Pompeii & Herculaneum are two ancient Roman towns that were destroyed by the 79AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Both are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list as providing a vivid picture of the lifestyle of the citizens of the Early Roman Empire.
Pompeii or Herculaneum – or Both!
You can reach both sites yourself from Naples main train station – Garibaldi. You will want to take the Circumvesuviana line which connects both sites to Naples. I wouldn’t recommend doing both sites in one day, although you potentially could do, I find that once you’re looking at ancient ruins if you don’t take your time and process what you’re looking at they all tend to blend together. Pompeii is the larger of the two sites, much larger, and is also the furthest from Naples so if you’re short on time I’d recommend just doing Herculaneum.
For both of these sites, go early! They only get busier the later in the day you leave it, and it only gets hotter as well. The first Sunday each month is free entry but these sites are worth their entry costs, it’s up to you whether you want to deal with the larger crowds to get free entry or pay the fee (13euro for Pompeii and 11euro for Herculaneum in 2017)
How to get there
From Naples Garibaldi to Pompei Scavi the journey takes around 40 minutes. From the Pompei Scavi station it’s less than 5 minutes walk to the entrance of Pompeii and the cost of the journey is around 3euro.
When you arrive
I would make sure you reserve tickets to enter the site before you arrive to save queuing in lines that can be very long, and it always seems to be very hot in the ruins (I’ve visited a few times). At the entrance where you collect your tickets you will see some guides hanging around – these are for hire and they are worth their money! They often take tours in English as well as many other languages and don’t need to be booked in advance, just join a group getting ready to go. This could cost you as little as 10-15euro depending on the size of the group for a two hour guided tour. Or in our case most recently 25euro when we waited until after lunch to try and get on a tour on a day where there was a metro strike and not another tourist to be found!
What to see
You will enter Pompeii through the Porta Marina entrance if travelling from the station. As you make your way up the hill and into the city the first sight will be on your right. This is the Antiquarium and has regular displays of different (and new found) artefacts from the site. You can also come back to this point on your way out to return to Naples from the station. Whether you decide to have a look in first or leave it until last it’s definitely worth some of your time. On our recent visit they had displayed some golden jewellery and some of the more recent artefacts that have brought into question the month which the eruption of Vesuvius took place – they’re always finding new information and learning new things from these sites.
Walking further into Pompeii you will soon enter an open space which is the Forum, you should get some good pictures here with Vesuvius in the background. After this point your guide will take you around some of the main sites, or any in particular you really want to see.
Some highlights of a trip to Pompeii are the Theatre Grande, the Forum Baths, although any of the baths are worth a look into, House of the Faun, and any of the bakeries, wine merchants or even the brothels.
Something else which won’t be obvious at first is the sunken ‘roads’ which are not roads at all but drainage. The large stones in the middle of these ‘roads’ are stepping stones to cross from one site to the other without stepping into the water, something we certainly didn’t have in England at that time!
What to eat
Expect a trip to Pompeii to take up at least half a day. If you’re looking for lunch nearby there are cafes just outside the entrance, we had lunch at Hortus Porta Marina s.a.s. Di Falanga Mario. I had pasta and Richard had a salad – which was massive! Food was pretty good, service friendly although I think there may have been problems in the kitchen, Richard had nearly finished his salad before my pasta arrived. We also had a gelato each while waiting for some more people to join our guided tour, gelato is definitely not to be missed!
How to get there
From Naples Garibaldi to Ercolano Scavi for Herculaneum the journey takes about 20 minutes costing around 3euro and the ruins are a short walk from the station, although slightly further than Pompeii ruins are from it’s nearest station. It should take about 10 minutes to walk, all downhill on the way there!
When you arrive
Herculaneum is a smaller site and won’t really be able to be expanded on much as the new city is built over the top of it as you will see as you enter from the street. However it makes it the perfect size if you want to get a taste of the lifestyle of the Early Romans and only have a short time to do it.
You can hire a guide here as well but as it’s a smaller site the audio guides work pretty well, although less personal than a guide and you won’t be able to get any questions answered unless you check the internet. On the back of the handset is a list of all of the buildings that are currently open – not all of the site is accessible all of the time. The audio guide costs 8euro to hire and you must leave a form of ID at the desk, if you hire more than one the price is reduced slightly.
What to see
The guide has you enter the site through a tunnel which comes out towards a series of gated boat houses, these contain a lot of skeletons of the residents of Herculaneum. These people had attempted to wait out the eruption and didn’t make it. If you don’t want to see these they’re easily avoided, just make your way straight into the buildings.
My favourite house in Herculaneum to see is the House of the Deer however it wasn’t open during our recent visit, there are still plenty of other buildings to check out. Another favourite is the College of the Augustales which still has a lot of colour inside from the wall decorations and the house of neptune and amphitrite which has some pretty cool mosaics.
Depending how long you have plan to spend at least 2 hours in Herculaneum. If you have less time than this you aren’t going to have enough time to walk around the whole site so choose a few buildings you want to see before you go, although be prepared that it’s possible that not all of those chosen will be open.
Herculaneum is likely to only take up a few hours of your time. While you are already on the Circumvesuviana line it’s easy to extend your day trip and carry on in the same direction away from Naples to spend your afternoon in Sorrento. Alternatively transport is offered from Ercolano Scavi station to Mount Vesuvius (for a fee, around €10) where you could see what caused the devastation of Pompeii and Herculaneum up close!