Ask A Local: What Should I Do/See/Eat in Naples, Italy?

by Gigi Griffis

In my annual survey, I asked readers where they wanted to travel in 2014. One of the most common answers? Italy! Which is why today I’m diving back into my Ask a Local series with another popular Italian city: gritty, foodie heaven Naples.

Guiding us through his city today is Renato Bova, a soccer player, explorer, and born-and-raised native.

First tell us about you. How long have you lived in Naples? Where are you from originally? What kinds of things do you like to do with your free time?

I was born in Napoli, but I live in Acerra, a town just 10 kilometers from the city, which is really a suburb of Naples. The town where I grew up (Pulcinella) is famous for a mask that everybody believes came from Napoli. I have lived here for 35 years (my whole life).

I grew up playing soccer in the street (like 99% of the men here). In my free time, I prefer to walk with friends in the center of Napoli, especially near the old university (Spaccanapoli, Via Tribunali, and around), which is a really young area of the city.

I also love to discover new places in the city; I think that Napoli is unique in this aspect. At 35 years old, I continue to discover squares, bars, trattorias, churches, and buildings every year. My Napoli is rich in everything.

If someone is visiting Naples for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?

I recommend taking a walk among the people. Napoli is like an open theater, full of life (in a good and a bad way). In order to touch the “real” city, seek out the popular markets (the city is full of all kinds of them). The fish market near Porta Nolana is the best (and really loud).

For pizza, I send everybody to Michele restaurant; it’s great!

Then, of course, I recommend going to the aristocratic places too: Piazza Plebiscito, Posillipo (the best views are from this hill), and Santa Lucia next to the sea. There’s so much to see here, but, of course, it depends how much time you have. Personally, I think Napoli deserves a week or more.

What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?

I recommend the big hotels in Santa Lucia, just in front of the sea. They are very expensive, but the views are beautiful. In the old city center, I recommend staying on Via Tribunali, Spaccanapoli, or Via Toledo. Then you really could say to your friends “I was in Napoli,” because this is the heart of the city.

Make sure to avoid hotels near the central train station.

Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?

With the Vesuviana train, you can easily move from Pompei to the Herculaneum ruins, from Stabia to the Oplonti ruins, and from the Vesuvio crater to Sorrento. Many people visit these places in one day.

Another interesting option is Campi Flegrei, an old Greek volcanic area in the west.

If is your first visit, I suggest you visit at least one island—Capri, Ischia, or Procida—especially if there’s good weather.

Finally, a less well known and more off-the-beaten-track spot that I love is Reggia di Caserta, a huge royal Palace surrounded by a huge, Versailles-style park. (It is also an amazing place to play soccer.)

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Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here in Naples?

Mmm…Start with sfogliatella (very sweet with ricotta cheese), babà (another sweet, soft pastry with rhum), and pastiera (a cake made with grain cereal).

Pizza! (Do I even have to say this?) Many people abroad think that pizza is good all over Italy. This is not true! Pizza is actually just from Napoli (even in my town, just 10 kilometers away, pizza tastes different). So make sure to have a pizza here—and not just pizza, but also a fried pizza.

Also: pasta with beans and mussels, menesta maritata (vegetable and meat soup), zuppa di cozze (normally they serve you an enormous dish, so make sure to come hungry if you order this one), and spaghetti a vongole (clam spaghetti).

If you come during Easter, try casatiello (a cake full of cheese, salami, and black pepper). For Christmas, order struffoli (fried little bread balls with honey).

What are your personal top three favorite bars and restaurants in the area?

Restaurants: Michele, Zi’Teresa (under Castel Dell’Ovo), and Luise (located at Via Toledo 266 and good for little fried things).

Bars: Attanasio (best sfogliatella pastries near the station), Bar Mexico (for the coffee), and drink bars in Piazza Bellini (for a nice atmosphere with tables in the square).

Is there anything tourists do that Italians find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?

Strange: Old people with socks (normally white) and sandals, asking for a tea at lunch with a pizza, and the fact that foreigners don’t use the bidet.

Rude: It is very rude when people assume that southern Italians are mafia.

For me, it is also offensive when a tourist says that they came here just to visit Pompeii and I tell them they are missing out on such a unique city (Naples) and they tell me my city is too dangerous.

I also wish women didn’t think that all southern Italian men were the stereotypical machismo.

What is the best way to meet locals and make friends in Naples?

I think you have just to avoid stereotypes about mafia (camorra), garbage, or other bad things when you speak. Then it is very easy in every context to meet people—especially if you eat with them. (But don’t be surprised if every time they try to offer you the bill.)

Why should people make sure to visit Naples when they come to Italy?

Because Napoli is older than Roma. Because Napoli is a constant, stimulating contradiction of good and evil. Because Napoli is the home of 2,500 years of art and architecture. Because Napoli was one of the great capitols of Europe. Because you didn’t know that Napoli was so beautiful. Because just in one day you can learn something (Napoli is really a theater of humanity).

Where’s the best place to take photos in Naples?

From Parco Virgiliano in Posillipo there is an incredible view of the city. Moreover, there’s the contrast between the green of the park, the blue of the sea, and the red of Vesuvius.

I would also suggest the view from Castel Sant’Elmo and from Castel dell’Ovo (near the sea).

Anything else you want us to know about your town or the region?

If there’s a soccer match on Sunday, that’s a good excuse to see the famous “passionate soul” of the Neapolitan. The stadium is very big (70,000 people) and many times full. It’s also nice to see all the life around the stadium with its mix of supporters and merchants selling everything you can imagine.

Teatro San Carlo is the oldest opera theater in Europe and it’s just amazing.

Personally, I love Positano (Amalfi coast) by night and the “God’s Route” walking path along the mountains of Amalfi coast.

Every time I see a tourist, I hope he will meet some citizens, because it is really the best way to see the city, to drink, to eat, and to see the people from another perspective.

As tourists, sometimes we hear that Napoli is dangerous and has a lot of pickpockets. Is this true? What can we do to be safe and careful while in the city?

Yes, there’s a magic aura about our thieves! They are famous for their speed and cleverness.

To stay safe, avoid a few dangerous areas (I’d say, Sanità, Forcella, and Quartieri Spagnoli, but you can ask other locals for their opinions too), though I do walk in those areas at night myself. Pay attention when you are on buses or if you are on a deserted street and hear a motorcycle coming up behind you. If you can blend in a little, not seem like a typical tourist, that’s the best thing.

Any other questions for Renato?

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Rebecca January 23, 2014 - 10:48 am

Wow! Great information and I love hearing how to blend in better because Italy is on my bucket list.
I love that you asked how long a person should stay. That helps me to plan a better trip.

gigigriffis January 23, 2014 - 12:39 pm

Me too. Blending in is always one of my goals, so it’s been a real delight hearing people’s perspectives via these interviews.

Libby January 23, 2014 - 5:10 pm


When I come will you show me around? :D

renato bova January 24, 2014 - 3:47 am

Oh sure, we can go in Sanità, quartieri spagnoli, Forcella…….. ;)

are you so brave? let’s go !

renato bova February 10, 2014 - 10:13 am

rocky start?

Maya March 21, 2014 - 10:04 am

What about meeting sweet napolitan men in the train station…?
And what about the excellent Napoletan Rag. With/without ricotta??

Atish May 1, 2014 - 11:29 pm

Ciao:) Beautiful Blog and thanks for sharing so many information I’m planning to give my freind a surprise I wanted to take her to her favourite place in Napoli she showed me a photo of her favourite place I was able to find out its in Napoli but not able tof ind the addrress from the photo it resemble a view from hotel very beautiful sea view from balcony with red hanging flowers .Can you please help me out if you can give your email or facebook page then ithen I will send the photo to you .

gigigriffis May 2, 2014 - 2:23 am

Ciao! I am not sure I could help, but I would suggest contacting some people in Naples on People there love to help out and tend to know their city well.

renato May 20, 2014 - 6:43 am

oh yes,,,,,,,

Kara April 1, 2015 - 2:56 pm

Lovely blog post! The pictures are amazing. Reminds me of an awesome food tour I took in Naples. They were so friendly and took us around to all the authentic food spots. Divine!

Caroline Franklin July 9, 2015 - 6:19 am

My sister and I have been to Napoli 2 times and returning in September again. WE LOVE THIS CITY its people its food, everything about it. We stay for a week or two each time right in the center of the city .This is were the real life of Napoli is. As two older women we have never had one problem in this city day or night. Like everyone said its a big city and big city life , and just use your head and don’t walk around with gold and expensive camera. No different then being in New York city where I am from. I will also say that this city has so much to see, then any other places we have been in Italy, All of Campania is so beautiful. But Napoli holds our heart. We love Napoli and plan in the future to stay there a few months a year and travel from there.

Ron December 28, 2016 - 3:24 am

Thank you, Gigi ! Wonderful !

Bellenomade November 12, 2017 - 10:06 am

We will be in Napoli for 9 nights at the end of December. We would like to stay in 2 different areas. What do you recommend?

gigigriffis November 12, 2017 - 10:25 am

Perhaps the two neighborhoods he mentions above? The center and the beachfront?


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