Please sign in to post.

Surviving Naples!

Hello all,

I returned from 4 days/3 nights in Naples yesterday, and I'm writing a trip report while everything is still fresh. Our impetus for the trip was wanting to visit Pompeii and very cheap airfare. We'd initially been trying for Rome but airfare spiked and we are nothing if not cheap. Being part of the US Military Community, we know many people who had lived in Naples and had strong (positive and negative) opinions on it, but we generally like big cities that many other American tourists do not (like Marseille) and the weather was just average, so we decided to make it a city trip instead of heading to Sorrento or somewhere else with a more pleasant reputation.

I'm glad we did, although Naples is also perhaps the most exhausting city I've dealt with since Bucharest many years ago. While we loved the atmosphere, the incredible stereotypical Italianness of it all, the crumbling elegance, and so forth, the two things that make Naples a tough place to visit are the traffic and the size of the city that seems really underserved by public transit (which explains the scooters). On the plus side, although we were careful, we didn't have any issues with crime or even feel like it was particularly shady. We brought a travel wallet but did not use it. We both carried cross body backs and kept them on when sitting outside or put them at our feet, but honestly Paris, Brussels, Madrid, and Barcelona, while perhaps less sketchy-looking than Naples, certainly seem to be higher risk places for pickpocketing, scams, and mugging - perhaps because it's shoulder season and most tourists appeared to be Italian anyway. The worst we encountered were a couple guys trying to sell us roses, who listened to us when we said no thanks, unlike Venice where we ended up walking away from each other so we wouldn't be spotted as a couple by the rose vendors when crossing busy squares.

We flew Eurowings in, arrived at the airport, and the host at the flat we'd rented had told us to make sure and ask for the set rate for the Taxi from the airport, which was 25. We did, but the guy said it would be 30 for a "Sunday supplement". We kind of rolled our eyes and got in because what are you going to do? This was the first and last taxi ride I'll ever take in Naples. The return via the Alibus was far less terrifying.

Luckily our host, Claudia, who rents out a charming little flat called El Punto Fisso via, had been in contact with us extensively via WhatsApp in the days before the trip. I can't recommend her or her flat enough. She was flexible with checking in and out and would message me every day to make sure things were going OK. That's some service! The flat was behind Piazza di Plebiscito, right at the corner of the Spanish Quarter, St. Lucia, and Chiaia, in a building old ladies looking out the window of their bassos and dodging scooter traffic to dry their laundry.

Let's just talk about the traffic. This was for me by far the most stressful aspect of the trip. I had gotten the hang of dodging the scooters and cars by our last day, but on that first day, tired both physically and emotionally, I nearly had a breakdown trying to cross a busy street at dusk. I loved the feel of the Spanish Quarter and we spent a lot of time there, but it was a stressful area to navigate. We eventually also learned routes to take and avoid for ease of getting around.

After checking in, we decided to go up Via Toledo to the Funicular to Castel Sant'Elmo to get some views on a sunny day in the late afternoon. It was magical up there, and when we started to understand just how huge Naples is. After taking tons of pictures we decided to walk down, because taking staircase streets seemed like a good way to take in the atmosphere and avoid scooters. It was beautiful but pretty intense on the legs!

Posted by
3031 posts

After finally arriving back at our flat, we sent out to have dinner around 8:30, first in Chiaia, except the stairs that take you from the bridge near our flat down to Via Chiaia was mysteriously locked up, and I couldn't figure out how to get down there without a massive detour. Our legs were already sore from the walk down from the castle, and Google Maps said we were a mere 12 minute walk from the waterfront restaurants in St. Lucia, so we set out, dodging scooters in the dark, working our way uphill until we found ourselves on a very dark street, via Egiziaca a Pizzofalcone, where my boots slipped on a broken cobblestone and I fell, hard, in the street just past a blind corner. We were also at the edge of a park, on what we realized is a little mountain right in the front of town. We didn't know how safe it was to be walking through a park and then what appeared to be a series of very steep switchbacks down to the waterfront.

Slightly hobbled from my fall and unsure of how safe it was from both a physical perspective and a crime perspective, we turned around and went back to the Spanish Quarter. It was now almost 10:00, and while we know dinner is later in Italy, but we didn't want to find ourselves having pizza again on the same day (we had street pizza prior to going up the funicular at the tasty Pizza a Portafoglio de Gennaro Salvo. It had a crowd and was in fact excellent, although the croquette was a little insipid). We were exhausted and when we saw a couple leave a crowded restaurant, Trattioria Speranzella, we went for it.

It was a fine meal with good service- we both had the polpette, but my husband had it with a telephone-cord looking pasta with ricotta in the sauce, whereas I had the meatballs simply with a ragu - and we split a bottle of dry Gewurztraminer from South Tirol because after this day, I needed it. Here's where I make a confession, however: I am just not that into Italian food. I don't dislike it, but I don't find it exciting like I do many other cuisines. I had wondered if that was mostly because I was more familiar with the Sicilian-American style, but on my 2nd trip to Italy I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that it's just probably going to knock my socks off. So I'm not the best person to opine or judge Italian food. Just my tastebuds.

Afterwards we were directed to a nearby craft beer bar called "23" via friendly signs in English. I'd heard the Italian craft beer scene was pretty cool, so we went and stepped, literally in this tiny place, into a digeridoo concert being put on by a local. The host of the bar, which was only been open 6 months, was friendly and spoke excellent English. Nice little spot if you want to try local beers in a variety of styles.

The next day we'd decided to get a Campaigna Artecard as between transit and the two main sights we wanted to see (The Archaeological Museum and Pompeii) it would pay for itself and give us a reduction in the price of the many, many churches and museums in the city. Purchasing the card was confusing and like everything in Naples, took longer than it should have, but once we had it, we were glad, as it was really convenient and probably saved us at least $20-30 overall.

We took the metro from Toledo to the Museo stop and went into the Archaeological museum. Because it was a sunny day we told ourselves we were only going to see the highlights, but we were there for over 3 hours. It's just such an impressive museum. I used the free Rick Steves audioguide on my phone, which is cheesy but helpful for context for some pieces. If possible, see the museum before Pompeii - I'm glad we did.

Afterwards we did the first 1/3rd of Rick's Naples Walk audiotour, stopping in the beautiful Piazza Bellini for a Spritz and free snacks. Lovely, relaxing place to enjoy in the city.

Posted by
6998 posts

I agree the traffic, scooters, general chaos, construction activity, and hills can be intense, but I'm not sure the city is really "underserved" by public transit (check out the map - it connects pretty much everywhere a tourist would want to go and then some, and it's pretty decent: I know people put it in a whole different category than Rome, but frankly, Rome can be just as stressful trying to cross the streets. Naples is just poorer, feels more chaotic, and doesn't have a very developed tourist infrastructure and less (N. American) tourists (although a lot has changed since I went, there were no hop on-off buses then that I can remember). One thing that is striking is the very narrow streets and the lack of parallel streets in the grid system and very steep hills (although they have a funicular system), so if you get lost at night, you're not going to have fun navigating it all. And it's super dense and feels really tight in areas like the Spaccanapoli, especially when scooters are whizzing right by you and the laundry is hanging over your head. When you're up on Vomero hill overlooking the city and the Bay of Naples, it looks insanely dense. I had the best spaghetti and clams (spaghetti alle vongole), baba cake, and sfogliatelle in Naples (nothing I've had since came close) - I'd highly recommend all three. I did drink espresso pretty much every few hours when I was in Naples because I felt like my head would explode otherwise - thankfully, it kept me going. All in all, I had a great time there and left a stronger impression than more mellow, "prettier" places in Italy. I rode the old and rickety Circumvesuviana too.

Posted by
2723 posts

Thank you so much for posting. I don't recall another trip report which includes Naples.

Looking forward to your next installment.

Posted by
1056 posts

Sarah, thanks for your post. I’ll be spending a couple extra days in Naples after my RS Southern Italy trip ends next month. Good to know your impressions. And Agnes, thanks for the link to the transit map.

Posted by
656 posts

Excellent posts; my wife and I enjoyed our time in Naples several years ago.

Posted by
461 posts

Thanks for posting. We spent two nights in Naples two years ago, and we did enjoy it, but riding in taxis was a hair-raising experience! It is an intense city, but the archaeology museum was a great complement to our visits to Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the area along the waterfront is wonderful for strolling. The pizza was amazing, and we had a great dinner in a nice neighborhood near the waterfront. We missed going up on the Hills--maybe next time.

Posted by
2197 posts

Thanks for posting this trip report; I am among those who really enjoyed Naples. We stayed several extra days after the conclusion of the RS South Italy tour. and thoroughly enjoyed our brief stay. The Archaeology Museum is one of my favorite museums of all the museums in Europe I have explored. I enjoyed it immensely. We were also mesmerized by the sculptures in the Capella Sansevero; so delicate, intricately carved and breathtakingly beautiful. The food we ate during our stay wasn't fancy but was delicious! We also took a tour of the underground bomb shelters- Napoli Sotterranea. It's a fascinating story of Naples from the ancient Greeks through air raid shelters from WW II. We found it intriguing and very memorable. Here's a link- I really enjoyed reading this report and hope more travelers will give Naples a chance!

Posted by
2910 posts

Thank you for sharing your experiences in Naples. So many travelers are fearful because of its undeserved reputation and deride it. Yes, it sure does define “Italianess.” It is a vibrant and interesting destination. Another of my favorite cities with similar bad karma is Marseille. Put that on your bucket list. Not as many scooters!

Posted by
115 posts

Thank you for sharing Sarah. For our September trip to Italy, Naples is one of our destinations. We’ll be staying for two days. I’m still researching hotels, sites etc.

Posted by
1943 posts

My husband and I stayed several nights in an apartment in the heart of the Spaccanapoli a few years ago. The neighbors and street life were fascinating.

Edited to add: I went looking for Claudia's apartment on and its name is El Posto Fisso - looks great! Thank you for the recommendation, which is going into my files.

Posted by
3031 posts

We stopped the walk at Dante Metro, because our feet didn't want to continue the walk, and we wanted to have time to change and rest at our flat before dinner at Muu Muzzerella Seaside at 8:30. We admired the buffela mozzerella and bought some fennel taralli from the food market at the Toledo metro stop. Seriously considered having a dinner of mozzerella with some olive oil and salt at home, but FOMO lead us to our reservation on the waterfront.

I almost forgot, after buying our Artecard and before going to the museum, we had decided to pop into the Spanish Quarter for lunch at Pizzeria Da Attilio, which was hands down the best meal we had. We were early for lunch - 12:30 - so we got in without a wait although a line quickly formed once we were seated. We split the house pizza, where the chef, a 3rd generation pizza maker, creates "slices" using dough on one pizza with different toppings. The kicker was the center of the pizza, a raised puff of dough that hides what is the best ricotta I've ever had in my life. It was mind-bending, I'm-almost-crying-thinking-about-it-now good. Worth all the hassle and chaos of Naples, that ricotta. The pizza itself was perfect, although we both enjoyed the simple Margharetia and Marina portions the most, because of the quality of the tomato sauce, the herbs, and the cheese.

OK, back to dinner - instead of face off again with Monte Echia, we took the long way around to Via Partenope to get to Muu, which is a restaurant focused on local Mozzerella and other cheeses. The menu was creative and portions large (like everywhere we went). We split 4 "small plates", the Mozzerella "in a carriage", a traditional fried sandwich, kind of like a monte cristo; "tempura-battered" balls of mozzerella with ricotta inside, a cheese and lardon-stuffed artichoke, and ricotta and bacon stuffed zucchini flowers. The latter dish was wonderful, the artichoke was a bit undercooked and not well thought-out, and the other two dishes fine but not amazing. In retrospect I kind of wish we'd just bought the cheese to eat at home with good olive oil and salt and some fresh veggies!

Because we were at the waterfront we decided to make our way to the trendy and upscale Chiaia neighborhood finally, which was bustling even on a Monday evening. What a world of difference from the Spanish Quarter! We enjoyed a drink and headed back up the Via Chiaia under that bridge, finally figuring out how to get around the long way. Time to sleep because tomorrow we go to Pompeii!

Or...not. After getting up earlyish, having a quick espresso, we arrived at the Garabaldi main train station to find that the Circumvensia train was on strike that day. Awesome. We were informed there was another train, but it took longer and we'd have to catch a bus from the modern town of Pompeii. We also were extremely confused because we were told to take the Metro, except it wasn't the underground local transit they were talking about, but also not the above-ground trains...we ended up wasting a lot of time trying to figure this all out. We finally opted to go to Pompeii the next day, since our flight wasn't until 20:50, and spend what was left of the day exploring Naples' historic center.

Whoops, life got busy and I left this but I'll come back to it eventually!

Posted by
3031 posts

Agnes: I will have to disagree on the public transit in Naples. While the Metro is good, as is are the funiculars, from getting around from sight to sight without a good tram or bus system we literally averaged nearly 25,000 steps per day, which is, you know, a lot. Naples is huge, like, nearly Paris huge if you're going by the size of the "center". There are whole neighborhoods we didn't have time to even come close to visiting still within the "city center". It was only our second trip to Italy, and the first was Venice which as Claudia put it is "very different from Naples" (lol) but being used to German cities, where you have usually a relatively small historic core with suburbs of previously existing villages incorporated into the town. Naples is not that, it's just city, city, and more city. It's not a bad thing at all but there's just SO MUCH and there's literally a fascinating church on every corner but they all cost money to get into which is where I'll pick up.

After deciding to do Pompeii on our last day (a risk!) we had a very necessary espresso (as one commenter said - yes, the caffeine rush is what kept us going throughout!) and decided to finally get to Spagganapoli, (spelling is going out the window, I'm tired and I want to finish this trip report and y'all can figure out what i mean).

It was intense, but beautiful. We headed straight for the church with the famous stone sculpture only to informed that it was closed on Tuesday because, of course. Early on in planning I'd made note of the closures but since the strike had changed my carefully laid plans, I'd forgotten about this. 2nd time in the trip I nearly cried because I knew it wasn't realistic to think we'd walk a mile with our luggage to tour the church in the morning and then go to Pompeii. I got over my breakdown with a 2 euro Aperol spritz on the main drag, we put our names in for pizza at the overly-famous "Eat Pray Love" pizza place, only to decide we didn't really care about pizza, because nothing would top the previous day, and we went to the Anime church, where a cult had formed of people "taking care of" the skulls of poor people in a mass grave. It was morbid and wonderful.

We had fried pizza at the fried pizza outlet of the famous pizzeria, but somehow fried pizza is not nearly as good as it sounds. We hit a few more churches, walked around, had more Aperol Spritz, hit the main church, then the other main church - so many churches! I love it, because I am fascinated by all of it, but my husband doesn't fully share my strange Jewish obsession for crazy Catholic churches so we hit the Galerie d'Italie back near Toledo to see the only Caravaggio of the trip. (Had I known in advance our plan would be messed up, I would have opted to go to the larger art museum in a palace on the hill with several Caravaggios but, sigh, Naples.)

It's actually a great little museum and not very expensive. Set in a former merchant's palace (a lot going on there about the Dutch/Naples connection) which later became a bank, the building itself is stunning inside and out with amazing frescoes and of course, Carivaggo's last work, the death of St. Ursula. If you want a smidge of art without committing to hours in a museum in a convenient location, this is a good place to hit up.

Even though we were only a 10 minute walk from our flat at this point, we opted to walk back to St. Lucia to see the "Egg Castle" which we'd missed. We just kinda skipped dinner this night, grabbing a drink on the very touristy island and filling up on the free snacks, before we found ourselves back in Chiaia for more snacks. I do love the Southern European tradition of just giving free food for a drink. Germany, it's something to consider! I wouldn't bother visiting the Egg Castle area unless you specifically want to tour the fortress.

Posted by
3031 posts

So we had a relatively early night and woke up to get our luggage to the facility "near" the train station (about 4 blocks away) that I'd pre-paid for online. It's not a bad service, but miss the simplicity of lockers at train stations. That said, I think the horrors of the Naples train station are really exaggerated. It's not a nice area, sure, but the area around the Salzburg train station isn't "nice" either. I really found the "dodgy" reputation of Naples to be overstated and wondered how much of it was based on the fact that a lot of people of African heritage live and work in that area.

So we get on the Circumvensia train, standing only of course, but it's not TOO bad.

What to say about Pompeii? I'm not a scholar. I told my husband that he never gets to drag me to some random Roman limes again because it blew my mind. I actually cried a bit when I first saw the city. I knew it was well preserved but I was unprepared for how well it was preserved. It was that astonishing. It should easily be considered in the top 3 sights in Europe, even if you're not into Roman history.

We spent about 4 hours there, using the Rick tour on and off but deviating when something caught our eye. Some of the most spectacular sights, like an amazingly preserved bath, complete with detailed stucco on the ceilings are steps away from his audio tour yet don't make the cut, nor does the Temple of Isis. I get that you can't cover everything - it's a huge site - but this seemed like an egregious oversight.

Even though it was a rainy day in April, Pompeii was mobbed. The rain was annoying but I'm sure it's preferrable to being there in hot weather. This was not an exciting food day. We finished the special Easter cake Claudia had left for us for breakfast, had terrible pizza at Pompeii, and less than great airport food after catching the airport bus. That said, the Naples airport is pretty nice and the bus was way less terrifying than the taxi ride.

In conclusion: Did I like Naples? A qualified yes by the last day, when I finally figured out how to cross a street. Would I recommend it to most Americans? No. I understand why people don't like it. But it is a pure distilled old-school Europe with no filters and it's increasingly hard to find places like that. The coastline is clearly beautiful and I'd like to see the Amalfi coast at some point, but a lot of the things I liked about this part of Italy I can find in Greece, except the food and culture and people resonate with me in a way that so far, Italy hasn't quite yet. I like Naples but I did keep thinking that if I'm going to put up with all this mischegas I'd rather just be in Athens, a city that's very underrated by American tourists in my opinion.

That said, Claudia, our host keeps randomly messaging me on Whatsapp, which is a first, so who knows, with these cheap flights we may find ourselves back in Naples sooner than we think.

The next trip is another self-drive boat from Narbonne to Port Cassfieres with a crew of 5, 3 of which have never done this kind of trip before. Look for a report the second week of June if my crewmates don't toss me overboard for being a bossy PITA.