how to explore pompei & herculaneum in one day.

The whole focus of my visit to Italy was to explore the ancient sites for my degree and formulate a project to present to the class. It was so much fun and I adored Italy, especially the Sorrento area. There is so much more to the Sorrento peninsula than stunning views and lemons (although, what is not to love about that) and visiting Pompei is a must for anyone. 

However, there are a lot more ancient sites in the Napoli area as well as the famous Pompei. Another slightly, less well-known site in the remains of Herculaneum, another Roman city devoted by Vesuvius in its 79 AD eruption. Out of the two sites, I prefer Herculaneum but both are extremely interesting and you can easily explore both sites in one day. 

getting to pompei & herculaneum.

Both archaeological sites are accessible by the Circumvesuviana train line, which runs from Naples to Sorrento. From Herculaneum, get off at Ercolano and for Pompei, get off at Pompei Scavi. Train tickets cost around 2.80€ and it can take thirty to forty minutes, dependant on whether you are coming from Naples or Sorrento. 

You can access the train timetable online and pick up a timetable in the station however they don’t always run like clockwork. Pompei is just down the road from the station (turn left when exiting) and thanks to the crowds of people, it is not difficult to see the entrance point. Herculaneum however is about a ten-minute walk from the station through Ercolano so you should follow signs for Scavi di Ercolano. 

tickets for the sites.

Pompei is a lot more popular than Herculaneum, especially with larger tour groups. Most people exiting the Circumvesuviana at Pompei Scavi will be heading to the site so expect queues. You can pre-book online and guided tours are also extremely popular. My mum and I didn’t chose to use a guided tour however in hindsight, Pompei is such a vast sight I would consider it, especially if you have no prior knowledge of Pompei as it can be difficult to understand what you are looking at. 

Herculaneum however is less popular so pre-booked tickets are not necessary. You can also arrange for a pre-booked guided tour but unlike Pompei where tour vendors are clustered outside the gate to the site, Herculaneum doesn’t have this so if you want a guided tour you should book in advance through a third-party tour provider. 

A few of the people I met in Italy went on guided tours of the sites which included bus transfer to the sites. This is a much pricier option but often includes lunch or coffee and they said it allowed them to get a lot of the sites as they had a guided tour pointing out significant areas. 

However in Italy on the first Sunday of every month enter is free to ticketed sites including places like the Colosseum, Vatican Museums and the sites in Campania such as Pompei, Herculaneum and other archaeological villas. 

In the sites: Pompei 

I have done a lot of reading about Pompei and seen a lot of pictures of the vast site during my three and a half years of classical civilisation study but I still don’t think that fully prepared me for the sheer size of it. I had been in the Roman Forum around five days earlier and expected it to be similar in size however you have to remember, Pompei is a whole city that was hit by Vesuvius and preserved over time. 

You are funnelled in one entrance but once you enter the main body of the site it can be difficult to know where to go. We were following a map that you can get at the entrance which had each point numbered and there is also the opportunity for guided tours. We relied on the map and my knowledge (a small amount of it) of the things I wanted us to see. 

Points of interest to most definitely visit are the House of Vettii, the Stabian Baths, Villa of the Mysteries, Temple of Apollo, Ampitheatre, the theatres and the House of the Faun. 

We did the site of Pompei in around 2/3 hours as it was very hot, I was flustered and certain areas were closed for excavations. If you fully explored every inch of the site, it could take you as long as 6 hours, dependant on how depth you want to go in. 

in the sites: herculaneum.

Herculaneum was a site I knew much less about other than it was in a crater-like hole. Half of the city is yet to be excavated (it sits underneath modern day Ercolano) so the site is smaller than Pompei but thanks to the staggering of it on a hill within the crater, it is much steeper and there is more climbing involved. 

The maps available at Herculaneum was not as in-depth as the ones at Pompei but the smaller sites make it easier to navigate. Guided tours are also available. The way visitors are funnelled through has a more designated path, making it easier not to miss things. 

We did the Herculaneum site in just under 2 hours but the stairs out of the site are excruciating followed by a walk up the hill back to the train station through Ercolano which is pretty exhausting. 

food + drink.

Take a water bottle into the sites! I cannot stress this enough. Pompei and Herculaneum are both exposed sights, especially in the summer months, and you don’t want to get dehydrated so take a water bottle into the site. A both sites there are also water fountains littered throughout the site.

We took some snacks into the site but got lunch just outside the Pompei Scavi at a small cafe, just before we fully exited the site. Once you leave the site properly there are a few restaurants scattered along the road back to the station next to gift shops and all seemed affordable. 

For Herculaneum there were a couple of places on the street as you walk down through Ercolano towards the site but definitely not as many options as Pompei. Ercolano is pretty grim and we were in a hurry to get back to gorgeous Sorrento so I’d definitely pack snacks for this site instead of eating out. 

in one day.

Take a water bottle into the sites! I cannot stress this enough. Pompei and Herculaneum are both exposed sights, especially in the summer months, and you don’t want to get dehydrated so take a water bottle into the site. A both sites there are also water fountains littered throughout the site.

We took some snacks into the site but got lunch just outside the Pompei Scavi at a small cafe, just before we fully exited the site. Once you leave the site properly there are a few restaurants scattered along the road back to the station next to gift shops and all seemed affordable. 

For Herculaneum there were a couple of places on the street as you walk down through Ercolano towards the site but definitely not as many options as Pompei. Ercolano is pretty grim and we were in a hurry to get back to gorgeous Sorrento so I’d definitely pack snacks for this site instead of eating out. 

Photo by STIL on Unsplash.

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