According to a recent article published on The Guardian's website, Naples is one of the best cities in Europe for Christmas shopping. The authors rightly point out that
Of all Italian cities, Naples does Christmas with the most gusto – the historic centre sparkles with festive lights, street musicians flock here for the season ... and this is the home of the presepe, or Christmas crib.
However, as a local, I have some doubts regarding Christmas as the best period of the year to visit Naples. Of course, you decide where and when go visit a place and I would never say that Christmas is not a good period to come to Naples. But, as I’ve just said, I think that it’s just not the best period. For this reason I would like to make a list of the “pros&cons” for visiting Naples during this special time of the year. So let’s see: which sides are you on?
Last year Naples was completely booked during the weekend of Dec 8th , the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a public holiday observed in Italy. This means that there was literally no place to stay in the city which, as a consequence, implied that the city was just packed with people. Not only the people staying overnight, but also those coming to Naples for one day, for a walk or for some shopping.
Although I don’t currently live in Naples anymore, I remember that, when I was living there, this period was an absolute nightmare. Going from place A to place B would be so difficult and tiring that I would just decide not to go out at all. By the way, my friends from Naples and I still agree to avoid meeting during the “hottest” days of the Christmas period (such as the 8th and the 24th) because it’s just too frustrating. There are so many people and tourists in the city that it gets difficult to even walk at a normal pace, especially in the historical center. Not to mention the impossibility of going shopping or to eat something in a pizzeria.
It goes without saying that this is a matter of personal choice. I personally don’t like visiting someplace new during the most touristic periods of the year, but I understand that these are also the periods when people get some days off from work. However, I do think that one of the most beautiful things to do in Naples is aimlessly walking around the city to admire its beauty. When a place is too crowded, people will eventually lose some interest in it and will instead concentrate on how to get away from the messy situation.
Even though Naples enjoys a great weather throughout the year compared to other European cities, December is still the beginning of winter and rainy days are a possibility one should take into account. Of course, none of us can forecast the weather before booking some holidays, but we do have some certainties. For examples, spring and summer are definitely better periods to come to Naples.
I have this personal theory about rain and cities. There are some cities like London, for instance, that are perfect even with rain. What I mean is that, although most of us would prefer to have a sunny holiday, rain suits London and does not hinder its beauty. There are other cities, on the other hand, whose beauty is not enhanced on rainy days. Well, to me Naples is one of them. There must be a reason why Naples is called “the city of the sun”. I might be taking this saying far too literally, but it’s undeniable that sunny Naples is pure perfection.
Since chances of rain in December are higher than in May, there is a chance to meet “rainy Naples” and I personally don’t really like her. It’s not merely about aesthetics, it’s also about the fact that the city is slower when it rains, trains might delay, crowded streets are an incubus with umbrellas, and tourists with their plastic raincoats seem just so sad. I would suggest to visit Naples when you can have the best of the city at 360 degrees.
Tip: besides London, do you know which city is beautiful rain or shine? Of course, Rome, the eternal city! The Christmas atmosphere makes the Italian capital even more magical and fascinating. If you happen to be there this year around December-beginning of January, you can’t miss the Vatican Christmas Tree Lighting!If you’re up for surprise rather than tradition, then you should definitely go and see the World's Largest Christmas Tree in Gubbio! Yes, you read correctly…the largest tree in the world, an achievement made possible by more than fifty volunteers and thousands of hours to do it, check it out!
If you’re a proud foodie like me, then Naples is the right city for you every time of year. December, though, with its typical Christmas food is particularly propitious if you want to explore local cuisine. Struffoli, mustaccioli, susamielli, rococò, the list goes on, are cheap, delicious and typical food that you can find everywhere in Naples during this period. Truth be told, you might occasionally find them throughout the year in specific shops, but eating struffoli in, say, July, is just not the same. It takes the right season for the right food!
My favorite are mustaccioli, also spelled mostaccioli, rhomboid-shaped sweets made of honey and candied fruit covered with chocolate. There are now many alternatives of this very traditional Neapolitan food as they can be mignon or covered in different glazes. To me, together with struffoli, they represent the Christmas sweets par excellence more than the pandoro or the panettone. Honestly, I just ate two of them while writing this article because… well because they are just too good and I can’t resist.
Besides sweets, the Traditional Neapolitan Christmas Menu offers: spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams), capitone and baccalà fritto (fried eel and dried cod), insalata di rinforzo (marinated vegetables and cauliflower) and many other endless super caloric delicacies. Sometimes I do feel like Christmas is too centered around food over here but, hey, I can’t complain. If you want to know more about what Naples has to offer in terms of food check this article about street food and street art in the city!
If the art of presepe, or nativity scene, could ever find a synonym, it would be “San Gregorio Armeno street”. This street in Naples is completely dedicated to the art of making presepe. Although you can go there and see the manufactures and products every day of the year, it’s indisputable that Christmas is the period to look around the tiny workshops and admire the finest examples of this centennial art.
All the workshops in the street exhibit their own hand-made presepi who are created in accordance with the Neapolitan art of manufacturing presepi. Besides being hand-made, the characters are all made in terracotta and hand-painted. Since Naples and comedy are two words that go hand in hand, the characters that you can find in a presepe are not only the traditional ones. It has become a custom that also politicians, singers, actors and other famous persons have been incorporated into the presepe. Much like Time and its “person of the year”, the workshops of San Gregorio Armeno elect their “character of the year”: some of the irony can be “lost in translation” to the tourist since the choice is usually based upon some events particularly significant or scandalous in Italian media, but it’s nevertheless a distinctive trait of Naples. To get a true Neapolitan Christmas experience and not get lost in the crowd, I'd suggest you to get a local to guide you around and to tell the stories of Naples.
One little game for you: can you spot Benino, the little shepherd who’s sleeping on the ground? It’s a very important character in the Neapolitan presepe. According to the legend, the whole presepe is the representation of what Benino is dreaming! He is often located in a special position in the foreground so you won’t have any trouble finding him.
So here’s my personal list of pros&cons of visiting Naples in December. What is your opinion? Do the cons outweigh the pros? Or vice versa? Of course it’s up to you! In any case, I hope you’ll enjoy Naples and have a great stay there!
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