Have you ever considered going to southwest Italy off-season? In cold months when you can’t enjoy excellent weather, warm sea and long days? I decided to go to Naples in late January to see a few attractions in the Campania region. Was it all worth it? Before I tell you about Naples, Procida, Ischia, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius and other places to visit, I want to summarise all the pros and cons of a winter trip to Italy.
PROS of going to Naples off-season:
– Bargain plane tickets (return ticket with a small cabin luggage cost me €16 from Ryanair).
– Lower prices and more budget options for accommodation (I paid €26 for a couple per night in the cheapest place).
– Way less tourists, in some places no foreign tourists at all!
– Avoiding heat that often is unbearable during the summer.
– Sales for clothes and shoes up to 70% in January (“saldi”).
– It’s the orange season!
CONS of going to Naples off-season:
– Short days, as it’s getting dark after 5pm.
– Shorter opening hours for many attractions and limited transport options.
– Cold weather; a warm jacket and a hat is necessary in the evenings.
– Beaches not being cleaned, too cold water to swim (unless you’re a winter swimmer).
– Limited options in surrounding islands, as most of the restaurants, cafes and shops in touristy spots are closed.
– Visit to Mt. Vesuvius is not guaranteed due to bad weather or road conditions.
Is this dirty, noisy, dangerous Naples worth visiting, anyway?
Doing my research before the trip I’ve often read that Naples is not worth it at any time. Mostly because of the rubbish and dirt on the streets, as well as crazy drivers and concerns about visitors safety. Well, I’ve also read that Earth is flat…
For starters, many big cities in South Europe have problems with dirt, rubbish or ugly graffiti and Naples is just one of them. Still, if you explore the city more you’d find out it’s not everywhere! I guess those complaining people just haven’t seen too many places in Europe. Secondly, everyone who has been in Italy before or visited countries in Asia won’t be surprised with (lack of) rules on the roads. And finally yes, you must watch your personal belongings and money all the time. As you have to do so in almost every big city in the world! Nothing unusual here.
I can imagine that in the summer, with extreme temperatures and thousands of tourists on the streets and pocket-pickers among them, moving around Naples may be much worse. In January the heat was long forgotten and the tourists were invisible. I didn’t feel unsafe in the city centre and other points of interest. If anything, exhaustion from old motorbikes and lack of reliability of trains and buses annoyed me a little bit. (Don’t even bother to look at the schedules because it’s a waste of time.)
What to do in Naples in two days?
As I always say, the best way to discover a city and its vibe is to wander around on the streets in the most famous areas. Naples is a chaotic city, as Italian as it gets. I spent only two days there, so for that reason I wanted to “feel” this city instead of checking out all the most popular tourist attractions. Those you can find in every travel guide, not necessarily in this article.
I started my first day in Naples walking around Via Pignasecca, which was very close to my accommodation in Eleonora Suites Napoli. It figured to be a great location due to a street market there, full of stalls with fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and seafood, street food, clothes and other staff. Obviously trying street food is a must in Naples, as it’s delicious and very cheap. And really, who would resist such treats as cuoppo, gamberoni, zeppole, melanzane, fiori di zucca, pizza fritta, frittata di pasta, palle e’riso or excellent Italian cakes, pastries and sweets?!?
I found the old town and its surroundings the most interesting. All these narrow streets, laundry on balconies that seem to be there for weeks, either colourful or neglected houses or interesting street art make Naples an unique place. Despite rubbish, noise and ugly graffiti. My favourite area was Quartieri Spagnoli, a Spanish quarter surprisingly similar to some old parts of Havana, the capital of Cuba. Cheap local eateries, street food kiosks or wine bars were another advantage of wandering there!
It’s hard to deny that trying local cuisine was a huge part of this trip. I have to recommend a marvellous pizza in Gino e Toto Sorbillo (although you can’t be disappointed with pizza anywhere in this city, honestly!) and the best cocktails in the atmospheric Libreria Berisio, which is also a bookstore! Additionally, an unpretentious Piazza Bellini is a nice square to visit in the evening to find several lovely restaurants, bars and some night-life.
On the second day I took the Rampe Del Petraio walk, which was recommended to me by a friend who used to live in Naples. Take a funicular or metro to Montesanto where it starts. One of the first sights on the way is 14th-century fortress Castel Sant’Elmo. I suggest getting a ticket and entering the castle for fantastic panoramic views of the city, Mt. Vesuvius and the whole bay. Afterwards this walk is all about getting down the hill on the picturesque stairs between colourful buildings. At the end get to Chiaia, a rich district with the most expensive and exclusive shops, fine hipster coffee shops and fancy restaurants. It’s the cleanest and the safest part of the city, so if old streets or Quartieri Spagnoli are not your thing, come to Chiaia instead. Rampe Del Petraio ends on the seafront where I had an amazing lunch in Ristorante e Pizzeria Stella (next to the second, more expensive Gino e Toto Sorbillo restaurant) and then a walk back to the strict city centre, partially along the coast. If you take this route, enjoy the neat square Piazza del Plebiscito and the beautifully designed but sadly overpriced shopping mall Galleria Umberto I.
In the evening, when the daylight was gone, I went to Napoli Sotterranea. The English name (Naples Underground Tour) is self-explanatory; basically it’s a 90 minutes guided tour to discover tunnels and chambers hidden under the streets and to hear many intriguing and even funny stories from the past. I truly enjoyed the undergrounds and I recommend it, unless you’re claustrophobic.
Pompeii – the best one day excursion from Naples!
One of the most popular excursions from Naples is Pompeii, the ruins of an ancient town destroyed by the violent and unexpected eruption of Mt. Vesuvius almost two thousand years ago. It only takes a short route by the Circumvesuviana train from Naples to Piazza Garibaldi.
Pompeii is an extraordinary site and I was really overwhelmed by it! I really felt that I was walking on a fascinating place that witnessed an unique historic event and was suddenly abandoned because of it. I spent almost the whole day in Pompeii and perhaps saw a little bit more than half of it, which gives you the idea how tremendous the site really is. And that’s the main reason why it’s so superb! I think the best way to explore Pompeii is to get a map there while buying tickets and ask the cashier to mark where the biggest attractions are, otherwise it’s easy to skip something spectacular! A huge advantage of going to Pompeii in the winter is a small number of tourists; taking a picture with other people spoiling the view is not an option.
I would recommend doing some reading before visiting, especially about how Pompeii was destroyed, discovered and preserved. If you find this place as interesting as I did, visit the Herculaneum site nearby, as well as Naples National Archaeological Museum with the best artifacts taken from the ruins.
Take a ferry to the charming island of Procida!
Another great idea for an excursion is Procida, one of the islands in the Gulf of Naples. The affordable ferry runs a few times per day and takes less than an hour altogether. Procida is a perfect place for a slow, romantic two days stay, to enjoy short walks, good food and cuddling with local cats. It reminded me a Greek island Hydra that I’ve written about before. If you don’t plan to stay overnight, a few hours trip and coming back to Naples in the evening would be good enough.
I would suggest taking a morning ferry, exploring the main harbour Marina Grande, as well as surrounding streets and squares. Having a delicious Italian breakfast is also a wise thing to do, as plenty of eateries in this part of the island were opened in January.
The biggest attraction of Procida is located in another harbour and it takes just 10 minutes on foot to get there. Marina di Corricella is known due to its gorgeous and colourful houses. I spent two nights there in lovely Casa Athina and I highly recommend it, although any accommodation in one of those houses in Marina di Corricella should be wonderful, I guess. A walk to the nearest hill to get an amazing view from the point called Panoramica sulla Corricella is a must, as well as discovering other interesting corners around, such as small streets, churches and a closed prison. The second viewing point, Belvedere Elsa Morante, is about 20 minutes away in the other direction and it’s still worth a walk due to a view from a different angle and a volcanic beach nearby.
Marina di Corricella, however, is abandoned off-season. When I was there, all restaurants and cafes were closed, except for La Locanda del Postino. Famous Italian film “Il Postino” was filmed there, which you can see in the pictures inside. Fortunately it’s not only a famous spot; the food was absolutely amazing and can’t be missed!
Coastal walk to the south side of the island to the harbour called Marina Chiaiolella may be considered, if you spend more time in Procida. Take the bus on the way back, but keep in mind that it’s off-season and due to how the transport (does not) work in Italy, you may wait at the stop a long while (and freeze your butt off).
Take a trip from Naples to the island of Ischia
I also decided to visit Ischia, yet another island in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Ischia is located about 15 minutes by ferry from Procida and a little bit more than one hour from Naples. It’s much bigger than Procida, therefore it’s necessary to use local buses once you’re there.
From the main harbour Porto d’Ischia I took the bus to Castello Aragonese d’Ischia, a beautiful castle built on a tiny rocky island. Then I had a long and nice coastal walk back to the Porto d’Ischia.
On my second day I took a bus to the south part of the island, due to many unusual attractions that can be found there. I started to walk Via Sorgeto to visit Spiaggia di Sorgeto, a free beach known for its hot volcanic springs. It was a nice experience, especially in January when swimming in the sea was not too pleasant.
From Spiaggia di Sorgeto I went/took a bus to Sant’Angelo. It’s without a doubt a jewel of Ischia due to its amazing location and views of the picturesque houses, beautiful tiny streets, surrounding sea and other islands. Unfortunately it’s totally closed for winter, so I recommend having lunch (or a drink with plenty of finger food included) in local restaurant Da Gisella, just before you leave Spiaggia di Sorgeto. Otherwise starvation is imminent.
Next, I took a coastal walk on the path called Via Petrelle from Sant’Angelo to the beach Le fumarole dei Maronti. This place is known for hot volcanic sands. Walking or laying on them in January was a lot of fun (what must be missed in the summertime!) but once again, in off-season the beach was empty and all the shops, spas and hotels were closed. That was pretty surprising, as Ischia is way more popular than Procida, where finding good food was not a problem. Apparently during off-season owners of the local hospitality sector leave this part of the island.
Having said that, I need to add that in very lively and busy Porto d’Ischia there were a number of options for dinner, dessert or drink, especially around the busy street Via Alfredo De Luca. I highly recommend La Dolce Sosta cafe with amazing cakes and sweets, as well as restaurant Fratelli La Bufala (aka Il Giardino Di Enzo). I visited it twice – not very common for me – to try their delicious pizza fritta, ripieno tradizionale, pasta paccheri and gnocchi. None of these yummy Italian dishes cost me more than 9 euro!
Other attractions in Campania
There’re many other places worth visiting in the region of Campania, other than Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Procida or Ischia. My time in Naples was too short, but I want to mention these spots at the end.
The first and obvious choice would be Mt. Vesuvius, one of the most famous volcanoes in the world. My booking for Vesuvio (isn’t this Italian name more catchy?) was cancelled due to some snow on the road. Safety first, damn it! Actually, no one bothers to inform visitors if that happens, so you only find out when you get almost there and can’t find a shuttle bus. I decided to do something else instead of rescheduling, as I’ve visited several volcanoes before. Nevertheless, a trip to Mt. Vesuvius is highly recommended. Here’s the best way to do it based on the lesson I’ve learned and loads of research:
|How to book Mt.Vesuvius off-season to avoid struggles? On the day of your choice in the very morning, call +39 081 239 5653 to ask about weather conditions and accessibility. If Mt. Vesuvius is open for visitors on that day, only then buy your ticket online. It’s not busy at all in the winter time, so booking well in advance is not necessary (and the refund process is frustrating and should be avoided). While buying the ticket, choose The Great Cono route as it’s the only one, out of many available, to the crater itself. Don’t be late, as they say you’d lose your booking and money!|
Moreover, the town of Sorrento is surely worth visiting. It’s located on the peninsula that is a part of Amalfi coast. The town was recommended to me mainly because of its historic centre, neat squares and undeniable charm. If I visit Naples again I will definitely take a round trip around the whole Amalfi coast, which is supposed to be beautiful, and probably stay in Sorrento for a night.
Capri is the most visited island among people who fly to Naples. For exactly that reason I decided to skip Capri and go to less popular and touristy Procida and Ischia. Still, it must be a great place worth discovering, especially off-season when the crowds are gone.
Go to southern Italy in the winter!
Now it’s official: having an off-season journey to southwestern Italy is a very good idea! Find out yourself if Naples during the winter is your cup of… espresso! As long as you don’t hate the cold weather or don’t dream about hours of sunbathing on the warm Campania’s beaches, you must enjoy your stay.
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