Why a Pompeii & Herculaneum Day Trip Should Be on Your Bucket List in 2024

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed or impressed with Pompeii. The ancient Roman city was buried under meters of ash during the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The first time I visited Pompeii was as a poor and broke backpacker in 2006, where we ambled around aimlessly in the scorching August heat, not understanding what exactly we were looking at, or to be honest, caring.

So upon my most recent visit to Naples, I decided to rectify the situation by taking a 5-and-a-half-hour tour of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Not only was the tour incredible from start to finish, but it also introduced me to the fantastic and jaw-dropping site of Herculaneum which was more impressive than Pompeii.

The UNESCO Heritage Site of Pompeii receives over 3.5 million visitors each year, which is just an incredibly huge number and almost hard to fathom. Meanwhile, nearby Herculaneum gets a fraction of visits, with just under half a million yearly visitors. If crowds are not your thing, you now know which one to visit.

Pompeii is a larger site, so visiting the city that once was the home to between 10,000 to 20,000 depending on which source you depend on. Our guide for visiting Pompeii & Herculaneum put the number at 15,000. And as you walk around the ruins of Pompeii, it’s easy to envisage the lives the citizens of Pompeii would have led.

Top Pick: Pompeii & Herculaneum Guide Tour

If you’re eager to immerse yourself in the past, don’t skip out on the best-guided tour of Pompeii & Herculaneum.

Explore the two cities with an expert-led guide, learning about life before the destruction of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD, and all their remarkable innovations.

As you explore Pompeii, you’ll discover bakeries, ‘fast-food’ stores, brothels, homes and gardens that all used to make up this bustling city. And whilst you can listen to an audio guide, or explore on your own terms, I highly implore you to take a guided tour of either Pompeii or Herculaneum to get the full impact of how remarkable these cities once were.

Depending on which guided tour you choose, you’ll learn so much about life back in 79 AD that will blow you away. My appreciation for the innovations that the citizens of Pompeii & Herculaneum developed as their cities expanded was mind-boggling. For example, the aqueduct system that carried water from 90 kilometers away to Pompeii, gradually decreased its slope by only 3 cm to bring gallons of water to the city.

Do a guided tour and you’ll learn so much about the ingenuity of the people who once lived here, and their saucy lives too. There are a lot of penis symbols (fertility) and brothels in Pompeii.

Exploring Pompeii

Once you arrive in Pompeii, you will be transported back in time to the ancient city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The city was buried under ash and pumice for centuries, preserving the buildings and artifacts of daily life in Pompeii. Some of the main attractions in Pompeii include the Forum, the Amphitheatre, and the House of the Vettii.

The Forum was the center of Pompeii’s public life, where residents would come to trade, discuss politics, and attend public events. The Amphitheatre is one of the oldest and best-preserved in the world, with a capacity of over 20,000 spectators. 

Interior foyer of House of Vettii
House of Vettii

The House of the Vettii is a well-preserved mansion that showcases the wealth and luxury of Pompeii’s elite. You’ll have to line up to enter the house, but it is so worth it. Inside you’ll find incredibly well-preserved frescoes, a garden and even a room the family rented out to a prostitute. In the spare room which was used as a brothel, you’ll find a ‘menu’ of offerings for patrons to choose from.

In addition to these main attractions, there are many lesser-known sites to visit in Pompeii, such as the Lupanare (a brothel), the Termopolium (a snack bar), and the Casa del Menandro (a well-preserved villa).

Guided Tours Of Pompeii

The easiest and most hassle-free way to visit Pompeii is as part of an organized tour. These range from small-group tours to privately guided excursions. Often the tours from Naples or Sorrento to Pompeii also include additional sightseeing stops such as the visiting Mount Vesuvius or lunch at a winery etc.

  • From Sorrento: Round-trip transport and guided tour of Pompeii included.

is Herculaneum worth visiting?

Herculaneum flies under the radar of Pompeii’s shadow, mostly because it’s a much smaller site, but also because the excavation site is remarkably smaller due to the residential build-up in the area. The former city of Herculaneum also sits closer to the remains of Mount Vesuvius and was destroyed when rivers of ash and mud buried the city as the eruption unfolded.

A view over the ruins of Herculaneum.

Herculaneum was a fabulously wealthy city that while smaller than Pompeii, was where wealthy Romans would visit for their holidays. The city is superbly preserved and as you initially see it, you’ll understand the scale of the city, its destruction and the aftermath of Mount Vesuvius’ eruption.

If you want to escape massive crowds (and there are a lot at Pompeii) consider a guided tour of Herculaneum. It will not disappoint. On our tour, we all agreed that we preferred Herculaneum over Pompeii, not because the crowds were smaller, but the impact of seeing the site from a height, the devastation and imagining what the former city used to look like was beyond anything else. A truly remarkable city.

Guided Tours of Herculaneum

Consider the two-hour guided tour with an archaeologist of Herculaneum that includes skip-the-line entrance tickets.

Or combine Herculaneum with a guided tour of Pompeii. I did this tour and whilst it’s long, it was absolutely incredible. If you’re interested in Ancient Roman history, it’s hard to beat a better experience.

Planning Your Pompeii day trip

There are a variety of transportation options for travelers looking to visit Pompeii or Herculaneum. The most straightforward is booking a tour that has organised transport from either Naples, Sorrento or further afield.

The second option is to take a train or bus from Naples/Sorrento to Pompeii. It’s very easy to navigate and there is plenty of signage around to help. Do note that in the months of July & August, not only are the temperatures seriously hot, but the buses and trains are packed.

A quick overview of how to plan your Rome to Pompeii day trip:

  • Guided tours to Pompeii/Herculaneum are the easiest way of visiting the ancient city without any of the hassles of taking trains & buses. Everything is organized for you and all you have to do is show up at the right time. For a stress-free experience, I’ll suggest some of the best tours to Pompeii from Rome below. 
  • Want to travel at your own pace? Then the train is the most popular option, as it is affordable and convenient. It is also the fastest way to get to Pompeii, with travel times from Naples/Sorrento to Pompeii taking 30-40 minutes on the Circumvesuviana Train. 
  • The Circumvesuviana Train connects Naples to Sorrento with stops at Erolano Scavi (Herculaneum) & Pompei Scavi – Villa dei Misteri (Pompeii). You can purchase tickets at the train stations – but prepare to arrive early with long ticket lines at the counters.

If you are planning on visiting either Pompeii or Herculaneum without a guide it is important to purchase your tickets in advance to avoid long lines and sell-outs.

Train from Naples to Pompeii

Some people prefer to organize their own way of getting to Pompeii rather than be on a guided tour schedule. I’ve fallen into both categories at times, sometimes I like to have someone other than myself showing me around and not having to worry about making connections, etc. 

Then there’s the other side that loves to hop on a local train and explore on my own time. Taking the train to Pompeii is rather straightforward and easy to do if you are looking for your own memorable experience and can be a good way of saving money too. 

Pompeii train stations

Pompei Villa dei Misteri – This is the most popular train station for visitors to arrive at and leaves you right outside the entrance to Pompeii. 

Torre Annunziata Centrale – 0.8 miles from the entrance to Pompeii and an alternative to Pompei Villa dei Misteri.

Entrance tickets to Pompeii are best purchased in advance and I would definitely recommend organizing a guided tour of the archaeological site. I’ve walked around Pompeii years ago as a broke backpacker and didn’t have a clue what I was looking at. It was much better the next time when I opted for a guided tour!

Purchase your guided tour of Pompeii with an archeologist via Viator. 

Conclusion

A day trip to Pompeii is a great way to experience the history and culture of Italy. From the well-preserved ruins of Pompeii to the ancient city of Herculaneum, you’ll find it hard not to be impressed by the ingenuity and the story of this remarkable period of history.

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