To round up this series on Naples and the surrounding area, I present to you: the churches that we saw (faith), what we ate (food) and, perhaps most importantly, a question: should you visit Naples? (Further thoughts.) I apologise if the alliteration is too much for you!
Like in most European cities, there are plenty of grand churches in Naples, especially in the historical district.
However, what we really wanted to see was the grand Duomo.
Il Duomo (Naples Cathedral)
It took a while to find (probably due to a combination of poor map-reading skills, inadequate street signage and traipsing around in the rain without any rain gear whatsoever). From the outside it looks completely unremarkable and we actually walked right past it, but the interior (14th-century French Gothic style) is a different story.
The ornate and intricate decor demands your attention.
At the front of the cathedral, just before the main altar, steps descend to the Cripta Gennaro. San Gennaro (Saint Januarius) is the patron saint of Naples. The crypt altar apparently contains vials of his blood, which is said to liquefy several times a year on specific dates, although it can also liquefy on other days. The most important date is 19 September, the saint’s feast day. If it fails to liquefy, it is believed that is an omen of a disaster about to befall the city (e.g. a plague in 1527 and an earthquake in 1980).
As you can see, access to the altar was restricted so we could only take pictures from afar. You can see a bust of San Gennaro’s head behind the altar.
Don’t miss the lavishly decorated Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro:
This is probably the highlight of visits to the cathedral (assuming you’re not there for the blood liquefaction).
On the left side of the nave is the Basilica di Santa Restituta, underneath which are excavations. You can tour the excavations at certain times, but parts of it (including a Greco-Roman mosaic floor) are visible from the chapel thanks to glass panels on the floor.
Address: Via del Duomo 147, Naples
Opening hours: Cathedral – Mon-Sat 8am-12:30pm and 4:30-7pm; Sun & holidays 8:30am-1pm and 5-7pm. Excavations – Mon-Fri 9am-noon and 4:30-7pm; Sat-Sun and holidays 9am-12:30pm.
We only had about two days in Naples, but we liked the following eateries so much that we visited multiple times.
#1 – Bakery / cafe: Antico Forno delle Sfogliatelle Calde Fratelli Attanasio
“Napule tre cose tene e belle…
e e’ sfugliatelle”
From what I understand (and apologies in advance if I’m way off), it can be roughly translated along these lines:
Here three things are beautiful – the sea, Vesuvius and sfogliatella.
Sfogliatella is a shell-shaped filled pastry and it’s obviously one of their specialties, but they have such a huge variety of pastries and sweets that we were spoilt for choice.
Eventually, we ended up sharing this between the 4 of us for breakfast:
I wish I knew the name of each, but we just randomly picked whatever looked nice, and some were suggested by the staff. Most of them contained some alcohol (which isn’t necessarily what you want for breakfast) but they were still delicious.
I also bought a slab of white chocolate nougat (torrone) for the flight back.
Address: Vico Ferrovia 1/2/3/4, 80142, Naples
Opening hours: 6.30am – 7.30pm
#2 – Pizzeria: Lucignolo Bella Pizza
This was recommended by our very kind AirBnB host. It was just a few blocks down from the apartment, and we went there for dinner two days in a row.
The food was both affordable and good, although the pizzas took a while to come. But that’s what appetisers are for! I suppose it’s a testament to how freshly made they are.
Pizza pescatore, with a massive octopus tentacle.
Pizza stella (star) – no prizes for guessing why.
Other things we tried include the carpaccio, bruschetta, carbonara, pizza piccante, tiramisu and panna cotta. One meal cost us less than EUR15 each.
Address: Piazza Nazionale 87, 80143, Naples
Opening hours: 12 noon – 4pm, 7pm – midnight
So, should you go to Naples?
In 2015, Italy was the 5th most visited country in the world, behind only China, Spain, the US, and France. But according to the New York Times, only 13% of those tourists venture to southern Italy. Many of you seem to be among that 13% – I’ve been encouraged by the number of people who’ve commented here about their own trip to Naples.
However, the reasons for giving it a miss are many. You can read about some in detail here, but personally I think it boils down to poor marketing and safety concerns.
#1 – Poor marketing: I lived in London as a university exchange student, and took advantage of the cheap and plentiful budget flights (thank you, EasyJet and Ryanair) to explore nearby countries. Not once did visiting Naples ever occur to me.
I was vaguely conscious of it as a place of great historical significance, but I would’ve been hard pressed to tell you exactly what there is to do or see there. I didn’t even know that it was near Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius! (In my defence, in the Singapore school system we don’t focus much on Italian geography or history. I can tell you about (some) Chinese dynasties though.) I kept hearing about Rome, Venice, Milan. Southern Italy? I only knew of Sicily and the mafia.
Well, I now know some great things to see and do if you have just a few days in Naples:
- Visit Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius (if the weather permits)
- If you have time, Herculaneum sounds interesting too
- Naples National Archaeological Museum
- Subterranean complexes from Roman times
- Il Duomo (above)
#2 – Safety concerns
Related to #1 above, many people give Naples a miss because it’s perceived as dangerous. (No comments on those who aren’t sure whether Naples is a city.)
But is it in fact dangerous?
Bear in mind that I am by nature a somewhat paranoid traveller, and close friends have been pickpocketed (or almost pickpocketed) in various Western European cities. My paranoia was alleviated slightly by the fact that we were a group of 4.
“It’s kind of grubby,” someone warned. I have to say that’s true. The streets are generally narrow, grimy and not terribly well-lit at night. It’s one of the poorest cities in Europe and the youth unemployment rate is over 50%.
However, at no point did I feel particularly unsafe or afraid (except when crossing the road – nerves of steel required!). We walked around at night, after dinner, and the streets were quiet but it felt fine.
So, before you write off any destination based on what you may have heard about it, I encourage you to do some research for yourself. Don’t be afraid to question conventional wisdom.
Don’t just take it from me – for insight from the perspective of a solo female traveller in Naples, check out this great post by Indiana Jo.
Have you ever gone somewhere considered ‘unsafe’ and found it not to be true?
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