Last Updated on April 13, 2022 by Simon
Chaotic, lively, cheerful, and colorful: welcome to Naples! The capital of the Campania region is one of the most authentic cities in Italy. I just loved the city, its atmosphere, the people, and the beautiful things I observed. There’s so much to do and see that it’s worth spending three days in Naples. However, if you’re short on time, find out how to discover the best of Naples in one day.
Yes, Naples certainly looks different from northern Italian cities like Florence, Venice, and Milan. Even Rome, which is geographically and culturally closer, is less similar than you’d expect. I’m not talking about the aesthetic, for all these cities are superb in their own way. What makes Naples unique is its peculiar atmosphere, stemming from deep contrasts. Naples is chaotic, loud, and busy. Rather dirty, too. But the city has a pulsating heart that speaks to your soul.
Naples boasts many traces of history and the different cultures that developed over the centuries. for that reason, it became a Unesco World Heritage Site. And it doesn’t take long to understand why.
I visited Naples in the past, but it was a long time ago. More than 25 years, actually. At the time, Naples and its surroundings deeply resonated with me. So much so that several times I caught the night train from Milan on Fridays to spend the weekend in Naples and traveled back on Sundays, getting back to work directly from the train station. After a quarter of a century – gosh! – I was not sure what to expect. Cities change. We change. So, how did I like Naples this time? I loved it, and I want to help you have the best possible experience if you can only spend one day in Naples.
One day in Naples is a short time, but you’ll be able to see many of Naples landmarks. That’s why I have decided to prepare for you this quick guide to the most beautiful things to see in Naples. Further on, you’ll find a suggested Naples itinerary that you can do on foot.
What to see in Naples in one day: walking itinerary
I have created a Naples itinerary so that all the things to see are within walking distance. Wear comfortable shoes, and get ready to discover a unique city in Italy.
While this Naples route is intended to help you see the best of Naples in a day, you may not be able to see everything. Much depends on how much time you’ll spend at each place. You may look at Naples landmarks just from the outside or wish to enter and visit a few of them.
Let’s start our Naples one-day itinerary!
Let’s start our Naples one-day itinerary!
1 – Piazza del Plebiscito
Our route begins at the edge of ancient Naples, in Piazza del Plebiscito.
If you’ve been to Italy before, you already know it, and if you plan to visit, you’ll find out soon: Italy boasts some of the most beautiful squares in the world. Piazza del Plebiscito is one of Naples’s highlights and prominent landmarks. This symbolic square housed the popular referendum that sanctioned the union of the Kingdom of Sardinia with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860. It was a crucial event that led to the creation of Italy as a unified country in 1861.
One die of the square gets its shape from the vast colonnade of San Francesco di Paola, a 19th-century church built in neoclassical style. Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, the church has a circular plan with radiating chapels. Interestingly, Piazza del Plebiscito was ìa public car park from the 1960s to 1994. The G7 taking place in Naples in 1994 led to the refurbishment of a vast portion of the city. Piazza del Plebiscito became closed to traffic. As a result, the Neapolitans use the square as a meeting place, where you can frequently see street artists.
2 – The Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale)
The Royal Palace of Naples faces the colonnade of San Francesco di Paola, on the opposite side of Piazza del Plebiscito. The size and splendor of this royal palace are a great example of the Bourbon dynasty. Its magnificence is worthy of a city that was once one of the most important in Europe.
In the early 17th century, King Philip III of Spain was due to visit Naples. The existing residences were not deemed suitable, hence the decision to build a new royal mansion. Since then, Naples Royal Palace has been redecorated and renovated by successive rulers. Inside, it’s filled with salons designed in the most extravagant 18th-century Neapolitan style. Outside, the facade is decorated with eight marble statues of important kings who ruled Naples from the twelfth century to the unification of Italy in 1861.
3 – San Carlo Theater
The San Carlo Theater (Teatro San Carlo) is not only one of the must-see places in Naples but also one of the most beautiful theaters in the world. La Scala in Milan may be the most famous opera house in Italy and the best known internationally. Still, the San Carlo Theater is older and more beautiful.
As opera and classical music lovers know, the San Carlo Theater in Naples is renowned for its atmosphere and acoustics. After a fire in 1816 had burned the original building, this majestic neoclassical structure was built in just nine months. If you’re spending only one day in Naples, you likely won’t have enough time to visit it, but if you stay longer, it’s worth considering.
4 – Galleria Umberto I
Galleria Umberto I is a shopping arcade lined with shops and cafes. The main highlights are the richly decorated neoclassical facades and the giant 56-meter dome, creating a fascinating sense of light and space. The architectural elements of the Galleria Umberto I are reminiscent of the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. The Victorian gallery was built in the late 19th century to reinvigorate the neighborhood after a devastating cholera outbreak. Honestly, lovely as the Galleria Umberto I in Naples is, I find the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan way more beautiful. Notwithstanding, Galleria Umberto I is one of the must-sees in Naples.
5 – The Spanish Quarters (Quartieri Spagnoli)
Take a short visit to the Quartieri Spagnoli, one of Naples’ most densely populated popular neighborhoods. This charming neighborhood dates back to the sixteenth century. Its name stems from its origins, when viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo ordered an extension of Naples, particularly for housing the Spanish troops.
Despite its reputation as an area for petty crime, it is pretty safe to venture into the Spanish Quarters during the day but still beware of cell phones and wallets.
The Spanish Quarter is characteristic for its quaint narrow streets, grid layout, and buildings so close together that they barely let in any sunlight. The alleys are decked out with clotheslines, and its walls are covered with old posters and graffiti.
The cult of Maradona
Even if you’re not a soccer fan (I’m certainly not), you may have heard of Diego Armando Maradona, considered one of the best players ever. The Argentinian ace joined the Napoli Football Club in 1984, leading the team in the following years to unprecedented successes. The love story between Maradona and Naples is unique in the sports environment and is still alive. The Spanish quarters celebrated Maradona with a mural summoning supporters and admirers from all over the world.
6 – Toledo metro station
Visiting a metro station may seem puzzling, but Toledo is genuinely worth it. If you like art, the Toledo metro station is a must. Just think that it’s even been declared one of the most beautiful in Europe and in the world.
Designed by the Spanish architect Óscar Tusquets, the Toledo metro station is like a museum open to anyone. It’s easy and cheap to admire the multiple works of art in the Toledo metro station. The ticket costs euro1.10 and the best way is to go underground, travel to only one stop and get back, exploring the different entrances and exits.
7 – Santa Chiara monastery
The monastery of Santa Chiara in Naples was one of the highlights of my trip. Santa Chiara is actually a vast complex encompassing the basilica, tombs of eminent people, and the abbey. Sadly, the World War II bombings severely damaged the vast basilica, destroying many art pieces and frescoes, including the ones from Giotto.
The jewel in the crown is undoubtedly the cloister of Santa Chiara monastery. There, you can admire the beautiful 18th-century frescoes decorating the arcades. But what makes Naples Santa Chiara cloister unique are the columns and seats tiled with maiolica. Simply spellbinding.
8 – Piazza San Domenico Maggiore and Via dei Tribunali
One of the most beautiful squares in the historic center of Naples is San Domenico Maggiore, with the towering obelisk of San Domenico in the middle.
Nearby, the picturesque Via dei Tribunali is one of the busiest streets in Naples historic center. Lined by shops, cafes, and restaurants, it’s an extremely popular gathering place in the city. Get lost in the tiny alleys crossing Via dei Tribunali to savor the atmosphere of this fascinating city.
9 – San Severo Chapel
My greatest regret is that I couldn’t visit the San Severo Chapel, one of the top attractions in Naples. Thus, follow my advice if you want to be sure not to miss this fantastic place. Book and buy your ticket in advance because it’s crowded at any hour, and only a few people can access the chapel simultaneously.
The chapel is renowned for its beautiful decorations. However, the main reason it gets so many visitors is the statue of the Veiled Christ, sculpted by Giuseppe Sanmartino and dating back to the mid-18th-century.
The fame of this statue is due to its beauty and the fact that it seems almost real. The delicate veil that covers the face of Christ is so realistic that it seems impossible that it is made of marble.
An option worth considering is the guided tour of Naples old city, including the San Severo Chapel and the famous statue of the Veiled Christ.
10 – Spaccanapoli
This long road that seems to cut the city in half is none other than the ancient lower decuman traced in Roman times on the ancient Greek urban layout.
Today Spaccanapoli is one of Naples’s most important areas and corresponds to Benedetto Croce and via Forcella.
Walking through Spaccanapoli, you’ll meet churches, squares, historic buildings, and some artisan shops.
11 – San Gregorio Armeno
Among the most particular areas to see in the historic center of Naples, San Gregorio Armeno is the street famous for the nativity scene.
Here you will find numerous artisan shops that showcase the typical Neapolitan nativity scenes or the famous figurines with the caricatures of the most popular characters. These range from Maradona (a classic) to politicians and TV personalities.
The street takes its name from the Church of San Gregorio Armeno, founded in 930 on an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Ceres.
12 – Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
The Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta is one of the things to see in the historic center of Naples in one day. The Neapolitans are especially bound to this church, which hosts the relics of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. The attachment to San Gennaro is such that they gather in the Cathedral every year to pray that the miracle of the liquefaction of the saint’s blood can be accomplished again.
Aside from its religious significance, the Cathedral is also worth visiting for its architecture and decorations. The beautiful paintings by Luca Giordano date back to the 18th century, and there are many other remarkable works of art. A must-see is the magnificent adjacent Basilica of Santa Restituita, on the left of the nave. Santa Restituita is the oldest basilica in Naples. Originating from early Christianity, it got further embellished across the centuries. The result of the overlapping styles is surprisingly stunning.
Other things to see in Naples
There’s so much to see in this fascinating city that one day in Naples barely allows scratching the surface. The Naples itinerary mentioned above will enable you to discover a good portion of the main attractions, but there’s a lot more to explore. Suppose you’re spending more than one day in Naples or depending on the season and the weather condition. In that case, there are other things to do in Naples that are incredibly exciting. One of them is discovering underground Naples.
Did you know that there’s another city hiding beneath the city? The splendor of buried Naples was another highlight of my recent trip.
Italy is unique in many respects. One of them is the richness of archaeological finds. Every year there are new discoveries, and that’s how I discovered things in Naples which were still unknown 25 years ago when I last visited. There are several itineraries, and choosing one depends on your interests.
I had the tour of the Catacombs of San Gennaro, which I utterly enjoyed. The beauty of this ancient burial site, dating back to the 2nd century AD, is such that it deserves a dedicated article.
I also visited the Naples Bourbon tunnel, which is very different from the Catacombs but not less interesting. The tunnel was commissioned by King Ferdinand II of Bourbon in 1853, at a time of tumults and riots. The underground passageway was due to connect the Royal Palace to the military barracks, close to the sea, allowing the Royal family a rapid and hidden escape route. During World War II, the Bourbon tunnel became a bomb shelter and, later, a dumping area for impounded objects, including cars which are still visible.
It won’t take you long to find out that exploring Naples in one day is too ambitious a plan, and you’ll have to make choices. Hence my advice is to focus mainly on the historical center if you can only spend one day in Naples.
One day in Naples: Practical Information
Getting around in Naples
As with most European cities, the best way to see Naples and discover its many hidden gems is… walking. Almost all the attractions included in my one-day itinerary in Naples are within easy walking distance. And I was positively surprised by the number of pedestrian areas in Naples city center. Beware that traffic in Naples is often chaotic, and scooters appear out of nowhere.
You can also use public transport, including bus, tram, metro, and funicular in Naples if you get tired. However, except for the metro, connecting many tourist attractions, you won’t necessarily save time due to the traffic. Catching a taxi is undoubtedly more comfortable, but you may get stuck in jams, depending on your itinerary.
Be very careful with your belongings on public transport. Muggers in Naples are very skilled. I got my smartphone robbed while on the bus. So, as you can read, even “experienced travelers” can become victims. An infinity scarf to hide your valuables is a travel accessory that could be useful (and I wish I had one).
Where to stay in Naples
Suppose you have limited time and have to visit Naples in one day. In that case, you’ll want to find suitable accommodation in one of the areas in Naples city center, allowing you to easily see the main attractions.
Bell’s Bed & Breakfast is ideally located close to the Toledo metro station, Piazza del Plebiscito, and the Spanish Quarters. From there, you can easily explore Naples’s historic center on foot. Rooms feature a contemporary and tasteful style, and the hotel provides good value for money.
Foro Carolino S&B is a charming guesthouse located in Piazza Dante, within walking distance from Naples landmarks. Rooms are tastefully and elegantly decorated and provide a wide range of amenities.
The Matilde Lifestyle Hotel features stylish rooms decorated in contemporary style. Close to Piazza del Plebiscito, Via Toledo, and Naples historic center, Matilde Hotel is perfect if you can spend only one day in Naples.
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