So you’ve planned a longer itinerary for the south of Italy and only want to spend one day in Naples? While Naples is one of Italy’s largest cities, with an impressive history, you might just have enough time in one day to scratch the surface.
And I’m here to help you plan your itinerary so that you can make the best out of your time here.
Two cities in one, Naples is a mix of luxury and breathtaking natural beauty, with darker areas. Strolling on the narrow streets, watching the chipped walls, one might be transported to one of the most beautiful books set in Italy, “My Brilliant Friend“.
Let’s follow the two female characters, and discover their Naples, in this one-day itinerary.
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One day in Naples: an easy-to-follow itinerary
A short history and why to visit Naples
It is a bit dissonant that one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world is called Naples, the New City (from its Greek name, Neapolis). However, the site has been inhabited since the Stone Age, the first Greek settlement dating from circa 1000 B.C.
At some point in the 6th century B.C., the Greeks from the nearby settlement of Cumae decided to expand. Thus Neapolis was born.
After centuries of prosperity as one of the main cities of Magna Graecia, or Greater Greece as Southern Italy and Sicily were known at the time, Naples fell under the growing power of Rome, albeit it retained a degree of autonomy and Greek-style local government. Unfortunately, a couple of strategic blunders from the city’s leadership relegated the once-thriving Naples to a background role.
Naples sided with Marius against Sulla in the civil war of 82 B.C. Unfortunately for the city, Sulla won. The city fathers again sided with the losing side in 50 B.C. during the civil strife between Caesar and Pompey. As a result, Misenum replaced Naples as the main naval base of the Tyrrhenian Sea while Baia, the tourist and leisure hub of the region.
Later, during the days of Emperor Augustus, Naples was reborn as a center of Hellenistic culture. The Emperor inaugurated the Isolympic Games, the Italian equivalent of the Olympic games of Greece; held every five years, the games attracted contestants from all over the Mediterranean world.
Also, during the early Roman Empire, Naples’s status as a resort town was revived. The city was known at the time for its high quality of living, its endless feasts, and spectacles. And then disaster struck!
In 62 and 64 A.D., two major earthquakes destroyed parts of the city, while the infamous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. added to Naples’ vows.
Ironically, one of the first cities to fall to Rome’s growing power played a symbolic role in its demise. The last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was exiled in Napels after his deposal in 476 A.D.
Fast forward 700 years, Naples became the cultural capital of Frederick’s Holy Roman Empire with the founding of the first university in 1224. By 1266, Naples became the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily, later splitting from the island as the Kingdom of Naples.
Naples reached another peak during the Spanish Aragonese overlordship. By the 16th century, Naples grew to be the second-largest city in Europe after Constantinopole, with a population of 300.000. But, alas, the plague of 1656 killed half of the city’s population, ushering in a period of decline.
In 1860 Garibaldi arrived by train to Naples, leading to the city joining the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy.
Naples has a long tradition of songwriting; the famous Neapolitan songs include ‘O Sole Mio,’ ‘Santa Lucia,’ and ‘Torna a Surriento. ’But, unfortunately, the city also has a centuries-long tradition of organized crime; the Camora, the feuding Neapolitan mafia gangs, provoking many deaths up to recent times.
Today, Naples is one of the largest cities in Italy, third to Rome and Milan. Moreover, the local authorities invested in important renovation works and new infrastructure projects, boosting tourism and alleviating some of the city’s major economic issues. As a result, albeit still high, unemployment decreased dramatically. In 2005, Naples became the 91st richest city in terms of purchasing power, surpassing Budapest and Zurich.
Initially one of the major centers of Greek power and culture, Naples was, in turn, the party-resort of the Roman Empire, the capital of an important medieval kingdom, one of the largest cities of Europe, home of famous songwriters and infamous criminal gangs. Its current revival makes its rich architectural, cultural, and historic heritage accessible to tourists from all over the world.
Is one day in Naples enough?
If you plan your time accordingly, you can easily visit some of the most important tourist attractions in town, in only one day. However, it would be worth spending at least 2 days exploring the city, if you would like to see it all.
How to get to Naples
The easiest way to get to Naples is to fly in. The Naples International Airport is the closest airport to the Amalfi Coast, and many choose to arrive here when planning a longer itinerary that would include the riviera.
From the airport, it is easy to get to town by bus. You don’t have to book anything in advance since tickets are available on the bus.
If you are traveling from Rome to Naples, the easiest way to get there would be by train.
The high-speed train will take you from Rome to Naples in a little over one hour. Tickets for the fast trains are usually sold 3-4 months in advance, and the sooner you book your ticket, the more you could save on the price.
How to get around town
With the most important tourist attractions spread around town, and even up on the hill, you will find it difficult to walk around and get to see it all.
That’s why you will have to rely on the city’s public transportation system. It won’t be too difficult, since the city has a subway system, along with buses and a funicular line.
A ticket costs 1.5 EUR and it lasts for 90 minutes from the moment of its validation.
However, you can also buy a daily ticket, for only 4.5 EUR, valid until midnight on the say of validation.
When you choose to spend more than one day in the city and have many museums and tourists attractions on your bucket list, it might be worth looking into the Naples City Pass.
It is a 3-day city attraction and public transportation pass, that will help you save money on your trip. See more here!
When is the best time to visit?
I would strongly encourage you to skip visiting the city during summer and the peak season. Naples not only gets extremely crowded, but it is also very hot and humid.
Choose instead to visit during the shoulder season, in spring or autumn. That’s when temperatures are less intense, but also prices are more affordable.
You can also choose to visit during winter and take advantage of the less crowded streets. However, that would also mean you won’t be able to go on many of the day trips to the islands.
Where to stay in Naples?
If you choose to stay the night, you must carefully choose the place to stay, because certain areas in town could prove to be a bit intimidating for most.
While we stayed close to the train station and the city center, I would recommend staying in that area only if you are traveling on a budget.
Choose to stay in Spaccanapoli, the Historical Center, or Lungomare Caracciolo. There are all better areas in town, from where you can easily get to the train station, but also to most of the important attractions in town.
Is Naples dangerous for tourists?
I have visited the southern town with my mother and we chose to spend 4 days exploring every corner of the city. While sometimes we felt watched and men would also try to talk to us, we never felt unsafe.
If you choose to stick to the more touristic areas in town, book accommodation in one of the above-recommended regions and use common sense, you won’t have any issues.
Is Naples worth visiting?
While many might find the city dirty and not as charming as other Italian destinations, I would say that spending at least one day in town should be on your list.
A city with such a great history, a mix of cultures, Naples has so much to offer.
One day travel itinerary: what to do and what to see
Start your day in Piazza del Plebiscito
The Piazza del Plebiscito is one of the main squares of modern Naples. It is named after the 1860 referendum (a.k.a. plebiscite), at which the Neapolitans decided to join the newly-founded Kingdom of Italy.
Initially, Joachim Murat, the King of Naples and Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother-in-law, planned the square as a tribute to the Emperor. However, after Napoleon’s defeat, the Bourbons were restored to the throne of Two Sicilies.
King Ferdinand finalized the construction but converted the main building into the Church of San Francesco di Paola, the one visitors can see today. The Church’s hallmark is the double collonades reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome.
The other important building in the plaza is the Royal Palace. Initially the residence of the Spanish Viceroy, it housed the Bourbon rulers of the Kingdom of Naples and later the Kingdom of Two Sicilies.
Option: Go on a walking tour of Naples and explore with a guide.
Head to Castel Dell’Ovo and walk on the Lungomare
Castel dell Ovo, or the Egg Castle in English, is a seafront castle on the peninsula of Megaride. Initially an island, Megaride was the site of the first Greek settlement of Naples.
The Roman general and statesman Lucius Licinius Lucullus built a magnificent villa on the site in the 1st century B.C. In addition to his resounding military victories, the man had a taste for the finer things in life; he was famous for the lavish banquets he organized. Among other things, he is responsible for bringing the sweet cherry and the apricot to Rome. On one occasion, hearing that his master dined alone, his steward served a rather plain dish. His master reprimanded him by saying: “What, did not you know, then, that today Lucullus dines with Lucullus?” I can well imagine this dialogue in the seafront gardens of the general’s Neapolitan villa.
Five hundred years later, the place housed the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, after his deposal and The Fall of the Roman Empire.
During the 12th century, the Norman rulers erected a castle on the previous ruins, making it their seat of government in 1140.
The Castel dell Ovo lost its importance a hundred years later after King Charles moved his residence to Castel Nuovo. After Charles’ move, Castel dell Ovo served as a prison for different noble hostages. Its current 15th-century appearance dates from the period of Aragonese domination.
There is no entrance fee for visiting the castle, and the castle is open to the public every day of the week from 8 AM until sunset.
Take the Funicular to Castel Sant’Elmo
Built initially as a fortified residence by King Charles I of Anjou, Castle Sant’Elmo evolved into a full-fledged castle by 1336. Its name derives from a former 10th-century church dedicated to Saint Erasmo; in time, Erasmo was shortened to Ermo and eventually Elmo.
Despite successive restoration and rebuilding efforts, Castle Sant’Elmo retains its original, vulcanic tufa structure. With its dominating position towering above the city, Castle Sant’Elmo symbolized the rulers’ dominance over their subjects. It was the medieval way of reminding the Neapolitans that Big Brother was always watching.
How to get there from Castel dell Ovo
Walk through the Chiaia neighborhood, all the way to Piazza Amedeo, and take the subway to Montesanto, or all the way to Vanvitelli.
From Montesanto, hop on the funicular that will lead you to the castle, and get off at the Morghen stop.
The castle is closed on Tuesdays, opens at 8:30 AM and the last admission is at 7:30 PM.
Don’t miss the Chiostro di Santa Chiara
After visiting 2 castles, make your way to the city center and step inside the hidden Chiostro di Santa Chiara.
Dating from 1310, its most impressive feature is the interior garden, with mosaic benches.
Once every week, you can participate in a free guided tour, only by paying the entrance fee. You can find the exact schedule, in order to plan your visit, here.
The entrance fee is 6EUR, and the convent is open every day of the week, between 9:30 AM (or 10 on Sunday) and 5:30 PM (or 2:30 on Sunday).
Don’t forget about Castel Nuovo
Castel Novo is one of the key architectural landmarks of current-day Naples. As its name suggests, it was King Charles’ new castle once he decided to move out of Castel dell Ovo.
The castle is linked to a bloody episode of Naples’ history. The local aristocracy rebelled against the ruling Aragonese king in what is known today as the Conspiracy of the Barons. After several plots, counterplots, and assassinations, the final episode of the Conspiracy played out at Castel Novo in 1487; the scheming barons were apprehended and killed in one of the castle’s rooms called ‘The Room of the Barons’ in memory of the event.
The castle is open every day, except on Sundays, from 8:30 AM until 5 PM.
Eat an authentic pizza at Sorbillo
Naples is the home of pizza and you could not possibly visit without tasting the authentic Margherita at Sorbillo.
While many might be used to a certain type of pizza, the Neapolitan one is the real deal with its crispy crust and only a few ingredients.
Other things to do in Naples
The above itinerary will keep you busy for the whole day, and can even be split into 2 when you want to take more time exploring the old town and the streets of Spaccanapoli.
However, some of you might prefer to participate in organized tours and activities, thus, here are a few other things worth doing in Naples:
- See the underground catacombes in Naples and learn about the city’s history and the unseen places. Book your tour here!
- Learn how to make pizza from an Italian chef. Book the workshop here!
- Or go on a food tour with a local guide and taste everything that Naples has to offer gastronomically.
- Book a ho-on-hop-off bus and see the city and all its attractions in a short time.
Day trips worth taking from Naples
If you choose to stay longer in Naples, the city is perfectly located for you to go on several day trips and explore some of the prettiest areas of Italy.
See Pompeii and its heartbreaking ruins on a half-day trip from Naples. Book your tour here!
Head to Sorrento and hop on a boat to the colorful island of Procida.
Other Amalfi Coast useful travel resources
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Wondering where to stay in Positano? Choose your favorite accommodation from this guide.