Naples

Relish the unseasonably balmy atmosphere of this romantic southern-Italian city, then gorge yourself on its palazzos, piazzas and pizzas, says Aoife O'Riordain
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The Independent Travel

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Why go now?

Late autumn is a wonderful time of the year to visit this chaotic but charming southern-Italian city, dotted with majestic palaces and beautiful churches. Daytime temperatures are balmy, and there are plenty of cultural events to enjoy, including an exhibition of the work of the sculptor Louise Bourgeois, which runs until 25 January 2009 at the Museo di Capodimonte (1).

Touch down

Naples' Capodichino airport is served by British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com ) from Gatwick; and easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com) from Stansted. The airport is a handy 9km hop north-east of the city centre, but traffic jams can make it feel further. The Alibus airport shuttle leaves from outside the arrivals hall every 20 minutes and takes a nominal 20 minutes; buy a ticket (€3/£2.50) at the news-stand in the arrivals hall, or from the driver. Alternatively, invest €13 (£11) in a three-day Artecard (campaniaartecard.it), which includes unlimited local public transport and admission to two sights and half-price admission to others. The card is also sold at hotels and book and souvenir shops throughout Naples.

The bus stops at Piazza Garibaldi (2), opposite the railway station en route to Piazza del Municipio (3). A taxi costs a fixed rate of €12.50 (£10.40) to Piazza Garibaldi (2), or €19 (£16) to the waterfront area near the Castel dell'Ovo (4).

Get your bearings

Naples occupies one of the most spectacular geographical locations of any European city – huddled to the west of the ominous crater of Mount Vesuvius and curling around the arc of the glittering Bay of Naples. "Faded grandeur" suits its historic centre – a Unesco World Heritage Site – perfectly. It is edged to the west by Naples' principal commercial street, via Toledo; running north is the wide and elegant Piazza del Plebiscito (5). South-east is the busy port area, while due south is the city's 12th-century fortress, the Castel dell'Ovo (4). Westwards, you find the smart Chiaia quarter, with quieter, tree-lined Vomero above it.

The tourist office (6) at Piazza del Gesu Nuovo (00 39 081 551 2701; inaples.it) is one of several; another is at via San Carlo 9 (00 39 081 402394), opposite the Palazzo Reale (7). Both are open 9.30am-1.30pm and 2.30pm-6.30pm daily (except Sunday afternoons).

Check in

Occupying a lofty position in the genteel neighbourhood of Vomero, the Grand Hotel Parker's (8) at corso Vittorio Emanuele 135 (00 39 081 761 2474; grandhotelparkers.it), is the city's oldest luxury hotel. Another bonus is the spectacular view over the Bay of Naples and beyond. Doubles start at €200 (£167), including breakfast.

Costantinopoli 104 (9) is at via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli 104 (00 39 081 557 1035; costantinopoli 104.com), in the heart of the heart of the historic centre. This boutique favourite has 19 rooms, as well as a pretty garden and small pool. Doubles start at €220 (£183), including breakfast.

Set on the third floor of an 18th-century palazzo in the bustling Chiaia, Chiaja Hotel de Charme (10) at via Chiaia 216 (00 39 081 415 555; hotelchiaia.it ) is a welcoming family-run hotel; characterful rooms dotted with antiques start at €100 (£83) for a double with breakfast.

Take a hike

Start where Naples began, on the waterfront outside the imposing Castel dell'Ovo (4). The fortress dates from the 12th century, and lies where Anatolian and Achaean sailors established the first settlement, Parthenope, in 9BC. Follow the Via Sauro as it skirts the busy waterfront along via Ammiraglio, passing the Molo Beverello (11) ferry terminal to your right and the Castel Nuovo (12) to your left. This commanding fortress was constructed in 1279 under the orders of Charles I of Anjou.

Continue down via Colombo until you reach via di Porta Massa, and turn left, continuing along via Mezzocannone until you arrive at the piazza San Domenico Maggiore (13). Its church is on the via San Biago dei Librai, one of the three roads, or decumans, of the original fifth-century Greco-Roman settlement of Neapolis, from which the modern city takes its name. The street, which changes name several times, is also known as the Spaccanapoli (literally "split Naples"), so called because it used to split the ancient city in two. Stop for a peek inside the church, with its layers of medieval and Renaissance architecture, a polygonal apse and the Gothic portal of Sant'Angelo a Morfisa. Continue east, peering into the dusty windows of shops selling antiques, books and Naples' celebrated nativity figurines.

Bear left at via Duomo, turning left again into via dei Tribunali. Amble along this equally fascinating thoroughfare, studded with churches in varying states of decrepitude. Beneath the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore (14), at no 316 (00 39 081 211 0860; sanlorenzo maggiorenapoli.it), Greco-Roman roads have been excavated, and you can explore the subterranean cobbled roads, passing the remains of a bakery, a winery and more (excavations open 9am-5.30pm daily; Sundays 9.30am to 1.30pm). Admission €5 (£4).

Finish at the Port'Alba (15), the ancient gateway to the old town of Naples.

Lunch on the run

Nip inside Da Michele (16) (00 39 081 553 9204), via Sersale 1-3, for a ticket, then join the queue snaking outside until your number is called. There are only two types of pizza on offer: margherita (order double mozzarella) or marinara without cheese (€4/£3.30). Sit and enjoy at one of the shared white-marble tables inside.

Cultural afternoon

If you visit only one museum, let it be the sprawling Museo Archeologico Nazionale (17) at Piazza Museo (00 39 081 440166; napolibeniculturali.

it). One of Europe's greatest museums, it first opened its doors in 1777 to house the vast Farnese collection inherited by King Ferdinando I. Nowadays, it is best known as home to the mosaics and artefacts recovered from nearby Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. Open 9am-7.30pm daily except Tuesdays, €6.50 (£5.40).

Window shopping

Admire the glass-roofed splendour of the Galleria Umberto (18) arcade, which dates from 1887. Then head down via Chiaia and along to Piazza dei Martiri (19), where you will find handmade bags at Tramontano (Via Chiaia 143; 00 39 081 414 837; tramontano.it ). Gucci, Prada and Frette fill the surroundings streets. For artisan chocolates, pop into one of the branches of the delightfully old-fashioned Gay-Odin (20) at via Via Colonna 15b.

An aperitif

The terrace of La Caffettiera (00 39 081 764 4243) on the Piazza dei Martiri (19) is ideal: sip a drink watching fur-clad Neapolitans gossiping.

Dining with the locals

A friendly atmosphere prevails at L'Europeo di Mattozzi (21) at via Marchese Campodisola 4 (00 39 081 552 1323). Any day but Sunday, this is the place to come for classic Neapolitan cooking with the emphasis on fish – try the fritto misto; menus around €35 (£29).

Sunday morning – go to church

San Gennaro is the city's much-loved patron saint; on his feast day of 19 September, his dried blood is reputed to liquefy. His relics can been seen in a chapel adjoining the city's hulking cathedral (22), where mass is celebrated on Sundays at 9am, 11am and 12.30pm. It opens to tourists 8.30am-1.30pm and 5-7.30pm on Sundays (other days 8am-12.30pm and 4.30-7pm), free.

Out to brunch

Caffe Gambrinus (23) at via Chiaia 1 (00 39 081 41 7582; caffegambrinus.com) is the place to linger over a cappuccino and a pastry. In existence since 1890, its wood- panelled and chandelier- draped salons have been the backdrop to Neapolitan café-society for decades. Open 7am-1am on Sundays.

Take a ride

It may seem like an unlikely gallery, but Naples' ever-expanding metro system now has two dedicated "art lines" whose stations are adorned with over 180 works by contemporary Italian artists. Hop on lines 1 or 6 and enjoy the subterranean show. One-way tickets cost €1 (80p).

A walk in the park

Leave metro line 1 at Piazza Museo, and catch bus 178 to the stately Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte (1) at via Miano (00 39 081 749 9111; museo-capodimonte.it). Set on a hill with magnificent views, it was originally home to the Bourbon King Charles III. It now houses the Farnese collection, encompassing works by Mantegna and Botticelli, as well as other temporary exhibitions; open daily from 8.30am to 7.30pm, admission €7.50 (£6), including the Louise Bourgeois exhibition.

Even if you don't visit the galleries, its leafy, exotic surrounds, laid out in the mid-18th century, are well worth a ramble. Open daily, 8am to an hour before sunset, admission free.

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