No city has the wealth of flavours and fragrances, history and culture, magic and sheer character to rival Naples. The Parthenopean city is utterly unique. It is the ideal weekend destination for wallowing in fine art and great food, and if you have a few more days to spare, we warmly recommend a visit to Pompeii, on the slopes of Vesuvius, or a jaunt along the Amalfi Coast amid the crystal-clear waters and the little cliff-hugging towns in the Gulf of Salerno.
2500 years of history are told through townhouses, churches, monuments and havens of art, interwoven with the Neapolitans’ typically cheerful flair for life. An Aladdin’s cave of art and history, Naples’ historic centre guards a heritage so remarkable that it has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A weekend in Naples simply has to begin at its pulsating heart: Spaccanapoli and the Spagnoli quarter, built in the 16th century by Don Pedro da Toledo to house his troops, and now the popular district which exudes Neapolitanness at its most unadulterated and authentic. Its jumble of lanes teeming with traditional souvenirs and crispy sfogliatella pastries on display, conceal some of the city’s finest treasures, from the Sansevero chapel, with the celebrated Veiled Christ, and the Cathedral, including the famous Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro with the two phials of the saint’s blood and marvellous masterpieces in precious metals.
Also well worth a visit is the Santa Chiara convent, where a guided tour will reveal the beauty of the Cloister of the Clarisses and its unusual decoration made of multicoloured majolica tiles that portrays the colours of this land.
Naples’ main piazzas include the famous and quite unmissable Piazza del Plebiscito, with its splendid colonnade created at Gioacchino Murat’s behest. Looking on to it is a flank of the grandiose Royal Palace, designed by Domenico Fontana, home to the Vittorio Emanuele III national library, the largest in southern Italy, with priceless antique volumes. Behind the Palace stands San Carlo theatre, a temple of great music and classical ballet that has been graced by world-renowned names from Gioacchino Rossini to Gaetano Donizetti.
Over the road from the theatre, the Galleria Umberto I is one of Italy’s most elegant arcades, with its sophisticatedly geometric decorative marble floor.Just a little further on, a stroll along the evocative Mergellina promenade is de rigueur, not least for a view of Vesuvius in all its glory and the fishing village that girds the monumental Castel dell’Ovo, which we meet along the way. Standing on an islet linked by a bridge to nearby terra firma, Castel dell’Ovo is the city’s oldest castle and is now an exhibition and conference centre. Its terrace with the old cannons offers breathtaking views of the entire bay. Simply unmissable!
From the waterside, you can take the funicular railway up to one of the most prestigious and attractive parts of town, Posillipo. This haven of lordly villas and gardens is a great vantage point for some excellent snaps of the sweeping Bay of Naples.
Sundrenched Naples hides an alter ego, the underground city excavated by first the ancient Greeks and then the Romans, who built an imposing aqueduct here that was used until the 17th century. We recommend a guided tour of underground Naples, which will take you back in time on an atmospheric journey amid subterranean passages and important finds like the Greek-Roman theatre.
If you like shopping, then you’ll love the craft creations and fun souvenirs to take home to remind you of Naples and its people. The city-centre streets are lined with shops, boutiques and workshops bulging with wares to suit all tastes, from high-fashion creations to the terracotta statuettes on San Gregorio Armeno street, where the artisans’ creativity peaks at Christmastime.
Naples is also a foodies’ paradise. When thinking of Neapolitan cuisine, the famous Margherita pizza springs to mind, a culinary gem invented in honour of the Queen who gave it its name. Simple ingredients and Neapolitan zest have created one of the best-loved and most imitated traditional dishes in the world! But Naples is and always will be the only place to eat a proper Neapolitan pizza, with deep crusts and a thin base topped with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil from this sun-kissed land.
Another proud hallmark of the city’s food tradition is the famous buffalo mozzarella – or, to give it its official title, mozzarella di bufala campana DOP – a fresh and strictly handmade cheese that melts in the mouth to release its rich milky flavour.
And, to end on a high, try a sfogliatella filled with creamy fresh ricotta enveloped in a fragrant flaky-pastry case, a slice of Naples’ most famous cake, pastiera, or if liquor-based confectionary is more your thing, a sumptuous rum baba.