Whenever I tell someone that my favorite city in all of Italy is Naples, I’m usually met with a confused look. Then I get the same question every time, “Isn’t Naples kind of sketchy?”
Apparently, Naples isn’t known for being the safest place in all of Italy. In fact, in the minds of many foreigners Naples is synonymous with The Godfather, the Italian Mafia, and street crime.
In my experience, Naples is a very safe and welcoming place to visit and travel in. I’ve walked the streets of Naples at all hours of the night without finding myself in danger. Of course, Naples has neighborhoods that aren’t as welcoming to tourists and you should do your best to avoid these areas.
In this article, we’ll go through some of the publicly available information on the topic of safety in Naples; particularly as it relates to tourists. I’ll draw on my own experience in the city of pizza to help you remain safe on your trip and steer clear of any sketch neighborhoods. Capisci?
Are Pickpockets and Thieves Common in Naples, Italy?
As in other European cities, the biggest risk to your safety in Naples is the risk of being pick-pocketed or robbed. Because Naples is a large city, tourists aren’t usually singled out for theft and robbery. Rather, tourists to Naples seem to fall victim to these crimes at the same rate as locals.
According to a recent report by OSAC, petty theft schemes in Naples are becoming increasingly complex and difficult to preempt.
For example, in one scheme a stranger may approach you and spill his drink on you then begin apologizing profusely. While he keeps you distracted with the antics of his “spill,” his accomplice will get to work stealing your valuables.
In another scheme, a thief will ask you for directions while his accomplice secretly pickpockets you.
Making sure you don’t fall prey to petty thieves and pickpockets is as simple as staying out of the wrong places and maintaining self-awareness. The center of Naples, which includes Piazza Garibaldi/the central train station, the Historic Center, and The Spanish Quarter are where most petty crimes occur.
Make sure to visit these areas during the daytime, rather than late at night. In addition, be aware of any situation in which there is a large crowd or commotion that could provide cover for thieves.
Is Car Theft Common in Naples, Italy?
Unlike petty theft, which primarily occurs in the busy tourist hubs, car theft takes place primarily outside the city center and at rest stops. Any time you leave your car unattended, be sure to place all belongings out of sight.
Some common car theft schemes involve criminals who convince you to pull off the road by telling you that you have a flat tire. Once you’ve pulled off the road, an accomplice will snatch electronics through your unlocked car door.
According to OSAC, there have also been incidents in Naples in which criminals have thrown live rats into moving vehicles. In this crazy (and weirdly hilarious) scheme, criminals toss a live rat into the open window of a car. When the passengers open the doors to flee the car, the criminals enter the vehicle and steal their belongings.
I doubt that someone will try to throw a rat into your moving vehicle in Naples, but if they do, don’t say I didn’t warn you! If this does happen to you then maybe you should just decide on keeping the rat. This way you get a new, loving pet and your stuff doesn’t get jacked. It’s a win-win situation, really.
In all seriousness, the rate of car theft in Naples is relatively low. According to the most recent data, the rate of car theft in Naples is approximately 624 incidents per 100k residents, compared to 517 incidents per 100k residents in Rome.
While you should definitely take precautions to not become a target, I wouldn’t let fears of having your vehicle stolen affect your visit to Naples.
Is Driving in Naples, Italy Safe?
Typically, I am not someone who seeks thrills or danger. During my visit to Southern Italy this year, however, I decided to live life on the edge and do something I had never done before–I rented a car in Italy. And what a thrill it was.
While Italy is a highly-developed and orderly country, the driving situation in this country is completely out of control. Coming from Los Angeles, where driving is extremely standardized and follows concrete rules, I was blown away by Italians’ blatant disregard for traffic signals and rules.
Red lights in LA are sacred. To run a red light in LA traffic is to write your own traffic ticket, if not your own death wish. In Italy, though, red lights aren’t the authoritative traffic makers they are in the US.
To the Italians, and especially the Neapolitans, traffic signals are like suggestions from a good friend–you should probably follow them but at the end of the day we both know you probably won’t.
This laid back attitude to driving and traffic rules spills into other areas of road safety, as well. Pedestrians don’t cross at crosswalks, nobody stays in their lane on the freeways, and the phrase “safe following distance” is as foreign as American cheddar.
My recommendation to stay safe from Italy’s unscrupulous driving culture is pretty straightforward–don’t drive here unless you really (really) need to. The risks just outweigh the rewards; especially when you consider the other risks that come with driving (my rental car got keyed in Lecce).
Is Street Violence a Threat in Naples, Italy?
If you’ve managed to dodge the rat being thrown through your car window or a drink spilled on you in the train station, then you’ve probably avoided the biggest risks you’ll come across in Naples. Like I mentioned in my opening, I have found Naples to be safe in nearly every regard.
That isn’t to say, however, that Naples is totally immune from other, more serious risks. Specifically, there are criminal elements that operate in Naples which have been known to engage in violent street fights in populated areas.
While the targets of this street violence is almost always rival gangs or mafia members, it’s conceivable that such violence could present some risks to tourists, as well.
Drive-by shootings from the back of motorized scooters have been reported in the south of the city (I know this is serious, but for some reason the mental image of a drive-by from the back of a Vespa has me crying tears of laughter).
In general, these attacks have occurred in Piazza del Gesu’ late at night and early in the morning. Several bars are located on Piazza del Gesu’ and they all close at the same time early in the morning. With so many drunk dudes walking around the piazza, the perfect storm brews for bravado and inter-gang fighting.
Aside from Piazza del Gesu’, stabbings and shootings have been reported in other areas of the historic center, as well. To be on the safe side, try to visit these areas during the daytime. When you visit, stick to the main piazza’s and alleyways.
Super Volcanoes and Lava Fields (Bonus Round)
During my last visit to Italy, I became curious about Mt. Vesuvius–the volcano that caused the total destruction of Pompeii. I knew that Mt. Vesuvius is still considered active and I wondered what kind of a risk it presents to Naples and the surrounding areas.
So, while I rode a bus from Naples to Bari, I decided to do a deep dive into the topic of volcanoes and super volcanoes both on and under the Italian peninsula. As it turns out, Italy sits on top of a massive super volcano known as the Phlegraean Fields. This super volcano is the ancient geological force that literally formed the bay of Naples on Italy’s west coast.
While the chances of Italy’s Phlegraean Fields erupting during your visit is near zero, it’s definitely something freaky to learn about. As it turns out, the Phlegraean Fields super volcano is so large that if it erupted it would probably cause another ice age. All of Europe would become refugees to the Americas and Africa and the entire world would change. Oh and Naples would be complete toast.
SO THERE’S THAT!
But seriously, all this talk of flying rats, Vespa drive-by’s, and ice-age-inducing volcanoes should tell you just how safe Naples really is. Like any big city, Naples certainly has risks you should be aware of; but, the risk that you’ll be impacted by any one of these on your visit is pretty dang low.
I hope I was somewhat useful in helping you determine whether you’d like to visit Naples. In case it wasn’t clear, I enthusiastically promote Naples and I think it’s a true hidden gem of Italy.
Enjoy a pizza for me while in this marvelous city. Ciao, ragazzi!