Naples is Not the Italy I Dream About
I didn’t have a specific reason for wanting to go to Naples, but I figured it would make for an interesting few days. We also wanted to visit Pompeii, and even though many people go from the Amalfi Coast, it would have taken too long to get there from the town we picked to stay in. From Naples it was just 30 minutes on the train. So we added Naples to our Italy itinerary. But Naples turned out to be quite different from the images of Italy I have in my head.
A good start
Things started off ok. I instantly liked the energy of the city, it felt alive.
On our first night, we ventured out to find dinner. Despite going the direction our hostel told us to go, we couldn’t seem to find any restaurants. While looking at our map, an older couple stopped to see if we needed help. “Restaurant? Pasta?” we asked. The man smiled, told us the name of a place that was nearby and pointed us in the right direction.
The restaurant turned out to be closed, so eventually we turned and went the other direction. When we reached the edge of the historic center, we stopped to ask the security guards in front of a museum parking lot if they knew where we could find some restaurants. Andy got directions from one man using his basic Italian, meanwhile I tried to turn my Spanish knowledge into Italian while speaking to the second guard. It worked well enough, and we both had a good laugh. I was having fun.
Where does everyone eat?
But that’s about where the fun ended. We continued to struggle to find restaurants during our three days in Naples. The pizza place our hostel recommended was awful. Most of the cafes we managed to find only had a few crappy sandwiches that didn’t appeal to either of us. In a city known for pizza, we didn’t want to eat it for every meal, and we were craving some variety.
If we had a Naples pizza guide like this one, we would’ve had a much better time finding good food!
The energy I liked so much during our first few hours quickly started feeling too chaotic. Crossing streets was about as stressful as it is in Southeast Asia, except here there were more cars, which are a bit more scary than the sea of motorbikes I dealt with in Hanoi. The city and the air were way too polluted. Everywhere we went seemed too crowded with people, and we don’t like crowds.
Is Naples safe?
Before we arrived in Naples, anytime someone heard we were going there, we got the same warning: be careful! Most of the people who said this had never been to Naples before, but we heard it from Italians and non-Italians alike. I usually try to take these sorts of warnings lightly, especially if they come from people who have never been to the destination, but this time there were so many warnings, I was starting to get paranoid.
But what were these warnings based on? In any big city, you have to be aware of your surroundings and not do anything stupid. Was surviving Naples really much more complicated than that? After spending three days there, the only time I ever felt like I was in even the slightest bit of danger was trying to cross the street a couple times. However, the safety factor wasn’t quite enough to make me want to stay.
Andy and I did enjoy seeing the castles in Naples, but beyond that we were just ready to move on. It’s a hard thing to clearly define, but Naples is not what I imagine when I think of Italy, though I do understand every city is different. I’m sure we would’ve felt differently about the city if we had the help of a local to find the right areas, but on our own, Naples seemed like a hard city to get to know. I wanted to like Naples, but I just couldn’t get there.
July 18, 2013 @ 12:52 PM
I SO understand what you’re talking about. Sometimes, my energy just doesn’t jibe with a city, even one that thousands of other people love. I felt that way about San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and, more recently, Prague. Yet I went to Poznan, Poland when the city invited me, having never heard of the place or intending to visit Poland, and LOVED it there.
July 18, 2013 @ 3:21 PM
Thanks Barbara! I guess we can’t like every single place we travel to. Andy and I didn’t really like Luxembourg City either, but before we went several people told us how much they liked it. I know lots of people do like Naples, and maybe we’ll like it if we ever go back (with a different approach) but this time we couldn’t wait to get out of there.
July 18, 2013 @ 5:43 PM
I’ve never been to Naples, but this sounds about right. Was it Elizabeth Gilbert who said that a friend of hers got mugged in a museum in Naples? That story and descriptions like yours are the reason I think I would stay someplace outside Naples and maybe venture in for a day trip.
July 19, 2013 @ 4:34 PM
Something like that, there was a line in the movie about how they need to be careful in Naples because of someone that got mugged. But really, we never felt unsafe. It just wasn’t our kind of city.
July 18, 2013 @ 9:22 PM
I really liked Naples, but I was only there for a day so didn’t have some of the same struggles you had. That said, I’ve heard it’s a pretty polarizing city!
July 19, 2013 @ 4:36 PM
Definitely seems that way! Could be the timing of our trip, could be we were just in the wrong part of town, but the city just exhausted us. But we can’t all like the same places, right?! I’m glad you liked it!
July 20, 2013 @ 1:13 AM
I’m probably going to sound like a jerk. But, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about a city. I mean, I’ll find ANYTHING to make it a cool experience. But, I get it. Sometimes an experience just doesn’t go too well.
July 20, 2013 @ 11:24 AM
No, you don’t sound like a jerk. Everyone has different views on things. It’s rare for me to find a place I absolutely don’t like, and I’m sure I’d have a different perspective on Naples if I went back another time, stayed in a different part of town, had a local to help us out, something. A different approach will always show different things. But yes, occasionally I do visit someplace that just doesn’t do it for me, and this time Naples was it.
July 20, 2013 @ 10:29 AM
You won’t like every place you travel to and that’s perfectly okay. I also think that people get this picture of Italy from the movies, like Under the Tuscan Sun, and that’s just not reality. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy living in Italy, but it’s not all gelato, pasta, Vespas, and wine under sun filled skies.
July 20, 2013 @ 11:26 AM
I definitely realize Italy is not all about the things portrayed in the movies. I’ve been to Italy many times, and it’s one of my favorite countries. Naples just wasn’t what I like about Italy, the city just hit me all wrong. You definitely can’t expect the whole country to be like Under the Tuscan Sun.
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
July 20, 2013 @ 3:30 PM
If Naples WERE the Italy you dreamed about, I think I would be really worried about you! Back in 2005, a friend and I who were backpacking through Europe spent a couple of days in Naples, using it as a base to explore Pompeii… I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in 7 weeks of traveling together, this was the one city where we had an enormous fight! We hardly explored the city at all as it immediately gave off sketchy vibes, and also, it was so freaking hot. I loved my time in Italy, but when I return, I see no reason to head back to Naples.
July 21, 2013 @ 11:40 AM
I’m glad it wasn’t just us! Like I mentioned, we never felt unsafe, but between the chaotic feeling of the city and how dirty everything was, we really did not enjoy it. I doubt we’ll ever go back, but if we do, we need a completely different approach, and we need to stay closer to the historic center.
July 20, 2013 @ 3:57 PM
I stopped in Naples enroute to Positano and didn’t like it one bit. I have a friend who was based in Naples for a few years and she showed me pictures from her morning runs – the side of the streets were piled high with garbage bags and junk. It was disgusting!
I love Italy but definitely NOT Naples.
July 21, 2013 @ 11:41 AM
We saw lots of trash piled up too. They have the big dumpsters like in other cities, but maybe they don’t get emptied often enough. It didn’t make for a pleasant walk around town.
July 20, 2013 @ 8:25 PM
Are they still having the issue with rubbish being left in the streets because it wasn’t being picked up? The volcano is the draw there, I think – and it’s a good base for other exploration from what I hear!
July 21, 2013 @ 11:43 AM
I think it is being picked up now, but my guess is not often enough. They have the big dumpsters but there was still trash spilling out of them and piled next to them on the street. I can see how Naples is a good base for some of the islands in the area as well as Pompeii, but it’s doable from other places like Sorrento or Salerno too.
July 31, 2013 @ 12:43 PM
I am a Brit who has been posted to Napoli for work. I can understand how you felt a out the city. However I have to say that I ha e been here now for 6 months and absolutely love it. Yes it has a gritty ci e, and if you do not know where you are going it can be confusing. The key I found was to do lots and lots of research before I arrived. I read as much as I could about the place. I also have access to a big International community who have lived here for years. So there is a lot of information to inform my choices. If I had just rocked up and asked a few people I am positive I would have had the same experience as yourself. There are some fantastic restaurants in the city, it is not all pizza. Mi never eat pizza when I am in Napoli. There is masses of fresh sea food and beautiful dishes to try. The city for me is very special and I have travelled all over the world. It is not overwhelmed with tourists like Sorrento. My ou have to learn the language and make the effort – then the locals treat you in a completely different way. The people of Naples have the warmest hearts and will bend over backward to help you. Anyway, I could harp on for many hours why the city is special for me. I went to zhavsnna in Cuba 10 years ago and it has the same lack of mass tourism which so often spoils a place. I cannot believe I have 2 years left to live here, I do not want to go back to a sterile and grey UK, so will somehow have to find a way to stay in Bella Italy. I also find the north of Italy rather too perfect, like it is Disney Italy. It does not have the exciting vibe that Naples has. The driving here is wonderful once you get used to it. Oe thing you learn when you have been here for a while that you can step out into the road, if you look ATMs are aware what is coming. The drivers will actually stop for you and let you pass. This is not possible in London or many per cities. That is because Yes it is chaotic, but it is organised chaos. The Naples drivers know there are I rules, but they compensate for that by being super aware of their surroundings. They all drive much slower on the motorways than they do in the UK and are ready to stop and give way. In some ways it sounds crazy but they are one of the most careful drivers I have known. It is only by experiencing for a good few months by living here that you can appreciate this. All of my family and friends have been out to visit me. Some of them live in the most quaint, peaceful and rule abiding villages in Oxford, England. I took them into Naples and they loved it. I knew exactly the best places to take them, the best restaurants and the most spectacular sites. Herculaneum being one of their favourites, I feel much more easy and more stunning than Pompeii. My mother in law who is 85 is coming over for the second time next month as she loved it so much. So having people that know it well and can show you around definitely helps. I really hope you enjoy the rest of you tour, it sounds very exciting. I hope you someday visit Napoli again and can find the vibe, as it is definitely here in huge amounts.
Best wishes and safe travelling
July 31, 2013 @ 5:33 PM
Thank you Christina! I’ve definitely heard a number of people who do like Naples. Like you said, we should’ve done more research and even reached out to find some people who live there ahead of time. We usually do ok with little research and find some good food away from the touristy areas, but we just had such a hard time in Naples. You’ve definitely convinced me I need to give it another shot!
Mary @ Green Global Travel
August 19, 2013 @ 3:05 AM
It’s so interesting to read your perspective on the city. I think that we all have that experience on occasion, although I have had wonderful experiences when I have returned to cities that I originally didn’t like. Hopefully if you return, you will be able to connect with locals and see the city anew, as though through Christina’s eyes!
August 19, 2013 @ 12:27 PM
Thanks Mary! If we ever do return to Naples, we will definitely go in with a different approach. A different time and a different perspective can make all the difference.
June 6, 2014 @ 6:14 AM
I was born in Naples and lived there since 2003 when emigrated in US. What I miss here is Napoli’s passion, food, happiness, impredictebility. Napoli is not a rules book yes, but I would not changed my town for a 5 stars reviews.
It sound to strange to me to read that it was so difficult to find open restaurants and food variety. At my age I am still learning about my city. When I return there I discover always a new think. Guess what. I did not know about it because Napoli is so rich of history and places to see.
Napoli is Napoli. No comparison to other cities or places can explain how much love and history you can find there.
June 6, 2014 @ 3:56 PM
Hi Lia, I think it was just bad luck that we ended up in neighborhoods that didn’t have a lot of restaurants, and even the one time a local pointed us towards a restaurant they recommended, it was closed for some reason. I’m sure it’s a great city in many ways, and if we ever go back, I’ll do better research and hopefully enjoy it more. We spent one day running around to see the castles, and that was fun. (I believe that post follows this one.) I imagine it’s a completely different city for you since you lived there! Thanks for your comment!
November 24, 2014 @ 7:01 PM
I am in Naples right now, and thank good my wife and are leaving tomorrow. the city is loud, but not as loud as the people. they seem like you are wasting their time by eating at their restaurants, and shopping in their stores. As for the reputation, it is well deserved, the metro line 1 IS filled with thieves, I saw it today on the way back to the hotel. I cannot and will not eat sub par pizza for two days and other meals have been terrible. This city is dirty, urban, and not worth a travelers time! I love Italy, and have enjoyed my trip, this part will be the black eye of it. P.S. As posted by others, the scooters and cars have no boundaries, hold your loved ones hands and run as fast as you can.
December 1, 2014 @ 6:11 PM
I’m sorry you didn’t have a good time in Naples either! Sounds horrible about the crime you saw. We were at least lucky that we didn’t have any problems like that, but overall it was not a great experience being there. Plenty of other wonderful parts of Italy!
May 25, 2018 @ 7:51 PM
We returned from a 4 day city break in Naples yesterday. It was our first visit to Italy and we were horrified. We won’t be going back to Italy again in a very long time and NEVER again to Naples. I’m sure they’ll get by without us
May 27, 2018 @ 11:43 AM
Yeah, Naples isn’t the best. But I really hope you go back to Italy someday! It really is a wonderful country. Rome, Florence, Amalfi Coast…there are soooo many wonderful places in Italy that are nothing like Naples. Check out my Italy itinerary if you need some inspiration!