So, you’re deciding between Naples or Rome? Talk about nice problems to have! This is a decision between the great Eternal City and the characterful port town of the south. They are both considered to be among the country’s most incredible destinations, and both ooze culture, art, history, and more…
The allure of Naples is very much in its gritty, authentic side. You’ll go there to wander narrow alleys between age-stained churches. Oh, and let’s not forget that this is the home of pizza and of Pompei – one for the foodies, the other for the history buffs. Rome, on the other hand, is famed all around the world for its romantic historic core and totemic ancient sites, its unrivaled museum collections and buzzy gastronomy.
This guide aims to weigh up just a few key aspects of both Rome and Naples. It will take a look at which is easier to get to, what sights and attractions you can expect in both, and where has the best food (something that’s probably close to the top of your bucket list in Italy, right?). Let’s begin…
Naples or Rome for sights and attractions?
Let’s start with Rome. This is unquestionably one of the world’s great sightseeing destinations. If you came here to be bowled over by big monuments and elegant church façades, you will not be disappointed. It’s hard to know what to talk about first – will it be the ancient monuments that loom above the Roman Forum or the enchanting medieval landmarks of the Centro Storico?
Let’s go for the former, which include the tomb of Julius Caesar, Nero’s Palace, and the Colosseum. Then there’s the latter, a whole district of famous piazzas like Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona, gilded with the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. They join with some other stand-out places, like the epic Vaticano and the mighty Castel Sant’Angelo. Let’s just say there’s plenty to get through in the Eternal City.
Next up is Naples. The main attractions here are actually just on the outskirts of the city. They come in the form of the two ruined Roman resort towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. We’d say they are two of the most fascinating ancient sites on the planet.
Encased in ash and lava when Mount Vesuvius erupted back in 79 AD, they offer a snapshot of Roman life, brothels and all. It’s also possible to scale the volcano itself, to see the Bay of Naples sweeping out below. Back in the city center, you won’t want to miss the wave-splashed Lungomare and Castel Ovo on the sea, where you can dine on fish right by the Med, or the Spaccanapoli alleyway, a hubbub of life and purring scooters and haunting churches that’s the real essence of the town’s character.
Winner: Rome. It’s just unbelievable the number of things that are packed into the Italian capital.
Naples or Rome for nightlife?
There’s pretty good nightlife in both these cities. In Naples, after you’ve devoured those plush pizzas, you can head down to the waterside Chiaia area. It’s a chic mass of boho bars and cocktail joints that channels a little of La Dolce Vita vibes. Via Belledonne is one of our favourite spots for a before-dinner drink, but Via Achille Torelli has more venues for later on. In the summer, there are often open-air drinking holes on offer at the Piazza San Domenico Maggiore and the Piazza San Pasquale, along with all manner of traditional Italiano beer bars with pumping Euro pop music.
Rome is probably the wilder of the two after dark, but then that’s to be expected since it’s the Italian capital. Areas to watch out for include La Trastevere, which hosts crooked beer taverns and craft bars between its romantic streets, and the upcoming hipster area of Testaccio along the bends of the Tiber River. There’s also a pretty awesome nightlife scene in areas like San Lorenzo and all around the Campo De Fiori.
Naples or Rome for food?
Look, you’re not going to go hungry if you pick Rome over Naples. The Italian capital is known for its rustic, rich, simple cooking. But, boy, is it tasty stuff! The vibe is casual eating in casual osteria (small taverns with oodles of wine and a handful of seasonal dishes). Look for them in areas like La Trastevere or Monti if you want the best (and the more affordable ones away from the tourist hotspots). To drink, consider a crisp Trebbiano white from Lazio, or go for the Umbrian county grapes. To eat, don’t miss:
- Artichokes – If we had to pick one dish that sums Rome up it would be artichokes, cooked in light olive oil with mountain herbs and lemon juice. Get them in season in early spring.
- Carbonara – Cheesy and salty, this bacon-filled pasta dish was invented here. It’s great with a local white wine, but not so good for the cardiac system.
- Cacio e Pepe – Cheese and pepper are all that’s needed to make this lovely pasta.
Naples runs a close second to Bologna as Italy’s foodie hub. It doesn’t excel in artisan cooking. It doesn’t have Michelin-stared chefs. It’s not fancy or chichi or cutting-edge. What it does have is pizza. Yep, everyone’s favorite TV dinner was invented here sometime in the 18th century. But it’s nothing like the take outs you get at home. Real Neapolitan pizza is a protected art. It has a TSG rating from the European Union and is hailed as a cultural food by UNESCO. It has to be made with buffalo mozzarella from the Campania region and tomatoes that were grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, so Naples really is the place to sample the dish. Some of the most iconic pizzerias in town are:
- L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele – Queues around the block reveal that this is one of the most iconic pizza joints in the world.
- Pizzeria Da Attilio – Proper Neapolitan pizzas with some innovations on the side (ricotta-stuffed crust, anyone?)
- Pizzeria Di Matteo – The real deal in a proper Italian trattoria setting.
Winner: Naples. Rome is a foodie mecca, but Naples gave the world pizza!
Naples or Rome for history?
There’s only one Eternal City. Mhmm…Rome is the winner here but not because Naples lacks history. A typical itinerary in the southern metropolis can begin with a walk through the ruined streets of Pompei and end with a trip into the haunting Catacombe di San Gennaro, where saintly remains and 1,800-year-old tombs abound. You also have the Greek relics of Paestum and the iconic outline of the medieval Castel dell’Ovo, which crowns the historic core of town, another treasure trove of interest for lovers of the past.
However, Rome can match all that and then some. The town is one of the oldest in the world. The vast area known as the Centro Storico is a place where you’ll encounter temples dating back 2,000 years next to palazzos built in the 15th and 14th centuries, hiding paintings by Caravaggio and others. The Vatican Museums bring more treasures of human history than you can shake a slice of pizza at, but there’s really nothing that can prep first-timers for ancient Rome, the home of the Colosseum and the mighty rises of the Roman Forum.
Winner: It’s Rome here.
Naples or Rome for cost of travel?
Rome is in the top two most expensive destinations in Italy. As the capital of the country, everything here, from pizzas to pints in the pubs, comes at a premium. We’ve paid upwards of €5 ($5.80) for a beer in pretty much every bar or restaurant we’ve been to in the city for the last five years. Meals out have also crept up in price in the last decade, and we’d estimate an average of €45 ($52) for a meal in a midrange restaurant with wine (yep, you’ll notice that wine doesn’t cost too much anywhere on The Boot!).
Overall, travel price aggregator Champion Traveler estimates that a trip to Rome will cost in the region of $916-$1,833 for a solo traveler on an average budget. That’s less than, say, Milan, but a whole load more than Naples…
Naples is cheaper mainly because it’s in the south of Italy. The whole region is better suited to budget travelers, with the cost of everything from hotels to meals out coming down a notch. The only thing you might pay extra for is travel in, because there are fewer arrival options in this southerly part of The Boot (more on that later, though). As a general rule, we’d say two pizzas with wine will set you back around €30 ($35) in Naples, while a midrange hotel can come in at between €50-80 ($58-93) a night in the shoulder season.
We’d estimate a total of about $1,000 a week per person on an average budget here.
Winner: Naples. The south of Italy is generally cheaper than Rome and the north, but steer clear of the Amalfi Coast if you’re watching the cents.
Naples or Rome for ease of travel?
Rome is one of the easiest destinations to get to in Italy. The city hosts two big airports and is smack dab in the heart of the road and rail networks. Those looking for budget flight links into town should be sure to check out the carriers that jet into the Rome Ciampino Giovan Battista Pastine Airport. That’s on the south side of the metropolis and is the main hub for low-cost carriers like Ryanair and Wizz, which come in from Prague, Poznan, Lisbon, Athens, London – the list goes on.
The Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Fiumicino is the larger of the two, though. It has long-haul connections to the Far East and North America, and also most of the premium carrier arrivals with BA, Alitalia, and Lufthansa. For trains, you’re looking to arrive at Termini Station. It’s the nerve center of the whole of Italy, with high-speed connections in from Florence, Milan, the Alps, and Naples (yep – you can do both cities in a single trip, you know?).
Naples International Airport is currently the fifth busiest in Italy. That puts it behind Rome and Milan but means you should find a decent array of connections into its runways. At the time of writing, there are links with British Airways to Heathrow, easyJet to Gatwick and Bristol, Ryanair to Madrid and Dublin, and connections with Volotea to France and Greece, along with a whole load more besides.
Naples isn’t as easy to get to by road as Rome because you’ll need to drive further south through the country, but it’s still linked up by very good motorways all the way to Milan and the Austrian and French borders. There’s also a high-speed train link connecting Naples with Rome.
Winner: Rome. Two major airports and the hub of the Italian rail network make it so.
Naples or Rome for day trips and exploring Italy?
City breaks in Naples or Rome are all well and good, but sometimes travelers will only be considering jetting into one of these hubs because of the regions in which they sit. That’s important because there are very different sorts of areas around the towns, with the sun-scorched southern mountains of Calabria close to one and the rustic regions of Lazio, Umbria, and Tuscany near the other.
Day trips to Rome could whisk you north to the rolling hills of Umbria. There, wondrous towns like Orvieto offer a glimpse at a charming hill town that has a particularly famous cathedral and pilgrimage destination. You can also go to splash in the trio of volcanic lakes that speckle the countryside – Bolsena, Vico, Bracciano. The other side of the capital is all but dominated by the rises of the Apennine mountains. Hikers should be sure to check out the fantastic Simbruini Mountain Range Regional Park, but there are also countless hill villages for those into people watching and piazza hopping.
Down south around Naples, there’s something really special on the menu for those willing to ditch the city itself. That comes in the form of the UNESCO-tagged Amalfi Coast. Prepare to be dazzled by that region, which has lush mountains dropping to a sapphire sea, pastel-painted towns strewn with lemon groves, and some of the most impossibly romantic eateries in Italy. You can also hop across to the jet-setter isle of Capri if you can afford it, for lux hotels and glimpses of lagoons and grottoes on the Med.
Winner: Naples – it’s on the doorstep of the Amalfi Coast!
Naples or Rome for romance?
Both these places promise plenty for honeymooners. A post-wedding jaunt to Rome is about striking lines from the bucket list. You’ll see the wondrous museums of the Vatican together, gawp at the mighty temples of the ancient forum, and strut around the Piazza del Popolo with an ice cream in hand. The capital also hosts some of the world’s most romantic landmarks, like the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps, and it backs the lot up with uber-chic hotels that offer unbounded luxury.
Now, Naples is way more gritty and edgy than Rome. You have to search for the charm between the pollution-caked streets and the hubbub of it all. But there’s one kicker about the southern town: The Amalfi Coast. Yes, we know we’ve already waxed lyrical about the region, but it’s the PERFECT place for honeymooners in Italy – think lemon orchards on high-perched cliffs, jet-setter villas by pebble beaches, and trips to the isle of Capri.
Winner: Probably Naples. Again, for the closeness of the Amalfi Coast!
Naples or Rome for families?
Naples is a bit of a whirlwind of a city. It’s known for its gritty charm, its whizzing Vespa scooters, its unkempt streets, and pollution-stained churches. To be honest, we don’t think it’s the best spot in Italia for family travelers. That’s not to say it’s not suitable for folk with the little ones in tow. Younger visitors are usually wowed by the ruins of Pompei and relish the chance to climb an active volcano. It’s just that things are a little more hectic here than in Rome and crime stats are generally higher.
Rome, on the other hand, is a place that’s visited by thousands of family travelers each year. It’s got loads of hotels that are used to catering to bigger groups, and the attractions aren’t just enthralling for the younger generation, they are downright educational. (Just imagine what passion for history a glimpse of the Colosseum can spur on?) That said, we would focus on staying in the Centro Storico of Rome. Dodge areas like Testaccio, which is better suited to backpackers, and the neighborhood around Termini Station, which can get quite rough after dark.
Rome and Naples are quite different cities. One – Rome – really lends itself to culture buffs and history lovers looking to get stuck into Roman history, while also offering the energy of a capital, loads of fantastic dining, and the buzz of late-night bars.
Naples is the gateway to the glorious Amalfi Coast. It touts the iconic archaeology digs of Pompei and the most famous Italian food of all: Pizza. Our advice? Visit both. The train between them takes just 1.25 hours, and the drive is a mere 2.5 hours. Sorted.
Is Rome or Naples better for family travelers?
We think Rome is better for family travelers. Naples has a bit of a reputation for being the most hectic city in Italy, and crime rates are slightly higher in the south than they are in the capital. What’s more, the Eternal City is brimming with sights that the little ones will LOVE – think the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, and the soaring dome of St Peter’s.
How to travel from Naples to Rome?
It’s really easy to travel from Naples to Rome. There’s now a high-speed train that reaches 300 kmph on the route, taking as little as 1h20 to get from Termini station to the main station in the southern city. You can also drive on the main E45 motorway, which takes you through the southern hills of Lazio and the northern part of Campania, where there are lots of great places to stop.