Nestled on the Bay of Naples and a popular stopping off point for Mediterranean cruises, Naples is one of the jewels in Italy’s crown. Its historic center is an officially designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and the entire city is a goldmine of significant art and architecture dating back to the 2nd millennium.
From the still-active Mount Vesuvius volcano to the nearby archaeological site of Pompeii, where fossilized human remains can still be observed, there is a well-trodden tourist trail in and around Naples that could keep your itinerary filled for weeks. But for those seeking a more off-the-beaten-track introduction to this fascinating city, below is our pick of the best and most unique things to see and do.
Plan Your Trip
There are a wide number of hotels dotted across Naples, from budget to luxury. Many of these can be found near the airport. If you’re in need of taxi service, you can find plenty of cheap and great taxi from the Naples airport.
The main train station is a popular spot for other more affordable options. For something more upscale, the city’s historic center and the Lungomare/Bayfront areas are both worth checking out.
#1: Il Metro dell’Art
Naples’ metro system is nothing out of the ordinary – until, that is, you venture into a particular phalanx of stations that have been transformed into a vibrant arts project. Several years ago, with the construction and expansion of several of the city’s metro lines, the municipality of Naples proposed Il Metro dell’Art, which gave contemporary artists and architects blank canvasses on which to create unique and unusual artistic designs, from wall art to full-blown installations, inside a number of the network’s stations. Distributed along the lines 1 and 6 are more than 180 pieces of art spanning a number of different artistic styles, and the result is both beautiful and in harmony with its environment, adding a whole new dimension to the normally humdrum experience of riding a city metro.
#2: Fontanelle Cemetery Caves
A combination of natural caves, tufa mines, and ancient Greek and Roman tunnels, the Cimitero Fontanelle is best known for the assortment of human skulls that lie here. The history behind the 30,000 square meter ossuary is best outlined by expert guides who run regular tours, but essentially the story goes like this: centuries ago the site was used as a place to “offload” remains due to overcrowding in traditional burial sites such as churches. For a price, undertakers either pretended to bury the dead overground or would dig up old remains, put them in a sack and throw them into Fontanelle or other caves in the area. Tumultuous events such as the plague of 1656 meant that these numbers stacked up over the years, resulting in the skull and skeleton-laden site we know today. The caves reopened to the public in 2006 after being moth-balled for several decades due to concerns that it was being misused by religious cultists. Today it is one of Naples’ most fascinating and unusual places of interest.
#3: Ospedale delle Bambole
In Naples, there are only so many souvenir shops and leather boutiques you can peruse before the urge for something a little more quirky awakens your retail radar. And for quirkiness, there’s nothing quite like the Ospedale delle Bambole, a ‘dolls hospital’ that is both a shop and a museum. Filled with dolls, figurines, and traditional toys for sale, the shop is also somewhere people can bring their broken dolls to be fixed. The idea dates back to a time when dolls were made of porcelain and easily breakable. A local marionette maker called Luigi Grassi was often asked to fix the dolls and due to the high demand, he continued with this tradition, passing his skills to future generations, eventually resulting in the opening of the now-famous Naples doll’s hospital.