Itching to get below the knee of Italy? Campania guarantees to amaze and delight. Boasting rich archeological ruins, heavenly coasts, incomparable food, and some of the most historic heritage sites in the world, a jaunt through these unmissable Campania destinations is sure to get your wanderlust working overtime!
Get high, hang out in sewers, and work up an appetite in Naples
Don’t let big-city Rome, fashionista Milan, or provincial paradise Palermo fool you: Naples (which is over 2,400 years old) more than deserves to rank among the top destinations in Italy. Whether you’re looking for a jumping-off point for some Campania holidays, or only have time for a quick city break, Naples is one of the Campania destinations that offers no shortage of ways to make the most of every moment. Archeological ruins, stunning churches, spooky underground tunnels, and sensational food – this is the city guaranteed to hit the spot.
And speaking of ‘hitting the spot’, there’s no better way to honour the most famous of Campanian cities than with breakfast, lunch and dinner, because the underrated capital is where the world’s favourite food was born: The beloved pizza. And boy oh boy, do they do it well. Unlike the varied (and occasionally horrifying) iterations of pizza that can be found around the world, Neapolitan pizza is as simple as it is high quality. The iconic slice leaves nowhere to hide: thin crust, fresh ingredients, nothing overcomplicated, and always delicious.
If you want to eat as the locals do, augment your pizza with a smorgasbord of regional specialties such as parmigiana melanzane (eggplant parmigiana – also known as “moreish mountain of eggplant slices with layers of melted cheese and pureed tomato”), spaghetti con vongole (spaghetti with clams), and caprese salad (which is arguably less a salad than a celebration of buffalo mozzarella with fresh tomato, basil and olive oil).
However, if the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie and the prospect of a Naples holiday has turned you into a cartoon character floating along at the scent of pizza, and pizza alone… well, that kind of diet won’t even raise an eyebrow in the motherland of flying dough. If you have a fear of commitment that runs parallel to your fear of missing out, split the difference and try all and sundry on a pizza tasting walking tour through Naples. Thankfully, the pizza tasting comes first on this delicious day out, with the walking only as arduous as it needs to be in order to get to your next fresh pizza.
If, regrettably, you find you have feasted until you simply can’t anymore, don’t worry; there are plenty of fabulous sites to scope out during your Naples holiday that have exactly nothing to do with food. Make a beeline for the San Lorenzo Maggiore, one of the city’s most beloved churches, situated directly in the heart of the Old Quarter. This spectacular Gothic basilica is a one-stop stroll through history, having been commissioned in the 6th Century, completed by the 13th, and given a fresh and funky update during the 18th. This stunning example of ancient Italian architecture is something you’ll see in only a few Campania destinations.
After you’ve taken in the splendor above the ground, step right around the corner from San Lorenzo Maggiore, delve beneath the surface and explore the coolest underground experience around… A subterranean network of some 450 kilometres, the Naples Underground is one of the city’s most fascinating and unique attractions. Descend over 100 steps into these hallowed halls, where Neapolitans took shelter during the extensive bombing of World War II.
In this labyrinth of etched stone, thousands of years of history await you – from the sparkling blue-tiled ancient sewers (don’t stress, they’re clean!) to the remains of a Greco-Roman theatre, which even includes Emperor Nero’s own dressing room. Discover the aqueduct that provided the city with water for centuries, or take a chilling walk through not one, but two historic catacombs: San Gennaro and San Gaudioso. Claustrophobes, beware: the wonders of the Naples Underground may not be for you – but if ever there were a time to conquer your fear, there’s no better place to do it.
If your underground adventures leave you hungering for a little more fresh air, get on your bike and go! One of the best ways to see Naples is via a bike tour through the city and the nearby Phlegraen Fields. Covering 85 kilometres over 7 hours, the top tour offers plenty of leisurely pauses for pizza and gelato, and just enough dismounts to take in ancient Roman temples and amphitheaters in Pozzuoli. Gaze out upon pristine lakes and craters born out of volcanic eruptions long ago, and thank yourself for doing something so gosh-darn healthy during your Naples city break.
Take a walk through history at Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius and Herculaneum
Is there a more essential Campania activity than visiting Pompeii? The tragic story of the lost city of Pompeii and its neighboring town of Herculaneum has been taught in elementary schools, and portrayed in cinema, literature and art for centuries. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD smothered the cities at the volcano’s base in dense layers of superheated ash and volcanic debris, encasing its victims for all of eternity.
To walk through the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum is to step back in time, as you wander amongst the once-bustling, now-ghostly streets. Calming and unsettling at the same time, it’s a process of observing the statues of people clutching one another – choosing love, choosing connection – in their final moments, and then remembering with a sickening jolt that they are not statues at all, but haunting plaster casts of the victims’ final moments.
This is what differentiates Pompeii holidays from the easygoing splendour for which Italy is otherwise renowned. Pompeii and Herculaneum represent one of the worst moments in Campania’s history, perfectly preserved for aeons. But the magic of it is that it is so perfectly preserved – after all, more sprawling kingdoms than the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum have fallen to the ravages of time, and forever disappeared from the earth. Those whose lives were lost when Mount Vesuvius erupted will never truly be gone, much less forgotten.
Pompeii is the more famous of the two cities, and its perfectly preserved streets carry an unmistakably haunting air. Skip the line to beat the crowds and truly appreciate the ambience. For the many who consider a visit to Pompeii something that deserves as much seriousness and respect as a pilgrimage, it is possible to undertake a VIP Experience in Pompeii, affording you a deeper insight into the lives that were lost, and the legacy that lives on.
The lesser-known Herculaneum is well worth the visit, if only because its remains feature art, architecture and mosaics that are just as opulent as anything found in Pompeii. Navigate the city with a trained archeologist (BYO Indiana Jones hat) who can explain how the volcanic ash (and devious archeological excavation methods) managed to preserve the Roman Empire’s best time capsule.
If standing amongst the stillness and the silence is not quite lively enough for you, a trip is absolutely required to the Virtual Archeological Museum of Herculaneum. If you kinda sorta always wanted the camera in Game of Thrones to pan down little alleyways and explore those epic cities, then the VAM is the spot for you. Its immersive multimedia installations take you on an interactive tour of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Baia, Stabiae and Capri, exactly as they would have been all those centuries ago. It’s just like exploring the Seven Kingdoms, only real, and without the disappointing finalé!
When in Herculaneum, do as the… uh… Herculaneans do, on this spectacular virtual trip back in time. Scurry through the Bourbon Tunnels, take in the Roman fora, and fantasize about your previous lives of luxury at the decadent Villa of the Papyri, which was discovered at the same time as the rest of the city in the mid-18th Century.
Can’t decide which of these archeological wonders to check out? Perché non entrambi? (That’s Italian for “why not both!”). See both Pompeii and Herculaneum at a nifty discount courtesy of the Tiqets Duo Deal.
All great videogames require you to clear some mini-bosses before confronting the Big Boss, and so too can your Pompeii holiday. This may shock you, but there’s ample opportunity to scale the still-very-much-active Mount Vesuvius. Don’t worry, the volcano won’t erupt on you, but there is something to be said about the experience of climbing it. That said, those with little (or easily tired) legs can get just as much bang for their buck by ascending the volcano via the Vesuvio Express, which offers a stunning panoramic view of Campania from the sky.
Volcanic eruptions might bring destruction in the short term, but in the long term, all that ash makes for some of the most fertile soil around. So it’s worth keeping that in mind when visiting Campania, as verdant land means lush vineyards and produce. So grab your favourite person, high-tail it to the foothills of Mount Vesuvius, and feast on antipasti and yummy pasta, as you sample your way through a wine tasting selection fit for the gods, and ponder Mufasa’s ‘Circle of Life’ sermon from the Lion King.
Live la dolce vita on the Campania Coast in Amalfi and Positano
When you’re considering which Campania destinations to add to your itinerary, the Amalfi coast is probably already up there with Pompeii. With crystalline blue seas and bountiful activities in and on of the water, you could be forgiven for only exploring the waters around Amalfi and Positano. But as heavenly and gorgeous as the coastal scenery is, there’s just as much to do and see on land in these postcard-perfect, pastel-hued towns as there is out on the great, big blue.
If time isn’t on your side, a day trip to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast is the perfect tonic to the bustling city of Naples. Break out your white linen trousers and button your shirt at half-mast, because there’s no better place to be – or be seen – than looking over the Amalfi Coast with the wind gently tousling your hair like an early-noughties Ralph Lauren advertisement.
For those who have more time, the ideal way to enjoy this not-so-far-flung paradise is to base yourself in one of the coastal towns and embark on a new adventure every day. Take a guided tour from Amalfi to the breathtaking Ferriere Waterfalls, with a personal guided tour through the Valle delle Ferriere, one of the 41 Italian biogenetic reserves that houses the fairy-garden path to the waterfalls themselves. Keep an eye out for some rare carnivorous plants as you walk, but resist the urge to Super Mario jump-n-squash them – they’re harmless to non-insects, and the local natural heritage body tends to frown on that sort of thing.
Once your wilderness adventure is over, head out onto the water with a half-day boat & snorkeling tour from Amalfi to Positano. Snorkel in crystalline waters and dive deep inside the grottos and caves. If you’re keen to feel the sand between your toes, shore up on one of the numerous secluded beaches or make the most of your guides by learning about the region’s history, culture, and lore.
Bust out your silk gowns and play king or queen for a day at Caserta Palace
Naples serves as both the heart of Campania destinations and the ideal base for exploring sites as unique and jaw-dropping as the Caserta Palace. Situated just to the north of the city, this sprawling, magnificent spectacle of a site more than warrants its own rave review.
The Palace was built in the 18th Century, and if you’ve been paying attention to the dates in this blog post, you’ve probably already worked out that this was a busy time in Campania’s archeological and architectural history. It’s a champion amongst Campania destinations, and is well worth a visit if you’re on a Naples city break. To put it mildly, the Palace abounds with all the trimmings and trappings one might associate with the words: “Crazy decadent.”
Caserta Palace is one of the biggest royal palaces ever built, and is actually the biggest if you measure the space by volume. The Palace is situated amidst some of the finest gardens you’ll find in Europe. Not only are the gardens manicured, but they are surrounded by lively woodlands that seem to teem with Disney animals. The gardens are so extensive that the architect who designed them had to integrate optical illusions to make them seem smaller, which was presumably the moment he realised the anti-aristocracy rumblings in France had the potential to spread!
Say limonc-hello to the island of Capri – one of the most picturesque Campania destinations
No Campania holiday is complete without a day, week or month on the islands, and there’s a reason Capri is the region’s most iconic. With rugged coastal scenery, luxury hotels and ample pier space for the yachting set, the only thing more spectacular than the finery of Capri is the flavour of its homemade limoncello.
If you’re on a Naples city break to the island of Capri and are worried you won’t have enough time to do it all, never fear – it’s more than possible to live large in this paradise perched atop the Mediterranean, even if you only have one day.
Beat the day’s heat with a morning trip to the Grotta Azzurra, which even a non-Italian speaker can probably work out stands for ‘Blue Grotto’ if they squint a little. Italians are a proud people, and the old cliché goes, no matter what you praise, someone will rush to tell you that their region does it better. But when it comes to clear water, sea air and magical ambience, few can argue that the Blue Grotto ranks amongst the best Campania destinations. Watch the water shimmer beneath you as you traverse the gentle waves by boat before exploring the depths of this beautiful cave, which dates back millennia.
Ascend from sea to sky during the afternoon by living like the island elite once did at Villa San Michele. Home of the Swedish physician and author Axel Munthe, not to mention his expansive collection of art from around the world, Villa San Michele is a Greco-Roman sanctuary perched in front of the Barbarossa mountain. Munthe detailed not only his life story, but the story of Villa San Michele in his book The Story of San Michele, which became one of the first modern bestsellers upon publication in 1929.
Munthe’s collection of Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian art was chronicled in the novel and most notably included a statue of a sphinx that was claimed to be 3,200 years old. Whether this legend is grounded in truth or embellishment, there’s no denying that Villa San Michele is far more than the sum of all its parts: it’s a secluded paradise, a haven for migratory birds, a man’s audacious architectural vision, and a romantic collection of art from around the world.
Alternatively, If you’d rather spend the entire day gallivanting across the Mediterranean Sea like the world’s most bourgeois pirate, consider taking a day trip tour of Capri Island from the coastal town of Sorrento. Armed with an English-speaking skipper, your mission – if you choose to accept it – will be to periodically dive off the boat into the gorgeous water, as you sun, snack and sip to your heart’s content, disembarking at your leisure at beautiful Campania destinations.
Conclude your unforgettable Campania holiday with one last extra-special stop. A few kilometres from the Campania city of Anacapri, the Punta Carena Lighthouse (active since 1867) is a perfect end-point for a low-intensity hike. They say on an island that every sunset is sent from the heavens, but that’s not necessarily true. At Punta Carena, however? Heck yes, it is – every single time. Head on out with ample time to catch the sun bobbing below the burnt-orange skin of the sea, and return to town beneath the shining veils of stars left in its wake.