5 top places to visit in the Bay of Naples

Situated in the Campania region of southern Italy, the Bay of Naples is a very popular place to visit, not only for its delicious food, intriguing history, architecture and cafe culture, but also (and not least of all) for its beautiful scenery.

By Saga team

Published 3 May 2024

Also known as the Gulf of Naples (Golfo di Napoli), the Bay of Naples is approximately 15km wide and opens westwards into the Mediterranean. Naples and Pozzuoli are found at its northern edge, Sorrento and the Sorrentine Peninsula to the south, and Mount Vesuvius lies on its eastern border.

The Bay has many attractions to offer: the islands of Capri (a favourite with the A-list), Ischia and Procida are just a short ferry-ride away from Naples and Sorrento across the bay, whilst the old Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum are jam-packed full of archaeological interest.

Tour a little further around the coast from Sorrento and you’ll arrive at the Amalfi Coast, one of the most famous coastlines in the world. Stretching from Sorrento to Salerno via stylish towns like Amalfi and Positano, its dramatic cliffs dotted with pastel-painted houses and terraces lined with citrus and olive trees, offer a picture-postcard vision of Italy. Whether you view it from the water on wheels (cruises around the Amalfi Coast to and from Sorrento are popular, as is the famously stunning drive), you’re in for a treat.

It’s best to plan your trip to the Bay of Naples or the Amalfi Coast in spring or autumn when the temperature is not too hot, but the water is warm enough to bathe in. Temperatures can be high in summer, and in the winter months many of the attractions you wish to see could be closed.

Naples, nestling under a towering volcano, dates back to 600 BC when it was known as New City, Neapolis. Bustling and lively, the capital of the Campania region is a convenient place to begin your sightseeing tour of the Bay of Naples. As the country’s third largest city, it’s unsurprising that there are many tourist attractions to visit.

The old historic centre of Naples is split in two by its most famous street, known locally as Spaccanapoli (which means literally ‘Naples splitter’). Spaccanapoli, whose real name is Via Benedetto Croce, is one of the ancient decumani, the ancient grid system of the old Greco-Romano Neapolis.

Naples’ churches include the ornate Gésu Nuovo, the Gothic Santa Chiara and the Pio Monte della Misericordia, which houses Caravaggio’s Baroque painting The Seven Acts of Mercy (Sette opere di Misericordia); all are worth a visit.

Museums include the 16th century Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which contains classical sculptures and artefacts collected mainly in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the Certosa e Museo di San Martino, which displays paintings and sculptures from different periods of Naples’ city history. It also boasts the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte, one of the city’s most important art galleries and museums, which exhibits Classical, Renaissance, Baroque and modern art, sculptures, porcelain and majolica (tin-glazed pottery).

If you’re a fan of art and architecture, why not take a visit to see the many frescoes in the cathedral, Duomo di San Gennaro, or visit the 13th century Royal Palace, Castel Nuovo? For some retail therapy, the elegant shopping district of Via Toledo is where you’ll find the best shops. Just take care when crossing the roads as traffic comes from all sides!

Renowned as the birthplace of pizza and spaghetti, Naples also offers a variety of seafood specialties in its many restaurants. But whilst you’ll enjoy visiting its churches, galleries and museums, after a day or two of the hustle and bustle of the fast-moving city you may like to spend time in some of the other places the bay has to offer.

Awe-inspiring Mount Vesuvius (Monte Vesuvio) is waiting patiently for the bravest among you to scale its heights. Only six miles from Naples, it’s one of the most popular attractions for tourists to the bay.

Better known for its catastrophic eruption in AD79, Vesuvius continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. Its 20-year cycle of eruption (the last in 1944) is now well overdue, but it’s quite safe to visit as long as you are prepared.

Although the volcano has been a national park since 1995, climbing it is certainly not just a walk in the park! You’ll need to climb another 200m after your tour vehicle has dropped you off at around 1,000m, to reach its crater.

Take advice before you go if you have a medical condition as the climb is strenuous. You’ll need to dress according to the weather: make sure you take water, wear sunscreen and a hat. Although it is colder at this altitude, you will still be exposed to the sun – or perhaps even rain.

The destructive eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 buried the busy Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, stopping everything and everyone in their tracks and killing many of the inhabitants.

Incredible as it seems, most people managed to escape to Naples and beyond. Only the infirm and stubborn chose to remain, with the ash flow suffocating them in seconds. If archaeology is one of your interests, this place will fulfil your wildest dreams.

Make sure you wear strong walking shoes: Pompeii spreads over a much larger area than you may expect, and the surfaces are often very uneven.

The ruins of the impressive first-century buildings cannot fail to give you an insight into how life would have been back then. Some houses still contain most of the typical features you might expect a Roman villa to have: a dining room triclinium; a central heating system hypocaust; a foyer atrium, with its rainwater pool impluvium and its roof-hole compluvium, which together constitute the air conditioning system in Roman times.

Use your imagination as you go and be transported to a time before the eruption: walk the streets in your chilton, your toga or your stola and smell the aromas coming from the kitchens as you pass; pick your way between the oyster shells in the streets; dodge the horse and cart trundling along the cobbles; then maybe meet friends for a chat in the bathhouse.

The ruins of Pompeii bring it alive and keep you occupied for several hours. In contrast, the archaeological site of neighbouring Herculaneum, where the artefacts are often better preserved, is much smaller and will take you less time to see.

Whichever one you choose to explore it’s bound to give you a rich flavour of ancient Italy.

On the southern edge of the bay and the northern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula, separating the Bay of Naples from the Bay of Salerno and the Amalfi coast, sits the lovely town of Sorrento.

The first thing to strike you, as you stand on the cliffs of the town overlooking the twinkling azure waters of the Bay of Naples, is the striking beauty of the scenery unfolding before you.

Ahead and slightly to your right stands mighty Vesuvius – the generous keeper of the bay (for now). To your left you can just about make out the rocks of Capri rising out of the morning haze, and in the far distance is the island of Ischia.

At some point or other during your stay in Sorrento, you’ll find yourself in the heart of the action in Tasso Square (Piazza Tasso), named after Italian Renaissance poet, Torquato Tasso, whose statue you will find standing in the centre.

Stop for a photo-shoot with a glimpse of the Mediterranean through the ravine. From here you can see the Santuario del Carmine Church, with its historic art treasures, and there are many bars and restaurants to choose from around the square in case you need sustenance before hitting the shopping streets of V. S Ceasario and the long Corso Italia.

The Piazza Tasso is also the place to catch the City Train – a novelty mini-train which will take you on a circuit around Sorrento, Sant Agnello and the port.

Sorrento’s two pebbly main beaches are found at the small marina, Marina Grande, and the large marina, Marina Piccola. These are accessible from Villa Comunale through two lifts carved into the cliff. From the port in Marina Piccola, you can take a ferry to Naples, Capri, Positano or Amalfi.

Cosmopolitan Capri has always been a magnet for visitors and as you approach from the ferry you’ll see why. The island rises like a gorgeous gargantuan giant up out of the waters of the Mediterranean.

As you sail into Capri’s Marina Piccola and gaze up at the town soaring above you, you might wonder how you are ever going to get up there. Not to worry, though – numerous taxis of all shapes and sizes are waiting to take you up the winding road that leads to Capri town, or you can take the funicular straight up into the centre. It’s well worth the journey.

At the funicular station you might wish to linger over an Aperol Spritz whilst you take in the magnificent view of the bay panning out in front of you, or you might prefer to carry on into the island’s most famous square, the Piazza Umberto I (usually referred to as the Piazzeta) and simply watch the world go by from one of the pavement cafes. You might even catch sight of a celebrity of stage and screen sipping a cocktail in the corner!

There are many places of archaeological interest on Capri: Villa Jovis, the long-ruined, formerly sumptuous Roman palace built by the Emperor Tiberius in AD27, to name but one. Others include the Giardini di Augusto, the romantic botanical gardens laid in colourful array out along the hillside walk. From here you will also see the best postcard view of the Faraglioni, three landmark coastal stacks rising out of the sea off the coast of the island.

The Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) is also a must if the sea is calm. When sunlight passes through a cavity underwater and shines up through the seawater in the Blue Grotto, the sea-cave is illuminated as if with a blue floodlight and the effect you see is totally awe-inspiring.

Would you love to see the Bay of Naples and the highlights of the Amalfi Coast for yourself? Choose from our Italy tours today.

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