The Wonders of Naples

In the days leading up to our arrival in Naples, what I most hoped for was for warmer weather and sunshine. We loved Matera, but it was chilly and rainy most days. It was a low bar for success that Naples vaulted over. We arrived in Naples and returned the rental car at the airport in 70-degree sunshine. We had low 70s and sunny every day of our one-week stay. It was perfect.

But Naples is so much more than sea views and nice weather (though I was thankful for both every day we were there). We had a fantastic week. Here are some of the wonderful things we did.

Daily Walks

We stayed in a hilly neighborhood between the ritzy neighborhoods of Chiaia by the sea and Vomero at the top of the hill. We typically like being in a more residential setting and that was true again in Naples, though our neighborhood was very steep (much of Naples is). The upside of this fact is that we had great views on all of our walks, even just to and from the grocery store. The downside is that we climbed up and down a ton of stairs and hills. But our Airbnb was nice (the host lived in the apartment below ours and was fun and kooky, as was his father who provided transportation for us when we arrived and departed) and comfortable (review below) and it was only a 10- to 20-minute walk to get to transportation to the rest of the city, depending on which train line we needed.

Naples has a reputation for being a bit dirty and gritty and there was plenty of trash in our neighborhood, but it was also quiet and pleasant overall.

An Afternoon in Vomero and Night Out in the Spanish Quarter 

Caffe macchiato (Italian for stained coffee) in Vomero

We arrived on a Thursday and worked all day Friday and Saturday, but by late afternoon on Saturday we were ready for some sightseeing and to try Naples’ famous pizza again (having tried it once on our way to Sorrento). We walked up the hill to the Vomero neighborhood, which reminded us a lot of the swanky neighborhoods like Condesa and Polanco in Mexico City. Lots of trees, pedestrian streets with many shops and restaurants, and lots of locals out enjoying a beautiful Saturday afternoon. We enjoyed wandering around Villa Floridiana park and then got a cafe macchiato for Chad to fuel him up.

Then we walked over to the Castel Sant’Elmo, the old castle that looms above Naples. It was well worth its small entry fee (just 2.50 euro) because you get to experience walking through the castle and then emerge at the top to great views of Naples. 

After we left the castle, we walked down a million steps to reach the Spanish Quarters. This is the old part of the city with narrow streets and a reputation for petty crime. It feels like it should be pedestrian only because the streets are so narrow, but there are tons of motorcycles and scooters zooming around. On the one hand, we loved how charming it felt. On the other hand, the charm was significantly marred by revving motors. The bikers are good at swerving around the people and it doesn’t feel dangerous (despite the crime reputation), but though there were many bars and restaurants, they all were pretty loud with street noise.

We lucked into one pretty quiet bar tucked into a side street for aperitivi, which we enjoyed very much. I had researched pizzarias the day before and all three options were nearby. Looking at the photos, one seemed near a set of steps rather than on a through-street, which we figured would cut down on the traffic noise. This proved to be a great choice and we really enjoyed our Naples pizza again. 

After dinner we walked toward the coast in search of gelato, which we enjoyed as we wandered through the Piazza del Plebiscito, one of the main squares in Naples. From there we walked through the Chiaia neighborhood and up the hill to home. It was a really fun afternoon and evening out. 

National Archeology Museum and other Central Sights

We booked our tickets to the Naples National Archeology Museum for late afternoon on Monday. Our usual trick with popular attractions is to be first in line in the morning, but sometimes that interferes with our key work hours, and museums are frequently less busy at the end of the day. We decided to spend the whole afternoon sightseeing on our way to the museum so we could see the other main Naples sights in the center of the city. 

After working through the morning and having lunch, we went down the hill to catch the train to the center of Naples. Our first stop was the Piazza del Gesù Nuovo, named after the unique-looking church that overlooks it. Then we walked over to Spaccanapoli, the famous Naples pedestrian street lined with restaurants and street food vendors, especially ones serving cuoppos – paper cones filled with various fried foods, especially seafood. The other local specialty is fried pizza, but we decided to skip the fried stuff for our health. Spaccanapoli connects with another famous pedestrian street, Via San Gregorio Armeno, which is known as the Christmas street because it has a bunch of shops that sell Christmas decorations. It was interesting but very crowded. 

From there we headed back south to the coast to check out the Castel Nuovo on the sea. It was impressive looking but we decided not to go inside. One castle per city is enough for us. We took a relaxing break in Molosiglio Gardens on the waterfront and then made our way to the nearest metro stop to check out some of the beautiful metro stations Naples is known for.

We ended up near the museum with more time to spare, so we found a cafe to fuel up with a macchiato for Chad and wine for me, then wandered over to the Galleria Principe, where we noticed a vegetarian restaurant. The menu was intriguing so we made a reservation for dinner after the museum. Then we walked down to the beautiful Piazza Bellini, where we had just enough time for another break before the museum.

As we’d hoped, the museum wasn’t at all crowded. The exhibits were great, especially the special exhibit about gladiator life and all of the stuff from Pompeii. We were definitely glad we’d visited Pompeii first so we had a sense of the geography and were already familiar with the different buildings. There were also a few items from Herculaneum, which we had plans to visit the following day. We took about a million photos at the museum, because it was all so interesting.

We left the museum over an hour before our dinner reservation, so we wandered back down toward Bellini and noticed an attractive garden bar that hadn’t been there before. They were just opening for the evening and it turned out they served upscale cocktails, so Chad ordered an old fashioned and I got a French 75, one of my favorite drinks. Then it was time for our vegetarian dinner, which was excellent. Finally we walked back over to the Montesanto train station to take the train home. It was another wonderful outing in Naples.

A Trip to Ercolano (Herculaneum)

The next morning we were up bright and early to be the first in the door at Herculaneum. We waited until that morning to buy the online ticket because we wondered if, after visiting Pompeii a couple weeks ago and spending the prior afternoon at the National Archeology Museum, we’d feel a little ruined-out. But our trip to the museum made us even more excited to visit Herculaneum, which we’d heard was quite different from Pompeii due to their relative positions on Vesuvius. Herculaneum was buried under much more volcanic ash (like 75 feet of ash!) and was therefore more difficult to excavate, but also better preserved. Because of the delay and it’s proximity to the coast (it was basically a seaside vacation spot for the wealthy), more people were able to escape Herculaneum. It was also a much smaller town so the ruins are less sprawling than Pompeii’s. But many died there as well, unable to escape to the see when the ash started to fall.

We had to take two trains to reach Herculaneum – first the subway about 20 minutes away from our house to central station and then we got on the Circumvisuvius train that goes from Naples to Sorrento (which we’d taken in Sorrento to reach Pompeii). Luckily, although ticket-buying and validating was a little confusing, all the trains ran on time and we reached the Herculaneum site a 10-minute walk from the Ercolano train station with about 10 minutes to spare before opening time. And once again, we were first in line, although this time only about 6 other people were also waiting for the opening gate. Since we already had our tickets we went right to the turnstile after getting our CDC vaccination cards checked and had the whole sight to ourselves for quite a while. 

As we walked down into the site, we were first struck by all the layers of ash still to be excavated. You really get a sense of what archeologists have had to do to clear Herculaneum, and the work continues today. But as we got into the heart of the town, we were mostly caught up in the beautiful ruins that remain at Herculaneum. Because it was basically a tourist town where wealthy people had their seaside vacation homes, there was a lot of opulence to the decor and various mosaics, carvings, and frescoes have survived. We also saw the typical Roman public buildings you’d expect – the public baths for men and women (termes), the food stands (thermopolia), and plenty of temples. I’m a little overwhelmed by all the photos we took, so I’m going to just share them with few captions.

We had a really wonderful time exploring Herculaneum. It took about two hours total and then we were off to catch the train back to Naples. This time, since we knew we wanted to try to visit a neighborhood on the other side of our own in Naples, we walked a little farther to a station by the sea between Ercolano and Portici with the regional Trenitalia train to our neighborhood. It should have been a direct train all the way back to our area, but due to work on the rails, we had to catch a connecting bus to the outskirts of Naples and then take the train the rest of the way in. It was a little confusing but we managed to figure it out and were even helped by an English-speaking taxi driver with where to find the bus stop (he also offered to drive us back for 40 euros, so that gives a sense of what a trip to Ercolano and back would cost if you didn’t want to take the train). 

When we finally reached our neighborhood we walked southwest to the Posillipo neighborhood to check out the ruins of a palace on the sea that Chad had read about. There was a very nice beach where people were swimming (in late October!) and took a few photos and then walked back to try to find a restaurant for lunch. I wanted to try the traditional Naples spaghetti with clams and we found a place on a not-too-busy street. Chad took the opportunity to try carbonara for the first time. After lunch, we headed home for a nap and then to have a full workday prior to staying up late to watch Liverpool’s champions league match (which was great – 3-2 win over Athletico Madrid!). Another great day in Naples.

Summary 

Our time in Naples was a good mix of work and play. We spent our final full day working, which was needed, and then were taken to the train station on Thursday morning by our Airbnb hosts dad again. I had researched a cafe and restaurant adjacent to the train station called Binario Calmo with good outdoor seating, and since we had quite a lot of time between checking out of our Airbnb and our train, we had a round of cappuccinos and then got an early lunch there. The one Naples food I regretted not trying was the cuoppo (fried seafood served in a paper cone), but we saw fried seafood on the restaurant menu and they served it with a paper cone on the side, so I got to have this experience after all! We got everything we wanted from our week in Naples and were really glad we chose to spend the time there.

Fried seafood and grilled veggies for our last lunch

Airbnb Review Casa Cesca worked out really well for our one-week stay in Naples. Very clean and comfortable with great wifi. Kitchen had all we needed for cooking. The host, Fabio, was very friendly and eager to help and provided tons of recommendations for where to go and how to get around. Using their paid transportation option from the airport was worth it to avoid the taxis and made checking in very easy. We used the service again to get to the train station for our departure. We had no trouble walking to the train and metro stations to get to all the places we wanted to see. Great place!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.