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The Ultimate Guide to Seeing Pompeii and Herculaneum

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Visit Pompeii: The ruins of Pompeii Archaeological Park on a sunny day.

On our latest trip to Naples, I could hardly wait to get to the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Finally, I would see the cities that I had read about in texts by Pliny the Younger. We spent a whole day visiting the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Seeing Pompeii and Herculaneum can be challenging unless you have a clear picture of what are the main things to see. If you have limited time and are a history nerd like me, make sure to follow our comprehensive self-guided walking tour which highlights the main things to see in Pompeii and Herculaneum and comes with a map for your convenience.

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Why You Should Visit Pompeii

Pompeii Guided Tour: The well-preserved ruins of Pompeii Archaeological Park

The renown of Pompeii, certainly the most important classical archaeological site in Europe, is such that it scarcely needs an introduction. Founded in 600 BC, Pompeii was a bustling city and thriving commercial center with a population of 20,000 inhabitants in the Roman Empire. 

An archetypal example of Roman life, Pompeii was a city of shops, markets, and merchant houses, with paved streets, a stadium, two theaters, temples, baths and brothels. It gained popularity as a swanky holiday destination among Roman patricians who built lavish villas and enjoyed the town’s brothels and spas.

The city was destroyed during an almighty eruption of the nearby volcano Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Pompeii was showered with  4 to 6 meters of ash and debris which led to the excellent preservation of the city ruins. Unfortunately, the majority of the city’s population perished during the catastrophe.

HISTORY 101: ERUPTION OF VESUVIUS

Vesuvius had been spouting smoke and ash for several days before the deadly eruption on 24th August. At approximately 13:00 in the afternoon on the 24th of August AD 79, Mt. Vesuvius erupted, sending a mushroom cloud of ash, dust, and rocks 12 miles into the air. Fortunately, most of Pompeii had already been evacuated when disaster struck: out of a total population of 20,000 it’s thought that only 2000 actually perished, asphyxiated by the toxic fumes of the volcanic debris, their homes buried in several meters of volcanic ash and pumice.

Visiting the ruins of Pompeii is akin to stepping in a veritable time machine back to the age of Roman emperors. Time remains at a standstill here as if it were 79 AD, and Pompeii today is a poignant ghost town. The streets, workshops and public areas have been excellently preserved.

Remains such as furnishings, tools, jewelry and even food and drink shed light on how the people of Pompeii lived, from the nobility down to the slaves, their social conventions, class structure, and domestic arrangements.

Casts made of impressions in the hardened pumice bear witness to the last seconds in many peoples’ lives. The apprehension of their way of death is evident in plaster casts made from their bodies left in the volcanic ash – with faces tormented with anguish, or inoculating themselves from the dust and ashes.

No other place in the world compares to Pompeii and it is exceedingly evocative and a visit to the ruins of Pompeii won’t leave you disappointed. Get into your mental toga and visit Pompeii pronto!

How to Get to Pompeii

Visit Pompeii: Pompeii Train Station. PC: Epel/shutterstock.com

Naples makes the perfect base for exploring Pompeii. Located only 25 km from Naples, Pompeii is easily accessible by public transport. You can catch a direct train from Naples Central Station on the Circumvesuviana Naples-Sorrento line.

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 2.60 EUR. Alternatively, I strongly recommend buying the ArteCard ahead of time which includes public transport in the whole region.

After buying your ticket, you pass through the gates and proceed to platform 3 from where your train will depart. On average, there are about 2-3 Circumvesuviana trains an hour departing from Naples to Pompeii.

You can check the Circumvesuviana train schedule here. The train journey between Naples and Pompeii usually takes 35-40 minutes but the fastest connection gets you there in about 25 minutes.

Insider Tip

Please be mindful of your belongings on the platform as petty theft is relatively common here. Normally, there is security personnel on the platform.

Pompeii can also be visited on a day trip from Rome. The fast high-speed trains between Rome and Naples only take a little over an hour, and there are over 30 connections a day. So, for a day trip from Rome to Pompeii, the best option is to take the train from Rome to Naples.

Then take the Circumvesuviana (as mentioned above) from Naples to Pompeii. You should catch an early morning train from Rome in order to get to Pompeii early so as to get the most out of your trip.

You also have the option of taking this highly-rated guided tour from Rome to Pompeii but for those who like to travel independently, visiting by train is a very straightforward and rewarding experience.

If you’re planning on visiting Pompeii on a day trip from Sorrento, just follow the Circumvesuviana in the direction of Naples. The train journey from Sorrento to Pompeii takes between 25-30 minutes. Tickets cost 2.10 EUR.

Tickets For Pompeii Archaeological Park

Disembark the Circumvesuviana train at Pompei Scavi-Villa Dei Misteri. From here, it is only a two-minute 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. Alternatively, you can opt for a fast-track entrance ticket, which comes handy in the summer months. 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)

When you get your entrance ticket to Pompeii, don’t forget to ask for a map of the ruins as well. If you feel that a self-guided tour is too daunting for you, you can opt for an insightful and highly rated private tour with an archaeologist or even hire a guide.

However, if you would like to see the highlights on your own, follow our self-guided walking tour of Pompeii instead. 

The self-guided Pompeii tour is 5 km (3.1 miles) long and takes about 3 hours to complete at a high pace or 4 hours at a more moderate pace. 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 show you what are the main things to see 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:

  1. Foro (Forum)
  2. Teatro Grande (Theater)
  3. Casa Del Menandro (House of Menander)
  4. Orto Dei Fuggiaschi (Garden of the Fugitives)
  5. Anfiteatro (Amphitheater)
  6. Via dell’Abbondanza
  7. Terme Stabiane (Stabian Baths)
  8. Lupanare (Brothel)
  9. Casa dei Vettii (House of the Vettii)
  10. Casa dei Dioscuri (House of the Dioscuri)
  11. Casa del Fauno (House of the Faun)
  12. Casa Del Poeta Tragico (House of the Tragic Poet)
  13. Necropoli di Porta Ercolano (Necropolis)
  14. Villa dei Misteri (Villa of the Mysteries)
  15. Antiquarium (Museum)

1. Foro (Forum)

Pompeii Guided Tour: Various tourists in the Forum (Foro) at Pompeii Archaeological Park.

The ideal place to start this guided tour of Pompeii is at the Forum. In ancient Rome, the forum was a public square and very much the heart of the city. The rectangular paved area was the oldest part of Pompeii and built on the highest spot.

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 elegant colonnades encasing the forum can still be seen today. The Forum is surrounded by a market and a law court.

2. Teatro Grande (Theater)

Visit Pompeii: The main stage and semi-circular spectator stands of the theater (Teatro Grande) at Pompeii Archaeological Park. PC: Sylvhem [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

The large theater, with its spectacular natural backdrop of the Monti Lattari, dates back to the 2nd century BC. It 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.

Next to the Large theater is the lovely Small Theater (Teatro Piccolo or Odeum), used for music concerts. It was built a hundred or so years after the Large Theater. It could seat 1,000 people and is much better preserved than its larger counterpart.

3. Casa Del Menandro (House of Menander)

Pompeii Guided Tour: Porticoed garden atrium of the House of Menander (Casa Del Menandro) at Pompeii Archaeological Park.

In Pompeii, you will find plenty of well-preserved houses, particularly of the upper classes. One of the most lavish houses in is the House of Menander, one of the main points of interest in Pompeii.

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.

Pompeii Archaeological Park: Well-preserved frescoes and mosaics inside the House of Menander (Casa Del Menandro)

It is known as the House of Menander due to a well-preserved fresco of ancient Greek dramatist & poet Menander, although some believe it may be a portrait of the original owner of the building (a relative of Nero’s wife, Poppaea Sabina).

Mosaics in the caldarium depict sea monsters. The House of Menander also includes a small private bath complex, and a porticoed garden atrium (with frescoes depicting scenes from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey).

4. Orto Dei Fuggiaschi (Garden of the Fugitives)

Pompeii Garden of the Fugitives: Bodies of victims cast in plaster. PC: Giannis Papanikos/shutterstock.com

Walk along the Via dei Sepolcri and take the series of steps just around the corner which leads to an overview of the city and into a villa with a large vineyard. One of Pompeii’s most intriguing and 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. They are eerily captured in their last moments, hands covering their mouths as they gasped for air.

During the excavations in 1870, Giuseppe Fiorelli filled these holes with liquid plaster, creating the casts you can see today. Thirteen of these casts can be found in the garden today, others are located throughout the park.

5. Anfiteatro (Amphitheater)

Visit Pompeii: Exterior of the amphitheater at Pompeii Archaeological Park

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.

Pompeii Guided Tour: Interior of the amphitheater at Pompeii Archaeological Park.

The amphitheater of Pompeii is of importance as it was the first amphitheater to ever be built of stone rather than wood.

It could hold up to 20,000 screaming spectators and the stone tiers were separated into different sections for the various social classes. In more modern times, the amphitheater was the location of a Pink Floyd concert documentary, ‘Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii’.

Adjacent to the amphitheater is the palestra, a vast parade ground with a central poo that was used by Pompeii’s youth for sport and exercise. Excavations revealed a number of skeletons here, suggesting that the palestra was in use on that fateful day in AD 79.

6. Via dell’Abbondanza

Pompeii Archaeological Park: Via dell'Abbondanza, the main street of Pompeii

You’ll now be walking up on Via dell’Abbondanza, Pompeii’s main street. Back in the day, this lively pedestrian-only zone was lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. The residences and contents depict a colorful picture of everyday life.

Each day, the citizens of Pompeii flooded the streets with water to clean them. The three basalt stepping-stones you see allowed pedestrians to cross without getting their footwear wet. 

A single stepping-stone in a road indicates it was a one-way street, a pair signifies an ordinary two-way, and three (like this one) means a major boulevard.

7. Terme Stabiane (Stabian Baths)

Pompeii: Fancifully decorated stuccoes and wall paintings of the Stabian baths, the largest bath complex

In ancient Rome, thermae were an integral part of the citizens’ daily lives. Thermae were public bathing complexes that 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). 

The Stabian Baths are the oldest and most complete bath complex in Pompeii, once heated by underground furnaces. The complex consists of two sides, one for men and one for women.

Fancifully decorated with stuccoes and wall paintings, the impressive heating system provides visual proof of the sophisticated lifestyle of the ancient Romans. They are very similar, although the women’s side is decorated less intricately and does not possess a frigidarium.

8. Lupanare (Brothel)

Visit Pompeii: Stone bed in the brothel (Lupanar) of the Pompeii Archaeological Park. PC: Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

In Latin, the word for a brothel is ‘lupanar’ which literally translates to wolf den, while a prostitute was a lupa (she-wolf). The brothel in Vicolo del Lupanare is one of the main things to see in Pompeii. With 10 rooms, the lupanar was the biggest brothel in Pompeii.

This may seem large but it’s actually rather small and you can’t help but wonder how uncomfortable it must have been for the prostitutes on the stone beds.

Pompeii Guided Tour: Pornographic art on the walls of the brothel (Lupanar). PC: lienyuan lee [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The prostitutes are likely to have been slaves and were rumored to be of Greek or Oriental origin. Two glasses of wine were thought to have been the equivalent of a session of sex.

Its walls are adorned with pornographic art as well as lewd graffiti such as ‘Hic ego puellas multas futui’ (‘Here I f***ed many girls’). These probably served to tantalize the clients and help to give some clue into the lascivious proclivities of the prostitutes.

9. Casa dei Vettii (House of the Vettii)

Pompeii Archaeological Park: Well-preserved frescoes inside the House of the Vettii (Casa Dei Vettii)

The spectacular House of the Vettii is undoubtedly one of the best sights of this self-guided tour of Pompeii. One of the biggest houses in Pompeii, it is another example of the sprawling homes that affluent Romans constructed for themselves.

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 frescoes. The twelve surviving friezes depict mythological scenes, including (but not limited to):

  • Punishment of King Ixion for betraying Zeus
  • Daedalus and Pasiphae
  • Dionysus discovering Ariadne
  • The murder of Pentheus by the female followers of Dionysus
  • An infant Hercules strangling snakes

In the doorway, there are many mosaics, the most infamous being the phallic figure of Priapus, the god of fertility. Through the atrium on the right of the entrance is the kitchen, complete with cooking pots placed on a hearth.

This small room is decorated with erotic scenes, murals, and tapestries. The kitchen and servants’ quarters provide an intriguing insight into domestic life in the Roman age.

10. Casa dei Dioscuri (House of the Dioscuri)

Visit Pompeii: Colonnaded atrium and painted panels of the House of the Dioscuri (Casa dei Dioscuri). PC: Mentnafunangann [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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, the painting can be found at the Archaeological Museum in Naples (as is the case with all valuable items found at Pompeii). However, several colorful frescoes can still be observed inside the house depicting scenes such as:

  • Birth of Adonis
  • Apollo and Daphne
  • Nymphs with infant Bacchus

The House of Dioscuri was originally several small houses that were merged into one by its affluent owner. I love how the colonnaded atrium and painted panels in the peristyle add grandeur to this house.

11. Casa del Fauno (House of the Faun)

Pompeii House of the Faun: The bronze statue of the Dancing Faun found in the impluvium in the inner courtyard

Containing 40 rooms, the House of the Faun was the largest and ritziest of all private dwellings in Pompeii. It is named for a fabulously realistic 1-meter bronze statue of the Dancing Faun (in reality the god Pan) found in the impluvium (a shallow rectangular pond) in the inner courtyard.

The House of the Faun is arguably the most beautiful private residence in Pompeii because of its elegant design and lovely mosaics.

The House of the Faun originally contained the famous mosaic of Alexander the Great’s victory over the Persian King Darius. Today the mosaic along with the original statue of the Faun can be found in the Archaeological Museum in Naples.

12. Casa Del Poeta Tragico (House of the Tragic Poet)

Visit Pompeii: Colorful mosaics inside the House of the Tragic Poet. PC: Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The House of the Tragic Poet is definitely one of the most riveting and enigmatic of all the houses in Pompeii. It is not at all remarkable in its size, but its interiors contain some of the finest mosaics in all of Pompeii. 

Indeed, the atrium-style house is named for a mosaic, now in the Archeological Museum in Naples, that depicts a theater rehearsal. The House of the Tragic Poet offers yet again a small window into the daily lives of the people of Pompeii. 

Pompeii House of the Tragic Poet: Mosaic of a chained dog bearing the inscription ‘cave canem’

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’).

13. Necropoli di Porta Ercolano (Necropolis)

Pompeii Necropolis: The 'Street of Tombs' which is lined with funeral monuments and tombstones of the illustrious citizens of Pompeii

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 of the illustrious citizens of Pompeii.

It is a very scenic walk, particularly because only a few visitors find their way into the ‘suburbs of Pompeii’.

14. Villa dei Misteri (Villa of the Mysteries)

Pompeii Archaeological Park: The warren of rooms and courtyards of the Villa of the Mysteries.

We’ve saved the best for last, well almost. The Villa of the Mysteries is one of the most famous houses in Pompeii.

Located about one kilometer outside the city walls, the house offers a quiet reprieve from the busy streets of Pompeii. An original structure with a warren of rooms and courtyards dating from the third-century BC, it is certainly the best preserved of all Pompeii’s palatial houses.

The Villa of the Mysteries is so named because it contains a well-known cycle of frescoes with 29 vividly colored lifesize figures against a red background, which depict a bride’s initiation into the secret cult of Bacchus (Dionysos), the Greek god of wine.

Pompeii Villa of the Mysteries: Deep red mythical frescoes inside the Villa dei Misteri

With a deep red background, the frescoes 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.

15. Antiquarium (Museum)

Pompeii Archaeological Park: Ancient artifacts inside the antiquarium.

Although most people are inclined to visit the Antiquarium on their way in, I would recommend seeing it at the end of your visit to Pompeii. Exhibited here are 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 Visit Herculaneum

Visit Herculaneum: Ruins of the ancient city of Herculaneum with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

The other Roman town to be destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius, Herculaneum is located more than 20 meters below the present-day town of Ercolano. Unfortunately, the ruins of Herculaneum tend to get overshadowed by Pompeii.

Herculaneum was a residential fishing town of only 4000 inhabitants, much smaller than Pompeii and not a commercial center. Thus, Herculaneum is less architecturally impressive and lacks the grandeur of Pompeii. 

However, as a result of 20 vertical meters of the viscous volcanic mud that enveloped and hardened around Herculaneum, its ruins are generally better preserved and feel more alive than those of Pompeii. Only part of Herculaneum has been excavated since contemporary dwellings surround it.

In some cases, you can even see the original wooden beams, staircases, textiles, papyri, and furniture that emerged intact from the aftermath of the eruption and pyroclastic flows that engulfed Herculaneum.

Visiting the ruins of Herculaneum is definitely worth your time. It is remarkably well preserved and devoid of the annoying tourist crowds of Pompeii. 

Be awed by its wealth of archaeological treasures such as plunge pools, stylish mosaics, carbonized furniture, door moldings, and terror-struck skeletons.

How to Get to Herculaneum

Herculaneum is only a 15-20 minute train ride away from Pompeii. You take the same train you would to go to Naples and disembark at Ercolano Scavi.

It is important that you take the Circumvesuviana line as the intercity trains will take you further from the archaeological site.

Tickets For Herculaneum Archaeological Park

From the Ercolano Scavi Station, follow the street (Via IV Novembre) downhill until you are almost at the shore and you reach the entrance to the archaeological park. A regular entrance ticket costs 13 EUR. Alternatively, you can opt for a fast-track entrance ticket, which comes in handy in the summer months.

Herculaneum Archaeological Park is open daily from 08:30-19:30 (15th March to 15th October, last admission 18:00) and 08:30-17:00 (16th October to 14th March, last admission 15:30).

Self-Guided Herculaneum Walking Tour (1.6 KM)

When you get your entrance ticket to Herculaneum, don’t forget to ask for a map of the ruins as well. If you feel that a self-guided tour is too daunting for you, you can opt for an insightful and highly rated private tour with an archaeologist. However, if you would like to see the highlights on your own, follow our self-guided walking tour of Herculaneum instead. 

The self-guided Herculaneum tour is 1.6 km (1 mile) long and takes about 1-2 hours at a moderate pace. 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.

The layout of Herculaneum is quite straightforward in comparison with Pompeii. It is divided into three parallel streets, Cardo III, IV, and V, which have upper and lower segments (superiore and inferiore) and are intersected by streets called the Decumano Inferiore and the Decumano Massimo. 

Not only will this tour show you what are the main things to see in Herculaneum, but it will also give you a taste of what really made a Roman city. On this self-guided walking tour of Herculaneum you will see:

  1. Entrance
  2. Fornici (Boat Houses)
  3. Casa dei Cervi (House of the Deer)
  4. Casa Del Rilievo Di Telefo (House of the Relief of Telephus)
  5. Palestra
  6. Casa Di Nettuno Ed Anfitrite (House of Neptune and Amphitrite)
  7. Casa Sannitica (Samnite House)
  8. Casa Del Atrio A Mosaico (House of the Mosaic Atrium)
  9. Casa Del Tramezzo Di Legno (House of the Wooden Partition)
  10. Terme Del Foro (Thermal Baths)
  11. Sede Degli Augustali (Hall of the Augustals)
  12. Casa Dello Scheletro (House of the Tragic Poet)

1. Entrance

Herculaneum: Access ramp of Herculaneum Archaeological Park giving a good overview of the town

After leaving the ticket building, go through the turnstiles and walk the path below the site to the entrance. The access ramp gives you a good overview of the Roman town, lying 25 meters below the modern street level.

Herculaneum: Handsome couple posing for a selfie at Herculaneum Archaeological Park.

The ramp curves around the southern end of the site from where you can take the metal ramp that leads down through a tunnel in the solid rock, emerging at the ancient shoreline. It’s a good spot for taking selfies!

2. Fornici (Boat Houses)

Herculaneum Fornici: Human skeletons inside the arched boat houses.

One of the most interesting attractions in Herculaneum would probably be arched fornici, a row of barrel arches which were used as storerooms or boathouses. Most of the city had been evacuated before the eruption of Vesuvius.

The remaining residents were awaiting rescue from the sea in the boathouses. the sunken area just below. The sunken area just below is what was formerly Herculaneum’s beach.

Unfortunately, help did not arrive in time, and around 300 human skeletons were discovered here in the 1980s, together with items of jewelry and coins, keys to houses, and work tools. They died due to a sudden increase in temperature upwards of 500 degrees Celsius.

Casts of their remains can still be seen at this location today. Perhaps nowhere else is the horror of the 79 AD eruption captured so dramatically.

3. Casa dei Cervi (House of the Deer)

Herculaneum House of the Deer: Number of statues in the garden of the Casa dei Cervi. PC: Mboesch [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Up the ramp from the boathouses lies the Casa dei Cervi (House of the Deer), one of the most luxurious villas of the ancient city. The house must have been the envy of Herculaneum residents as its big terrace at the front must have had marvelous views over the Bay of Naples.

Its two storeys are built around a central courtyard and contain marble corridors adorned with vivid black and red wall decorations of still-life.

When the garden was excavated a number of statues were found: two stags being attacked by dogs (from which it derives its name), a Satyr with Wineskin and the famous Drunken Hercules. These are copies  (the originals are now all in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples).

4. Casa Del Rilievo Di Telefo (House of the Relief of Telephus)

Visit Herculaneum: The colonnaded House of the Relief of Telephus

The House of the Relief of Telephus is one of the major points of interest in Herculaneum. Constructed on three levels, with splendid views over the sea, this is the second-largest house in the Herculaneum Archaeological Park. 

Herculaneum: A relief depicting Telephus, son of Hercules at the House of the Relief of Telephus

Shown at left, a sculptured relief depicting Telephus, son of Hercules (mythical founder of the city) was unearthed here. This Augustan building (27 BC-AD 14) has columns supporting not the slopes of the roof, but the rooms of the upper floor, as in many Greek houses.

5. Palestra

Visit Herculaneum: The colonnaded entrance to the Palestra. PC: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Take a quick peek past the columned entrance to Herculaneum’s large Palestra, where the Romans passed their leisure time playing ball games and wrestling.

Laid out over two terraces and with a long colonnade on two terraces, the Palestra has a fish pond, a fountain, and an area set aside for religious rites.

6. Casa Di Nettuno Ed Anfitrite (House of Neptune and Amphitrite)

Herculaneum House of Neptune and Amphitrite: Striking mosaic of an ancient sea god and his nymph bride.

The aristocratic House of Neptune and Amphitrite is one of the most beautiful things to see in Herculaneum.

It was thought to be the home of an affluent art-loving merchant and takes its name from the sparklingly well-preserved wall mosaic adorning the triclinium (dining room), depicting the ancient sea god and his nymph bride, with shells and lava topped with marble theatrical masks. 

Herculaneum House of Neptune and Amphitrite: Hunting themed mosaics adorning the walls of Casa Di Nettuno Ed Anfitrite.

Another mosaic adorns the nymphaeum (bathing area) which is adorned with hunting-themed mosaics. The shop attached to the house has wooden shelves and furniture in perfect condition.

7. Casa Sannitica (Samnite House)

Herculaneum: Lovely mix of artistic styles inside the Samnite House. PC: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Next up on this self-guided tour of Herculaneum is the delightful Samnite House. The house features a lovely mix of artistic styles: the entrance has first-style décor, with a second style ceiling, while the walls of the atrium are painted in the fourth style. The pattern of the tiled floors is also of interest.

8. Casa Del Atrio A Mosaico (House of the Mosaic Atrium)

Herculaneum: Black and white geometric patterns inside the House of the Mosaic Atrium. PC: sébastien amiet;l [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The stately House of the Mosaic Atrium is yet another luxurious villa in Herculaneum. It would have had lovely views, and its elegant décor hints that it had a wealthy owner. This house takes its name from its mosaic of black-and-white geometric patterns in the atrium.

Notice how it has a certain chessboard effect. You can also see the buckling effect here which was probably caused due to the force of the mud and ash flow that engulfed the town in 79 AD.

The garden of the house a marble fountain and porticos on three sides. It is decorated, like the rest of the house, with fourth-style paintings.

9. Casa Del Tramezzo Di Legno (House of the Wooden Partition)

Visit Herculaneum: The folding partition inside the House of the Wooden Partition. PC: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The House of the Wooden Partition is distinguished by its folding partition between the atrium and the tablinum (study), to conduct business affairs.

The wooden structure has supports for hanging oil lamps. Look out for the geometric design of the floor mosaic, and the wall paintings in the room to the right of the entrance.

10. Terme Del Foro (Thermal Baths)

Herculaneum Thermal Baths: Red walls and mosaics of sea creatures of the Terme Del Foro

A visit to the central bath complex is one of the best things to do in Herculaneum. Enter the men’s section on the Cardo III and look out for the apodyterium (changing room) which has shelves for depositing togas.

Through there, you can access the frigidarium (cold bath) which has red walls and a blue dome with yellow niches. Continue further to the tepidarium (tepid bath) that features a black and white mosaic of dolphins, an octopus, and a sea god.

The baths complex also included a separate female bathing area (accessible across the grassy, colonnaded palestra). The lovely mosaic floor is decorated with motifs of Triton and of sea creatures.

11. Sede Degli Augustali (Hall of the Augustals)

Herculaneum: Well-preserved mythically themed frescoes inside the Hall of the Augustals

The house that the Hall of the Augustals is in once belonged to an association of freed slaves working together to ascend the ladder of Roman society. The quadrangular-shaped hall contains some of the best-preserved frescoes in Herculaneum.

Adorning the left wall is a depiction of the ancient hero Hercules about to enter Mt. Olympus, accompanied by the Roman goddesses Juno and Minerva. The fresco directly opposite alludes to the battle between Hercules and the Etruscan god Acheloo.

12. Casa Dello Scheletro (House of the Tragic Poet)

Herculaneum: Frescoed walls and mythically themed wall mosaics of the House of the Skeleton

The last stop of this guided Herculaneum tour is the House of the Skeleton. This house is so-named because a skeleton was found on the upper floor during excavation work in the early 19th century.

Frescoed walls and mythically themed wall mosaics can still be seen. However, only the faded ones are originals.

Tips For Visiting Pompeii & Herculaneum

1. It can get scorching hot in Campania and hottest days in July and August approach 40 °C (104 °F). There is very little shade at Pompeii, so if you are visiting Pompeii in the summer wear a hat, bring sunblock, and make sure you have plenty of water.

2. We recommend that you wear good, comfortable walking shoes as the ground at both Pompeii and Herculaneum is usually uneven.

3. When visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum, keep in mind that not all sites are open at all times. Invariably one or more of the top attractions are closed for restoration. Excavations are still ongoing, and new discoveries are periodically being made.

4. If you have decided to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum in one day, the best option for food is to bring your own food to eat inside both the parks. There are no restaurants or cafés inside the Pompeii and Herculaneum Archaeological Parks. Alternatively, you can also pick up some food and beverages from one of the several cafés along the way to both sites.

5. Large bags are not allowed inside, so you should pack your food and beverages in small bags or backpacks.


Now, what do you think? Is visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum on your bucket list? Or is there anything else that shouldn’t be missed at Pompeii and Herculaneum? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

About Mihir

Hi there, I'm Mihir! I was born in India, raised there and in Australia before spending nearly a decade in Finland. I suffer from chronic fernweh and am always looking forward to a new adventure. Besides traveling, my other loves are my beloved cats, architecture, art, beer, classic movies, history, cricket, and Australian Rules Football. Oh, there's also my partner in crime Jacky who's not too bad either 😉

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