15 Tips For Visiting Pompeii For First-Timers
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
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No trip to southern Italy and the Naples area would be complete without planning a day trip to Pompeii. This vast archaeological site is the largest in the world, and is one of the best examples of Roman life and architecture that we currently have. The ruins of Pompeii have provided historians with invaluable information about the past and how Roman society was structured. If you happen to be in Rome, and aren’t going to be visiting Naples, Pompeii is just over 2 hours away by train, and believe me, Pompeii is worth visiting. The site itself gets over 10 000 guests daily walking through its ancient cobbled streets, and really is one of the best places to visit in southern Italy.
Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year 79AD, but the actual time of the year is still up for debate among historians, with some believing it was in August. The sad thing about the catastrophic eruption is that the ash normally would have been blowing away from the city, but on the day Mount Vesuvius erupted the wind was blowing towards Pompeii, bringing all of the volcanic ash with it. While you’re walking through the streets of the city, don’t forget to check out the city walls and the outside of the buildings - there is a lot of ancient graffiti in Pompeii to be seen. There are plenty of tips for visiting Pompeii that will help you be better prepared for your trip to this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site, but I’ve narrowed it down to a few things that I would want to know before planning a trip to Pompeii:
1. There is a lot of parking available near Pompeii
One of the biggest concerns I had about visiting Pompeii by car was the parking situation. I knew a lot of people went on bus tours from Naples to Pompeii, and I had read a number of horror stories about parking around the archaeological site. Luckily, we came across a parking lot that was situated right next to a main supermarket, and was very budget friendly too. It took us less than 10 minutes to walk back to the entrance to Pompeii, and the parking lot was watched by a guard so we knew our rental car would be safe there. We rented our car from Naples airport, which was an experience in itself. If you’re not a confident driver, I wouldn’t recommend driving in or around Naples - the people driving are crazy!
2. Grab an audio guide and a map of Pompeii
If you’re not planning on taking a guided tour of Pompeii, I would highly recommend picking up an audio guide from one of the many tour companies that are lining the sidewalk in front of the entrances to Pompeii. Ours cost just €5 to rent for the day, and to ensure you bring it back they will hang on to your ID, which I was a bit sceptical about but it turns out that all of the tour companies were doing the same thing (we got our IDs back without any problems). Pompeii is a massive archaeological site to walk around, and it’s difficult to put things into perspective if you don’t know what you’re looking for or at, so one of the biggest tips I have for visiting Pompeii is to get the audio guide. You can also pick up a free map of Pompeii once you pass the ticket office, which is very helpful if you don’t already have one downloaded on your phone!
3. There are different entrances to Pompeii
We didn’t realize until we were inside Pompeii, but there are a few different entrances you can choose from depending on where you parked or where your tour bus has dropped you off. We entered at the Piazza Anfiteatro gate which was the closest one to where we parked, and seemed to have a lot less people lined up outside of it compared to the other gates. We had purchased our tickets online before arriving as we weren’t sure if there was a daily limit or not, so we were able to walk right past the ticket queue. *Due to Coronavirus, all tickets must be bought online in advance of your visit so that visitor numbers can be monitored*
4. Pompeii has an Amphitheatre
If you enter Pompeii at the Piazza Anfiteatro gate, the first major part of the ancient Roman city that you’ll come across is the Amphitheatre. It was built in 70BC, and is the earliest Roman Amphitheatre to be built of stone. It would have been used for various public events such as gladiatorial games, which actually ended up being banned for 10 years because of a massive brawl between the spectators. The Amphitheatre is much further away from the other main attractions, so another helpful tip I have for visiting Pompeii is to start your self-guided tour here and make your way across the site to the rest of the points of interest.
5. There's an artifacts exhibition near the Amphitheatre
If you’re interested in seeing some of the artifacts that have been found by archaeologists at Pompeii, there’s a small museum directly opposite the amphitheatre which is included in your entry ticket. It’s an interesting exhibition to take a walk through, and won’t take much time out of your Pompeii itinerary either. We spent no more than 20 minutes walking around it and reading about some of the items that were on display.
6. Bring your own food and drinks
Great news - you can bring your own food and drinks into Pompeii! You will definitely need to bring water if you’re planning on taking a day trip to Pompeii, especially in the warmer months, and I would highly recommend bringing either a lunch or some snacks with you as well. However, if you forget to bring food or drinks with you, there’s a cafeteria spot near the Forum which was packed when we walked by so we didn't stop. But I did have time to read some reviews beforehand and most people wouldn’t recommend purchasing food there unless you really need to. The Forum area is also where you’ll find various designated picnic spots.
7. Bring good walking shoes
One of the most important tips for visiting Pompeii is to make sure you have good walking shoes or trainers on! I didn’t realize how big Pompeii actually was until we got there and I took a look at the map. It’s huge, and the ancient Roman streets are not exactly the flattest you’ll walk on since they’re made of large stones. That means a good pair of trainers or walking shoes is an absolute must if you want to have any hope of making it out of Pompeii without injuring yourself. Some of the surfaces inside various buildings are also uneven so be careful where you step!
8. Give yourself enough time to explore all of Pompeii
We chose to visit Pompeii on the last day of our trip, with our flight being later in the evening. As I mentioned before, I had no idea the site was so large, so I gave us around 3.5 hours to see everything. Big mistake! To say we were speed walking through most of it would be an understatement, since we ended up jogging from time to time as well. We did manage to see everything, but it was a lot more stressful than I would have liked. I would say you need at least 6 hours to explore Pompeii in its entirety and at a leisurely pace. Another helpful tip for visiting Pompeii is to check the opening and closing times before you visit as they can vary based on the time of the year and certain dates as well.
9. Be prepared to queue for the brothels in Pompeii
Believe it or not, one of the most popular spots to visit in Pompeii is the area that houses the brothels. Archaeologists have determined that there were a total of 25 separate brothels in Pompeii, with the Lupanar of Pompeii being the most popular. It took us a while to locate this part of the ancient city since the buildings are quite unimposing, but we noticed that one had a large queue outside of it so we headed there. It turns out it was for entry into the Lupanar, which was the largest and main brothel in Pompeii, and it has a series of very well preserved erotic images on its walls which are very popular with tourists. Brothels were legal and socially acceptable in Pompeii, so it was very normal for men to frequently visit them without ruining their reputation.
10. Explore the less popular streets
One of my favourite things to do when I travel to a new city is to explore its less popular streets, and Pompeii was no exception. Most of the tour groups at Pompeii take people to the main parts of the city, so a lot of the side streets are completely empty. We came across a number of interesting houses and beautifully tiled murals by simply heading off of the main tourist routes!
11. Some plaster casts of the victims of Pompeii are on display here
If you haven’t managed to see the plaster casts of the victims of Pompeii in Naples, there are some in Pompeii itself that you can view from behind a fence. Looking at the map of Pompeii, you'll find them next to the Forum granary in what looks like a large warehouse. The door to the warehouse is open but it’s blocked by a fence. From here you’ll be able to see some of the famous plaster cast bodies of Pompeii, and there's even a dog on display too.
12. Bring a small bag to Pompeii
You are allowed to bring a bag into Pompeii with you, but it has to be a small one such as a backpack. They’re quite picky at the entrance about the size of the bag, and of course you don’t want to be walking around all day with a heavy bag on your back! We took one bag between us both which was big enough to fit a couple of water bottles, some snacks, and a few extra camera lenses. One tip that everyone seems to have about visiting Pompeii is to pack light!
13. Buy your ticket to Pompeii in advance
We weren’t sure what the ticket situation was when we visited, so we decided to purchase them a few weeks in advance online. In the event that you haven’t built an itinerary before your trip to Italy, you can buy tickets at one of the entrances on the day of your visit. There was quite a large queue to buy tickets though, so if you’re short on time you can always purchase them at the last minute online and walk straight past the queue!
*Due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, all tickets must be bought online in advance*
14. Wear sunscreen at Pompeii
Before driving to Pompeii, we checked the weather beforehand and saw that it would be mostly cloudy for the day. We hadn’t packed any sunscreen since we were visiting Naples in April and the weather wasn’t the warmest. However, by the time we got to Pompeii the weather had slightly changed and it was sunny for at least half of the time we were there. This means I got a little more colour on my face than I was expecting! A big tip for visiting Pompeii is to pack some sunscreen just in case!
15. Visit Herculaneum on a separate day
Since we were short on time, we decided to try to fit in both Pompeii and Herculaneum into half a day. I wouldn’t recommend it if you can avoid it. We were practically running around both of the sites, and had barely an hour to see all of Herculaneum. If you haven’t heard of Herculaneum before, it’s another city that was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius but it’s much better preserved than Pompeii, albeit a lot smaller. You don’t need as much time to see Herculaneum as you do Pompeii, so you could easily fit it into half a day if you’re looking for another day trip from Naples to go on. It has some of the best Roman ruins in Italy to explore, and I will definitely be going back on my next trip to Naples.
Pompeii is one of the most well known archaeological sites in the world, and is well worth a day trip from Naples, or other nearby cities. Excavations of Pompeii began in the 18th century, and there is still at least a third of the ancient city that hasn’t been unearthed yet. If you don’t have a car and aren’t wanting to go on a guided tour, getting the train from Naples to Pompeii is another great option, and takes just over 30 minutes. While you’re planning your trip to Pompeii, please keep in mind how big of an archaeological site it is! I personally can’t wait to see what else will be discovered in the upcoming decades.
Naples and the surrounding area is a beautiful part of southern Italy to explore, and is close to the Amalfi Coast as well. But if you’re looking for an alternative coastal location to visit that is a bit less touristy, you really can’t go wrong visiting the Cilento Coast! And if you ever find yourself in northern Italy, you won't want to overlook Milan. I would love to hear about your experiences visiting Pompeii, or if you have any questions about visiting the site, so please leave me a comment below. Remember to follow me on Instagram as well for more great travel tips!
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