Naples is provocative, teeming with life and authentic. Although many travelers dislike her for her grittiness, I can’t get enough of her hospitality, history, food, coffee, art, theatre, and music. Need I go on?
Welcome back to our “Weekend escape to…” series showcasing our favorite weekend getaways. With average winter temperatures that range between 41°F (5°C ) and 9°C (48°F), this Bostonian loves Naples in winter. Bundle up and follow me.
5:00 p.m. – Welcome to Naples!
Take the high speed train from Rome to the Naples Central Station. With no delays, arrive at Naples in an hour and 10 minutes. Pause to listen to the piano player in the station before walking out to Piazza Garibaldi. Take a taxi, the metro or walk to your hotel. Check in, shower and head out for a pre-dinner stroll along “Spaccanapoli”. The famous narrow main street splits the historic center of Naples in two. Streets like Spaccanapoli were common part of ancient Roman cities which were often planned along parallel decumanus, streets with an east-west direction. It may be the only straight street in Naples lined with coffee bars, pizzerias, delis, churches, ceramic shops, clothing shops, pastry makers and wine stores. If you visit in December, walk along Via San Gregorio Armeno which is lined with shops displaying the Nativity. Artisans create miniature figures of the holy family, sheperds, butcher stalls and pizza makers. The tradition is famous all over the world.
9:00 p.m. – A Taste of the Sea
In Naples, any day is the perfect day to eat seafood. Located near Spaccanapoli, A’ Lucianella is a small, unassuming and family run trattoria. Octopus is the specialty prepared in various styles. Start with an appetizer of seaweed fritters or fried anchovies. Order a dish of spaghetti with clams as your first course and finish with the grilled octopus. Call ahead for a reservation.
8:00 a.m. – Caffeine fix
Stand at the bar or grab a table and order a cappuccino and a cornetto, brioche or sfogliatella at Centrale del Caffè located at Via Benedetto Croce 16. If you’re a coffee lover like me, order a caffè straight up (espresso) and buy a kilo of freshly roasted beans to take home with you. I stock up on the “espresso napoletano” or “santos” blend.
9:00 a.m. – Meet San Gennaro
Whether you are pious or not, a visit to Il Duomo (the Naples Cathedral) and the Chapel of San Gennaro gives one a glimpse into the heart, soul and spirit of Naples. Built by the Angevins from 1266 to 1435 AD, il Duomo is the seat of the Naples Archdiocese. The 14th century French Gothic cathedral houses the Crypt and the Chapel of San Gennaro, the Patron Saint of Naples. It’s here that the most important religious festival of Naples takes place three times per year. Thousands of people squeeze into the Cathedral and the Piazza del Duomo, to witness the Ceremony of the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro. During this sacred ceremony, the Cardinal removes vials of blood from the chapel where they are stored. They are carried in a procession to the high altar with the bust of San Gennaro. Devotees anxiously wait for the blood to liquify which does not always happen. The miracle is meant to guarantee a prosperous year for Neapolitans. Veiled by superstition and lore, the ceremony dates back to the late 1300s. Il Duomo is open Saturday from 8:00 am to 12:30 pm and from 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm and is located at Via Duomo, 147. Audio guide rental is available at the information desk inside the Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro.
Exit the Duomo and walk a few meters to see the mural of San Gennaro by street artist Jorit Agoch. The evocative piece was revealed on September 19, 2015; the day of the miracle of the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro. The painting of the patron saint and protector of Naples is located on the edge of the Forcella neighborhood. He gazes toward the heavens and invites passersby to visit Forcella.
12:00 p.m. – Market Vibe
Visit the Pignasecca outdoor market, renowned for its fish sellers, cheese shops, and fruit and vegetable vendors found along Via Pignasecca. Snack on pastries, street food and pizza al portfolio (individual size pizza folded like a wallet) while walking through the market. Be sure to stop and soak up the vibe that is at times chaotic and always inviting. If you’re hungry sit down at Le Zendraglie, E. Fiorenzano Tripperia e Trattoria for boiled trippa (tripe) doused with lemon juice and bowl pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans).
3:30 p.m. – Squares, sweets & sculpture
Walk to Piazza San Domenico Maggiore in the historic center. The piazza bustles with life day and night. As you approach the piazza, your eyes may be drawn to the Spire of San Domenico Maggiore; known as one of the “plague columns” of Naples, it was constructed after the plague of 1656 and dedicated to San Domenico.
Have a coffee and babà (rum soaked specialty) at Scaturchio before heading northwest of the piazza to the Sansevero Chapel Museum. The chapel’s most famous work of art is the marble Veiled Christ which is not to be missed. The marble veil appears to be paper-thin and flowing over Christ’s body. The astounding sculpture was conceived by Prince of Sansevero VII and completed by the Neapolitan artist Giuseppe Sanmartino in 1753. The Museum is open Wednesday through Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
7:00 p.m. – Aperitivo & Stage
Enjoy a pre-theater aperitif at historical Gran Caffè Gambrinus before crossing the roundabout to the Teatro di San Carlo. Designed by the architect Giovanni Antonio Medrano, a Spanish colonel stationed in Naples, the theatre opened its stage in 1737 making it the oldest opera house in the world. Reserve tickets to the opera, ballet or a concert in advance. If you’d like to skip the opera, tourists can attend a guided tour of the theatre, main hall and boxes in English from Monday to Saturday (excluding holidays). Tours begin at 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 2:30, 3:30 and 4:30 and last 45 minutes. Booking in advance is recommended.
10:00 p.m. – Fritti, pizza & beer
Choose a pizzeria from our Pizza in Naples list. If I’m in the historic center I go to Gino Sorbillo, if I’m near the train station it’s L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele and if I’m in the mood for gourmet pizza with an ample list of craft beer, I eat at Pizzeria 50 Kalò di Ciro Salvo. If the weather is unseasonably warm I walk and snack along the way as I head for Via Toledo. Grab a pizza al portafoglio, a crocché and frittatine di Gennaro Salvo and gelato at Mennella for dessert.
8:00 a.m. – Pastry & Caffè
Start the day at Mary’s pastry corner located under the shopping gallery, Galleria Umberto I, which was built at the end of the 1800s. Window shop and nosh on a warm sfogliatella pastry (riccia, frolla or my favorite, the Santa Rosa which is pictured above). Wash it down with a caffè alla nocciola (espresso mixed with hazelnut cream) at Il Vero Bar del Professore.
9:00 – Royal Palace
Occupying the eastern end of Piazza del Plesbicito, Palazzo Reale (pictured above) was built in 1600 to host the King of Spain, Filippo III. The palace is home to 30 decadent rooms. Although the building was terribly bombarded during WWII, it has been throughly restored and features Neoclassical and Baroque furnishings, paintings and the massive Presepio del Banco di Napoli which displays more that 200 nativity figurines.
Pictured above, the Scalone d’Onore (grand staircase of honor) is a striking example of late Baroque or Rococo design. Climb the staircase to the main level and start your adventure. Buy tickets in advance or onsite.
1:00 p.m. Sunday Lunch
Walk by Piazza del Plebiscito to Via Chiaia. Follow the gently sloping street until you reach the hidden lift beside Ponte di Chiaia on the left side of the street. Take the elevator and step out onto Via Giovanni Nicòtera. Walk ten steps to number 13, Osteria La Mattonella, where you’ll be warmly welcomed by Antonietta and Massimo.
Warm up with a Neapolitan classic, pasta alla genovese. The meat sauce cooks for hours over a low flame and is made with beef, onion, carrot, celery, parsley, olive oil, butter, lard, prosciutto cotto (ham) and white wine.
3:30 p.m. Coffee break
Take the lift back to Via Chiaia and walk to Piazza dei Martiri (square of the martyrs) for a coffee at Gran Caffè la Caffettiera. The Piazza was built around a column crowned by a bronze statue of the Virtue of the Martyrs. A lion sits at the base of each column corner representing Neapolitan revolutionaries who died during anti-Bourbon rebellions. For fans of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, the Cerullo/Solara shoe store was found here on the posh piazza. After a coffee, visit the boutique and designer clothing, shoe and accessory shops that flank the piazza. Shops include Prada, Gucci, Ferragamo and Armani. Consult shop websites for opening days and times. Most shops open in the late afternoon on Sunday.
5:30 pm – Time to say arrivederci
Release a big sigh. You’ve only scratched the surface of bella Napule. Fetch your bags at the hotel reception and grab a quick snack before embarking on your return trip by train or chauffeured car service. Start planning your next visit to this captivating city.
The Best Time to Visit
I visit Naples at any time of the year. If I had to choose a few months they would be April (around Easter), June and December. The low season is best for travel deals including lower prices for hotel, airfare and car rental too. Restaurants and shops are also less crowded.
Where to stay
Where to eat
Coffee, Pastry & Gelato
Centrale del Caffè for coffee
Il Vero Bar del Professore for caffè alla nocciola
Gran Caffè Gambrinus for coffee, gelato or an aperitif
Gran Caffè la Caffettiera for coffee
Attanasio for pastries
Mary’s for sfogliatella
Scaturchio for babà
Food & Wine Stores
Pan’ e Muzzarell’ for Mozzarella di Bufala DOP, Provolone del Monaco DOP, and panini to go
Guy Odin for chocolate
Azienda Agricola La Fattoria Biagino for honey at Via San Biagio dei Librai 124
Gran Gusto Wine Shop
Contact us for more info on custom food and wine experiences, curated meals, day trips and other bespoke activities in and around Naples.
Photo credits ©Gina Tringali