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.

About The Author

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

  1. I always meet peole coming from different countries (most of them form USA) and they always are surprised by our cultural heritage, such as monuments, museums and landscapes as well.

    I’m an official Tour guide in naples and the campania region and I’ve to admit that the most the most of the tourist don’t ask for naples, it’s still unknown. Naples has much thing to offer that’s why I truly suggest you to come and descovery my city may be through the classical itineraries or even some particulars itinearies as the “mysterious naples”

    Fabio Comella

  2. I’ve lived in Naples for 20 years. I was born there too. I’ve never seen anyone committing a crime. I just saw someone stealing a woman’s purse once when I was 8 or 9. It is far, far overjudged by the media here. Rome and Milan are much more dangerous in that regard.

  3. I have been in Naples off and on the past 20 years. I have live in Greece, Iceland and visited Spain, UK, and Germany to name a few. And, I never felt as welcomed as I do in Naples. I didn’t see any comments that spoke about the people from Naples. A lot of tourists think Neapolitans are rude people, as I did the first few days I was here. However, it is not blatant rudeness; Neapolitans are just always in a hurry, like most in big cities. And, once you make friends, you are now family! Now, for food…the best in the world…and coffee the best also. Also, there is no other city I can think of with as much historical sites and memorizing views such as Almafi coast, Capri, Ischia, Pompeii, Hercalaneum, Mount Vesuvius, countless castles and museums and more! All this with a local government that is at best disorganized (major blame for trash, mafia, and petty crime – law enforcement is, well, a joke). One can only imagine if Naples and Italy as a whole was governed better. Nobody mentioned the Naples Soccer team either. Naples soccer fans are some of the most passionate in the world and their team is now a European force. If you visit Naples during the season, it would be a crime not to go see a game, and afterwards have a Pizza Margherita, a Caffe, and a Gelato! Visit Bella Napoli and see for yourself! FORZA NAPOLI…La Dolce Vita!

  4. Humm…interesting post but arguable. I was raised in Naples lived there and still have family there. Just like any other major metropolitan area it has bad areas. I’m really tired of hearing the same thing. Naples is always in the same breath as pickpockets, mafia, and garbage. That comes from ignorance, prejudice, and outsiders.

    Last time I went to New York City the garbage was piled so high the whole city stunk… and guess what instead of calling it mafia it’s called the mob which by the way runs the health & sanitation in New York City and every other major city in the US.

    In regards to being pick pocketed I have NEVER been pocketed expect in the US actually it was in New Orleans lolol. With all due respect it’s people like you that perpetuate this aura about Naples, which is not only my home but where my family has it’s roots for over a century.

    Naples has rich history, a mix of people, smells, and streets that you will not find anywhere else in the world. The Campagna region is one of the most beautiful regions in all of Italy. Yes, it’s poor and yes it has it’s problems but there is no other place like it in the world! As a matter of fact I would love to share this post I wrote about my home here http://napoliunplugged.com/Naples-Is-In-My-Heart.html

    1. Ma allora non hai capitp niente! Io invece trovo l’articolo molto vero e onesto. Perche’ non puoi ammettere che tutti i problemi su citati sono veri? Anch’io sono di Napoli e vivo negli Stati Uniti; nessun posto al mondo e’ perfetto e lo ammetto parlando di qualsiasi citta’.
      Purtroppo agli Italiani di adesso manca l’amor proprio e sono loro che contribuiscono a tanti problemi. La citta’ e’ stupenda ed alcune cose fanno parte del colore del posto, ma altre no!
      Si fa presto a parlare, ritorna a viverci dopo aver provato la civilta’ di altri posti e vedrai cosa significa. Questo articolo invita le persone ad andare a Napoli e lo fa in un modo efficace. Tutti hanno risposto in modo positivo tranne te’…..
      Need I say more?

      1. Mah, Assunta I do go back every year and stay in Naples anywhere from a month to 3 months.

        Admittedly Naples is not without it’s problems, but so is any other major city in the world. Would I want to live there full time? No, but it’s simply because I now have my family here in the US, but if we were to move back to Europe it would probably be to Germany since my spouse is from there.

        Which brings me to another point, all of Italy is in a downward spiral, economically and politically therefore it would not make sense to move back home.

        In conclusion I personally have never been robbed, mugged, violated, or screwed over in Naples.

      2. Me neither, in spite of having born and been raised in Naples. We’ve been robbed in Prague and Barcellona, though.

  5. It’s dirty but it’s worth it seems to be the short of what a lot of people have told me about Naples. If everyone keeps talking about how dirty it is, how pickpockets are everywhere, etc that must be some very good pizza. haha.

  6. Head to Sorrento too, it’s blooming lovely and you can do it on a budget too. I stayed in a wooden bungalow in the shade of an olive plantation RIGHT in the centre of Sorrento. It was real cheap and the grounds have a lush pool and quality pizzas made by the local Italians that run the joint. Nube d’Argento: http://www.nubedargento.com/ Do it!

    Also, it’s a 5-10 minute stroll (read ‘climb’) down some steps to the waterside where you can go for a swim and some grub if you fancy it. There’s no beaches because of the way the coastline is lined with cliffs but there’s plenty of spot to go for a dip. It’s also a nice sunny boat ride away from Positano, which is georgeous – and where my cousin got married.

  7. As a pizza-a-holic, Naples has been high on my list for a while being that it is alleged as the birthplace of pizza. Your points about getting a shot at the “real Italy” are very true as well. Even though I haven’t been to either city, I feel like Bologna would be this way too. Anyway, great article and you have sold me!

  8. My grandfather’s Italian family is from Naples. I’ve only darted through it on my way to Capri, but I almost feel embarassed saying my family is from Naples because everyone seems to badmouth it! Glad to see another side of the story–might need to do a bit of family searching and pizza taste testing someday 🙂

    1. My grandfather’s family was from Naples as well! Ashamed to say I’ve never been, hopefully I can correct that soon.

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