Naples is not a city for the faint-hearted and it wouldn’t ever want to be. But for all the chaos, let Naples work on you for two days and you’ll come out the other side energized, cultured, and firmly addicted to what this fast-paced, low tolerance, high-beauty, decorative jumble of a city puts on its inevitably olive oil smeared plate for you. Check out Conde Nast Traveller’s
ideas for the best things to do while in Naples.
1) Eat the greatest pizza on the face of the earth
If you want to devour the most sensational margherita in Italy (or anywhere else for that matter) then you’re going to have to wait for it. The miniscule L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele has been housed on the scruffy, utterly non-descript Via Cesare Sersale since 1870. This doesn’t make it the oldest pizzeria in Naples but it is the greatest. This is a fact attested to by the fact that locals easily outnumber tourists each evening, entering through the tiny front door to collect a token before waiting outside for at least 45 minutes, before securing a table in the two-room restaurant; as simple as it comes with its green and white tiled walls and wipe clean tables. Another local favorite is Da Michele that serves up pizza that is smoky, slightly tangy, crunchy snap and miraculously free of grease. They only do four types of pizza (it was two until recently) but to order anything other than a margherita (with a bottle of crisp Azzurro lager to wash it down) is to miss the whole point of that lengthy wait outside.
2) Visit Caravaggio’s greatest (and strangest) masterpiece
A northerner he may have been (born in Milan to be precise) but Caravaggio’s most rewarding, odd and absorbing work is right here in Spaccanpoli, the gritty streets of which provide the backdrop to his chiaroscuro tableau depicting the Virgin and Child being lifted towards heaven by winged chariots. The unprepossessing octagonal church, just off the narrow Via dei Tribunal, inside which the 12 foot high piece resides, has a crucial role to play in the story. Commissioned by a group of Naples nobles, the church had (and still does) operate a conformity called the Pio Monte della Misericordia, whereby interest free loans were given to needy locals in exchange for goods, which would be auctioned off if the loan wasn’t repaid.
3) Explore an array of ancient catacombs in a former ‘no-go’ zone
Twenty years ago, if you’d asked a local about where to go in the La Sanita neighbourhood the stock answer would have been simply ‘don’t’. Today, this narrow neighborhood still has its problems but it is no longer dangerous to outsiders. Tiny doorways open up to reveal coffee shops where an espresso at the counter will cost you one euro maximum while others reveal minuscule grocers and fishmongers plying their wares to locals, some of whom operate a ‘bucket system’ to get their shopping to the upper floors of the apartment buildings, lowering baskets on ropes to street level from their balconies for shopkeepers to fill up with fruit, veg, fish and pasta. Two of these doorways lead into the subterranean Neapolitan world. Closed to the public until 2008, a local not-for-profit organization called La Paranza opened up some of these ancient catacombs and trained up disadvantaged locals to become tour guides to these macabre yet graceful underground caverns. The Catacomb de San Gennaro was the resting place of the saint of Naples, only beheaded in 305AD after his killers found he wouldn’t alight by burning.
The San Gaudioso catacombs (named after a North African bishop and hermit) contain numerous mosaics and frescoes dating from the fifth to the 18th century. It was in these latter days of the catacomb’s regular use that a unique method of burial became the norm for the more prestigious newly-departed inhabitants of Naples; namely their bodies were walled in upright with their skulls cemented into the rear wall. When all the bodily fluids had drained away, the skull would be removed and placed on top of a fresco portrait of themselves.
4) Walk the summit of Vesuvius
It might look onerous from the city center, but the hike up to the crater and summit of Vesuvius can be done in well under an hour, as long as you take the handy Circumvesuviana train from the center and then take one of the always waiting minibuses to the site entrance in what is now a national park. Check their website ahead of time if possible as landslides, heavy rain or snow in winter can mean the park shuts at short notice.