Naples is authentic. I think that word might get thrown around too much these days without meaning. Where other city’s historic cores have been taken over by souvenir shops, tourist restaurants, and designer brand shopping, old Naples remains very residential and commercial only with mom and pop butcher shops and groceries, pizzerias, café/bars, pastry shops, and souvenir shops selling local “historic Naples” items. There are also an absurd number of churches.
The historic center of Naples has earned the UNESCO World Heritage Site denomination, due in part to containing many of the 448 historical and monumental churches, the highest number in the world for a single city. Without nearly any open spaces or parks, Naples is considered Europe’s most densely populated city.
The historic center is very working class. A walk past the ground floor windows will show you a family enjoying a meal together, a grandmother sitting in front of a small television, a mother preparing food in the kitchen. Kids play out in the streets.
What surprised me most about Naples was just how narrow the streets were between building as high as they were. Naples is built on a slight slope, so streets arch down to the harbor. The streets are a maze of confusion, but if you orient yourself to the two parallel main streets, Via Tribunali and Spaccanapoli, it will help you keep your bearings. But getting lost is half the fun.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Naples. I visited in cool November and saw a much different Naples than the one so often described in guidebooks as Italy’s grittiest, most polluted, and most crime-ridden city.