Discover hidden Naples

Delve into one of the most ancient cities in the world for artistic culture, tranquil gardens and culinary delights, says Yolanda Zappaterra

As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Naples is full of wonders. Beyond the obvious, such as the Duomo, the National Archaeological Museum and Caravaggio’s masterly work in the Pio Monte della Misericordia, here are some lesser-known hotspots.

Scale the heights

The funicular to Vomero leads to all manner of treats, beginning with delectable cones of fried snacks (fritture) from the Friggitoria Vomero near the station. At the top of the hill lies the white citadel that dominates the city, the Certosa di San Martino. Founded as a Carthusian monastery in the 14th century, it now houses a fine collection of Neapolitan arts and crafts. Above it, Castel Sant’Elmo’s terrace offers 360-degree panoramic views of the city and the bay.

Plumb the depths

Naples has a dizzying number of subterranean networks and catacombs. Tunnel Borbonico, conceived by Ferdinand II in 1853 as an escape route from the Palazzo Reale to the sea, made use of a maze of 16th-century cisterns and 17th-century water ducts running under the city, which would be utilised again as air-raid shelters in the Second World War. For a peek at ancient Naples, San Lorenzo Maggiore sits above some wonderful excavations, including shops, communal laundries and a market. And the Catacomba di San Gennaro are unmissable, not least for their 2nd-century frescoes and 5th-century mosaics.

Take a breather

Central Naples has all the hustle and bustle you’d expect from a lively southern Italian city, but it also has two havens of tranquillity. The Orto Botanico gardens, founded in 1807 by Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte, boast some 9,000 species of plants across 30 acres, including an extensive cactus zone and a cool and shady fern grove. In Centro Storico, the cloisters of the Gothic Santa Chiara are a must. Decorated with 64 rural scenes made up of hand-painted Neapolitan majolica tiles, you’ll feel as though you’re in the heart of the countryside without having to leave the city.

Hit the shops

Naples has some unique handmade arts and crafts that make wonderful souvenirs or gifts. Pulcinella dolls (Mr Punch dolls) and presepi (nativity scenes) are a mania here, particularly in the shops along Via San Gregorio Armeno. For sweet-toothed friends there are much-loved chocolate shops here; established as early as the 19th century. Follow your nose and you’ll find such treats as chocolate logs in an array of flavours, and miniature Mount Vesuvius shaped delights.

And, relax…

It would be a crime to visit Naples and not sample pizza or ice cream, or both. Near the port, the Antica Pizzeria del Borgo Orefici serves an adventurous selection of the former, but save space for an amazing ice cream from Chalet Ciro or Otranto.

Yolanda Zappaterra

Yolanda writes for Time Out, Saga magazine and national newspapers. Luckily, early family holidays spent ‘cowering in terror in the car as it torturously climbed the Alps to Italy’ didn’t deter a travel-writing career.

Uncover Naples’ cultural gems on a Shore Experience with us

Once you’ve booked your P&O Cruises Mediterranean cruise holiday you can browse and book exciting shore experiences on My P&O Cruises. There’s an eye-opening array of experiences available. Perhaps you’ll time travel back to ancient Herculaneum; feel fabulous on a jaunt to the exclusive island of Capri; or learn the art of creating the perfect Neapolitan pizza.