The Port City of Naples lies on the north coast of the Bay of Naples, about 225 kilometres (140 miles) south of Rome, with Mount Vesuvius volcano (1281 metres high) visible just to the south east of Naples and the ancient ruins of Pompeii also just to the south of Mount Vesuvius too. Pompeii is just 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Naples, with the Amalfi Coast about 25 kilometres south of Pompeii – where you will find the famous locations of Sorrento, Positano and the island of Capri.
While it is possible to do a day Bus trip from Rome to see Pompeii or catch a train to Naples and then to Pompeii and many people do this, it is better if you can spend a bit more time here if you can.
From Naples there are cruises to other parts of the Mediterranean and also ferries that can take you to the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida and to Sorrento and Positano across the Bay of Naples – all less than an hour away.
There are also a number of attractive waterfront areas too in Naples – just one of the nicest and most vibrant being the area around Borgo dei Marinari, another being the area known as Santa Lucia.
Naples (Napoli) –
Naples is the biggest city in southern Italy and a busy port with a population of around a million people. It also has a reputation for being somewhat dirty. There is also a lot of youth unemployment and social problems too as a result, so you need to take care and watch out for pickpockets and theft. They're pretty fast and very clever too.
On the positive side, the City has a history that dates back to the days of the pre- Roman Empire days and it is also the birthplace of the Margherita and Napolitano Pizzas. Very early in its history it was occupied by Greeks, the Romans and also later by the Spanish, French and Austrians too, making for an interesting history of the city and environs.
In Naples there are a number of significant places to see, with a 'Hop on-Hop off' bus service that will take you to the main sights in the City as well as walking tours and a Metro and Funicular that will take you to different parts of the City.
There are a number of Piazzas, great buildings, small streets and alleyways and it is relatively easy to see the main attractions in Naples which are mostly in the City Centre. You are also not far from Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius – which are easy day trips out from the City.
Listed below are some of the City's main attractions -
- Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte – Parco di Capodimonte.
This Royal Palace took over 100 years to build with construction starting in 1738. It is now a huge Museum with over 160 galleries and rooms across its 3 storeys. Here you can see over 500 paintings by such painters as Rafael, El Greco, Botticelli and other artists, with amazing painted ceilings, a room completely decorated in porcelain (the Salottino di Porcellana) and other beautiful rooms. The Royal Hunting Grounds can also be seen here.
- Museo Archeologico Nazionale - Piazza Museo Nazionale 19. Metro: Museo Station.
If you are headed to Pompeii or have just been there, also come here to see this Museum as it is where you will find many of the artefacts, mosaics, sculptures and antiquities that once were located in Pompeii. There is a vast collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, marble statues. If you can, take a look in the "Secret Cabinet Room"– a memorable experience.
- Museo Cappella Sansevero Chapel – Via Francesco De Sanctis 19 (behind Piazza San Domestico Maggiore, near Federico II University) See www.museosansevero.it/en
This museum chapel has the famous and very memorable marble statue of the 'Veiled Christ' and a vast collection of other marble statues and paintings too. It is well worth seeing.
- Palazzo Reale Napoli (Royal Palace) – Piazza del Plebiscito
The 3 storey Palace building was built in 1600 facing the Piazza, with the outside having niches with the marble statues of eight Kings of Naples – Charles of Anjou, Roger II, Alfonse of Aragon, Charles V, Charles VII of Napoli (who built the Palace of Caserta, and was also King III of Spain), Joachin Murat (Napoleon Bonaparte's brother in law) and Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy (1820-1887), the First King of a United Italy since the 6th century. Inside the Palace can visit the Throne Room, Theatre, Royal Apartments and other rooms with incredible ceilings, floors, paintings, sculptures and furnishings. It is a huge building and well worth the time to see.
- The Piazza del Plebiscito –
This Piazza is worth spending time in with its bars, cafés and restaurants to sit in and take in the atmosphere. Some of the City tours leave from here too. There are also shops close by the Piazza including the Galleria Umberto (Via San Carlo). Here on the Piazza you will also find the Basilica of San Francesco di Paola – the big church with the dome roof and columned Portico that is likened to the Pantheon in Rome, as well as the Teatro San Carlo Opera House. The Piazza itself is surrounded on most sides by a colonnade walkway, similar to St Peter's Square in the Vatican.
- Royal Palace of Caserta – in Caserta, about 35 kilometres north of Naples
This Palace is a MUST SEE Unesco World Heritage site, and only about 40 minutes by car or train from Naples. It rivals the Palace of Versailles outside Paris in the magnificence of its décor and gardens. The Palace was built by King Charles II with construction started in 1752, the idea being to replace the Palazza Reale in Naples in a location away from the coast, and the possible naval or cannon fire from an enemy ship attacking Naples from the Bay of Naples. The Royal Palace of Caserta has 1200 rooms with incredible décor fit for a King, with the Throne Room, grand staircases, theatre and other rooms to see, as well as the garden with its fountains, sculpture, tress, lawns and overall grandeur all magnificent.
- Duomo – Via Duomo
Another great Church building! The interior is what you want to see, with a Fresco wall and mosaics all pretty amazing to see. There has been a Church here since 1272, and before that a Temple that goes back to the 4th Century. There are also a number of other great Churches to see too in Naples, the most beautiful one being the San Domenico Maggiore – on the Piazza of the same name. This church was built around 1300, with 24 side chapels, grand columns on each side of the Nave and one of the most beautiful panelled ceilings you will ever see.
- MADRE Contemporary Art Museum – Via Luigi Settembrini 79.
After seeing so much ancient art and culture, it can be quite refreshing to see new artists and contemporary art on display. This is not far from the Duomo, and close by too is the Accademia di Belle Arti -
- Castel Nuovo (Fortress/Castle) – (sometimes called Maschio Angioino) Is located on the Port, next to Piazza Municipio, not far from the Piazza del Plebiscito.
This Castle/Fortress/Palace with its five cylindrical turret towers was first built in 1279- 1282 for the King of Naples, Charles I of Anjou and has been added to and modified over the centuries by subsequent rulers. Entering via the Trumphal Arch doorway, you will find inside the Armoury Hall, various rooms to see and the Capella Palatina – the Gothic church of Santa Barbara.
- Castel dell'Ovo – (Fortress) sits in the Bay of Naples in Naples. Via Eldorado 3.
The site where Castel dell'Ovo is located was first occupied in the 6th Century BC by the Greeks on what was a small island just off the coast called Megaride. The Castle fortress with its sheer sides and position in the Bay make it a popular photo, while inside there is a Museum of Pre-history and various events staged during the year. If you can see inside, it is definitely worth it. A breakwater connects the Castle to the mainland, with a large marina on one side too.
- The Bourbon Tunnel – (Tunnel Borbonico) – Vico del Grottone 4
The Bourbon Tunnel was built in 1859 as an escape route for the Bourbon King Ferdinand II from the Palazzo Reale to the coast, but it was never completed. Later it came into use as part of an aqueduct in the 17th century and then used by smugglers and in World War II it came into use as an Air raid shelter.
- Catacombe di San Gennaro – Via Tondo di Capodimonte 13. See www.catacombedinapoli.it
This is near a great park area called Capodimonte Park. The underground Catacombs date back to the 2nd and 3rd century and here you can see the Underground Church, the frescos, mosaics and the tunnels and Tomb Chambers on a guided tour.
- San Martino Monastery and Museum – Largo di San Martino 5 on Vomero Hill – that overlooks the Harbour, that can be reached via a Funicular train that travels up the Hill.
This Monastery dates back to 1325 and was largely rebuilt in the 17th Century. The Monastery is both beautiful on the outside and also inside too. On the outside the first thing you see are the sixty marble columns separated by archways creating a Colonnade overlooking the garden. Inside there is more marble, frescos and paintings and also the Royal Stage Coach of King Charles III.
As you can see, there is a lot to see in Naples and of course it is close to some of the most famous other sites to see, including Pompeii.
Mount Vesuvius -
You can see Mount Vesuvius from Naples across the Bay and it looks very peaceful, yet in AD71 it erupted with its molten lava flowing downhill to bury the town of Herculaneum and a massive ash cloud quickly enveloped the town of Pompeii.
Mount Vesuvius is still an active Volcano and it erupted in 1906 with the last eruption in 1944, towards the end of World War II. The Volcano is now in a National Park and in winter the Volcano can sometimes be snow -capped or covered in fog, but on a clear summer's day the views from on top both down into the crater and across the land and Bay of Naples can be spectacular.
The Volcano itself is 1281 Metres high (4202 feet) and there is a car park for buses and cars at 1000 metres, allowing people to walk up the Summit Trail to the top. You can also get here by train from Naples on the Circumvesuiana train (from Garibaldi Station or Porta Nolana) to Ercolano Scavi Station from where a Shuttle Bus or Taxi can take you up the mountain and then you do a final walk to the top. It is a good walk of a few hundred metres.
Another alternative is to take a Helicopter ride over the top of the Volcano from Naples. There are also Bus Tours from Naples that can take you to see Mt Vesuvius and also to Herculaneum and Pompeii too – and often this is the best way to go, as you also have the certainty of your transport and hear a commentary too, while also meeting fellow travellers.
Herculaneum is the town that was buried in the Lava flow in 79AD. It is a short walk from Ercolana Scavi Station. There are Audios you can rent to learn about the site or guides ( with a negotiated price) will take you on a tour of the site too. Herculaneum is much smaller in area than Pompeii and less people come here as it is not as famous as Pompeii.
While Herculaneum was buried in the Lava flow, Pompeii, a city of around 11,000 people was buried under an ash and pumice cloud, with the people suffocating as they inhaled the fine ash in the air and then buried under around 4 to 6 metres of ash and pumice stone as more ash descended on the city. What strikes most people when they come to Pompeii is the sheer size of the city ruins and the realization that the people living here must have had no chance of escaping the ash cloud that hit them so suddenly. They are 'frozen in time'.
The City of Pompeii was essentially a 'lost city' until briefly discovered in 1599, and then in 1748, a Spanish Engineer, Roque Joaquín de Alcubierre (1702-1780) unearthed some of the ruins in Herculaneum and then Pompeii. King Charles VII of Naples (Charles III of Spain) then granted him the right to explore further, and the archaeological dig continued to unearth the whole city, with the City becoming one of the world's most interesting sites to visit. Much of what was found in Pompeii has been taken to Museums and ideally, you can see some of these relics and artefacts in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples.
Here in Pompeii you can still see the Amphitheatre built around 80BC, the Temple of Apollo; Temple of Jupiter; aqueduct, houses, shops and villas, and plaster casts of the bodies of people in the positions where they died.
To see and understand what you are seeing here, it is best to have a guide with a full tour of the site taking around 2 hours or so. You can of course do your own exploration too, or half listen to guides taking groups around. Archaeological digs still continue today both here in Pompeii and also in nearby areas too that were also buried by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius – including Oplontis, Boscoreale and Stabia.
Mount Faito – (Monte Faito)
Mount Faito is 1131 metres high and lies almost on the coast south of Pompeii, overlooking the city of Castellammare di Stabia. Besides the excavations of the ancient villas in Stabia, there is a cablecar that will take you to the top of the Mountain to see great views over the Bay of Naples and the city below you.
THE ISLANDS OFF NAPLES – Capri, Ischia, Procida…
Naples is a Cruise Port for ship cruises around the Mediterranean and also there are Ferries to take you the 40 minutes or so ferry ride to the islands off the coast here, the most famous of these being the Island of Capri.
The name 'Capri' has been used around the world to name everything from cars to yachts, suburbs, islands and homes – all with the connotation of sophisticated island lifestyle and luxury.
This volcanic island has inspired many into a love affair with Italy and if you manage to come here, you will understand why.
Ideally try and stay here for a couple of days to soak up some of the atmosphere. It can be expensive to stay and tours of the island equally so, but sitting in the sun to enjoy lunch or a Peroni, or later sipping on a Limoncello – will let you experience Capri and all that it offers.
Here on the island, apart from the shopping and spas, the main fun is sight-seeing and one of the best ways to see the island is from a boat – circling the island and seeing the famous Blue Grotto – one of the many sea caves and coves that are dotted around the island. You will also see white village homes clinging to the sides of the mountains and the Faraglioni Rock Formations (Stacks) in the sea. These Rock formations with their almost vertical sides stand 30 metres or so above the water and make for great photos as your boat either comes close to them, or even travels between them under an archway where two Stacks are joined.
The water and small coves and beaches are great for swimming with crystal clear water to swim in. The island is also hugely popular for yachts and other pleasure craft.
Seeing the island from sea level is one thing, but to get the best view of the island and its surrounds, head to Mt Solaro (Acchiappanuavole) which is 589 metres above sea level. There is a chair lift that can take you from Piazza Vittoria in Anacapri to the top. Pick a time and day when the air is clear. Sometimes the top of the mountain can be covered in cloud.
The island also has great walkways – such as the Imperial Villas Walk and the Pizzolungo Coastal Path – both taking you along the mountain sides above the sea below you. Capri also has the ruins of some of the 12 Villas built by Roman Emperor Tiberius (42BC- 37AD), who was Roman Emperor between 14AD and 37AD. The ruins of 3 of the Villas can still be seen, the most notable of these being the Villa Jovis.
The island is certainly beautiful to see, but there are also the other less famous volcanic islands of Ischia and tiny Procida Island that are even closer to Naples.
Ischia Island is bigger than Capri (46.5 sq Km) and it has more beach areas, with three main small town/villages – Forio where there are a number of bars along the Boulevard, Sant'Angelo and Ischia Porta itself. The island has been the subject of conquest over centuries going back to Greek days, pre-Roman and the most notable and visible sign of this is Aragonese Castle that is linked to Ischia by a causeway crossing to the entrance to the Castle. The Castle cradles the whole of a 90 metre high rocky outcrop and was first built by Hiero I of Syracuse in 474BC. Its prominence at the norther end of the Bay of Naples (near to Ischia Porta) was a strategic location and the Castle saw many battles over the centuries as different groups tried to capture and control it. Inside you will find the Church of Immacolata, built in 1737, the Cathedral of Assunta built in 1806 and other interesting sights.
The island is also known for its spas, with volcanic mud, hot springs and minerals making the island a popular destination for those looking to pamper themselves. The volcanic soil and climate here has attracted many people to live here including a British couple, Sir William Walton (1902-1983) the Composer and his Argentinian born wife, Susana Walton (1926-2010), who in 1953 began building a Garden here at the home near Forio. The garden developed and grew and in 1992 it was first opened to the public, in honour of her late husband and named 'Giardini la Montella'.
This garden built in an old stone quarry is considered to be one of the world's great gardens with imaginative plantings, ponds, exotic plants, orchids and pathways. It has also been seen by many celebrities including Royalty too, and if you come here to Ischia, it is definitely worth seeing.
Procida Island –
This is a tiny island between Ischia Island and the mainland covering an area of just 4.1 square kilometres, but with a population of around 10,000 people. The island's historic houses and buildings form almost a jungle of colourful buildings next to the coastline and marina, running up the hill to the Abbey above with the narrow walkways between the houses making this fishing town/village feel very warm, charming and atmospheric. The island is also connected to an uninhabited island by a bridge, the island of Vivara, which is a National Park – and renowned for its birdlife.
THE AMALFI COAST -
The Amalfi Coast lies on the southern side of a long peninsula called the Sorrentine Peninsula that lies on the southern side of the Bay of Naples (Golfo di Gaeta), with the Gulf of Salerno on its southern side.
The Lateri Mountains run along the spine of the Sorrentine Peninsula, creating steep mountain sides on both sides of the Peninsula that almost drop straight down into the Tyrrhenian Sea, with small pockets of land either terraced or creating just room enough for a road, piazza, beach or people to live and build their houses.
While the mountains may be steep and the roads narrow and winding, the scenery is spectacular – a candy colour mix of sea blue, white boats at anchor, pastel houses, hillside tree greens and stony mountains as a backdrop. Each new bend in the road brings you to a new view of the landscape and people come here to just see the views. Driving along here is not for the squeamish and parking can be a nightmare too, but it is worth it.
Many people will come here on a day tour, but if you can, try and stay here in Amalfi, Ravello, Positano or Sorrento – they are all great places to enjoy the hospitality, style, cheeses, wine, seafood, small laneways, limoncello, beaches, piazzas, walkways and people.
These villages all have history and charm. In Positano look for the Chiesta di Santa Maria Assunta with its gold domed roofline; in Amalfi the Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea and the Museo delle Carta showing its handmade papers and presses; in Ravello see the Cathedral and the gardens of Villa Cimbrone first built in the 12th century, while in Sorrento see the lace and ceramics that are sold here in the shops, the Chiesa di San Francesco and Cathedrale di Sorrento, or hire a boat and cruise along the coastline here or head over to the island of Capri.
The small towns/villages along here are popular so the ideal is to book a place to stay, checking its location relative to the main Piazza and coast. You will no doubt do a fair bit of walking and the closer you are to the water, the less the hill climbing you will do!
The Amalfi coast is a very popular place for Italians to go to, as well as foreign tourists, so if you intend to stay at one of the hotels or other places, book early so that you have a greater selection of places to stay.
Also if you are not exhausted from seeing ancient ruins in Pompeii and other places, you might also want to go a little south down the Italian coast to the town of Paestum to see the Greek Temples that are here. There are three amazing temples here – the Tempio di Netuno (named after the Greek God, Neptune), Tempio di Cerere (dedicated to the God, Ceres) and the Tempio di Hera (dedicated to the Goddess, Hera). Neptune's Temple dates back to 450BC.
If heading back to Rome from Naples or from the Amalfi Coast, try and do a stopover at the town of Benevento. This city of about 60,000 people is about 50 kilometres north-east from Naples and here you will find the remarkable Arc of Trajan (a bit like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris) dating back to when it was built in 114AD. Also look for the Leproso Bridge and the Sannio Museum that are here.
There is no doubt that traveling the big expressways and motorways of the world get you to destinations faster, but equally the small roads take you to the smaller villages. Sometimes the smaller the village, the bigger the experience! Such is the joy of traveling.