Naples is a city of warmth and enthusiasm. Its ambience is passionate and intense. In fact, Naples retains a reputation as the most vibrant city in Italy.
Naples stretches out along the scenic Bay of Naples from Piazza Garibaldi in the east to Mergellina in the west. At its back is lofty Vomero Hill. From Stazione Centrale, on Piazza Garibaldi, Corso Umberto I (known as the "Rettifilo"), a walking tour would head southwest to the monumental city center, around the piazzas Bovio, Municipio, and Trieste e Trento to the Palazzo Reale, Teatro San Carlo, and Galleria Umberto Primo. Central Naples is best explored on foot, as traffic jams of all sorts are commonplace. It is wise to take a bus or cable car (funicular) to a general area and then proceed on foot.
To the north are the historic districts of old Naples, to the south lies the port. Farther west along the bay are the fashionable neighborhoods of Santa Lucia and Chiaia, and finally the waterfront district of Mergellina. The residential area of Vomero sits on the steep hills rising above Chiaia and downtown. At the center is the picturesque quarter of Spaccanapoli, the heart of the historic center.
The area surrounding Naples has a Greco-Roman history. The Greeks set out to Hellenize Italy's southern regions in the 6th and 7th centuries BCE by settling at Cumae. Later, the Romans inhabited the area. Both groups left ruins of archeological significance. The area west of Naples is known as the Campi Flegrei: literally, the fields of fire. These were described by the ancient Greeks as the entrance to Hades and were immortalized in literature as the “Elysian Fields”, a paradise for the deserving dead. Italy's two major seismic faults intersect at that point, and the whole area floats freely on a mass of molten lava very close to the surface.
From Naples, visitors can travel down the coast to Pompei and the Sorrento Peninsula, both of which can be reached by train. A boat trip to Sorrento gives the opportunity for a spectacular view of Naples from the sea. Other side trips that should not be missed are to the slopes of Vesuvius where once flourished the upscale, first century city of Pompeii; the archeological site at Herculaneum, and the lovely islands of Capri and Ischia. These tiny islands with their scenic beauty, picturesque villages, and crystal clear waters welcome more than two million visitors annually.
Neapolitan cuisine is famous worldwide, and ranks among the best in Italy. There is a strong emphasis on the freshest fish and seafood and local fruits and vegetables form the fertile volcanic soil of the region. Local wines of note are Lacryma Christi and Greco di Tufo. Limoncello is a delicately flavored lemon liqueur that is made all along the neighboring coast.
Dining in a Neapolitan restaurant is traditionally a festive occasion accompanied by a wide variety of savory pasta and thin crusted, tasty pizza dishes baked in wood-fired ovens. Although pizza, pasta, and seafood dishes are the symbols of Neapolitan cuisine, Naples is also known for its fine cheeses (including mozzarella), and its delicious ice cream and superb pastries. Numerous salamis and excellent locally produced prosciutto round out the wide array of culinary possibilities.
The finest shopping area lies around Piazza dei Martiri and along Via dei Mille, Via Calabritto, Via Toledo, and Via Chiaia. Along these streets can be found outlets fo Italy’s top designers, as well as local stores selling fine leather goods. There is more commercial shopping between Piazza Trieste e Trento and Piazza Dante. Jewelers abound near Via San Biagio as do the crafters of traditional nativity figurines.
Coral is much sought after by collectors. Much of the coral is now sent to Naples from Thailand, but it's still shaped into fine jewelry at the workrooms at Torre del Greco, on the outskirts of Naples, off the Naples-Pompeii highway. Cameos are also made there.
In recent years, Naples has made world headlines for its cultural renaissance and its proactive stance against crime. The mayor received a national government grant of $30 million to make Naples safer and more to enhance its appearance, and has been aided by a group of concerned citizens who since 1984 have consistently collected funds for the upkeep of the city's treasures and monuments. The result of this widespread project has been a resurgence of cultural activity among the city's musicians, writers, moviemakers, artists, and playwrights. The Neapolitan art scene has been revitalized.
Film companies, following in the footsteps of Neapolitan directors such as Francesco Rossi and Gabriele Salvatore, are choosing to shoot in Naples once again. Neapolitan writers are gaining increasing recognition, especially Ermanno Rea for Mistero Napolitano and Gabriele Frasca for his poems. Naples is now becoming popular with a younger generation, especially those from countries to the north. They flood into the city and lend it a new vitality.
Naples, the birthplace of both Sophia Loren and Enrico Caruso, is host to the entire spectrum of entertainment offerings. Restaurants traditionally have musicians serenading their patrons, classical music and opera are high on the list at Teatro San Carlo with performances from October through May. Rock groups are born in Naples on a regular basis, yet at the same time, interest in traditional Neapolitan music is increasing. Founded by a group of young Neapolitans, the Falso Movimento troupe has brought new life to the city's theatrical scene. The hippest night life is said to be at the bars and cafes on Piazza Bellini, near Piazza Dante.
In a word, Naples is a friendly place. It has the feel of coming home to a place of beauty and timelessness that is at the same time in a perpetual state of excitement and celebration of life.