Naples, Must-See Italian City
Updated: Feb 23
"Take the energy of New York, mix in the gritty elegance of New Orleans, add 3,000 years of history, and cook it all up in the heat of the world's most famous volcano -- that is Napoli."Stanley Tucci, Searching for Italy
Naples is finally having its moment. The New York Times put it on their annual "best of" list now called 52 Places for a Changed World. CNN Travel put Naples on The Best Destinations to Visit in 2022 list and National Geographic published a feature about the new archaeological discoveries in the Sanità district which is now the hippest quarter of Naples. Elena Ferrante's "My Brilliant Friend" series, both the books and the films, have helped instigate interest in Naples, and director Paolo Sorrentino's new film about his childhood in Naples, "The Hand of God", was nominated for an Academy Award.
I have long been an advocate for putting Naples at the top of your travel bucket list. My roots are Neapolitan, but I didn't visit bella Napoli until I had already spent a year living in Florence studying art history. I loved Florence, but Naples was where I instantly felt at home. In addition to seeing my Italian family traditions thriving in their origin point, I discovered so much history there I had never been taught. I knew about nearby Pompeii, but not about the fascinating French Middle Ages in Naples or the Renaissance of art and literature that occurred during the Aragonese reign. So much Neapolitan history was damaged or destroyed during World War II and as Italian scholars and archaeologists continue to share their findings, the city becomes more and more interesting every day. Just ten years ago a group of ancient Roman boats were discovered while excavating for a new subway station!
I designed the 5 Days in Naples tour for others to fall in love with Naples as I did. Here's a sneak peak of the tour:
What We'll Be Eating in Naples
Naples gave the world its most favorite food. The characteristic wood-fired pizzas of Naples were born in the 1700s and introduced to the rest of the world when the pizzaiolo at Pizzeria Brandi presented Queen Margherita with a pie decorated with the colors of the Italian flag: white mozzarella, red tomato sauce, and green basil.
Today there are hundreds of pizzerias in Naples, and even the bad ones by Neapolitan standards are pretty amazing to anyone else. But pizza at my favorite pizzeria of all, I promise, it will change your life.
Sunday in Italian-American homes is famous for a classic sauce or gravy which in Naples is called ragù. Chunks of pork shoulder, meatballs, and braciole are slowly simmered in heavy terracotta pots, served over dried pasta and washed down with local red wine. Our final meal of the 5 Days in Naples tour is a classic ragù.
Once the capital city of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Naples has a deep pastry tradition. French chefs were brought to Naples in the 18th century to satisfy the taste of Queen Maria Carolina, sister of Marie Antoinette, and the city's many wealthy residents. Among the most famous pastries are sfogliatelle and rhum babà. On Sunday afternoon there is always a long line at La Sfogliatella Mary in the Galleria Umberto, and the best babà are found in the Sanità district where we'll be staying in a trendy boutique hotel.
The depth of cooking talent in Naples is staggering and just because the pizza and pasta are so good doesn't mean you should skip fine dining in Naples. A highlight of our tour will be dinner at Aria which just earned its first Michelin star a few months after opening in August 2021. I am proud to be the first person to write about Aria in English for "Dream of Italy" and look forward to taking guests there for a special tasting menu. Yes, Naples is pizza fritta and laundry-draped alleys, but it is also a city with many well-heeled neighborhoods. Aria will no doubt turn the heads of the most seasoned and sophisticated travelers
Major Sites of Naples
Neapolitans are the greatest treasure of Naples and that's why a good local guide will open your eyes and your heart to the city. Tour guides in Italy must be licensed and Feast Travel prides itself on working only with the best, most passionate guides and not the guides repeating dry facts as though from a memorized script.
During 5 Days in Naples we'll explore the centro storico on foot led by a legendary local guide. She'll show us the secret city underneath Naples, the Caravaggio paintings, and the cathedral where a vile of San Gennaro's blood miraculously liquefies every September. Another major highlight is the amazing sculpture called the "Veiled Christ" in the San Severo chapel which appears so lifelike it's hard to believe it's carved from marble.
We'll also explore the Rione Sanità, once a rough district of Naples that has transformed into a thriving arts district that is also full of ancient archaeology. When the Greeks first settled Naples, the Sanità was beyond the city walls and the area where they buried their dead. This year the Ipogeo dei Cristallini is open, a 2,300 year old necropolis with painted graves that make the past ever more present.
Also on the itinerary are the Naples Archaeological Museum which holds all the treasures excavated at Pompeii and the Museo di Capodimonte, Italy's largest art museum. Several years ago I wrote an article for Condè Nast Traveler about Capodimonte and the museum has only gotten better since then.
Day Trips from Naples
While a visit to Pompeii is always worthwhile, I often steer our guests to a smaller site that offers the full Pompeii experience without the crowds or multiple hours walking in the hot sun. Our tour will visit Villa Oplontis in Torre Annunziata. Imagine this Roman mansion between Herculaneum and Pompeii like the Versace mansion in Miami Beach. Locals call it Villa Poppaea because of the chance it once belonged to Nero’s second wife, Poppaea Sabina, who was a native of nearby Pompeii. It was a super luxe vacation home with all the amenities for hosting imperial Rome’s elite. It boasted an infinity pool, private beach, opulent guest rooms, and an army of enslaved people to take care of every whim or need. Hungry for some fresh seafood? Done, the villa has its own fish farm. Want to unwind in a hot steam bath? Senator, follow me to our private calidarium. Our private tour will reveal its many secrets.
The Campi Flegrei and Baia
Baia is one of the world's most fascinating archaeological sites, but it's not easy to visit without local transportation and guidance. It's on the outskirts of Naples in a zone called the Campi Flegrei —the fields of fire. The entire zone is actually the surface of an underwater volcano with diffused vents instead of a cone like nearby Mount Vesuvius. Greek colonists who settled here in the Bronze Age believed sporadic burps of sulfuric steam from fumaroles were portals to the underworld. Romans engineers channeled the terrifying power of underground boiling rivers into the most luxurious spa in the empire.
Because of a natural phenomenon called bradyseism, the quiet upward or downward movement of the earth’s crust, the ancient resort is underwater. We'll tour the sunken city via a glass bottomed boat. We'll also visit the ruins above ground including the so-called Temple of Mercury within an oculus rivaled only by the Pantheon in Rome.
5 Days in Naples Tour
It was hard to narrow the tour down to just five days as I could easily plan 30 days of things to do see, and eat in Naples. Ultimately I chose five days so that guests could incorporate the tour into a larger trip.Since most international flights go in and out of Rome I wanted to leave time to spend a few days days before or after the tour in the Eternal City. The best way to get to Naples is via the Freciarossa or fast train, an easy one hour journey.
Five Days in Naples
April 4-9, 2022
June 6-11, 2022
September 26-30, 2022
Guests may also wish to continue on after the tour to Capri, the Amalfi Coast or the Cilento Coast. Feast Travel can help you organize any and all of this with our suite of travel consultation services.
Additional Resources on Naples
Listen to me talk about Naples for the Untold Italy Podcast Ciao Napoli! Don't Miss This Exciting & Noble City
I discuss Elena Ferrante's Naples on The Cut, a podcast by New York Magazine