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Both Madrid and Naples are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Madrid and Naples, hopefully making your choice that little easier.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City ratings -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
In many ways, Naples is split in two halves; a town of shadow and light, just like the Caravaggio chiaroscuro that hangs in the Capodimonte palace on the hill – art buffs will want to see that! There's the Naples of pizza dough and La Dolce Vita, which is all about kicking it by the azure Tyrrhenian Sea with good food and great wine. Then there's the gritty city, whose reputation comes from the Camorra mafiosos and the ramshackle alleys around Spaccanapoli street. Both are immersive and interesting in their own right.
Put simply, Naples is one of the most authentic and enthralling cities in Italy. The self-proclaimed capital of the south, it's got Roman history (seriously visceral Roman history, in fact) and gorgeous landscapes in equal measure. It promises something for honeymooners, backpackers, foodies, and outdoorsy types, but won't sugar-coat the experience with anything special for tourists.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
That's a tricky one. Naples itself can be seen from tip to toe in just a couple of days. We'd say around 48 hours is perfect for tasting Neapolitan pizzas in legendary L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele and feeling the vibes down lively Spaccanapoli – the main drag in the historic centre.
For a longer stay of five to seven days, there's a catch: A lot of Naples's main draws are outside of town. Think the likes of Pompeii, the soaring crater of Vesuvius, and the Amalfi Coast. To add those on, you'll need to plan to come here for considerably more time.
For Madrid, the length of stay greatly depends on how much you want to devote to visit the three famed art galleries (Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía), or immerse into Spanish culture. The city can be seen in two days of sightseeing, and a third day is often given to the galleries.
There are many outstanding day trips from Madrid and a trip can be easily extended to 5 or 6 days. A selection of the best day trips includes the medieval town of Segovia, charming Toledo, and the magnificent El Escorial. Madrid makes for a good base from which to explore the region, and is served by inexpensive public transport
There's not much debate about it among the locals – spring is the best time of year in Naples. This southern city gets warm nice and early, so you can expect April highs in the 20s and even enough sun to hit the beaches of Gaiola and the local lidos if you want to take a dip in the Med. There are fewer other travellers about before the summer rush too, which means you'll find it more pleasant strolling the historic centre and Pompeii.
Of course, that's not to say the summer is bad in these parts. It most certainly isn't. Reliable warmth and loads of sunshine, topped off with a buzz about town, help make the months between June and August great options. Just be prepared to pay extra for hotels and flights, and don't expect the place to be quiet.
The major consideration for Madrid, is to avoid August, when the entire city shuts down (most restaurants, cafes and independent shops) and everyone heads to the coastal towns. Late spring and early autumn (Jun/July and September) are the best seasons.
Madrid can be surprisingly chilly in the winter, but is comparatively dry to the rest of Europe. As Madrid is in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula it tends to get more extreme weather than the coastal cities.
Madrid is one of the finest cities in Europe. The city may not have the iconic monuments and attention-grabbing tourist attractions, but in reality, there is a lot to see during a city break.
Much of Madrid’s tourist literature focuses on the museums and galleries (which are world-class), but this should not deter you; this is a fun-loving city, which has the best nightlife in Europe. No matter your style of trip, there will be something to love about the Spanish capital.
Madrid excels as a long-stay destination, and if you are able to work here, the city offers perfect work/life balance.
Naples is a raw and immersive Italian city. It's got pizza places that are frequented by locals. It's got wine bars serving gorgeous Campanian tipples. It's lived-in and gritty and real. That makes it perfect for city hoppers who like atmosphere and energy. And the joys don't end there…
Just around the Bay of Naples are two of the country's most impressive archaeological sites: Pompeii and Herculaneum. They'll entertain the history lovers, along with the likes of the Castel dell'Ovo and the vast Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Loved-up duos might also want to make Naples a pitstop on a couple's break to the impossibly gorgeous Amalfi Coast that lies to the south.
Naples isn't for those who like small, easy-going towns where there's lots of room. It's crammed between the volcanos and the sea, so things are compact in the centre. It can also be quite hectic, with touts and traffic.
Everything from millennia-old villas to rich art collections is on offer in this 48-hour guide to Naples. Oh, and there are plenty of chances to devour pizza – it's considered the very best in Italy.
Day 1: Start in the Quartieri Spagnoli. Ramshackle and rough around the edges, it's the perfect combo of Neapolitan grit and charm. There's bound to be a cafeteria serving cannoli (crunchy Sicilian pastries) and cappuccino there that takes your fancy.
You'll need the energy, because your next destination is the acclaimed Naples National Archaeological Museum. It's known to have one of the largest collections of Roman artifacts anywhere in the world, but the standout highlight is surely the Alexander Mosaic, reconstructed from the floors of Pompeii's opulent House of the Faun.
Once you're done in there, head south to the sleepless street of Spaccanapoli. Literally meaning 'the street that divides Naples', it does exactly as that implies. It runs right through the heart of the city, with drooping washing lines, street-food vendors and age-old churches looming on both sides. It will take a while to walk its two kilometres but it's all about breathing in the urban energy. What's more, the iconic L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele sits at the eastern end.
Day 2: Rise early and get to the platforms of Naples Centrale station. That's where the trains depart for Pompeii in the morning. You might just have heard of that place – it was once an entire Roman resort town for the nobles and elite of the empire.
That is, until Mount Vesuvius suddenly erupted in 79 AD and flooded it with lava and ash. These days, the site is an amazing and haunting archaeological dig, with whole streets, entire villas, and even brothels complete with Roman wall art just waiting to be discovered.
It's likely Pompeii will take more than half of the day, while the most devoted history buffs can add on a trip to Herculaneum to boot. If not, head back to Naples city and go straight to the hilltops where the Castle of St Elmo keeps watch. That's the Vomero district, and it's famed for its sweeping panoramas of the Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. With that as the backdrop, find yourself a traditional trattoria or pizzeria and dine with a view of the metropolis to cap off the trip.
48 hours in Madrid is not just the sights but also the atmosphere of the city. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.
Begin in the Puerta del Sol, then wander through charming streets of the El Madrid de los Austrias, which is the oldest section of the city. This leads to the Palacio Real, surrounded by its formal gardens and the Catedral de la Almudena to the south.
For the last part of the day explore the La Latina district and have a delicious tapas meal at one of the restaurants along the Cava Alta or Cava Baja. La Latina boasts numerous bars and is always a great place to start a night in Madrid.
The Gran Vía is the bustling main avenue of Madrid
The morning of the second focuses on the three art-museums, the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía. Close to the museums is the pretty the El Retiro Park.
For the afternoon head down the Gran Vía, the main shopping street of Madrid, and visit the Malasaña district, with its artisan vibe, independent shops and trendy nightlife. For sunset watch it at the Templo de Debod, and then head back to Malasaña for a memorable meal and evening.
For your first visit, you would want to be based in the Centro or Retiro districts, and this will limit accommodation options. If you do wish a more remote, budget option always ensure it is close to a metro station. While exploring Madrid, you will do a surprising amount of walking.
Capodichino Airport, or Naples Airport, is the main gateway to the city by air. It's the fifth largest in the country, so should have lots of low-cost and premium services jetting into its runways. There's a metro line to the terminal in the works, but for now arrivals will need to use the Alibus to Naples Centrale station. Tickets cost about €5 each way and the travel time is roughly 15 minutes outside of rush hours.
Centrale Station is a main stop on the north-south railway line through Italy. It's easy to get there on high-speed links from Rome and even Milan. That's one of the most glamourous ways to arrive in Campania, offering gorgeous views of the countryside before pulling right into the heart of the city.
Naples has a reputation for being Italy's roughest and most dangerous place. It's true that crime rates are higher here than in the north. What's more, the mafia are still in action in these parts. You'll want to be a little more careful walking around areas like the Naples Centrale station and Quartieri Spagnoli. Also try to stick to more touristy central districts, and don't walk alone at night. On top of that, be wary of street touts selling stolen goods, and be on the guard for pickpockets and drive-by thieves on scooters.