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Naples - What to believe?

My wife and I are planning on taking a day trip from Rome to Herculaneum and Naples. I've heard very mixed reviews on Naples with some people saying it is a very bad area and we should avoid it and others saying that we should not believe the hype. What's the truth? Should we avoid Naples? Really, all we want is a piece of authentic neopolitan pizza.

Posted by
1550 posts

It depends on the person. If you have been to large cities, then you should be reasonably well prepared. It is hectic, but it is not the hellscape that the naysayers would have you believe.
I was only hesitant to stay a night because I had been in blissfully small villages for my entire trip, but I enjoyed it. It is a fascinating city with thousands of years of history. And if you like Neopolitan pizza, then you should by all means go!

Posted by
6211 posts

The best way to find out how you would feel is to see it for yourself, and then judge based on your own standards. There seem to be two extreme viewpoints on Naples - either you love it or you hate it...no "in between". I'm in the "love" camp. But you definitely don't need to go to Naples just for the pizza, there is authentic Neapolitan pizza right here in the US (http://americas.pizzanapoletana.org/members.php). My local joint in Arlington, VA is run by Neapolitans and I couldn't tell the difference between their pizza and the one in Naples because they're required to use the same ingredients and methods to produce a true "DOC" Neapolitan pizza.

Go to Naples for the incredible sites, museums, churches, sfogliatelle pastry, and of course chaos. Go with an open mind and be flexible...if you enjoy other big crowded cities warts and all, then chances are you may end up liking Naples. If you want to see what it really looks like, pull up Google Streetview and do a virtual drive by, especially along the waterfront...there are some gorgeous streets and buildings.

Posted by
7245 posts

A female friend of mine, in her 60s, just spent 2 wks in Naples by herself and loved it. I've heard and used to believe the negative, but not anymore.

Posted by
5845 posts

There is no need to avoid Naples. It is bustling, chaotic and real. If you have the time, spend a night there. The pizza is excellent and so inexpensive.

Posted by
1550 posts

Hi Agnes,
Are you talking about Pupatella? I live in Arlington and love that place (oh, the eggplant arancini)! We went to the pizzeria in Naples where the owner apprenticed, just for kicks.

Posted by
2881 posts

A trip from Rome to Herculaneum should be enough to keep you busy for a day. A slice of pizza seems, to me, an insufficient reason to endure the hassle of getting off the train, getting to a pizzeria, getting served and eating, then making it back to the station for your return to Rome. Unless, perhaps, someone knows of a pizzeria close to the station?
On the question of whether Naples is a "bad area,". I'll add this. I really disliked Naples, not because of crime issues. It was really dirty and disorganized. The streets were filled with litter. There's good public transport, but no maps to show routes. People would tell us, for example, to go to a certain square to find a bus, when in reality, that bus stop was two blocks away. We spent enormous amounts of time just trying to get to where we wanted to go, like a whole morning to get to the Archaeological Museum after being given directions by our b&b owner. (Just one of several similar experiences). The large number of beggars in the streets and the young people walking in large groups who essentially forced us off the sidewalk to let them pass didn't add any charm, in my opinion.

Posted by
6211 posts

Hi Valadelphia,
YES!!! Pupatella..yum!

Posted by
20686 posts

We have been in and through Naples a number of times over the years. The most recent was last year. It is a little rougher on the edges than some other European cities but not to an unsafe feeling level. We have stuck mostly to the heavy commercial areas with lots of people and traffic. Had no problems. We did avoid it the year of the great garbage strike but other than that it has been fine. I would encourage the normal precautions that we take in all European cities.

Posted by
337 posts

But you definitely don't need to go to Naples just for the pizza, there is authentic Neapolitan pizza right here in the US (http://americas.pizzanapoletana.org/members.php).

It goes further than that. In Chicago, Spacca is good, but Da Nella is better. And they are not a member even though Nella is a third generation pizzaiolo from Naples.

Posted by
16781 posts

If you're not also going to visit the Archeological Museum in Naples, then I'd definitely get pizza closer to Ercolano Scavi. There are several pizzerias between the train station and the ruins.

Posted by
1607 posts

My 2 cents is: I spent 2 days there in early April of this year and I loved it! Naples is dirty and chaotic but so full of life. The people are warm, the drivers are crazy but I noticed there were no wrecked vehicles or dented fenders or broken headlights anywhere. I'm a single female over the age of 55 and did not feel unsafe.
I would go back in a heartbeat. I went to the Archaeological Museum, the Capidomente Art Museum and the Sanseverre Chapel and several churches. Ate in wonderful small restaurants recommended in Rick Steves' guidebook. Also spent a day touring Pompeii via the Circumvesuviana train. Also ate pizza at the 2nd best pizza place (after Michaela's).

If you have ever read any novels by Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, the 1st in her Neapolitan trilogy ,which actually turned out to be 4 novels, then you will feel like you have already been in Naples. She captures the spirit so perfectly!

Posted by
1539 posts

I love Naples too. Great museums and the best piece of marble sculpture I have ever seen in Sansevero Chapel Museum in the historic heart of Naples.
"The Veiled Christ" - it is amazing (how did the artist do it - the face under the veil??)
AND
of course the pizza.

Posted by
103 posts

FIRST - you can't get a piece of pizza, if it's authentic, you get a whole pizza :-)

if that's all you want, there are plenty of other places to eat pizza, unless you want to eat at one of the most famous pizzerias in the world (da michele) or what is believed to be the oldest in the world (port d'alba).

i spent 5 days alone in naples last year and loved it. if you really just want to duck in and out for pizza i wouldn't bother, but you'd be missing a lot.

that said, if you are bothered by graffiti and a bit of trash, as it appears, some people are, definitely don't go.

Posted by
362 posts

Rosalyn took the words right out of my mouth. We hated it. And the pizza...yuk. If you like your crust so doughy that it just falls over the edges then you'll love their pizza. They have to roll it up to eat it. I like mine crisp on the bottom. Plus, I found some of the frozen pizzas at home actually had a better flavor. I say skip it, but then you'll never really know, right? I guess there are enough people that dislike it that makes that opinion valid in some respects. You don't hear that from the other cities do much, but there is a reason you hear it so much about Naples. We only spent our last day and night there before flying home and we felt it was a waste. How I wish we had just taken the fast train back to Rome.

Posted by
1158 posts

First, Naples was a major capital for centuries so there is definitely a lot of art to be seen.
Second, present Naples is obviously dirty and disorganized. But it is not the worst place of the world: nothing like Mumbai where millions of people do not have a roof for this night.
Third, most Neapolitan are incredibly witty - probably you have to develop some wit to survive there - and if you stay there for a couple of days you will go home with a lot of stories to tell. This, of course, goes completely lost if you do not speak Italian, or even better the Neapolitan dialect.

Posted by
4694 posts

Keith, you wouldn't believe how often people ask on the TA/New York City board whether this or that place in New York City is "safe". New York had a crime problem 35 years ago, and is still living it down. In the meantime, it's safer than most other American cities close to its size. There are virtually no "unsafe" areas in touristed parts of NYC.

It would help if we could tell (under your name, like me and others) whether you are a rural or near-city dweller. If you have ever been asked for money by a homeless person in the USA, you will be fine in Naples. On our 36 hours in Naples, in fact, we weren't approached by a single beggar or, for that matter, aggressive restaurant tout .... at any time. We saw no crime, although aggressive drivers forced us behind bollards more than once. That would never happen in Los Angles, would it?

Because of Naples' history, I wouldn't have missed it. But just for pizza, it's not worth taking the time from your vacation. Go to Pompeii as well, instead. You can get good pizza all over Italy. Just not within sight of a major Piazza or church! (See "Rick Steves" food advice.) I enjoyed the Farnese Marbles even more than the Pompeii material at the Archaeology Museum.

Posted by
752 posts

At least walk down Spaccanapoli, one of the most famous mercatini streets in the world. If you want slices of pizza, the cafeteria at the Napoli Centrale train station sells delicious slices, especially the tomato and mushroom, nice and juicy top, crunchy crusty bottom! And they make delicious American coffee! LOL! Sad to go that far and not see Napoli.

Posted by
365 posts

I have to add to the I don't like it group. I found it to be chaos, stressful and just unpleasant. I was there on a rick steves tour and I did like the museum we went to. The pizza was ok, but I would no go back again. That being said I would say go and find out for yourself. You are the only one who can say if it is worth it or not.

Posted by
752 posts

And if you decide to stay, recommended lodging areas are Chiaia (key eye ah) and Piazza del Plebiscito.

Posted by
1759 posts

I couldn't tell the difference between their pizza and the one in Naples

This means in Naples they did not use the real Agerola fiordilatte cheese (or the buffalo version called mozzarella) that must be eaten within 36 hours, can't be refrigerated and, for the same reasons, can't be shipped to US. When you taste it in Naples for the first time you have a wow moment.

I also doubt you can make pizza with San Marzano tomatoes grown in volcanic soil in US.

Unfortunately Neapolitans often use second choice ingredients when they cook for foreign tourists. Don't be too angry, they do it even with other Italians.

we felt it was a waste

Well, I guess that for somebody seeing the most ancient imagine of Alexander the Great and the gift that Cesar gave to Cleopatra when she gave birth to their son is a waste.

Posted by
11613 posts

I recently wrote a trip report on Napoli. I stayed near Piazza del Plebiscito, as Sandra recommended, and it had a very different feel than the area near the train station where I usually stay. I found that being near the bay in the Santa Lucia district gave me a sense of serenity at the start and end of every day.

I love Napoli. I go every year for 4-7 nights. Napoli does not disneyfy itself so tourists can find it quaint or charming. It's as real as any big city gets.

Posted by
6211 posts

dariolb,
You're splitting hairs here. Americans in general aren't THAT discerning to notice volcanic ash on their San Marzano tomatoes or if the buffalo mozzarella is more than a day old. After a certain high level of quality, any additional quality is marginal. I can assure you that the Neapolitan pizza here in some certified places is pretty darn good...maybe not the same, but still really good. I would venture to guess that most Americans wouldn't like Neapolitan pizza at all because they're just not used to the lack of a firm crust and they don't like the burnt parts...it would taste totally foreign to them, as expressed by one poster.

Sadly, I've never been able to find spaghetti alle vongole that's as good as the vongole from the Bay of Naples. The clams here are from the Philippines and they're just not as flavorful.

Every time someone asks about Naples I go straight into daydream mode...I wish I could visit right now. Even though, at the time, I have to admit to my head feeling like it would split open (partly tiredness and then sensory overload). Thankfully some espresso every few hours helped a lot. I was also lucky to have some local friends-of-a-friend host me and share in a wonderful dinner.

Posted by
979 posts

We stopped in Naples just for the Pizza and did not consider it a hassles, we really enjoyed it. We traveled by train from Florence to Sorrento, switching trains Naples. Got off the train, checked train times for the Campania Express and saw that we had 3 hours. Took a Taxi to Da Michelle (close to the train station), stood in line with all other other people, had our pizza (not a slice, a whole pizza) and took a taxi back to the station. We loved the pizza and did not like the very small part of Naples that we saw. So if it is just for the Pizza, then go for it!

Posted by
980 posts

Susan (the poster above) and I share the same friend who spent 2 weeks in Naples this past Spring.
This was her second visit to Naples, since her first (just a few days) had not been satisfying enough.
AND ... she is looking forward to a third visit this coming Spring!
She is 60, does speak some Italian, and gives some thought to the neighborhoods she sleeps in, but she loves Naples! (I am trying to figure out some way to overlap with her in Naples on my next trip ...)
I don't think that it is a viable day trip from Rome, however.
There is plenty of great pizza in Rome if that is your only reason for visiting!

Posted by
31030 posts

keith,

You've received lots of interesting comments so far, and I'll add a few as well.

I've found that each part of Italy has a somewhat unique "culture" and that certainly applies to Naples. It may be a bit intense and "rough around the edges" but it's also well worth a visit (IMO). It has some interesting sights such as the Archeological Museum (which has a lot of artifacts from Pompeii), the veiled Christ and I very much enjoyed trying Neopolitan Pizza.

A day trip is certainly possible as it's only about an hour each way via high speed train. Be sure to read the "caveats" in the guidebook about the Taxis there, avoiding pickpockets, etc., As someone else mentioned, the area around Via Chiaia is really nice, and I'm sure you'd enjoy stopping at the Caffè Gambrinus for a Limoncello or some pastries - http://grancaffegambrinus.com/en/

Posted by
11613 posts

Caffe Gambrinus is steps away from Piazza del Plebescito and has a nice outdoor area. As pricey as it gets in Napoli, but still about €4 for a cappuccino.

Posted by
752 posts

I agree that Naples is Not a day trip from Rome. And if you end up on a Regionale with a transfer, it can take seven hours to travel from Naples to Rome!

Posted by
6211 posts

It does not take 7 hours to get from Rome to Naples....there are fast trains that cover the route in less than 2 hours. There is no reason to take the local "Regionale" trains. Having said that, if I had to choose between (only) pizza in Naples or a trip to Pompeii instead, I'd pick Pompeii. I think you have to actually spend some time in Naples (more than a day) to really enjoy it and to let it "sink in". Most people who hate it or found it awful likely spent less than a full day there, some only a few hours.

Posted by
2454 posts

Thank you for this post and responses. I was in Naples for a day quite a few years ago now. I loved it, but could not get the other two parties I was with interested in it as they were just seeing the visual surface. And no one else will look twice at it as they mostly haven't started traveling yet, IMO. Naples has a great energy. Life continues on old Roman roads. The city is energetic on the surface, and beautiful when one looks through the distractions. I've wanted to go back for years, but other items on my bucket list have taken precedent. I feel now that I've been traveling solo, (and love it), I will have to make it my 2nd next trip. I want to just stay in that city for a week or so, and ramble. But, I plan one trip at a time... Back to Amsterdam for a week's stay first. So I'd have to say I'm on the love side...even though I've spent one day there, and run through it on another occasion... If you need everything clean and pretty, superficially ideal, Naples is not the place for you.

Posted by
3826 posts

We did this back in '08. We walked from the train stn to Ercolano (well, we got off at the wrong stop and had to wait an hour to get back to the right station to walk to Herculaneum). On our way back, we stopped along the way to the train stn and had some pizza. At the station, there were some set ups there offering van rides up Mt Vesuvius. Can't rem the cost, but we decided to go for it. You go about 3/4 of the way up to a parking lot, then walk the rest of the way to the summit. They gave you something like an hour or 90 min (this was 2008, so fuzzy).

I'm looking at my photos and it looks like we got to Herc about noon, stayed 2 hrs (then I started getting tired and hungry - that I rem...lol). I have a photo of a Naples street an hour later (prob after the pizza), then a photo from Mt Vesu 40 min after that. Looks like we spent about 40 min or so on Mt Vesu. I'm sure we were back in Rome by about 8 pm or so.

Posted by
1726 posts

We daytripped it from Sorrento to Naples on a Sunday this last March, and found it charming. But, we only went from the Circumvesuviana train (well, that wasn't all that charming, but it was cheap and interesting) to Napoli Centrale, then a fun taxi ride to the Archeological Museum with a hilarious cabbie.

The museum itself was fantastic, especially the Pompei art. Then afterwards, we cabbed it back to Centrale and took the CV back to Sorrento.

I do want to go back to explore Naples further but it probably won't be for a few years as there are so many other parts of Italy to see. And as far as the pizza? We had Napolitan-style in Salerno two years ago that was fantastic, and have comparable quality here in the US.

Posted by
714 posts

Herculaneum is wonderful and I thought it more interesting than Pompeii. I spent a couple of nights in Naples as part of the RS Southern Italy tour and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Our guide had lived in Naples and her enthusiasm for the city was infectious. She also gave us great advice in surviving as a pedestrian in Naples, where to go for pastries and coffee, and yes the areas to avoid at night.

As for the pizza, it was one of our included meals at one of the best pizzerias. I am not a fan of pizza in general and being squeezed into a small dining room on a very hot and muggy night was not my idea of fun. But the pizza was fine. Would I have made a special effort to get some - no.