In the shadow of Vesuvius, the Bay of Naples is an extraordinary place to visit for a taste of Italy and its history. As the third largest city in Italy, Naples is packed full with things to do and places to see. First settled by the Greeks, the city has thousands of years of history built into its streets. Naples became an important city in the Roman Empire, with sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum giving tourists a glimpse into Roman society. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bay of Naples is filled with sites of historical and cultural importance. Here’s my list of top things to do when spending a week in The Bay of Naples.
SO, after a summer digging away at the beautiful Roman city of Aeclanum again and exploring more of the local area (such as Jelsi and experiencing the San Amanzio festival!), my family flew out to meet me at the end of a very exciting and very tiring dig season, to experience Italy for themselves. Its always been a dream of mine to show this special place to my family and play tour guide around some of my favourite sites. Faced with just 6 days, and a whole Bay to explore – requests of Vesuvius, Pompeii and beaches – this trip was always going to be full on.
Top Things To Do In The Bay of Naples
As someone who likes to consider themselves an Italian at heart, I took it upon myself to act as a tour guide, navigating the streets of Naples and sharing some of my knowledge about the historic sites I’ve studied and visited again and again.
Where to stay in the Bay of Naples
Wanting to keep things cheap, cheerful and most importantly fairly central, we stumbling across a gorgeous wee air b’n’b which had enough space to house the six of us. During our (read my) search, our main priority was a balcony, terrace or outdoor area where we could chill in the evenings, a glass of vino in hand, basking in the sounds of the city.
We found this spot right beside the Metro stop for Montesanto, which is a couple of stops on Linea 2 from Garibaldi station, or a 20 minute walk from Via Toledo, down some cute backstreets. The gem of this apartment was a roof terrace, with the most stunning view of Vesuvius. I suppose for views like this, you can’t really complain about a hike up 113 steps to your front door.
The apartment was fairly basic. I mean, there was only a hot plate instead of a cooker, but when alfresco dining is so cheap and easy, its not as big a deal as you’d imagine. But it was great for a central location, and as a base for all our adventures.
Must See Sites In The Bay of Naples
Saturday morning, I rolled off the bus that dropped us at Garibaldi, with teary goodbyes to friends who I grew close to over the dig season. My parents met me at the station, where we dodged the crowds and found our way to the apartment. We decided to take the day fairly slow, and let my family get a feel for the historic streets of the city.
The Spanish Quarter
With its incredible winding uphill streets, balconies with washing hanging out, and €1 aperol spritz, The Spanish Quarter is not to be missed, either in day or at night.
The Historic Quarter
My favourite part of the city, and where a lot of the tourist sites you’ll want to hit up are located. The Historic Quarter is filled with streets of authentic Italian craft, oozing with history and heritage.
We decided to explore a Neapolitan market – something which I’d never done before, and took us out of the centre of the city, to streets which were a little more worn in. Markets are a firm favourite past time of Johnston family holidays, where my dad loves to haggle prices down, and we can find some cheap knock-offs to fill the wardrobe. Many of the stalls at the market were filled with shoes – and had a pair of high tops not already been top of my Christmas list, I’d have been all over those stalls. We split up to explore the rows and rows of stalls selling everything from kitchen utensils to dresses to leather goods.
In the afternoon, we ticked something which has been on my bucket list for years – The Cimitero Delle Fontanelle. This is an ossuary built into the tufa hillside, filled with bones of plague victims and the poor. Its an eerie but beautiful place to visit, and captivated all our imaginations. Find more about the Cimitero Delle Fontanelle and how to get there.
If ‘dark tourism’ is something that interests you, I’d recommend also fitting in a visit to The San Gennaro catacombs, at Cappodimonte. The bones from the niches have now been removed to the Cimitero Delle Fontanelle, but you can book into guided tours of the catacombs and explore the niches and their beautiful frescos. Have a read of my visit to the San Gennaro catacombs here!
Time for a bit of history, and first stop was Herculaneum. I have such a soft spot for Herculaneum, Pompeii’s smaller neighbour. Look out for my guide to Herculanum and Pompeii where I’ll go into a little more about their history (coming soon). Covered in the AD72 eruption Herculaneum has an incredible level of preservation with wood and two storey buildings conserved within the town. We spent a good few hours, navigating the ancient streets of the city and imagining life before the eruption.
We had planned to have a jaunt up Vesuvius after our morning at Herculaneum – as one of the bus stops is right at Ercolano Circumvesuviana station – but a late lunch in one of the cafes on the road to Herculaneum, and a drink in another, meant that we unfortunately missed the last bus for the day. So we hopped back on the circumvesuviana into Naples city. While most of the family headed straight back to the apartment, my brother and I decided to walk through some of Naples back streets, have a drink in one of the bars and slowly make our way back home.
A beach day was beckoning us, after working up a sweat exploring for the past few days. So we hoped on the metro out to Torregaveta, which is a bit out of the bay of Naples itself. The train ride was a bit longer, but we passed some beautiful beaches which just got us more excited for our day. The beach we settled on was small, and pretty quiet, and we easily found a spot to lay our towels and settle for the day. We weren’t allowed to swim too far out / past flags, but it was good to have a wee bob around – although the water wasn’t the cleanest water I’ve swam in. There was also a long pier which we all had walks across to look at the views, and during the day a wedding party came to have their photos here!
Back to exploring some of my favourite sites, and today we took the Circumvesuviana to Vesuvius and Pompeii. Again, we jumped off at Ercolano Scavi, where we joined a bus trip up Vesuvius. The bus takes you right up to the car park, so you don’t have to do the hard work yourself, and you’re given 90 minutes to walk up the crater itself, have a nosey, then head back down. It’s more than enough time to walk up, with plenty of stops to take in the view, rest and drink lots of water. There are incredible views, when you’re right at the top, staring down into the crater, or looking out over the bay of Naples.
We then stopped by another cafe for a spot of lunch, before heading back along the Circumvesuviana to Pompeii. This year was my third visit to the site and I loved watching my family’s faces, especially as we walked into the forum and they saw Vesuvius in the background. Wandering around the old streets of the city will never fail to amaze me – I love being able to study the architecture, art and remains of everyday life. I’ll always love visiting the Amphitheatre, the brothels and the Villa of Mysteries.
While I will never tire of exploring the bay of Naples, and spending time at Pompeii – I would recommend separating the activities of Vesuvius and Pompeii for two separate days. You can easily spend a whole day exploring Pompeii, and after exerting so much energy getting to the top of Vesuvius, wandering around Pompeii, with very little shade and the sun beating down, does tire you out fast.
For our final full day of our holidays, we decided to relax. This time we went on a hunt for another beach which had been recommended by friends beside Pausilypon. We were trying to locate isola di gaiola, which looks to be a stunning spot, where you can swim to islands, but got a little lost on the way. Instead we rested on a spot which turned out to be just round the corner from the islands, but was absolutely stunning. The area is protected, so there were fish swimming round you in the clear water. And right in front of you as you swim is the ever present Vesuvius. It was a beautiful and relaxing way to spend our last day in Naples.
The next day we spent packing up, tidying up the apartment, and heading off to the airport for our morning flights. This holiday was so special – the Bay of Naples is one of my all time favourite places and it would be an absolute dream to live there – so to be able to show my family around the places that mean so much to me, was something that I’ll never forget. I hope I’ve shown them what a beautiful and interesting place Naples is.
Where To Eat in Naples
While there, we of course sampled lots of tasty Italian dishes. Being in the birth place of the Neapolitan pizza, its hard to pick from all the cafes and restaurants offering authentic pizzas. Check out this blog post filled with pizza, pasta and seafood recommendations from my trip and discover the history behind the Italy’s food heritage.