Naples has a frayed, funky, chaotic, delightful vibe that is uniquely Italian. The city is well worth at least a day trip from Rome in any vacation in Italy. With a little planning, kid-friendly activities are easily found in this ancient Greek and Roman city.
Teach kids at least a few basic phrases in Italian before they arrive in Italy. Natives will be charmed and friendly when children pipe up with an unprompted “grazie” or “per favore,” and kids will feel more involved in and appreciative of the culture.
Get a children’s book of Greek and Roman mythology and read it before the vacation. Kids will be much more entertained by and interested in museums if they can recognize the stories and figures being represented.
Traffic in Naples is insane. Just because an area is a pedestrian zone doesn’t mean that scooters and small cars won’t zoom through. Scooters aren’t required to obey red lights, and most cars simply take them as a suggestion. Keep kids close, hold hands, and shadow locals when crossing the streets.
No trip to Italy is complete without sampling some delicious gelato. The intense flavors are much more vibrant than average ice cream flavors in the United States, and are a real treat. Even if it’s cold, be sure not to miss this classic Italian experience.
Naples streets abound with excellent pastry shops, too. Be sure to try the sfogliatelle, a Naples classic. It’s a flaky triangular pastry shell filled with a sweet ricotta filling.
Cafe Gambrinus, at the south end of Via Toledo, the major shopping street in Naples, is an excellent place to sample both gelato and pastries. As with most cafes, it costs more to sit down and eat than to stand at the bar or walk away with the purchases, but especially with children, the chance to relax can be worth the extra expense.
Naples is the home of the pizza, a dining experience that will excite most children. A classic margherita pizza has only tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil, the colors of the Italian flag. Some of the oldest pizzerias, like Antica Pizzeria da Michele (founded 1870) only serve margherita and marinara pizzas, but most offer a variety of toppings. A true Neapolitan wood-fired pizza only takes 90 seconds to cook—an impressive site to see—and many pizzerias have open kitchens where you can watch the pizzaiolos (pizza masters) in action.
The Napoli Sotterranea Cultural Association is dedicated to the study and appreciation of the fascinating ancient parts of Naples that now exist only underground. Explore Greek and Roman aqueducts, tufa quarries, marketplaces, and even the original Roman theater where Nero performed (badly, by contemporary accounts). Two entrances to the Naples underground are in close proximity, one block to the north of Spaccanapoli, the street that bisected the original Greek city. One entrance is to the right of the San Lorenzo Maggiore church, one is just to the left of the San Paolo Maggiore church, both on Piazza San Gaetano. Both are worth visiting.
If it’s near a mealtime, stop at Pizzeria Decumani for a delicious and inexpensive meal after the subterranian tours.
Pompeii and Herculaneum
When mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E., the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried and spectacularly preserved. Excavations at the sites give us a truly unique view into Roman life at that time, and children find it fascinating to climb around the ruins and explore. Both sites are easily reached by Circumvesuviana, the commuter train.