This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
Naples is a very popular port for the best cruise ships, as well as one of the most loved stops for the cruisers interested in foodie tours to taste the traditional Neapolitan dishes. I know it for a fact: during my recent European cruise on the Norwegian Epic, I had the chance to spend one day in Naples, just like a tourist. Because I love my city and I always write so much about it, I was asked by several fellow cruisers to be their guide. When I got back I decided to write the same itinerary on this blog: if you don’t have enough time, exploring using tips from a local can be the perfect way to experience the city. There are so many things to do in Naples, so let me help you with an easy to follow itinerary!
While so many decide to stop for one of the several Pompeii tours that the cruise ships offer once they disembark at Naples port (I’ve got you covered: you don’t need to book an expensive tour to visit, check out my Pompeii guide for a self guided tour), others were wondering if they could see Naples in a day. Of course it’s not ideal, I always suggest people to plan at least three or four days to visit Naples, using our public transport and enjoying the Art Stations of the Naples Metro, to experience even the less touristy areas like Christmas Alley at via San Gregorio Armeno, but if you only have one day in Naples because you’re on a cruise or in the middle of a road trip in Italy, then let me show you in detail all the things to see with this free walking tour of Naples (so you won’t have to buy a very expensive tour with a travel agency)! Of course this tour is doable also if you spend the whole weekend in my city: if you have a couple of days I’d suggest you find lodging in Naples Via Medina, which is also close to the harbor!
In case you are visiting Naples in winter, know that our Christmas decorations are lovely!
On this trip I also had the “pleasure” to meet a British journalist who was adamant that us girls didn’t have to disembark in Naples. She was absolutely sure that my city is very unsafe for female travelers and that I was lying in telling everyone that they could explore on their own. Please, don’t be that kind of person.
Naples is a very safe city, whether you are visiting with your family or on your own.
One day in Naples: start at Naples port “Molo Beverello”
The starting point of our walking tour of Naples is the harbor, shown on the above map as “Molo Beverello” (you could be a bit closer to the city than that, but it depends from your cruise ship or from your starting point). This is also where you have to head to in case you’re planning to hop on a ferry to visit Capri island. Whether you arrive from one of the great cruise ships or not, getting there isn’t difficult. Public transport in Naples is in fact easy to use. From the Central Station in Piazza Garibaldi, several buses, trams and metros get to the Molo Beverello area. In this case you might want to buy a daily ticket for unlimited rides. The TIC Napoli Giornaliero is a ticket that will cost you 4.50€, saving you a lot of hassle. You can buy it at every station, and at several newsstands in Naples. Yet let me remind you that this is a free walking tour of Naples, that I specifically created so you won’t have to walk too much to get from one point to the other (and to explore on the cheap). Buy a daily ticket only if you are staying in a different part of Naples (other than the harbor). Naples sightseeing while walking is one of the best parts of exploring my city. If you follow this guide, the top things to do in Naples will just fall into your lap, so you will stop now and then for a sweet break or to take some pictures. Of course, if you are too tired, you can count on public transport to get back to your cruise ship or to your hotel. In this case I’d suggest you buy an hourly ticket (TIC Napoli Orario) at only 1.60€. Remember that you won’t be able to use the hourly tickets on the buses to Mount Vesuvius!
From the harbor you will immediately notice the unmistakable shape of the castle Maschio Angioino, “Castel Nuovo”, which dominates the scenic Piazza Municipio. It was built between 1279 and 1284 by Charles I of Anjou, and has hosted important figures as Giotto, Petrarch and Boccaccio over the years. The Palatine Chapel, which is today the seat of the Civic Museum, is still intact. According to the legends, in the underground prisons of this castle there was a huge crocodile that fed on the prisoners who had earned a death sentence: of course there never was a crocodile in Naples, but the prisoners were still terrified of being sentenced “to death” (by the crocodile)!
One day in Naples: Royal Palace and San Carlo Theatre
Walk past the Town Hall and you will find one of the most beautiful fountains in Naples: the Fountain of Neptune, recently restored and absolutely breathtaking. I’m guessing that you’re also looking for instagrammable places to share the Naples must see with your friends and followers. This is one of those places. It’s worth spending some time here to relax, eat Italian gelato or drink some Neapolitan coffee and take some pictures.
When you’re ready to go, take the promenade along the Maschio Angioino: right next to it you will find the Royal Palace of Naples. Designed in 1600 by Domenico Fontana and completed, among others, by Luigi Vanvitelli, it was the residence of the Spanish viceroes for over one hundred and fifty years. Today it’s home to the National Library (now you know why I always had an excuse to study at the library in stead than at home). If you think you have enough time (plan wisely what to do in Naples beforehand: if you want to shop and take pictures you might not have time to visit museums and historical buildings), you can visit the Royal Apartments and the gardens. The view from the gardens is beautiful and one of the highlights of the visit is the ladder of honor. The ticket will cost you only 4€ and it doesn’t include the exhibitions that may take place inside at the time of your visit.
|Image by Teatro San Carlo|
There is nothing in all Europe, I won’t say comparable to this theatre, but which gives the slightest idea of what it is like…, it dazzles the eyes, it enraptures the soul… (Stendhal)
One day in Naples: Galleria Umberto I and sfogliatella break
To step inside Galleria Umberto I you just have to cross the street from the San Carlo Theater. In front of the entrance (one of 4 entrances, actually) there’s a popular bus stop and several taxis. The covered gallery dates back to the eighteenth century, and in 1896 it was chosen as the location of the first movie theater in Naples, in which they showed the Lumière brothers movies. For more than 50 years the highlight of Galleria Umberto I was the “sciuscià“, the shoe-shiners: it was common practice that wealthy men went there to have their shoes cleaned.
Over the years, the Galleria has never lost the title of Naples’ world center, and has been “modernized” thanks to the arrival of a number of stores that make it particularly appealing to the shopping enthusiasts. On the second floor of the main side there is a coral museum, but then again, because you don’t have much time and there are lots of things to see in Naples, unless you are a coral enthusiast, I think you can skip this small museum.
Galleria Umberto I is the perfect place for a sweet treat. Next to the exit overlooking Via Toledo, you will find a tiny pastry shop, Sfogliatella Mary, where they sell probably the best sfogliatella in Naples. Sfogliatella is the sweet symbol of Naples together with the babà with rum (which you will also find, in many different versions, at this tiny shop). Whether it’s the shortcrust pastry (sfogliatella frolla) or crunchy (sfogliatella riccia) version, it will be served hot, fragrant and irresistible, for less than 2€. During my university years, Sfogliatella Mary was a mandatory stop for me and my friends, almost every day! Another delicious pastry they often have is “Santa Rosa“. It’s like a sfogliatella, topped with custard and cherries in syrup. This is a pastry which originated in one of the towns on the Amalfi Coast.
In case you’re buying a sfogliatella to go, as you do at Mary’s, there’s no need to apply the tipping guidelines for Italy. You should do it in case you sit at a table or you have a coffee.
Let me also add that the queue is never a problem here: they are very quick and you won’t have to wait too long!
One day in Naples: Piazza del Plebiscito
After our delicious sweet break, we can finally walk towards Piazza del Plebiscito.
It is the most famous square in Naples, located in the heart of the city. It overlooks the Basilica of San Francesco di Paola, the Royal Palace, the Palace of the Prefecture and the Salerno Palace. The area is pedestrian and thus you can walk around and take as many pictures as you want. Tourists and locals love to take pictures of the statues of the Kings of Naples in the eight niches built by Vanvitelli, or the majestic equestrian statues of Charles III and Ferdinand I built by Canova: you won’t have to pay a ticket to see them!
In this square there are often musical shows and concerts (including the magnificent Bruce Springsteen concert on May 23, 2013: it was raining hard and yet we all had so much fun!) and artistic installations, especially during the holiday season. Many music videos, tv shows and movies have been filmed here.
One day in Naples: art and espresso
From Piazza del Plebiscito you can also take some beautiful pictures of the Gulf of Naples, walk along Via Chiaia… or stop for a coffee. Espresso, of course!
Espresso coffee in Naples is almost like a ritual. Hot cup, inebriating aroma, a cookie or some chocolate (dark!), together with a glass of water that you have to drink before your espresso.
The Gambrinus is a historic café, opened in 1860. During the Belle Epoque its golden rooms were filled with artists and writers who wanted to attend the Café Chantant in a liberal and modern setting. Today it looks like an art gallery, where you can easily meet important politicians or celebrities. However, espresso coffee at Gambrinus might be a bit expensive, since the price is far higher than that of the nearby bars. That’s why I suggest to move over to the next one, a tiny cafe called Bar del Professore. This tiny bar, with its walls covered with photographs of the celebrities who have had coffee here, is less classy than the Gambrinus, but it’s also the Neapolitan response to Starbucks. Not only espresso, but so many delicious variations on the theme, with white chocolate, hazelnuts, pistachio and many more (with far better results than the American colossus… did I mention that espresso here is a ritual?)!
One day in Naples: Via Toledo
The last stop of your free walking tour of Naples is Via Toledo. One of the main arteries in Naples, famous among the shopping addicted, was commissioned by the Viceroy Pedro Alvarez de Toledo in 1536. Once the traffic here was overwhelming, but today this is a pedestrian area that intersects historic buildings, noble palaces, churches, banks and boutiques. The Toledo Metro station has been nominated by The Daily Telegraph as the most beautiful in Europe, also confirmed by CNN. This station has won countless awards all over the world and definitely deserves a visit. It has a marine theme, and travelers are greeted with classical music, blue and white lights, and mosaics that make them feel like they are walking under the sea.
From Via Toledo the fastest way to return to the port is to cross the Galleria Umberto I again, or to cut through Via S. Giacomo (not far from the Desigual store), thus arriving directly to Piazza Municipio.
If you still have a couple of hours, you can add a visit to the historic city center and “Christmas Alley” to this itinerary. Via San Gregorio Armeno, where the artisans build presepi with ancient techniques, is open every day of the year! Naples also offers some of the most romantic places to go in Italy, where many decide to propose, from all over the world!
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