It’s said you “see Naples and die,” because its beauty is so overwhelming. Although we don’t take it quite so literally, its setting along the Tyrrhenian Sea with views of Mt. Vesuvius to the east and the sparkling Bay of Naples spread out in front with Capri in the foreground, is definitely impressive.
The Naples cruise port is one of the largest and most modern in the Mediterranean, and ships dock close enough to town to make it just a few minutes’ walk. Cruises debark adjacent to the Molo Beverello Ferry Terminal, which makes it easy to explore the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento and Capri for a taste of “la dolce vita” by ferry. Here are the top 10 things to do while you’re docked in Naples.
There’s a bit of a fairy tale to the Castel dell’Ovo, the gorgeous castle that greets you at the entrance to Naples at the Porto Santa Lucia. The Roman poet Virgil supposedly placed an egg (ovo) under the castle’s walls when it was being constructed in the 12th century. If it ever breaks, the legend portends, a great disaster will befall the city. So far, so good.
Start a tour of Naples here for stunning views over the entire harbor, or head to massive Castel Sant’Elmo, originally built in the 14th century, which offers vistas from its vantage point on the Vomero. It showcases not only the bay, but also Mt. Vesuvius and the entire city. For interiors as impressive as its exterior, Palazzo Reale on Piazza del Plebiscito takes the prize, with royal apartments filled with 18th- and 19th-century art, tapestries and furnishings, some of which once belonged to Napoleon’s sister Caroline.
Just across the bay from Naples is the beautiful island of Capri, a short ferry ride but a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The 45-minute ferry ride from the port brings you to Marina Grande.
- From Marina Grande take the funicular to Capri Town and scenic La Piazzetta, a square that is always bustling with visitors.
- Continue across the island to the southern shore and Marina Piccola for the island’s largest beach.
- A short hop from Marina Grande is the lovely museum Villa San Michele.
- And don’t miss the legendary Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra); motorboats can take you right from the marina to visit a luminescent cave where you’ll transfer to a rowboat for a visit to a sunken cave.
You’ll find there are endless things to do on Capri, and with only one main road, you won’t need or want a car. Public transportation is great, or you can choose to walk everywhere.
In A.D. 79, Pompeii was a thriving city filled with citizens of the Roman Empire working, playing and going about their everyday lives. Then Vesuvius erupted, completely burying the city in lava, ash and rubble, and catching its residents off guard. After the eruption, the entire community lay hidden — and perfectly preserved — under tons of volcanic residue for almost 1,700 years before being discovered in the mid-18th century. Today, a visit to Pompeii gives you a glimpse of what life was like centuries ago as you walk amidst the perfectly preserved remains of daily life. To visit the site, take the 40-minute train ride on the Circumvesuviana line from Naples to the Pompeii Scavi-Villa de Misteri stop, or check to see if your cruise ship offers an excursion.
Pizza isn’t just a delicious treat in Naples, it’s a bite of history. The first pie was created in the late 19th century by a local chef to honor Queen Margherita when she visited the city. (The red sauce, white cheese and green basil on a Margherita pie signify the three colors of the Italian flag.) Napoletanos are serious about their pizza, using specially designed wood-burning ovens that crisp and char the thin crusts in less than 90 seconds. When you dig in, note that real Neapolitan pizza is made with San Marzano tomatoes grown on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius and local buffalo-milk mozzarella. Accept no substitutes.
We recommend L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele at Via Cesare Sersale 1/3. If you’ve seen the movie Eat, Pray, Love, you’ll remember the hubcap-sized pizza being one of the foods that inspired Julia Roberts’ character.
For a dose of natural air conditioning as well as a unique perspective on the ancient city, go underground and visit the Napoli Sotterranea (Naples Underground), ancient water works that were built 2,000 years ago by the Romans. Always a hit with kids, the guided tours take you through narrow passageways, dark cisterns used as bomb shelters during World War II, and stone steps. (It’s not for the claustrophobic.) Ninety-minute English tours depart every two hours, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., from Vico S Anna di Palazzo, 52. Another fascinating underground experience is at the Catacombs of San Gennaro (Via Capodimonte, 13) with frescoes and brickwork stretching back to the second century.
As impressive as Florence’s famed Uffizi but without as many tourists, the National Museum and Gallery of the Capodimonte has works by Caravaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Titian, Bellini and El Greco, just to name a few. Housed in the stunning 18th-century Royal Palace of Capodimonte, the museum borders the spacious Il Real Bosco di Capodimonte, which was once a royal hunting preserve. Now it’s a nice green space to enjoy a picnic.
The bustling Via San Gregorio Armeno, in the Spaccanapoli neighborhood, is Naples’ version of The Christmas Shop. Here, though, there’s only one part of the holiday that’s focused on: shop after shop of small figures to create Nativity scenes (called presepi). These creative crèches depict not only Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the three wise men, but also row after row of more-current figures, such as soccer stars and celebrities ranging from the Pope to Prince. There’s also miniature food, musical instruments and even dollhouse-like settings where you can create a Nativity scene in any setting, not just in a stable. Their tiny size makes them perfect for packing in your luggage.
There are churches — large, impressive, historic churches, including well-known Gesù Nuovo and Il Duomo — around literally every corner in Naples.
However, if you don’t want to spend your entire port call church hopping, it’s best to choose just one. Our top pick: Cappella Sansevero (Via Francesco De Sanctis 19), a chapel built in 1590 by Prince Giovan Francesco di Sangro to honor the Virgin Mary and then remodeled in the 18th century by Prince Raimondo di Sangro of Sansevero. The multicolored rooms are filled with sculptures, including its centerpiece, Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino, with a veil that looks almost translucent. If you are a fan of the dead (or medical doctor) there are oddities collected by the prince in the basement, including two skeletal bodies with perfectly preserved circulatory systems.
The treasures of Pompeii (including bronze statues and a one-million-piece floor mosaic) aren’t actually in Pompeii; they’re conveniently located among the masterpieces at this impressive national museum. Other impressive displays include a statue of Hercules discovered at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome and the Toro Farnese, the world’s largest marble sculpture from antiquity.
(Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina) – We know, even though ancient history is fascinating, sometimes you just need a dose of color and contemporary topics to break up all of the classical art with which Italy is filled. MADRE (Via Settembrini 79) is the perfect antidote to ancient-art burnout. It offers pops of color and works from an international array of artists, including Richard Serra and Jeff Koons.