Why Naples is Better Than You’ve Heard

Quick – when I say “Naples,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Garbage? Mafia? Pickpockets? If any of these negatives are the first things to pop into your head, you’re not alone. There’s no getting around it – Naples has a PR problem.

As is often the case, however, there’s more than one side to this story – and Naples is also a city that’s absolutely worth visiting. Here are three reasons you should go to Naples in spite of everything you’ve heard.

1. You want real Italy? You got it.

Lots of travelers complain about popular places being “too touristy,” but fighting tourist crowds tends to annoy intrepid travelers even more (never mind that they’re tourists, too). Naples is by no means a quiet backwater – this sprawling city is teeming with people in every corner and at pretty much every hour. The percentage of those people who aren’t residents, however, is relatively small when compared to tourist cities like Venice or Florence.

As a major port city, Naples gets is fair share of tourists who sometimes stop for the day to eat a pizza and stroll through the Archaeology Museum, but who more often head straight for the Amalfi Coast or Pompeii instead. In other words, even though there should be an enormous influx of cruising day-trippers in Naples (like Venice), there isn’t one. The result is that Naples is not only a living, breathing city, it’s also not rolling out the red carpet for anyone. Tourists and locals alike have to fend for themselves.

Streets in Naples are busy, dirty, noisy, and sometimes littered with garbage that hasn’t been picked up (an ongoing political/mafia problem). Some shops sell tourist souvenirs, sure, but most of the shops in the historic center sell stuff for the locals – laundry detergent, motorcycle helmets, fresh fish. Naples gives travelers an opportunity to explore a very real Italian city without feeling like they’re plodding along behind every other tourist in Italy – all without needing to get far off the beaten track at all.

2. Major history and scenic sights are easy day trips.

While most travelers in Italy stay north of Rome, two of the most popular places to visit in Italy – the two things that draw even less-adventurous travelers to the south – are both easy day trips from Naples.

Pompeii was famously leveled by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD, and the excavated city is very close to central Naples. (In fact, the same mountain that did all the damage looms over Naples, too.) Pompeii is such an easy day trip from Naples that you can do it by yourself – no organized tour group required – and include a stop at the less-visited but better-preserved Herculaneum on your way back to the city. On another day, don’t forget to walk through the fabulous Archaeology Museum in Naples, too, where most of the stuff they’ve uncovered at both Pompeii and Herculaneum is on display.

Now that you’ve got your history component covered, plan another day trip to visit the yes-it’s-really-that-beautiful Amalfi Coast. The town of Sorrento is an easy train or boat ride from Naples, and from there you can take a bus up and down the coast (or rent a scooter, if you’re more daring) for a day’s worth of fun in the sun. If you can afford a night or two along the coast, that’s great – you’ll certainly see more of it – but hotels on the Amalfi Coast are so much more expensive than most hotels in Naples that you’ll save a bundle by making it a day trip (or two) instead.

Here are some more fun things to do in Naples.

Which brings me to…

3. Budget travelers don’t have to make massive sacrifices.

When compared with other big cities in Italy, Naples is downright cheap. It’s not cheap in the sense that it can compete with Southeast Asia, but a whole pizza and bottle of water at one of the city’s famous pizza places will only cost you €5-7. That’s a seriously inexpensive meal by Italy’s standards, and yet it’s also some of the best food you’ll find in the city.

You can find high-end hotels in the city, but there are plenty of budget-friendly hotels right in the Naples historic center, too. Not only that, the fabulous Hostel of the Sun is one of the best-rated hostels in Italy as well as Europe, and dorm beds start at less than €20/night.

Naples has its share of free things to do, but even the museums and galleries and attractions that charge a fee are pretty inexpensive – and if you’re going to be in town for a few days (and especially if you’re going to Pompeii and Herculaneum) you can get one of the regional Campania Artecards that gives you major discounts on attractions as well as free transportation. A 3-day card for the whole region is €27 and gets you into your first two sights completely free, with 50% off all other sights after that. Considering Pompeii and Herculaneum are each €11 to get in, the thing almost pays for itself when you make those your first two (and therefore free) attractions.

Remember all those negative things you’ve heard about Naples? Don’t forget them entirely.

Okay, now that you’ve moved Naples up on your list of places to visit, I want to remind you that all those things you’ve heard – about the garbage crisis and the petty thieves – shouldn’t be entirely forgotten. They shouldn’t keep you from going to Naples, but they should make you stay alert.

Here are the things to keep in mind:

  • Garbage – Piles of garbage are unsightly, but they’re not going to steal your watch. Garbage pickup (or lack thereof) is a problem for people who live in Naples, and much less so for those who visit for a few days. Do your part to not contribute to the garbage problem by re-using water bottles and things like that, but otherwise just deal with the fact that you might find the garbage from the public dumpsters hasn’t been picked up in a few days.
  • Mafia – There’s a major organized crime problem in the region that includes Naples (and they reportedly are part of the garbage problem, too), but this is another thing that’s bad for the people who live in Naples and not such an issue for those who just visit. The mafia isn’t gunning down unsuspecting tourists in mobster-movie-like scenes.
  • Pickpockets – Of all the problems most associated with Naples, this is the issue that tourists need to be extremely aware of. Pickpockets will steal from whoever’s an easy target, whether you’re a local or not, but it’s the tourists who are almost always the easiest marks. Make sure you aren’t an easy target. Leave your shiny baubles – including your watch – at home (or in the safe/locker at your hotel/hostel), use a purse that you can carry across your body, keep your big camera hung around your neck in front of you, carry most of your cash and important documents in a money belt under your clothes… You know the drill. Be smart, be aware, don’t be an idiot, and you’re much less likely to have any problems in Naples or even know that pickpocketing is an issue.

The bottom line? Make a beeline for Naples and have a pizza for me.

About the Author: Jessica Spiegel is a Portland-based travel writer with BootsnAll, the RTW travel resource, for whom she writes the WhyGo Italy travel guide. She didn’t expect to fall in love with Naples on her first visit, but fall she did – and she’s been encouraging people to visit the city ever since.

43 thoughts on “Why Naples is Better Than You’ve Heard”

  1. We had read so much negativity about Naples, the crime, being dirty, it isn’t safe…etc. After spending a week there, we’re so glad we went against those all of those thoughts. We would absolutely recommend anyone interested in experiencing such a concentration of all things Italy, to visit Naples.

    Because the city treated us so well and gave us such an amazing experience, we love reading posts like yours. Naples really does have so much to offer but is missed by so many.

  2. Many very informative posts. Thanks for sharing. So, here’s my situation. Thanks for reading. Any insights would be appreciated.

    All four of my grandparents were born and raised in Naples and came over to the U.S. (NY & NJ//Ellis Island) one by one, in their 20’s, except for my grandfather who was 32 when he left Naples for the U.S. I’ve been to Italy, but it was many yrs ago with college friends and we only visited Northern Italy. I had plans to return on my own and visit, but one thing after another (college, marriage, career, kids, divorce, etc) and sadly have not returned.

    Anyway, I plan to return later this summer/early fall and visit the Campania area, where my grandfather, the grandparent I was closest to, (a wonderful man & incredible grandfather) lived for 32 yrs. I am considering moving there if I like what I see and if my relatives (who don’t know me) accept me into their family, assuming they aren’t crazy, lol… some anxiety over that. I am recently retired (took early retirement) and don’t want to stay here – just want out of the U.S..

    I googled my last name, which is not a real common Italian last name, and there are relatives living in that region (Campania/Lazio/Naples) with my last name, whom I believe I am probably related to, such as distant cousins, etc. They live (all 42 of them, from young children to elderly – I checked them out on Facebook and we look a lot alike :)) in the same general area my grandfather and his family are from. I find it hard to believe I would not somehow be related to them. I have gone on Ancestry dot com and other sites and researched the family tree and do not know for 100% certain if I am related, but think that most likely I am — hope so.

    I used to be conversational Italian but haven’t spoken the language in decades and forgot a lot. I am also not that good with languages — was never one of my strong points. But I can pick up the language if I lived there and also kept studying, although not sure how that will work out in the meantime, the learning curve…. I mean for the first few yrs while I am learning the language/fluently. Do the native Italians in the Campania/Naples areas speak English?

    Coming from a very traditional, ethnic (east coast) Italian family and having grown up around my grandparents (all deceased) I know the culture well, but would need to learn the language as well. I’ve also been researching the housing market there and am stunned by the beauty. I realize I have to visit and spend at least a few weeks there before deciding to leave the U.S. permanently this time of next year, and live the rest of my yrs there. Huge decision.

    I have no family left in the U.S; everyone has passed away, even my two siblings, some died very young, and the few that are still living are in their mid-90’s and not expected to live past this year. My two grown kids who travel the world for their business will come to visit. I don’t see them often because of their jobs/travel and am mostly alone, but maybe would see them more if I lived in Italy — another plus to moving abroad.

    I absolutely LOVED Northern Italy and realize the many differences between Northern & Southern, but find it hard to believe I won’t like it enough to want to move there permanently. I doubt residency/citizenship will be a problem, since my grandfather never naturalized in the U.S. and never actually became a U.S. citizen.

    So, thanks for reading and does anyone have any thoughts or insights about my idea to possibly retire there and move there early next year? Thanks.

    1. Don’t know anything about retirement but it sounds like it would be extremely easy for you to apply for Italian citizenship. My husband did it and it was a multi-year process but worth it in the end. Like I said, it takes some time so start investigating now.

      1. Thanks, Steph…if I do decide to move there, which is likely, I hope the Citizenship process doesn’t turn out to be a multi-year process, especially since 2 of my grandparents never applied for US citizenship after immigrating here to the States….that might expedite things.

    2. hi….do you know what town in Campania your grandparents are from? I was born in Campania (avellino) and lived there until the age of 10 , we then moved to Canada. Maybe I can be of some help….

  3. Yum! Make me want to go back. I took a food tour with this place: foodtoursofnaples.com. So good! Mouthwatering pasta, fish, pizza.. and don’t get me started on the desserts.

  4. IT’S so disappointing to be of Italian heritage with grandparents from Naples only to find that it is considered the armpit of Italy. I’ve viewed videos of Naples and done quite a bit of research because I wanted to find out more about my Grandparents and their back story. Unfortunately, while I love traveling I have lost interest in visiting or staying in Naples.
    As a native New Yorker I have plenty of experience with ‘off the boat’ Italians within my own family and the neighborhood I lived in which made a distict impression on me. They were warm, friendly, sometimes brash and colorful and loud but completely charmning as a community on the whole. Still today, if you walk down the street in NYC and come across a local Italian American when lost and asking for directions, you might just be surprised…they can be very helpfull in charmingly animated ways!

    Having said this, my sister spent a few weeks in Italy -and though skipping Naples said that practically everywhere she went to spend her tourist dollars,,, she was treated with disdain – as an American. Pro’s: food, wine, art history and very good looking people who were well dressed, cons: rude, rude, rude business owners and locals everwhere.

    Now, I know some people might want to blame “americans” for European impatience and rudeness – but you can save your collective breath; the old standby of picking on Americans using that one ‘loud arrogant American’ is a false stereotype. Other than a drunk cowboy or college frat kid, or being close to a thriving colorful cultural center ie, a football game or the guys throwing pizzas at a Brooklyn osteria we all know LOUD is NOT an American attribute. And arrogance? Arrogance is a pot calling a kettle black…

    Besides, Americans are a mix of cultures and largely we’ve adapted and absorbed much of these to reflect diverse attitude. If you are ever in America long enough you’ll find the typical American attitude to foreigners is one of friendliness and curiosity.

    What’s sad to me is that Italy’s Neopolitans have not fought against the corruptive and corrosive powers that makes Naples the dark dirty pit it has become. It’s disturbing to see the architecture in neighborhoods go to ruin and what could and shouid be a charming albeit crowded mecca is a dismal view of southern Italian life – naples style.

    When I think about how important our ancestry and histories are to pass on to future generations the fa-ct that I am Italian-American doesn’t instill as much pride in me as it once had. The attitudes of many of Italians toward Americans became even more disdainful during the Amanda Knox trial.
    This, when it is a well known fact that as far as Italian politics and local government goes – a culture of contridiction, obscifucation and corruption exists and is considered the acceptable norm. So accepted that Italians don’t seem to notice yet the IRONY and hypocrisy of this behavior which is well documented by not only Italians living there but by outsiders who’ve spent years living abroad within the social and cultural landscape that makes Italy what is has become and what it is.

    Still I won’t give up completely. I know there are plenty of good people in Italy and very nice places to visit and I can’t help but feel some affininty for is the birthplace of my Grandparents; people who were proud and colorful and generous and good. They were not without their problems – they were poor immigrants and had a heck of a time getting out of the ghetto but eventually they as did many other Italians coming to America.

    Also, unlike, many modern day immigrants coming to the US – Italians learned the English language and learned to embrace much of the new culture while still retaining their Italian customs and a culture which influenced an entire food, wine, art industry here for decades to come.

    1. So, why not paying a visit to your grandparenth’s birthplace?
      Unfortunately, the trash crisis which lasted from about 2008 to 2011 left a sort of long-lasting label on Naples as “the city with piles of garbage everywhere”. As a native of Naples (with a part of the family who left Sicily to settle in NJ many decades ago), I assure you it’s not. It’s over.
      People won’t eat you, people won’t steal from you as long as you aren’t walking with a Rolex and a Nikon D700 hangin’ from the back of your backpack (I wouldn’t dare that in any place). Also this is not the right part of the country where to find rude hosts/business owners/locals, trust me. They are err… let’s say, elsewhere.
      As a sidenote, it’s funny to see how Knox trial made news in the US. Every American always asks me about it and what the italian public opinion thinks. In 2011 while in Milwaukee, I even saw a movie about it.

      1. Oh, and there’s of course not such thing as anti Americanism.
        In Naples area there are almost 10 thousands americans due to Navy and NATO bases, you can always see some of them playing on the basketball playgrounds on Pozzuoli seashore, the’ve always been welcomed among the most friendly tourists (and having been quite a few times in the US, they are).

    2. Hi GIa,
      My grandmother also comes from Naples. I have visited Italy twice in the past year (although not Naples) and I haven’t really come across the rudeness or anti-americanism you mentioned. I’ve actually found Italians on a personal level to be very friendly. Naples and southern Italy are very high on my list for my next spin around Europe.

  5. Hi Jessica, I really appreciated reading your post. I’m planning to visit Naples at the end of the month for just three days. I clicked on the link that you posted to get that travel card that gives you discounts on the sites as well and I couldn’t quite understand how the site works. Did you buy the pass when you were actually in Naples or online?

  6. Guys, Southern Italy is NOT the “real Italy”, just a part of the multi-faceted Italian culture. What foreigners think is the “real Italy” is just a stereotypical view of the culture of the southernmost part of Italy, as that is where most Italians emigrated from in the past, bringing with them their own customs. The Italian Republic was founded only in the 40s, so Italy has not yet developed a true national character … is made up of many cultures, many kinds of people, many traditions, each special and different from others at the same time. Saying that Southern Italy is the real Italy would be like saying that Scotland is the true UK or California the real United States … Naples is only a part, a beautiful part, of the whole… just a facet of the diamond 🙂

    1. You’re confusing the foundation of the Republic with the unification of Italy which is dated back in 1861.
      I agree with the post, tho, but foreign tourists will always want to see “the real Italy” as the one from where most of the immigrants came from, and I can’t blame them.

  7. You are right, Jessica, many people said that you need to go southern side to taste the real Italy. Actually I never been southern part of Italy, I only focus on Rome, Milan, Firenze and Venice.

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