Palazzo Reale

Top choice palace

in Toledo & Quartieri Spagnoli

Envisaged as a 16th-century monument to Spanish glory (Naples was under Spanish rule at the time), the magnificent Palazzo Reale is home to the Museo del Palazzo Reale, a rich and eclectic collection of baroque and neoclassical furnishings, porcelain, tapestries, sculpture and paintings, spread across the palace's royal apartments.

Among the many highlights is the Teatrino di Corte, a lavish private theatre created by Ferdinando Fuga in 1768 to celebrate the marriage of Ferdinand IV and Marie Caroline of Austria. Incredibly, Angelo Viva's statues of Apollo and the Muses set along the walls are made of papier mâché.

Sala (Room) VIII is home to a pair of vivid, allegorical 18th-century French tapestries representing earth and water respectively. Further along, Sala XII will leave you sniggering at the 16th-century canvas Gli esattori delle imposte (The Tax Collectors). Painted by Dutch artist Marinus Claeszoon Van Reymerswaele, it confirms that attitudes to tax collectors have changed little in 500 years. Sala XIII used to be Joachim Murat's study in the 19th century, but was used as a snack bar by Allied troops in WWII. Meanwhile, what looks like a waterwheel in Sala XXIII is actually a nifty rotating reading desk made for Queen Maria Carolina of Austria by Giovanni Uldrich in the 18th century.

The Cappella Reale (Royal Chapel) houses an 18th-century presepe napoletano (Neapolitan nativity scene). Fastidiously detailed, its cast of pastori (nativity-scene figurines) were crafted by a series of celebrated Neapolitan artists, including Giuseppe Sanmartino, creator of the Cristo velato (Veiled Christ) sculpture in the Cappella Sansevero.

The palace is also home to the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli, its own priceless treasures including at least 2000 papyri discovered at Herculaneum. You will need to email the library a month ahead to organise a viewing of its ancient papyri, retrieved from Herculaneum. Thankfully, you won't need to book ahead to view the library's exquisite Biblioteca Lucchesi Palli (Lucchesi Palli Library; closed Saturday). Crafted by some of Naples' most celebrated 19th-century artisans, it's home to numerous fascinating artistic artefacts, including letters by composer Giuseppe Verdi. Bring photo ID to enter the Biblioteca Nazionale.

Theatre and opera fans can buy the combination ticket (€11) for entry to both the Palazzo Reale and adjoining MeMus theatre museum.