24 Hours In: Naples

It might be one of the great culinary capitals, but there's so much going on that it's also an ideal place to walk off your excesses

1 A window on the local world

08.30: Throw back the curtains and survey the scene from the window of your room at The Excelsior, Via Partenope 48 (00 39 081 764 0111; excelsior.it). This is the grandest of Neopolitan hotels, commanding spectacular views of the bay of Naples with the dark smoking cone of Mount Vesuvius. It also overlooks the 13th-century Castel dell'Ovo. Doubles start at €340 (£230) with breakfast.

2 Sit and watch life unfold

09.30: Wander down to the corner of the busy Piazza Trieste e Trento on the corner of the imposing Piazza Plebiscito and pull up a chair on the terrace outside Gambrinus (00 39 081 417582; caffegambrinus.com), a mirrored and gilded café in the grandest tradition. Order a caffe con panna and watch the drama of local life unfold.

3 Taking to the streets

10.30: For a true slice of Naples street life, meander down the Via Toledo and submerge yourself into the tightly packed and vertiginous streets of the Quartieri Spagnoli, which slope up the hill to Vomero. This is the Naples of the black-and-white postcard - crumbling buildings criss-crossed by hanging washing. In the mornings, the streets are alive with stalls selling everything from fish and lemons to clothes and soap. Make sure you dodge the buzzing mopeds.

4 What's on the lunch menu?

13.00: It's time for lunch. You are in for a treat because chances are you will never taste pizza as good as in the city where it was invented. At Da Michele, Via Sersale 1 (00 39 081 5539204), one of the city's most popular pizzerias, there are only two varieties on offer: margherita (tomato and mozzarella) and marinara (garlic and tomato). Sit at one of the tables and wait for the pizzaiola to work his magic. Another favourite is the buzzing Di Matteo, Via dei Tribunali 94 (00 39 081 455262), where you feel the searing heat of the pizza oven on the way in.

5 Stop off to see the saints

14.30: Walk off lunch along the narrow Via Tribunali, the main artery of the centro storico, home to an amazing array of churches, including the Santa Maria Maggiore, with its Baroque façade and medieval interior, which stands on a 2,000-year-old archaeological site. The beautiful majolica cloister of the Chiesa di Santa Chiara (00 39 081 797 1256) on Via Benedetto Croce should also be a stop on your ecclesiastical tour.

6 Dig deep into the past

16.00: No trip to Naples is complete without visiting The Museo Nazionale Archeologico, Piazza Museo (00 39 081 440 166). This grand edifice is one of the largest archaeological museums in the world. Its grand rooms are home to the Farnese Collection and many treasures uncovered in nearby Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum.

7 A walk with the natives

19.00: Join the locals for a campari e soda at La Caffettiera, Piazza dei Martiri 25-26 (00 39 081 764 4243), in the upmarket district of Chiaia. Then join in the ritual of promenading and window shopping in the ritzy boutiques that line the surrounding streets.

8 Dine out at an institution

20.30: It's time for dinner. You've reserved a table at the bustling Ristorante Pizzeria L'Europeo at Via Marchese Campodisola 4 (00 39 081 5521323), a Neopolitan institution, that starts filling up around now. Enjoy the no-nonsense food and get a good steer on the wine list from the affable proprietor.

9 View from the waterfront

23.00: After dinner take a stroll along the Parthenopean waterfront, which will be alive with people doing the same as you. Sample a slice of ice-cold tripe doused in tangy lemon juice from one of the stallholders, and gaze out at the twinkling lights of the bay towards the islands of Ischia and Procida in the distance.

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