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Naples had been largely overlooked on the many trips I took to Italy in the past. Last summer, we finally got the chance to explore Italy’s third largest city. While the invention of pizza put it on the map, it has been inhabited since the ancient Greeks and lays claim to the largest historic city center in Europe. It’s a little gritty and not as touristy as Venice or Florence, but Naples has its charms. It’s worth spending some time here before exploring Pompeii or cruising the Amalfi Coast.
Here are five things you can’t miss on your visit.
5. Piazza del Plebiscito
The Piazza del Plebiscito is a huge square and one of the most elegant spots in Naples. It’s named after the 1860 plebiscite (a vote by the people) that made Naples a part of Italy. It was built in the early 19th century out of Vesuvius’ volcanic rock. A quick stroll is all that is needed to take in the grandeur that was once Naples. This pedestrian-only area is a great place to get out of the crowds of the narrow streets nearby.
Can’t Miss: Check out the the eight statues of the kings of Italy (Roger II of Sicily, Frederick II, Charles I of Anjou, Alfonso II, Charles V, Charles III, Joachim Murat, and Victor Emmanuel III) that line the square.
Address: Piazza del Plebiscito, 80132 Napoli NA, Italy
4. Catacombs of San Gennaro
The Catacombs of San Gennaro are underground burial and worship sites that were carved out of stone. They’re in the northern part of the city and date back to the third and fourth century. They became an important religious burial site after the entombment there of Bishop Agrippinus (who was buried there in the third century). I generally don’t like tours (they are required here), but this one was interesting and pointed out many things I would not have noticed if I was wandering alone.
Can’t Miss: Look for the sixth-century fresco that depicts the family of Theotecnus. It’s well preserved, but interestingly was repainted after the death of each family member to add them. This is one of several worth checking out.
Address: Via Capodimonte, 13, 80100 Napoli NA, Italy
3. Castel dell’Ovo
The oldest castle in Naples translates to Egg Castle. Castel dell’Ovo’s name comes from a legend involving an egg buried in the Middle Ages. The legend states that Virgil, a sorcerer of the time, buried an egg in the castle to support its foundation. As long as the egg didn’t break, the castle would not crumble. I guess it’s still holding up because the castle has been standing for centuries. Its strategic waterfront location on the Bay of Naples provided safety to the Greeks and Romans that first built the fortification.
Can’t Miss: Check out the cannons and the views from inside the castle’s walls.
Address: Via Eldorado, 3, 80132 Napoli NA, Italy
2. The Veiled Christ
The Veiled Christ was sculpted by Giuseppe Sanmartino in 1753. The sculpture shows Jesus Christ after his crucifixion reclined and covered by a thin shroud. It’s incredible to see the fine detail and amazing that this was carved by hand over 250 years ago. This statue, along with some other beautiful works, can be found in the Chapel of Santa Maria della Pietà.
Can’t Miss: Look for the crown of thorns and other implements used to crucify Christ at the feet of the sculpture.
Address: Via Francesco de Sanctis, 19/21, 80134 Napoli NA, Italy
1. Pizza at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
You can’t go to Naples without having pizza. L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele first opened in 1870 and is renowned globally for its wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza. The restaurant gained additional fame when it was featured in Eat Pray Love. Julia Roberts blissfully wolfed down some pizza in the movie. It’s no frills and the lines are long, but once inside the pizza is pure joy in its simplicity – dough, cheese, and sauce.
Can’t Miss: Look to see what celebrities might have dined at your table. When we went, we saw that Jude Law had eaten at ours.
Address: Via Cesare Sersale, 1, 80139 Napoli NA, Italy
Come for the the pizza and stay for the history. It’s a slice of busy southern Italian life. These are my can’t miss picks for Naples.
Bonus Hotel Pick: Naples does not have the luxurious hotel choices of Rome or Florence. I am loyal to Marriott and Hyatt and found the Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo to be a convenient and comfortable hotel. It’s a quick stroll to many restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions. Many rooms have great views of the Bay of Naples and there is an outdoor whirlpool on the roof.
Address: Via Ponte di Tappia, 25, 80133 Napoli NA, Italy
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