While Naples, Italy has a long list of attractions—including one of the world's great archaeological museums, it's a city where you're likely to spend most of your time outdoors. And getting to know Naples means getting to know its streets and neighborhoods. Densely populated, chaotic, and as gritty as you've heard it is, Naples is a pure sensory spectacle of sights, sounds, and smells.
To help you get to know Italy's third-largest city a little better, we've put together a list of the top neighborhoods in Naples for exploring, eating, and finding accommodations. Some are right in the heart of things, and others are a little farther afield, but all offer a vivid slice of life, Neapolitan-style.
While much of Italy lays claim to Roman or Etruscan origins, Naples was founded by the Greeks. Their ancient Neapolis started at the Decumani, the three streets formed in the 6th century B.C. centuries before Rome's founding. The Decumani, often referred to simply as centro storico (historic center) or Spaccanapoli, is still the heart of this long-enduring city. Come here for some of Naples' top attractions, including the Duomo, Sansevero Chapel, the Naples Underground, and Via San Gregorio Armeno. If you only have a short time in Naples, plan to spend a good chunk of it strolling this crowded district, eating street food, and enjoying the spectacle of humanity that is Naples.
Hilltop Vomero is another retreat from the densely packed centro and boasts some of the city's best views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. Reachable by three different funiculars, this upscale area is known for Castel Sant'Elmo, the prominent fortress that looms over the city, and nearby Certosa di San Martino, a former monastery turned are museum. Like Chiaia, it's a good place to base yourself if you want to be close to the action but not right in the middle of it.
Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarters)
The Quartieri Spagnoli, or Spanish Quarters, were so named when the area was built, in the 1600s, to house Spanish troops. Along with neighboring Decumani, it forms the core of Naples' centro storico, or historic center. Also, like Decumani, the area is everything you've imagined Naples to be—where a tight grid of densely crowded streets buzz with mopeds and music, voices, shouting, laughter, and enough edginess to keep you rightfully on your guard. Stay here to experience an authentic slice of Naples—which might mean forgoing a good night's sleep.
Once considered the healthiest district of Naples, Rione Sanità (sanità is health in Italian) seems today a bit down on its heels and is characterized by street art, market stalls, traffic, and the sense of day-to-day chaos so typical of much of Naples. History runs deep here—really deep, as evidenced by the miles of Christian catacombs and Greek necropoli that lay several meters underground. The National Archaeological Museum is aptly located here, and Eating Europe runs a great Naples food tour that hits several hotspots in this young, edgy neighborhood.
Chock-full of some of Naples' most important landmarks, San Ferdinando is a good base for those wanting a hotel room with a view, proximity to shopping and dining, and to be somewhat removed from the heart of Naples. The Royal Palace, the opera house, and the Castel dell'Ovo are all here, as is the historic Galleria Umberto I shopping arcade. Via Chiaia is one of Naples' most elegant and upscale shopping avenues. We find the area lacks much of a neighborhood feel, but it's a good choice for easy sightseeing.
When Neapolitans need a break from the crowded centro, they head to upscale, seaside Chiaia, one of the city's most affluent neighborhoods. A long waterfront park, Villa Comunale di Napoli, is among the largest green spaces in the city and the centerpiece of Chiaia. Seafood restaurants, gelaterias, and cafes line the waterfront promenade, and further inland sits some of Naples' priciest real estate. This is a good place to base if you want restaurants, shopping, and sea air, minus a lot of the chaos of the centro storico.
Leafy and less densely built-up than much of the rest of Naples, residential Capodimonte is for those who really do want to get above and away from it all—the hilltop district is not frequented by tourists, other than those who make a beeline for the massive Capodimonte Museum and surrounding park. The Real Bosco (Royal Woods) of Capodimonte, once the hunting grounds of Bourbon kings, is now a vast public park. You'll probably need to find a vacation rental if you wish to stay here, as there are few hotels.
Wealthy, leafy, and waterfront Posillipo might be one of Naples' best-kept secrets. Located on the Bay of Naples north of Chiaia, this residential quarter stretches from the sea up to the hills and offers views of the bay, Vesuvius, and the Naples waterfront. Highlights here include an incredible archaeological park and the ruins of the crumbling, enigmatic Villa Donn'Anna. Our only complaint about Posillipo is that it's inconvenient for going back and forth into the city, as buses take about 50 minutes.
We don't recommend lingering in this unattractive area around Napoli Centrale, the city's main train station. But if you've got an early train or you want to be close to trains to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and points south, then the Piazza Garibaldi area will at least put you close to the station. You'll find hotels in all ranges of price and quality, including some recognized international chains. But this isn't an area for tourism nightlife—or for being out late at night.