Everyone’s probably heard the stories about Naples; a hotbed of the mafia, streets full of muggers, pickpockets and murders. Which would make any person question if it’s safe to visit Naples let alone wonder if it’s worth visiting? I know it’s possibly controversial but I think Naples is definitely worth visiting. There’s ancient history to learn about, amazing food to gorge yourself on and a rugged spirit to discover. I visited Naples for the first time back in 2016 on a pizza and Pompei pilgrimage and was surprised when I enjoyed the actual city and not just the day trips. I believe Naples is worth visiting, but only if you do it properly and greet it with an open mind.
The best description of Naples that I’ve ever heard is that it’s a jungle, and this was told to me by a local. It’s a fascinating, chaotic, dirty, ancient, sometimes beautiful jungle. Learn how to navigate it and you’ll have a great time. The people of Naples, when you get speaking to them, are usually genuine and down to earth with a wicked sense of humour. The streets are chaos more reminiscent of Asia than Europe, and the food is dripping with flavour. You should definitely add this underrated city to your list for a visit.
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Why I Enjoyed Naples
I enjoy the chaotic energy of the Naples jungle. Sitting in the plazas while listening to buskers playing jazz and sipping on Aperol Spritz, wandering down the small alleys covered in street art and carts selling books, these are some of the reasons. There’s so much energy, it’s like Siem Reap to me. You have to embrace what it is or end up fighting the current.
The first time we arrived we had lunch in one of the piazzas. We accidentally chose one of the only restaurants in Naples that doesn’t serve pizza, because its name was Piazzaria (not pizza but piazza). The young guy serving us told us all about wanting to move to Perth and recommended some great things to see in Naples. When the food arrived we ate delicious pasta and sat watching the jungle of Naples. From our table, we could see two Nonas sitting by their windows overseeing their neighbourhood. Children played in the piazza and whenever they wanted to go back into the apartment mum would lower a bucket on a rope from the 6th-floor window. Scooters and motorcycles kept on turning up to speak to the waiters and chefs at our restaurant, who looked like they didn’t really know how to run a restaurant (possibly a front for something else).
The second time, I wandered the glittering streets at night, gazing into the many music and book shops near piazza Bellini. I stopped in the piazza near the roman ruins and listened to buskers play the trumpet and guitar alongside a jazz song. The night was warm and fairy lights from the colourful café beckoned me in for an Aperol Spritz and an impromptu date with my husband. Each visit enchanted and repulsed me. Naples is definitely worth visiting.
Is Naples Safe To Visit
This is an important question to ask of any destination you visit. And yes, Naples does have petty crime that you do have to watch out for, but it’s definitely not the insanely life-threatening city that people still think it is. For example, in Naples, I would not stand on a street corner and wave my phone around, but I wouldn’t do that in Ho Chi Minh or Rome or even Barcelona. If you look at its crime and safety rating it’s actually safer than Philadelphia or Houston. Walk around with a bit of sense and your eyes open and you should have no problems. As I was told, Naples is a jungle. Jungles can be fun, but also dangerous if you don’t follow the rules of the wild.
Pickpocketing And Bag Snatching
Try to avoid putting your wallet or phone in your pockets, especially in crowded areas or on public transport. Pickpocketing is definitely a thing and they’ll take advantage of you if you let them. As a woman, I have walked around Naples by myself, but I was careful and stuck to lighted and busier areas. If you have a bag put it across your body to stop bag snatching and keep it at your front, but again, I’d still do something like that in Las Rambles in Barcelona.
Word of advice for dealing with the traffic safely. If you want to cross the road don’t wait for them to stop, they never will. If you’ve ever been to Vietnam you’ve got to treat it like you do there. Just start walking at a steady pace and they will stop or speed around you. If you start running or stopping and freaking out this is when you can cause problems, as they’re not expecting that. If you’re still too scared just find a local and follow them across the road. This is what we did the first few times before we managed to get the hang of it.
Where To Stay In Naples
Where you stay in Naples is one of the big factors of enjoying it. You’ve got to feel like you have a safe base where you can hide from the chaos if it all gets a bit too much. If I’ve learnt anything while travelling and being a travel agent it’s to not stay anywhere near a train station. This is true for Naples as it’s not a very pretty area and can feel unsafe.
Santa Lucia & Chiaia
This area is closer to the seafront and has a lot of luxury hotels. There are trendy bars and restaurants, boutique and high-end shopping, and a happening nightlife. You’ll pay more to stay here, but it’s usually cleaner and feels safer. The downside is that at night it can be noisy.
This area has a more hipster vibe, and is what you would call “up and coming”. Here you drink Aperol Spritz in piazzas with locals and tourists. The streets are narrow and filled with pizza restaurants, music shops, and book stores. I’ve stayed in this area twice at the Hotel Piazza Bellini & Apartments and enjoyed it each time. The piazza has a nice chilled vibe and the pizza restaurants are just down the street. The hotel is always great, and really good value for money.
Have Realistic Expectations
I know this might seem a bit weird, but you’ll probably have a better time if you go to Naples with low expectations. Maybe you’ve seen the majesty of Rome, the romance of Venice or the artistic beauty of Florence, well Naples’ descriptive word is probably more grunge than gorgeous. Let me paint some pictures for you.
There is graffiti everywhere. Sometimes it’s beautiful and you could call it street art. Other times it is just plain old graffiti and looks dirty and threatening. It’s on walls and doorways, on the cobbles, on pedestrian crossings and signs. Think of it as the foliage of the jungle, some of it’s quite photogenic.
There's Lots Of Rubbish
Naples has a rubbish problem. Let’s be realistic it’s pretty gross. There’s garbage overflowing out of bins. It’s like the garbage trucks are on constant strike (maybe they are). The cobbled roads are usually dirty with trash caught in the gutters. I didn’t want to touch the wheels of my suitcase after dragging it behind me for twenty minutes.
General Seedy Vibe
There are just some areas where you may not feel comfortable. Just leave these areas and go somewhere else. The major parts of Naples are fine. Just watch your bag and pockets in the main piazzas.
Eating Pizza In Naples
Pizza is why I first came to Naples, it is the reason why we came back for a second time. It’s why I’d go back again. You have to eat pizza made in Naples, there’s nothing else like it. The sauce is rich with tomato and herbs and somehow beautifully creamy. You just want to lick it off your fingers and scoop it into your mouth and just savour each divine mouthful. The dough of the pizza is salty and smoky from the large wood-fired ovens it’s cooked in. You can get all types, but always make sure you get a Margarita pizza, this is the Naples classic and it’s the most amazing pizza I’ve ever had. There will be Mozzarella melting into the tomato sauce, the aromatic smell of basil, and the burst of flavour as you take your first bite. Most pizza restaurants are decorated simply. Plain wooden tables with plain wooden chairs. They let the food do all the talking.
If you’re after the same amazing experience here are some restaurants that you can visit.
Antonio e Gigi Sorbillo – simple restaurant with simple and delicious food.
Gino e Toto Sorbillo – You’ll know this one when you find the lines. Made famous by Eat, Pray, Love this place is super busy but somehow still churns out amazing pizza.
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele – A tiny little restaurant frequented by locals and travellers (the locals get takeaway).
Things To Do In Naples
Naples is not just a gateway to bigger and better things. It also has some great activities to get into. I’ve listed a few below. If you’re still a little wary about navigating the jungle by yourself there’s a number of companies that offer tours of Naples. We did one and it was great. He was a local and was hugely passionate about his city. He was the one that explained the rules of the jungle to us.
Visit the Museums
There’s a heap of really great museums in Naples all about the Roman empire and Pompei. Make sure to visit the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, which is the best archaeological museum in Italy, and maybe even the world. Museo de Capodimonte is in an old palace and has an extensive art collection.
Visit a Limoncello Shop
Ever seen lemons the size of your head? Me neither until I visited Naples. You can learn about the process of making Limoncello at some of these shops, and of course, try the local verities and buy some for souvenirs.
The Naples Opera House
One of the grandest buildings in Naples. Come here for photos are to experience an Italian opera.
Some are as old as the Romans. We went to one that had worshipped Mercury before it became a Catholic church.
Catacombs of Naples
I’ve never done this, as I learnt about it too late, but this is becoming one of the most fascinating things to do in Naples. The city is very old, and like Paris, it has another world beneath. You can do tours that will take you underground to tunnels and burial chambers. There are ancient frescos and murals on the walls and it looks creepy and very interesting.
Day Trips From Naples
The first time I came to Naples was for pizza and Pompei. Pompei was a Roman city that was buried by ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Everyday ancient life has been preserved from frescos in brothels to pizza ovens (although back in the day it was bread used as a plate for other dishes). The history is fascinating so make sure you either book a tour or pay for an audio guide. There is almost no information in the complex, so if you go by yourself you won’t learn much at all. They are still excavating parts of it, so sometimes you can see active archaeological digs. Bring a hat and water with you. There’s no shade and it’s usually hot in Southern Italy. I, unfortunately, suffered from heatstroke after visiting in August, because I did not come prepared.
The Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is one of the major reasons that people come to Naples. The airport is the gateway to this gem of Italy. You can book day trips from Naples to see Sorrento, Positano, Capri, or Amalfi. If you want to go it on your own you can catch a direct train from Naples to Sorrento, or buses and ferries to the rest. You can find more information on Positano in my travel guide.