After our stint in Tuscany, the next stop on our road trip was Amalfi coast. We had heard horror stories about driving in Amalfi, so we decided to break our journey and spend a day in Pompeii. Most people visit Pompeii on a day trip from Naples or even Sorrento. Instead, we set base in Scafati, from where it was a 15-minute walk to the ancient ruins.
Why visit Pompeii?
Mount Vesuvius, a volcano near Naples, is thousands of years old and has erupted more than 50 times in the past. Its most famous eruption took place in the year 79 A.D., when the volcano buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii (as well a few others which are lesser known) under a thick carpet of volcanic ash. Almost two thousand people died, and the city was abandoned for many years. When a group of explorers rediscovered the site in 1748, they were surprised to find that underneath a thick layer of dust and debris, Pompeii was mostly intact. It is no wonder then that Pompeii is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy.
Guided tour or DIY?
There are several ways to visit Pompeii – on a pre-booked guided tour or on a do-it-yourself tour. We paid € 13 per person and picked up the tickets from the information desk. The tickets included a map and a small pocket guide to the site, which was excellent and led us to a number of not-to-miss sights at Pompeii (also providing a little bit of history). The site is divided into 9 zones and each and every house is numbered and given a name. The pocket guide was extremely thorough and systematically led us throughout. But of course, if you are a history nerd, you should do the guided tours.
Pompeii is a fascinating site that allows you to literally step back in time. Walking down the maze-like cobblestone streets of ancient Pompeii immerses you into the life of ancient Roman civilization. You can explore the insides of houses, admire decorative frescoes on the walls, or check out the remains of temples, baths, amphitheatres, and brothels.
Exploring the ruins on our own took us about 3 hours. It is a pretty big site and some of the streets are uneven so wear comfortable shoes. Bring bottled water and carry some snacks.
It was raining a bit when we visited so the weather was not ideal, but nonetheless it was not too heavy to deter us from going.
Pompeii or Herculaneum?
If you have additional time, you can also visit the Herculaneum ruins. From what we have heard, compared to Pompeii, the Herculaneum ruins site is smaller and is supposedly better preserved so you get to see a lot more details in the ruins. When trying to decide between the two sites, consider several factors such as – availability of time, preference for covered spaces versus open spaces, the weather etc.. A trip to Herculaneum is better suited for those with limited time, or when the weather conditions are not suitable for walking in an open uncovered space and those interested in seeing well-preserved ruins. But if you are looking to explore an expansive, ancient city, then Pompeii it is!
If you are not strapped for time, then you can buy a pass for € 22 that lets you visit 5 ruins – Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis, Stabia, and Antiquarium of Boscoreale and is valid for 3 days.
*All prices mentioned are as of April 2017.