What is Naples like?
In some ways, Naples was what I expected – dirty, chaotic and dangerous. But, in this story, I’ll tell you why I still came to love this Italian city.
Inside, the Santa Chiara Church in Naples is beautiful in its grand simplicity – a vast serenity with elegant stained-glass windows and an earthen-coloured tiled floor.
Outside, its walls and doors are covered in graffiti. Not the hip street art that can give a neighbourhood a contemporary atmosphere. I’m talking about the overt vandalism of sprayed names and rude messages.
And here, in this one spot in the centre of the historic centre of Naples, the entire city has been captured.
Begrimed and neglected on the outside; resplendent and colourful when you go a bit deeper.
Is Naples dangerous?
For as long as I can remember, Naples has not had the best reputation for tourists. There are its associations with the mafia, people always talk about the city’s trash problem, and it’s certainly supposed to be inefficient compared to the major cities in the north of Italy.
I arrived expecting to find that these stereotypes were just tales that get perpetuated by people who have never been – only heard about it secondhand.
I had assumed that some of the other negatives stories about Naples were no longer relevant – that they described how the city used to be, not how I would find it now.
I was wrong.
There is no denying it – Naples is dirty and Naples is dangerous. Everywhere you go, bins overflow with trash and streets have rubbish just piled up against the wall or in the middle of the square.
Walls are covered with scrawled graffiti, gardens are full of weeds, historic buildings are falling apart.
And the crime level is relatively high, with tourists particularly targeted. Pickpocketing, bag-snatching, muggings. This is a reality in Naples – I can promise you – and certainly more than anywhere else I’ve been previously in Italy.
(This is probably a good point to remind you that I always suggest you have travel insurance and I recommend World Nomads.)
But, you know what? Despite all of this, I have come to love Naples.
The real Naples
For every criminal targeting tourists, there are thousands of warm and generous local residents who you’ll meet as you explore Naples.
For every pile of trash, there’s an impressive piece of architecture behind it.
For every wall of graffiti, there is an opulently-decorated church on the inside.
But you’ll certainly appreciate this sooner if you get a bit of insider knowledge, which is why this local guided tour is a great place to start!
In fact, it’s the chaos and the grit that I think endeared Naples to me right from the start. While cities like Florence or Siena in the north are certainly beautiful, they also come across as a little artificial and a little too clean – as though they have been created just for the hordes of tour groups who visit each day.
With Naples, there is no doubting the authenticity of what you are seeing. This is a city with texture – the good and the bad.
What’s somewhat hard to reconcile is that there are some absolutely gorgeous urban vistas in the city: around Piazza del Plebiscito, for example, or up at Castel Sant’Elmo. But then there just seems to be such a disregard from local authorities and residents to keep their city beautiful.
One of the things I think must be going on is a love of the luxury of life, more than ornamental considerations. (When you see how people drive here and how close pedestrians seem to come to death all the time, perhaps it makes sense that you would want to live in the moment.)
Often it comes in the form of food – and I definitely recommend this food tour of Naples, where you’ll get all the local tips!
One night, at almost 11 o’clock, the entire neighbourhood where I’m staying erupts in noise with shouting and banging. People are hanging off their balconies screaming, cardboard boxes are being kicked in the street, bottles are being smashed.
The local football team has apparently scored a goal just in time to win an important game.
It’s not the fanaticism that surprises me – that happens everywhere. It’s the noise and the mess that it creates… and that everyone is getting involved! The entire neighbourhood, as a community, has been caught up in emotion with no consideration for the chaos that’s caused.
But I get caught up in it too, the longer I spend here in Naples.
I like that I have to push my way to the bar to get a coffee just like all the locals do.
I like that there’ll be a bit of performance about ordering a pizza but when it comes it will be one of the best I’ve ever eaten.
I like that simply crossing a threshold can take you from hot bright hectic streets and into quiet historic buildings with centuries of amazing art.
I like that every cafe serves an aperol spritz.
So, did I like Naples?
Even the best relationships have some bad times, don’t they? Moments of conflict that just need some forgiveness. Annoying character traits that just need some acceptance.
That’s the way I see Naples. I am glad I have this city in my life now and that we’ve had this time together. It’s not perfect – but at least it’s real.
I would recommend getting a guide to show you the historic centre of Naples, which will help you quickly get a sense of the city.
If you’re in a group, then the best option might be this private tour of Naples. Otherwise, there are some other great choices here:
I also think it’s worth choosing a good central location for your accommodation so you can explore a bit and then have a rest when you want. The city is quite relentless, in some ways.
I have some tips for good places to stay here:
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN NAPLES
It’s easy to find your own bit of heritage in the beautiful accommodation options in historic Naples.
If you’re looking for a budget option, I would suggest the really fun Hostel of the Sun.
There are a few good cheap hotels – I would suggest Hotel Europeo Napoli in the historic centre.
For something with a bit more style, I would recommend the modern Palazzo d’Auria ApartHotel.
And when it comes to luxury, have a look at the incredible Palazzao Alabardieri.
19 thoughts on “Look beyond the surface”
Interesting how Naples is crime-ridden Michael. Had no idea! I am not as huge on the Europe circuit – SE Asian centric guy here – so it is news. But well worth the visit I see. Thanks for the rocking share.
I love Naples!! I loved everything about it, the vibe, the people, the food, the screaming deals on shopping, the architecture. You captured also really fantastic pictures in your trip. Thank you so much for sharing this post..
“It’s not perfect – but at least it’s real.” So true 🙂 How many days did you stay in Napoli, Michael?
It was two weeks in Naples. Probably a good length of time – long enough to get a sense of the city and do lots of trips to the surrounding areas. But when it all gets a bit too much, you’re ready to leave! 🙂
Looks like an interesting place to visit that I have never heard of. I want to travel to one place every year and I have a shortlist for 2018. Reading your article about Naples seems enough but let me check out more about it, Thanks!
I’ve visited Naples in September 2017 and although dirty and run down in some places, I’ve found that they are making an effort in restoring some parts. The graffiti was also a shock at first, but I have grown to appreciate it after a while. As for the city being dangerous, I have to disagree. I did not feel threatened at all during my stay, but obviously you have to apply normal common sense as you would in any large city. I shared some of my experiences on my blog, so take a look.
I had a great time there, i would definitely go there again, people were great, food, music, everything, it really made a great impact on me.
I think people need to learn to give the rougher cities a chance. There is an area in Brooklyn called Bay Ridge that is dirty and a little sketchy, but it is my favorite thing about New York City. People just need to practice safe travel tips .
Where in Bay Ridge were you?? I am a NYC native, living in Brooklyn these last 25 years and would never describe Bay Ridge as either dirty or sketchy. Where else did you travel while in NYC that you formed a bad opinion about one of the quietest residential neighborhoods in Brooklyn?
Bay Ridge is one of the least sketchy places in the borough. It’s residential and very far away so the only people there are the ones who live in it…
How strange that they can put up with rubbish on the streets. Such a fixable problem.
First travel blog post I actually comment on, but I really liked it. Authentic and honest perspective and well written. Thanks!
Sure, Naples has lots of hidden gems. But it’s the dog poo everywhere on the streets and the hundreds of cigarette butts everywhere that I couldn’t handle.
I have travelled through 3rd world countries in Asia and Africa and I was actually quite shocked to find these conditions in Naples. And it’s not only poo of the doggie kind I had to step around on the streets.
I stayed in the Santa Lucia area, just a couple of blocks from the waterfront, which was a lovely haven after the dirty smelly streets, piles of rubbish, broken bottles, plastic bags and general trash, not always in piles near the bins either, but strewn along the footpaths and roads.
I witnessed a street sweeping machine along a road one morning while waiting for a bus into Centrale … hilarious really. The road was then relatively clean …. while the broken footpaths and grass verges remained covered in trash.
I am 70, I travel alone and take all the necessary precautions when travelling. I don’t walk the streets at night, but during the day I didn’t feel any less safe than in other Italian cities. Sure, there are any number of pretty suspect guys lurking around, but it pays to not advertise too obviously that one is a tourist, walk swiftly, keep focused, stay alert and enjoy what the city and its residents have to offer.
I fly to Sicily tomorrow for 9 days. Then back to Australia in October after 7 weeks in Italy so I figure I have soaked up a fair bit of the culture.
I have been to Napoli several times, I must confess my husband was born there, Vamero, on the hill. It is fantastic, Christmas time is unbelievable, especially down by the docks the night before Christmas Eve, every kind of fish you can imagine, spac a Napoli the street that decides the city, my husband got my nativity set here, magical, go if you have the chance!
We stayed at Dolmus Toledo…. lovely apartment in the heart of the Spanish Quarter! Perfect for a long weekend.
Naples is kind of a piece of dog shit. I was almost run over an hour ago. Drunk assholes on the road who could not care less about the safety of pedestrians. A very toxic culture of people who can’t see beyond themselves. Too bad because it would be a beautiful city otherwise. Also, NYC kicks the fucking shit out of this pizza hands down. I’m a fan of both but Naples pizza is just simply not as good and I’ve been to both multiple times.
I am a great lover of Italy, i used to be a tour guide there and i spent so much time in Italy that it feels like i lived there, i also speak the language and have a good understanding of people and love Italian south, Yes Naples is relatively dirty even though it getting much better in the recent years especially in the city center. You still can see horrible piles of dirt on the outskirts however. But please understand, Naples is not more dangerous than any other major city. I feel much safer in Naples then in Paris for example. Petty crime is prominent and things will get stolen but violent crime is not an issue and does not target tourist. People are amazing in Naples and food is out of this world.
Stay in the city center and be vigilant but you really don’t need to be afraid.
We just came back from a month in Italy and to be honest I won’t be going back. It’s beyond dirty, especially Naples and Rome. Dog poo everywhere all over the place, trash and the smell of pee. It was just gross!
Hi, I visited Naples in 2018 on the way back from Bari. It was frenetic & grubby, I was surprised to see military and tanks in the street! However, I really liked it. The huge piazza at the Palace was beautiful and on that day there were young people who had just graduated, with laurel wreaths! lovely wee cafes on way down to the sea, with Mount Vesuvius in background! Funnily enough going to see a film in Glasgow tomorrow based in Naples, looking forward to it! Would return again!