The ancient city of Pompeii, under the looming shadow of (what remains of) Mount Vesuvius, was not precisely as we imagined it. The layout, exhibits, and interpretive materials were not clearly marked, and it took some persistence to find what we were looking for (and even then, we missed things). It’s also most certainly a lengthy and expensive commute from Rome. All this said, we were glad we went. Here’s what to expect if you make the day trip:
From Naples, Pompeii is a short and simple metro/train ride away. It won’t, however, be a terribly pleasant one. We found that the local train system that connects the central train terminal in Naples to the outskirts (where you’ll find Pompeii) to be a bit grimy, even as far as metros go. Don’t expect a cushy journey, and do expect a lot of stops. However, it’s a straight line to the Pompeii Scavi stop (the second of two that are listed as Pompeii), and once deposited there, you’re directly in front of the ticket booth and entrance. In the Naples train station, head downstairs for their metro line, and buy tickets at the kiosk. At the time of our visit, metro tickets were €2,50 each (each way).
If you’re coming from Rome, as we were, you’ll first need to take the fast train from Rome’s Termini station, operated by TrenItalia. We took several journeys on this line, and both were very pleasant. The train is very fast, very comfortable, and yes, a bit expensive. You’ll want to book your tickets for this leg of the trip ahead of time. You can print these tickets at home (you’ll want it to show a bar code) or at the station, using one of the many TrenItalia kiosks. At the time of our visit, tickets for this leg of the flight were approximately €25 each.
Once at the Pompeii stop, you’ll see a line of food stalls, as well as a small cafe and vending machines. Pick up some water if you need some. Tickets for entry to the Pompeii ruins are just a few yards away, at the official ticketing booth. Don’t buy at the train station…this is a scam. There’s another entrance by Pompeii’s amphitheater, for those with tickets bought online. The ticket line is sometimes long, but it moves pretty fast. This is a good time to eat a quick snack.
There are also audio guides for 5 euros each. We picked these up, and while the audio program has some flaws, we still felt it to be money well-spent. First, the flaws: the locations where you can listen to information are numbered, but they’re pretty haphazard (don’t expect it to go numerically very often). Also, many descriptions instruct the user to ‘step inside’ to see certain artifacts or architecture, or to turn down this or that hallway. In reality, many of the dwellings in Pompeii are gated to the public. You can look in, but not step in (there are exceptions I’ll describe below). All this said, if you go with the flow and listen as you wish (and as you see numbers), you’ll learn a lot. We really liked the actual information presented. It was interesting to kids, too.
Once in the Pompeii ruins, visitors are left to their own devices to wander at will. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to have the freedom to explore on one’s own, in whatever direction desired, but it can also mean you’ll miss things. There are maps available, but they’re not terribly user-friendly. It’s best to enter and make your own path, listening as you go. Depending on which entrance you come through, you’ll either be near the basilica (meeting space) and forum by the main Porta Marina entrance, or by the amphitheater. Either way, here’s what not to miss:
Pompeii with kids:
In the amphitheater area, Piazza Anfiteatro,look through this entertainment space, then enter the wooden pyramid building that houses the molds of human remains, discovered by archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli in 1863. Keep in mind, these plaster ‘people’ are neither replicas or remains…Fiorelli made casts of the empty spaces they’d left behind, capturing their positions at time of death. It’s very sobering, and young kids may not be ready for it.
The Palestra Grande is nearby, as well as the domus of Marcus Lucrezius Fonto, both of which help tell the story of the daily lives of those who inhabited them and used them. The main street through Pompeii is probably the via dell’Abbondanza, which will link you with the forum side of the ruins. On this side, you’ll want to see the public bathhouses, the temples (what’s left of them) and basilica, and the simpler buildings that housed ‘cafeteria’ counters, sporting arenas, and more modest homes. In this area, we only had access to the bathhouses for interior entry.
It’s also very interesting to simply walk the streets. You can learn about the city’s water systems, traffic systems, and other public works by listening to the extra materials in the audio guide (you’ll be prompted to these after listening to numbered entries). Don’t skip these…they’re among the most interesting. You’ll see the indentions of chariot wheels in the stone streets, and learn about the ‘crosswalks’ of Pompeii. Certainly, the quality of life was generally high.
If you go:
- Be sure to allow enough time. We had three hours, and it wasn’t enough. Grab a painfully early train from Rome if you’re making it a day trip, or go in summer when the ruins are open longer per day. While we were happy to do this in one day, we wished we had more time.
- Pack a lunch if you can. The cafeteria onsite is overpriced and not very good (no huge surprise here), and the lines can get long, cutting into your time in the ruins. It’s permitted to picnic just about anywhere along the roads. There IS a size limit on day packs, but if you have a large bag with lunch, you can keep it at the bag check and retrieve it any time. While mildly inconvenient, I believe going back for it would take less time than we wasted in lunch lines.
- Validate your metro tickets from Naples to Pompeii. You;ll see the green or yellow validation machines in the station.
Hours and pricing:
Tickets are €20 per adults at the time of our visit. Kids 18 and under are free. If you have tall teens like I do, have them bring an ID. We were asked at several locations in Italy to show ID for free admission. The hours are as follows:
1st April – 31st October: daily from 8.30 am to 7.30 pm (admission closes at 6 pm)
1st November – 31st March: daily from 8.30 am to 5 pm (admission closes at 3.30 pm)
For the entrance to Porta Marina and Piazza Esedra:
Circumvesuviana Naples-Sorrento (Pompei Villa dei Misteri Stop)
For the entrance to Piazza Anfiteatro:
Circumvesuviana Naples-Poggiomarino (Pompei Santuario Stop)
FS (Italian railways) Naples – Salerno (Pompei Stop)
Have you been to Pompeii with kids? What was your favorite part?