"Noisy, grubby, chaotic and entirely unmissable!" Naples by leics

Naples Travel Guide: 1,391 reviews and 3,758 photos

I'd visited Naples on previous trips to the area, but only briefly. And without my camera, for I am ashamed to say that (at that time) I was swayed by internet horror stories about the city.

I found out on that first, brief visit that Naples is *not* stuffed full of criminals and is no more 'dangerous' in its centre than any other similar city.

A return, and a fuller exploration, was essential. So this trip allowed me time to at least scratch the surface of what is indeed a noisy, slightly grubby and chaotic historical centre...but one which is full of life and vibrancy, and which did not feel in the least bit unsafe to a solo middle-aged female visiting during the daytime. I cannot speak about late evening wanderings...but, as a solo female, I am wary of those not only wherever I travel but also in my own town!

Of course one takes common sense precautions against pickpockets (but I do this when I visit my nearest city). Of course one does not flash expensive jewellery or wads of cash nor leave valuable cameras lying around unattended. But surely common sense tells you not to do those things anyway?

The main 'danger' I encountered was the traffic. Even that is not dangerous in itself, although you do need to stay alert and aware. Cross the road with determination and do not hesitate in the middle: drivers won't hit you, they'll drive round you. Glare at them as you cross if it makes you feel better!

Watch out for scooters. Not because they are all bag thieves (they're not, of course they're not) but because they appear from nowhere in the narrowest of streets.

Neopolitans are used to dealing with these things. You aren't, so you need to be much more alert than usual.

O...and Naples' apparently dreadful rubbish problem? I saw no evidence of it in the historical centre. No doubt there are times when the situation is worse, and certainly I believe it often is in areas on the outskirts of the city. But when I visited in October 2011 Naples seemed to me no worse, in terms of rubbish, than many other Italian cities.

So please don't believe all the internet hype and horror stories. Naples is fascinating, with lots of history to explore, and its historical centre is well worth at least a day's visit.

As I'm mainly interested in history and archaeology it was inevitable that my wanderings would focus on the centro storico (historical centre). But to get there from Napoli Garibaldi station, where I arrived from Sprrento, I walked through the Forcella district. This is one of the city's poorest areas, a stronghold of the Camorra. Scary? Not in the least. A warren of tiny, narrow streets festooned with washing and the odd caged bird, of old people sitting outside in the sun chatting, of streetside tripe-sellers and tiny shops filled with all manner of objects for sale.

I had to find Santamissima Annunziata, which had an adjoining orphanage. The buildings are now a children's hospital but you can still see the rotating 'ruota' in which abandoned babies (and sometimes children) were left. Chilling, and very very sad indeed. There is an irony, I think, in the fact that most of the small shops on the street leading to Santimissima Annunziata sell baby clothes and baby goods.

From there I spent a wonderful 2 hours or so exploring the streets of the centro storico, gradually working my way towards the National Archaeological Museum. I could have taken far, far more photos than I did...the vibrancy, the narrow alleyways, the aged and semi-derelict buildings, the glimpses of Naples' Greek and Roman past (modern Naples is, basically, built on top of the ancient city buildings).

To the Duomo, interesting enough in itself (and with a truly over-the-top chapel to San Gennaro, the city's saint). But also with a superb, recently-restored 4th-century baptistry (additional entrance fee, but worth it) and underground excavations which leads you along a Roman road (unfortunately, these excavations were closed when I visited).

But I was able to visit a fragment of the ancient city underneath San Lorenzo Maggiore, accompanied by a volunteer guide who was keen to share his knowledge (and practise his English) with me. I'd felt a bit rushed, to be honest, but appreciated his efforts nonetheless. It's a wonderful, and very strange, experience to walk underneath a building and find a two-storey Graeco-Roman street...

The National Archaeology Museum is full of 'wonderful things' from Pompeii and the other ancient sites around Naples. Only a tiny part of what has been found is on display and, when I visited, several galleries were closed for restoration/renovation. But it was still worth the visit for I had not fully realised how magnificently skillful the mosaics could be, how tiny the stone fragments...nor had I fully realised how truly wonderful some of the paintings and sculptures are. The museum is an absolute 'must' if you are visiting Naples.

I walked back through the centro storico again, exploring more of its buildings and streets, enjoying the sights, the sounds, the life and the graffiti (not, by the way, automatically sign of gang warfare as it often is elsewhere..Italian graffiti has other motivations).

To the Cappella Sansevero. I'd not intended to visit this place, simply because it is later than the historical periods which are my main interest. But I'm so glad I did. The sculptures within are truly wonderful...I was overwhelmed by the skill of the artist. It is not cheap to visit and you cannot take photographs (you can buy postcards) but, my goodness, this is a must-see as well in my opinion.

I'd walked miles and had had enough for the day, making my return slowly back to Napoli Garibaldi for the train back to Sorrento. It was a wonderful day, filled with colour and noise, crowds of ordinary folk living ordinary lives, the buzz of scooters and the roar of traffic, washing lines hanging everywhere..and the knowledge that almost everywhere under my feet lay the remains of the ancient city.

But there was so much more of Naples I wanted to see and explore. I'll have to return one day.

I expect you'll feel the same, if you accept that Naples has its own life, that there is order within its apparent chaos and...above all...that you are in no danger.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Vibrant and full of history
  • Cons:Busy traffic and crowded
  • In a nutshell:Do *not* believe the horror stories!!!!
  • Last visit to Naples: Oct 2011
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (19)

Comments (6)

  • goodfish's Profile Photo
    Feb 25, 2016 at 10:44 AM

    5-star intro as always, Ducks. You threw me for a minute there, though: a Santimissima Annunziata near an old orphanage with a ruota? Thought I was reading about Florence!

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      Feb 25, 2016 at 12:21 PM

      Ah ha!

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Feb 25, 2016 at 12:45 PM

      Had to make a return trip to see them, and had to cope with a tour in Italian, but was def worthwhile.

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Feb 24, 2016 at 11:34 PM

    Oh yes, oh yes, it is about time for me to visit this splendid chaotic city full of life :-))

  • Aitana's Profile Photo
    Jul 23, 2012 at 12:33 AM

    Hi J., first time in Naples we just had a walk after our visit to Pompeii. This summer we will stop again at Naples for one day and I'm planning the visit. Your page is very interesting and your tips quite useful as usually. Thanks for sharing.

  • mariahc1's Profile Photo
    Apr 26, 2012 at 2:42 AM

    Full of history (as all Italy) and unmissable, yes, but dirty, very dirty and noisy.

  • Turska's Profile Photo
    Jan 11, 2012 at 6:02 AM

    i red now many of your new tips (not the all yet), when I heard about we could go after all. Herculaneum is a must of course. Sounds great. Pozzuoli sounds funny for the name . It couldn be translated in Finnish as " The pig was.." In Finnish "possu oli" :D Could be fun to send cards from there ;)

  • Redang's Profile Photo
    Oct 30, 2011 at 5:02 AM

    Can't wait to see the whole page (a city not to miss at all)!


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