Situated in the Campania region of southern Italy, the Bay of Naples, or Gulf of Naples (Golfo di Napoli) as it is sometimes known, 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.
Approximately 15km wide and opening westwards into the Mediterranean, the Bay of Naples reaches from Naples and Pozzuoli at its northern edge, to the Sorrentine Peninsula at its southern, with Mount Vesuvius lying on its eastern border.
The Bay has many attractions to offer you: the islands of Capri, ever a favourite holiday destination, 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.
It is best to plan your trip to the Bay of Naples in Spring or Autumn when the temperature is not too hot, but the water is warm enough to bathe.
Temperatures can be high in Summer and in the Winter months many of the attractions you wish to see could be closed.
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Naples, nestling under a towering volcano dates back to 600BC, when it was known as New City, Neapolis.
Bustling and lively, the capital of Campania and third largest city in Italy is also a convenient place to begin your sight-seeing tour of the Bay of Naples. There are many tourist attractions to visit in Naples.
The old historic centre of Naples is split in two by its most famous street, 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.
Its churches, including 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, are all worth a visit.
Synonymous with Caravaggio, although he only spent four years in the city Naples houses many museums of his artistic works.
Museums include the 16th century Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which contains classical sculptures and artefacts collected mainly in Pompeii and Herculaneum; the Certosa e Museo di San Martino, which displays paintings and sculptures from different periods of Naples’ city history; and the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte, one of the city’s most important art galleries and museums exhibiting Classical, Renaissance, Baroque and modern art, sculptures, porcelain and majolica.
If you are 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 will find the best shops.
A word of warning: always 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 will enjoy visiting its churches, galleries and museums, after a day or two of the hustle and bustle of the fast-moving city you will probably prefer to spend time in some of the other places the bay has to offer.
Mount Vesuvius (Monte Vesuvio)
Awe-inspiring Mount Vesuvius, Monte Vesuvio, is waiting patiently for the bravest among you to scale its heights. Only six miles from Naples, it is 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 having said that, it is quite safe to visit the volcano as long as you are prepared.
Although the volcano has been a National Park since 1995, it is certainly not just a walk in the park and you will need to climb another 200m after your tour vehicle has dropped you off, at around 1000m, to reach its crater.
Take advice before you go if you have a medical condition – the climb is strenuous. You will 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.
Pompeii & Herculaneum
The destructive eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 buried the busy Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, stopping everyone in their tracks and killing many of the inhabitants. Incredible as it seems, however, most people managed to escape to Naples and beyond.
Only the infirm and stubborn chose to remain; 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 though: Pompeii probably spreads over a much larger area than you 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 time.
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 will bring it alive and will certainly 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.
But whichever one you choose to see, it is bound to give you a rich flavour of ancient Italy.
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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 your very eyes.
Ahead of you 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 the island of Ischia.
At some point or other during your stay in Sorrento, you will 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 of the square.
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.
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Cosmopolitan Capri has always been a magnet for visitors and as you approach from the ferry you will see why. The island rises like some 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.
No need 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, and when you get there it will be well worth it.
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 a must too, as long as 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 awesome.
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