On our latest trip to Naples, I could hardly wait to get to the ancient city of Pompeii. I couldn’t help but think that my high-school Latin teacher would have been proud of me. Finally, I would see the city that I had read about in texts by Pliny the Younger. We spent a whole day on a day trip from Naples to Pompeii. With a few spare hours left, we also headed to Herculaneum. If you are a history nerd like me but have limited time, make sure to follow our self-guided walking tour of Pompeii to the absolute highlights on a short time. Then, head to Herculaneum and escape the crowds!
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Why You Should Take a Day Trip from Naples to Pompeii
Naples makes the perfect base for exploring some of Italy’s historic sites such as Pompeii. Once a bustling city in the Roman Empire, the city was destroyed during an eruption of the nearby volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79. The entire city was covered in 4 to 6 meters of ash which led to an excellent preservation of the city ruins. Unfortunately, the majority of the city’s population perished during the catastrophe. Casts made of impressions in the hardened pumice bear witness to the last seconds in many peoples’ lives. No other place in the world compares to Pompeii.
How to Get from Naples to Pompeii
Located only 25 km from Naples, Pompeii is easily accessible by public transport. You can catch a direct train from Naples Central Station, Circumvesuviana terminal. The Circumvesuviana terminal at Naples Central Station for trains going to Pompeii is also called Garibaldi Station. In general, you can easily follow signs for “Circumvesuviana”.
Once you reach the terminal, you can buy a ticket from the ticket counter or a tobacconist (look for the red T). Please note that you can only pay in cash here. A one-way ticket costs 1.10 EUR. Alternatively, we strongly recommend buying the ArteCard ahead of time which includes public transport in the whole region.
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After buying your ticket, you pass through the gates and proceed to platform 3 from where your train will depart. Trains to Pompeii are going in the direction of Sorrento and depart approximately every 30 minutes.
Please be very mindful of your belongings on the platform as petty theft is relatively common here. Normally, there is security personnel on the platform.
Tickets for Pompeii Archaeological Park
Disembark the train at Pompeii Scavi. From here it is only a short walk to the main entrance of the Pompeii Archaeological Park. Ignore anybody on the side of the road or around the tourist information trying to sell you tickets to the park; you buy them at the entrance. If you are traveling with the ArteCard, you need to stand in the “Online Ticket” line.
A regular entrance ticket costs 15 EUR. At a minimum, the park is open between 09:00 and 15:30, although there are extended opening hours on weekends and in the summer. An overview of opening hours and ticket prices can be found on the official website.
Self-Guided Pompeii Walking Tour (5 km)
Once you get your entrance tickets, don’t forget to ask for a map of the park as well. Depending on how much time you have, you can follow one of the official walking tours or even hire a guide. However, if you have limited time and would still like to see all the highlights, follow our self-guided walking tour of Pompeii instead. The tour is 5 km long and takes about 3 hours to complete at a high pace or 4 hours at a more moderate pace. We recommend that you wear good walking shoes as the ground is usually uneven. If you wish, you can add additional stops along the way. Use your official map in combination with our map of this walking tour to customize your itinerary.
Not only will this tour take you past some of the most famous buildings in Pompeii, but it will also give you a taste of what really made a Roman city. On this self-guided walking tour of Pompeii you will see:
- Foro (Forum)
- Teatro Grande (Theater)
- Casa Del Menandro (House of Menander)
- Orto Dei Fuggiaschi (Garden of the Fugitives)
- Anfiteatro (Amphitheater)
- Terme Stabiane (Stabian Baths)
- Lupanare (Brothel)
- Casa dei Vettii (House of the Vettii)
- Casa dei Dioscuri (House of the Dioscuri)
- Casa del Fauno (House of the Faun)
- Casa Del Poeta Tragico (House of the Tragic Poet)
- Necropoli di Porta Ercolano (Necropolis)
- Villa dei Misteri (Villa of the Mysteries)
- Antiquarium (Museum)
Please note that not all sites may be open at all times. Periodically they may be closed due to conservation efforts.
1. Foro (Forum)
In ancient Rome, the forum was a public square and very much the heart of the city. It was primarily served for commercial activities and vegetable vendors were a common sight. Often, the forum was also used for public debates or other social activities.
At the forum in Pompeii, you could once find a number of notable structures such as the courthouse (also known as Basilica). More importantly, the forum was also the location of the Temple of Jupiter. Some of the colonnades encasing the forum can still be seen today.
2. Teatro Grande (Theater)
As their empire expanded, the Romans originally brought the theater from Greece. Roman theater soon evolved into a thriving art form. A Roman theater was usually arranged in 3 parts, namely the main stage, a half-circle space for the orchestra in front of the stage, and elevated seats for the audience.
In Pompeii, the theater consists of the large theater and the small theater (Odeon). The large theater held up to 5000 spectators and was primarily used for gladiatorial performances. Interestingly, the theater is still in use today with performances taking place occasionally such as Bizet’s Carmen in 2014.
3. Casa Del Menandro (House of Menander)
In Pompeii, you will find plenty of well-preserved houses, particularly of the upper classes. One of the most lavish houses in all of Pompeii was and is the House of Menander. The grandeur of the house indicates that its patriarch must have been involved in politics. In fact, Benito Mussolini held a party here almost a thousand years after the destruction of Pompeii.
It is known as the House of Menander due to a well-preserved fresco of ancient Greek dramatist Menander, although some believe it may be a portrait of the original owner of the building.
4. Orto Dei Fuggiaschi (Garden of the Fugitives)
One of the park’s more disturbing sites, the Garden of the Fugitives is equally attractive to tourists as it is thought-provoking. During the eruption of Vesuvius, a group of adults and children sought refuge in an ancient orchard. Unfortunately, none of them survived. Instead, their bodies left a permanent imprint in the hardening pumice.
During the excavations in 1870, Giuseppe Fiorelli filled these holes with liquid plaster, creating the casts you can see today. 13 of these casts can be found in the garden today, others are located throughout the park.
5. Anfiteatro (Amphitheater)
Amphitheaters are distinguished from a classical Roman theater by the fact that they are circular instead of semi-circular. As such amphitheaters in ancient Rome were imposing structures (and are, in fact, still today). An average amphitheater could hold 40,000 – 60,000 spectators and it was used for the famous ‘bread and circuses’ (panem et circenses). They were the location of gladiator games as well as animal sacrifices.
The amphitheater of Pompeii is of importance as it was the first amphitheater to ever be built of stone rather than wood. In more modern times, the amphitheater was the location of a Pink Floyd concert documentary, ‘Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii’.
6. Terme Stabiane (Stabian Baths)
In ancient Rome, thermae were an integral part of the citizens’ daily lives. Thermae were public bathing complexes which were not only a place of ablution but also important for socializing. At the very least, a bath consisted of an apodyterium (changing room), a frigidarium (cold bathroom), a tepidarium (tepid bathroom), and a caldarium (hot bathroom).
In Pompeii, the complex consists of two sides, one for men and one for women. They are very similar, although the women’s side is decorated less intricately and does not possess a frigidarium.
7. Lupanare (Brothel)
In Latin, the word for a brothel is ‘lupanar’ which literally translates to wolf den, while a prostitute was a lupa (she-wolf). With 10 rooms, the lupanar was the biggest brothel in Pompeii. Its walls are adorned with pornographic art as well as graphic graffiti such as ‘Hic ego puellas multas futui’ (‘Here I f*d many girls’).
8. Casa dei Vettii (House of the Vettii)
One of the biggest home complexes in Pompeii, the House of the Vettii is one of the best sights in the park. Unlike the House of Menander, the House of the Vettii is named after its owners, Aulus Vettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus. The building is particularly known for its well-preserved frescos. The twelve surviving panels depict mythological scenes, including (but not limited to):
- Punishment of Ixion
- Daedalus and Pasiphae
- Dionysus discovering Ariadne
- Death of Pentheus
9. Casa dei Dioscuri (House of the Dioscuri)
The House of the Dioscuri is without a doubt one of the biggest and most ornate buildings in all of Pompeii. It owes its name to a painting found close to the entrance, depicting the dioscuri Castor and Pollux. Today, said painting can be found at the Archaeological Museum in Naples. However, several colorful frescos can still be observed inside the house depicting scenes such as:
- Birth of Adonis
- Apollo and Daphne
- Nymphs with infant Bacchus
10. Casa del Fauno (House of the Faun)
The House of the Faun was and is one of the most impressive private residences in all of Pompeii. It is named for a bronze statue found in the impluvium in the inner courtyard. It was the House of the Faun which originally contained the famous mosaic of Alexander the Great. Today it can be found in the Archaeological Museum in Naples. In fact, most of its treasures can be found in Naples today.
11. Casa Del Poeta Tragico (House of the Tragic Poet)
The House of the Tragic Poet is probably one of the most curious houses in all of Pompeii. It is not at all remarkable in its size, but its interiors contain some of the finest mosaics in all of Pompeii. Very little is known about the owners of the house which further adds to its mystery. Although all of the mosaics in the house are interesting, my personal favorite is a mosaic found on the vestibule (entrance) floor. It depicts a chained dog and the inscription ‘cave canem’ (‘Beware of the dog’). It’s a small window into the daily lives of the people of Pompeii.
12. Necropoli di Porta Ercolano (Necropolis)
Finally, we are venturing outside the city walls of Pompeii. On your way to the Villa of the Mysteries, you will walk along the Street of Tombs. It is lined with funeral monuments and tombstones. It is a very scenic walk, particularly because only few visitors find their way into the ‘suburbs of Pompeii’.
13. Villa dei Misteri (Villa of the Mysteries)
Located about one kilometer outside the city walls, the Villa of the Mysteries is a quiet reprieve from the busy streets of Pompeii. Inside, the villa’s walls are covered in frescos depicting a woman being initiated into the secret cult of Bacchus (Dionysos). With a deep red background, the frescos are particularly striking. The terraces and gardens of the opulent villa are impressive as well.
You can exit the park from here, but we recommend that you walk back to visit the Antiquarium on your way out.
14. Antiquarium (Museum)
Although most people are inclined to visit the Antiquarium on their way in, I would recommend to see it at the end of your visit to Pompeii. Exhibited here is a number of artifacts found in the ruins of the city which were too fragile to be left in their original place. There is also information about the excavation as well as an informative movie to tie everything together. Finally, you exit through the bookshop.
Why You Should Take a Day Trip from Naples to Herculaneum
Due to its smaller size, Herculaneum is often overlooked for Pompeii. However, Herculaneum is definitely worth your time. It is remarkably well preserved and devoid of the annoying tourist crowds of Pompeii. Because it was lava rather than ash that covered the town, even organic matter such as wood was preserved.
If those weren’t reasons enough, Herculaneum is only a 15-minute train ride away from Naples. You take the same train you would going to Pompeii and disembark at Ercolano. It is important that you take the Circumvesuviana line as the intercity trains will take you further from the archaeological site. From the station, you follow the street downhill until you are almost at the shore and you reach the entrance to the archaeological park. For ticket prices and opening hours, check out the official website.
Personally, we visited Herculaneum on our way back from Pompeii to Naples. If you don’t have the ArteCard, you can still save some money by getting a combo ticket for both Pompeii and Herculaneum.
What to See in Herculaneum
Herculaneum can reasonably be explored in 1-2 hours, although it would, of course, be better to spend more time at the park. If you want, there will be certified tour guides for hire at the entrance. However, you should fare just fine with a map and a curious mind (and perhaps an audio guide, although we didn’t get one personally). Some of the best things to see in Herculaneum include:
- House of Neptune and Amphitrite
- Villa of the Papyri
- House of the Deer
- Samnite House
- Boat Houses
The most notable building in Herculaneum is the Villa of the Papyri. Although the owner of the villa is unknown, it must have somebody of great wealth. It is sometimes speculated that the residence belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law.
The most interesting attraction in Herculaneum, however, would probably be the boathouses. Most of the city had been evacuated before the eruption of the volcano. The remaining residents were awaiting rescue from the sea in the boathouses. Unfortunately, help did not arrive in time, and more than 50 people perished. They died due to a sudden increase of temperature upwards of 500 degrees Celsius. Casts of their remains can still be seen at this location today.
Now, what do you think? Would you take a day trip from Naples to Pompeii and Herculaneum? What do you expect to see on a self-guided walking tour of Pompeii? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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