An old Italian saying goes: “see Naples and then you die”, meaning that once you've seen the famous Southern Italian city you have seen all what is worth seeing on Earth, and that after leaving it you will miss it terribly.
It may be slightly exaggerated, but to us, Naples is absolutely a place to visit at least once in a lifetime, letting oneself be captured by the incredible array of images, sounds, colors, scents and, of course, tastes of the city.
A true capital of culture over the centuries and full of artistic and natural treasures, today Naples still is a major cultural and artistic center with a powerful popular soul and a unique culinary heritage. Discovering the city means going deep into its double nature: from the Vesuvius' slopes to the enchanting sea, glancing at the ancient noble buildings and exploring decadent yet vibrant alleys of the historical district. Who could forget the main museums and its fascinating underground scene. When we talk about food,Naples has everything from the nicest fish restaurants to traditional street eats.
Yet, to really know the city, one should also experience some of the mundane and sometimes quirky rituals Neapolitans bequeath from across the ages.
Here are a few suggestions on things to do, from the “must see” and traditional local habits in order to experience the city at its best.
Because, when in Naples...
1. Bet on numbers at the lottery in a “bancolotto” (lottery office), following the local “smorfia” suggestions: in the traditional Neapolitan Kabbalah every number corresponds to a precise figure, which you may have dreamt of or encountered on your way. For example, bread corresponds to number 50.
2. Enter the Bourbon Tunnel to discover the city's fascinating underground and its more hidden history. Feeling adventurous? You can choose the Speleo Tour, to crawl along the floors through aqueduct tunnels and cisterns still full of water.
3. Visit the MADRE- Museum of contemporary Art Donna Regina hosting site-specific installations by Neapolitan and Italian contemporary artists such as Francesco Clemente and Mimmo Palladino, and temporary exhibits in a beautiful 19th-Century building.
4. Walk between the two horses' statues in Piazza del Plebiscito, blindfolded, starting from the Royal Palace entrance. It is an old game for locals: it's less than one hundred meters distance on a straight line and there is a wide space between the statues, but most people can't make it.
5. Relax at the Pausilya thermal spa in Posillipo, set within the historical Palazzo Donn'Anna, watching over the Gulf and Vesuvius.
6. Go on a night tour at the Solfatara, a shallow volcanic crater still emitting jets of steam with sulfurous fumes.
7. Take a short day-trip to the small harbor town of Pozzuoli, today considered a suburban area of the city rather than a separate town. There are many things to see and to do in the area: from a visit to the the evocative original settlement of Rione Terra to the nearby archeological sites and museums in Baia, Bacoli and Cuma (where the bewitching Cave of the Sibyl is). Or simply relax and enjoy dinner on the seafront in Pozzuoli.
8. Sit on the “fertility chair” (or holy chair) in the S.Maria Francesca church, devoted to the Saint who lived in Naples in the '700. Many local women still come here to pray and ask for a nun's blessing to become pregnant.
9. Have your own doll “nursed” at the Dolls' Hospital, a specialized restoration workshop in the hearth of the old city district.
10. Visit the historic “Farmacia degli Incurabili” (Incurables' Pharmacy) at the Healing Arts' Museum: a place where science meets arts, showcasing the Neapolitan scientific skills of the past centuries.
11. Enjoy a drink at the speakeasy style cocktail bar L'Antiquario or enjoy a Rum-based drink with a Neapolitan twist at the Ex-Salumeria.
12. Attend a football match at the San Paolo stadium: the local team supporters are among Italy's most passionate.
13. Adopt a "capuzzella" (an affectionate nickname for skull) at the Fontanelle cemetery, a former ossuary still full of hundreds of skulls and bones. Note, you may find it disturbing, yet in past centuries local people took care of and cherished the skulls to receive the dead's protection and blessing.
14. See Naples from the sea: you can opt for a romantic dinner on a sail ship, a short trip at sunset o\n a fishing boat departing from Castel dell'Ovo or the seasonal ferryboat Batò Muscio http://www.capitanmorgan.it/dettaglio_escursione.php?id=10 , its name mocking the iconic Parisian bateaux mouches.
15. For sporty people: Take a kayak out to the Gaiola protected marine area and underwater archeological park, to explore the city seashore and its mesmerising depths.
16. Trek on the iconic Mount Vesuvius, climbing up to the crater with expert guides, to watch the city and its gulf from up above. Different difficulty levels and paths are possible.
17. Follow San Gennaro's footsteps: the cult of the Saint Patron is always alive in Naples and its annual “miracle” (when the Saint is supposedly liquifying his blood in the reliquary ampoule, predicting good luck to the city, or bad if the blood stays congealed) is much awaited for. The Holy Mile is a sacred, one-mile long itinerary, from the tomb of San Gennaro and the several catacombs in the Sanità district to his Treasure in the magnificent Dome.
18. Discover more of the Sanità borough, one of the city's most ancient and authentic area, full of interesting buildings such as the stunning Santa Maria della Sanità cathedral, the beautiful Palazzo San Felice and the building in via Santa Maria Antesaecula where the beloved Neapolitan actor Totò (Antonio de Curtis) was born
19. Eat a “pizza a libretto”: the typical local street food is a small round margherita or marinara double-folded and served in a piece of paper, to eat as you walk. We suggest Gennaro Salvo's Pizza a Portafoglio on via Toledo or Concettina ai Tre Santi in the Sanità district.
Pizza a Portafoglio, Photo credit: www.hotel-villamedici.com
20. Have an early breakfast on a giant fried pizza – or on the smaller “battilocchio” - filled with ricotta cheese, pepper and pork scraps at La Masardona, a temple of pizza fritta open from 7am. At more decent hours, try Gino Sorbillo's pizza fritta at Zia Esterina, right next to his famous pizzeria.
21. Eat a delicious sfogliatella (typical Neapolitan cake made of a shortcrust or layered “shell” filled with ricotta, sugar, semolina and candied citrus) fresh out of the oven. The best are to be found at Attanasio.
22.Take a walk on the wharf in Coroglio, half way between Naples and Pozzuoli. Get all the way to the end and you will feel immersed, or rather suspended over the sea of the smaller Pozzuoli gulf.
23. Attend an opera show, a ballet or a concert at the wonderful San Carlo Theatre, the world's oldest Opera Theatre. Guided tours are held on special days only but the Theatre also hosts the Memus-Museum and Historical Archive.
24. Climb up to the top of Castel dell'Ovo, Naples' oldest castle, located on the former island of Megaride, now connected to the city by a causeway: admire the bay from up above and find out the origins of the castle's name, which refers to a magical egg.
25. Drink a true Neapolitan coffee made with the cuccuma, the traditional Neapolitan flip coffee pot, at the elegant Gran Caffè La Caffettiera.
26. Admire the stunning sculptures in the fascinating San Severo Chapel Museum, which include the famous, incredible 'Veiled Christ.'
27. Leave a “caffé sospeso”: following an old habit, in many coffee shops you can pay for an extra espresso to be offered to those who can't afford it.
28. Eat “'o pere e 'o musso” (boiled pig's tripes, trotters and snout seasoned with lemon) at one of the ancient tripe shops in the historical center of the city.
29. Buy an original “horn” lucky charm for a friend: to be effective, it should be received as a present and – if made of clay – its point should “accidentally” be chipped.