Pompeii is one of the most visited places in Italy, and one of most visited archaeological sites in the world. And it’s absolutely worth all the fuss. The buildings, the frescoes, the streets, even the bodies, everything in Pompeii is alluring. But what if I tell you that you can also visit the volcano that buried the city?
In this post you’ll find all the info you need to visit Pompeii and Vesuvius in one day –how to make it as a day trip from Naples, which are the main sights of the archaeological site, is it safe to visit Mt. Vesuvius, what to do (and where to eat) in Naples, and more. All your questions in one post!
First thing first, how do I get there?
Pompeii and Vesuvius from Naples (or the Amalfi Coast) independently
My recommendation would be to start from Naples, or anywhere in the Amalfi coast, like Sorrento or Salerno. From anywhere you are in Italy, just jump in a train to “Napoli Centrale“, and base yourself there (see next section about Naples to make the most out of your visit!).
In Napoli Centrale station you need to go to the lower level to find the Circumvesuviana station, a railway that runs from the east of the Naples metropolitan area to Sorrento.
If you start with a visit to the archaeological site, get a ticket to Pompeii Scavi. It will be 4,10€ (it can be bought in any of the TrenItalia machines). Make sure you add “scavi”, since Pompeii is a city, and you want to go to the ruins. The trip takes 1 hour and 10 minutes.
My advice, though, is to go to Vesuvius first. In this case, from Napoli Centrale get a ticket to Pompeii. The ticket will cost 2,80€ and the trip will take 40 to 50 minutes. When you leave the Pompeii station, you’ll be approached by people offering tours and buses. There’s a bus that will take you to the entrance of the Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio. It takes about 40 minutes up a winding road and it costs 20€. The entrance to the National Park is another 10€.
Pompeii and Vesuvius from Rome
It’s doable from Rome, but it’d be a super long day and more expensive than staying in Naples.
If you don’t have the time to go to Naples, I’d recommend taking a tour like this one, because time will be much better used than if you try to do it independently.
The best of Naples
The advantage of using Naples as a base is that you’re in Naples! It has a bad reputation of being dirty and dangerous, but let’s set the story straight: that’s only half true. It is dirty, and quite chaotic, but it’s not dangerous at all. I visited as a solo female traveler in 2015, and I just revisited (in 2020) with my 19 years old niece. I would have never taken her to a place I don’t trust!
The city is charming within its chaos. There’s plenty to see, and even more to eat! If you only go for the pizza, it’d be worth the trip. It’s THAT good. You can’t go wrong with any that states ‘Vera pizza naepolitana’, but I can personally recommend Da Michele, Del Presidente and Gino Sorbillo (especially the one ‘al Mare’, to sit overlooking the sea). The classic pizzas are Margherita and Marinara, so it’s a paradise for vegetarians and vegans. I rest my case.
Don’t skip a walk down Via San Biagio Dei Librai, or one by the seaside. Visit Castel dell’Ovo, the oldest remaining fortification in the city, dating back to the early 6th century BC, and Castel Nuovo, built in 1282. For amazing views of the city from above, go to Castel Sant’Elmo, a hilltop medieval fortress. If you’re interested in history, don’t miss the National Archaeological Museum.
Wander around Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples’ main square, where you’ll see the Royal Palace, the Palazzo Salerno, the Prefecture Palace, and the church of San Francesco di Paola, with semi-circular colonnades that give a lovely frame to the piazza.
For superb architecture, stop at the Cappella Sansevero (nothing special in the outside, but with a gorgeous interior), at the Doumo (Naples’ Cathedral, built in the 13th century), and at Teatro di San Carlo (opened in 1737, it’s said to be the oldest working opera house in the world). A pleasant surprise will be Galleria Umberto I, a beautiful building that houses a shopping mall, that was based on the design of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan.
Don’t forget to leave time to get lost. Spend some time experiencing the Neapolitan life –stroll around the narrow cobbled streets that give Naples its character, grab a quick espresso, and walk around some more to discover the many treasures the city offers.
Climbing Mt. Vesuvius and visiting Pompeii
Is Mt. Vesuvius safe to visit?
Although it is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, a visit to Mt. Vesuvius is perfectly safe. What makes it dangerous is the amount of people that would be affected in case of an eruption. There’re 600.000 people that live in what comprises “the red zone”, and about 3 million that could be endangered, according to LiveScience. Actually, the whole city of Naples could be wiped out depending on the force of the eruption of the volcano.
But fear not! The Vesuvius Observatory monitors seismic activity and gas emissions 24/7, so they can warn us of any dangers with plenty of time to evacuate. Moreover, the Italian authorities close the park and alert Naples when the volcano shows any signs of activity, even if there’s no risk of an eruption.
The volcano has remained “quiet” for periods of time that go from 18 months to 8 years over the past few centuries. Last eruption was in 1944, which means that this is the longest “quiet time” in about 500 years. For this reason, –even though there’s no indication for an eruption in the near future– when it happens, it’s expected to be ferocious, so you might want to visit soon!
As for personal safety, just remember you’re in a mountain. This means that the weather can change fast, so you should wear layers, even if it’s a sunny day. Also bring water with you. And wear comfortable shoes, ideally hiking one. As you’ll see in the next section, it’s an easy walk, so you can go for it even if you’re not 100% fit. Even with that said, if you have a heart condition or any other medical problem, check with your doctor first.
I’ll be brutally honest here. When I say climb, I actually mean walk. I was expecting at least a hard hike, but nope. You walk up a dusty, very well signaled path for about 2 km (1.3 miles), with a bit over 220 meters (720 feet) of elevation gain. It should take you about half an hour. You get to the edge of the crater and the path guides you around it.
The entry ticket to the National Park includes a guide to accompany you around the crater. You have to ask for it if you’re interested, otherwise no one will even tell you about this option. You can also walk by yourself, which is what we did. It’s allowed to do half a loop and then you have to return the same way.
The views inside the crater are not what I expected. It’s a huge hole with some steam going out, but no volcanic activity is visible. Since I already climbed an active volcano in Chile, I thought all the craters would look similar –lava and tons of fumes. Vesuvius is much gentler to its visitors. So there’s no need to wear masks or anything.
The Bay of Naples is immediately underneath, so you get fantastic views from above. Make sure you have your camera ready, and take some cleaning wet wipes because the dust will accumulate in your lens.
Before you go back to your bus, try Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio, a wine that grows in the slopes of the volcano. You can have a glass to taste next to the crater, and even buy a bottle to take with you.
My thoughts on Vesuvius
All and all, I have mixed feelings with the experience. I looooved to be able to get to the top of such a legendary mountain. I was amazed by the views –both of the big crater and of the bay below. But I didn’t like how intervened it is and how touristy it feels. And I went completely off season! I think during summer it must be unbearable. It takes away from a mountain when you can reach the summit by car, and although here you do need to hike a little bit, it’s not even close to actual climbing.
Still, even with that said, it’s pretty cool to see the vistas and to get a different perspective of the massive force of the eruption that covered Pompeii. It’s the ideal place to go before visiting the ruins.
Do keep in mind that this is an active volcano, so if you plan too much ahead you might not be able to go up, since an eruption is always a possibility.
If you want to climb all the way from the foot of the mountain, I only have one thing to say: don’t. It’s mostly a forest with no paths. The few ones that existed are closed. That means you’ll end up hiking in the car road, which is boring, long and dangerous because it’s narrow and has a lot of traffic. It’s a shame, I know, but there’re plenty of other mountains that will give you a much cooler climbing experience.
Pompeii archaeological site
The bus from Vesuvius will leave you at the entrance of the archaeological site. If you don’t go to the mountain, from Pompeii station take a bus to Pompei Scavi (you can pay for it there, or get the ticket from Naples to Pompei Scavi). You can also walk, but there will be so much walking around the ruins that it’s pointless, especially if it’s hot.
You can get a ticket straight at the entrance (16€) or book ahead to skip the line (from 20€). You’ll have the option to pay for a tour guide, or to get an audio guide. If you want details on the history of the place, a guided tour like this one is a great option. If you’re OK with general information and time to explore independently, then get a free map of the site and head to the must see places I’ll list for you in the next section.
A bit of history
In 79 AD Mt. Vesuvius had an eruption that released 100,000 times the thermal energy of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, burying Pompeii under 4 to 6 meters (13 to 20 feet) of volcanic ash.
“Darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a dark room” wrote Pliny the Younger in a letter to Tacitus, after witnessing the eruption.
Over the following centuries, its name and location were forgotten. It re-emerged only in 1748, when it was discovered by a surveying engineer. Since then, excavations have been uncovering the city, and the process is still ongoing!
Pompeii has given us a window into life in Roman times. The city displays luxurious villas and modest houses, there is a remarkable record of Roman paintings, and enough objects were preserved for scientist to get an exact view of how the city worked before the tragedy.
Since the whole place was preserved for almost 2,000 years without exposure to air or moisture, there was little to no deterioration. However, the lack of adequate weather protection, poor methods of excavation, bombings from World War II, tourism and vandalism have taken a toll on the site.
Would you like to know more about Pompeii? I’d recommend these books:
What to see in the Pompeii ruins
There’re so many things to see in Pompeii! You can spend a week there and still need more time. If you want to go around the site led by an archaeologist, I recommend to book this tour. If you want to go around independently, here is the best of Pompeii –from the must see buildings to the quirky and off the tourist track ones.
Keep in mind that this is one of the most popular attractions in Italy, with around 3.6 million visitors a year, according to the archaeological park, so try to visit off season! You’ll get a much better experience, and you’ll help preserve the site.
Interested on how to be a more responsible traveler? Here’s the Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Travel!
This was the center of public life at Pompeii, and today is the main attraction of the archaeological site. The heart of the city housed the main public buildings for administration and justice, markets, and places of worship. Now you can see the Temple of Jupiter and Sanctuary of Apollo next to the square. Visit it close to the closing time to avoid crowds.
The Forum Baths
Right behind the Forum, in Vicolo delle Terme, you’ll find these really well-preserved Roman baths, with a big bronze brazier that was used for heating. It’s now known that there were different spaces for men and women, and it had places for cold, medium and hot temperatures. The restoration of the floor mosaic is beautifully done, and the art decorating the rooms is simply gorgeous.
The Grand Theater
It was built into a natural hill in the second century BC with capacity for 5,000 spectators. Comedies and tragedies were represented in the Greek-Roman tradition. It was the first large public building excavated from the sediments of the eruption, and it became a postcard of the ruins, so even off season it’ll have a lot of people.
It was built around 70 BC, and it’s the earliest Roman amphitheater to have been built of stone (it predates the Colosseum in Rome by over a century). It’s one of the main sights of Pompeii, even more so after Pink Floyd recorded Live at Pompeii there. Actually, David Gilmour’s Live at Pompeii of 2016 was the first time the amphitheater saw an audience since the eruption of the volcano.
Next to the amphitheater, a large open-air square was intended for the physical and intellectual training of young people. Now it holds a permanent exhibition of frescoes and artifacts found when excavating. It’s a great place to escape the crowds, as most people skip it.
Garden of the Fugitives
One of the most amazing scientific ideas to preserve the discoveries came from Giuseppe Fiorelli, who took charge of the excavations in 1863. He noticed occasional voids in the ash layer, where human remains were disintegrated, and started to fill them with plaster to recreate the forms of the victims. This technique is still in use today. The “stone” humans and animals you see in Pompeii are actually plaster (or resin) injected into the voids. Clever, isn’t it?
Although there’re examples of the plaster figures all over the site, the Garden of the Fugitives is the most shocking one. The bodies look agonizing and full of suffering, and you can see Vesuvius in all its glory from there.
The lupanar is a house with a few rooms with stone beds and frescoes of erotic scenes at the entry doors. It’s now known that the prostitutes were mostly Greek and Oriental.
I think it’s one of the coolest things of the site, because you don’t expect a brothel when you think of ancient ruins. Unfortunately, most visitors think the same, making it one of the most visited places in Pompeii. Keep in mind that the entrance is from Vicolo del Lupanare and the exit from Vicolo del Balcone Pensile.
House of Venus in the Shell
One of the most breathtaking frescoes of Pompeii –and one of the most famous one of the whole Roman Empire– is found in this house, a colorful one of the goddess Venus.
The House of the Tragic Poet
This house is known for its mosaic floors and frescoes depicting scenes from Greek mythology. The vestibule floor has a mosaic of a dog with the words “CAVE CANEM”, which means “beware of the dog”.
House of the Small Fountain
The layout of this house lets you see a mosaic fountain in the garden from the entrance, probably to show the wealthiness of the owner. It also has some wonderful frescoes.
The Villa of the Mysteries
In the outskirts of the ancient city of Pompeii the Villa of the Mysteries was discovered. Because it’s located further away from the main site, less tourists visit it, making it the ideal place to go when you see buses full of people coming.
There’s a large fresco that covers three walls, one of the most preserved ancient paintings, depicting a Greco-Roman mysterious cult. It also has an area for the production of wine.
All around the ancient city you’ll come across small details that will help you visualize Roman life. Pay attention to the streets and look for parallel cart ruts. These were made to keep heavy wagons on track. Raised blocks were set in the middle of the streets for pedestrians to cross without stepping into the roads, mostly because they were also Pompeii’s drainage and sewage disposal system.
Also look for thermopolium, Pompeii’s fast food bars –you’ll recognize counters with small rounded pots where the food was kept.
Where to stay in Naples?
Naples is big, so I’d recommend choosing you accommodation strategically, according to your plans. If you’re only going to leave one day to visit the city, then stay close to Napoli Centrale. This way you can walk to the city once, and be close to the station, which is the most comfortable option to visit Pompeii and Vesuvius in one day. I stayed in this B&B during my last trip, but I’ll leave you the latest offers of booking.com so you can analyze all the alternatives.
Want to see more of this amazing country?
Take a look at my other posts about Italy!