Italy: Seeing Naples on a budget

Castel dell' Ovo, a landmark on the Bay of Naples, is one of the places you can visit for free in Italy's third-largest city.
Castel dell' Ovo, a landmark on the Bay of Naples, is one of the places you can visit for free in Italy's third-largest city. AP

La dolce vita is all the sweeter when you get it for free.

“La dolce vita,” of course, means “the sweet life,” in Italian, something you will find plenty of in Italy’s third-largest city.

Naples gets a bad rap for crime and grime, and it’s true the city does have some gritty edges. But there’s plenty to enjoy here: amazing pizza, impressive architecture, a rich and carefully preserved history — all set on the turquoise curve of the Bay of Naples.

Here are five ways to get a slice of Neopolitan life for free.

▪ Roam the Duomo: From the outside, Naples Cathedral, or the Duomo di Napoli, isn’t that impressive. But inside you’ll find a gilded panoply of sculptures and frescoes. The highlight is the Royal Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro, to your right as you enter, which has a wealth of statues and other art beneath an ornate ceiling.

▪ Celebrate Christmas in July, or whenever: Not far from the Duomo you’ll find Christmas Alley, real name Via San Gregorio Armeno. This narrow alley is famous for its practitioners of the art of Neopolitan nativity scenes featuring detailed figurines. Walk slowly and peer through the shop doors to watch the artists at work.

▪ Perambulate the past: Wander through the Centro Storico. Main thoroughfares include Via dei Tribunali, which bisects the district running more or less east-west, Via Duomo, on the northeast side and Via San Biagio dei Librai to the south. You can go armed with a guidebook and check off the various churches and monuments or roam at random. A landmark to look out for is San Lorenzo Maggiore, Via dei Tribunali, 316. Entrance to the church is free. For nine euros (about $11.50), you can also visit the museum and excavations that have unearthed an ancient marketplace.

▪ Capture the castle: Castel dell’Ovo, or Egg Castle, gets its name from a legend that said the Roman poet Virgil ensured the safety of this spot in ancient times by burying a magical egg. If the egg breaks, disaster ensues. A devastating storm did strike in the 14th century, but alarm was quelled when authorities assured the populace that the egg had been replaced. Ask the friendly staff today where the egg is and they’ll reply, “It’s a secret.” The castle is home to a prehistory museum which hosts occasional exhibitions that are not free, but there is no charge to walk around the rest of the fortress.

▪ Cover the waterfront: Earlier this year, two waterfront streets, Via Caracciolo and Via Partenope, were closed to traffic, creating a pedestrian thoroughfare along the Naples’ waterfront that has proved popular with joggers, bikers and families out for a stroll. Here you can enjoy great views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius and maybe even get in a little exercise.

Saving money? Burning calories? And getting a fabulous view? Yes, life is sweet.