surroundings.
Pasticceria Scaturchio famed for its Babá
Next keep heading down the street towards Piazza del Gesu Nuovo. A short walk from there you will come upon the Monastero di Santa Chiara. The majolica tiles and garden benches make for a tranquil spot to escape the chaos of Naples if only for a short while. Take time along the cloisters and inner garden to admire the painted tiles as they are all different.
Monastero di Santa Chiara
End the day with drinks at the Hotel Excelsior terrace bar showcasing the best views of the Bay of Naples, with Vesuvio to one side, and the Isle of Capri on the other. Cin cin!
This guide is a light introduction to Naples, meant to be done at a leisurely pace and to capture the spirit of the city. There is lots to see in Naples in terms of museums, churches, and other points of interest should you wish to to explore more in depth.