Built to compete with the greatest royal palaces in Europe, the Reggia di Caserta is a must-see while visiting Naples and its surroundings. Meanwhile a handful of other attractions nearby make the visit even more enticing.
A former capital and royal residence, Naples displays its noble past through an array of architectural wonders. The Bourbon heritage is particularly rich, a collection of 18th-century buildings where late-Baroque whimsical flair blends with Enlightenment rationalism. The Reggia di Caserta, 30 km north of the city, is the most impressive example. When construction started in 1752, King Charles of Bourbon aimed for nothing less than to rival some of the most celebrated royal palaces in Europe, such as Versailles and Schönbrunn. And rival them it does – in grand style.
Its 1,200 rooms and 34 stairways amount to the world’s largest royal residence by volume. Sumptuous marbles and frescoes adorn the palace throughout, and to a particularly heady effect in the royal chambers. The 19th-century wing features a Neoclassical style, as opposed to the Rococo design found in the 18th-century apartments. Furnishing and decorations include precious details such as gold finishes and rich silk fabric. The latter was produced in the nearby San Leucio, the same fabric the flags at Buckingham Palace and the White House are made of. Today San Leucio is a World Heritage-listed site along with the Reggia.
Outside the palace, a feast of pools, fountains and artificial waterfalls would alone be worth the visit. They stretch along a 3km park, where long boulevards link the Italian-style garden to an English composition style, lush with 18th-century Romantic aesthetic. Plans for a vast promenade reaching all the way to Naples is among the features never realised. In fact, we’d probably be admiring an even greater endeavour if King Charles hadn’t left for the throne of Spain soon after construction began. His successors shared only partially the same enthusiasm for the palace, first opened in 1774 and completed in 1845.
In addition to the park, the gardens and the royal apartments, highlights include a historic nativity scene and the court theatre located at the rear of the chapel. The painting collection is displayed across nine halls, with themes and styles ranging from still life and orientalism to portraits of the Bourbon family. Since 1994, the palace is also home to ‘Terrae Motus’, a contemporary art collection comprising over 70 pieces.
Hours and directions
In normal times, without the COVID restrictions in place at the time of writing, the palace is normally open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 7.30pm (last entry at 7pm; closed for holidays and). Visits to the park and English garden start at 8.30am, while closing time varies according to the season. A free luggage storage service is available at the ticket office.
While in the area, it’s certainly worth setting aside time to also visit the San Silvestro Forest and the monumental complex of San Leucio, both only a short drive away. The Vanvitelli aqueduct is also an impressive sight, often dubbed the ‘Unrolled Colusseum’. Head to its intersection with the Statale 265 road to take a look.
Transport: The nearest train station is located just outside the Reggia, providing a direct link with many of Italy’s most prominent towns and cities, including Rome and Naples. Buses are available from Naples port, airport, city centre and Afragola high-speed train station (linea AV2). By car, exit at ‘Caserta Nord’ if travelling on the A1, or ‘Caserta Sud’ if on the A30. Those travelling by camper van will find a serviced area at the San Silvestro Forest.
Tickets and tours
Tickets: The on-site ticket office is closed at the time of writing, meaning you can only book online in advance. Entry prices are €9 for the park and €10 for the royal apartments. A joint ticket is €14, reduced to only €2 for EU citizens aged 18 to 24. Under-18s gain access for free. An evening visit to the apartments, from 5pm onwards, costs €3.
While bookings can be made directly via the Reggia’s website, you can buy a five-hour day trip inclusive of shuttle bus transportation and priority ticket here . Current COVID-related requirements include no headphones (it is advised to bring your own) and a mandatory temperature check on entry Due to the vast area covered by the park, wearing comfortable shoes is also highly advisable (although a shuttle service does operate within the park).
Tours: Private tours with a local guide might be worth considering for those looking for a more insightful visit. Guides are available in several languages, and bookings include a skip-the-line ticket. A two-hour guided tour can be booked at Getyourguide here, or a three-hour tour here.
Another tour option doubles up a visit to the Reggia di Caserta with the Roman amphitheatre of Capua. Second in size in Italy only to the Colosseum, this amphitheatre is famously linked to the rebellion led by Spartacus in 73BC. It was here that the Thracian gladiator broke his chains, instigating the toughest slave rebellion to ever threaten the Roman Empire. The amphitheatre sits only 10 km from the Reggia, and a seven-hour bundle tour inclusive of transport can be booked here.