Home TravelType of tripCity trip Naples: the bad and the ugly of the Italian city that is hard to love

Naples: the bad and the ugly of the Italian city that is hard to love

by Elisa Flitter Fever
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Along with many other people, Italy is a beloved holiday destination of mine. Rome, Florence, Venice… I bet you have them on your bucket list if you have not been there yet. Naples – or Napoli in Italian – may sound just as nice and exotic, but believe me: Naples is different. Naples is the type of city: you hate it or you love it. What makes Naples hard to love?

Brutally honest

Neapolitans may hate me for writing this article about their beloved city. Several times I have carefully thought about whether I should write it or not, sensing I may step on some toes. However getting the same feeling every time I visit Naples, it felt legitimate to write this subjective article. To set the expectations, according to my repetitive experiences, and having heard the same from many others many times.

This was my third time to Naples, and this time I even stayed for 7 days, so I honestly tried. But when other Italians with embarrassment apologize for this city, you know there is something going on. Not nice but the cold hard truth. I feel like they can do so much better!

Walking around the streets of Naples I always get the feeling: I want to escape!

Napoli fans

Honestly, I have never met someone who loves Naples… But of course there are. Like I said: you hate it or you love it. Somehow these Naples lovers see the charm in of all of it; the rawness, the imperfections, the chaos, the special character, the flavors, the history and the culture. A place that ignores rules that the rest of the world adheres to? It takes time to get to know the city and try to appreciate? Are Naples lovers simply blindly in love? Perhaps it is like that grumpy old aunt you grew up with; no matter how ugly, noisy, recalcitrant or unfriendly she is, you are going to love her forever anyway, right?

Should you not be able to avoid visiting Naples, please read my other article What to do in Naples if you cannot avoid it? If you can still avoid, please continue to read why I suggest to do that.

NAPLES: THE BAD & THE UGLY

Now the above described grim sites lean on then past, current reality can look bad and ugly too…

Italian vs. Neapolitan

I am not sure to what extend you are familiar with Italy, its culture, politics, economics and such? Like the stereotype Italian, Neapolitans also tend to be loud, theatrical, passionate and proud. However, North and South Italy are culturally and economically divided and different. Neapolitans have their own culture, art, dialect, etc. “I am not Italian, I am Neapolitan! It’s another thing!” is a famous expression of Sofia Loren, who has a house in Naples.

The South of Italy is lagging behind compared to the wealthier North of Italy, showing more similarity with southern countries like Greece and Turkey than with Milano for example. Campania, where Naples is the regional capital of, has one of the highest unemployment rates in Italy. Young people pull away due to a lack of jobs and decent salary. Honest Neapolitans would admit they have serious problems.

Big city problems

With close to a million inhabitants, Naples clearly qualifies as a big city – with big city problems. Part of Naples’ problems are quite obvious, only a blind man will not notice upon arrival. The ugly graffiti, bad maintenance and piles of waste are simply hard to ignore. Vagrants begging for money and seeking shelter for the night, a problem in almost every big city.

Wishful thinking Naples’ issues would end there. Some voluntarily organizations attempt to work on them, like removing graffiti tags. But to me, for Naples specifically, it feels a bit like trying to empty the ocean with a thimble, when the mentality stays the same.

Bad maintenance

Houses, buildings, streets, cars, steps, everything seems broken or at least damaged or neglected and in the urgent need of maintenance and repair. Balconies that look like they may break off any day. Walking underneath, a piece of brick dropped on my face, small but ouch!! Open electric sockets and messy wires. Walls, window frames and doors that have not seen any paint brush for decades.

Tiles and plaster fallen off shops, houses and other type of buildings. Holes in the asphalt road so deep they may damage your car’s rims or break off a shock absorber. Even if you are poor, maintaining property means showing some decency, municipal or not. And these (photos below) are definitely not the worst examples.

Neapolitan manners

Hordes of smoking people, people throwing things like chewing gum from their balcony while you walk underneath, kids throwing their ice cream papers on the floor. Scooter and car drivers who do not stop for pedestrians at a pedestrian crossing, scooters parked on the side walk making this city a nightmare for someone in a wheelchair. Yelling truck drivers, taxi drivers ripping off tourists asking twice as much for a taxi ride from the airport to the city. Taxi and scooter drivers who almost run you over in busy shopping streets and fill the streets with exhaust gasses. Neapolitans are known to wear their hearts on their sleeves; don’t be surprised if shouted or called names at, especially in traffic.

Rarely any “prego” (please) in restaurants and bars when serving customers, aggressive and impolite waiters. Waiters literally throwing your plate in front of you on the table. Not rarely, almost everywhere. Starting to swear in Italian if you refuse a standard served pasta dish in a group dinner because you eat gluten free. Well-behaved people with proper manners seemed hard to find in Naples. Possibly a big city thing in general, yet for sure different from many other places I have visited in Italy. Such a letdown. Friendliness and a smile does not cost a dime people.

Be aware of uncivilized driving behavior by scooters and taxis in the narrow, poorly maintained and crowded streets of the city center. This may remind some of cities like Addis Abeba or New Delhi.

Graffiti in Naples

I love street art and there is definitely good street art in Naples to be found. Nevertheless, most of the graffiti on walls, doors, statues, etc. are just stupid tags no one can even read or will like, it is simply ugly as hell. Beautiful old doors are disrespectfully scribbled. It is everywhere, all over the place. The inhabitants seem to have lost courage to do something about it, get it cleaned off or repaint. Such a waste. Smart decision to put the Banksy Angel behind glass yet sad it is necessary.

To some, Naples may be like Mick Jagger; so ugly and raw it becomes pretty again, in a certain way.

Waste issues

Naples definitely has a serious waste problem, up to the level where EU threatened to fine. The streets are full of papers and plastics on the ground. I lost counting how many times I saw huge piles of waste material on the street, not rarely right next to garbage containers, almost everywhere. It is grose and disgusting! In this city small garbage bins are hard to find, which could possibly help keeping things a bit more cleanly? The smell of rotting garbage in summer is repulsing. Is this in Europe?!

Over the last decades, Naples has dealt with several waste crisis; city waste that piles up, the municipal waste service cannot cope. Once a political party won the municipal election simply by promising to solve the waste problem. As a reaction, the local mafia dumped waste all over the city and shot at garbage trucks.

According to the Italian environmental association Legambiente, hundreds of companies have dumped some 10 million tons of waste, including radioactive waste, in the region over a 20+ years’ period of time, a humanitarian drama. As a result of the illegal waste dumping, mortality rates and diseases rose.

Criminality in Naples

As mentioned in the previous paragraph already, the mafia causes problems in Naples and its surroundings. Comorra is the Neapolitan mafia, a big secret criminal organization active in drugs, weapons, extortion, dumping waste, etc. As an average tourist you will probably not see much of, but mafia wars are definitely reality in Naples, sometimes also affecting normal civilians and children. Sometimes it just happens on the street in bright daylight, as you can see in this YouTube video.

A few years ago, British news tabloid The Sun ranked Naples as one of the 10 most dangerous cities in the world, which I think is non-sense. There are definitely worse on the planet. According to this recent article by the Independent with the top 17 most dangerous cities in Europe, Rome and Milan are more dangerous than Naples. In the Numbeao Crime Index 2019 Naples ranks as #89 in the top 100 of most criminal cities around the world, so not something to be too shocked or scared about. For example Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro and Chicago rank much higher. So yes, there is criminality, corruption, drugs, etc. but not worse than or equal to many other big cities.

Safety in Naples

Every time I visited Naples I had some company with me; a female friend, a male colleague, etc. which helped to feel safe. We saw municipality police on the streets. African street sellers running away from their blanket with fake leather bags to avoid a big fine for illegal street-selling.

Be extra aware or avoid the extra poor, dodgy areas in Naples, for example Scampia, the Naples neighborhood famed for its vast drugs market. Avoid dark alleys and wandering the streets alone after sunset, common sense in any big city. Be alert for pickpockets / robberies. Especially in the tourist high season, many people fall victim to this. Pay extra attention to this in public transport, at airports and at popular attractions.

Precautions

In any big city, so not only Naples specifically, take the following precautions for your safety:

  • Carry money, credit cards and other valuable documents unobtrusively on your body. For example in a hip bag (money belt) or bra belt. For some suggestions see my earlier article about travel stuff. Keep the larger bills separate from the smaller ones and pay for your purchases with the small bills, or with your debit or credit card if possible.
  • Pay attention to your belongings. Wear a cross-over bag and preferably wear a bag that is theft-proof. Do not wear flashy, expensive jewelry. Leave at home what you don’t really need. Like every big city, pickpockets are very active.
  • Keep your passport, airline ticket and money that you do not need immediately in a safe place. For example in the hotel safe.
  • Always report criminality to the local police authorities.
  • Do not offer resistance in the event of a robbery or robbery. If you fall victim to this, better hand over your belongings, unless you are a Krav Maga champion of some sort? Resistance often leads to (more) violence.
  • Walk around with confidence, chest and nose forward, try to avoid too look too much like a tourist, take self-defense classes at home if you feel too afraid, paranoid or shy.
  • Never buy anything from a street vendor, often it is fake and illegal. And try not to show the content of your wallet if you have to pay anything.

San Lorenzo Maggiore is a safe place to visit in Naples

Natural threat

Italy has three active volcanoes: the Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli. On 3 July 2019, the Stromboli volcano erupted, killing one person and injuring a few. Stay alert of your environment, follow the news and the weather and make sure you have the right condition and gear to hike up a volcano. The last time Vesuvius became active was in 1944. Always take your health and travel insurance papers with you.

Like elsewhere in Italy, posters to announce someone’s death and funeral hang on every wall.

Naples is one of those destinations that disappointed me. Read about more places in the article The truth about travel destinations that disappointed me.

Did you visit Naples yet? If so, what do you think about it, did you like it? Not everyone loves every city or place, and that goes for me too. Paris is a city I do not like either while others love it. I really tried to like Naples, visited muliple times and stayed a whole week the last time but it did not get any better.

Should you not be able to avoid visiting Naples any more, decided to go anyway, or your boss makes you do so, please check out my other article What to do in Naples if you cannot avoid it?

With a special thanks to Melissa and Martijn for taking some of these photos of me!


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Last Updated on 10/03/2022 by Elisa Flitter Fever

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15 comments

infomeetmeatthebeachnl 05/01/2020 - 13:42

I once actually booked the cheapest ticket possible and it turned out to be Naples. Damn, what an experience that was!

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Flitter Fever 05/04/2020 - 14:31

Did you like Naples?

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Pizzapasta 09/07/2020 - 17:20

I live there. It’s mostly a concrete hell with not much to do and very limited public spaces, it’s very loud all the time and people are extremely inconsiderate. Sad place really.

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Annette 08/07/2021 - 21:56

You described it perfectly…I live here and hate it!

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Walter 12/26/2020 - 07:08

A guy i know from Milan told me that they call the Neapolitans the “Africans of Italy” not for their darker complexion but for their bad ways of living.

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Bradley Williams 10/13/2021 - 13:08

I lived in Napoli for 2 years and completely agree with this!! Finally leaving it literally felt like I was escaping! How deflective the people are. For example if you ever mention the rubbish they immediately fire back with ‘yeah well its worse in Asian cities’…..so that means its ok right? And who cares about those cities?! I live here! What I do not understand is that they treat their homes so well, they are so clean and yet as soon as they step outside they treat the city like an open landfill, its disgusting. For people who supposedly adore their city so god damn much they treat like with 0 respect! Your city is your home, not your house, how the hell can you not treat your city the same way you treat your home??! Some of them have told me its because they are against the Italian government…so making your city so incredibly dirty is the way to get back at them? Pathetic. I only lived here for so long because of covid making it very difficult to move and moving now to the North has been incredibly hard as well, harder than even moving to a completely new country. About the service at restaurants, my experiences were usually friendly, kind and helpful, only a few bad ones.

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opel g 09/27/2022 - 20:44

2022 update: Naples is still awful. Avoid at all costs. If you have to use the airport, get out of town as quickly as possible. We made the mistake of staying a few days and were blatantly cheated by the hotel staff, waiters, and taxis. My Sicilian grandmother used to say the Neapolitans were dangerous. She was right.

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J Rudq 10/25/2022 - 23:04

I am here right now and yep, I love it. It is some of the things you described BUT I have not been treated rudely by a single person, on the contrary, I have found Neopolitans delightful (I have asked many people if I can take their picture and to the one, they have been gracious. As was the man’s arm I grabbed running across the street). It isn’t easy getting out of your comfort zone but I think that is the whole point, at least for some of us, in traveling. If you arent looking for Positano you might just find it worth a visit.

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Patricia M 01/15/2023 - 13:17

I agree with J RUDQ. I travel to experience other people’s way of life with curiosity and understanding. I have a love / hate relationship with Naples. The dirtiness, noise and traffic are a challenge but worth it. The people I’ve met here are some of the nicest people I’ve met in all of Italy. Genuine kindness and a sense of humor go along way here.

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Dusan 02/20/2023 - 20:10

I liked every single city I have visited so far and I travel 6-7 times in a year. Up to now I strongly believed that every city has something you can appreciate. But Naeples is really something else. It is loud, overcrowded, the people are trying to rip you off almost in every restaurant or shop, they are sometimes really rude and the traffic is so aggressive in very narrow streets. The drivers do not give any signal, where they intend to go, and expect from you to watch out and let them space to drive. That is really annoying und you can not just relax and walk around. A ton of garbage is almost on every corner.

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Tomás 02/22/2023 - 14:38

Hi Elisa and fellow readers!
I share your point of view. Naples is a dumpster, and I was so disappointed after traveling there.
There were two things with my time: the food, which is amazing, and Pompeii.
Everything else reminded of a bad third world country. I come from one.
People from Naples are everything you described, plus resentful and lazy. Those are some of the reasons that city is such a mess.
They think it’s fair to rip off tourists because they are “rich”, and of course they are poor. So one gets ripped off all over the place.
Everywhere smells terrible, it’s dirty and looks like the aftermath of a war.
I’m not returning there, and I’m advising everybody going to Italy, not to go there.
Thanks for your post!

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Ann M 09/02/2023 - 08:33

I travel a LOT for work. I’ve just left Napoli and it is a blessing. The taxi drivers are robbers on wheels. They also spend the ride yelling at people on the phone in their Neapolitan Italian. They always start the meter at some high number, and it keeps ticking rapidly upward – then they charge you more than it says! Only if you verify in advance that you are paying with a credit card will they take anything but cash. And there aren’t enough taxis to get people where they need to go so you wait in long taxi lines. There’s no Uber or Lyft and the drivers jus say, “There are too many tourists!” In addition, their airport is insane – nothing is marked, no information is given, and if you ask for information they make something up or outright lie. The city is filthy and smells bad. I hope I never have to come here again!

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Paul M 09/12/2023 - 00:05

I just had a very bad experience in Naples. We are French and my wife speak a little of Italian. Of course street are smelling bad, it’s loud and polluted but it could have been ok with the historical legacy or the amazing food. But no, Naples people are just rude and unable to consider you with respect if you do not speak fluent Italian. Waiters will barely speak to you, they will push you to leave without any respect and make you pay extra amount of everything. This is very different compared to other cities. Naples is just the worst city to visit in Italy. Skip it if you can and just visit Pompei region.

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Rose 10/28/2023 - 19:14

100 % right. Horrible city in all aspects. After Amalfi Coast feels like Hell. No charm at all. Old ugly dirt loud.

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Anonymous 12/27/2023 - 03:31

Finally someone who has the guts to write an article about what Naples really is like. Unfortunately, I entered a Napolitan family when I married one. The last 15 years have been hell, honestly it has affected my mental and physical health. People from Naples are just like you described them, and hence the city is in ruins. People from Napoli, are rude, careless, liars, cheaters and the worst of it is that they are proud of it. It doesn’t matter if you are in their family they will still cheat you and if you notice and tell them they will not apologise for it, they will either curse you or tell you that you are rude. Mother-in-laws are extreme possessive of their sons. She will spy on you, stick her nose in everything you do and she will criticise you do until the day she dies (which is a long time because they eat a Mediterranean diet) or until you get divorced, after which she will be your friend, as long as you don’t threaten the status quo ( the matriarchy)
They often call you names, they don’t care if you are a woman and even worse if you are a foreigner, they confuse xenophobia with traditionalism). They are very confused about the meaning of gentleman, they think it is someone ridiculous (scemo). Having manners is a no no. Women are just instruments or worst machines that are supposed to clean, cook provide sex and have babies, without any help and if you don’t then you are an egocentric person, who lacks a heart.
Of course not all Neapolitans are like that, it’s just I have no met a good one yet.
Sorry but these people are really fucked up and destroy their city and reputation and blame the North for it, they are sl ignorant that they don’t understand their own self destructive behaviours.

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