Italian adventures: the best places to see on a whirlwind trip to Naples

Vespas reign supreme in the narrow streets of the city’s old quarter. Photo/Getty Images

A two-day trip is just long enough to take in the sights and sample the gastronomic delights of bustling Naples, writes Brett Atkinson.

Day 1

9 am

Unwind from a Neapolitan day with a coffee at one of the city’s best-loved historic cafes. Coffee

Gambrinus has been at the heart of the city’s political intrigues for more than 150 years, and Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini actually shut down a few chandeliered halls to deter meetings of his leftist opposition. You’ll pay more for a table outside, but it’s worth it for the morning view of the sprawling elegance of Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples’ largest public square.

The Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace), built under Spanish rule in the 16th century and housing the Museo del Palazzo Reale, is anchored to the eastern edge of the square. Spread throughout the building’s royal apartments, the Palace Museum features Baroque and Neoclassical tapestries, paintings, and sculptures, and it’s worth checking the Palazzo Reale website for special exhibits. Previous highlights have included the work of Claude Monet and vintage Italian photography from the 1930s.

The seaside town is home to historic cafes, a grand royal palace, and a world-famous museum with artifacts from nearby Pompeii.  Photo/Getty Images
The seaside town is home to historic cafes, a grand royal palace, and a world-famous museum with artifacts from nearby Pompeii. Photo/Getty Images

12:30 p.m.
Pizza lovers perpetually throng the narrow entrance to Pizzeria Gina Sorbillo in the historic center of Naples, but it’s definitely worth the wait for the best pizza in town, Margherita. Prepare to share a table and expect the occasional neighborhood local to serve up an impromptu live opera while you wait outside.

2 p.m.
Book ahead online for guided tours with Napoli Sotterranea, departing from nearby Piazza San Gaetano, and explore 40m below the city streets on the Naples Metro. Ancient tunnels negotiate a tiered history dating back 2,500 years, and revealed by soft candlelight carved into the soft tuff rock include a Greco-Roman aqueduct and World War II air raid shelters. Above ground, admire modern street art adding a contemporary layering to the bohemian, centuries-old alleyways of Naples’ historic center.

7 p.m.
Just north of Naples’ lungomare (seafront promenade), eat and drink in the Chiaia district. Options for early evening aperitifs include a world of gin at Barril and L’Antiquario for classic cocktails. Owned by a local fishing family, Pescheria Mattiucci in Chiaia serves the freshest seafood. Book a seat at the bar and watch the kitchen crew swing into action. If you’re still craving pizza, Sorbillo also has a nearby waterfront location with views of the Bay of Naples.

As the birthplace of pizza, Naples is the place to go for the perfect slice.  Photo/Getty Images
As the birthplace of pizza, Naples is the place to go for the perfect slice. Photo/Getty Images

Day 2

9:30 a.m.

Start a day exploring the archaeological heritage of Naples with a super strong espresso –

enjoyed standing Neapolitan style at Cafe Salvator Rosa – before crossing the road to the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale (National Archaeological Museum) in the city. Much of the institution’s extraordinary worldwide collection comes from Pompeii and Herculaneum, two nearby towns buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.

12:30 p.m.
After an early lunch at Lazzarelle Bistrot, a modern and innovative establishment, set in the middle of the huge atrium of the historic Galleria Principe di Napoli shopping arcade, take the M1 or M2 metro line from the nearby Museo station to Napoli Centrale , the main station of Naples. From the adjacent Garibaldi station, the Circumvesuviana line connects Sorrento around the Bay of Naples, also stopping at the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

1:30 p.m.
Pompeii and Herculaneum are popular destinations from Naples, but Pompeii’s vast and more extensive site means it certainly needs a full day of exploring. By contrast, Herculaneum – just 16 minutes by train from central Naples – is more compact, less visited, and can easily be explored in an afternoon. Once a fishing town of 4,000, the streets and squares of Herculaneum have been meticulously excavated, with stunning mansions and mosaics, a “main street” with shops, snack bars and even age-old wine advertisements Red and white.

5:30 p.m.
Back on the Circumvesuviana in Naples, spend your second night amidst the bars and restaurants of Centro Storico. An ideal destination for aperitifs is Forcella Spritz, a hole in the wall where the action fueled by Aperol and Negroni quickly spills over into a narrow alley. From there, it’s a short walk to WineCafe da Mario for natural wines and Italian birra artigianale (craft beers). After the aperitif
action, La Locanda Gesu Vecchio combines classic Neapolitan flavors with an informal and relaxed neighborhood vibe.

Getting there and getting around
One-stop options for New Zealand travelers to Rome include Singapore Airlines, Emirates via Dubai and via Doha with Qatar Airways. From Rome to Naples, Trenitalia offer frequent departures on their high-speed Frecciarossa trains (one hour 15 minutes).

Where to stay
Located near the Lungomare in Naples, the Napoli Tree B&B offers elegant and sunny rooms in a renovated building.

For more travel ideas see

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