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naples italy Along with our slideshow of the 11 Best Italy Experiences, this post is part of an ongoing effort to help independent travelers make unique memories in both popular and undiscovered destinations around the world.

For Italian politicians, Naples sometimes seems like a problem that’s best left alone. It’s a tangled ball of social inequalities — a wriggling can of economic worms that, once opened, threatens to squirm out, all over one’s pristine Armani chinos.

For travelers, as well, Naples can seem like a place that’s better avoided than engaged with. Even we’re guilty of it. On IndependentTraveler.com’s recent roundup of 11 Unforgettable Italy Experiences, Naples lost out to neighbouring Sorrento, which offers a small slice of southern Italy without the bad attitude that Naples has (perhaps unfairly) become associated with.

But sometimes the most rewarding relationships are the ones that require the most work — and with this in mind, my travel companion and I set off for the south.

We boarded the high-speed train from Rome to Naples and sat down across from a surly-looking rail worker in mucky orange overalls who pretended to be asleep for most of the journey. We had plenty of time, while watching little terra cotta villages and impossible-to-reach green mountains fly past the window, to think about everything we knew about Naples.

Our guidebook was hysterical. Everyone we met in Naples, we were advised, was out to rob or shoot us. We should treat anyone approaching us as either a “hood” or a “swindler.” I think our guidebook had been written by a 1950’s cardsharp. I pictured him sweating in his zoot suit at the very thought of the mean Neapolitan streets, battering away at a typewriter in a dimly lit tenement building, waiting for the call from Bugsy.

Unfortunately, this seems to be where many people’s perceptions of Naples are stuck. But what else did I know about Naples?

It’s the third largest city in Italy — after Rome and Milan. It is also one of the poorest places in Europe, with an unemployment rate of almost 11 percent. Its Italian name, Napoli, is derived from the Latin Neapolis, meaning “New City.” Its historic city center, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, has long been renowned for its beauty, with generations of poets and artists coming from all over the world for inspiration. It also has an enduring and unfortunate association with organized crime.

Money Safety Tips for Travelers

One of my brother’s friends claims that upon visiting Naples for the first time, he witnessed a fatal shooting before he’d even left the train station.

This kind of thing has shaped Naples’ reputation — a reputation that gives visitors a kind of thrill. Naples has a sheen of danger that reassures travelers that here they are experiencing something real, something that hasn’t been laid on for them by the tourist board.

So what was Naples actually like?

The first thing we noticed was not the danger but the heat. Naples is definitely hotter than other major Italian cities like Rome. The streets seemed more humid, and despite the sun, there were fewer people wearing sunglasses. Everything, even the escalators, seemed to move at a slightly different pace.

We enjoyed the ramshackle mix of architecture and the blue sea in the bay. It is often said that Rome is Italy’s heart and that Naples is its soul. I can’t say whether you should be frightened of Naples or not, but I do know that you should visit it if you can. Keep an eye out, of course — as you would anywhere — but don’t go expecting trouble.

Trip Review: Naples

The guy in the orange overalls that had been sharing our table got his things together in a rucksack and made his way off the train into the crowded streets. He looked as though he was on his way home, along with the hundreds of other people who had made the hourlong commute from Rome. The city is eminently accessible — there really is no reason to be put off visiting.

Naples has a charm of its own, completely separate from that of bustling Rome and cosmopolitan Milan. Despite its distinct character, and despite what our guidebook may have had us believe, Naples is not so alien as to be impossible to negotiate. It is not, as it may sometimes feel when reading about it, a whole world apart.

For more trip ideas, see our 11 Best Italy Experiences.

— written by Josh Thomas

17 Responses to “Naples: Italy’s Scariest City?”

  1. Tom Woodward says:

    This is absolutely true!!! A huge public works truck ran a stop sign when I was there in 2010 and just crushed the little Fiat Panda I was driving. The driver came out and as soon as he found out I was an American, he got back into his truck and simply drove away.

    I tried to call their emergency number because I was hurt and the car was destroyed. I tried 3 times and let the phone ring until it just stopped ringing with NO ONE ever answering. Even the people standing around in front of a large church wouldn’t help me. I gave a kid 50 euro’s to watch my stuff and he pointed me in the direction of a hospital. Which I had to very painfully walk to.

    It ended up with me having to come back for medical treatment. The only good thing that happened was the kid did his job and none of my stuff was stolen. And the car rental company picked the car up with no charges to my account for anything other than the two week rental on the vehical.

  2. Roseli D'Agostino says:

    Unfortunately the reputation may be deserved!
    Two years ago arriving at Naples train station, my suitcase was grabbed out of my hands as I exited the train. I pulled it back very forcefully and yelled no uncertain tone of voice that I did not need the help! Yes, they “help” you than demand whatever they want from you, but I seriously doubt they would try to rob anybody’s luggage.
    After a few days in paradise,Positano/Sorrento/Ravello we returned to the train station to board our train to Rome. As the train pulled out of the train station – at 10AM! – we witnessed a very well groomed young man laying alongside one of the tracks, face up,obviously fainted, as another young man, disheveled, dirty-looking clothes, both hands firmly digging in his pants’ pockets slowly walked away.
    I immediately went to the conductor to report the sighting and was appalled when he shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes like “lady, this happens every day”. I asked him to call the police since the young man was too close to the rails and he finally said he would – perhaps just to get rid of me.
    Until this time I discounted all the reports, now I am a believer. I do not avoid going there, however, one must be aware of one’s surroundings at all times not only there but really anywhere!

  3. Roseli D'Agostino says:

    So sorry for the typos. Did not see an Edit box!

  4. Joanne G says:

    Too true. A month ago I was enjoying the architecture and old residential streets of Naples. Got some wonderful photos but when I went to open my backpack I discovered it already open and my wallet gone. Cash, credit cards, license and worst of all anirreplaceable photo of my dad. As a travel agent I will never send anyone to Naples willingly. Too bad the reputation is all too well deserved.

  5. Angela bray says:

    Myself, my husband and our four children have just returned from a two week italy holiday. One week in Rome and the second week in Naples. I feel naive now but Naples was not what we were expecting. Not because I ever felt threatened but because it is filthy. The people have no respect for their city or each other. They are lazy, even the police lent on a wall smoking watching a mother get on her scooter with TWO young children, one in front, one behind none wearing helmets and did nothing. Lanes of roads were cordoned off because there was so much rubbish piled up on them. Please YouTube Naples rubbish problem. I cannot stress enough how disgusting the place was. We all thought it smelled ‘fart’ like and put it down to Mount Vesuvuis 20 mins drive away. It wasn’t!! Iwas just Naples. My husband regularly works in third world countries but he thought Naples was among the worst places he has ever been (Angola, Afghanistan, Lao, C.A.R all came above). We feel cheated and cannot recommend Naples to anyone. Yes Pompeii etc was fantastic but even that has not been sympathetically restored. Just rebuilt in places, drain pipes shoved through original walls and we left there feeling despondent. I would never ever go back. It was awful!

  6. Richard I says:

    I’ve visited 5 times and love it more than anywhere else in Italy, beautiful buildings and surrounding areas, the best Italian food, a real buzz and simply very unique. I would recommend it to anyone.

  7. Chipshot says:

    I am in Naples right now, and thank good my wife and are leaving tomorrow. the city is loud, but not as loud as the people. they seem like your wasting their time by eating at their restaurants, and shopping in their stores. As for the reputation, it is well deserved, the metro line 1 IS filled with thieves, I saw it today on the way back to the hotel. This city is dirty, urban, and not worth a travelers time! I love Italy, and have enjoyed my trip, this part will be the black eye of it. P.S. As posted by others, the scooters and cars have no boundaries, hold your loved ones hands and run as fast as you can.

  8. mary says:

    Me and my family Just got back from a 2 week trip through England, France and Italy. Before heading to Rome we decided to stay 2 nights in Naples so we could visit Pompeii and Capri. Upon entering the city we were all horrified of the condition of this city, that i believe, could be SO beautiful! Our cab driver was a little lost so we were driving around looking for our Hotel, we went around a large round about right near the train station …there were young men and woman completely strung out on drugs! one poor handsome young man was so gone, he was standing in the middle of the street with a window washing device and he was almost hit by a oncoming bus! The bus literally moved for him because he was not of his own mind to move. Then at this same round about, my whole family including young children, witnessed, in broad daylight a woman(prostitute) giving her services to a man as he was parked on the side of the road!! Upon leaving the city we saw a very very fat man, laying asleep on a sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon, this would not have struck me as strange if the man was wearing pants or underwear… but unfortunately HE WAS NOT! Just all his bottom halfness hanging to the wind! So! Naples lived up to its bad rep, and ive lived and seen alot of areas considered “RUFF” or “the worst in the US” Naples is worse then any of them! however i would absolutely go again if it meant getting to see Capri again <3

    • Antonio says:

      Mary,
      I have been to Naples Italy many times and walked the many narrow
      streets from the bay around the train station the hills and etc.
      I don’t recall the same things that you have described.
      The people that you have notice walking and selling Kleenex or try to wash the windshield of cars are not people from Naples.
      Because of pressure from the US as a Nato Allied, Italy was forced to take in people from North Africa and Albania. They don’t have a job so they are left to survive in the city.
      I hope that you also noticed some beauty in the city of Naples.

      • Eleni Dodd says:

        Antonio, My partner & I have just returned from Naples, & We can honestly say we have never been so pleased to get away from somewhere before.Naples is full of rubbish, it smells of toilet waste, there are pick pockets & muggers on scooters everywhere, we were corned by 2 people on scooters & mugged yesterday morning, and on the first day we arrived people tried to pick my partners pockets ….My partner & I are from Albania , and I assure you we are very respectful people, the two people that mugged us were ITALIAN ……

  9. Antonio says:

    Every city in a country has it’s good and bad. I could say the same for some cities that I have visited in the US. The people of the city of Napoli has given thru the centuries a lot. From food to culture, music, poetry beautiful views of the bay and the coast line of the Amalfi coast and about the island of Ischia and Capri. I could go on and on. The city of Napoli is the oldest city in Europe with it’s on beauty and mystery. To me, it is a city that is still in my HEART. Americans that I have seen traveling and behaved during the times that I have and I have been in a lot of countries, made me at that moment change nationality. We need to be more open minded when we visit a country and not to forget that we are the visitors.
    My suggestion, when any one visits Napoli Italy, is to make it’s on opinion and understand that he or she is not back in the US and they don’t do things the same as we are in the US.
    I am planning another trip to Napoli and vicinity and enjoy it’s beauty.

  10. Kara says:

    Amazing pictures! Takes me back to a food tour I took in Naples. It was with foodtoursofnaples.com.. So delicious. They took us around to every authentic eatery I could think of, and we feasted on fish, pasta, pizza, and some amazing desserts. I can’t wait to go back again one day.

  11. rock says:

    Is Naples comparable to a southern Spanish city ? .I’m thinking of going.

  12. Peter says:

    Naples is wonderful. Naples is gritty, it’s not scrubbed, bleached or plasticized, it’s real, it’s alive. Sure it has thieves, pickpockets and hustlers but what city doesn’t. Keep your eyes open, your valuables close and be aware of where you are. Act like you are from Nebraska and visiting New York and you will do fine. In Rome you go to the museums, the Vatican, the ruins, it’s an observational experience. In Naples you walk, you talk, you eat, you become part of the city, it’s an immersion experience. best pastries in Italy, need I say more.

  13. John says:

    I was there last November with my wife and we thought it was OK, we are going again this November. Nicest pizza ever. We stayed along the seafront near Castel del Ovo, a lovely area. Wandered around the city, went to Vomero, Centro Storico, etc, a city full of contrasts. Stay well away from the area around the railway station, also mind youself in La Sanita and the Spanish Quarter and other than that its OK. Its not as touristy as Rome, but as my neighbour in Dublin who is from there says – its the real Italy. I’d feel more unsafe late at night in Dublin than I would in Naples.

  14. Ronald De Cambio says:

    The origine of Naples name is not from Latin but Greek.It was part of Magna Grecia as was most of Southern Italy and Sicilia.Neo is the Greek prefix for new ,and polis is Greek for city.It pre dates the Romans by centuries.It’s amazing the amount of cultural ignorance their is among people who pretend to be experts.As for crime seeing how the murder rate in our country is around 600 in a bad year,for a population of 60,000,000 plus population and in New York it’s over 500 for a pop. of 8,000,000 I think Italy is pretty safe.By the way the Greater Naples area accounts for 10 percent of the total.p.s.for the culturally ignorant Naples vast cultural and artistic heritage is over 2500 years old it has more art in it’s churches alone than most cities have in their museums;but you’d have to know what your looking at or where you are to value it,something wasted on Americans who think the origine of the name comes from ‘latin’.

  15. Andy says:

    My wife and I are currently in Naples and we have just spent two weeks in Rome,Athens and some of the Greek Islands. The last three days of our trip are here in Naples and it is the most disgusting place I have ever been to in my life. Apart from visiting Pompeii, and the pizzeria known as the place that serves the best pizza in the world, Pizzeria Da Michel. We have not enjoyed any of our time in Naples. You are constantly watching your back and feeling your pockets to see if everything is still there.. there is someone trying to scam you at every corner. You don’t get to take the city in because you are too busy trying to be vigilant. It would take a lot to convince me to come back to this city. This post is not something that I wish to turn everyone against Naples but maybe the Italian government can try and improve the city that many people want to visit because of Pompeii but are too afraid to do so. I come from South Africa which has a bad reputation as being a place of Crime but I would feel safer walking around in the streets of Hilbrow than I do walking around in Naples.

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