Pompeii. One of the most historic sites in the world, one of the most visited archaelogical sites in the world, and definitely worthy of anyone’s bucket list. Pompeii is know as the city which was covered by ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79, leaving death and destruction in its wake.
I found visiting Pompeii to be quite a thought provoking experience; not only do you get to learn a lot about ancient Rome, but even though it was thousands of years ago, seeing the body shapes preserved in ash also makes it incredibly human. How terrified these people must have been, and how scary it must have been to have no warning and for everything to be destroyed. It also makes you wonder when Vesuvius will next erupt, and what the impact on the world will be this time.
Pompeii is a huge site, covering 44 hectares and there is just no way you can see the whole thing in a day. What you can do is maximise your time there and see a good portion of the main sites.
ONE. How to get to Pompeii
I recommend visiting Pompeii from either Naples or Sorrento; both are within an hour’s travel of the site. You can visit Pompeii from Rome in a day, but at around 2.5hrs of travel each way, it won’t maximise your time there.
You can of course get a taxi from your base location, but taxis aren’t cheap and with the traffic in the major cities (especially Rome) being chaotic at the best of times, it’s not necessarily quicker. Whilst there are buses that run to the site, again these run the risk of being the much slower option and instead I recommend getting the train to the Pompeii Scavi stop.
If you’re travelling from either Naples or Sorrento, you can get the regional train known as the ‘Circumvesuviana’ – literally meaning ‘goes around Vesuvius’. This train takes you from Naples to Pompeii in about 30 minutes, with trains running twice an hour, or from Sorrento to Pompeii in about 40 minutes, again with trains twice an hour. If you’re coming from Rome, you have to get a high speed train in to Naples first, which takes around 1hr 20 and run every hour.
Once you’ve arrived at the Pompeii Scavi stop, turn right out of the station, and the entrance to the site is a couple of minutes’ walk up the road. And if you’re hungry, there are a few restaurants on the site – we liked Hortus which served amazinggg food!
TWO. How to experience the site
The main question everyone asks is, do you need a guide? This totally depends on you. When I visited as a teenager I was with my parents – my mum is an ORACLE on Rome; she knew everything, she was so excited, she was the BEST guide for us (though I really didn’t appreciate it at the time, grumpy teenager as I was). When I visited last year, I was with a friend who knew absolutely nothing about it and just wanted a surface level taste.
So if you know about Rome, if you’ve got a guide book, if you don’t like trapsing round in big groups and don’t want to be held down to doing one route – then go it alone. Just get a map. If you just want to stroll around and get a bit of a feel for it, easily and with no hassle – then get a guide. Just get a good one.
If you’re going it alone, get a map. The site is 44 hectares. So you’re going to need to plan a route. It’s then obviously fine if you get diverted, but have a vague plan so you don’t miss all the main sites (see below).
The first tip I have if you’re not in a tour group is to walk 10 minutes to the Piazza Anfiteatro (Amphitheatre) entrance gate. This is the secondary entrance to the site (the main one is called Porta Marina) so you don’t have to queue as long for tickets. The ruins open at 9am every day so if you really want to beat the crowds – get there for the opening time.
From here I then recommend a route which walks from the Amphitheatre, takes in the House of Sirico, House of the Fawn, The Forum, The Forum Baths, Via Stabiana, The Granary, The Basilica and The Theatre, plus anything else you fancy (do your research) at your own pace.
Taking a tour
Most tours are about 2-3 hours long, and do a quick whistlestop tour of the main sites above. If you don’t have a whole day to spare at the site (maybe you’re visiting Vesuvius too), or any time to plan your visit, then this may well be the option for you. Guides can also provide a bit more flavour to the sites, telling you the stories of the people that lived there or events that happened.
Some great tours run; I really liked the ‘Get Your Guide’ 2 hour tour which includes skip the line tickets and takes in The Forum, the amphitheatre and the smaller theatre. If you want a personal tour (rather than Group one) ‘Guide Pompeii’ also offer a good 3 hour private tour. And if you want to avoid the hassle of booking anything in advance and not commit to a time; you could just turn up and hire a guide at the entrance – there are loads!
THREE. What are the top sites to see?
So….whether you’re on your own or with a guide, what are the main sites to see in Pompeii? Here are a few of my favourites.
The place the Romans came to keep fit! It has remnants of a swimming pool, exercise grounds and is the place where gladiators trained. Super cool.
The hub of the city – the centre of religious temples, political life and social interactions. I particularly like the centaur statue.
The Temple of Jupiter
At the north end of the Forum is the Temple of Jupiter, and through the arches you can just about see Mount Vesuvius.
What an architectural feat; built in to a natural hill over 2000 years ago, the theatre could seat 5,000 people and had marble seats. So impressive – and try the acoustics. If you’re with someone else, send them to the top of the theatre and then go and stand on ‘stage’ – then say something and see if they can hear you (they will be able to!)
The Romans had shops and food stalls just like we do. This is a good counter where chefs would cook and serve to people. Amazing.
Previously a fruit and vegetable market, now home to a lot of cool vases and the occasional body shape preserved by the ash.
House of Sirico
One of the biggest houses on the main street (Via Stabiana) is the House of Sirico. Inside this house are some incredibly preserved decorations; isn’t the detail so intricate!
This was the seat of law courts, and was the centre of commercial and financial activity in Pompeii.
There is loads to see in Pompeii – too much to do everything in one day. But in one day you can really see all the main sites in a decent pace. My advice would be don’t try and see everything – you will hit site fatigue. Just do what you can and take it in for what it is – an amazing, historic site which is right up there as one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the world.
Thanks for reading – if you’re planning visiting on Pompeii then I hope this guide is useful. Although for now as we’re in lockown, I hope it’s been interesting arm chair travel for all of you.
Stay safe everyone.