With its designer shops, café culture, ancient monuments and world-famous pizzas, Naples is an arresting destination for a weekend break. Sophie Lam explores the best bits of Italy's third-largest city

WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Naples will be consumed by religious frenzy next weekend when the Miracle of San Gennaro is celebrated on 19 September. This involves a vial of congealed blood (reputedly that of St Januarius, the patron saint of Naples) being paraded through the streets, before its contents miraculously liquefy in front of the assembled audience. Naples is also the spiritual home of the pizza, and simultaneously celebrates its most famous commodity during Pizzafest (00 39 081 725 8000; www.pizzafest.info), which ends on the same day. Members of the Verace Pizza Napoletana (the strict governing body of Neapolitan pizza-makers) will demonstrate their craft at the Mostra d'Oltremare, with live music accompaniment.

TOUCH DOWN

British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) and easyJet (0871 750 0100; www.easyjet.com) fly from Gatwick to Naples; easyJet also flies from Stansted. BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.co.uk) operates services from Heathrow while Alitalia (08705 448259; www.alitalia.co.uk) flies from Manchester via Milan Malpensa. Air France (0845 359 1000; www.airfrance.co.uk) flies from a number of UK airports via Paris.

Capodichino airport is 6km north-east of the city. The Alibus shuttle from the airport takes around 20 minutes to reach Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza Municipio; it leaves every 30 minutes between 6.30am-11.30pm, takes 20 minutes and costs €3 (£2.20). A taxi takes around 15 minutes and costs €30 (£21).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Naples, once the largest city in Europe, tumbles down a hillside towards the sea west of Mount Vesuvius. It covers a large hilly area divided into many districts. In the east are the Centro Storico (historic centre), Spaccanapoli, university and port of Beverello. Cutting through the centre are the Via Toledo and Sanita, and up in the hills west of Via Toledo are the Quartieri Spagnoli and the up-market residential area of Vomero. Royal Naples and Monte Echia sit near the seafront. The main tourist office is at 1 Piazza Plebiscito (00 39 081 252 5711; www.inaples.it). It opens Monday-Saturday 9am-1.30pm and 3pm-7pm, Sunday 9am-1.30pm.

CHECK IN

The grandest hotels are to be found along the seafront facing the Castel dell'Ovo. Perhaps the grandest is the Vesuvio at 45 Via Partenope (00 39 081 764 0044; www.vesuvio.it), which has the best views in the city. Doubles start at €400 (£286), with breakfast. Near the archaeological museum and Centro Storico is the Hotel Costantinopoli 104 at 104 Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli (00 39 081 557 1035; www.costantinopoli104.it), a small, stylish hotel in a Neo-classical house. Doubles start at €170 (£121) with breakfast. The Hotel Prati at 4 Via Cesare Rosaroll (00 39 081 268 898; www.hotelprati.it) is also convenient for the Centro Storico. Doubles start at €108 (£77) with breakfast.

TAKE A HIKE

Turn left out of the Duomo and walk down Via Duomo, then take the first right onto Via dei Tribunali. This is the decumanus maior of Greek Neapolis, along which are some of the city's oldest churches. On this frantic street you will find the church of the Girolamini (closed for restoration), San Lorenzo Maggiore, San Paolo Maggiore and the Baroque Santa Maria Maggiore (also closed for restoration). Bear left down Vico San Domenica Maggiore, which brings you to the 13th-century church and piazza of the same name. Via Benedetto Croce forms part of Spaccanapoli (the decumanus inferior), the heart of old Naples that is now full of delis, souvenir shops, bars and cafés.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

In the best pizzerias you often have to take a ticket to wait for your food. Members of the Verace Pizza Napoletana display a harlequin with a pizza outside their shops. Da Michele at 1 Via Cesare Sersale (00 39 081 553 9204) in the Centro Storico is one of the most popular and only serves margherita or marinara pizzas. Another excellent choice is the family-run Lombardi a Santa Chiara at 59 Via Benedetto Croce (00 39 081 552 0780), where a substantial Margherita will set you back just €4.90 (£3.50).

WINDOW SHOPPING

The Galleria Umberto is a late 19th-century cross-shaped arcade with plenty of up-market shops. Walking down Via San Gregorio Armeno in the Centro Storico, you could be forgiven for thinking that Christmas had come early, for the road is filled with shops selling elaborate nativity scenes. All the fashion designers you would expect to see in Italy's third-largest city can be found along the Via Calabritto, Via San Caterina and Via Chiaia. Most shops in Naples are closed between 1-4pm, and stay open until 8pm.

AN APERITIF

After cruising the shops, quench your thirst at Enoteca Belledonne at 18 Vico Belledonne a Chiaia (00 39 081 403 162). This cosy bar is a favourite among locals, so get there early for a glass of chilled Greco di Tufo. The place for people-watching is Gambrinus (17) at 1-2 Via Chiaia (00 39 081 417 582). This Neapolitan institution on the Piazza Trieste e Trento has outdoor tables where you can sip an €8 (£5.70) cocktail. It's open until 2am (3am on Saturday).

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Just off Piazza Carita is La Vecchia Cantina at 13-14 Via San Nicola alla Carita (00 39 081 552 0226), a small family-run trattoria that serves excellent seafood at unbeatable prices. Another hot table is Osteria da Tonino at 47 Via Santa Teresa a Chiaia (00 39 081 421 533). Run by a husband and wife, this lively restaurant serves an array of mouth-watering dishes such as cuttlefish stew.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Naples suffers no shortage of churches, from the bizarre armadillo-shaped Gesu Nuovo to centuries-old basilicas, many of which are currently closed for restoration. The city's cathedral, the Duomo (00 39 081 449 097; www.duomodinapoli.com) is in the Centro Storico. Its oldest part, the Basilica di Santa Restituta, dates back to the fourth century and features frescoes of Christ, Gothic arches and mosaics. Entry is €3 (£2.20). The cathedral proper was built at the end of the 13th century, with the 19th-century façade added after an earthquake. The relic of San Gennaro is kept here in a chapel filled with bronze and silver statues. The cathedral is open Monday-Saturday from 8am-noon and 4.30pm-7pm and Sundays from 8am-1.30pm and 5pm-7.30pm. Sunday services take place at 11am, 12.30pm and 6.30pm.

OUT TO BRUNCH

Pull up a seat at Luise a San Domenico at 5-8 Piazza San Domenico Maggiore (00 39 081 552 8740). This small café serves fresh pastries, sandwiches and focaccia, and is a great place to soak up the bustling atmosphere of the Centro Storico. Another Neapolitan speciality is sfogliatella, a sweet pastry filled with ricotta cheese. One of the best places in the city to try them is at Attanasio at 2-3 Vico Ferrovia (00 39 081 285 675) off Via Milano near Piazza Garibaldi.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Aside from the rather scruffy public gardens near the Castel Nuovo, the city's only park is the Villa Comunale, which faces the sea and is an oasis of calm in the midst of the frenetic city.

TAKE A RIDE

Take a funicular from the Central Station at Piazza Duca D'Aosta just off Via Toledo up to Piazza Fuga in Vomero. The journey takes around five minutes and rises 168 metres to this upmarket residential area, a stark contrast to the Quartieri Spagnoli below it. The area also affords spectacular views across the bay and on a clear day to the islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia. Tickets cost €1 (£0.70).

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Perhaps the most impressive of Naples' museums is the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, at 19 Piazza Museo (00 39 081 564 8941; www.archeona.arti.beniculturali.it). It holds thousands of Classical artefacts, many of which were recovered from Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and Magna Greacia. The museum is open 9am-7pm daily except Tuesdays; admission is €6.50 (£4.60). To see the original city, head underground to Napoli Sotterranea at 68 Piazza san Gaetano (00 39 081 296 944; www.napolisotterranea.org). The tour takes in around 2km of the city's 400km Greco-Roman aqueducts 40 metres below street level, including Second World War bunkers and a first century Greek theatre, which once held 6,000 spectators. Admission is €9.40 (£6.70) and tours are available in English at noon, 2pm and 4pm with additional tours at 10am and 6pm at weekends and at 9pm on Thursdays.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Many visitors to Naples opt for a visit to the Roman city of Pompeii, which was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. However, another archaeological site vying for tourists' attention is Herculaneum (00 39 081 857 5331; www.pompeiisites.org), the smaller but richer sister of Pompeii that lies just 20km east of Naples. Architecturally the site is better preserved than Pompeii, with much of the mosaics and frescoes intact, giving a better picture of life pre-eruption. The site is open 8.30am-6pm daily, admission €10 (£7).

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