48 Hours in Naples: The Ultimate Itinerary

Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

The southern city of Naples is one of the most dynamic and fascinating in Italy. It's achingly old—the Greeks founded the city before Rome even existed, and evidence of its venerable age is everywhere. It's crowded and chaotic, and a patina of grime seems to cover most streets and building facades. It's colorful and noisy, and there's a lot to see and do here. It's not a place you come to relax, but rather an experience to dive into—and this 48-hour guide will show you how to get the most of your short time in Naples.

Our 48 hours in Naples itinerary assumes you've arrived the night before or that you arrive on the first morning via an early flight or train. We've split the days between the sights, more or less between those near the city's waterfront and those in the interior.

One Naples caveat: Because of the prevalence of petty street crime, don't wear any valuable jewelry—especially bracelets and necklaces—when you're out and about. Keep wallets, cameras, and smartphones safely tucked away in a secure pocket when not in use. If you carry a purse, make it a cross-body bag.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Sfogliatelle, Italian layered pastry that's a specialty of Naples

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9 a.m. Get an early start on a big day of exploring the sights near the Naples waterfront. If you've arrived this morning, drop your bags at your hotel. Near Napoli Centrale train station, UNAHOTELS Napoli is a good choice and within walking distance of many main sights. On the waterfront, Eurostars Hotel Excelsior offers classic rooms, some with views of Mt. Vesuvius. In the heart of old Naples, Santa Chiara Boutique Hotel occupies a restored 17th-century palace.

10 a.m. After you've dropped your bags, start your day with a little sustenance in the form of Naples' classic pastry, sfogliatelle. If you're near Napoli Centrale, head to Sfogliatelle Attanasio on Vico Ferrovia for what's widely regarded as the best in town. If you're not near the station, you'll find sfogliatelle—a crunchy layered pastry filled with a creamy ricotta filling that might be flavored with chocolate, pistachio, or almond—all over the city. Just look for places where Neapolitans are eating.

After your pastry fix, head straight to Piazza del Plebiscito.

Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

11 a.m. Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples' sprawling 19th-century square, is your first stop for a morning and afternoon of sightseeing. Take in the regal symmetry of this grand piazza before heading into the adjacent Palazzo Reale. Its museum includes the Royal Apartments of the Spanish nobility, who once ruled over Naples.

From the Palazzo Reale, head to the piazza's northern side, stopping either at legendary Gran Caffe Gambrinus for a light snack or at Antica Pizza Fritta da Zia Esterina Sorbillo for a portion of fried pizza to go, which is every bit as delicious and decadent as it sounds. From here, walk up to the Augusteo transit station, where you'll catch a funicular, or incline railway, up to the best views in Naples.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

View of Naples from Castel Sant'Elmo

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2 p.m. A steep, riveting seven-minute funicular ride whisks you up to Piazza Fuga, from where you'll walk another 10 minutes to Castel Sant'Elmo. This monolithic 13th-century structure has done duty as a fortress, a prison, and now, a cultural center. There's a museum of mostly 20th-century Italian art on-site, but most people make the climb for the jaw-dropping views of the city of Naples, Mt. Vesuvius, the Bay of Naples and the islands of Capri and Ischia in the distance.

Since you're already up there, continue on to Certosa e Museo San Martino for more views and a heaping dose of Baroque art, architecture, and excess. If you're pressed for time, we recommend touring this site over Castel Sant'Elmo.

5 p.m. By now it's late afternoon, and a good time to head back down to your hotel for a rest and refresh. If you're not ready to take a break just yet, walk down to Parco Villa Floridiana to catch some shade and some more views of the Bay of Naples.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Castel dell'Ovo, Naples

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

7 p.m. Wind down your day on Naples' pretty, lively waterfront. Start with a walk around the Castel dell'Ovo's ramparts, which dates to the 12th century but with much older foundations. If you time your walk for sunset, you're in for some great photos. After a stroll, settle in for an aperitivo at one of the many bars on the island where the castle sits.

8:30 p.m. For dinner, head to Mergellina, the waterfront area west of the Castel dell'Ovo, for a meal of fresh-caught fish and seafood and, ideally, a view of the bay, castle, and distant islands. Favorites in this area include Il Miracolo dei Pesci, Osteria del Mare - Pesce e Champagne, or, for something more casual, the Antica Friggitoria Masardona, which specializes in fried seafood and snacks.

10:30 p.m. If you've still got some energy after dinner, wander the affluent Chiaia neighborhood until you find a gelateria that looks good. Il Gelatiere - Napoli stays open until 12:30 a.m.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Spaccanapoli Street in Naples, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

10 a.m. If yesterday was about discovering Naples' history, today is about finding its soul. And there's no better place to start than Spaccanapoli (the Napoli splitter), the steep, narrow street that follows the old Greco-Roman grid and seems to divide the city into two halves. Spend the morning on Spaccanapoli (Via San Biagio Dei Librai), starting from the end closest to the Napoli Centrale station and slowly working your way uphill. This is a great place to take pictures of fish markets, street food stalls, and the sheer spectacle of life, noise, and color that defines this section of Naples.

11 a.m. At Via Nilo, take a right and follow signs for the Museo Cappella Sansevero, and visit its star attraction, Giuseppe Sanmartino's breathtaking 18th-century sculpture, The Veiled Christ. Wind back to San Gregorio Armeno, an 8th-century church that's also a year-round market for Naples' signature handicraft—hand-carved nativity, or presepe, figures.

Fried street food in Naples
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Stop for lunch at any tempting street food vendor on Spaccanapoli or its parallel street, Via dei Tribunale. Specialties include arancini, which are fried, stuffed rice balls, cuoppo napoletano, a paper cup filled with fried seafood and/or vegetables, pizza a portafoglio, a folded, handheld pizza, and la frittatina di maccheroni—deep-fried pasta with ham, cheese, peas and bechamel sauce. As with anyplace you eat in Italy, follow the crowds of Italians. If there's no one lined up at a street food stand, move along.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Naples Underground Tunnels and Aqueducts

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

2 p.m. On Via Dei Tribunale, you'll find the entrance to Napoli Sottoterranea, or Naples Underground. On a guided English-language tour, you'll descend several meters underground and discover the ancient cisterns, tunnels, and storage rooms of Greek and Roman Naples.

After the tour, head to the Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta, home to Naples' most important religious relic, a reliquary holding the congealed blood of San Gennaro, the city's patron saint. The church itself is ancient and filled with mosaics dating back to the 300s.

5 p.m. From the Cathedral, take a taxi to the Naples National Archaeological Museum, famous for its remarkable collection of artifacts from Pompeii, preserved after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. (You can walk here, but we suggest a taxi so that you have more time in the museum.)

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Pizzamakers in Naples

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7 p.m. To kickstart your last evening in Naples, find a lively bar along Via Dei Tribunali or Spaccanapoli for an aperitivo—you'll find there's no shortage of options. Popular spots include Intra Moenia, Archeobar, and Superfly.

8:30 p.m. After cocktail hour, it's time to head to the meal you probably came to Naples for anyway—pizza. Da Michele and Sorbillo are world-famous and have the crowds to prove it. But don't overlook some you might not have heard of, like Pizzeria & Trattoria AL 22 and Starita.

10:30 p.m. Stop off for a final pastry at any of the tempting shops you pass on your way home. If you've already tried sfogliatella, it's time to sample booze-soaked babà al rum, graffa napoletana, a sugar-coated fried donut, or zuppa Inglese napoletana, a layered trifle.

Here's an alternative plan if you want your aperitivo, pizza, street food, and dessert all rolled into one. Eating Europe offers an evening food tour of Naples that takes you to some of the city's hidden neighborhoods and lesser-known eateries for a really authentic Neapolitan experience. Tours begin at 5 p.m. and run 3.5 hours.