In fact, I only knew little about Pompeii. The city located at the Gulf of Naples was completely buried under volcanic ashes during the great eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in 79 B.C. and was only rediscovered in the 18th century. Pompeii is really huge and the excavations endless. Without a plan, you don’t even know which houses and interesting places to look at first! In my Pompeii guide, I’ll show you which attractions in Pompeii you should definitely visit.
Don’t want to find your way through the excavations on your own? Book a guided tour for Pompeii*
Avoid the lines and buy your ticket in advance: Entry Ticket for Pompeii*
Pompeii is a must-see if you’re staying in Naples!
I have to admit, that archaeology is not my primary area of interest. I’ve been to Naples many times, and not once to Pompeii. But to see Naples without visiting Pompeii is almost a faux pas. This time it had to be different!
Your Guide to the ruins of Pompeii
“It’s best to start in the Roman Seven quadrant, then Roman Eight, and further back are the mummies,” said the cashier at the entrance, pointing to a tiny part of the huge map of Pompeii spread out in front of us. It was already half past three in the afternoon and the search for a parking space beforehand was adventurous. Of course, it’s best to arrive early in the morning, but I’ll show how to make the best of your visit to Pompeii if you don’t have much time.
First of all: Pompeii really impressed me. It is hard to grasp how advanced people already lived 2000 years ago. The sheer size of the city, the preserved streets and buildings, are also hard to grasp and I was torn between disbelief and amazement when I imagined how Pompeii looked at that time.
The Forum: Marketplace and heart of the city
This is where the crowds of visitors will automatically lead you: The Forum is, so to speak, the center of the city. Particularly interesting are the former warehouses on one side of the forum, where today archaeological finds are stored and displayed.
Cave Canem in Pompeii: The Dog in the Casa del Poeta Tragico
The house of the tragic poet shows one of the most famous motifs from Pompeii. A delicate floor mosaic in the entrance to the house, which warns of the biting dog: Cave Canem (Latin for “Attention dog”). A similar mosaic from another house can be seen in the Archaeological Museum in Naples. Cave Canem is one of Pompeii’s most popular sights.
The Great Theater of Pompeii
Actually, we wanted to see the amphitheater at the other end of Pompeii, but our feet didn’t carry us that far. The area is really huge. But the Great Theater is also quite impressive.
The mummies of Pompeii
No idea why the cashier always spoke of mummies. But somehow it also sounds more respectful than the expression “corpses” of Pompeii, which is used occasionally as well. In fact, some inhabitants of Pompeii were so surprised by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and were buried on the spot by volcanic ash and rocks. Contrary to popular belief, several residents of Pompeii had already fled before the great eruption. After a strong earthquake in 62 AD with great damage, Pompeii was still half a construction site anyway and the volcanic eruption announced itself days before. During the excavations, cavities were found within the ground with human remains. These were filled with plaster. Human outlines were revealed, some of them in the middle of carrying out their daily activities. The Orto dei Fugaschii (Garden of the Fugitives) contains the largest number of victims found in one place.
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Best time to visit Pompeii
It is a mystery to me how anyone can possibly visit Pompeii in the middle of summer. Even during our visit in the cooler month of October, the sun was burning hard in Pompeii. The hilltop location, lots of open space, and massive stones everywhere heat up the excavation quickly. However, in worse weather and rain, I also imagine the ancient pavement of massive cobblestones to be quite slippery. Hence, we were very lucky on our sunny autumn day and we had the best Pompeii weather. The amount of visitors is also a challenge, even during off-season: At some houses and locations we had to wait until the guided tour groups had left.
Practical tips for visiting Pompeii
What to wear
Sturdy shoes are required. Despite comfortable sneakers, our feet hurt in the end, from all the walking, but also from all the walking on the huge cobblestones. Sun protection such as sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are strongly recommended!
Parking in Pompeii
We finally ended up at a restaurant parking lot that takes 3.50 euros per hour – about 5 minutes walk from the entrance Porta Marina. I have not seen cheaper alternatives at a comparable distance.
Arriving by bus and train
You can reach Pompeii easily with the train lines of the Circumvesuviana. If we hadn’t had the rental car for our further trip anyway, this would probably have been the better option. The Circumvesuviana Naples-Sorrento stops at Porta Marina (stop: Pompei Villa dei Misteri), the Circumvesuviana-Poggiomarino at the entrance Piazza Anfiteatro (stop: Pompei Santuario).
From Naples you can also book complete packages, tour guide and travel included:
Entrance fee for the excavations in Pompeii
Pompeii can be expensive: Admission alone costs €15. However, there are a number of discounts or even free admission for young adults, journalists, teachers, lecturers, students of relevant faculties. Admission is also free for children and teenagers under 18!
Highly recommended: Book your ticket in advance right here and avoid the lines!*
Audio guides are available and, given the dimensions and historical background, they are a good idea. If they worked. The audio guides are recorded on old smartphones, which are supposed to have a four-hour battery life. However, we rented two and one of them lasted only half the time. At 15€ for two audio guides, this was very disappointing. The audio guides for Pompeii are only available at the Porta Marina entrance. But in the end, I was so impressed by the excavations, I didn’t miss the audio guide that much. For more information, I would rather rely on a personal tour guide next time.
Without a map you will be lost in Pompei! Download the official map of the excavation site here: Map of Pompeii
Accommodation in Pompeii
Pompeii is only a 40-minute drive from Naples. But if you want to stay closer to Pompeii, e.g. because you want to get to the area at 9 a.m. or because you are on the way to Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast like we were, a stop in the neighboring Castellammare di Stabia is a good idea. The accommodation prices are a little lower here, and yet you will find a nice beach promenade and a cable car that leads up to Monte Faito with a view over the area.
➜ Our B&B in Castellammare di Stabia (I especially loved the location nearby)
If Pompeii has caught your attention, you might be interested in these articles with tips for the Amalfi Coast: