pompeii-feature

Visiting Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius: tickets, travel tips, tours, highlights [2021]

Easily accessed from Sorrento, Naples, and Rome, Pompeii is a preserved snapshot of ancient history. The remains of this ancient city have been remarkably preserved by the lava from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Discover the best ways to visit Pompeii, what not to miss, best tours, and itineraries.

Why You Should Visit Pompeii

Plaster cast of Pompeii resident

More than 2.5 million people from Italy and around the world flock to visit this amazing UNESCO World Heritage site each year. It is a major Italian landmark.

Thousands of years after the catastrophic eruption of the nearby volcano Mt Vesuvius, it’s possible to get a taste of everyday life in this large and once-booming city.

Pompeii is an ever-expanding archaeological site with new areas being opened almost every year. It’s big – more than 11,000 people lived here.

You can see it quickly on a Pompeii tour, squeeze in a visit to other sites such as Mount Vesuvius (5 miles away) or Herculaneum in one day, or spend two full days seeing most of the ancient city.

Aside from ancient temples, buildings, city streets, brothels, villas, and vendor stands, there is another remarkable and unique sight that has been preserved by layers of ash from Mount Vesuvius.

Where the deceased Pompeiians decayed beneath the hardened volcanic sediment, archaeologists were able to pour plaster casts to capture the hollowed spaces left from their bodies.

This has created haunting images of the citizens’ final resting poses as they went about their daily life when the lava spewed through the ancient towns around the volcano. 

These evocative body casts are known the world over for their one-of-a-kind tribute to the natural disaster and attract thousands of visitors every year. 

So what was Pompeii, what happened, and when? Below is a snapshot of its history.

A Brief History of Pompeii

8th Century BC

Founding of Pompeii

Pompeii is presumed to have been founded by the Oscans around the 8th century BC along the banks of the Sarno River, which was used to transport goods

8th Century BC
8th – 5th Century BC

Invasions: Greeks, Etruscans, Samnites

Due to its strategic location for commerce, Pompeii was invaded by Greeks, then Etruscans, then by the Samnites in the 5th century BC. Around this time, the city became a large exporter of olive oil and wine and grew into a thriving metropolis.

8th – 5th Century BC
79 AD

Roman control and culture

Around 90 BC, Pompeii came under Roman control and reached its economic peak. It became a desirable destination for the Roman aristocracy and eventually came to attract many wealthy Roman families who built temples as well as homes within the city walls.

79 AD
79 AD

Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius

In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius violently erupted, sending ash and debris miles into the sky.
Rubble from the mountaintop rained down over the city for hours.
While most of the population evacuated to flee the destruction, around 2,000 remained with city limits, only to perish from a violent wave of ash and toxic gas flooding Pompeii at around 100 miles per hour.

79 AD

Are the Pompeii Ruins Open for Visitors?

Visiting Pompeii Quick Guide

As of April 2021, Pompeii is officially open to visitors after Italy’s lockdown in response to the covid-19 pandemic. Social distancing measures are still mandatory, and masks and sanitation measures are in effect.

Pompeii is open for visitors Monday through Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm. The last entry is at 5:30 pm, and those arriving after 3:30 pm are subject to a reduced entry fee. These opening hours are for the “standard summer season” which is April 26 to October 31.

Bear in mind, however, this likely will not grant you enough time to fully explore the site. Additionally, arriving over 10 minutes after your ticketed arrival time may mean that you will not be allowed to enter.

However, within the archaeological park, there are numerous sites that require separate entrance fees and that are open on different days and have different opening and closing times.

If you are planning to see the site without a tour or a guide, it’s important to check the most up to take timetable of opening hours and fee schedule. You can find it here.

Where to Buy Pompeii Tickets

Domus-di-Paquio-Proculo-pompeii
Domus di Paquio Proculo

Many people want to know if you need to buy tickets for Pompeii in advance. While it is possible to buy your tickets on the day of your intended visit, it is always safest to buy your tickets in advance to ensure you have a successful trip.

You will likely come to Pompeii in a large crowd of people either from a day trip from Rome, Naples, or the Amalfi Coast, or else you will arrive at the Pompeii train station. You will all arrive at the ticket office at the same time and join the huge queues!

Especially if you are taking a Pompeii day trip or are planning on only spending a couple of hours at Pompei, buying your entrance ticket in advance gives you the maximum time at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

TIP: If you are planning on visiting Pompeii on a weekend or public holiday, online advanced bookings are required.

Purchase your online downloadable electronic tickets online here, with the guarantee that you can cancel, completely freely, up to 24 hours before your entrance time. 

There are two extremely popular entrance tickets to Pompeii with thousands of positive reviews:

  1. Pompeii Reserved Entry Ticket

With over 5,200 reviews, this is the most popular entry ticket to Pompeii. The best features of this ticket are:

  • Price – at only US$26 it’s a great price for the convenience of an electronic ticket
  • Cancel for free with a 100% refund, no questions asked, up to 24 hours in advance
  • Instant confirmation
  • Download onto your phone to show at the entrance gate or print your ticket
  • Booking fee included in the ticket, there are no other charges.

2. Pompeii: Fast Track Ticket Entrance with Audio Guide

With over 2000 reviews, this is my preferred ticket. It’s $6 more than the reserved entry ticket, but these tickets are Skip the Line tickets, meaning you will get into the site with the minimum time queueing.

The best features of the Fast Track Ticket Entrance are:

  • Skip the Line ticket gives you priority entrance without queueing with the General Admssion queues
  • Price – at only US$31.90 it’s a great price for the convenience of a skip-the-line electronic ticket
  • Cancel for free with a 100% refund, no questions asked, up to 24 hours in advance
  • Instant confirmation
  • Download onto your phone to show at the entrance gate or print your ticket
  • Audio Guide included with your ticket
  • Booking fee included in the ticket, there are no other charges

If you would prefer to buy your ticket in person, you can do so at the ticket offices at Piazza EsedraPiazza Anfiteatro, or Porta Marina entrances – the three entrances to the site of Pompeii.

Transport to Pompeii

Circumvesuviana railway line, Naples

Located on the Amalfi coast just 15 miles south of Naples and 16 miles northwest of Sorrento, Pompeii is perhaps easiest to reach by catching the Circumvesuviana train which travels between Naples (Napoli Centrale) and Sorrento, leaving Naples from Napoli Garibaldi station.

TIP: The train begins at Porta Nolana station before stopping at Napoli Garibaldi Station and as it is a very crowded route, you’re more likely to find a seat if you set out from Porta Nolana station.

Hop aboard the Circumvesuviana at the Pompei ScaviVilla Dei Misteri train station along this route for service to Pompeii.

An alternative train to the Circumvesuviana is the Campania Express which stops at popular tourist destinations along the Amalfi coast

Campania Express costs significantly more than the Circumvesuviana but does offer air conditioning, guaranteed seating, and space for luggage.

TIP: There is a size limit to the bags allowed into the Pompeii site. Bags larger than 30 cm x 30 cm x 15 cm are not allowed.

If you are traveling from further afield, and especially from Rome, check the timetables before the day of your trip to Pompeii to make sure you book a high-speed train in both directions.

Stazione Marittima

If you are visiting Pompeii from the Naples cruise port, catch the airport bus to Naples Central and then the train to Pompeii.

How Many Hours Do You Need in Pompeii?

Thermopolium, Via della Abbondanza street

Because of the scope of the archaeological site, it is very easy to spend a full day exploring the ruins of Pompeii.

If this astonishing UNESCO World Heritage site has been on your bucket list for a long time, staying overnight and seeing the site over two days means you can stay 3-4 hours each day and see all of the regions.

While official guided tours typically clock in at around two hours, that really is just enough time to get a preliminary taste of all that Pompeii has to offer. 

2-3 hours likely isn’t enough time to wander past each of Pompeii’s most noteworthy sights but especially for travelers taking day tours from Rome, it’s unlikely you’ll get much more time here.

Below you can read about the main sites not to miss when you visit and the walking itineraries and how long each one will take.

Walking Itineraries

Pompeii Regions

The official Pompeii site offers itineraries for walks and a map for each walk.

The large archaeological park is divided into 10 Regions labeled in roman numerals I-X. The walks are of different lengths, beginning at 2 hours, but also 3 hr, 5 hr, and 7 hr walks.

Each walk takes you further from the entrance. This is the distance covered by each walk and the entrance and exit points below:

  • Walk No. 1
  • Duration: 2 hrs
  • Entrance: Porta Marina
  • Exit: Piazza Esedra
  • Regions: VI, VI, VIII
  • Walk No. 1A
  • Duration: 3 hrs
  • Entrance: Porta Marina
  • Exit: Villa Dei Misteri
  • Regions: VI, VI, VIII + Villa Dei Misteri
  • Walk No. 2
  • Duration: 3 hrs
  • Entrance: Piazza Esedra
  • Exit: Piazza Esedra
  • Regions: I, VI, VI, VIII
  • Walk No. 3
  • Duration: 5 hrs
  • Entrance: Porta Marina
  • Exit: Piazza Anfiteatro
  • Regions: I, II, VI, VI, VIII
  • Walk No. 4
  • Duration: 7 hrs
  • Entrance: Piazza Anfiteatro
  • Exit: Piazza Anfiteatro
  • Regions: I, II, V, VI, VI, VIII, IX, X

Hotel del Sole, Pompeii Ruins

Across from Pompeii entrance, free parking, high rooms with balconies, wifi, 10 min walk to Pompeii station, 9.1/10 rating, 4 stars

hotel-del-sole-pompeii

Most important sights to see in Pompeii

Forum (Region VII)

Forum of Pompeii
  • The forum was a square building that served as an administrative center, public market and also housed many different types of businesses. it was the civic hub for the whole community. 
  • It is 142 meters long and 38 meters wide.
  • It was surrounded by basilicas which were large one-story Roman temples used to house religious cults including those dedicated to Jupiter.

TIP: A large number of the sights you will want to see ring the Forum and also the Amphitheater.

The large and simple squares open on its western side to the Sanctuary of Apollo. The alignment of the square was changed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It once had travertine marble tiles but they were looted or destroyed many years ago.

As you wander around the buildings adjoining the Forum you’ll find granaries, public toilets, and a place for weighing and measuring goods.

Temples of Apollo and Jupiter

Temple of Jupiter

The Temple of Apollo still has many of its walls, columns, and statues and it’s possible to imagine how impressive the temple would have been with its Corinthian columns, central altar, and steep stairs.

The Temple of Jupiter is one of the most recognizable images of Pompeii framed in front of Mt Vesuvius.

At one point in its history, the Roman Empire required every city to have a temple that was dedicated to worshipping the major gods of Mt Olympus. The Temple of Jupiter became a temple for the worship of Juno and Minerva, as well as Jupiter.

The Temple sits on a large podium with steps along its front facing the Forum. It once was adorned with large equestrian statues that had been mounted on top of two monumental balustrades.

Amphitheater (Anfiteatro) Region II, Pompeii

Pompeii Anfiteatro

An amphitheater was an ancient Roman public venue for entertainment, including gladiatorial contests, animal fights, and theatrical performances. The term amphitheater derives from the Greek word amphitheatrion, meaning “a place for watching.”

You simply can’t miss seeing the Anfiteatro in region II, it is one of the best city wonders. The Amphitheater was built in 70 BC, just before the city was officially founded.

This means that it is the oldest Roman theater ever found.

But although it’s hard to comprehend just how old it is, it’s just amazingly preserved. It’s as if it was built 50 years ago.

The Anfiteatro is a great place to visit if you want to see some of the best-preserved ancient architecture in the Ancient World.

There are many interesting things to see here, including the remains of the original seats, the stairs leading to the upper level, and the foundations of the walls.

Garden of the Fugitives (Region I)

Garden of the Fugitives

Near the Amphitheater is one of the saddest and most haunting sites in Pompeii. In an area of vineyards that hosted banquets and was covered by a pergola, is a glass case near the back wall.

Inside the case are the casts of 13 adults and children. They were running to try and escape the eruption through the Nocera gate.

A layer of pumice had already rolled through Pompeii and these people ran upon them. The pumice was already 3.5 meters high.

But then the pyroclastic flow caught up with them. That’s the very fast-moving pieces of lava, volcanic ash, and hot gases that burn anything in its path and can travel at 200 meters per second. 

The site was excavated in 1962 and you won’t easily forget this part of the story of Pompeii.

TIP: While in Region I, wander over to the Necropolis of the Porta Nocera.

Villa Dei Misteri (or Villa of the Mysteries) (Region VI)

Villa Dei Misteri

Even if you only have 2 hours at Pompeii, don’t miss the Villa Dei Misteri. It’s behind the Villa of Diomedes.

The 2nd Century BC Wall paintings are the finest discovered. To find in the triclinium, a 17 meter-long frieze of domestic life in Pompeii all in its original brilliant colors, makes any trip to Pompeii worthwhile – even if it’s the only thing you see!

The general entrance fee includes entrance to the Villa Dei Misteri.

Near the northern boundaries of Regions I and VII are a number of houses, a Thermopolis, and a bakery that are all well worth seeing. This part of the area is called the New Excavations and it includes the House of Venus.

House of Venus in the Shell (Region II)

Venus in the Shell fresco. Credit: Markus Ruth @ Flickr

This well-preserved house takes its name from the large fresco of a naked goddess, Venus. The fresco shows us a luscious garden and above the garden are three scenes.

One is of the god Mars, the other a fountain, but in the center is an erotic painting of Venus lying in a large seashell.

The goddess is wearing only a tiara and jewelry. She is depicted sailing through clouds accompanied by cherubs. It is not considered ‘high art,’ but it is a very striking and dramatic fresco!

The Sanctuary of Venus (Region VIII)

Now destroyed, the temple to the patron goddess of Pompeii, Venus, was not something you could have seen even if you managed to get to Pompeii before the earthquake of 79 AD. Unfortunately, an earthquake a bit earlier in 62 AD destroyed it and it hadn’t finished being repaired when the next earthquake occurred.

The Temple here was made entirely of marble and had the best view of the whole city. It had a portico of rows of columns and two pedestals supporting statues on the eastern side.

Its remains stand high on a terrace and are one of the most photographed parts of Pompeii.

And the rest

Roman Baths

The House of the Tragic Poet, the House of the Vestals, the Baths, Thermopolium, the Brothel, and the Bakery -the list carries on and on. And that’s why it’s easy to spend two full days here!

It is not uncommon, however, for visitors to tour Mount Vesuvius and some of the major attractions at Pompeii on the same day. If this is your aim, strategize your visit to Pompeii so that you are able to see your top choices on your itinerary before the end of your time there. If you would like to do further research, check out the official website for the ruins of Pompeii

When planning your visit, be sure to factor in the weather and the time of year. It is best to plan your visit during the offseason from November-March in order to beat the crowds which swarm the site in the summer months. Springtime is the loveliest time to visit ancient Pompeii.

Should You Take a Guided Tour of Pompeii?

While there are several tours advertised outside the proper site of Pompeii, it is worth your while to purchase one of the official tours offered by an expert guide. These tours span about two hours and offer smaller group sizes by half than what the external tour guides offer.

The best of these is a small group tour led by an experienced archeologist. It takes between 1.5 and 2 hours and is the best value way to see the essential sites of Pompeii on a short visit. This tour has over 1200 positive reviews with an average score of 4.9/5 and is surprisingly inexpensive.

Here are some reasons why it might be a good idea for you to take a guided tour of Pompeii:

  • There are few signs indicating the sites of Pompeii, so traveling with a guide can take the guesswork out of your visit.
  • The main reason to take a guided tour of Pompeii is time. It’s hard to know what to visit and in what order to make sure you have seen all the major sites.
  • This is especially true if you have mobility issues, or if you visit Pompeii in peak season when the heat from the sun can be punishing, or when you are seeing Pompeii on a day trip.

What to Bring for Your Day Trip to Pompeii

Since you are likely going to spend a minimum of two hours at the ruins, it’s best to arrive prepared for a full day. Wear comfortable walking shoes that you don’t mind getting scuffed or dusty, layered clothing, and a hat and/or sunglasses. 

Closed-toe shoes are a sensible choice, as your feet will be covered in dust by the day’s end. While large bags are not advisable, bringing a small tote or backpack is useful. Here are a few items to bring with you during your visit:

  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks
  • Smartphone
  • Water bottle
  • Light jacket
  • Camera (optional)

Because of the nature of the ruins, there is very little shade in the archeological park. Most of the remaining structures have no roofs or awnings to offer shelter from the sun.

There are, however, drinking spigots along the walking paths for visitors to refill their water bottles! 

TIP: There is also a café which serves snacks and light lunch, but bringing your own food is usually cheaper. To boot, there are several picnic areas marked around the site for visitors to eat a sunny, scenic lunch, the most well equipped is near Porta Nola.

Should You Visit Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius in One Day?

Crater of Mount Vesuvius

While it is undoubtedly possible to spend a full day admiring the history at Pompeii, its proximity to Mount Vesuvius makes for a convenient double destination trip. As such, it is not uncommon for many visitors to opt to tour the mountain and Pompeii in one go.

Of course, this is ultimately up to personal preference. If you are passionate about the history of the ancient Roman city, dedicating a full day will be worth your while. If your interest is divided, it makes sense to work both stops into your day, especially if the weather is good.

Is Vesuvius Worth Visiting?

Mt Vesuvius hiking trail

Vesuvius is a popular tourist destination in part because it is only 9 kilometers from Naples. The volcano with its surrounding national park is known for its beautiful views of the Bay of Naples, and it is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

However, the danger level is not high, it is unlikely that another eruption will occur soon. and visitors can safely climb up the volcano.

You’ll be in good company if you climb the volcano because tourists have been coming here since the 1600s to peep over the edge of the crater.

How To Visit Mount Vesuvius

Vesuvius crater view

Getting to Mount Vesuvius is particularly easy if you are traveling from Naples, as there are regular buses traveling to and from the nearby mountain. There is a ticketing office for Vesuvio Express in Ercolano, a town within the Metropolitan City of Naples which resides at the base of the mountain. 

One such bus usually costs around €20 and will bring you to the base of Mount Vesuvius in about half an hour.

It is imperative you are not late for the returning bus, however, or you will be charged a second time for the next available bus, or you’ll have to find your own way back.

If you are planning on traveling by the Pompei Scavi Circumvesuviana station, alternatively, there are also buses available from that locale.

After the bus drops you at the mountain, you will have an hour and a half to clamber up the trail and back before it returns to pick you up. It’s about a 4-kilometer round trip. Make sure you have water, sun protection, and durable hiking shoes. Some guides offer walking sticks for support as you meander up the gravel path.

It’s also possible to take a shuttle bus from the car park. The car park is unstaffed but costs €5 per day. The shuttle bus then costs €2 for adults and terminates at the Ticket Office where the trail to the summit begins.

The official website of Mount Vesuvio National Park offers more information about visiting the volcano, including maps and directions. The page includes details about how to get to the top of the mountain, what to expect when climbing, safety tips, and other helpful information.

Is Vesuvius Still Active?

The volcano has erupted several times since the first century – in the year 79 AD when it buried Pompeii – and it is still active today. In fact, it is one of the most active volcanoes in Europe.

The last eruption was in 1944 when lava flowed down the slopes of the mountain.

Further Links and Information

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