The Internets make it seem as though Napoli is a horrible, unsafe place that should be avoided. As such, I spent time with one or two people who freaked out because they worried constantly that we’d be mugged after dark. This is not a great way to start out in a new city… and it’s not an entirely fair assessment of this wonderful city!
Firstly, Napoli is raw and un-tourist-ified, and the people are not shy about showing their dark, dirty, and sometimes strange underbelly. Westerners aren’t used to this so the immediate reaction is to be afraid and hide. I remember feeling this way during my first days in India. And, back then the Internet didn’t feed insecurities.
Napoli is probably one of the more authentic experiences that you’ll get in Italy; the food is fantastic, the wine/drink is amazing, the people are authentic, and the reactions aren’t rehearsed. I love this authenticity more than overcrowded tourist experiences that gloss over the real soul of a city.
Social life starts in Napoli after dark. If you’re hiding inside out of fear, you’ll miss things like Passeggiata (Promenade) which shows the warm and community focused part of Italian people.
La passeggiata is an evening stroll that happens after work (6-8pm) when people head out to a certain part of town to wander a bit before heading home.
Via Toledo seems to be the place that Neapolitans like to meander; on Sunday (as we discovered) families dress up in their best clothing and hit the streets. Traditionally, the purpose of passeggiata is to help children develop social skills, to give people a sense of community, and to share the news with one another.
Yes, pickpockets and scammers hit the streets as well. We saw both the standard gang/team and the Rom varieties; both are pretty easy to spot.
Just be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk in places where you can be easily herded or channelled, be aware when someone suddenly starts to follow you (with a blank look on their face, they’re watching you out of peripheral vision), watch out for bikes/scooters that get too close, and when someone tries to engage you in random conversation as you’re walking, ignore them… especially if they speak to you in English.
Most importantly don’t expose or wear anything you don’t want to be stolen. If stress and fear are getting in the way of the experience, then leave your belongings in a hotel room.
But, certainly don’t hide because you’ll miss what many philosophers have called the soul of Italy.