Naples is the largest city in southern Italy and appears as an unmissable port of call on many a Mediterranean itinerary. Located two hours south of Rome, the city is brimming with historical landmarks, many of which are situated within walking distance of the Molo Angioino dock.
Choose whether to spend your day solely in Naples, absorbing the hustle and bustle of the popular city, or vary your experience by combining the historical city sights with a trip to the top of the imposing Mount Vesuvius, before finally moving on to explore haunting Pompeii.
A day spent in Naples will appeal to all of your senses. Gaze at the collection of enchanting Gaeco-Roman artefacts in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, smell the freshly-baked pizza in a city where the famed dish is said to have originated, run your fingertips over the ornately gilded carvings of the Duomo di San Gennaro Cathedral and listen to the soft hum of everyday life in the urban centre.
A culmination of architectural masterpieces will appeal to visitors seeking cultural enrichment and a unique glimpse into Naples’ vast history; among them is the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Originally a cavalry barracks, this vast museum was established by the Bourbon King Charles VII in the late 18th century and now houses one of the world’s finest collections of Graeco-Roman artefacts.
A Farnese collection of Greek and Roman sculptures includes Toro Farnese, a block marble structure discovered in 1945 near the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, before being artfully restored by Michelangelo and transported to Naples, where it now resides as one of the museums most widely appreciated masterpieces.
Along with such commanding statues, the museum features the third largest collection of Egyptian artefacts in Italy, and intriguing mosaics and frescoes recovered from the lava ravaged towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
You needn’t be a fan of the opera to appreciate the grandeur of Teatro di San Carlo. Italy’s biggest and oldest opera house was originally built in 1737, before being completely destroyed in a fire in 1816. Italian architect Antonio Niccolini oversaw the reconstruction of the opera house during the same year; a project that took just ten months to complete and one which retained the opulence of the original building.
Designed to meet the high demands of its Neopolitan audiences, the grandeur of the interior is incomparable, bathed in red velvet and intricate gilded stucco mouldings. A spectacular painting by Guiseppe Cammarano adorns the ceiling, representing Greek God Apollo and Goddess Minerva. A recent €76million refurbishment refreshed the theatre over a two year period, preserving the glamour and sense of occasion for many years to come. Guided tours are available throughout the year, with the exception of August, and each 45 minute tour takes in the main hall, the boxes, the Royal Box and the two foyers.
While in Naples visit Castel Nuovo; a medieval castle located in front of the Piazza Municipio and the city hall. The scenic positioning of the 13th century castle affords spectacular views across the bay and Mount Vesuvius, and the glass floor reveals part of the intriguing hidden catacombs buried beneath your feet.
Shopping in Naples is outstanding and the opportunity to peruse the boutiques and street markets shouldn’t be missed. High-end Italian designers occupy elegant boutiques in the Chiaia district, while those looking for less expensive souvenirs can head to street markets dotted around the city.
Lovers of Christmas will be in their element as they stroll down Christmas Alley (San Gregario Armeno). The Christmas spirit is in abundance all year round on this quaint avenue, where Neapolitan craftsmen can be seen fashioning traditional nativity scenes even in July.
Mount Vesuvius dominates the landscape around Naples and a trip to the active volcano makes for an adrenaline-fuelled and awe-inspiring excursion. Organised tours take you 1,000m up the mountain to the car park, from which point you must walk the remaining distance to the summit. Take into consideration that the air is considerably colder at such heights; warmer layers, water and sensible walking shoes are a must!
Once you have marvelled at the sheer scale of Mount Vesuvius, take in the city of Pompeii which is located just 5 miles away. Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is recognised as the best preserved Roman city in the world. The violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD smothered the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under a layer of ash and pumice, killing around 16,000 people and perfectly preserving the amphitheatres, baths and temples of the area.
The city juxtaposes the old with the new, contrasting a rich and well-maintained history against the hustle of a busy urban metropolis. Naples is a cultural epicentre and a worthy destination on any Mediterranean adventure.