Oh bella Napoli! A city boasting with vibrancy, culinary delights and historical gems. My trip to Napoli a.k.a. “the birthplace of pizza” started in the early days of May. Known for its amazing cuisine and rich history, Napoli also offers good weather year-round. As I happened to be there as spring was gradually turning into summer, I’ve experienced some rainy days which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Talking about blessings, Napoli truly offers a divine experience given the number of pizzerias, churches and shrines per square meter. Be it rain or even scorching heat, you can use this guide to explore some of Napoli’s best kept secrets while at the same time keeping away from unpleasant weather. So, put your raincoat and your most comfy waterproof shoes on and let’s explore Napoli when it rains.
1. Santa Chiara Cloister
An oasis in the middle of Napoli’s old town. This monastic complex is home to a church, a museum and an archeological site. The majolica tiled cloister and garden of the monastery are, however, the stars of the scene. Far from what you’d expect to find in a monastic site, the garden is an architectural marvel and a majolica paradise for any tile lover out there.
Created in 1739 by the landscape architect Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, the cloister is an oasis of calm in the midst of Napoli’s old town. Octagonal pillars, pergolas and ceramic benches depicting rural, maritime and mythological scenes of 18th century Neapolitan life. The variety of vignettes follow colour palette inspired by the surrounding environment: oranges and yellows from citrus trees, blue and green hues from the Mediterranean coast.
Bonus tip: Adjacent to the cloister, a remarkably well-preserved ruin of a 1st century Roman spa laconicum (sauna), as well as a small museum.
Perfect for: history lovers, artists, majolica tiles enthusiasts.
Address: Piazza del Gesù Nuovo, 18, 80134
Opening times: Monday-Saturday 9:30 – 17:30, Sunday 10:00 – 14:30
2. Toledo metro station
If you’re interested in contemporary art, then you’ll definitely love Napoli’s inquisitive way of placing art on the urban stage. The Art Stations initiative, as part of the city’s metro system, combines public transport with contemporary art as a way to promote culture and history.
The Toledo station is perhaps the most popular of all, CNN Travel even put in on their Europe’s best metro stations list.
The station was completed in 2012 and was designed by the Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca (with a fascinating interplay of LED lights designed by Robert Wilson).
Toledo station is designed around themes of earth, water and light, reinforced by playful lights and stunning mosaics. As you step into the station’s lobby, you’ll be welcomed by a number of mosaic figures from Neapolitan iconography and mythology, among them being the Patron Saint of the city, San Gennaro.
As you descend, the station features themes of water expressed through beautiful hues of blue highlighted by the interplay of natural and artificial light. Why visit? It’s a public gallery, it’s educational, artistic, archeological, need I say more?
Perfect for: contemporary art lovers; urban explorers, history enthusiasts.
Address: Via Toledo, 80133
3. The Catacombs of San Gennaro
It only takes a few steps to travel back in time and discover Napoli’s relationship with Christianity and faith. The underground world of Napoli’s catacombs allows you to explore the city’s close knit relationship with its ancestors and afterlife that are, to this day, an essential part of everyday life.
The two level burial site carved into tuff features floor-to-ceiling tombs adorned with frescoes and mosaics. It was only the wealthy, however, who opted for these colourful adornments. The location of the tomb, higher or lower, was also an indicator of social class.
Besides the unique architecture, it is the invaluable heritage and archeological remains that make this place so great. The catacombs feature pagan drawings from the 2nd century, as well as late 9th century Byzantine art or some of the earliest Christian paintings. Perhaps the Holy Grail of the entire place is San Gennaro’s deserted tomb and the oldest known painting of him. Just in case you don’t know who San Gennaro is yet, well, he’s the Patron Saint of city of Napoli, who’s also famously known for the miracle of liquefied blood.
Perfect for: San Gennaro followers, archeology aficionados, fresco lovers.
Address: Via Capodimonte, 13, 80100
Opening times: Monday-Saturday: 10:00 – 17:00, Sunday 10:00-14:00
4. Palazzo dello Spagnuolo
While in Napoli, take some time to admire it’s rich baroque architecture. Stop by Palazzo dello Spagnuolo known for it’s famous “hawk winged” staircase. The building was designed by Ferdinando Santafelice in 1738 and its grandeur, geometry and rich stuccoes still make it a showstopper.
Today, the striking building with its elegant double staircase is highly appreciated during city or by stair-crazy instagrammers or photographers. Back in the day the stairways were highly appreciated by horsemen, who would trot their way up after a night out in town. And in case you were wondering, the horses would then move back down using the other staircase to reach their stables.
Perfect for: Architecture lovers, stair-crazy instagrammers, urban flâneurs, baroque hunters.
Address: Via Vergini, 19, 80137.
5. Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg)
Legend has it that the building got its name from the Roman poet Virgil, who placed an egg under the castle’s foundation warning that if the egg will break, so will the castle (and Napoli). Luckily, it’s still standing and it is Napoli’s oldest fortification.
Dating back to the 6th century, the site had been fortified first by the Greeks, when the peninsula was an island. Then, the Romans settled there, followed by the Normans, followed by Charles I of Anjou in 1270, then Spanish soldiers occupied it the late 15th century and rebels of the Revolution took hold of it in the 19th century.
Nowadays, Castel dell’Ovo is a highly sought-after location for special events, art exhibitions and wedding photographers, due to its breathtaking views over the Bay of Napoli (yeah, even on a rainy day). Rumour has it, it’s also a great spot to watch the sunset, on a non-rainy day that is.
Perfect for: landscape photographer, sea lovers, sunset romance.
Address: via Eldorado n. 3.
Opening times: Monday-Saturday (Summer): 9:00 – 19:30, Sunday: 9:00 – 14:00; Monday-Saturday (Winter): 9:00 – 18:30, Sunday: 9:00 – 14:00
6. Underground Tour
Yet another underground experience. Tunnels, darkness, legends, tuff caves, are only some of the things you can explore while touring Napoli’s underground scene. The guided tour, which happens just underneath the city’s Old Town, takes you through 2400 years of history, starting 40m below the ground. First sight, and also my favourite part, is the Greek-Roman Aqueduct. Excavated in the 4th century BC by the Greeks, these tuffaceous cavities have been used as tanks ensuring the city’s water supply for approximately 23 centuries.
Moving on, you’ll also experience narrow tunnels (you can skip this part if you’re claustrophobic), in addition to seeing rooms used as a bomb shelters during the Second World War.
Another interesting stop was the Hypogeum vegetable garden, a botanical project where vegetables grow in the depths on the Earth, in absence of light, free of acid rain, pollution or harmful microorganisms.
Bonus: There’s more surprises once you think the tour is coming to an end. As you go back to street level, the guide will take you in a typical Neapolitan house. As you start exploring inside, you’ll learn about the remains of a Roman Theatre found just under that property (you’ll also be shown a fraction of it by going underground through a secret hatch found in the room). The tour will finish in an old carpentry, recently discovered to be part of the same Roman Theatre. Here you’ll discover a permanent gallery of “Scarabattoli”, large wooden cases immortalising daily Neapolitan life (in a similar manner like the famous ‘presepe’ or nativity scenes).
Perfect for: history lovers, archeology enthusiasts, geologists, curious minds.
Address: Piazza San Gaetano 68, 80138