Don't Miss in Naples
Pompeii is one of the most important historic sites in Italy. It is thanks to Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum that we know so much about everyday life in the Roman world. Until 79 A.D., Pompeii was a prosperous city with 20,000 residents. The eruption of Vesuvius that year buried the town, preserving buildings, pottery, mosaics and even the remains of Pompeiians for more than 1,700 years. The city of Pompeii was rediscovered in the mid-18th century as a result of excavations bankrolled by the king of Naples. Today, visitors can wander the streets of this ancient, doomed city. Sites of interest include several temples and bath houses, the open-air forum, the plaster casts of Pompeiians who collapsed and died in the streets, plus many houses and small shops. There is even a brothel with 10 rooms and stone beds. (+39 081 857 5111 ; open November to March daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., last admission 2:30 p.m., and April to October daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., last admission 6 p.m.)
The sea port of Herculaneum was also destroyed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. This smaller town of about 5,000 inhabitants has only been partially excavated, but more everyday objects have been left "in situ." Houses still contain carbonized doors and wooden beams, furniture and papyrus scrolls. (Open April to October daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., November to March from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Take a bus ride up to Vesuvius itself. Eavbus departs every day from 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. from Piazza Piedigrotta (the last departure from Mount Vesuvius is at 2 p.m.) It takes 90 minutes from Naples to the crater (1,000 meters above sea level). You hike the last section along a slippery path across volcanic rocks.
The primary tourist attraction in Naples is the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, also known as the National Archaeological Museum, which displays artifacts taken from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Visiting Pompeii on its own will give you no idea of the richness and sophistication of the life that was lived there up until 79 A.D. Make sure you visit the Casa Segreto (the secret room) where erotic statues, frescoes and mosaics are housed. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, visitors had to apply for the key. Now, it's full of giggling school parties.
The museum also features a world-class collection of classical sculpture, Egyptian antiquities, paintings, 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. (Piazza Museo 19; +39 081 442 2149; open Wednesday to Monday from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.)
Other historic sites in the city include the 13th-century Castel Nuovo (Piazza Municipio; +39 081 795 7722; open Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.), which can be admired for its white marble triumphal arch, and the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte (Via Miano 2; +39 081 749 9111; open Thursday to Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.), which is an 18th-century palace built by the Bourbons when they wanted to make Naples a powerful and impressive kingdom. This hilltop palace features splendid ballrooms and bedrooms and is also the location for an excellent collection of Renaissance art, including works by Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.
Shopping in Naples is a favorite pastime. The city's retail hub is a relatively easy 10-minute walk from the Stazione Marittima. Head past Castel Nuovo and up to Via Chiaia, a (mostly) pedestrian street lined with shops and bars. Via Chiaia, Piazza dei Martiri and Via Calabritto are the best places to browse if you are looking for the big-name Italian designers -- Prada, Armani, Gucci, Ferragamo. Also, don't miss poking around the designer shops on Via Carlo Poerio.
Librerie Feltrinelli (Via Santa Caterina a Chiaia 23; +39 081 240 5411) is a huge, multilevel bookstore that is part of a well-known Italian chain. The shop has books in English as well as Italian and is good for introductions to Italian art and culture.
Right around the corner is Vinarium (Vicolo S. Maria Cappella Vecchia 7; +39 081 764 4114), a workman-like wine bar-cum-shop that specializes in wines from Campania (Naples is part of this region) and also Sicilian wines. Many of these vintages are made by small producers that you'll not find outside of southern Italy.
Marinella (see Souvenirs) is at the bottom of Via Calabritto. Marinella's main competitor is Ulturalecravatte (Via Carlo Poerio 115; +39 081 248 1151,), which is a new company making ties with lucky charms sewn inside them. (Neapolitans are very superstitious.) Lello Pagnotta (Via Carlo Poerio 96; +39 081 7646995;) is a remarkably inventive furrier who makes fur stoles that can double as handbags and even fur finger-rings.
The island of Capri
, just across the Bay of Naples, is the St. Tropez of Italy, much visited by the stars of Hollywood and Italian cinema in the '50s and '60s. It was also visited by writer Oscar Wilde after his imprisonment. One hotel threw him out after the guests petitioned for him to leave, but another took him in and erected a plaque to commemorate its kindness. Capri also is a great place to shop if you have a serious amount of money.
Less costly is a local boat trip to the Blue Grotto
(regular departures daily from 9 a.m. throughout the day, from Marina Grande). Also, check out Villa San Michele
, an 18th-century home of a Swedish physician with lovely furnishings, great art and some gorgeous gardens. (Via Axel Munthe 34, Anacapri; +39 081 837 1401; open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
To get to Capri or the neighboring island of Ischia, head across the cruise terminal to the hydrofoil station. The trip across the Bay of Naples takes 50 to 90 minutes each way.
Whether by shore excursion or hired driver, head to Sorrento
, the "capital" of the gorgeous Amalfi coast. (Some ships actually call at Sorrento, but stops there are highly unpredictable, particularly if weather is blustery.) This is a grand resort with superb old-world hotels on the top of its cliffs but also narrow Roman streets behind. Galleria Russo (Via Tasso 43; +39 081 878 1748) is an art gallery that is well worth visiting for genuine local paintings. Beyond Sorrento, the roads get very slow, but foodies should head for Don Alfonso 1890
, which is said to be the best restaurant in Italy (Sant'Agata Sui Due Golfi; +39 081 878 0026). Positano, Amalfi and Ravello are all wonderful -- but be sure you can get back to the ship in time.