I recently spent an outstanding nine days in southern Italy, around Naples, Caserta, Vesuvius and the Amalfi Coast. I ate a lot of pizza & gelato, saw a lot of ancient art & monuments, and toured some very impressive buildings.
Instead of a backward-looking description of what I did, here’s a forward-looking suggestion that you can use for your own long weekend trip to Naples to enjoy the best and skip the worst.
It involves two night’s accommodation: one night in the very small town of Caizzo, and one night in Naples itself. This is a pretty aggressive and tightly-packed schedule, and I doubt you’ll have much time spare.
Fly to Naples on Friday morning, and hire a car. The Friday morning flights are typically best from Manchester and Gatwick.
Drive to Pompeii, spend around 4 hours browsing the ruins. You probably don’t need an in-person guide: Type the names of any of the buildings into Google on-site and you’ll get a decent explanation of the story.
After I shared pictures of my visit to Pompeii on Facebook, various folks suggested that I visit Herculaneum. I haven’t been, so can’t recommend it, but it is likely a good substitute for Pompeii.
Drive to the Palace at Caserta. That is a monumentally-sized Palace, with 1,200 rooms and was built in the tail-end of the Neapolitan Kingdom. It is huge. It is massive. It is spectacular. The artwork is outstanding, although many of the rooms are now being adulterated with modern art which is a distraction.
It is inspired by the Palace of Versailles, and in addition to the giant building, there are also extremely large gardens with extensive waterworks.
After either Option One or Option Two above, drive to Caizzo, and eat dinner at Pepe in Grani. You’ll need to book this – especially on a Friday night – literally months in advance. If you can, stay at the restaurant itself, this solves the dinner booking challenge entirely.
Eat what is likely the best pizza in the world – if you are visiting, you should take the tasting menu, where you can enjoy one slice of a whole series of different pizzas. This will cost around EUR50 per person, and I think it is very good value-for-money.
More than any other cheese that I know of, mozzarella degrades very quickly in quality after production. There’s a very noticeable difference in the texture between one day old mozzarella and fresh mozzarella, and eating fresh mozzarella is an experience which will change your perception of the cheese.
You’ll need to check out of Pepe in Grani around 10am on Saturday morning. Drive about ten minutes down the road to Caseificio Il Casolare and eat the most incredibly fresh mozzarella you have ever enjoyed in your life. When I went, I arrived around 10.30am and was told that I had to wait 20 minutes for the day’s fresh mozzarella to become available. I waited. You should too.
After the fresh mozzarella has exploded in your mouth, drive into Naples and return your hire car at the airport.
Take a taxi or bus into Naples, and drop off your bags at your central Naples hotel. If you are going from May to September, you should definitely make sure your hotel room has air conditioning.
I recommend the margarita pizza, but everything is likely good.
After pizza at Gino Sorbillo, walk through part of the historic centre of Naples along this simple route:
Do a tour of Castle Nuovo (the new castle, because it is “only” eight hundred years old). Be aware that you’ll need to book a time online, which is due to their COVID precautions. You need to pay the admission fee by card, but then you need to pay for a tour guide by cash – so you need to have both cash AND card. These rules do not exist for the benefit of you as a customer.
Depending what time of year you are doing this, you might now be hot and sweaty and sticky – so consider some combination of walking through town, getting a gelato in the center of town at Il Gelato Mennella, or having a cool shower back at your hotel room.
Afterwards, get dressed for a night out…
Go to the Eurostars Hotel Excelsior, which has a rooftop bar which is freely accessible and open to the public. Have a drink on the roof at sunset and take pretty pictures of the castles and Mount Vesuvius in the distance.
Walk up to Bellini Piazza, and drink Bellinis. The Bellini of the piazza is different to the Bellini of the cocktail: The Piazza Bellini was a composer, the Cocktail Bellini was a painter, but they share the same surname, and they’re both Italian, so that’s kind of cute.
The Bellini Piazza has some exposed excavations of the ancient Roman City Walls of the town, and the southern-end of the square is bounded by Via dei Tribunali. This street has a huge number of super casual and popular places to eat, and has done so for a couple of thousand years. The tourists here are (almost) entirely Italians, and there’s a huge number of places to drink limoncello and eat fried food in the street.
If you want a more formal sit down dinner, go to Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, on the south-western corner of the Bellini Piazza. Enjoy the night of Naples, and wander back to your hotel well fed and well hydrated. Somewhere along the line, you should try the Pizza Fritta, from basically anywhere, and enjoy a classic late night Neapolitan eating experience.
On Sunday morning, get up at your convenience, and wander to either Galleria Umberto I, or the Gran Caffè Gambrinus. Both are substantially dedicated to serving tourists and providing a very touristy experience, but the coffee is adequate and the setting is excellent. Allegedly, the Italian President eats breakfast on New Year’s Day at the Gran Caffè Gambrinus. The Galleria Umberto I is an impressively huge combination of retail, restaurants and eating built in the late 19th century, modelled on similar places in Milan. It is an impressive architectural construction.
After your coffee and pastry, you can walk up to the MANN – Naples’ National Archaeological Museum. Wander through literally scores of ancient statues, and take a look at what people like Emperor Hadrian, Socrates and others may have looked like. The museum is very proud that the statues – especially the giant rendition of Hercules – allegedly inspired some of Pablo Picasso’s work.
By now, it will likely be early Sunday afternoon, and I suspect you will have had enough pizza for the weekend. So enjoy some pasta at Ristorante Amici Miei. The host, Dora, will help guide you to some outstanding flavours and textures. The meatballs are great, but you really should take advantage of the opportunity to eat the Aubergine (Egg plant) Pasta.
From there, you’ll be ready to pick up your bags from the hotel, take a taxi back to the airport, and head home: well fed and satisfied in enjoying some of the highlights of what Neapolitan food has to offer.
Friday night: Stay at Pepe in Grani.
Saturday night: Get a hotel in the area below.