Visiting Naples for the First Time? Here’s What to See and Do
Most travelers stop in Naples long enough to try the pizza and browse the archeological museum, then continue to Pompeii, Capri, or the Amalfi Coast. There’s nothing wrong with such a plan—but Naples rewards more daring travelers. Scratch the surface, and the city has elegance, energy, and outright magic rivaling any European capital. Wander through the historic quarter and stumble upon masterpieces hidden in lost chapels, some of the finest simple meals in the Mediterranean, and unexpected moments of beauty in an otherwise rowdy metro. Here's how to fall in love with Naples on your first visit.
Start in the historic center
Walk through some of the oldest neighborhoods in Italy.
Near Piazza del Plebiscito lie three city gems, the Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale, San Carlo Opera House (Teatro di San Carlo), and the Galleria Umberto I. Visit these before walking up Via Toledo toward Piazza del Gesù and the baroque Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo, where you’ll step inside to see the vault frescoes and various chapels. Then, it’s time to venture into the heart of the historic center—a maze of alleys and narrow streets lined with shops, cafés, and churches upon churches. Don’t miss San Gregorio Armeno, one of the narrowest streets, where artisans hawk their ceramic nativity scenes and figurines.
Try pizza and other local specialties
The birthplace of pizza still turns out legendary pies.
Legend has it that the first pizza was made in Naples to honor Queen Margherita of Italy and the new Italian tri-colored flag—with green basil, red tomatoes, and white mozzarella cheese. Your first stop is L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele on Via Cesare Sersale—a local favorite that has served pizza for generations. But there are divine pizzerias all over Naples, as well as vendors of other local specialties, from indulgent street food to French-inspired pastries and sickly-sweet limoncello liqueur.
Insider tip: When coffee and dessert are calling, try visiting Gran Caffè Gambrinus near Piazza del Plebiscito, or Scaturchio, a bakery in front of Piazza San Domenico Maggiore.
Hit the museums
They sit atop hills, overlook the bay, and hold treasures of the past and present.
Naples is home to some of Italy’s finest museums, showcasing archeology, old-world paintings, contemporary art, and more. Start at the National Archeological Museum, near the Piazza Cavour and Museo metro stops. A private tour helps ensure you don’t miss anything from the famous Farnese collections or the artifacts from Pompeii. After lunch, visit the Capodimonte Museum, where you can explore the cavernous galleries and see The Flagellation of Christ—one of three known Caravaggio paintings in Naples. Other highlights include the Museo Madre, or Donnaregina Contemporary Art Museum, and the Museo Novecento Napoletano perched above a hill next to Saint Elmo’s Castle (Castel Sant'Elmo).
Explore aqueducts and bomb shelters below street level.
Most Italian cities lie over layers of history, and mysterious, ancient Naples is no different. From Piazza San Gaetano in the historic center, step 120 feet (40 meters) underground to explore a network of caves and tunnels, including Greek-Roman aqueducts, ancient cisterns, former World War II air-raid shelters, and the ruins of a Roman theater. After returning above ground, visit the Sansevero Chapel (Museo Cappella Sansevero) nearby, home of Giuseppe Sanmartino’s remarkable Veiled Christ sculpture, thought to have been created by alchemy; purchase admission tickets ahead of time, as the chapel is small and often closed or crowded.
Take to the water
Stay near the shore or ferry to the islands.
Naples’ marvelous bay beckons. Near the shore, travelers explore beaches, sea caves, and waterfront palazzi on water bikes and stand-up paddleboards. On the northern side of town, along the water near the affluent Posillipo neighborhood, you can swim among Roman ruins underwater near the Gaiola Island, or dive in the Marine Archeological Park of Baia. Capri, Ischia, and Procida islands are always just a short ferry ride away—visit them on independent day trips or private, leisurely sea trips on vintage gozzo boats.
Get out of town
See ancient ruins, wineries, a volcano, and more.
For a day trip out of town, you have first-rate options. First on the list is heading to Pompeii, the vast archeological site with ruins of an ancient Roman city you can freely explore. Pompeii can be reached on the Circumvesuviana commuter rail from Naples’ central train station but is best explored with guides who are sometimes archeologists themselves. Alternatively, charming cliffside towns and magical beaches await on the Amalfi Coast. The most epic Naples day trip, however, combines visiting Pompeii, scaling Mount Vesuvius, and wine tasting.
Insider tip: Avoid the crowds at Pompeii by visiting the lesser-known Greek ruins in Paestum.
See a show
Experience opera and traditional music with a Neapolitan feel.
Naples is a dramatic place. Get to the heart of its theatrical side by seeing an opera, concert, or play. First, check what's on at the San Carlo Opera House (Teatro di San Carlo), one of the oldest and most prestigious European working theaters. A touch less glamorous, Teatro Bellini also offers concerts and operas, while the Teatro all'Orto Botanico puts on local performances inside the Naples Botanical Garden. Travelers interested in the Neapolitan song tradition can listen to the best of the bunch as they’re performed by local singers, actors, and dancers.