Why is Naples famous throughout the world? As a famous song says, Naples comprises a thousand colours and contradictions.
Naples is a city full of surprises, surprising you every time you visit. Yes, because the truth is that once is not enough to say you know it. Even Neapolitans themselves are amazed every day by something new.
Often under the critical eye of the foreign press, Naples has so much potential that drawing up a complete list of the most famous things is always complicated. You always end up with something you've forgotten...
But what makes Naples world famous? Visit Italy has tried to align its ideas and give you a hint of the excitement and surprises that Naples has in store for you!
Then, if after reading this article you feel like visiting this incredible city, choose a full tourist pass like Naples Pass to discover it at its best, without stress and in comfort.
Napule è mille culure / Napule è mille paure / Napule è a voce de' criature / Che saglie chianu chianu / E tu sai ca' non si sulo (Naples is a thousand colours / Naples is a thousand fears / Naples is the voice of children / Which rises slowly / And you know that you are not alone)
16. Her Majesty the Pizza
The number one reason Naples is famous is pizza. The renowned pizza Margherita was born, made in honour of the homonymous queen by pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito. It then became the dish that symbolised the city and the whole of Italy.
Today, with its world record, the city has the best pizzerias globally, competing to create the best pizza in all of Naples. In 2017, UNESCO declared The Art of Neapolitan Pizza-making a World Heritage Site.
Moreover, Neapolitan pizza is among only two Italian products to deserve the European TSG label. The other is mozzarella, food produced in Campania and the main ingredient of pizza Margherita.
16 (+1) Not just pizza: Neapolitan Cuisine
But Naples at the table is not just pizza! Neapolitan cuisine is, in fact, among the most appreciated in the world: a variety of flavours that would be a great blasphemy not to try if you decide to visit the city.
The Neapolitan culinary tradition is ancient and rich. Influenced by the many cultures with which it has come into contact during trade and various dominations. The availability of the highest quality raw materials and a menu that varies between seafood and meat dishes can satisfy every palate.
And what about the confectionery tradition! Neapolitan confectionery includes masterpieces such as Sfogliatelle, baba, pastiera and much more. The latter, the Neapolitan pastiera, has received recognition as a Campania food product. Then, as far as the Sfogliatella is concerned, it can be in two variants: the Riccia, prepared with puff pastry, and the Frolla, with shortcrust pie.
15. Europe's largest Old Town
The historic centre of Naples is the largest in Europe. In 1995 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Imposing palaces, narrow streets, ancient churches, unique underground landscapes. These are perhaps some of the things that contribute to making the historic centre of Naples the most unchanged in Europe.
It still follows the street plan of the ancient Greek city, Neapolis. One example is the famous 16th-century Quartieri Spagnoli, which still retains the chessboard layout of the Greco-Roman structure.
Therefore, crossing the historic centre of Naples means crossing more than two thousand years long history. It is still possible to see several finds witnessing its immense historical stratification among its alleyways.
14. Its 500 Churches
As far as religion is concerned, Naples has a solid Christian-Catholic heritage. Over the years, it has been the nickname of the five hundred domes' city because it is one of the cities with the most places of worship in the world.
In the historic centre alone, there are one after another. They date from the early Christian period to the 20th century. Trying to remember them all is very complicated, and mentioning just a few of them seems almost as if we would be doing the others a disservice.
In addition to the 500 churches, there are about two thousand votive shrines, smaller places of worship that are equally important for the city. They were founded in Greek times and became increasingly widespread in the 18th century with a dual purpose: to evangelise the people and create a street lighting network for the darkest alleys.
13. Mount Vesuvius
Vesuvius is the best-known volcano globally and the most dangerous, given the high population density living at its foot. The Neapolitan people fear and worship this huge sleeping giant, making it the city's symbol.
Its eruption in 79 AD is perhaps the most famous of all known explosions globally and the first written record of a volcanic eruption. We could say that volcanology was born at the foot of Vesuvius. Its last explosion took place in 1944, after which the volcano entered its resting phase, although it has always remained active.
Linked to the Vesuvius catastrophe of 79 AD, not far from Naples, are the famous excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, where you can step back in time to 2000 years ago.
12. The Gulf of Naples
And it is Vesuvius itself that towers over the Gulf of Naples. Naples here is located almost at the centre. It is a position that has allowed it to play a leading role in many events throughout history.
The gulf is beautiful and known throughout the world. Its uniqueness results from a mix of artistic, historical and natural beauty, accompanied by a mild and sunny climate. The Gaiola Natural Park at Posillipo alone gives us an idea without moving away from the city.
12.1 Its islands and the Sorrento Peninsula
But here in the Gulf of Naples, there are many must-see attractions. These include its three islands, among the most beautiful in Italy:
- Capri: the most glamorous island in the Mediterranean and one of the most visited in the world;
- Ischia: also known as the Green Island because of its rich vegetation, is one of the most popular for spa lovers;
- Procida: romantic and colourful, it is the smallest of the three but not the least beautiful.
The Sorrentine Peninsula has the same holiday appeal, a popular destination for tourists worldwide, who divide their time exploring its two stretches of coastline: the Sorrento Coast and the Amalfi Coast.
12.2 The Phlegrean Peninsula
Also in the Gulf of Naples is the Phlegraean Peninsula, famous for its thermal baths and the volcanic territory of Campi Flegrei. Here we find Baia, a large lagoon with a protected marine area and an important site for the phenomenon of bradyseism.
Monte di Procida is at the far end of the Gulf, formed from yellow tuff rocks. But the Phlegraean area is also famous for its fish specialities. Here, the Neapolitans often go for long fish and seafood feasts.
Napule è nu sole amaro / Napule è ardore e' mare / Napule è na' carta sporca / E nisciuno se ne importa / E ognuno aspetta a' sciorta (Naples is a bitter sun / Naples is the scent of the sea / Naples is a dirty paper / And nobody cares / And everybody waits for luck)
11. The Presepe
Another important Naples tradition that exported worldwide is Presepe, a representation of the Nativity of Jesus, revisited in a 16th-century key.
Via San Gregorio Armeno is the emblem of this artistic tradition: full of nativity shops open all year round. In addition to the classic shepherd statuettes, master artisans also enjoy displaying figures of famous people pop-culture characters.
10. The Canzone Napoletana
Naples is then famous throughout the world for its Neapolitan music. They inevitably spread during the period of great Italian emigration.
One of the first promoters of the overseas success of Neapolitan songs was Renato Carosone with his Tu vuò fa l'Americano (1956). In the 1990s, O' Sole Mio was brought to the fore by tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
9. Neapolitan Theatre
Naples has an important theatrical tradition known throughout the world. A genuinely authentic representation of folkloristic attitudes. Indeed, some say there is something dramatic behind every Neapolitan. Attitudes almost seem to be on the stage.
It all began with the mask of Punchinello, for whom a theatre was built specifically for comedies in dialect, the San Carlino.
However, in the 20th century, Neapolitan theatre saw its most extraordinary splendour. Among its exponents, we cannot mention the De Filippo brothers, the symbol of Neapolitan theatre. Eduardo De Filippo is considered one of the fathers of Neorealism.
And what about Totò, the king of laughter, born Antonio De Curtis. He straddled both theatre and cinema: in his 40-year career, he brought 50 operas to the stage and starred in 97 films. Self-taught and a lover of improvisation, he is considered one of the best-loved comic actors of all time.
8. The legend of Maradona
Since he arrived in the team and city, Maradona has been a God for Naples. The 1983/84 championship had just ended, and the then 24 years old Diego, who was playing for Barcelona, during a telephone interview declared, "I would like to play in Naples". He did not say the Italian championship, which was among the best in the world. Still, he pointed to the Neapolitan club that finished the season in mid-table that year.
Not to mention those famous five days in April 1990: a string of five consecutive victories, overtaking Milan in the standings and Maradona raising the Italian Champions Cup. A triumph that Neapolitan fans still remember as an epic moment.
Diego Maradona marked an era for Naples: wrenching the city out of victimhood and pedantic mentality. Maradona's legend still lives on in the streets of the town. Many Neapolitan children have his name. After his death, the San Paolo Stadium in Naples changed its name to Stadio Maradona.
7. The blood of St. Gennaro
They beheaded San Gennaro for his Christian faith. According to legend, a woman collected his blood in an ampoule and kept it venerated as a relic. The blood solidified but not completely. So, the miracle is that the blood liquefies or does not liquefy every year. If the blood has melted, the blessing has done!
6. Its Artistic Metro
Toledo Metro Station
The Art Metro is one of the most beautiful and appreciated things in the city. The stations on line 1 (and some stops on metro 6) make up a veritable free museum—stations designed by great architects and full of installations with works by world artists.
There are currently 15 stations with around 200 works of art. One of the most beautiful is Toledo station, recognised as the most beautiful metro station in Europe. The structure features mosaic surfaces depicting scenes of Neapolitan life: the sea, Vesuvius, San Gennaro...
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Napule è na' camminata / Int'e viche miezo all'ate / Napule è tutto nu suonno / E a' sape tutto o' munno / Ma nun sanno a' verità (Naples is walking / In the streets and among others / Naples is a dream / And the whole world knows it / But does not know the truth)
5. Its Markets
Naples is also known for its characteristic markets. Well known are those of:
- Posillipo: where you can find vintage and original clothes;
- Porta Nolana: a viral fish market, especially during the Christmas festivities;
- Villa Comunale and Riviera di Chiaia: where helds the antique market;
Poggioreale is the busiest market for Neapolitans but challenging to reach (it is advisable to go with a local).
4. Its Street Art
All the famous people of Naples, Totò, San Gennaro, Pino Daniele, Maradona, etc., are represented in the city's street art. It is a growing social phenomenon that includes gigantic works that redevelop entire neighbourhoods (see the case of Jorit's works).
Banksy's most famous work (the first-ever made in Italy) is a blue-grey Madonna with a gun instead of a halo. Others include the duo Cyop & Kaf, who have created more than 200 murals scattered around the corners of the Quartieri Spagnoli.
3. The Neapolitan language: intangible heritage of UNESCO
One particular reason Naples is world-famous is its dialect, Neapolitan, recognised as a language in its own right and has become a UNESCO intangible heritage site. So it's no wonder that many foreigners who study Italian find it hard to understand Neapolitans.
As understood by UNESCO, the Neapolitan dialect refers to a group of high southern dialects spoken in regions other than Campania. Therefore, a sizeable linguistic strain that includes different dialects.
2. Its subterranean bowels
But in addition to Naples on the surface, Napoli Sotterranea, the most famous and fascinating part of the city, is also well known. Among the others not to be missed are the Galleria Borbonica, the Catacombs of San Gennaro and San Gaudioso, and the Fontanelle Cemetery.
Attractions where historical facts intertwine with legends, creating stories of unquestionable charm.
1. Its coffee
Coffee in Naples is serious. It is an almost sacred ritual part of Neapolitan culture and Neapolitan-ness. Neapolitan coffee is unique, has an intense flavour. Making it, you need great skill and precise rules that respect the authentic Neapolitan tradition.
Many clichés surround Neapolitan coffee, such as the secret of its goodness lies in the Vesuvian water. In reality, the secret lies in the beans' unique roasting and preparation.
Rituals and stories revolve around Neapolitan coffee. The case of Caffè Sospeso (suspended coffee) originated in the Sanità district: the customer pays for two cups for an unknown indigent person who asks for them.
How best to enjoy Naples?
What do you think? Were you aware of all these surprises that a beautiful city like Naples can offer you?
But how best to enjoy it?
Enjoy Naples with a Naples Pass that includes public transport and access to over 20 monuments, museums, and archaeological sites in Naples, including the National Archaeological Museum, Madre Museum and Royal Wood of Capodimonte, Royal Palace of Naples, Castel Sant'Elmo, Certosa of San Martino.
But what can you do if you have little time and want to visit as much as possible?
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You can choose to contact them when you arrive at the airport or once in the city to reach nearby destinations such as the Sorrento Peninsula, the Phlegrean Peninsula or even Pompeii and Herculaneum.
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