4 Ways to Get to Know Naples

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| Thu, 07/04/2024 - 10:00

Travelers are missing out by seeing Naples as just another Italian port city to pass through. / Photo: Shutterstock, Volodymyr Sobko

Naples is often seen as a transfer point — for travelers on their way to the Amalfi Coast and Gulf of Naples islands — instead of a destination. 

Rankings of the U.S. News and World Report don’t even count the “City of the Sun” as one of the best 20 places to visit in Italy, though Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi Coast are all on the list. However, people who know how to navigate the hills of Naples, such as Courtney and Mario Mazzocchi, founders of Campania-based Azzurro Dream Travel, also know that travelers are missing out by seeing Naples as just another Italian port city to pass through.

If you have visited Naples, you’ve probably heard and might even agree with the expression (of unknown origin): “See Naples and then die.” The sentiment is that Naples’ beauty, food, and history could place it among those spots on the must-see list and there’s no need to travel anywhere else. Courtney, who grew up in Kentucky and has spent the past 28 years living between Kentucky and Naples, and Mario, a second-generation Neapolitan, agree.  

Courtney says: “You feel Naples’ vibrancy instantly — on the Mediterranean Sea, with a backdrop of seven castles, colorful architecture, and all dominated by Mt. Vesuvius. To understand Naples, travelers must dedicate time to understanding its layers and looking past its faults. The reward is a reminder of what it means to be human, and likely a pull to return.”

However, in their experience planning trips for travelers since 2015, the couple has seen that some people are wary of Naples’ reputation. That’s why it’s important to know where to go and set clear objectives for what you want to see, do, and, of course, eat. Here are four ways to get to know Naples, according to Courtney and Mario at Azzurro Dream Travel.

Learn Naples’ street food vocabulary

Naples street food
Street food is unmissable in Naples, such as Frittatina di pasta. / Photo: Courtesy of Azzurro Dream Travel 

But first, let’s talk about pizza. While you can eat a Neapolitan-style pizza nearly everywhere in Italy, when you try a Margherita fired for 90 seconds in a 905-degree Fahrenheit wood-burning oven at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele (even if you have to wait in line for 40 minutes), you may find you’re tasting a Neapolitan pizza for the first time.

If you instead need something to eat on the go, knowing Naples’ street food vocabulary can be helpful. Courtney recommends opting for pizza fritta at Piazza Fritta Napoli 1947, around the corner from Da Michele. Some other quick bites to consider — and you might start noticing a theme — are tied to Naples’ deep tradition of stretching more meals out of scarce ingredients. Cuoppo (fried seafood served in a paper cone), crocchè (fried mashed potato with eggs and mozzarella), and ciurilli (fried squash blossoms) can be found at street vendors all over the city.

For the sweeter side, you may already know not to miss Neapolitan coffee culture, paired with a sfogliatella (flaky layered pastry filled with cream), or rum babà (sponge cake soaked in rum and sometimes filled with cream). And Courtney says you can’t go wrong with the sweets at Scaturchio, which has more than a half dozen locations throughout the city. When you’re on the waterfront you don’t want to miss a freshly fried graffa (donut) at Chalet Ciro

Take home Naples’ artistry

It’s said that tailoring took hold in Naples to create clothing that matched the seaside lifestyle. You’ll see that dressing is an art, especially for Neapolitan men, and particularly when walking in the upscale Chiaia neighborhood. If you are in Naples for more than a day, you can learn about this art that dates back to the 15th century by stepping into a shop to have a suit, shirt, jacket or tie made to measure. While tailoring is the main focus of the Chiaia area, in the Spanish Quarter, you can see other types of artisans at work, too. Exploring the city’s whimsical side with its miniature clay Presepi, traditionally created for Christmas as Nativity Scenes, is now a year-round activity. Entering the warren of shops on Via San Gregorio Armeno, you can see the scenes come alive and even make your own using molds. 

Carry your luck with you

Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples, Italy
From Pulcinella to Cornicello and gifting a coffee to a stranger, good luck is at the core of Neapolitan culture / Photo: Shutterstock, Massimo Pizzotti

While you’re in the land of Presepi, a few common symbols will start to appear and they are the kind of items you can take home with you for good luck. Pulcinella, a carnival mask, is depicted playing the mandolin or eating pizza and is often found in homes (Courtney and Mario have two in their home in Kentucky). Cornicello, a red twisted horn, resembles a chili pepper and is said to protect whoever carries it, but only if you receive it as a gift. It’s one of the many examples of how in Naples, strangers are often welcomed with open arms. You might also come across this sentiment in a bar with the practice of caffè sospeso: This is when a customer orders one coffee but pays for two, allowing the next person in line to find that theirs was already paid for. As Courtney puts it, the beauty is that you never know when or where you might find the generosity of a stranger. 

Take a history lesson

Caserta Palace
Not technically in Naples, but worth a trip, is Caserta Palace, one of the world’s largest royal palaces / Photo: trabantos via Shutterstock

There’s no shortage of museums in Naples, and many of them can uncover the city’s history. The National Archaeological Museum of Naples is one clear place to start with finds from the archaeological sites at Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Oplontis. Capodimonte Museum and Royal Forest, the former summer residence of the House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, focuses on Neapolitan and Italian art, while the forest was the royals’ former hunting grounds, and is now a place to escape the city with green space, trails, and city views. Not technically in Naples, Caserta Palace, another former Bourbon home, is one of the largest royal palaces in the world known for its Baroque architecture and gardens. If you need to refuel after history lessons, in Caserta, you can also taste some of the area’s best mozzarella. 

These four ways to see Naples can be the starting point for planning your next trip, and if you still can’t decide, Azzurro Dream Travel can lead the way. 

About Azzurro Dream Travel

Azzurro Dream Travel offers a convenient solution to traditional travel booking by connecting individuals and families with reputable local businesses to make their Italian travel experience personalized and memorable. Through our slow travel philosophy, we aim to positively impact the local economy and community, and we believe that by establishing local, human connection to a culture, we create our most memorable travel experiences. Contact us for a free consultation to start planning your dream trip to Italy!