Wednesday 30 October 2019

Three days in Naples

View from Castel Sant'Elmo

Naples has a reputation for being dangerous and dirty, although people that live there or have visited generally reject these assumptions. It is busy, chaotic, and very polluted, but you don’t feel unsafe walking around (although the traffic takes some getting used to!). Take care of your personal possessions, as you should anywhere you visit, but don’t let its reputation put you off visiting. It’s worth factoring in some time to just wander around the maze of streets and experience the bustling city first hand.

There’s plenty to see in Naples including three castles. Castel Sant’Elmo sits proudly above the city, an imposing fortress that has often been used as a military outpost. It now hosts art exhibitions and offers beautiful views over Naples. If you don’t want to climb the hill to get to it, there’s a funiculare that will take you nearby.
Inside Castel dell'Ovo

Head toward the harbour and you can’t miss Castel dell’Ovo guarding the bay. It is the oldest standing fortification in Naples and the peninsula on which it sits used to be the island Megaride. It is free to enter and there are information boards explaining its varied history including being used as the seat of the Royal Chamber and State Treasury, as a prison, and as a defense structure during many periods of unrest.

Follow the harbour round and you will soon find yourself at Castel Nuovo which has been used frequently as a royal residence over the years. Today it hosts a museum, chapel, and library. A short walk from here will bring you to the Piazza del Plebiscito, on one side a royal palace, on the other an impressive church. 

If you’re tired of tourist attractions by this point and want a bite to eat or to do some shopping, the Galleria Umberto I is just around the corner. An impressive nineteenth century shopping gallery with domed ceilings and mosaics lining the floors. It’s worth popping in to see it but pass through it and head into the narrow side streets and you’ll find a wide variety of pizzerias and trattorias where you can eat a delicious meal and have change from €10.
Galleria Umberto I

Approximately half an hour walk from here takes you to Napoli Sotterranea where you can go on a guided tour of the underground sections of the city. Here you’ll learn about the devastation that Naples suffered during the Second World War and how they converted tunnels they’d been using for rubbish for decades into bomb shelters, walk along ancient aqueducts, and even see some flowers growing 40 metres underground. Opposite the entrance to the tour you’ll find Christmas Alley, where you can pick up handmade Christmas decorations all year round.

A ruined temple at Pompeii
Few travellers will stop in Naples without visiting Pompeii or Herculaneum. Easily accessible by the Circumvesuviana which departs from Garibaldi, allow a full day to walk the Pompeii excavations. Herculaneum is a smaller site as the new city was built over the remains and so it’s unlikely the whole city will ever be fully uncovered. Although Pompeii is the far more popular site, Herculaneum is worth a visit. Its proximity to Vesuvius means that it was destroyed and therefore preserved, in a slightly different way. The hot ash carbonised wood, preserving features that were destroyed at Pompeii, and more of the buildings have upper floors and wall paintings still intact.
Remains of a building in the excavations of Herculaneum

As it’s a smaller site it’s possible to combine a day trip with going up Vesuvius. There is a tour company that operates from Ercolano Scavi station. They’ll drive you the majority of the way up the volcano and you then have an hour and a half to climb to the summit yourself, just enough time to get there and back with a few photo stops.

If you’ve not reached archaeological saturation point, the National Archaeological Museum in Naples is a popular tourist spot as it houses the majority of treasures unearthed in the excavations, moved to the museum to aid in their conservation.

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