Is Naples safe?
(street in the Quartieri Spagnoli)
When you tell someone you’re going to Naples, there are two types of responses. One positive, along the lines of “Mmm, pizza”, and one negative – something like “Oh yeah, “see Naples and die”. Try not to die. Or get your bag snatched.”
Visiting Naples seems to be the most adventurous kind of travelling you can do in Italy. No, it’s not exactly Caracas, but most people judge it to be a fairly dangerous city. Risks include:
-Getting run over by a lunatic driver
-Getting killed by the Mafia, somehow
I remember reading reviews of my hostel before my first solo trip to Naples. Overall, the hostel had pretty good reviews and a central location, which was why I chose it, but some guests disliked the street and the neighbourhood more generally. A couple of reviewers warned not to come back to the hostel late at night, as there were dangerous people loitering in the street outside.
On my first night in Naples, I ended up returning to the hostel on my own at around 10pm. As I turned into Via Mancini – the location of the hostel – I was a little apprehensive, imagining pickpockets, rapists and murderers. There were quite a few people hanging around near the hostel, but not the people I’d been expecting. Only a group of teenage girls rollerskating around the car park, while a cheap radio blasted pop music.
No one tried to steal from me or assault me, and five minutes later I was safe in my dorm room at Hostel Mancini, which I’ve since returned to a couple of times. Via Mancini is certainly not the nicest street in Naples – though it might win a prize for the dirtiest – and it can feel a little grim at times. A little apocalyptic, if I’m honest. And yes, it’s a short walk from the train station, which is a notoriously dodgy area. But that doesn’t mean it’s to be avoided at all costs. You could probably spend your entire holiday walking back and forth between Via Mancini and the station without anything bad happening. Not that that would be a particularly enjoyable way to spend your holiday, but you get my point…
I like the way that Naples subverts expectations. One night in my hostel room I heard a voice booming through a crackling megaphone in the street below. I couldn’t make out the words, and hearing someone shouting through a megaphone in a “dangerous neighbourhood” of a “dangerous city” at night makes you expect the worst. I assumed it was the police, or something related to criminal gangs. I saw a picture on the internet suggesting that residents of Naples who don’t have Sky (and therefore can’t watch the latest episode of Neapolitan crime drama Gomorrah) can simply look out of their window to see the action unfold.
So I went to the balcony to look for the source of the noise, and I saw the man with the megaphone slowly driving down the street. He was selling watermelons. Watermelons! All that noise to announce that he was selling watermelons. There’s a tradition of knife-sharpeners advertising their services that way – during the daytime. The knife-sharpener is known as the arrotino; I don’t know if there’s a name for night-time watermelon street vendors.
At least one danger in Naples is real. If you think Roman drivers are bad, try crossing a road in Naples. On my most recent trip, I was with my flatmates Tom and Georgia. We were crossing a quiet street, a few feet behind a car that had just passed, when suddenly, without warning, the car reversed at full speed into Tom. The driver clearly hadn’t bothered to check his mirrors. Tom sort of bounced off the back of the car, towards the pavement, and luckily wasn’t hurt. The three of us stood there, stunned, and waited for the driver’s response. He stuck his head out of the window, barely bothering to look at us, and said “Oh, scusa“, in the tone you might use when apologising for nearly stepping on someone’s foot. Personally, I think that nearly running someone over requires a more heartfelt apology.
When I told this story to Valeriano, I discovered that we’d missed an opportunity. Instead of reacting like foreign tourists, standing open-mouthed while watching him drive away, we should have responded in the Italian way. Ie: all fallen over, pretending to be gravely injured, so we could claim some insurance money and get a week off work.
So, is Naples safe? I think it’s a bit subjective, as it depends on your personal experiences – how lucky or unlucky you are. I’ve spent plenty of time walking around “dangerous neighburhoods” (Forcella and the Quartieri Spagnoli) on my own, and nothing bad’s happened. The almost-car-accident could have happened anywhere. Well, probably not in a country like Canada where people drive sensibly, but anywhere in Naples, or a city like Naples. When the law to make seat belts obligatory was first introduced, Neapolitans started wearing t-shirts printed with seat belt straps to trick the police. That, along with the story of the almost-car-accident, tells you all you need to know about driving in Naples.
Go to Naples – eat the pizza, see the art, cross the roads, and explore the Quartieri Spagnoli without fear. Just remember: stai attento.
Hostel Mancini – I may have put you off with my descriptions of Via Mancini. But it’s a good hostel with a convenient location, and I would happily stay here again. 5 minutes from the train station, 10 minutes from the historic centre.
B&B Medea – A basic but comfortable B&B on the fourth floor of a building just off Spaccanapoli. We paid 50 euros for a room with a balcony and a great view. The walls are paper thin though.
Ciccone Guest House – Great value Airbnb close to Via Duomo – clean, comfortable, spacious. If you’re going to Naples in a group of 3-5 people, this place is perfect.