View of Naples
| ||Maps provided by
Got questions? Cruisers share about Naples.
Find Western Mediterranean cruise deals
View 677 port reviews of Naples cruises
Read more about Mediterranean cruises
Once quite a brilliant city, Naples, on Italy's southwest coast, began a decline in the mid-19th century and hasn't quite recovered since. The city is a mishmash of architectural styles, with elegant 18th-century palazzos rubbing shoulders with 1970's-Soviet-style concrete blocks. The city is full of narrow alleyways, some so tight they rarely see the light of Naples' generally plentiful sunshine. Laundry hangs from wrought-iron balconies; frenetic, hand-wringing conversations take place stories above its streets; and beggars, generally accompanied by companions ranging from a dog to a monkey, sprawl on pedestrian shopping streets, economy-sized bottles of Peroni, an Italian beer, at the ready. One crewmember confided to me that Naples felt more African than Italian.
That's true to a point -- the atmosphere is definitely an oft-crazy, oft-delightful mixture of energies and ambiences -- but Naples still ultimately feels Italian to me. Its locals, shopping along Via Chiaia on a bustling Saturday morning, are every bit as chic and fashionable as those in the more touristy northern cities of Florence and Rome. Men (and women) belly up to bars for a quick hit of espresso. Food stalls offer goodies ranging from tripe to fresh vegetables, right off a farm. The city has the requisite cafes, trattorias, and frenetic, life-defying drivers.
The irony of Naples, a staple of Mediterranean cruise itineraries, is that few cruise passengers venture too far into its web. It's hard, though, to compete with a place like Pompeii. Pompeii, which lies about 15 miles southeast of Naples, was in 79 A.D. a bustling city of 10,000 - 20,000 people -- until the fateful eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, which buried it and its population in ash. The town was preserved until the 1860's, when an excavation began revealing the city.
Beyond Pompeii, which is definitely a must-do for anyone visiting Naples, other areas around Naples beckon like magnetic lures -- Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, Ravello, Positano, and Capri, among others.
But try to make time to venture into the helter-skelter world of Naples itself. The city, settled by ancient Greeks, was at one time the capital of Southern Italy. Throughout centuries, Italiots, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Germans, Normans and Swabians also settled here. But the acclaimed founder of what amounts to the city's contemporary era was Giuseppe Garibaldi, who came from Sicily to Naples to reunite the city with the rest of Italy.
If the city isn't as charming -- and it's not, we'll admit -- as many others in Italy, particularly in its architecture, it's important to note that the city sustained heavy bombing during World War II.
Look beyond the surface if you can ... you really haven't seen all of Italy if you haven't experienced Naples.
Print the entire port review.
Other Western Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Barcelona • Cannes • Capri • Corsica (Ajaccio) • Elba • Florence • Fuerteventura • Genoa • Gibraltar • Ibiza • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Lisbon • Madeira (Funchal) • Malta • Marseille • Monaco • Naples • Nice • Palermo • Palma de Mallorca • Portofino • Rome (Civitavecchia) • Sardinia • Sete • Seville • Sorrento • St. Tropez • Taormina • Tenerife • Tunis (La Goulette) • Venice • Villefranche
Sample Limoncello, a curiously strong Italian liqueur that's derived from the bright, plump lemons that prosper in the southern part of the country. Naples is also known for its intense coffees.
Hand-painted ceramics, gold jewelry, leather goods, chocolates from the 19th-century Gay Odin (chocolate Mt. Vesuvius, for example) and wine from the region of Campania make great souvenirs.
Italian is the primary language spoken; English is neither widely spoken nor easily understood, except in major tourist spots.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the euro; for the latest exchange rate, visit www.xe.com. There are plenty of ATM machines and exchange bureaus, both at the port and in town. If you are visiting Pompeii, a popular stop for first-timers, note that there is an ATM just outside the entrance to the ruins. You'll want euros on hand for a gelato or refreshing lemon granita after touring.
Where You're Docked
Stazione Maritima is centrally located (and really handy if you plan to take the hydrofoil to Capri). You can walk right into town. A tiny souvenir shop is located inside the terminal, and there are a few very casual cafes in the adjacent parking lot.
Within the city, you can get around on foot primarily (or by taxi, though make sure you ride in an "official" cab and negotiate the price before you get in). However, don't necessarily count on taxis -- on a visit in May 2007, taxi drivers were inexplicably on strike (it would have been nice if our ship's otherwise copious info on the port included this fact), and we had to hoof it everywhere. No big deal, but the city's pretty big and it limited how much we could see due to time constraints. Beyond the city limits, the train system and the hydrofoils are convenient and efficient.
If you're venturing beyond the city limits, this is one of those places where it really does pay to take your ship's shore excursion, just for ease of transportation if nothing else. Traffic is a nightmare, not only in Naples itself but also along the Amalfi coast. (We've heard more than once about independent travelers who got caught in jams and missed their ships.) As well, the roads weaving through the Amalfi coast are narrow and winding and quite precariously perched on steep cliffs.
One exception is a trip to the island of Capri; fast ferries depart from the terminal just next to the cruise pier. You can also take a fast ferry to Sorrento.
Watch Out For
We were warned numerous times (by locals and ships' crew members alike) to be incredibly careful about crime -- pickpockets, burglaries, etc. If exploring independently, stay on major arteries (this is probably not the best port to wander off the beaten path), and leave valuables and extra cash on the ship. Also beware of street vendors hawking seemingly expensive goods (such as cell phones) for way-too-cheap prices; there's likely a scam involved.
Pompeii (open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.) is the most important historic site in this part of Italy; at one time (a long, long time ago) it was a prosperous city with 20,000 residents. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. buried the town for some 1,700-plus years. It was rediscovered in the mid-18th century as a result of excavations, and visitors can now wander the streets of this ancient, doomed city. Sites of interest include a temple, the open-air forum, the once-bustling marketplace, the recently restored bathhouse and the red-light district.
Herculaneum (open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.) was also destroyed during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. This smaller town of about 5,000 inhabitants has only been partially excavated, but you can often see even more intriguing details than are available at Pompeii, such as wooden beams, furniture and carbonized papyrus scrolls.
Take a bus ride up the fabled Mount Vesuvius; it'll get you within Quota 1000, the location of the parking lot and cafeteria. Then you can hike up the last bit, a slippery cinder track.
The primary tourist attraction in Naples proper is the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, also known as the National Archeological Museum (Piazza Museo, open from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., closed Tuesday) which, according to popular opinion, has better displays of artifacts from Pompeii than Pompeii itself. The museum also features a truly world-class collection of classical sculpture, Egyptian antiquities, murals and mosaics. This is one of the few attractions where a cab from the ship is the best bet; plan to pay about 15 euros each way.
Other historic sites in the city include the 13th-century Castel Nuovo (Piazza Municipio, across from the cruise terminal, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed Sundays) and the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte (Parco di Capodimonte, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., closed Mondays), which was an 18th-century palace and has now been restored and transformed; it showcases an excellent collection of Renaissance art.
Shopping in Naples is a favorite pastime. The city's retail hub is a relatively easy 10-minute walk from the Stazione Maritima. Head past Castel Nuovo and up to Via Chiaia, a (mostly) pedestrian street lined with shops and bars. Via Chiaia is our favorite place to shop. It feels like you're in Rome or Florence with its boutiques for Prada and the like, and it leads to the city's more prosperous areas -- don't miss poking around the designer shops on Via dei Mille, Via Calabritto and other streets in this neighborhood.
Il Feltrinelli, at the heart of this area, is a huge, multilevel bookstore with an adequate selection of titles in English. (I also love the music choices -- it's a great place to pick up European artists who are not necessarily represented in the U.S. or Canada.) Right around the corner is Vinarium, a fantastic wine bar that specializes in Camapanian (Naples is part of the region of Campania) and Sicilian wines; you can taste or buy by the bottle. These are wines made by small producers that you'll never find anywhere outside of the area!
One of the funkiest stores we've discovered in Europe we found in this area. The brand-new Spa Cafe, on 47 Via Carlo Poerio, is an elegant, oh-so-contemporary boutique that sells handpicked contemporary ceramics, features a floral designer, operates a spa and a wine bar and offers light fare (see below for dining options).
Been There, Done That
The island of Capri, located just across the Bay of Naples, has charming villages (Anacapri and Capri) full of boutiques and sidewalk cafes and is a fun destination for easy-going sightseeing. Other diversions include a boat trip to the Blue Grotto (daily, regular departures from 9 a.m. throughout the day, from Marina Grande); it's a fabulous sea cave. Also check out Villa San Michele (Anacapri, daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.). The 18th-century home of a Swedish physician, this elegant villa has lovely furnishings, classical art and a gorgeous garden. To get to Capri, head across the cruise terminal to the hydrofoil station; the trip across the Bay of Naples takes 50 to 90 minutes each way, and boats dock at Marina Grande.
Whether by shore excursion or hired driver, head to Sorrento, the "capital" of the gorgeous Amalfi coast (some ships actually call at Sorrento, but they anchor and stops here are highly unpredictable, particularly if weather is blustery). Beyond Sorrento, other interesting small (and chic) villages to visit include Positano and Ravello.
Neapolitans claim to have invented thin-crust pizza (though the crusts aren't thin when compared to Roman pizza), and the classic "flavor" is the Pizza Margherita (invented in honor of Queen Margherita in the late 19th century). Everyone in Naples has opinions (and passionate ones at that). Our favorite -- for its pizza and its convenient location, just off via Chiaia (and as such just a 10- or 15-minute walk from the cruise terminal) -- is the fabled Antica Pizzeria Brandi (Salita S. Anna di Palazzo, closed Mondays). It's not fancy, but the pizza really is true to its reputation. We've also tried some other menu offerings (such as pasta dishes) but suggest you stick to the ample menu of pizzas.
Other popular options include Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale 1, closed Sundays and three weeks in August).
Di Matteo (Via dei Tribunali 94; closed Sundays and two weeks in August), whose claim to fame is that President Clinton ate there during the G7 Summit in 1993 is probably the city's most famous pizza joint. Di Matteo is smack in the heart of the oldest part of the city (where you'll see lots of food markets and local chain stores, as opposed to the generally more chic ones found in the Chiaia area).
Di Matteo is a more complicated walk (make sure you ask for directions from the info desk at the terminal), and the pizza was less crisp and greasier than that at Brandi. You literally enter through the pizza kitchen and go into a small, dingy dining room -- but don't stop here. Instead, head upstairs where the rooms are framed by windows open to the street. Di Matteo offers more options in pizza (I had what essentially is a pizza margherita with prosciutto). It's also an incredible value -- 3.50 euros for a bottle of quite drinkable red table wine, 3 euros for a huge pizza, etc. But it's anything but fancy and service is less than attentive. Still, the place is full of locals -- and it's a chance to get a real Naples experience.
If pizzerias represent the tradition of old Naples, a place like the aforementioned Spa Cafe (Via Carlo Poerio) spotlights the sophistication of 21st-century Naples. The establishment, which literally had just opened right before our visit, attracts the city's fashionable young set with its nouvelle Italian/world fusion cuisine for lunch and dinner.
The waterfront cafes surrounding the city's antique prison (via Partenope, across from the Grande Albergo Visuvio Hotel) are great for seafood; try the historic Zi Teresa. Other options include La Scialuppa and Ristorante Ciro.
Staying in Touch
Internet cafes flourish throughout the city; most convenient for cruise visitors are those that are located along the main boulevard fronting the port.
Editor's Note: Due to an anti-terrorism law passed in Italy in 2005, all passengers wishing to use the internet in a public facility must present an internationally recognized document (or a passport) to the establishment providing public communication services.
Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast: Let someone else do the driving. This all-day trip typically involves quick stops in Sorrento and other towns such as Positano, and includes lunch.
The Excavations at Pompeii and a trip to Herculaneum, typically separate excursions, are both half-day affairs.
A Day on the Isle of Capri basically provides transportation, allowing travelers plenty of time for exploration on their own.
Mt. Vesuvius is the only active volcano located on the European mainland; tours transport you via 4x4 minibus almost to the top of the mountain, and you hike the rest of the way up. (This is not an appropriate tour for young children or anyone who's mobility impaired.)
For More Information
On the Web: Italian Government Tourist Board
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Europe
The Independent Traveler: Italy Exchange
--Updated by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief.
All images except Castel Nuovo appear courtesy of the Italian Government Tourist Board. Image of Castel Nuovo appears courtesy of Carolyn Spencer Brown.