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Sometimes overlooked by tourists in favour of more flashy destinations like Rome or Milan, Naples manages to retain its own distinctive vibe. There are grand castles and ornate churches, luxury shops and vintage markets, and old palazzi blasted with colourful street art. Get to know the city starting with these compelling neighbourhoods.
Overlooking downtown Naples, the neighbourhood of Vomero is populated by the city’s middle and upper classes. After dark, most of the area’s bars and restaurants cater for a smarter crowd of partygoer. By day, Vomero’s vintage boutiques, independent stores and big brands offer plenty of variety for shoppers. A good place to start is Via Alessandro Scarlatti that runs through Piazza Vanvitti but the Mercatino di Antignano is also a must-see. Situated in Antignano, one of Vomero’s oldest parts, the market bulges with clothing, kitchenware, jewellery and other accessories. To discover Vomero’s historic side pay a visit to the Certosa di San Martino, a former monastery with vivid frescos.
With Armani, Prada and Louis Vuitton all situated here, Chiaia is the place to shop and the place to be seen shopping. Among the big budget boutiques are a number of well-established, independent stores – Il Cappellaio has sold hats since 1870 and Rubinacci is well-known for sophisticated men’s tailoring. Also be on the lookout for the charming bookstores and antique treasure troves found in the area. Explore more of upmarket Chiaia by doing as the locals do and taking a passeggiata, or stroll, through Villa Comunale. This strip of greenery along the shoreline was built in the 18th century as a royal garden, and later opened to the public following the unification of Italy.
The Quartieri Spagnoli, or Spanish Quarters, were built in the 16th century by the Viceroy of Naples, Don Pedro de Toledo. While expanding and modernising the city he created a grid of streets that at one time were home to military barracks, but today are said to form Napoli’s most authentic neighbourhood. Take the time to discover the back alleys where laundry hangs from windows, residents survey the scene from balconies, and vendors, many in the same spot for years, flog their produce. The best way to explore is without a plan, stopping in whatever pasticceria, chiesa or mercato looks enticing, but if you happen to pass the Toledo metro stop it’s worth popping inside to see the spellbinding immersive artwork inside – a new side to this old neighbourhood.
Roughly taking in the area north of the shoreline from Municipio to Porta Nolana metro stops, Naples’ historic centre is packed with some of the city’s biggest attractions – the Church of Santa Chiara and its flamboyant cloister, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, and Scarturchio coffee shop to name just a few. For a taste of the traditional, talk a walk down Via San Gregorio Armeno to see the handcrafted presepe, or nativity scenes, for sale. It might be the old city, but this district can do modern too. The MADRE contemporary art museum is home to works by Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and Andy Warhol, and a number of street artworks adorn the neighbourhood’s palazzos – look out for the giant mural of San Gennaro at the start of Forcella.
Sanità, meaning health, was originally given its name due to its location outside the city limits, away from the chaotic centre. Now Sanità is a mix of peeling apartment blocks, antique palazzi and tiny shrines adorned with flowers and candles. Also in the mix are the Catacombs of San Gaudioso and of San Gennaro. This neighbourhood is made spookier still by the presence of the Fontanelle Cemetery. Located in volcanic caves, the cemetery is the resting place of thousands of anonymous remains, many victims of the plague epidemic which devastated Naples in the 17th century.