48 hours in Naples

Pizzas, palazzos and Pompeii are on offer to visitors to this vibrant city. Avoid the summer rush: now is the ideal time to visit the place where modern high-rise meets ancient grandeur.




Why go now?

Naples is a hectic, intoxicating and often overlooked city, best visited before the tourists making their way to the Sorrentine Peninsula and islands of the gulf descend for summer and clog up the transport system. The site of the first Greek settlement in Italy, its history can be explored by wandering through its crumbling alleyways and looking up at the spectacular architecture. For further information, visit www.enit.it.

Beam down

Go (0870 6076543, www.go-fly.com) flies to Naples every day from Stansted, from £78 return. British Airways (0845 77 333 77, www.ba.com) flies from Gatwick with fares from £153.80. Alitalia (0870 5448 259, www.alitalia.co.uk) flies from Heathrow, but you have to change planes at Milan or Rome; fares start at £170. Capodichino airport is located five miles from the centre of the city. Taxis should cost about ¤25 (£15), but be on your guard, as Neapolitan taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging ­ meters are often running before you even get into the car. There are also three bus services from the airport to the centre of the city. The Nos 14 and 15, operated by ANM (00 39 081 558 6234, www.anm.it), serve Piazza Garibaldi and a blue bus operated by CLP (00 30 081 531 1706) departs every 40 minutes to Piazza Municipio. Single fares cost around ¤1.55 (£1).

Get your bearings

As the old saying goes, "See Naples and die". Naples occupies one of the most breathtaking locations of any city in the world, with its much- celebrated bay, sprinkled with the beautiful islands of Procida, Ischia and Capri; presided over by Mount Vesuvius. The gracious buildings of the Parthenopean waterfront give way to a jumble of high-rise apartment blocks clinging to the surrounding hills. The 13th-century fortress of Castel dell'Ovo, said to be balanced on a egg put there by Virgil, is an imposing landmark interrupting the arc of the bay, which separates the older southern part of the city from the newer. When choosing somewhere to stay, avoid the seedy area around Piazza Garibaldi in favour of the Santa Lucia, Chiaia and Mergellina districts near the waterfront. There is a tourist office in the central railway station (00 39 081 268 779) at Piazza Garibaldi, open 9am-7pm Monday to Saturday, Sunday 9am-2pm; and another in the Piazza del Gesu Nuovo (00 39 081 552 3328). Open Monday-Saturday 9am-8pm, Sunday 9am-2pm.

Check in

The Excelsior , Via Partenope 48 (00 39 081 764 0111, www.excelsior.it) is the grandest of all the Neapolitan hotels, commanding spectacular views of the bay and overlooking the Castel dell'Ovo. Doubles cost from ¤300 (£184). Pinto Storey, Via G Martucci 72 (00 39 081 681 260, www.pintostorey.it) is a pretty, Art Deco-style hotel located in the heart of the city in the Chiaia district. Doubles cost from ¤120 (£75). Some rooms at the La Fontane al Mare , Via N Tommaseo 14, Chiaia (00 39 081 764 3811), situated near the waterfront in Santa Lucia, have views out to sea. Doubles cost from ¤87 (£53).

Take a ride

Hop on a boat trip from the Molo Beverello to Capri, Ischia or Procida. The journey affords spectacular views of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, and in springthe island flowers are in bloom. Catch a regular hydrofoil service, faster than the traghetto services, operated to all three islands by Caremar (00 39 081 551 3852, www.caremar.it). Fares start at around ¤6 (£3.50).

Take a hike

For a real taste of Neapolitan life, wander west of Via Toledo , where you will find a maze of tiny streets sloping up the hill and festooned with washing lines, known as the Quartieri Spagnoli. Watch out for mopeds careering round the narrow streets, home to market stalls selling anything from lemons to washing-up products. Continue down the Via Toledo until you reach Via Benedetto Croce. Also known as the Spaccanapoli ("split Naples"), it was an important street in Roman times, and is still the heart of the old city. It is lined with grocers, small shops, and workshops. Narrow sidestreets lead to crowded tenements.

Lunch on the run

Naples is the home of the pizza. I Rei di Napoli , Via Partenope 29-30 (00 39 081 764 7775), overlooks the waterfront and serves huge, thin-crusted pizzas with a wide variety of toppings. Pizzas cost around £4.25. You could also pay a visit to Brandi, Salita Sant'Anna di Palazzo 1 (00 39 081 416 928), where, reputedly the Margherita pizza was invented.

Window shopping

Galleria Umberto, Piazza Trieste e Trento (00 39 081 580 8111) is a spectacular arcade of glass and steel, dating from 1890. Upmarket shops such as Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo and Armani proliferate around the Piazza dei Martiri.There's also Tramontano (00 39 081 668 572) selling chic leather handbags and briefcases hand-crafted in its workshop. Visit Gay Odin, Via Vittoria Colonna 15B, Chiaia (00 39 081 418 282), one of a chain of tiny Neapolitan chocolate shops, and buy a box of handmade truffles or croccanti gusci farciti. Boxes are adorned with old photographs of Mount Vesuvius and tied with blue ribbon.

An aperitif

Like the Neapolitans, head to La Caffetiriera, Piazza dei Martiri 25-26 (00 39 081 764 4243), a wood-panelled café and bar for a pre-dinner aperitif. Or have a sophisticated drink in the elegant surroundings of the marble- and wood-clad bar of the Excelsior, overlooking the bay. For people-watching, venture down the quaint, cobbled streets of the marina and sit outside one of the many popular restaurants and bars.

Dining with the locals

La Cantinella, Via Cuma, 42 (00 39 081 764 8684, www.lacantinella.it), is so called due to the size of its wine list. It's reputed to be one of the best restaurants in Naples, and the prices reflect this. Try one of the house specialities, linguine alla Santa Lucia. A meal should cost around ¤70 (£45). Osteria da Tonino, Via Santa Teresa a Chiaia 47 (00 39 081 421 533), is a charming, typically Neapolitan osteria with gingham table cloths and simple, delicious food. The walls are lined with wines for sale ­ you choose, they pluck it off the shelf and open it. Donna Margherita, Vico II Alabardieri 4-6 (00 39 081 400 129) is another bustling restaurant serving pasta and pizzas.

Sunday morning: go to church

Il Duomo (16), Via Duomo 147 (00 39 081 449 097), or Naples cathedral, is a Gothic building dating from the 13th century with a neo-Gothic façade. The first chapel in the cathedral contains two phials of the blood of San Gennaro, the city's patron saint. Three times a year the blood liquefies in the hands of the Bishop, renewing the miracle of San Gennaro. Local well-heeled parishioners attend mass at the church of Santa Teresa a Chiaia, Via Colonna, a pretty three-storey church approached from the street by a double-flight of steep, stucco-adorned staircases.

A walk in the park

The Villa Comunale is the only park in central Naples. However, respite from the chaotic traffic encircling it along the Via Caracciolo comes every Sunday, when the waterfront from Mergellina to Piazza Vittoria becomes a pedestrianised haven, packed with families strolling in the sun. Along the seafront you can watch fishermen weighing out and selling still-breathing octopus and varieties of fish, all freshly caught that morning, to housewives out for a walk.

Bracing brunch

Gambrinus, Piazza Trieste e Trento (00 39 081 417582), is a mirrored and gilded café on the corner of Piazza Plebiscito, dating from the 1890s. Be sure to have a caffè con panna, ¤2.58 (£1.60). Brunch is served 11.30am-3pm every Sunday. La Bersagliera , Borgo Marinari (00 39 81 764 6016) first opened its doors in the Twenties in the marina, and it is a popular location for Sunday lunch. Sit outside under the canopy, and start your meal with a glass of prosecco and sample some cicinietti (tiny deep-fried fish) and gnocchi cooked in the classic Sorrentine style, for around ¤30 (£18) a head.

Cultural afternoon

The Museo Nazionale Archeologico, Piazza Museo (00 39 081 440 166), is one of the largest archaeological museums in the world. It is home to the Farenese collection and many treasures such as mosaics and objects uncovered in Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum. Admission ¤6.50 (£4). Open 9am-7pm. The neo-classical Palazzo Reale, Piazza de Plebiscito (00 39 081 252 5711), was once home to the various dynasties that governed Naples such as Spanish viceroys and Bourbon monarchs. Tour the royal apartments reached by a magnificent staircase or visit the hanging gardens and the Biblioteca Nazionale, also housed in the same building. Admission ¤6.40 (£3.90). Open 9am-8pm, closed Weds. The Museo di Capodimonte (00 39 081 749 9111) situated high above on a hill in the palazzo of the same name, is surrounded by serene parkland and contains a vast collection of art by masters such as Raphael, Titian, El Greco, Massaccio, Michelangelo and Rembrandt. Admission ¤7.50 (£4.50). Open Tues-Sun, 8.30am-7.30pm.

The icing on the cake

No trip to Naples would be complete without a visit to the ruins of Pompeii (24) (00 39 081 857 5347, www.pompeiisites.org), the almost perfectly preserved Roman town snuffed out in AD79 by an eruption of Vesuvius. Open 8.30am-7.30pm daily. Admission ¤8.50 (£5). The extensive ruins are a 20-minute ride from the centre of Naples and can be reached on the frequent Circumvesuviana railway line (00 39 081 772 2611, www.vesuviana.it). Return fares cost ¤3.36 (£2).

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