A Christmas Walking Tour of Naples
We can’t all spend Christmas in the best city in the world- and by that I mean Naples. Naples at Christmas is baroque. It is sensual. It smells like salted cod and tastes like cinnamon and almonds. The intricate nativity scenes for which Naples is famous may not accurately depict the birth of Jesus (pretty sure the magi were not there on the same night JC gasped his first breath) but they most assuredly capture the spirit of everyday life in Naples. In fact if you are in New York, you can visit a Neapolitan nativity at the Met this year. But if you are in Naples or feel like imagining you are, follow this simple Christmas walking guide, to experience the frenetic energy that is Napoli at Christmas. Follow the Sauced & Found google map above to stay on course.
Not only is Montesanto an important public transportation hub, it is the beating soul of Naples. From here you can take the funicular up to the hilltop neighborhood of Vomero or the Cumana train to the scenic Campi Flegrei. Today we are headed to the Pignasecca market. We start in front of the funicular, in the early evening when we can enjoy the Christmas lights. Here you will find a wild ,larger than life LED water fountain complete with special running water effects. Now we head to the markets.
2) Pizzeria 900
Following your map, proceed through Pignaseca, the longest running open-air market of Naples. You will notice the crowds. There are people everywhere. Many of them are huddled in front of the fish monger at Pescheria Azurra where they are either stuffing their faces with paper cones of fried fish or buying fish to prepare for the Christmas Eve holiday- always a seafood based feast in Naples. Look for the squiggly live serpents swimming around in bins full of water. They are gross. They are Capitone eels. As you arrive in front of Pizzeria 900, you will notice something strange. A large bread like structure. It is a nativity scene made entirely out of pizza dough. Pizzaiolo Carmine Mauro has been making pizza art for years- this is his magnum opus.
3) Piazza Gesù Nuovo
Now we make our way out of the Pignaseca market, across via Toledo and onto Spaccanapoli, the street that is not really an official street. A long boulevard that slices through the historic center of Naples, we call it Spaccanapoli which means exactly that. Its official name changes several times throughout the walk. But where we start it’s called via Benedetto Croce and we are now entering the historic center of Naples, one of the oldest continuously inhabited urban centers in the world. You are now in Piazza Gesù Nuovo. Look up! There is an obelisk and on top is a statue of the Virgin Mary. She is said to have two faces and believe me- she is always watching you. On December 8th every year, the firefighters of Naples use a telescopic ladder to deliver her a bouquet of white roses.
4) I Presepi da Guinness
As we make our way down Spaccanapoli, we arrive at one of the weirder destinations on our Christmas walk- the Guinness nativity museum. Here you will find a collection of miniature objects that contain impossibly tiny renderings of the classic nativity. Teeny tiny baby Jesus is stuffed into mini geods, perfume bottles and postage stamp sized frames. When you enter, they will provide you a magnifying glass. That is how itty bitty this nativity collection is.
5) San Gregorio Armeno
And now we are at San Gregorio Armeno Street, capitol of the Neoplitan Christmas nativity. They are life size here- but no less weird. The two major workshops are Capuano and Ferrigno. And back in the 18th century to draw customers from each other, they started putting unlikely pop cultural figurines at the site of Jesus’ birth. Now in addition to the magi, Gabrielle the arc angel and Mary and Joseph, you may also spot Donald Trump, the Beatles and Prince George manger side. Lord help us all.
6) Pasticceria Caparelli
Now that you have braved the crowds of San Gregorio Armeno, it is time for a treat. The family run Caparelli bakery is one of the best in Naples. Get yourself a Roccoco cinnamon biscuit and keep walking. As you follow your route, you turn left on another famous and ancient Greek street- via Tribunale. Not only are there acres of ancient ruins below you- there are droves of famous pizzerias in front of you. But don’t worry, we aren’t stopping for pizza yet, we are walking.
7) San Pietro a Majella Conservatory
You have now arrived at the most important music conservatory in Naples and one of the oldest in world. Mozart has been here. Bellini taught here (the piazza behind you was also named after him- so too was a certain brunch beverages favored by obnoxious Bravo housewives) and if you listen hard enough you may hear a baroque Christmas carol or two. Better yet, get yourself an events program and discover when the next Christmas themed chamber orchestra event is.
8) Piazza Dante
As you walk through Piazza Bellini, you will notice a prominent statue of Bellini and a walled off section protecting what appear to be a pile of old rock slabs. These are the walls of the ancient Greek city. Head across the street and under the porticoes of Porta Alba, the oldest and largest booksellers in Naples. There is also a drag queen here who hosts tombola (bingo) events throughout the holidays. She calls it tombola vajassa- whore’s bingo. Keep walking. You are at Piazza Dante. Look there’s Dante. There is also a big Christmas tree. Thankfully nobody has stolen it yet- the same can not be said for the tree in Galleria Umberto.
9) Piazza Plebiscito
Now you are walking, walking, walking down via Toledo, admiring the erratic Christmas lights overhead. If you are tired, now would be a good time to end your walk and have a pizza in Pignasecca. I suggest Pizzeria 22 or 900. Alternately keep walking and you will arrive at the regal Piazza Plebiscito. The crowds will certainly be out on via Toledo. This is the main shopping and entertainment district in Naples. If you make it all the way to Piazza Plebiscito, get yourself a hot toddy, or vino caldo, or tea or glass of prosecco at the iconic Bar Gambrinus. You deserve it.