WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT NAPLES
Updated: Apr 5
€1 Aperol spritz, the best Ragu and pizza in the world, visiting Pompei and wine tasting under a volcano
After a long ol’ lockdown it was finally time to hop on an aeroplane and take a flight to Italy to explore Naples and the Amalfi coast. We had booked this trip fairly last minute due to restrictions continuously changing but had been wanting to visit the Campania region of Italy for years.
We flew with Easyjet from Edinburgh to Naples with a flight time of approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. To get to the centre of Naples from the airport you can catch the local bus which costs around 5 euros per person and will drop you at Naples central train station. Our hotel was around 10-15 minutes from the train station so to save us dragging our bags we opted for a taxi which cost 24.5 euros. We downloaded an app called ‘FreeNow’ which made the taxi booking process easier and we could book and pay on our phones so no cash was exchanged. The downside is with FreeNow you aren’t provided with a fixed fee for the fare. Our taxi driver was quick to ask us whether we’d been to Naples before and without thinking we told him it was our first time. For this reason we think he may have detoured a little to add a few extra euros to our fare.
We arrived at our hotel, Palazzo Caracciolo Napoli MGallery, had our temperatures checked and then headed up to our beautiful room which was a duplex junior suite. The room was very modern, perfectly clean and we had so much room for only James and I. It felt like we’d rented a whole apartment for our time in Naples. The ground floor of the suite had a large bathroom with a double sink unit, a sofa, tv, dining table and a large wardrobe with plenty of place to hang clothes for this city break. The upstairs was kept solely for the bedroom with a dressing table, lounge area and a large double bed with a balcony overlooking the ground floor.
After unpacking and freshening up we headed out to explore Naples and almost instantly I was regretting wearing long trousers in the 30 degree heat. Living in the north of England means we NEVER experience weather as glorious so I think my body was in a temporary state of shock! We headed in the direction of the Lungomare region and tried to get our bearings. We seemed to be walking forever and as my legs got hotter and hotter I was getting dehydrated and was desperate to find a bar to sit in and cool down. We made it to the sea front after an hour or so and found a bar called Pathenope. We sat enjoying the view out into the Tyrrhenian sea sipping a Peroni lemon which was delicious and so refreshing. We were given crisps, bread and nuts to have with our drinks and quickly filled up meaning we wouldn’t be eating for a good while. We decided to do a little bar crawl and head into the centre of Naples.
We started at Nabeer, a little craft beer bar tucked away in a side street. This a tiny little bar with some tables outside. It’s a little unnerving sitting outside with mopeds flying past so we decided to sit at a little table in the doorway enjoying our drinks. I had a beer spritz which the owner of Nabeer invented. I imagine the prosecco in a regular Aperol spritz is replaced with beer but he didn’t tell me his secret recipe.
We continued our bar crawl and next visited what must be one of the greatest places on earth…a 1 euro spritz bar. At Cammarota spritz Aperol spritz is served in small plastic cups for 1 euro each. For the price it seemed silly to only get one so we started off with 2 each and it went from there! The place was absolutely packed with young students filling the streets and enjoying each other’s company. It was a great atmosphere and definitely worth a visit but beware, the spritz are stronger than you think and it won’t be long until you feel the effects. If you’re conscious about social distancing measures at the moment I’d advice against it. There was definitely no 1 metre rule here.
We spent the rest of the night exploring Piazza Bellini which again has a young crowd and lots of cheap Aperol spritz and ended our night with a takeaway pizza close to our hotel. We ordered our pizza and as we were standing chatting, a Neapolitan family were standing close beside us and one of them tapped me on the shoulder. We don’t speak Italian and they didn’t speak English but with a little of both and some hand gestures we quickly understood what they were getting at. They pointed to my watch and told me to put my hand in my pocket to cover up the watch. Naples previously had a bad reputation for crime and violence but now it is said to be one of the safest places to visit. We hadn’t felt unsafe or intimidated during our time in Naples so far but this made us think twice and we were a lot more cautious from then on. I left my watch in the safe at the hotel for the remainder of the trip just to be safe.
Day 2 in Naples arrived and we awoke to a delightful breakfast at Hotel Palazzo Caracciolo Napoli MGallery. Due to Covid-19 the breakfast was table service only instead of a buffet but this definitely did not affect what was on offer. We were asked whether we’d prefer an Italian or Continental breakfast. We opted for continental and were brought a platter of delicious pastries from croissants to the local, Sfogliatelle (pastry stuffed with ricotta). We had a cappuccino and a juice and munched through our mouth-watering flakey treats. After eyeing up another couple’s cooked breakfast we asked for some scrambled eggs and bacon. We finished off this monster breakfast with some fresh fruit and yogurt. The service was flawless and for the majority of the time there was only one waitress serving. The waitress was whizzing in and out of the kitchen so fast making sure each table were getting exactly what they wanted.
After letting our breakfast settle for a little we left the hotel and strolled into the Napoli sunshine. We had planned to join a free-walking tour and the meeting point was located at Castel Nuevo. The walk took around 30 minutes and as we walked up to the entrance of the castle we quickly realised this walking tour wouldn’t be happening today. There were very few people around and presumably due to Covid-19 the walking tours mustn’t be going ahead at the moment. We’d found a brief walking tour itinerary online and planned some must-see sights of our own. So off we went on our own private walking tour.
We began by taking the short walk from Castel Nuevo to Castel dell’Ovo. This castle is perched right by the Santa Lucia port and yes, you guessed it, the name translates to ‘egg castle.’ This is supposedly due to it’s shape but it looked like a regular castle shape to me. We continued in the scorching hot weather, along the coast and then into the Villa Comunale di Napoli. The entrance looked a lot more appealing that the park itself but still, it was nice to have a change of scenery. After a short sit down on a park bench, soaking up the sun we made our way up what felt like hundreds of steps to reach Parco Villa Floridiana. The walk to get here was gruelling in 30 degree heat and we had to stop after each flight of stairs to sip some water. However, the park was worth it. We wandered through and revelled in the shaded spots with the trees blocking out the sun. We then walked down to the Villa Floridiana and continued further towards the panoramic viewpoint. On our way we found the most lovely little pond with adorable turtles swimming around. I stood for ages watching them dunking and diving and then clambering all over one another trying to perch on rocks to catch some sun rays. I peeled myself away from the turtles and headed to the panoramic viewpoint overlooking Napoli. This was a lovely shady spot to get some great photos. We just had to put up with a group of teenagers being way too overly affectionate.
Exhausted from our morning stroll, we left the park and walked to a nearby piazza for an ice cream and an iced smoothie. We stopped at Fantasia Gelati and I had a strawberry iced smoothie and James had lemon sorbet and pistachio ice cream. It was so nice to have a sit down and a chance to cool down after our long morning exploring Naples. We set back off and headed to Castel Sant-Elmo, a short 10 minute walk from the Gelateria. The castle is only 2.50 euros per person to enter and it is open Monday-Sunday. It is a huge medieval castle which has been expanded continuously over the years. The name derives from the building which was originally a church named after Saint Erasmus, transformed into Ermo and later Elmo. We decided to stay out in the sunshine and walked the perimeter of castle. We then walked to a panoramic viewpoint to the right of the castle before starting our descent back down into Napoli town. The way down was much more pleasant than the way up and the stairs brought us out into the Spanish quarter of Naples.
We worked up an appetite so made our way to La Passione di Sofi for some fried street food. We paid 5 euros for a mixed cone of different fried goods: polenta, arancini balls, deep fried mac and cheese balls (to die for!), potato croquettes and dough balls. It was delicious. These fried goods are sold almost everywhere in Naples but we’d done our research to find some of the best. We couldn’t fault La Passione di Sofi and would definitely recommend.
Jump forward to the evening and after a relaxing beer in our hotel room, we had freshened up and were ready for another night in Naples. We had an aperitif at the quirky Shanti Art Musik bar and then onto Tandem Ragu for dinner. This place is recommended almost everywhere for very good reason. It was the best ragu I have ever tasted and I still reminisce about it now. The ragu is made with thick chunks of meat that melt in your mouth. The portions are huge, the house wine was delicious and the prices are more than reasonable. This place is one of the best places I’ve ever eaten and I cannot recommend it enough. Make sure you book in advance as tables book up fast. After filling up on ragu and red wine we waddled to Piazza Bellini for too many cheap Aperol spritz'.
Day 3 in Naples involved an early breakfast and then a quick dash to catch the local train from Naples to Pompei. The train takes around 35-40 minutes and costs around 3 euros per person each way. I spent my train journey nursing a sore head from the night before (woops) and applying layers and layers of sun cream to my poor burnt shoulders which had taken a battering from yesterdays blazing sun. We arrived at Pompei, walked straight ahead until we reached the Shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei then turned left and made our way towards the ruins. The tickets are 16 euros per person to enter. The ruins are huge and it is recommended that you get an audio guide and a map before entering so you know what you’re looking at. Pompei is ruins at the end of the day so if you don’t know the significance of what you’re seeing, most of the old buildings looks the same. Instead of purchasing an audio guide, we downloaded the Rick Steves Pompei podcast. This is a guided tour which takes you all the way through the main streets of Pompei. The tour starts at the Porta Marina entrance. This is a great way to guide you around Pompei and allow you to go at your own pace. The best part is, it’s completely free! Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, many of the Pompei sights were closed when we visited. The main houses, brothel sections and any indoor, closed spaces were cordoned off. This was a little disappointing but not surprising given the current pandemic situation. Pompei is huge and extremely exposed so make sure you cover up and keep applying sun cream throughout the day. There isn’t very much shelter or shade from the sun so be sure to look after your skin. It takes around 1 hour to follow the guided tour but you could easily spend 2-3 hours in Pompei as there is just so much to see.
We’d explored as much as we could of Pompei and as much as we’d tried to hide from it, the sun was definitely burning us a little. It was time to leave and grab some lunch. We’d arranged to go to the Cantina Vesuvio just above Pompei. The cantina offer a free shuttle bus which collects from you from Pompei and takes you up through some windy roads to the cantina. We were welcomed and given a short tour around the vineyards by one of the Russo family who own the vineyard. We then sat down on the terrace with a beautiful sea view and began our wine tasting. We sampled 6 different wines whilst enjoying a delicious 3 course meal.
To start there was some bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar made at the cantina and available to buy at the gift shop. The balsamic vinegar was to die for and we were gutted we couldn’t take any home (we were hand luggage only so no liquids.) We were then presented with a starter of meats and cheeses which included salami, provolone cheese, prosciutto and different breads paired with our first glass of wine which was a sparkling rose. It was light and refreshing and cooled us down after our day in the sunshine. We then tried two white wines which had subtle differences but it was interesting to try them side by side so you could really distinguish between the flavours. Our main course was served which was a large bowl of tomato pasta together with the Lacryma Christi Riserva red wine. Our pasta was served into individual bowls and then the serving bowl was left on the table in case we wanted seconds. We then sampled another fruity red before moving onto our final course, dessert. Our meal ended with a Pastiera Napolitana which is a traditional dessert with sweetened ricotta, fruit and boiled berries. This was served with the Passito Bianco IGT dessert wine. For 3 courses and 6 wines to try this tasting is definitely value for money. With the free shuttle also to and from Pompei this is a delightful and sophisticated post-Pompei activity.
We took the shuttle down to the Torre Annunziata train station. We bought our tickets and as we waited for our train, we watched as a man jumped on the train tracks to cross over to the platform opposite to catch the train. Unfortunately, as he was climbing up onto the platform the train driver set off without him. I presume that was to teach him a lesson. We got off the train at Ercolano and went to a nearby tour guide office to see if we could get up to Mount Vesuvius. This is an active volcano and one of the main attractions in the area. It was now around 4pm so we didn’t have high hopes but thought we had to try. The only way to get up there was a 50 euro taxi. There are public buses and private buses available which are cheaper but they stopped at 3pm. The reduced service is due to Covid-19. My advice would be if you want to see Vesuvius and Pompei in one day, head to Vesuvius first as Pompei closes later.
At the moment visiting Vesuvius is a little awkward. Previously you could purchase tickets at the entrance gate to the volcano in person. However, at present you have to purchase tickets online in advance, all of which are for a limited time slot of around 15 minutes. The difficulty with this is that there is a reduced bus service to take you to Vesuvius and they aren't always on time. If you do not arrive within your allotted time then your ticket is no longer valid and you will have to purchase another. Therefore, if your bus is late or delayed for any reason you could miss your time slot. Half of Vesuvius is also closed due to Covid-19 pandemic so you can’t walk the perimeter of the volcano at present. The public bus from Pompei to Vesuvius takes around 45 minutes to 1 hour. After debating whether to fork out 50 euros to see the volcano we decided against it. With only half of Vesuvius open we thought we wouldn’t capture the whole experience and it was late in the day to be setting off the visit a new attraction. Instead we walked to Porto Ercolano train station and caught the train back to Naples.
We headed back to our hotel to freshen up before we left for our last night in Naples. I had been waiting for this moment for a long time and we were about to sample the “best pizza in the world,” As seen on Eat Pray Love, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is the home of the traditional pizza. This place is incredible and is always absolutely jam-packed with a queue down the street. You will be able to order a takeaway if you turn up on the night and are willing to wait but if you want to eat in, make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment. The restaurant only offer two types of pizza – margherita and marinara. If you order a pizza to takeaway you have a few other options: pizza margherita bianca (oil, mozzarella and basil), pizza marita (half margherita/half marinara) and pizza cosacca (oil, tomato and basil). All of the pizzas are very simple and the philosophy is ‘don’t mess with the original.’ This restaurant really know how to make a pizza and after demolishing a margherita which was so big it was hanging off the plate, I have to agree - this really is the best pizza in the world. To top it off the pizzas are only 5 euros each. We had two pizzas and two beers and it came to 16 euros, what a bargain.
Our time in Naples had come to an end and our next stop was Capri. We checked out of the Palazzo Caracciolo Napoli and have to say this hotel is immaculate. The staff were extremely friendly and working under difficult Covid-19 times did not phase them. Masks were always worn, hand sanitiser was provided and temperatures were taken. The Covid-19 measures did mean that the spa was closed which was disappointing but completely understandable in the circumstances. The hotel is a great location and sits outside of the hustle and bustle of the main piazzas. The rooms are stunning, breakfast was delicious and the hotel as a whole was a great all-rounder.
There is so much to do and see in this bustling, lively city but I would say you don’t need longer than two nights in Naples. We used the third as a base for visiting Pompei but you could choose to use Sorrento as your base for Pompei instead. Although you don’t need long in this city, don’t miss it out of your trip to the Amalfi coast. It has a lot of character and some incredible restaurants on offer which you do not want to miss.
Next stop: Capri - Exploring a luxury island