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Naples is an exhilarating mess of Unesco-listed historic buildings, citrus tree-filled cloisters and electrifying street life. Once the heart of Roman Neapolis, the historic centre is a warren of narrow streets, which open up to an Imperial 18th-century seaside promenade with romantic views of Vesuvius.

See

The oldest and most famous of Naples’ ancient catacombs, the Catacombe di San Gennaro date from the 2nd century. Decorated with early Christian frescoes, they contain tombs, corridors and vestibules (00 390 81 741 1071; Via di Capodimonte 13; tours every hour 9am-3pm Tue-Sat, 9am- 12pm Sun; £4.50).

The Mercato di Porta Nolana is a heady street market where bellowing fishmongers and greengrocers jostle with delis, bakeries and contraband cigarette stalls (Via Carmignano; 8am-6pm Mon-Sat, 8am-2pm Sun).

The Cappella Sansevero's simple exterior belies the sumptuous sculpture inside. Giuseppe Sanmartino’s exquisite figure of Jesus is covered by a stone veil so realistic, it’s tempting to try and lift it (00 390 81 551 8470; museosansevero.it; Via Francesco de Sanctis 19; 10am-5.40pm Mon and Wed-Sat, 10am-1pm Sun; £6).

The Museo Archeologico Nazionale houses one of the world’s finest collections of Greco-Roman artefacts including treasures from Pompeii (00 390 81 292823; museoarcheologico nazionale.campaniabeniculturali.it; Piazza Museo Nazionale 19; 9am-7.30pm Wed-Mon; £5.60).

Marking the eastern end of the lungomare (seafront), Castel dell’Ovo is Naples’ oldest castle, dating from the 12th century. To the west, Piazza Vittoria marks the beginning of the Riviera di Chiaia, a long boulevard that offers the best sunset views of Vesuvius.

Eat and drink

Da Michele is Naples’ most famous pizzeria. It serves only two types of pizza: margherita with tomato, basil and mozzarella, and marinara with tomatoes, garlic and oregano. But, boy, are they good (00 390 81 553 9204; damichele.net; Via Cesare Sersale 1-3; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; pizzas from £3.50).

Everyone from students to professors squeeze around the communal tables of Trattoria Mangia e Bevi . They come for home-cooking at rock-bottom prices. Enjoy the likes of juicy pork sausage and peperoncino-spiced local broccoli (00 390 81 552 9546; Via Sedile di Porto 92; lunch Mon-Fri; mains from £3.50).

Almost 150 years old, La Scialuppa is ideal for romantic harbourside dining. Seafood is the star, from the fritto misto (mixed fried seafood) to the wine-infused seafood risotto (00 390 81 764 5333; lascialuppa.it, in Italian; Borgo Marinaro 4; lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; mains from £8).

Dora is one of Naples’ finest seafood restaurants. Dive into chargrilled prawns as the owner breaks into song. Reservations are essential (00 390 81 680519; Via Palasciano 30; lunch Tue-Sun, dinner Mon-Sat; mains from £14).

La Stanza del Gusto has a cheese bar for grazing, and an upstairs dining room serving inventive dishes such as chicken liver flan with strawberry salsa (00 390 81 401578; lastanza delgusto.com; Via Costantinopoli 100; lunch and dinner Tue-Sat, dinner Mon, lunch Sun; set lunch £15, dinner mains from £38).

Sleep

Four rooms with vintage cotto (fired clay) floor tiles and meticulous artisan décor create a stylish scene at b&b Diletto a Napoli. Set in a 15th-century palazzo, the communal lounge comes with a kitchenette and dining table (00 390 81 033 0977; dilettoanapoli.it; Vicolo Sedil Capuano 16; from £50).

Located in a 17th-century building, Belle Arti Resort is a modern boutique hotel with arty, period features. Four of the seven rooms, some almost like suites, have ceiling frescoes and all have marble bathrooms and artfully painted headboards (00 390 81 557 1062; belleartiresort. com; Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli 27; from £75).

On a historic street lined with bookshops, Portalba Relais stays faithful to the literary theme with an impressive library. The rooms are furnished in muted tones and have mosaic showers. Most look out over Piazza Dante, a favourite hub for students and Neapolitan literati (00 390 81 564 5171; portalbarelais.com; Via Portalba 33; from £112).

The Decumani Hotel de Charme is fresh, elegant and in the former palazzo of Cardinal Sisto Riario Sforza, the last bishop of the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples. Rooms have 19th-centurystyle furniture (00 390 81 551 8188; decumani.it; Via San Giovanni Maggiore Pignatelli 15; from £115).

Housed in a 16th-century former monastery, the Hotel San Francesco al Monte is Naples’ most historic hotel. Cells have been converted into cosy rooms, while the cloister houses an open-air bar. There's a swimming pool on the seventh floor (00 390 81 423 9111; hotel sanfrancesco.it; Corso Vittorio Emanuele 328; from £150).

Getting around

Naples has three metro lines and three funiculars up and down the city’s steep hills. The Unico Napoli ticket is valid on all public transport (24-hour ticket £2.60; unicocampania.it). Taxis are available at most big squares (city-centre journey £5-£8).

Getting there

Alitalia, British Airways, easyJet and Thomson fly to Naples Capodichino airport from London Gatwick (£125; easyjet.com) and Manchester (£165; britishairways. com). An ANM airport shuttle serves the centre of town (£2.50; anm.it, in Italian). A taxi costs £15-£18.

The article ‘Mini guide to Naples, Italy’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.

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