Naples sightseeing attractions of great historical interest
Overview of major historic sights in Naples, a city of poverty, culture and contrast
Naples Cathedral: contains some excellent artworks and a grand interior
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Naples unique city experience
But the city of Naples is worth at least a day of anyone's time and if you are into museums, art, architecture or culture much longer.
Yes, the city of Naples has its museums, cathedral and other religious monuments but perhaps suffers from Naples being in Italy. Anywhere else, many of these would be showstoppers but visitors reach Naples after having visited Rome and Florence a day or so before. So the contrast is unfair.
What Naples does offer is its own unique city experience. Your expectations may be slightly confused. Isn't this a very poor city, lots of poverty and will I be safe?
It is also a modern city too, a thriving port, a playground for the rich and famous in the nearby island of Capri with cultural museums and great churches.
Well Naples is all of that, a city of diverse experiences. It can be raw at times, but pleasantly so. It's not neatly packaged for modern tourism and to be treated like a theme park. The only real way to explore the city is independently and walking most of the time.
Below are the main attractions your favourite guidebook will point you towards and they are indeed a fine framework to frame your visit around.
You will be rewarded though if you don't organise a tight itinerary to be followed with military timing. Try to expect the unexpected and have contingency to indulge in whatever hidden personal treasure you find.
Getting around Naples city
Whether you arrive at the Central Station or the ferry/cruise port or are lucky enough to stay in a hotel in Central Naples you may well be fine just walking everywhere. All the main sights are easily walked to from any point in the centre.
Naples hotels close to
Getting around Naples & sights
Tours + independent sightseeing
Transport from Naples
As ever there is a Naples open top hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus that visits all the main sights along three separate routes.
Street scenes: the Spaccanapoli and Via Tribunali area
National Archaeological Museum of Naples
San Francesco di Paola on Piazza del Plebiscito
Naples funicular railway to San Martino
Typical walkway down the hill from San Martino
There is a good local bus network and it's conceivable you might use the limited Metro for a short ride.
How you can access the network is explained on City of Naples public transport page.
The public transport maps have the main sights marked too and are a good way of getting orientated with relative locations.
One public transport option you may well want to take is one of the funicular railway up to San Martino for great views. The funicular is an attraction in its own right.
If you can, try and walk back down into the city via one of the many steep walkways getting glimpses of everyday neighbourhood Naples.
Historic centre of Naples
Naples Cathedral (Duomo di San Gennaro)
A Gothic cathedral built in the 13th century in the north east sector of the historic centre, about a 10-minute walk from Central Station, though local buses go to the door.
The Cathedral is dedicated to Naples patron saint San Gennaro or Saint Januarius. A vial of the saint's blood is brought out three times a year - on the first Saturday in May, September 19 and December 16 - and if it liquefies, all is well. If it doesn't... fears are held for the safety of Naples. Luckily, it nearly always liquefies.
The cathedral contains some excellent artworks including frescoes.
To one side of the Cathedral is the 4th century Basilica Santa Restituta, the oldest chapel in Naples. Under here is an interesting archeological site tracing the Greek, Roman and early Christian city.
Spaccanapoli and Via Tribunali
The Spaccanapoli and Via Tribunali form the east-west pedestrian spine of the historic centre of Naples and with good reason most visitors head for and perhaps linger more than they scheduled.
Originally the heart of the Greek and Roman city, the Spaccanapoli district is a string of narrow, winding streets and is mainly a pedestrian zone. The area has arcades dating back more than 1,000 years.
As a tourist honeypot there is a fair share of tourist tat but the scale of this area is huge and the tight alleys reveal something of interest around almost every corner, especially if you look up as well as from side to side.
If you venture away from the Spaccanapoli and Via Tribunali tourist area, perhaps around Spacuano Castle, some of the alleys may not look as inviting and safe.
Santa Chiara Church
As you might expect in the old historic centre there are plenty of churches, with many worthwhile to visit. Santa Chiara is one of these and sits on the Spaccanapoli in the south west sector of the historic centre.
Santa Chiara Church is part of a large complex that includes a monastery with beautiful cloisters decorated with majolica tiles and frescoes and an interesting archaeological museum.
The National Archaeological Museum of Naples
The Naples Archaeological museum is one of Italy's top archeology museums drawing many of its exhibits from Pompeii and Herculaneum outside the city.
The museum has one of the world's best collections of Greek and Roman antiquities, including mosaics, sculptures, gems, glass and silver, and a collection of Roman erotica from Pompeii.
The museum is at the north western periphery of the historic district and is served by a Metro Station (Museo) that is of limited use for visitors as well as buses.
Piazza del Plebiscito
Piazza del Plebiscito is the center of modern Naples, just south of the historic centre and only 5 minutes walk from the cruise/ferry terminal. San Francesco di Paola, on the piazza, is a huge domed church. Palazzo Reale, the Royal Palace, is across the square. Inside you can visit the restored rooms and royal apartments and visit the roof garden where there are good views of the bay.
San Martino is on top of a steep hill just west of the historic centre. The excuse you need to come up here is the Museum and Monastery of San Martino from where there are great views of the entire city of Naples spread out below you.
Take the Funicular Centrale, one of the longest in the world that leaves from Via Toledo by Galleria Umberto, just north of Piazza del Plebiscito for another great experience.
An equally good experience is to walk back down the hill not via the curcuitous roads but by the many walkways/steps. There is a walkway down immediately in front of Piazza San Martino by the entrance to the museum that winds down past old houses with no vehicular access to the historic centre below. More scenic options are on the other side of the hill where you will see steps marked on most of the tourist maps (see image).
Oh, I nearly forgot San Martino Museum is housed in the Certosa di San Martino a large monastery complex dating from 1368 next to Sant Elmo Castle, which you can also visit. Museum exhibits are housed in the former living quarters of the monks.
Expect paintings and sculptures from the 13th-19th centuries, the museum is famed for Neopolitan nativity scenes. The monastery gardens have fruit trees, flowers, fountains and magnificent views.
Unico Artecard - 3 day tourist pass for Naples, Pompeii etc, including public transport
Aimed squarely at the visitor to Naples this pass combines public transport in Naples for 3 days, (including the Naples airport bus) plus entry to two attractions from a long list that includes the National Archaeological Museum in Naples and Pompeii and Herculaneum.
From the third attraction onwards you enjoy up to a 50% discount on standard tickets.