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The southern Italian city of Naples doesn’t enjoy the best reputation. Less wealthy and less visited than some of Italy’s other major cities, Naples has struggled in the past with crime, low unemployment, and urban blight.
And yet this historic city, with its views over volcanic Mount Vesuvius and the gorgeous Bay of Naples, is one of Italy’s most beautiful. And for those who are willing to look beyond Naples’ problems, this city offers a more authentic experience to anyone visiting Italy.
Naples offers excellent weather, incredible food, rich history, and a lively atmosphere like nowhere else. All of this may not be apparent the moment you step out of the Naples main train station, Napoli Centrale, since this is where you’ll also see some of the worst examples of poverty and squalor in the city. But just a short journey away, you’ll find attractions showing you why the city is so special and why it continues to be well worth a visit.
Drop off your bags at a luggage storage in Napoli Centrale and get ready to explore. You’ll soon find that beyond the obvious problems, this is easily one of the most beguiling cities in Europe.
Reachable within walking distance or via a very quick Metro ride, this coastal castle is well worth a visit while you’re in the area. The imposing 13th-century structure was built to mark the entry of the Angevin dynasty into the city, and it has been used over the centuries as a royal palace, a prison, and now as a museum.
The castle’s three massive towers and central crenelated keep are connected by grand arcades. While inside, you can explore exhibitions on Neapolitan art and history. If you’re visiting on a sunny day, make sure to also walk around the exterior for great views over the harbor.
Pio Monte della Misericordia
Just a few minutes on foot from Castel Nuovo is Pio Monte della Misericordia, one of Naples’ most beautiful churches. This 17th-century Baroque church is home to an incredible painting by Caravaggio, The Seven Acts of Mercy.
The painting, which hangs above the main altar, depicts various acts of Christian charity, including feeding the hungry and visiting the sick. It’s a powerful work of art and well worth seeing, even if you’re not particularly religious.
After admiring the painting, take some time to explore the rest of the church. The interior is luxurious and ornate, with an impressive marble nativity scene and several other works of art. There’s also a small museum on site that celebrates the work of other artists and contains exhibits relating to the creation of Caravaggio’s famous painting. The museum even contains some pay stubs addressed to the famous painter, making this a fascinating place to explore for lovers of art history.
San Gennaro Cathedral is one of Naples’ most important churches and a must-visit for anyone interested in the city’s religious history. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Januarius, the city’s patron saint, and contains his relics.
Every year on the 19th of September, there is a religious festival in honor of Saint Januarius, during which his blood is supposed to liquefy. This event attracts huge crowds, and like the Pio Monte della Misericordia, even if you’re not particularly religious, it’s worth seeing as it’s such an important part of Neapolitan culture.
The cathedral itself is an impressive sight, with a beautiful façade and elaborate interior. If you have time, make sure to also visit the underground chambers where Saint Januarius’ relics are kept.
Spaccanapoli is one of the most atmospheric parts of Naples and a great place to wander around if you want to get a feel for the city’s unique character. This cobbled street runs through the heart of the old city and is lined with traditional shops and cafes.
Make sure to stop in at some of the small churches along the way, including Santa Chiara with its beautiful majolica-tiled cloisters. And if you get hungry, there are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat or a coffee. Just remember that Spaccanapoli can be quite crowded during peak times, so try to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon if you want to avoid the worst of the crowds.
If you’re interested in Naples’ grisly history, visiting the Museo delle Torture is a must. This small museum, located in an old palace near Spaccanapoli, contains a collection of instruments of torture dating back to the Middle Ages.
The displays are gruesome but fascinating and provide a glimpse into a dark period of Naples’ past. There’s also a section on witchcraft, with exhibits on some of the city’s most famous witch trials.
Although the museum is small, it’s well worth spending an hour or so exploring. And if you need a break from all the gore, there’s a lovely café located in the courtyard where you can get something to eat or drink.
For a unique experience, head underground to explore the Napoli Sotterranea. This network of tunnels and caves has been used as everything from a burial ground to an air raid shelter, and today it’s open to the public as a museum.
As you walk through the dark tunnels, your guide will tell you all about the history of this fascinating place. You’ll also get to see some of the ancient Roman ruins that have been discovered here, including an incredible 2000-year-old fresco.
A visit to Napoli Sotterranea is a must for anyone interested in the history of Naples, and it’s a great way to escape the heat and crowds of the city streets. Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes, as there’s a lot of walking involved.
These are just a few of the many things to do near Napoli Centrale. Whether you’re interested in art and history or just want to explore the city’s unique character, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant part of Italy.
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