What to See in the Historic Center of Naples, Italy

  • 01 of 06

    Santa Chiara Monastery and Church in Naples

    Woman in a corridor, Santa Chiara Monastery, Campania, Italy
    Ben Pipe Photography/Getty Images

    Santa Chiara Monastery has a peaceful cloister with stunning majolica tiled columns and benches (added in 1742), a garden, and beautiful 17th-century frescoes under the arches of the walkways. It makes a nice contrast to the hectic center of Naples.

    After you stroll around the courtyard, go into the museum where you'll find not only religious relics but archeological finds from the 1st through 4th centuries AD and an excavation of a Roman thermal spa. Pieces remaining from the original church are on display. Don't miss the 18th-century presepe, or Nativity, in a side room near the entrance.

    Santa Chiara Church and Monastery were built in the 14th century. The original church, built in Provencal Gothic style, was the largest Clarissan church ever built. In the 17th to 18th centuries it was remodeled in Baroque style, but after being almost destroyed during World War II, it was restored in what is believed to be its original form. The church holds the tombs of several kings and queens as well as relics of Saint Louis of Toulouse, including his brain. Next to the church is the nun's choir with fragments of frescoes attributed to Giotto.

    The museum and monastery are currently open every morning from 9:30 to 13:00 and except on Sundays also from 15:30 to 17:30. Address: Via Benedetto Croce 16. Santa Chiara Museum on the web.

    Recommended Hotel Near Santa Chiara

    Even though Decumani Hotel de Charme is in the center of Naples, rooms are very quiet. The staff is extremely helpful with answering questions and giving good restaurant suggestions. It's in a former palazzo and a cut above the usual three-star hotel.

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  • 02 of 06

    Piazza San Domenico Maggiore and San Severo Chapel

    Piazza San Domenico in Naples
    Henryk Sadura/Getty Images

    From Santa Chiara, take Via Benedetto Croce to Piazza San Domenico Maggiore. On this square, you'll see an obelisk built by the monks of San Martino after the plague of 1656 in which many people of Naples died (the monks saved themselves by shutting themselves inside the monastery). As you face the square, the building on the left is Palazzo Petrucci, the oldest building with its original entry and courtyard. Farther back is the entrance to the church of San Domenico Maggiore.

    Inside the church, you'll see remains of the original 10th-century Romanesque church, early Renaissance art including important frescoes by Pietro Cavallini and copies of works by Caravaggio and Tiziano (originals are in the Capodimonte Museum). Tombs hold many members of the Anjou dynasty and the church also has the 13th-century cross that's said to have spoken to Saint Thomas Aquinas.

    San Severo Chapel holds major 18th-century sculptures and paintings, including the Veiled Christ by Sanmartino (check current hours).

    Coffee Stop

    Caffetteria San Domenico on the square is a good place for a coffee.

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  • 03 of 06

    Spaccanapoli - The Center of Naples

    Roman Statue on Spaccanapoli in Naples
    Tuul and Bruno Morandi/Getty Images

    From Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, walk along Via San Biagio. This street is known as Spaccanapoli because it splits the old center of Naples in half. The original Greek city of Neapolis was here, and the area still retains the same narrow streets from Greek times. Spaccanapoli was one of the three main east-west Greek streets.

    Stop in the Church of Sant'Angelo a Nilo to see the bas-relief on the tomb of the tomb of Cardinal Brancacci by Donatello and Michelozzo and paintings by Marco Pino. Near the church in the small square, Piazzetta del Nilo, you'll see a large marble Roman statue dedicated to the Nile River.

    Pastry Stop

    Scaturchio, known as one of the best pastry shops. Try the sfogliatelle or babba, typical pastries of Naples.

    Continue along Spaccanapoli, doing a little window shopping, until you arrive at Via San Gregorio Armeno.

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  • 04 of 06

    Via San Gregorio Armeno

    Italy - Nativity Shops in Naples
    Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

    Via San Gregorio Armeno is known as the street of Nativity workshops because it's lined with artisan workshops that make statuettes and scenery for the famous Neapolitan nativity scenes or presepi. Small storefronts selling nativity pieces and tourist items spill out onto the street while the best pieces are kept inside the tiny shops. It's a fascinating street even if you don't want to buy anything or aren't interested in nativities.

    About halfway up the street is the Church of San Gregorio Armeno. If you're there on a Tuesday morning, stop in to see the miracle of the liquefying blood being performed (at time of writing, every Tuesday at 9:30 and 10:30).

    Across the street from the church is Fulvio Forte, a shop run by artisans Fulvio and his sister Gabriela. The Ferrigno shop has a good display of presepi upstairs and also sells high-quality nativity figurines.

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  • 05 of 06

    San Lorenzo Maggiore Church and Naples Underground

    Excavations of original Graeco-Roman city beneath Chiesa di San Lorenzo Maggiore.
    Lonely Planet / Getty Images

    At the end of Via San Gregorio Armeno, near the corner of Via Tribunali is the Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore. Excavations under the church reveal parts of the Roman city, including what was the Roman Forum. Several scenes have been set up to represent the way it probably looked in Roman times. Your ticket to the excavations (scavi) also includes the Museum of San Lorenzo Maggiore with works from the Greek and Roman period through the 19th century and the Capitolare and Sisto V rooms with beautiful frescoed ceilings.

    On Via Tribunali there's an entrance to Naples Underground, a tour that takes you through the ancient aqueducts now buried under the modern city and there are also excavations under the Church of San Paolo Maggiore.

    Lunch Stop - Recommended Restaurants 

    Trattoria Enoteca Campagnola serves typical inexpensive Neapolitan food (closed Tuesday). For pizza try one of the Sorbillo pizza spots. See Where to Eat in Naples Historic Center.

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  • 06 of 06

    Naples Cathedral or Duomo

    Duomo San Gennaro Naples
    Colors Hunter - Chasseur de Couleurs / Getty Images

    The Duomo or Cathedral of Naples is on Via Duomo. From Via San Gregorio Armeno, turn right on Via dei Tribunali and then left on Via Duomo.

    The Duomo is a 13th-century Gothic cathedral dedicated to San Gennaro, Naples' patron saint. Inside, the Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro has Baroque frescoes and other artworks, but most importantly it holds the saint's relics including two vials of his coagulated blood. A huge festival is held on September 19, the Feast Day of San Gennaro. Thousands gather in the cathedral and square outside to witness the miracle of San Gennaro when the vial is taken out of its storage place, and the blood (hopefully) miraculously liquefies. As with many Italian festivals, there's much more than just the main event. Processions and celebrations go on for eight days. The miracle of the blood is also performed on the first Saturday in May.

    The cathedral is steeped in history. On one side of it is the 4th-century Basilica Santa Restituta, the oldest church in Naples, with stunning ceiling frescoes and columns believed to be from the Temple of Apollo. From the church, you can visit the archaeological area under the cathedral with remains from the Greeks to the middle ages. The 5th-century baptistery has good Byzantine-style mosaics.

    See the Cathedral website for opening hours.

    This ends our look at the historic center. The National Archeology Museum of Naples, well worth a visit, has one of the world's best collections of Greek and Roman artifacts and is close to the center. For more Naples sights and attractions see What to See in Naples.