Get Your Art Fix in Naples

1. Where to Stay

La Ciliegina is a boutique alternative to the city's larger hotels.Photo: Courtesy of La Ciliegina

Steam in a sauna with Himalayan pink salt bricks at the three-year-old Romeo Hotel (from $250), a design-oriented property that fuses eccentricity with luxury. Venture out of your sleek, ship’s cabin-styled guestroom to play a round of virtual golf, or treat yourself to caviar at the onyx Beluga bar.

Find a cozier alternative to the city’s international chains and large stand-alone properties at one-year-old La Ciliegina (from $200), whose fourteen cheerful rooms boast Hästens luxury beds, handmade Neapolitan furniture, and Carrara-marble bathrooms. Don’t pass up an aperitivo or Jacuzzi session on the rooftop overlooking medieval-era Castel Nuovo.

Imagine you’ve fallen into a Dr. Seuss book at Hotel Piazza Bellini (from $110), a fifteenth-century palazzo in the city’s historic center that’s been restored with plenty of modern whimsy. All 50 rooms feature Philippe Starck furniture, Artemide lamps, and playful wall drawings and cursive labels by young local artist Alessandro Cocchia. If you’re traveling as a family, ask for a bi-level, which costs just $27 more.

2. Where to Eat

Sorbillo has been serving legendary pizzas since 1934; Attansio serves pastries right out of the oven.Photo: Courtesy of Sorbillo (left); Courtesy of Sfogliatelle Attanasio (right)

Taste Neapolitan pizza in its birthplace and get a great deal at Sorbillo, a treasured pizzeria since it opened in 1935. Head to its first and best location (Via dei Tribunali, 38) and dive into a hefty personal pizza margherita ($4.50) or a diavola with spicy salami ($6). If you don’t want to wait, come right at the 7 p.m. opening, a good couple of hours before the local crowds arrive.

Sink your teeth into the spongy seaweed fritters that come with your meal at local favorite Napoli Mia (Via Riviera di Chiaia 269/A; +39/081-552-2266). They’ve moved to a new location near the waterfront, a short walk from Castel dell’Ovo, but husband-and-wife team Corrado and Antonella still dish out Neapolitan fare with modern touches (think millefoglie of codfish, tomato confit, and Gaeta olives, $22). Build up an appetite and splurge on one of the tasting menus (four courses for $51 or 5 for $65, not including wine).

Discover why Neapolitan pastries are legendary at Attanasio, famous for its cinnamon-laced sfogliatelle ($1.50). Order at the cash register (remember: sfogliatella riccia is ridged, sfogliatella frolla isn’t), take your ticket, and wait till your number comes up for your order, served fresh out of the oven.

3. What to Do

Contemporary art museum MADRE is housed in a restored nineteenth-century palazzo.Photo: Courtesy of Museo MADRE

Wander among modern masterpieces at the MADRE ($9.50), the city center’s only contemporary art museum. Opened in 2005 in a restored nineteenth-century palazzo, the museum’s permanent collection includes pieces by artists like Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. Recent exhibitions have showcased Gianluigi Colin and Rachel Howard, while the current “Arte Povera” show, running through February 20, features pieces by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jannis Kounellis, and others.

Experience art with all five senses at ISIArti, a cultural association that opened just over a year ago in the hip Chiaia neighborhood. The 5,300-square-foot gallery features exhibits by up-and-coming Italian artists, as well as performances, workshops, and D.J.-ed Friday-night drinks starting at 9 p.m. Support local designers by buying a handmade dress or pottery, and taste creative Neapolitan cuisine, like grilled scamorza with Molise truffles ($7), at the bisISIstrot.

Feel like you’re taking a trip—in more ways than one—at Università Station, the twelfth and latest addition to the city’s “Stations of Art,” a public project to outfit both old and new metro stops with contemporary art. Created by award-winning designer Karim Rashid, the station brings psychedelic into the digital age with backlit spirograph patterns, prints on backlit screens, and wall tiles printed with words like “shareware.”

Travel back in time to ancient Romans’ bedrooms at the Naples Archaeological Museum ($9), where the “secret cabinet” of erotic objects reopened at the end of last year after renovations. Other sections have received facelifts, too, including the museum’s world-renowned mosaics, frescoes from Pompeii, and famous Farnese statues.

4. Insider’s Tip

Teatro Augusteo Napoli is one venue where you can listen to Naples's relatively unknown traditional music.Photo: Courtesy of Teatro Augusteo Napoli

While lesser-known to tourists, Naples’s music is every bit as rich as its culinary and art traditions. And you don’t have to understand Italian (or the Neapolitan dialect) to appreciate the raw passion behind the songs. Whet your appetite with John Turturro’s excellent 2010 film Passione, then catch traditional canzoni napoletane nightly at restaurants like Ristorante a Canzuncella and Zi Teresa, or at a theater like Teatro Augusteo (look for concerts featuring Neapolitan singers like Pietra Montecorvino or Eugenio Bennato).

5. Oddball Day

The Catacombs of San Gaudioso are ancient tombs that lie beneath the city streets.Photo: Courtesy of Catacombs of San Gaudioso

Delve into the creepier side of Naples, starting off with a stroll through the Rione Sanità (closest metro stop: Cavour). The quarter started in ancient times as a place of burial, but today, it’s a lively place to people-watch, particularly at the Via dei Vergini street market, where you can find everything from lace curtains to chili peppers. Descend into the Catacombs of San Gaudioso ($11, also includes admission to the Catacombs of San Gennaro), ancient tombs reappropriated by seventeenth-century monks who drained and decapitated bodies before cementing their skulls—and sometimes spines—to the tufa walls. At the Cimitero delle Fontanelle, stand among the bones of some 40,000 souls, mostly paupers—plague and cholera victims from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The cemetery was closed in 1969 over worries that it was promoting pagan worship, thanks to the popularity of praying to the bones, and only reopened full-time in 2010. Grab a life-restoring lunch at nearby Cantina del Gallo, a 113-year-old trattoria with a much more local feel—and better fritti and pizza—than famous Pizzeria Starita up the street. Head back underground with the guides at Napoli Sotterranea ($12.50), exploring caves and spooky water cisterns dating back to the fourth century B.C. and reused by Neapolitans in World War II as bomb shelters. Make sure to stop at the Ospedale delle Bambole, a tiny doll-hospital stuffed with oddly spooky dolls. At the Cappella Sansevero ($9.50), don’t miss the eighteenth-century “anatomical machines” downstairs, two skeletons that appear to have mysteriously kept their arteries and veins intact. Shake off the day’s goosebumps with dinner at Palazzo Petrucci, a Michelin-starred restaurant (one of just two in Naples) that’s the most elegant option in the centro storico. Finally, wind down the day with a cocktail at Caffè Arabo ($7–8), watching hip, grungy students smoke, kiss, and gossip on Piazza Bellini.

6. Links

Even if you don’t speak Italian, run Eventi Napoli through Google Translate to find out about the city’s hottest concerts, shows, and events.

At the Espresso Break, discover Naples’s hidden attractions from a writer who lived in the city for three years.

To get the scoop on what goes on in Naples—and there’s always something interesting, from protesters burning garbage bins in the street to a police seizure of counterfeit bottles of Veuve Clicquot—read local paper Il Mattino (you’ll have to run it through a translator).

Get an insider’s view of the city from expat Bonnie, whose Napoli Unplugged is the go-to blog for Naples lovers.

Get Your Art Fix in Naples