Walks in Naples: Historical Center and Via Toledo
Dive into the city’s history and culture with this walk through Napoli’s historical center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with good food, music, art, folklore, spritz and laughter.
Starting point: Piazza Dante
Piazza Dante is the starting place of this walk in Napoli, which will take you through the historical center all the way to Via Toledo. For starters, with the entrance of the Convitto Vittorio Emanuele in front of you, take the first street at the right end of the piazza, Via Port’Alba, locally known as the ‘books’ street’ for the abundance of book stands and bookstores, new and old, located in this tiny street. After the second arch (there is one at each end of the alley), turn left to find yourself immediately in Piazza Bellini, with its Greek ruins and multitude of cafes and bars, and oozing artsy vibes thanks to its strategic location between the Accademia delle Belle Arti and Conservatorio di Musica di San Pietro a Majella.
Spaccanapoli: the street that literally splits the city
After enjoying the piazza, go back to the intersection you came from by taking the short stairs at the right end of the square (which lead you right in front of the Conservatorio di Musica), and walk down Via San Sebastiano: if you’re lucky, you’ll hear some music coming out the Conservatorio or one of the many stores of musical instruments packed in Via San Sebastiano. At the end of the street, you’ll find yourself on Via Benedetto Croce, part of the so-called ‘Spaccanapoli’, a long and narrow street that (as the name implies) splits the city and roughly goes from the Quartieri Spagnoli to Forcella, coursing through the whole historical center. Spaccanapoli is the southernmost of Napoli’s three ‘decumani’, Greco-Roman remnants that used to constitute the backbone of the city’s grid.
It’s time to eat Pizza!
Turn right at this new intersection and enjoy the folkloristic atmosphere during your short walk to Piazzetta Nilo (home to the majestic statue from which the square and street take their names), where you’ll turn right again on Via Nilo. Before this turn, and in view of the pizza-licious lunch waiting ahead, spur your appetite with the typical Neapolitan aperitivo (‘happy hour’), Tarallo & Spritz, at the Taralleria Napoletana immediately past Piazzetta Nilo. Continuing with our walking tour, on your way to the upper decumano you’ll encounter Palazzo D’Afflitto, a historical building that dates back to the 15th century and, although not adequately maintained over time, is definitely worth entering and admiring.
At the end of Via Nilo is Via dei Tribunali, affectionately known as the ‘pizza street’, due to its ridiculously high density of pizzerias, including some of the most famous and delicious of the city, such as (in order of appearance) Sorbillo, I Decumani, Di Matteo and Dal Presidente. We warmly suggest you have lunch in one of these pizza places: turn right when exiting Via Nilo and keep walking until you find a queue that doesn’t look 2-hours long!
No matter where you end up eating, though, you should still take a short walk on this street before going back on Spaccanapoli: in Piazza San Gaetano, also housing the entrances to both Napoli Sotterranea and Neapolis Sotterrata, you can admire the Basilica di San Paolo Maggiore, Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore and the monumental statue of San Gaetano; in Piazza Gerolomini you will discover the mural of the ‘Madonna With a Pistol’, Banksy’s first piece in Italy, adopted and preserved by the nearby Pizzeria Del Presidente; briefly turn left on Via Duomo to admire the city’s Cathedral, dedicated to Januarius (San Gennaro), Napoli’s patron saint; in Piazza Cardinale Sisto Riario Sforza, you can admire the Obelisk of San Gennaro and make a quick (but pricey!) stop at the Chiesa del Pio Monte della Misericordia to admire ‘The Seven Works of Mercy’ by Caravaggio.
San Gregorio Armeno: a Christmas Nativity Tradition
The second part of your walk starts here: make a U-turn on Via dei Tribunali and walk back to Piazza San Gaetano, then turn left on Via San Gregorio Armeno, or ‘Via dei Presepi’ (‘street of the Nativity Scenes’), famous worldwide for the dozens of workshops crafting beautiful, original Nativity Scene figures and oozing folklore and livelihood. You will then find yourself back on Spaccanapoli, packed with majestic churches and historical buildings. Turn left and return to Piazzetta Nilo: beyond it is another square, Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, home to the eponymous church and obelisk, as well as to the Pasticceria Scaturchio, one of Napoli’s go-to places to eat traditional babbà or sfogliatella.
Continuing on after the intersection with Via San Sebastiano, you will find on your left the entrance to the Complesso di Santa Chiara, one of the city’s most well-known churches, whose bell tower represents one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city’s skyline (as you will see from uphill during your stroll in the Vomero neighborhood). Soon after, the street opens into Piazza del Gesù Nuovo, home to the eponymous church, with its peculiar facade, and to the last of the city’s historical obelisks, the Guglia dell’Immacolata.
From the piazza, walk down Calata Trinità Maggiore to Piazza Monteoliveto, with its beautiful fountain, then back uphill (briefly) on Via Tommaso Caravita, which will take you straight to Piazza Carità, in the heart of Via Toledo. Continuing on, you’ll enter the pedestrian-only, shopping-inducing part of Via Toledo, which will take you to Largo Enrico Berlinguer, home to the ‘most beautiful metro station in Europe’ (Toledo).
Are you tired yet?
From here, you can decide your next move(s) based on how tired you are:
- Continue on Via Toledo and turn right immediately after Palazzo Lieto on Via Emanuele de Deo, then walk roughly to civic number 60: here you’ll be able to admire two amazing murals: one dedicated to Maradona, originally created by local artist Mario Filardi and recently renovated (including the Swarowski earring that was temporarily lost / stolen), and the other, entitled Pudicizia (‘Modesty’), by Argentinian artist Francisco Bosoletti. On your way back to Via Toledo, we suggest you wander a bit through the Quartieri Spagnoli (without getting lost!), as there are over 200 small graffitis by Cyop&Kaf to be found around this neighborhood.
- Once back on Via Toledo, continue until the Galleria Umberto I, famous (among other things!) for the tiny but delicious sfogliatella kiosk found at its entrance (Sfogliatella Mary), then on to Piazza del Plebiscito. If you’re in the mood for a fancy break, you can take your coffee and sfogliatella at the Gran Caffé Gambrinus, probably the most famous and beautiful cafe in the city.
- Walk back to Largo Enrico Berlinguer and take the metro to admire Toledo station and go back home / to another neighborhood. If you’re planning to reach the Vomero neighborhood, you can choose between the metro and the ‘funicolare’, the most typical of the city’s means of transportation. It stops in Piazza Augusteo (closer to Piazza Plebiscito than the Toledo metro station) and takes you to Piazzetta Fuga, a couple minutes away from Vomero’s central square, Piazza Vanvitelli.