Today, the ancient ruins of Pompeii attract visitors from around the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world. It’s also the most visited site in Italy. So, what makes visiting Pompeii so attractive to visitors? Perhaps a morbid curiosity, but also an insight into the past.
Pompeii and Herculaneum are great for everyone who loves history and is curious about the past. But you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy your visit. Make sure to visit the official site for opening hours and admission information.
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Visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum: what you need to know
Both Pompeii and Herculaneum were populous towns during Roman times. It’s hard to imagine today that these places were once bursting with life and activity. People lived and worked here, unaware of the danger looming over them.
But as you walk along the streets, you’ll see that it’s not that much different than what we see today. There are remnants of homes, bars, shops, and roads very similar to what we know today. You can still see the indents the wheels of the chariots left on the stoned streets. The baths, public toilets and drains are quite fascinating.
Vesuvius eruption and destruction
The volcano that is Mount Vesuvius had erupted several times, long before it destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. Even Roman writers have told stories of how common the tremors were in the area. There was a massive earthquake in 62 A.D. that damaged many buildings in Pompeii. The destruction was quite extensive, and not all the damage was repaired by the time Vesuvius erupted.
In the days before the eruption, several warning signs went mostly ignored. Since people were so accustomed to them, they probably didn’t fully understand the danger. The tremors and quakes became more frequent in the days leading to the eruption. Nobody seemed to be alarmed, and the volcano erupted as everyone was going about their daily tasks.
Much of what we know about this event comes from Pliny the Younger’s writings, who saw the event that also took the life of his uncle Pliny the Elder. Pliny writes about the large, unusual cloud that appeared over Pompeii, which prompted his uncle to part from the Bay of Naples on a rescue mission. He never made it back.
According to the experts, within the eruption that lasted about 24 hours, Pompeii and the nearby Herculaneum were buried under six or seven metres of ash and debris. They were abandoned and forgotten for the next 1500+ years.
Rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum
Eventually, Pompeii and Herculaneum were forgotten as they lay buried under layers of ash and debris for centuries. The architect Domenico Fontana accidentally discovered the buried city while constructing an underground aqueduct in the late 16th century. It’s not clear why the discovery was kept quiet and no excavations were conducted.
In the following century, small discoveries led to more interest in the treasures hidden underground. The excavations didn’t start till 1748, following the rediscovery of Herculaneum in 1738. It wasn’t till 1763 that the unknown city emerging from the ground was identified as Pompeii.
Charles of Bourbon, who was King of Naples, took great interest in the excavations and had many artifacts from both cities brought to Naples. You can still see them at the Archaeological Museum of Naples.
Today, the excavations on both sites continue as archeologists continue to make discoveries, allowing us to learn more about the people that lived here. It’s estimated that only 25% of Herculaneum has been uncovered, the rest buried under the current city. It’s estimated that about three-quarters of Pompeii has been uncovered to date.
Visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum visitor info
Pompeii is located about 25 km south of Naples and about 242 km from Rome. While you can make it a day trip from Rome to Pompeii, it ends up being a very long day. We recommend staying in Naples or the nearby Amalfi Coast towns and using that as your base.
Visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum can be done in one day, but it can get tiring, especially on a hot day. Herculaneum is located between Naples and Pompeii and can be easily added to the itinerary.
Via Porta Marina and Piazza Esedra:
Take the Circumvesuviana Napoli-Sorrento Train (stop at Pompei Villa dei Misteri)
Circumvesuviana from Via Piazza Anfiteatro:
Take the Circumvesuviana Napoli-Poggiomarino Train (stop at Pompei Santuario)
FS (National Railway) Napoli – Salerno Line (stop at Pompei)
SITA Bus Lines – from Naples and Salerno
CSTP Bus Lines – no. 4 from Salerno
CSTP Bus Lines – no. 50 from Salerno (This rapid bus takes the autostrada.)
Autostrada A3 Napoli-Salerno (exit Pompei West)
There are three entrances for Pompeii:
Porta Marina (via Villa dei Misteri)
Piazza Esedra (piazza Porta Marina Inferiore)
Piazza Anfiteatro (piazza Immacolata)
Luggage or bags larger than 30x30x15 cm are not allowed inside Pompeii and Herculaneum.
There is a cloakroom at the entrance gates where you can leave bags and there is a commercial left luggage facility by the Circumvesuviana train station.
April 1 to October 31: 9 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. (last entry at 6 p.m.)
November 1 to March 31: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (last entry at 3:30p .m.)
Closed: January 1, December 25
Tickets can be purchased at the ticket offices at the entrance to each site or through the online ticket office. Do not purchase tours or tickets from street vendors who may approach you at the Circumvesuviana train station!
Pompeii ticket: Full price €16; €2 discounted admission for EU citizens between the ages of 18 and under 25.
Herculaneum tickets: Full price €13; €2 discounted admission for EU citizens between the ages of 18 and under 25.
5 Sites (Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabia, Boscoreale) – Valid for 3 consecutive Days
Full Price: € 20.00nReduced Price: € 10.00
Practical tips for visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum
When visiting Pompeii and/or Herculaneum, keep in mind that these are archeological sites. There is a lot of walking involved, which can be tiring, especially on a hot day. There is not a lot of shade or places to rest while exploring.
The site in Pompeii is approximately 44 hectares (about 108 acres), while Herculaneum is about 4 hectares (9 acres). That is a lot of walking on uneven ancient streets. We recommend wearing flat and comfortable shoes while visiting.
You might also want to bring bottled water, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. Drones are not permitted inside without permits, but you can bring a camera. As much of the ground is uneven, a tripod might be more a hindrance than an asset.
While visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum, keep in mind that you are in a historically-sensitive area. Be mindful of the closed-off area and that you don’t accidentally damage anything. We found Herculaneum better suited for exploring as it’s smaller and many of the frescos and houses are in better shape than in Pompeii.
Thinking of visiting Pompeii on your own? Download the Visiting Pompeii in a day app for a self-guided tour!
What to see when visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum
Visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum is an incredible experience. You are walking through the same streets that so many people did every day over 2,000 years ago. They lived and worked here. They shopped, partied, lived and died just like we do today.
Locals and visitors enjoyed the bathhouses, brothels and other places of vice. There was a large stadium, amphitheatre, shops, bakeries, temples and large villas on the hills. Everyday items were found just as they were where dropped or stored when the volcano erupted. Many of these objects, like vases and pottery, are still in the same place they were left in.
There is graffiti on the buildings, which provides a glimpse into Roman culture. Some are obscene, some instructional and written by the hands of those that lived there. It makes you wonder what people in the future would think of today’s street art.
Probably the most popular among tourists are brothels. With many naughty frescos still visible on the walls, you get the idea of the building’s purpose and decor. Some giggle and some are scandalized, but everyone stops by to check them out.
Many wealthy Romans were living in Pompeii and Herculaneum. You can see how their households were laid out and decorated. Some still have frescos on the walls and other intricate decorations that hint at the glory of the past. In Herculaneum, some of the interior features like staircases, tables and shelves remain as they were.
The most chilling are the plasters of those that perished in the eruption. Bodies that disintegrated in the process were cast in stone. Some will truly move you, but the technology to capture their last moments will fascinate you.
Tip for visiting Pompeii: Plan your visit using the virtual Google Street View, and download the free Pompeii guide PDF that provides an overview of all of the excavations.
Pompeii and Herculaneum today
Today, Vesuvius is still on the verge of eruption. Experts predict that it is due for another one, but nobody can predict when. There are about three million people living in this area. This makes it especially dangerous if the volcano was to erupt again. We have more sophisticated systems in place to monitor any activity and alert people of imminent danger. For now, they keep an eye on the volcano and all that is inside it.
If you’re a history buff like us, this is your best opportunity to step back in time. This time capsule will show you what life was like in the first century A.D. It’s a unique experience that you won’t experience in too many places.
Visiting Pompeii is educational and fascinating. While there are many people there during the day when the sun begins to set, there is a sense of sadness that becomes more pronounced in the shadows. It’s more noticeable with the silence, reminding you of the tragedy that made this place possible.
Herculaneum is similar in many ways to Pompeii and different in others. The modern city sits right on top of the excavation. People can look over it from their homes while the Vesuvius sits quietly on the horizon. Unlike Pompeii, you’ll not find casts of the people that died here. For a long time, it was assumed that people managed to escape. It wasn’t till hundreds of remains were discovered huddled together in the boat bays by the water that the truth came out. It’s moving and very sad.
Visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum is an experience we recommend for anyone visiting Italy. While most people choose one or the other, we feel that both places should be visited at least once. You can visit them individually or with a tour, so give yourself plenty of time to plan and let us know what you think!
Visiting Pompeii? You might enjoy the Ultimate guide to Roman ruins in Italy!
6 thoughts on “Visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum: 2 ancient Roman cities lost to time”
Yes, and sometimes it’s absolutely terrifying!
You are so right! Nature is so powerful and incredible!
Thank you! It really is strange. I still can’t believe people live there like it’s no big deal. It’s even more chilling in Herculaneum, where you can literally stand in ruins and see the modern town and the volcano. I definitely wouldn’t be able to live there.
I love your take on Pompeii, especially the bit about the poinance of the place in the shadows. Isn’t it so strange to see the way time stands still there?
You’re welcome! I feel like I go back there every time I see the pics. It must have been a horrible experience and so terrifying. It just shows you the power of nature!
Thank you for taking us back in time here!! Wow,.. those skeletons! You had me at Morbid curiosity! It’s quite amazing how volcano ash could consume a town/city and keep it buried for over 1500 years! Great tips too.
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