Chiaia -- Naples cleans itself up a bit in this seaside and hillside enclave that stretches from Piazza del Plebiscito west along the bay, skirting the seaside park, Villa Communale. By day, strollers follow the bay along the Lungomare di Chiaia all the way to similarly genteel Mergelina. Come evening, crowds head inland for a passegiata along Via Chiaia. To join them, just move along with the flow west from Piazza Plebiscito. Before you leave this lovely expanse, find the two bronze equestrian statues, turn your back to the Palazzo Reale, close your eyes, and try to walk between them (it’s a local thing—hard to do, but success brings good fortune, along with some stares).
Historical Center -- This warren of many tight lanes, a few avenues, and some boisterous piazzas is also known as the Decumani, and just as often as Spaccanapoli (that’s the name of the street that runs straight through the center of the neighborhood, as it has ever since the Greeks established a colony here). Roughly, the heart of Naples extends north from seaside Castel Nuovo to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and east from Via Toledo and Quartieri Spagnoli to the Porta Nolona Fish Market. On the edges of this neighborhood are two of Naples’ grandest landmarks, opposite each just off the Piazza Trieste e Trento. The stately Teatro San Carlo is one of the world’s finest opera houses, awash in acres of gilded stucco and plush red velvet. Galleria Umberto is one of the world’s first shopping malls, a beautiful late-19th-century concoction of domes and steel girding, where commerce transpires in style on beautifully tiled promenades beneath glass arcades.
Piazza Garibaldi -- No need to linger in this decidedly unsavory quarter of grungy streets and some decidedly unsavory denizens. The train station is here, as is a station of the Circumvesuviana line for Pompeii and Sorrento. Descend into the flashy subway station for the metro and Circumflegrea line. The perpetually torn-up piazza is also a stop on many bus and tram lines, but you’ll need to summon the ancient oracle of Cumae to find the right stop—short of her, check with the friendly folks in the tourist office in the train station if they’re on duty.
Santa Lucia -- It’s been a while since anyone but yachters set sail from this old fisherman’s quarter made famous by the song. Neapolitans come here to stroll along seaside Via Mazzuro Sauro and Via Partenope (both closed to traffic) and gaze across the bay toward Capri. The nautical atmosphere cranks up a notch or two once you cross the bridge to Borgo Marinari, the little island where old houses huddle alongside Castel dell’Ovo.
Quartieri Spagnoli -- This is the real Naples, where age-old rituals of city life hang on—just like the laundry that perpetually hangs across the narrow streets. It’s not street life you’re witnessing but just plain Neapolitan life, because everything seems to transpire in narrow, gridlike streets wedged between Via Toledo on the east and the San Martino hill on the west. Residents talk to one another from balconies, guys in T-shirts lower baskets from windows and haul up cigarettes, and kids play amid street stalls selling everything from fish to votive candles. If it all gets to be a bit much, just keep heading south (toward the bay) and you’ll emerge in airy, semicircular Piazza del Plebiscito, where the huge Chiesa di San Francesco di Paola, copied on the Pantheon in Rome, faces the Palazzo Reale.
Vomero -- Life in Naples never really becomes too gentrified, but it calms down quite a bit in the hilltop enclave of the Napoli bene (the city’s middle and upper classes). Aside from fresh air and spectacular views, the big draws in this quarter of some elegant 19th- and early-20th-century villas and one too many banal apartment houses are the Castel Sant’Elmo and Certosa San Martino. The trip up here from the center is on the Centrale and Montesanto funiculars.
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