The most densely populated region in Italy, Campania borders Basilicata to the southeast, Puglia to the northeast, Lazio to the northwest, and Molise to the north. It’s home to some of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Italy, including Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and the island of Capri. Visitors will find a wealth of things to do, from exploring fascinating archaeological sites and climbing Mount Vesuvius to sunbathing and swimming at beautiful beaches with crystal-clear blue water and embarking on one of the world’s most scenic drives along the Amalfi Coast Road. Marvel at the centuries-old architecture and works of art, wander through fascinating museums, and, of course, dine on lots of mouthwatering cuisine, including classic Neapolitan pizza which can be enjoyed in its birthplace. One thing is sure, you’ll never get bored in Campania, in fact, you’d need months if not years to explore it all.
Naples has a history that dates all the way back to the 5 th century BC when it was founded as the city of Neapolis by Greek settlers. With such a storied past, don’t miss the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its heart in the area around Spaccanapoli and Via dei Tribunali. From the Middle Ages through the 18th century, Naples was a center of architecture and art, something that you’ll still see today in everything from churches and palaces to ancient forts. Stroll the streets and alleyways where treasures can be discovered around nearly every corner. That includes Piazza del Plebiscito with its iconic colonnade home to the Royal Papal Basilica of San Francesco di Paola, one of Italy’s finest examples of Neoclassical architecture. The Royal Palace lies opposite and includes lush gardens and the 1737 San Carlo Theatre, the world’s oldest still operative opera house.
Naples offers some of the most mouthwatering cuisine on the planet, and as the birthplace of pizza, you can’t miss a visit to this city if only to try a slice of the classic Neapolitan. Here it’s not all about piling on the toppings or unusual options like bananas or Fritos. It’s simply mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil, invited in the 18 th century in honor of Queen Margherita di Savoia to represent the colors of the country’s flag. While you’re here, you’ll also want to sample the various street food, with street food tours a great way to do it as you’ll get a local perspective on the food and the city’s history too. Of course, you can sample all you’d like on your own too, including pizza a portafoglio, basically a pizza that can be folded and eaten on the go, with San Gregorio Armeno being the best place to find it.
One of the most important and complete of its kind in Italy, and the world, the Naples National Archaeological Museum displays many finds that survived the destructive force of Vesuvius, including from Pompeii and Herculaneum. That includes many statues, frescoes, and mosaics, as well as the famous “Secret Room.” These items were deemed so sexually explicit that they were locked in a secret cabinet, available only to scholars. Today, anyone that has a museum ticket can see what’s inside. The most famous and most shocking example of the erotic art is the statue of Pan copulating with a goat which was discovered at Herculaneum. Sexually explicit frescoes, Bronze-winged phallus, and small phallic figures believed to have been party favors are just a few of the other interesting finds. The Farnes collection, from the family of the same name, is impressive with sculptures and paintings that once decorated their palace in Rome.
Located just east of Naples, Mount Vesuvius soars over the Gulf of Naples, a looming presence for thousands of years. Rising over 4,200 feet, it can be seen from miles away. Mainland Europe’s only active volcano, it’s best known for the catastrophic eruption in 79 AD, widely regarded as one of the biggest disasters of the ancient world. It buried the nearby cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii with blankets of ash, freezing them in time. Visitors can access it independently by driving or taking public transport from Naples (and other cities), but a tour is the best way to experience it as you’ll get more insight into the volcano and its history. After parking, it’s just a short walk to the summit, taking only about half an hour to reach. You’ll be able to stroll alongside the crater, take a peek inside, and enjoy a panoramic view of the Campania region below.
The UNESCO-listed site of Pompeii is one of Campania’s most popular attractions. The ancientcity was destroyed in the massive 79 AD volcanic eruption, buried beneath the ash for nearly 1,700 years before being rediscovered. Just 16 miles from Naples, you can join a tour to visit (many include Mount Vesuvius too) or head there on your own. You’ll be able to stroll the centuries-old streets with the tracks of ancient chariots used as a popular mode of transport, are still visible. It’s like taking a trip back in time, with remarkably well-preserved ruins of thermal baths, a meat and fish market, amphitheater, bakery, homes, and even brothels all visible. You’ll learn all about the trades, customs, art, and daily life from almost 2,000 years ago with the city reemerging from the darkness of centuries, just as it would have been when Vesuvius blew its lava and ash.
Perhaps unfairly upstaged by Pompeii, the ruins of Herculaneum have wielded a wealth of archaeological finds after being rediscovered in 1709. It’s easier to navigate than Pompeii, though it had a fate parallel to the more famous city, destroyed during a 62 AD earthquake with the Mount Vesuvius eruption 17 years later fossilizing it in a thick sea of mud. Even some of the most delicate items were well-preserved, including furniture, clothing, and ancient advertisements, along with the terror-struck skeletons of the residents. Many tried to escape by boat – what looks like a moat surrounding the town is actually an ancient shoreline where archaeologists found about 300 skeletons, the remains of those who tried to flee but succumbed to extreme heat and noxious gases. Once a Roman fishing town home to a population of around 4,000, it can easily be toured with a map and audio guide.
Day trips are available to Capri Island from many places in Campania, including Naples and several Amalfi Coast towns. One of the three major islands in the Gulf of Naples, it’s renowned for its natural beauty and glamour, with A-list celebrities and all sorts of international jet setters frequently visiting. In fact, it’s attracted wealthy VIPs for centuries, earning the nickname the “Island of the Emperors” after Emperor Caesar Augustus chose it as his favorite vacation spot. Most boat tours to the island include a visit to the Blue Grotto, a sea cave along its coast that’s illuminated in brilliant blue when sunlight passes through. After viewing, enjoy strolling the maze of narrow streets with artisan shops selling handmade leather sandals and upscale boutiques offering popular designer brands. There are also Roman ruins that can be explored, including the well-preserved 1st century BC residence of Roman Emperor Tiberius, Villa Jovis.
Whether you plan to stay in one of the towns along the Amalfi Coast or visit on a day trip, a drive along the Amalfi Coast Road is one of the top things to do in Campania. One of the world’s most scenic, it’s only about 34 miles but allows at least two hours to soak up the dramatic scenery. It connects 13 seaside towns while hugging cliffs that plunge to an aquamarine sea, bringing stunning views of the water along with terraces of olive groves, lemon trees, and vineyards. Each town has something unique to offer of its own, with favorites including Positano with its pastel-hued homes and buildings, Ravello with magnificent villas and panoramic views, the nearly vertical alpine town of Amalfi, and Sorrento, famous for its lemons with elegant streets and lush gardens. In Minori, there are Roman ruins to explore, and there are multiple jaw-dropping viewpoints along the way.
There are many options for boat tours, including excursions that will bring you to the islands of Procida and Ischia for a full day of fun from Naples. Less than two square miles in size, tiny Procida was named Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2022, the first island to ever be granted the title. You might have glimpsed it on-screen as it served as the setting for the 1999 film “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” complete with narrow streets, pastel homes, historic sites, café-lined marinas, and nearly empty beaches. Ischia is known for its naturally warm, mineral-rich thermal waters with hot springs bubbling up at Maronto Beach. There are Roman ruins that lie beneath the sea at Cartaromana Beach which boasts views of Aragonese Castle, connected to the island by a bridge. Visitors can learn more about the island’s fishing tradition at the Sea Museum nearby, housed in an 18th -century Palazzo. Tours typically include independent time to explore both islands.
The Campania coastline is known for its variety of landscapes with a wide range of beaches beloved by sunbathers and water sports enthusiasts. You’ll find hidden gems among overhanging cliffs, unspoiled stretches in Cilento National Park, and small beaches just minutes from the heart of Naples. Gaiola Beach with interesting sea stacks offshore is a great place to snorkel among colorful fish and see the ruins of a Roman villa at Gaiola Underwater Park. Cale Bianca (White Cove) is a stunning beach in the Salerno region, renowned for its crystal-clear aquamarine water and pristine white sands, and you’ll find plenty of spectacular stretches along the Amalfi Coast. The pretty town of Positano is home to four, including popular Spiaggia Grande and Arienzo, which is accessed by a free shuttle departing from the pier and offers both free and pay sections that include the Arienzo Beach Club which serves tasty food and drink.
The Campania region is world-famous for its handmade leather sandals which can be purchased on Capri Island and the towns along the Amalfi Coast. They’re usually more expensive in Capri, but if you visit Positano you’ll find some excellent high-value shops called sandali artigianali where they will make you custom sandals from genuine Italian leather, which is comfortable and flexible. Many of the shops are family-run, with those making them following the ancient tradition handed down through generations. While most offer ready-to-wear options, if you get them custom-made, you’ll ensure the best fit, with a pattern made of your feet. You’ll choose the heel height you prefer, the color of your straps, and the design from the dozens of different colors and styles. They’ll make them for you while you explore the town, and when you come back, you’ll have the perfect, fashionable pair.
Italy is famous for its olive oil and when in Campania, you can take a guided tour of a traditional olive oil farm. Frantoio Gargiulo is a 10 minute drive from Sorrento, which is also well worth visiting or staying in with the chance to try some of the world’s best lemons. A guided tour of the olive oil farm includes a walk through the property’s ancient olive oil trees where you’ll learn all about the tradition and history of producing olive oil in the region, accompanied by an expert. It includes a display of tools used in historic times for pruning and pressing, as well as a look at each stage of the olive oil-making process. At the end, you’ll enjoy a tasting of extra-virgin olive oil – there are multiple varieties to try, including olive oil flavored with oranges, truffles, and Sorrento lemons.
Sorrento is not only famous for its lemons, but limoncello, a liqueur made using lemon zest and peels, rectified spirit, and simple syrup. With Sorrento lemons among the world’s best, named for the town itself, you’ll want to sample it here. While you’ll often be served a complimentary thimble of limoncello after a meal here, and throughout the Amalfi Coast, it’s worth taking a tour to find out how it’s made and enjoy a tasting. You’ll typically begin the tour at a Sorrento lemon grove to explore the grounds and learn about the different kinds of lemons, how they’re harvested, and the various production methods used, often from the owners themselves. At the end, you’ll get to taste freshly made Limoncello made from the lemons grown there. You might want to buy a bottle or two to bring home as a perfect souvenir of your time on the Amalfi Coast.
Those who like to hike should consider the Path of the Gods, a spectacular route in the Amalfi Coast region, best accomplished in mid to late spring or early fall when the weather is at its most pleasant. Summer hikers will want to head out early to avoid the midday heat, starting by 8 a.m. if not earlier. The classic walk was named for its use by the gods who were said to use it for their journey from the heavens to the sea when the alluring Sirens called. It’s a fairly easy trek with various starting points, with one of the most popular starting from Bomerano, winding to Nocelle which is just outside picturesque Positano, covering 3.5 miles. By walking toward Positano from Bomerano, the dazzling views will be in front of you the entire hike. At the end, call or taxi or use public transportation to return.
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