Travel Tips

24 Hours in Naples

Sun 10 Mar 2024

24 Hours in Naples

Finding Joy in the Sights, Sounds, Colors, and Wonderful Chaos of a Unique City. 


Only one day in Naples or looking for the perfect day trip from Rome? Let me share my favorite walk through the city. Who am I? I'm Gracelyn an Italian-American transplant to Italy, living in Rome for 18 years. I'm also a licensed tour guide in Rome which has taught me to make the best of time, seeing the best of sites in cities I like to visit.  

Over the years I spent time in many gorgeous cities and towns from Tuscany to Sicily, but one of my absolute favorite cities in all of Italy is Naples. As a matter of fact, I can't let a year pass without at least one or two stays there. 

I would like to try and answer a frequent question I get from clients looking for advice about planning their trip to Amalfi and Pompeii. I typically ask if they will be visiting Naples, and they normally respond, “Should we?” Or sometimes they say, “We do have a free day. Can you visit Naples in a day?” My answer is always yes, you should, and yes, you can.  (Although if you do, I promise you will want to come back and stay again, but much, much longer!)


Where Rome is my home and also my heart, Naples is my soul. Maybe it's the energy in its streets or the noise of the banter between shopkeepers and locals. The lyrical sounds in the streets remind me of the background music to some Italian film you happen to be strolling through. If you really want to maximize your short time in Naples, hiring a guide will help elevate this fantastic city to new heights. After all, See Naples and die.


The Best Tours of Naples 



The scent of the city is also enticing. The smell of the pizza in wood-burning ovens and the sweet aromas of pastries linger in the air. The colors are somehow brighter, too. Narrow streets crisscrossed with blue and white flags of the Napoli football team decorate tiny allies with shops decorated with bright red horns and fanciful Pulcinella dolls. Closer along the walk by the bay, piles of bleached white stones line the borders of the deep blue water while Vesuvian looms across the bay looking like the backdrop to that film you've been walking through. You almost expect Sofia Loren to arrive selling fried pizza at a street food stand, just like she did in one of her first films, The Gold of Naples.     

If you have the time, Naples is a city worth exploring. From its museums to its opera house, its fantastic shopping streets to its waterfront, it is worth the stay. But if you are short on time or day-tripping  from Rome, below you will find a tiny taste of a truly grand feast.


The Cathedral and San Gennaro

When arriving at the main train station of Napoli Centrale , the Gothic Cathedral of the city is a short walk or taxi ride away. Although referred to as Duomo di Napoli or the Cathedral of San Gennaro, the actual name is the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary. It has a long history, going back to the 13th century when Charles I of Anjou commissioned it. It  was completed in 1314 in the reign of Robert of Anjou.


The Cathedral is a combination of Gothic, Neo-Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles and is the heart of one of the most important religious traditions of Naples. That is the liquefaction of the blood of the city's patron saint, San Gennaro (Saint Januarius).  The saint was born in the 3rd century and is believed to have died in 305 at the end of the persecution of Emperor Diocletian in Pozzuoli. Tradition has it that some blood of the saint was gathered into two vials by a fellow Christian named Eusebia. The first written record of the liquefaction of the blood of the saint dates to 1389. The faithful gather three times a year for the miracle. If liquefaction does not take place, it is considered bad luck. The chapel dedicated to the saint is one of the city's most beautiful baroque chapels with frescoes by artists including Domenichino and Giovanni Lanfranco.  

 It is also possible to visit the ancient church of Santa Restituta from the Cathedral. This 4th-century church is thought to have been built in the age of Constantine. The church is built over the remains of an even more ancient temple dedicated to the god Apollo. There is also an ancient baptistry with 4th-century mosaics, which can also be visited. 



The Decumanus

Continuing your walk from the Duomo, cross over the street, Via Tribunal, or the Decumanus (east-west route) of the ancient city of Neopolis. Originally part of Magna Graecia, Neopolis, or Naples, was a Greek city, but in 326 the city became part of the Roman Empire. A stroll on this route leads you through the historic center of the city. Today, it is filled with shops, restaurants, and pastry shops, and is always bustling with people.   


A Stroll Down San Gregorio Armeno and the Street of the Nativity

My favorite detour is the street of San Gregoria Armeno. Its name comes from the church located centrally on the small street dedicated to Saint Gregory the Armenian. The lovely baroque church dates to the 16th/17th century and holds the relics of the 4th-century Armenian bishop who converted Armenia from Zoroastrianism to Christianity. The Church is worth a quick visit when open. 


What makes the street so famous (and impassible in the Christmas season) is the numerous shops of artisans that line the tiny street selling their handmade nativity pieces. I collect one piece each year as the pieces are all individual, one-of-a-kind terra-cotta pieces, both painted and clothed. Whether Nativity Scenes are your thing or not, the shops are wonderful to browse and you'll also find an array of folk art pieces famous in Naples, like Pulcinella. You will find Pulcinella masks and figurines. The story of Pulcinella goes back to the Middle Ages, and by the 1500s, he was a featured figure in Neapolitan theater. Don't be surprised if you pass a “real” Pulcinella or two along the way, entertaining the crowd in the true Neapolitan dialect.   



Pizza, Pizza Everywhere!

Everywhere you pass through the center, there are great places to eat and places to taste what Naples is truly famous for. The invention of Pizza. You may think you know pizza, but if you haven't tried it in Naples, you haven't tried it! 

If you are looking for great pizza read our guide ' Where to Eat the Best Pizza in Naples'


A Stop for Coffee and Pastries in Piazza San Domenico

Turning right at the end of Via di San Gregorio you will shortly find your way to a lovely piazza taking its name from the massive church looming above a grand staircase. Piazza San Domenico. I never come to the square without doing two things. Taking time for a break and a taste of Naples' indescribable coffee and something sweet. 


Now for that something sweet. The historic Scaturchio is a must. This wonderful shop is worth a visit if not to try than to admire their famous rendition of a Baba in the form of Mount Vesuvius! The square is a great place to people watch so why not find a table and enjoy some of the best Baba in town! This typical pastry from Naples is a golden mushroom-looking pastry that is soaked in rum and light as a feather. Another of Naple's famous treats are the Sfogliatella. They are either simple round pastries filled with ricotta called “frolla” or the more typical shell-looking pastry, “riccia,” with crunchy, wonderful layers also filled with ricotta cream and the essence of citrus that makes these fragrant delights even more tempting.  They say which you prefer says something about your personality. I am a “curly” fan. I need to learn more about what that means about me!  

Ps. Chocolate lover alert! Try the chocolate medallions with the chocolate rum filling. If you don't have room, bring them home!


The Miracle of the Veiled Christ 


As someone who has the privilege of admiring Michelangelo's Pietà weekly, I count myself as lucky. Even after all these years I can still remember the first time I stood before her. I was 22 years old and filled with awe, emotion and amazement. Few pieces of art can do that to the viewer. 


In Naples, a lesser-known chapel has a sculpture that evokes similar emotion and awe. It is the Cristo Velato or Veiled Christ. A life-size Christ lies covered in a sheer shroud, and still, you see his face, muscles, veins, and even nail marks on his hands and feet. An incredible piece sculpted by Giuseppe Sanmartino in 1753. It is more than worth the visit. The chapel where it is located is equally interesting is the chapel where it is located. You can find out more by reading our article ' High Art and Dark Experiments: The Road to Enlightenment in the Sansevero Chapel.'  

The Church of Santa Chiara and Her Very Colorful Cloister

As you come back down to Piazza San Domenico, you continue on until you reach a jewel of a church and spectacular cloister, Sant Chiara. Although the church suffered greatly from bombing in WWII, it still retains its original design and has some original tombs such as the impressive tomb found on the main alter of King Robert of Anjou which dates from 1343.


A walk through the cloister is a must. This beautiful cloister and garden are famous for their colorful majolica tiles, which were added to the ancient cloister in the 18th century and surely were a beautiful site for the nuns to contemplate. The small museum is worth a stop in, as it includes an open area with ancient Greco-Roman ruins. It is small but impressive. 


Shopping Anyone? 


A short walk from Santa Chiara, you'll find yourself on Via Toledo. This long, straight, five hundred-year-old road is a great shopping street. Tourists have been passing through Via Toledo since the days of the Grand Tour! There are everything from small shops to more famous chains like Pandora and even Disney! It's a nice walk and diversion, and it leads you to one of the city's most impressive piazzas. 


Piazza Plebiscito - Royal Palace, Opera House and Caffé Gambrinus

The city of Naples has been part of so many cultures throughout its history, but nowhere can you see Naples's last memories as the royal capital of The Kingdom of Naples but here in Piazza Plebiscito. This grand and impressive square houses the Royal House of the Bourbons and right next door, their spectacular Opera House. Both sites are open to tour, and both are equally extravagant and beautiful. Naples was, in fact, the most important city in Europe for culture in the 18th century, even above Paris, and when visiting these elegant sites, you can clearly see why. 



When I am in Piazza Plebiscito, I never miss my chance for a tiny cup of liquid gold which is an espresso in Caffé Gambrinus. This Cafe first opened its doors in 1860. It has been a favorite for locals, artists, writers, politicians, actors, and even served breakfast to Pope Francis on a visit to Naples in 2015. The assortment of desserts is un-ending and the coffee is one of the best you'll drink in Italy. 


The cups are hot, and the espresso is small, but as they say, the best things come in small packages! While there, you can also do an act of kindness. It is called a “suspended cafe”. You pay for an extra coffee and if someone is passing who is maybe short of cash or down on their luck, they can request a prepaid coffee. In a recent visit touring friends from San Francisco, they loved the idea and immediately requested to pay it forward. Lo and behold, as we stood at the busy counter waiting for our order, I pointed out an elderly gentleman who entered. He didn't visit the line to pay but waited patiently until the barista nodded and gave him his espresso and small glass of water (always with gas in Naples!). They were thrilled to have seen their kindness in action.  


A Walk by the Bay

If you still have a bit of energy left, don't give up because true beauty awaits. Not ten minutes from the Piazza, you arrive at the promenade by the Bay of Naples. It's a beautiful walk by the edge of the looking towards Mount Vesuvius. The street facing the water is filled with elegant hotels and restaurants. For me I prefer to walk out towards the ancient castle, Castel dell'Ovo, and climb down the stairs to the bars down by the colorfully painted fishing boats. This is the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset while drinking a spritz and watching the sky change over the sea and the volcano. If you're like me, although your day is complete and soon it will be time to go, you'll probably be planning your next visit to the soulful city called Naples.  


More Great Articles on Naples


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