The best neighborhoods in Naples – Lonely Planet
Few cities need advanced information like sun-scorched Naples. With contradictions – and guts – in spades, this explosive southern Italian citta do not joke.
Neighborhoods vary wildly in history, vibe, and noise levels, and it’s worth planning your stay in advance. Fall into the ‘wrong’ neighborhood and you just might find yourself gazing at the macabre work of the 5th century schiattamorti (“crushers of corpses”) in place of a masterpiece by Caravaggio, or the famous sublime view of the sea that unfolds from the hoods of the greener hills of Naples.
Italy’s third-largest city is compact enough to explore in a few days, with a 1920s-era metro, buses and funiculars providing easy access to less central neighborhoods. A wide variety of sights and activities are packed into each neighborhood, loading them all with individual appeal and allowing you to create your own Neapolitan experience – ethereal, elegant or daring.
Great for sightseeing, drinking and street living
the historical Center (historic center) is the noisy and throbbing heart of Naples that gives the city its notorious punch. Upon arrival, expect to be zoomed through a theatrical time warp of crowded plazas, frescoed cloisters and subterranean streets along which Roman chariots once thundered.
It was the playground of the ancient Greeks, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site is full of churches and historical monuments anchored in Naples’ neo-Gothic duomo. That said, sightseeing in this hodgepodge of dark, narrow lanes is as much about soaking up the local street vibe as it is swooning over a Caravaggio masterpiece or the finest sculpture marble from Italy.
Night owls will have a blast in the maze of wine bars, historic cafes and hip spots after dark. Accommodation covers all styles and budgets, from cheap boltholes to designer palaces. Pack earplugs if you need complete silence to sleep.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive deals straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.
Ideal for a cinematic shot of Naples
The Spanish Quarter is the stuff of Naples movies: old-fashioned pizzerias, laundry drying, renegade Vespas rolling down dodgy alleys and devout locals queuing to be blessed in the jeweled chapel under the holy sanctuary of Saint Maria Francesca.
The grid of busy, rough residential streets was built under the Spanish viceroy Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga for his troops in the 16th century. This is one of the densest and least sumptuous neighborhoods in the city. Dive in to discover alternative street art, authentic trattoria restaurants, and a handful of artsy guesthouses and hotels. The blocks further from Via Toledo can look dodgy – avoid. For the full cinematic experience, lean and dive between the Quartieri Spagnoli and chichi boutiques and aristocratic palaces of Via Toledo, the opulent Teatro San Carlo and the rose-hued Palazzo Reale on its eastern and southern fringes. Artists and intellectuals rubbed shoulders under glass chandeliers at Caffè Gambrinus during the glamorous Belle Époque. Do the same.
Ideal for cooler air and elevated views
A trio of funiculars climb up this distinguished hillside neighborhood, stitched with leafy avenues, flower-strewn Liberty villas, and jaw-dropping views. The large blue bay and city panorama – not to mention the tranquil gardens and cloisters of Certosa e Museo di San Martino crowning the hill – make it an easily accessible retreat from the seething sprawl and full-throttle intensity of the downtown.
At dusk, affluent locals turn to the stylish cafes and gelateria (ice cream parlors) in the central square Piazza Vanvitelli. The surrounding streets are full of cute boutiques (look for books on Via Giordano), cafes and a few boutique hotels, languishing in a gracious Liberty villa with colorful ceramic steps and painted wooden shutters.
Ideal for the seaside experience
Just south of the Quartieri Spagnoli, the Santa Lucia waterfront offers grand turn-of-the-century hotels, restaurant terraces with enchanting views of floating boats, and respectable Neapolitan families strolling along the Lungomare on weekends.
Seafood-laden menus hark back to the neighborhood’s past as a 19th-century fishing village. Epicureans gravitate to Officina del Mare, nestled but in the best of drawers, on the small tourist islet of Borgo Marinaro, for steaming plates of scialatiello hello scoglio sprinkled with fresh clams, mussels, prawns and other shellfish. Dreamily gazing at Mount Vesuvius, Capri, and the sprawling mass of Naples from atop the towering Castel dell’Ovo – the crowning glory of touristy Borgo Marinaro – is a Naples must-see.
Ideal for shopping, drinking and eating
The Chiaia trend extends west from Santa Lucia. Filled with high-end boutiques, trendy boutiques, independent design studios, art galleries and bookstores, it’s where hip Neapolitans come for retail therapy. Twice a month, local farmers and small producers flock to the leafy Villa Comunale de Chiaia to sell salumi (deli), formaggi (cheeses) and other artisan products at the outdoor Mercato di Campagna Amica.
Trendy restaurants, cafes and bars fill the side streets here. Chiaia is the cosmopolitan heart of essential Naples aperitif: Popular bar streets include Via Bisignano (don’t miss Cantine Sociali), Via Alabardieri and Via Ferrigni. Nearby, craft cocktails are shaken up at a speakeasy garden bar in Barril.
Culture buffs will find their dose at the Museo Pignatelli, in a sumptuous Rothschild villa. Otherwise, Chiaia is a bit of a hike to the centro storico – hop on the metro. The hotels are as sophisticated and upscale as the neighborhood.
Ideal for Neapolitan grit and underground exploration
North of the historic center of Naples is the city’s rapidly changing underdog. Grave, bold and scary around the edges, this is a once notorious neighborhood where many Neapolitans wouldn’t even have set foot a decade ago. Until the 18th century La Sanità stood outside the city walls and for centuries it was the place where Naples buried its dead.
Today, its raw energy, bohemian spirit and gradual gentrification (amazing Baroque staircases are slowly being embellished!) attract visitors eager to get off the beaten tourist track into Naples’ infamous underground world. Guided tours of the frescoed ancient catacombs of San Gennaro and San Gaudioso are a highlight of the city, as is a macabre stroll around the Cimitero delle Fontanelle, an otherworldly mass grave where plague victims were buried in the 17th century. Rogue artist studios, markets, and street art with attitude are other must-see attractions.
Drinks, restaurants and accommodations at La Sanità are slim but very attractive: think bed and breakfasts run by jewel artists and faithfully traditional pizzerias offering Neapolitan margaritas, new generation pizza dough rolls and pizzas. frit (fried pizza), all made from carefully selected artisan ingredients.