If you are heading to the Amalfi Coast or Southern Italy you must add Naples to your itinerary. Even if you are pressed for time I found that it was easy to visit Naples in a day.
I like to research a place that I am planning on visiting in some depth. Isn’t it amazing how what we read influences our decisions? We have to have some way of making a decision, and it’s a city that has a bad reputation in the press. I read that Naples was dirty, the Mafia ruled the streets, garbage was piled everywhere and crime was rampant. There was so much negativity about the town that I was determined to look for the positives and that wasn’t difficult at all!
The first thing I noticed was that Naples is less crowded than Rome or Florence. I did not see piles of garbage, or gangs roaming the streets nor did not feel threatened at any time. I heard from locals that the Mafia is real and prevalent in the city, but let’s be fair, as a tourist that is not going to affect you at all.
What to see in Naples in a day
As you wander through the streets you can’t help but notice Pulcinella or la Maschera di Napoli representations all over the city. In English, you may know him as Punch.You might even meet the man himself, dressed in white, wearing a soft hat and a black mask that hides half his face. His origins can be traced to the 17th century when he featured in the puppet shows at the Commedia dell’Arte’. He is really quite bright but pretends to be an idiot. Pulcinella is streetwise and dislikes authority figures. If you want to take him home with you it’s easy! You can find him on key rings, fridge magnets, Christmas ornaments and many other items as well.
The fortress dates from the 13th century and was built by Charles I of Anjou. It was named the “new castle” so that it was not confused with the 2 other castles. Unfortunately, Charles died before he could move into the castle leaving it to his son, along with the Kingdom of Naples.
Today it houses some offices and the Municipal Museum featuring a collection of sculptures, painting and frescoes. There are also fantastic views over the bay.
You can’t visit Naples and not at least have one sfogliatella. There are a number of different types of sfogliatella. The riccia and frolla pastries are almost the same. Both are filled with cooked semolina, sweetened ricotta, cinnamon and glace citrus fruit encased in crispy, flaky pastry. The frolla has a smoother textured filling.
Other versions are the Santa Rosa and the Coda d’Aragosta. The Santa Rosa has more of a custard type filling and is topped with cherries while the Coda d’Aragosta (lobster tail) is filled with custard and whipped cream.
I didn’t only want the best sfogliatella in Naples but I wanted to enjoy it at Caffè Gambrinus. The caffè was established in 1860. Oscar Wilde spent some time here during his travels and it soon became a spot for the local intellectuals and the literary elite.
Its décor is opulent. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling and gold is the prevalent colour. The caffè houses a pastry shop, a confectioner, a coffee house and a cocktail bar. There are also tables outside. It is not the cheapest place for a sfogliatella, but it is a great place to soak up the history while you have a coffee.
Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo
This beautiful church is also known as Trinity à Maggiore. It was the heart of the Jesuit community in Naples and was built between 1584 and 1601.
The exterior of the building is covered with pyramid shaped stones. They are esoteric symbols and legend tells that some expert stonemasons could charge the stones with positive energy to ward off evil. Apparently, due to the inexperience of the builders working on the church, they were attached the wrong way and delivered negative energy instead.
They also have strange symbols on them which correspond to musical notes in Aramaic. If read from left to right, from the bottom to the top, it delivers a musical score which is about an hour long. You can listen to the music of the stones in this short video clip below. This tale sounds a bit like a Dan Brown novel, but fact is often stranger than fiction and remember that you read it here first!
Galleria Umberto I
Situated between The Duomo and Teatro Alla Scala is the Galleria Umberto shopping centre. It reminded me of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, in Milan in that it is similar in design. It was opened in 1890 and is built in the shape of a cross with a magnificent glass dome. The ground floor has marble wherever you look and stunning mosaics zodiac signs set into the floor.
You will find the usual luxury brands and some cafes to relax in between shopping up a storm. Even if you are not planning on shopping it is worth taking 15 minutes out of your schedule to visit this stunning piece of architecture.
This is the main tourist drag in the heart of the old town and splits the centro storico in half. It is easy to see why this part of town has Unesco World Heritage status. It is a straight, narrow cobbled street that teems with shops, restaurants, bars and people. It is noisy and just a little bit chaotic, but it is old and authentic Naples rich in history and culture.
One of the city’s best markets is the Mercato di Porta Nolana near the Central station. There are plastic tubs filled with freshly caught seafood, beautiful tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. It’s not hard to imagine these delicious ingredients being used for local specialities a few hours later and served in restaurants across the city.
Visiting Naples in a day was busy, but great fun. Quite simply Naples is no more daunting than any other large city. It is however packed with fascinating places to visit and interesting corners to explore. It is a mixture of different periods of history that meld into an authenticity that is unique to Naples. If you want to experience a taste of real life in Italy then Naples is the perfect place!
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