I’m so excited to share with you my ideas on how to spend one day in Naples, Italy. Naples is on the list of my favorite Italian cities, and therefore I’m a recurrent visitor. Visiting Naples is especially convenient for me because I can make it a day trip from Rome, where I’m staying now. In this article, I will cover essential information for your trip, like what is the best itinerary for visiting Naples in one day, what to see, what to do, what to eat, and curiosities about Naples, of course.
Facts about Naples, Italy
In the collective consciousness of the Italians, Naples has some jarring features, and its inhabitants also embody a type of character with some not so positive traits. For decades, the image of Naples has been sullied by the media as being a cradle of illegal activities and accused of incompetence in resolving a severe issue with its waste collection. This problem has actually been taken care of now!
I grew up with the idea that Naples was a dangerous city, until one day I happened to land there on my way to Pompeii, and it was love at first sight. Naples is poetic, welcoming, sincere, and safe. You might be passing by only because of the amazing food you’ve heard of, but you will leave with so much more than you were expecting…
1-day itinerary in Naples
Since the historical center of Naples is a UNESCO Heritage Site, I propose that you walk for most of your visit. Otherwise, you couldn’t experience all the small shops and characteristic sights in the alleys and in the parts of the street that are pedestrian-only. You can still take advantage of the local subway to save some precious time, given that you only have one day in Naples. Also, don’t forget that one of Naples’ subway stations is considered one of the most beautiful subway stations in the world (Toledo Station). Here is how I would plan my Naples itinerary for getting the most out of my one-day trip. I will treat each step in detail below.
Coming down from La Certosa viewpoint
Arrive in Naples at Piazza Garibaldi Central Station by train in the early morning
Have a breakfast of the local delicacy “sfogliatella,” right beside the train station
Take the subway to Piazza Dante
Walk to Piazza del Gesù
Visit the church Chiesa del Gesù
Buy some street food at Antica Friggitoria Spaccanapoli
Walk to the Funicolare Station in Corso Vittorio Emanuele and take the cable-car to the top of the hill, get off at Morghen Station
Walk to the Belvedere San Martino panoramic viewpoint
Take the panoramic stairway “Pedamantina” and admire the view of Vesuvio and the Gulf of Naples while you are hiking back down to the historical center
Time for another treat: try the pizza in Naples: Gennaro Salvo pizza a portafoglio, Ristorante Pizzeria dal Soldino, or Trattoria e Pizzeria Nardones
Visit Piazza del Plebiscito and Palazzo Reale.
Walk down to the boardwalk
Visit the Galleria Umberto I
Take the metro at Toledo Station and get off at Museo
Visit the Cathedral of Saint Gennaro
TIP: when you realize that you want to spend a few more days in Naples, don’t miss out on:
The Vesuvius, the most prominent feature of Naples’ skyline and one of the best natural landmarks to visit in Italy, is actually a volcano.
Visiting the Archeological parks of Pompeii and Herculaneum
These two places found at about a one-hour train ride from Naples should be on your bucket list of monuments to visit in Italy. You’ve probably heard of the incredible eruption that buried the Roman city of Pompeii and all its residents in A.D. 79 Excavations revealed the city underlying the lava layer, exceptionally well-preserved.
You can’t do the ruins of both Pompeii and Herculaneum on the same day, as the sites are huge and will require you to walk for hours.
What to do in Naples, Italy, in one day
Have breakfast with one or more “sfogliatella” pastries
Sfogliatella is the most popular dessert in Naples, and it’s usually enjoyed with coffee for breakfast. It is said that the very first sfogliatella was created by chance in a nunnery on the Amalfi Coast back in the 18th century, and it soon found its way to the center of Naples, where you can now eat it at every cafe. The dessert comes in two shapes: one resembles a shell, while the other one is round, but the filling is identical and includes ricotta cheese, candied fruit, sugar, and eggs. The flavor is delicious and one is never enough… You can try the sfogliatella at the pastry shop “Sfogliatelle Attanasio” near Napoli Centrale.
Piazza and Chiesa del Gesù
The square that hosts the church of the same name, which you will recognize from the impressive facade in black peperino stone shaped into ashlar, is located right in the heart of the historical center of Naples and at the beginning of the popular cultural hub known as Spaccanapoli Road. The church and the obelisk are examples of Neapolitan baroque, and were commissioned by the Sanseverino family. There is an odd legend surrounding the statue of Mary at the top of the obelisk. Local people and historians agree that if you look at Mary from behind, she resembles the character “Death,” with a creepy gaze and a hump. A number of historical buildings overlook Piazza del Gesù, and a plaque is attached, outliningg the reason why Naples’ historical center is a UNESCO Heritage Site:
“Naples is one of the most ancient cities in Europe. It preserves all the elements of its history, which is rich of happenings that still echo in the contemporary age. Naples’ streets and old buildings from different ages award this site a universal value…”
Taste the “cuoppo”
Cuoppo is a yummy street food that you can find inside shops in Naples and other Italian cities, but the one you can try here is characteristic of the city overlooking the sea. Naples’ cuoppo consists mostly of breaded fried seafood, like octopus, shrimps, and calamari, served in a paper bag.
Experience the Funicolare
From Piazza del Gesù, you can take a short walk, eating your cuoppo, to the station Montesanto, where Naples’ iconic cable car “funicolare” departs. To the poetic spirit of Neapolitan people, and especially during the years following its establishment at the end of the 19th century, the funicolare represented what connected the city with the Vomero Hill, a cleaner rural area hosting the villas of influential families. After getting off at Morghen, walk to the La Certosa panoramic viewpoint.
Naples in a day itinerary. Panoramic point
La Certosa Panoramic Viewpoint
Now you find yourself on the hill dominating Naples’ historical center and the Neapolitan Gulf. This is the best view of Naples, and it’s your chance to notice the “rut” in the urban tissue created by the central street “Spaccanapoli,” which divides the city into two parts. Another thing you can do here is taking a break with a coffee and a view at Renzo and Lucia. The monumental buildings you will encounter on the hill are the Sant’Elmo Castle (14th century) and La Certosa Monastery and Museum (finished in the 17th century), which you could visit if you had more time to spend in Naples. When you’ve had enough of the view, descend back into Naples’ historical center on foot through Via Pedamentina San Martino.
View of Spaccanapoli, the street that cuts Naples in two halves
Back in Spaccanapoli for pizza
After you’ve descended the Vomero Hill back into the proper historical center (it will take you 30 minutes or a little bit more if you stop to take a picture of the view and of the area, which is, indeed, quaint), you will probably be hungry and ready to have your first real Neapolitan pizza. In the surroundings of Spaccanapoli Street, you’ll see many pizzerias, and you’re in secure territory, because, as regards pizza and food in general, Naples is a mostly safe haven for you to try different tastes. However, since you only have one day in Naples, and you want to ace it, go to Pizzeria dal Soldino or Pizzeria Nardones. When you feel full and happy, take a stroll to Piazza del Plebiscito.
This is another iconic place in Naples. Due to its vastness (25,000 sqm), it often hosts events and concerts, like, for instance, the New Year’s Eve concert happening every year before the awaited fireworks. The square is divided into two parts: one has the Cathedral of San Francesco di Paola, from the 19th century, resembling a mix between Rome’s Pantheon and Saint Peter’s Cathedral, while the other features the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace was the house of four royal families (Spanish, Austrian, Borbone, and Savoia), and has been converted to the National Library and museum of the royal collections. The interiors of the palace are, of course, majestic, as you can see from the double marble staircase.
Now that you’ve visited the most important square in Naples’ historical center, it’s time to turn around and pay some deserved attention to the element that has shaped Naples’ history and character most: the sea. From Piazza del Plebiscito, walk down past the Gardens of Molosiglio to the Statue of August. Enjoy the view of the dock and the harbor with Vesuvio in the background. If you feel energetic, stroll for less than 1km along the promenade to see the romantic Castel dell’ Ovo, a castle on the sea which is the gathering point to view the popular fireworks organized by the Naples Municipality to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Then, hurry back up to the historical center to gaze at the magnificent Galleria Umberto I.
Toledo Metro Station
At this point in the itinerary, you might be slightly tired, so take a metro ride to the next and last stop of this wonderful one day tour of Naples’ historical center. There are a few metro stations in Naples that were conceived as artistic expressions, but Toledo is the most popular and has been listed as one of the best subway stations in Europe. The project is organized on four levels, the deepest being 50 meters underground. There are hundreds of square meters of mosaics, and the most photographed is the one which uses ceramics of different shades of blue to re-create a sort of underwater realm. The creator is Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets.
Inside the Galleria Umberto in Naples
Galleria Umberto Primo
This monumental commercial hub was established at the end of the 19th century, and you can’t skip it, as the entrance is free, and it’s a delightful place to check out. The designers of the gallery conceived it as a place where common people could gather and spend their leisure time. Four high buildings are connected by four tunnels topped with artistic glass installations culminating in a glass dome. Inside the gallery at Christmas time, there’s a huge Christmas tree where Naples’ citizens hang notes with their wishes. (I find it fun stopping by and reading a few; last year I found one with “Let me have a lot of Instagram followers” on it.)
Cathedral of San Gennaro
The cathedral is commonly referred to as the Cathedral of Naples because it’s the main religious center in the city. The Neapolitans have venerated Gennaro in an uninterrupted cult from the time of his martyrdom at the hands of Emperor Diocleziano to the present. The cathedral holds the blood of the saint and vestiges of his skull, the building having a prominent role in Naples and Neapolitans’ spiritual life. Each year at fixed dates in May, September, and December, the priest pulls two ampoules containing the blood from the shrine inside the cathedral and exhibits them to the crowds of devotees. Believe it or not, most times the blood changes its consistency from solid to liquid in front of the audience, perpetuating the tradition of the miracle of Saint Gennaro’s blood. This ritual confirms the devotion of the city towards its protector. If you can’t be there in time for the miracle, be happy with the fantastic Museum of the Treasure of Saint Gennaro, which is accessible from the cathedral, and showcases all the wonderful jewels, art pieces, golden and silver sculptures donated by powerful benefactors over the centuries.
Now that you’ve taken in the vibes of Naples for one entire day, it’s up to you to decide whether you should go back to the train station or find a place to spend the night. If you desire to spend another day in this warm, colorful city that always finds a way to move you, don’t hesitate, because there are many more things to see and more delicious food to taste in Naples…
I hope you enjoyed this one day in Naples itinerary!