The city at the foot of Mt Vesuvius also just so happens to have some pretty incredible pizza, hospitality, and spectacular vistas – and it’s also a great jumping off point for the Amalfi Coast….
After doing a project on the downfall of Pompeii when I barely understood where or what Italy was, it’s rather surreal to look out over the city at the volcano that wreaked so much havoc. But there’s so much more to love about Naples than just observing the devastation that was wrought here. In fact, it’s also where we had our best pizza.
The town you’ve probably learned about in primary school is located just outside of Naples, and it’s one of the most spectacular places you’ll visit in all of Italy. And as such, and the fact it’s a UNESCO site and attracts 2.5 million visitors every year, it understandably needs no introduction. However, if you’re not so clued up on all the ins and outs of the Vesuvius eruption thousands of years ago, here’s a quick lowdown.
Pompeii, along with a number of surrounding villages, was buried under six metres of volcanic ash during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 70 AD. Many of the inhabitants were buried before they could escape, and were somewhat mummified in ash – their remains preserved in rock until this day.
Incredibly, the site of Pompeii was lost until 1599 when it was rediscovered, and was then rediscovered again 150 years later in 1748. Even more incredibly, what was found was a city somehow preserved underneath the layers of pumice and ash, due to a lack of air and moisture. Now obviously a rather popular tourist destination, Pompeii is a site we’d recommend you head out to for the best part of a day. The remains of the city are preserved in often mind-blowing detail, and there are plenty of artefacts that give an incredible insight into how life worked back in that time.
Our tips: Head out early in the morning, around opening time. Although the area is huge, so you won’t necessarily be overcome by crowds at most times of the day, it’s a peaceful and serene place to be with almost no one else around. It will make your experience all the more poignant.
– Get your tickets just inside the entrance at the booths. Ignore anyone and everyone else trying to sell you a ticket as you will get scammed.
– Tickets are 15 euro, and an audio guide is an extra 8 euro. We did it without the guides, as there’s ample information around the place. However, being that there’s a lot of ground to cover, it might’ve been nice in hindsight to have some information in your ears whilst wandering.
– Wear good walking shoes and take water. There’s not a lot of shade.
– Set aside at least half a day for this site. There’s a lot to get round and a lot to take in.
To get there: take the Circumvesuviana line from Naples to Pompeii. It takes about half an hour and costs about $4USD one way. It’s a beautiful journey along the coast on a well-known train line.
Book your tickets for the train here.
As large, scary and imposing as it is – you can actually basically drive to the top of Vesuvius. Plug in ‘Vesuvius car park’ into your Google Maps, and head up to 1,000 metres up the side of the mountain, where you can then hike to the top of the crater. From the car park, you’ll pay a small entry fee of 6 ish euro to enter the park, and from there it’s about a 20 minute hike to the top. If it’s a clear day, you’ll have unobscured views out over the countryside, while also observing the steaming pile of rock that altered the course of history. HOWEVER – take note of the closing time of the park. When we arrived it had already closed at just after 5pm, being off season.
*Tuscany: Rolling hills and wine
* Venice: how to do the world’s most romantic city on a budget
* Florence: cow innards, Michelangelo’s David and paninis
* Pisa: Hire a car for $4 a day and eat for free
*Rome on a budget: the best free activities and what to pay for
This is a picturesque, seaside castle in Naples. Find it at the end of the beachfront promenade, which is actually a lovely walk regardless of whether you’re visiting the castle or not. Better yet, whatever day of the week we were there, they’d shut down the street to cars and people were strolling about left, right and centre. Castel dell’Ovo is located on a former island, now a peninsula, and is these days better known for the marina surrounding it and the restaurants inside it. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to wander through, it’s free to enter, and there are some good lookouts from the top.
Certosa e Museo di San Martino Napoli
Gran Caffe Gambrinus
Okay, I try not to tout tourist hot-spots as a rule, but I’m going to make an exception here. Gran Caffe Gambrinus is recommended by just about every guide book on the planet, and it’s easy to see why. The grand old ballroom-like interior is steeped in Napoli tradition, having served coffee to the aristocracy since 1800, and sitting at a table with the crisp white linen and well-heeled wait staff will have you feeling as though you actually do belong to this life, if even just for the morning. However, it’s important to note that you can only sit in the grand dining room if you’re eating, so if you just want to sample their famous coffee, you’ll be forced to stand like the pleb you are at the bar. The drinks are surprisingly affordable though, and we paid about 4 euro for their signature (monstrosity) cup, as pictured above. Spoiler alert: overdramatised excuse for a cuppa it may be, but it’s bloody delicious.
It’s cheap, clean and does the trick, and that’s basically the way of this hotel. The staff are lovely, the facilities are basic but adequate, and you can get a room for about 50 euro if you’re there in November as we were. The only downside is it’s a fair jaunt from town, but at least it’s quiet.
We used Naples as a jumping off point to get to the Amalfi Coast, and it turned out to be about the best decision we could have made. We hired a Fiat 500 like the internet wankers we are and hit the road for a day trip, having clear run out of time, but it was still well worth the effort. It’s about an hour to Salerno, and from there you’re straight down the coast to Praiano and Positano, and are free to stop wherever you like along the way. Better yet, our beautiful little Fiat was 7 euro for a full day’s hire.
Check out Auto Europe for the best car deals we could find. Just beware of the insurance coverage, if you’re already covered through travel insurance you should be fine. However, on these tiny windy roads and with Italian drivers you’re not used to, it’s never a bad idea.