10 Things to Do in Napoli
I like to think of Napoli as my drunk great-aunt, who wears fabulous dresses, chain smokes, and says inappropriate things about her lovers at Thanksgiving dinners. You can see how beautiful and charming she must have been as a young girl, but you can’t help but love her more now that she’s a little run-down with a lot of personality.
(Disclaimer: I don’t actually have a great-aunt like this, but if I did she would be awesome.)
This is to say that I went to Napoli for Thanksgiving, ate three pizzas at once with my small friend, and wrote a poem to a street donut. I decided to write this post as a list. So here we go:
1. Find a good hostel
Ari (my friend) and I stayed at the Hostel of the Sun. Although the Hostel was located somewhat sketchily on the seventh floor of an office/apartment building that required five-cent coins to operate the elevator, it ended up being fantastic. The best thing about this place, aside from it being walking distance from everything, is their reputation for having the most friendly and helpful staff in Napoli. Over the three days we stayed there, the desk clerks gave us some really fantastic recommendations to places we would have never have discovered on our own.
2. EAT PIZZA
We dined at Pizzeria Sorbillo in the university district. The pizzeria is one of the most famous in Napoli – and wow. This was our Thanksgiving dinner, and we went hard on three whole pizzas. It was one moment in my life I wished my mouth was as big as Julia Roberts’, because I was eat-pray-loving the hell out of that pizza.
3. Try some pastries
For our first dessert we had baba au rhum (rum-soaked pastries) with thick mascarpone and sour cherries. The next day, we received a fantastic recommendation from our favorite clerk to check out his favorite pasticceria (pastry shop) in the entire city – high praise from a Neopolitan. We let the clerk pick a small assortment of pastries and ate them while we sat atop marble slabs on the beach, listening to music on our iPod speakers and napping in the sunshine.
4. Check out the stores and street markets
We were lucky enough to catch a bunch of the Christmas markets during the holiday season, but there are many year-long markets as well. The stalls sell everything from rudely-shaped magnets to toilet paper with soccer team logos on it. I found the miniature and Nativity markets most interesting. Almost every stall had differently sized, elaborate little scenes with light-up grottoes, dolls of the holy family, and even tiny painted food.
5. Eat at a hole-in-the-wall
Another gem from our favorite hostel clerk, Luca. He was so happy that we spoke Italian in a hostel full of English speakers that he sent us to a practically impossible to find local haunt, located in the back corner of an indoor market outside the city. The Neopolitans call it Dalla Nonna because the tiny restaurant and kitchen are ruled by a 90-year-old grandmother, who doesn’t actually cook anymore but sits in a chair in the corner ordering around her harried generations of offspring.
We were a bit overwhelmed because we were the only Americans in the bustling place, so we asked our friendly waiter to bring us whatever he thought we’d like. Gino did not disappoint. I have no idea what any of it was, and it wasn’t plated fancily, but it was one of the best meals I’ve had in Italy.
6. Watch the sunset from the castle
We walked along the ocean back toward the center of the city, and just off the coast there sits Castel dell’Ovo on a tiny peninsula. It’s open to the public, and you can walk up to the very top where the canons sit overlooking the bay to watch the sunset with Mount Vesuvius in the distance.
7. Go dancing
If you’re in the mood for a night out, head to Piazza Bellini, where there are a ton of cute aperitivi places and bars. We found an underground cavern with a huge bar, leather couches along the walls, and great DJs.
8. See a Caravaggio
I’m the biggest Caravaggio fan you’ve ever met. I’m like a 13-year-old and he’s my Justin Bieber. One of his works resides in Pio Monte della Misericordia in Napoli, so of course my only request was to drag Ari in front of it to stare for a solid half hour.
9. Eat a street donut
I can honestly say that this is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever put into my mouth. I smelled the graffes (donuts) the first night, and spent the next two days searching for the source. When you go into this tiny little shop, two nice gentlemen will greet you like family and grab some dough to make a single donut. Just for you. They fry it right there, cover it in sugar, and then pump hot Nutella into it, handing it to you like the nurse will probably hand you your first-born child. The first bite I took made it hard to believe that I could ever love a child as much as that donut. I had to stop in an alleyway to eat it and make weird sounds.
10. Head to the Amalfi coast
Our last day, we took a train up to Positano. It was windy and grey, but the city on the cliffs is heart-stoppingly gorgeous. We stayed at a bed and breakfast with a private balcony and a view of the green cliffs and perched houses. We kept the French doors open and mostly laid in bed all day, reading, talking and enjoying the sea breeze.
We left the hotel twice to climb down to town for food. Our first meal was homemade ravioli and orecchiette with rabe and sausage, and our second was sausage manicotti and mussels. The next morning we had breakfast in bed, explored the town a little more (and ate lemon pastries), and then headed back to Napoli to catch our train home.
It was a fantastic, food-filled vacation. If you can get down to Napoli and Amalfi, go!