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Pizza, Wine and Ancient Ruins: A Chaotic Trip of a Lifetime Exploring Naples, Italy

Updated: Apr 26

Naples, in a word, is (delicious) chaos.

Having visited Pompeii many years ago and having visited other regions on previous trips of a lifetime to Italy, we had yet to fully explore Naples. What we found was a chaotic mix of delicious food, ancient ruins, and a unique cultural traditions found no where else in Italy.



Mount Vesuvius from Naples waterfront, Naples, Italy
Mount Vesuvius from Naples waterfront, Naples, Italy


After a few days of roaming the beautiful streets of Rome, Italy, we boarded a super fast ITALO train heading to Naples, Italy. An hour of soaking up the landscape views from the train (and sipping complimentary espresso), and we had arrived at the Naples train station. Thankfully, we had pre-arranged for a driver to meet us at the Naples train station and escort us to our booked Bourbon House B&B, located in the heart of the city.


Having driven in Italy, we knew generally what to expect, but we were completely unprepared for the chaotic, nail-biting drive from train station to B&B. Navigating Rome can be chaotic, with its small streets littered with cars, pedestrians, motorcycles, and scooters, but Naples is an entirely different level of chaos.



Historic center of Naples, Italy
Historic center of Naples, Italy

Dropped off on a cluttered side street, in front of the entrance to Bourbon House B&B, we stood before a huge set of green doors with little signage. The building, similar to many in Naples, is home to multiple businesses, which can make it difficult to find anything if you don't know what you're looking for.


Located close to the waterfront, Bourbon House B&B was a quiet retreat from the chaos of city. To learn more about our experience, read: A Jewel in the Heart of Naples: An Honest Review of Bourbon House B&B.


After settling in at our beautiful B&B, we took the opportunity to freshen up, then headed out to explore the city center of Naples. The first stop on our itinerary was heading to the Piazza del Plebiscito di Napoli, across from the Palazzo Reale di Napoli, dodging people, cars, bikes and scooters, this walk gave us a colourful first impression of Naples.


Stopping at Gran Café Gambrinus for a quick gelato and espresso (plus one caffé sospesso), we kept moving along Via Toledo. The pedestrian only street is cluttered with tall buildings, shops and small alleyways.



The buildings provided much needed break from the hot summer sun during the walk, as did the stop at the delicious fresh fruit smoothie stand. From the Gran Café Gambrinus, it was a brisk thirty minute walk to the National Archeological Museum of Naples.


A popular and important stop for many travellers, the National Archeological Museum of Naples hosts a multitude of ancient Roman collections, including marble, mosaics and antiquities from the nearby archeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The collections are beautifully well preserved and a fascinating glimpse into the lives of how people lived.

 




One of the most fascinating collections in the museum is tucked away on the 1st floor. If you did not know it was there, you could easily skip over it. It is called the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Cabinet or Secret Room).



Mosaic of Man and Bull in the Gabinetto Segreto, National Archeological Museum of Naples, Italy
Mosaic of Man and Bull in the Gabinetto Segreto, National Archeological Museum of Naples, Italy


The exhibit features hundreds of sexually charged and obscene paintings and artifacts, taken from excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum sites. Unlike other artifacts found at Pompeii and Herculaneum, these were often separated from other exhibits due to their explicit sexual nature. To learn more about the Gabinetto Segreto in the National Archeological Museum of Naples, read: Hidden Sexuality: The Secret Room in the Naples Archeological Museum.



Di Matteo Pizzeria, Naples, Italy
Di Matteo Pizzeria, Naples, Italy

After a full day of walking, we headed back in the direction of our Bourbon House B&B, stopping at the delicious Di Matteo Pizzeria for an early dinner.


This quickly became our favourite place in Naples for authentic pizza (at inexpensive prices). We also indulged in their delicious arancini and a shot of amazing limoncello. Tired and stuffed, we stumbled back to Bourbon House B&B to rest and soak in our beautiful tub.



Well rested and fed, we headed out the next day bright and early, this time heading for the water. Just a few minutes from Bourbon House B&B is the spectacular Naples waterfront. The waterfront is spacious and beautiful, with phenomenal views of Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance, and the isle of Capri from the opposite end. Locals use the paths to stroll and bike, while others climb down and enjoy a cool morning dip in the ocean. Like the laundry lines hung between buildings and off balconies, the people of Naples are open, free and not afraid to show off who they really are.



Castel dell'Ovo, Naples, Italy
Castel dell'Ovo, Naples, Italy


We wandered around, snapping photos of the landscape and architecture, stopping at the spectacular Castel dell'Ovo. The oldest castle in Naples, Castel dell'Ovo gets it's name from legend: the Roman poet Virgil reportedly added a magic egg (ovo) to the foundations of the castle. A small fishing village grew around he castle and today the strip is well known for its seaside restaurants.


UNIQUE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE: Want to experience the dark side of "la bella Napoli"? The Underground Naples Tour visits the unique hidden spots and explores the real mysteries with this fascinating city.

Another nearby attraction, and the namesake of Bourbon House B&B, is Galleria Barbonica (Bourbon Tunnel). It is an extensive underground viaduct, originally built to aid in the protection of the Royal Palace. Completed in 1855, the tunnels now house relics of antique cars, motorbikes and artifacts collected and stored over time.





 

TIP: Be sure to research and plan your visit to Galleria Barbonica, as there are set days when access to the tunnels is allowed. We were unable to visit during our stay as it landed on scheduled closed days.

 

From the waterfront, we headed into the chaos of the city streets and headed back to Gran Café Gambrinus for more gelato, espresso and some delicious pastries. Sitting on the small outdoor patio, we had a front row seat to the massive protest happening in the nearby Piazza del Plebiscito di Napoli. Local taxi drivers had filled the piazza with their vehicles (over 500 vehicles) and were chanting in protest against recent government changes to their sector. (Update March 2024: The protests continue: Taxi Drivers Rally in Naples to Protest Against Unlicensed Operators.)





We wandered the streets, keeping to the main strip along Via Toledo and Via Benedetto Croce and following signs to the historic center. Similar to Rome, the streets of Naples are sometimes narrow and winding, but in Naples they are cluttered with shops, street artists, and vendors with makeshift booths. There is much under construction and graffiti is spray painted everywhere you look, but this doesn't deter from the charm and appeal of this chaotic city.


 

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Admiring the beautiful Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo, we then passed the Basilica of Santa Chiara, where yet again, a wedding was in progress. From there we stumbled upon the beautifully secret Santa Chiara Monastery and specifically the Majolica Cloister. Modernized in 1742, the magnificent cloister gardens was redesigned and decorated with colourful tiles depicting Naples traditions.



Majolica Cloister Gardens at Santa Chiara Monastery, Naples, Italy
Majolica Cloister Gardens at Santa Chiara Monastery, Naples, Italy


From the quiet of the cloister gardens, we headed into the noisy chaos of city and straight for the belly of the beast, Christmas Alley. All year round, along Via San Gregorio Armeno, the shops are filled with hand crafted nativity scene decorations, detailed accessories and Christmas characters. We were awestruck by the detail and craftsmanship, especially with the moving nativity scenes and the infamous comic statuettes. Christmas Alley is a must visit when in Naples, Italy.


Reluctantly, we headed back to Di Matteo Pizzeria for one last delicious authentic Naples pizza before returning to Bourbon House B&B to relax for the afternoon. The next morning, we enjoyed another delicious breakfast before checking out. When finalizing the itinerary for our trip of a lifetime in Italy, we knew we would stay in Naples and in Pompei, but wanted to find a way to visit the Vesuvius National Park, which sits squarely between the two cities.





Renting a car proved too complicated and problematic, so we hired a driver to pick us up at our charming Bourbon House B&B in Naples and drive us to Hotel del Sole in Pompei, opting to stop at the Vesuvius National Park on the way, where we would hike to the crater of the volcano.


My Day Trip is a car-for-hire service by local drivers, that allows guests to add on a stop at nearby attractions or sites, with the added flexibility to decide how much time they want to allocate to each stop. We booked My Day Trip services a few times on this trip of a lifetime in Italy, and it was great each and every time.


The lovely Ciro picked us up at the Bourbon House B&B in Naples and whisked us off in his comfortable Jaguar FX towards the Vesuvius National Park. Within forty-five minutes, we had reached the base of Mount Vesuvius and the entrance to the Vesuvius National Park. In the heat of the mid-day sun, we hiked up the side of one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, admiring the view from the edge of the crater. To read more about hiking Mount Vesuvius in Naples, read: Conquering the Summit: A Guide to Hiking Mount Vesuvius Volcano in Naples, Italy.






After we left Vesuvius National Park, Ciro suggested we visit a nearby winery for a delicious lunch and wine tasting. An unexpected and welcome detour from our itinerary, the visit to Cantina del Vesuvio was just what we needed. Exhausted from the hike, we sat on a shaded rooftop patio, sipped delicious wine and lunched in the shadow of the volcano. It was perfect. To read more about that experience, read: Wine Tasting at Cantina del Vesuvio Winery in Naples, Italy: An Honest Review.


We arrived in Pompei city (not to be confused with Pompeii the archeological site) in the early evening and checked into Hotel del Sole, conveniently located directly across the street from the entrance to the ruins. The view from our balcony, in the Villa dei Misteri Suite, was spectacular. Exhausted from the hike (and a little tipsy from the wine tasting), it would have been smart to simply rest for the remainder of the day in our luxurious suite, but we had other plans.


 

What's the difference between Pompeii and Pompei? Pompeii (with double "i") refers to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and ruins of the ancient Roman city, but Pompei (with single "i") refers to the modern Italian city, within the metropolitan city of Naples, Italy).

 


 Mount Vesuvius from Pompeii, Naples, Italy
Mount Vesuvius from Pompeii, Naples, Italy


After a quick unpack and freshen up in our beautiful suite at Hotel del Sole, we headed to the Porta Anfiteatro entrance of the Pompeii archeological site, a mere two-minute walk from Hotel del Sole. Hoping to take advantage of the late hour and fewer people visiting Pompeii, our aim was to visit some of the massive site and capture beautiful photos in the light of the setting sun.



Beautiful mosaic floor, Pompeii, Naples, Italy
Beautiful mosaic floor, Pompeii, Naples, Italy

We managed to make it to the ticket office before the cut off time, and picked up our My Pompeii Cards, then walked casually along the path and into the archeological site. With the tall stone pine trees lining the Palestra Grande on the left, the Pompeii Amphitheatre on the right and the silhouette of Mount Vesuvius in the background, we were immediately transported.


 

TIP: We chose to purchase the Community MyPompeii Card, which is an annual pass that allowed us to return the next day without having to pay a separate entrance fee. The pass can only be purchased online prior to the first visit and costs $35 Euro. A one time ticket to visit Pompeii is $19 Euro, so if you plan on visiting more than once, or want the freedom to leave and re-enter during your visit, the My Pompeii Card is the better option.

 


We explored Pompeii for the remaining hour the site was open, enjoying the silence and glow of the sunset, before heading back to Hotel del Sole. Exhausted, we decided not to venture too far for dinner and opted to dine at the Ristorante Varnelli Pizza Bistrot, attached to Hotel del Sole.


It was a fantastic experience, one that made us return the next night and forego any other restaurants in the area. The service was impeccable, and for much less than you'd expect, we received Michelin star quality food, prepared with that simple homemade charm Italy is famous for. Stuffed and exhausted, we headed straight to bed after our big and satisfying dinner.






Bright an early, we returned to the archeological site of Pompeii, entering the same way as the day previous, bypassing the homes we had already visited, and moving further along the main path. Even early in the morning, the sun was bright and hot and there were definitely more tourists. Pompeii is one of those special places to visit, where you can feel the life in the stones of the buildings. To learn more about how to best visit Pompeii, read: Visiting Pompeii: Walking The Ancient City.


We visited the beautiful gardens of the House of the Cornelli, entered the Stabian Baths and entered the Lupanare, the famous red-light district of Pompeii. We stumbled through the streets, walking in the shade as much as possible, able to imagine much more easily what day to day life could have been like with many more people to navigate through. We entered the Bakery of Popidio Prisco and passed the Temple of Fortuna Augusta on the way to the massive Forum.



Caupona Restaurant, Pompei, Italy
Caupona Restaurant, Pompei, Italy

Having spent the morning exploring, we decided to leave for lunch via the Porta Marina exit, passing the impressive bronze statue in the Sanctuary of Venus along the way. Though food is available for purchase within the archeological site of Pompeii, but it is very limited and lines are generally long.


We headed to the nearby unique Restaurant, Capuona. Designed as an authentic Pompeii eatery, lunching at Capuona is an experience for all the senses. To learn more, read our review: Lunching as Ancient Pompeiians: An Honest Review of Caupona Restaurant in Pompei, Italy.




After lunch, we returned to the archeological site of Pompeii and continued exploring until the day began to draw to a close. Our feet and ankles had swollen from the heat and all the walking, but we managed to stumble back to Hotel del Sole to freshen up for another delicious dinner at Ristorante Varnelli Pizza Bistrot. Wishing we had decided to spend another day exploring Pompeii, we packed before bed, ready to check out the next morning and head back to Naples.


LUXURY TRAVEL TIP: Want to see all that Herculaneum has to offer? Visit the archeological site of Herculaneum and tour the ruins on a private and intimate tour with an archeologist, who can provide unique insight.

Using My Day Trip to once again hire a drive to pick us up from Pompei and drive us back to Naples, we opted to stop on route at the archeological site of Herculaneum. We hadn't initially planned to visit Herculaneum, but are so grateful that we did. Our time at the archeological site was limited and we knew we wouldn't be able to explore Herculaneum fully, but were utterly amazed by the wonders found within.





Discussions of catastrophic volcanic eruptions of Mount Vesuvius often touch on the ancient city of Pompeii and the tragedy that overwhelmed the city and its people, but also affected and often overlooked, is the nearby city of Herculaneum. Through similar, Pompeii and Herculaneum were effected by the eruption on completely different ways, and as a result, Herculaneum is surprisingly well preserved.



Sacello degli Augustali, Herculaneum, Naples, Italy
Sacello degli Augustali, Herculaneum, Naples, Italy


We followed the signs around Herculaneum and wandered into buildings with near full access, only the occasional rope or barrier. As visitors we had direct access to rooms with phenomenal frescos painted onto full walls, we walked over and on top of mosaic floors and into private rooms and gardens. Herculaneum felt less restricted, less commercial and much more intimate than Pompeii. (And we love Pompeii). To learn more about visiting Herculaneum, read: Visiting the Secret Wonders of Herculaneum.


Less than an hour after arriving, we were back in the car and heading to the port of Naples, where we would catch the ferry and make our way to be beautiful island of Capri for the next leg of our trip of a lifetime in Italy. Comfortable on the ferry, we sailed over the water with happy chaotic memories of Naples on our minds, already planning what we would explore the next time we visited.

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4 Comments


Napoli is a fantastic city and this article brings me back so many nice memories! Sadly I haven't been to Pompeii and Ercolano yet but I hope I can go there the next time I visit! and that pizza looks absolutely yummy! ❤️ no better place than Napoli to try it!

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D Marino
D Marino
Apr 14
Replying to

Oh you must go, Pompeii and Herculaneum are absolutely stunning, and the pizza 🍕

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Naples is a beautiful part of Italy offering so many hidden gems to discover, including the food. Glad you enjoyed your visit.

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D Marino
D Marino
Apr 14
Replying to

Thanks so much.

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