There has always been some reason why every time I thought about visiting Naples I gave up before I even started planning the trip. It may have been the fame of an “unsafe” city or the exuberance of its inhabitants who hate or love each other, but I must say that, once I met them, I fell madly in love with them!
Thanks to my friend Iacopo who proposed it to me while we were looking for a destination to spend a weekend and who, together with me, spent three days in the streets of the Neapolitan city during one of those times of the year when the culture and the strong traditions that characterize it are even more intense: believe me, Christmas in Naples is an experience to be had, at least once in a lifetime.
After having booked a good hotel in the elegant neighborhood of Vomero we launched headlong into a whirlwind of art, culture, customs and no less excellent cuisine.
Walking through the alleys…
We arrive at Naples late in the morning and, after leaving our luggage at the hotel, we decide to take an immediate walk through the streets of the centre. Going down the important Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which runs along the hill on which the Vomero, the view over the roofs of the neighbourhoods below is incredible. The colours of the houses, the shimmering waters of the gulf that laps the city together with the Vesuvius standing out there in the background, make up a postcard that alone makes you happy to have chosen this destination. We reach the promenade, the air is crisp but although it is late December it is not cold at all, in front of us, in the middle of the water, stands out Castel dell’Ovo, we reach the base by crossing the long pier and after enjoying the view under the warm sun for a few moments we return to the city.
The next stage is already decided: Piazza del Plebiscito. Embraced by Basilica of St. Francis of Paola, with the characteristic semicircular outer colonnade, and by Palazzo Reale which stands in front of it, is one of the largest and most beautiful squares in the capital of Campania and a must for visitors. Before the sun goes down we venture into the Quartieri Spagnoli, a large popular suburb of the Neapolitan historical centre and a less “touristy” area, to be visited with the appropriate attention, but which will give you a glimpse of what is “real” life in this city. Here they are, the famous narrow streets of Naples, with the tall buildings, the threads to stretch the laundry that cross them from side to side and the characteristic houses with windows overlooking the street!
From here we take the “Spaccanapoli“, the lower decumanus which crosses the entire city dividing it in two, hence the name. The shops are open and the festive atmosphere is felt, the centre is swarming with people and it is not easy to get away from the crowds. We follow the road through a good part of the old town until we reach the point where it meets another of the most famous places of Naples: San Gregorio Armeno Street. Entirely dotted with nativity scene workshops, it is famous all over the world and a continuous destination for tourists. Given the time and the period of the year, however, we find it overflowing with people, Iacopo proposes me to come back to visit it the next day and so we decide to postpone the experience to a better time. We end the day with an excellent dinner and return to the hotel to recover energy after this long and fascinating walk.
A city to discover…
We wake up early to notice that the weather is good for this second day too, we leave the hotel and, aware that we will find a long queue waiting for us, we head towards the Cappella Sansevero excited to be able to admire the treasure hidden in it: the statue of Cristo Velato. Once we have bought the ticket we stand at the end of the line running along the entire perimeter of the building and, armed with a good dose of patience, we wait… After a little less than two hours we conquer the entrance of the museum and enter, the six statues placed on the sides and the apse, carved in white marble and of a unique beauty, frame the main work placed in the middle of the nave and surrounded by visitors. It is difficult to describe the emotion of seeing it live as difficult to resist the temptation to try to lift that veil, so well carved in the marble to look real.
Fully satisfied with what we have just seen, we are heading towards another of the unmissable stops in the visit of this city: the Naples Underground. We reach the entrance of the most famous of the sites that allow us to visit the ancient ruins that rise below the present road surface and what do we find?
Naples underground stopover in visiting this city
An endless new row! With Iacopo we exchange a glance and without needing to talk we immediately understand each other: our daily dose of patience has been consumed by the previous queue!
We are looking for a solution and we find it a few steps from there, near the Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore. The museum complex of the basilica also offers a tour of a less famous but equally interesting portion of the underground city. We book a guided tour and after a few minutes our tour begins. We discover, with no little surprise, that we have booked, without realizing it, a tour in costume: four very good guys start to guide us inside the archaeological site playing in turn the characters that have made the history of the city great alternating information on what we are seeing with very funny sketches, I absolutely recommend it!
San Gregorio Armeno, the way of the cribs
We re-emerge from the depths of the subsoil and realise that lunchtime has arrived: what better time to return to San Gregorio Armeno abandoned the night before because of the excessive crowds? There’s always time to eat… The idea that my friend had the night before turns out to be a winning one, we arrive and even if it is crowded now we can walk. The crib shops are overflowing with masterpieces with attention to detail: streams of flowing real water, illuminated houses, moving miniatures and the inevitable statuettes of famous people. Politicians, actors, footballers, no one escapes the satirical touch of these skilled artists unique in the world.
Let’s have a bite to eat and spend the rest of the afternoon visiting Duomo, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, where the blood of San Gennaro and mother museum with its contemporary art exhibition. We end the day with a walk through the shopping streets and return to the hotel tired but satisfied.
Last Neapolitan hours…
And here we are on the last day of our short journey, a few hours separate us from the train that will take us home and we still have to decide how to commit them… The choice falls on two important museums that this beautiful city hosts. We decide to leave from National Archaeological Museum and immediately we find ourselves projected into a path of history and art that goes from ancient Egypt to the finds of the Greek-Roman age, from the collections of ancient coins to those of precious gems from the Farnese collection, from the Ponpeiani frescoes detached from the walls of the house re-emerged from the famous excavation and here skilfully reconstructed in the wonderful Salone della Meridiana with its precious floors and frescoes.
At the end of the visit we reach our last stop and going a bit far from the centre we go up to Capodimonte where, surrounded by a beautiful garden, we find the museum of the same name. Mainly enriched with paintings this museum offers works of the most important Neapolitan and Italian artists in general (Caravaggio, Raffaello, Tiziano, Parmigianino. …) alongside a very interesting collection of contemporary art that houses, among others, some works by Andy Warhol.
Let’s go out and cross the garden enjoying this sunshine that in these days has never left us and all we have to do is get a taxi to take us to the station and say goodbye to this beautiful city that has been able to enrich our expectations and leave us with a little melancholy and the desire to come back and visit it.
Pizza and more…
Hey, everybody stop! Didn’t we also talk about food? No, I didn’t forget, I just think the subject deserves a separate chapter. Naples, we all know it, it is famous in the world for pizza and we, consistent with this, decided to dedicate all our lunches to the most famous Italian dish in the world. The pizzerias in the old town centre all offer excellent products and we wanted to try the most historic places it offers such as “Concettina ai Tre Santi” or “The President’s Daughter” (you absolutely must taste her fried pizza! ) remaining more than satisfied with our choices.
In the evening, on the other hand, it was the typical trattorias where, to the sound of the best fresh fish, the famous fried food and meat cooked with sauce, they let you go to sleep with a smile on your face.
How to forget about sweets! The inevitable fogliatelle from the most varied fillings, the babà (the real, large, sliced one), the baby which is rubbed in the mouth and finally the snuffles drowned in honey just typical of Christmas.
In short, a journey that has left our taste buds totally satisfied, as well as our eyes!
Where to sleep in Naples
Naples has many extremely welcoming and well-kept hotels. The prices are interesting and if you search on booking you will probably also find some interesting offers. Personally I slept at Hotel San Francesco al Monte, really very welcoming!