The gritty city of Naples, Italy has long been used as a jumping-off point for exploring other popular places in Italy: Pompeii, just a short ride away, Sorrento and tourist-packed Capri are just a few examples.
But this ancient metropolis is well worth a visit in its own right. Repeated invasions lead to a fiercely strong sense of local identity, with many considering themselves Neapolitan before Italian, while secret courtyards and grand buildings tell stories from 1,000 years of history.
But this isn't a city stuck in the past: trendy restaurants dish up delicious contemporary food and record shops host music and beer nights.
And most importantly, Naples is the home of Neapolitan pizza, the most popular kind of pie around the world. Not only have we got the downlow on what to do and where to stay, but we braved the queues (Neapolitan culture dictates that if there's no queue it's not worth going) to find out exactly where to get the best pizza. Yes, really.
Here's our unmissable guide to where to eat, drink and stay in Naples, Italy.
Naples, Italy: what to do
Take to the streets
Naples' scruffily beautiful streets are refreshingly ungentrified: no chance of finding a chain coffee shop here. Every nook and cranny holds a baroque courtyard or a lush, leafy garden, and walls are adorned with cool street art, posters advertising all-night parties in tumble-down abandoned renaissance prisons or a flyer letting the community know a loved one has passed away. But you'll miss these gems without a proper guide, so enlist the help of Original Travel's brilliant Local Concierge service. Sophia Seymour is an all-round Naples encyclopedia, can organise a personalised itinerary and knows all the hidden corners where you can find Naples' best bits (and bites). If you're a fan of Elena Ferrante, Sophia also offers Looking For Lila tours that take a deep dive into socialist Naples in the 1950s, too.
Do the history bits
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One of Naples' primary attractions is Pompeii, easily reached by the Circumvesuviana train that picks you up at Naples Centrale station. Book your tickets online in advance to avoid queues, and either enlist a tour guide at the entrance or bring a guidebook with you. While it goes without saying that Pompeii is a must-see, there's plenty of history to be found within the Naples itself. For more on the city's Roman and Greek past, visit the National Museum of Archaeology and its Gabinetto Segreto (home to some of Pompeii's naughtier artefacts), although we recommend getting an audio guide. Elsewhere, Napoli Sotterranea is unmissable: a tour that'll take you through a hatch underneath a bed in a normal house and through to the ruins of an ancient theatre where the Emperor Nero performed in the first century AD.
Instead of Zara and Mango, Naples is jam-packed with independent shops full of one-of-a-kind beauties. Kiphy, a soap emporium near the famous pizza pioneers Sorbillo (more on that later), is a luxuriously fragranced hideaway filled with beautiful bars of soap handmade by owner Pina Malinconico, all made with organic, Fairtrade ingredients and wrapped as preciously as expensive jewellery. Elsewhere, on the main road down to the port, lies Retrophilia – a treasure trove of vintage clothing where you'll find Missoni cardigans, YSL beach cover-ups and a lot more besides. And you might not expect it, but Naples is home to a clutch of independent record shops that are bringing new- and old-school Neapolitan funk, jazz and folk to the wider world. Vesuvius Soul Records, to the city's south-west, is achingly cool and regularly holds its own events.
Naples, Italy: where to eat
Drink Aperol Spritz
Make sure you pack your aspirin, because you can pick up a good Aperol Spritz in Naples for as little as €2, if you know where to look. And that happens to be the vibey Piazza Bellini in the city centre, where people flood the streets in the evenings to drink, chat and drink some more. There are loads of different bars pouring spritzes by the literal bucketload, but king of them all is Caffè dell'Epoca, where the bar itself is basically a conveyor belt churning out whatever spritz you happen to fancy. Sure, they're served in plastic cups but at this price, does anyone really care? And if you'd rather plonk yourself down somewhere fancy(ish) for your evening drinks, duck into the Palazzo Venezia, where you head up some stairs and emerge into a secret courtyard. Lush and verdant, it's a world away from the city's slightly gritty-feeling streets, and you can get a mean Aperol and some picky bits.
Eat proper Neapolitan pizza
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A true Neapolitan pizza meets a strict criteria: toppings are kept simple (only San Marzano tomatoes grown on Mount Vesuvius and basil on la marinara, while la margarita has cheese); the crust needs the perfect amount of char; and the middle must be soft and sloppy. Go to L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele or Di Matteo for the authentic classics, or if you like your pizzas a tad more fancy, try Sorbillo, where the Elena, with smoky provolone cheese and artichoke, is an absolute banger. Make sure you get there for 6pm to avoid queues, although if you do end up having to while away an hour or so, get yourself a few bottles of Birrificio Antoniana keller beer and some moreish savoury fennel taralli biscuits from the shop across the road to tide you over while you wait.
And everything else...
Fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and anchovies, hot'n'gooey arancini and other tasty treats can be picked up from various holes in the wall all around the city and are best eaten hot, straight from the paper bag while on the hoof. For a sit-down lunch, try trendy L'etto on the aforementioned Piazza Bellini, where you can load fresh, flavour-packed salads and Neapolitan classics onto your plate and pay by weight. At the non-trendy end of the scale, there's rustic, cheap-as-chips trattoria Mangi e Bevi for salsiccia (sausage) and friarielli (a local variety of broccoli). Most importantly, pastry is big in Naples – by which we mean it's a 'thing', and there's a lot of it. Bakeries stay open until late in the evening so you can get your sugar fix, and most eminent of all the treats is the sfogliatelle, which looks a little like a smaller, crispier version of a croissant, and is bursting with sweet ricotta.
Naples, Italy: where to stay
ROMEO is located in Naples' gritty, busy port, but don't let that fool you: step into its cool and peaceful foyer and you're transported to another world, one filled with marble, gushing fountains and modern Italian design accents. The swish hotel occupies the former offices of the Lauro shipping empire, which were transformed by late Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. As such, the building is an homage to Japanese-Italian design, seen in sleek, dark-wood furnishings and a collection of modern art. It's a bit of a stark juxtaposition with the faded grandeur of Naples' streets, yet it still has a Neapolitan air – simply because the whole thing feels endearingly over the top.
Need to know
Original Travel (020 3582 4990/ originaltravel.co.uk) offers a four-night trip to Naples and the Amalfi Coast starting from £2,665 per person. Price includes flights, transfers, accommodation and a private guided tour of Naples and Pompeii.
Bag a room at the front to get views over the admittedly insalubrious port, the glittering sea, and hulking Mount Vesuvius beyond; rooms at the back are still lovely, but the view is strictly urban. The location is ideal, with the city centre an easy 10-15 minute walk away. The best bit, however, is the pool, a bathwater-warm square of blue that overlooks the bay for prime Insta gains, while ROMEO's Michelin-starred restaurant – the gloriously glitzy Il Comandante – is a proper special-occasion spot.
Romeo Hotel, from £203pn. romeohotel.it