Pompeii in a day: Simple tips for a successful visit

Lina Branter | 17/04/2019
Ruins of Pompeii. What to do in Pompeii
Ruins of Pompeii

Pompeii is one of the must-sees of Italy for a reason: when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, the bustling Roman city was quickly buried under ash and pumice, a terrible tragedy where most of the inhabitants did not escape. However, the ash preserved the city, providing us with an excellent snapshot of what Roman life was like at the time.

While Pompeii is a must-see, or maybe because of it, it’s also one of the most popular sites to visit in Italy. Read on for our expert Italy travel tips for what to bring, where to go and how to beat the crowds during your a Pompeii day trip.

Before you go

Dress for the cobblestones

Pompeii is an ancient city, and with ancient cities comes quaint but uneven cobblestones. Leave the dress shoes or the pumps at home and wear something you’ll be comfortable walking in on uneven terrain for a few hours.

Bring a water bottle, hat and sunscreen

There’s no shade in Pompeii; you’ll be in the sun for hours. Make sure to bring a water bottle (there are places you can fill it up again). Wear a good sun hat, or bring an umbrella to beat the sun. And take the time to lather up with sunscreen a few times during the day.

Carry only a small bag (large backpacks are not allowed on site)

Large bags over (15x15x7 inches) and bulky items are not allowed in the park. If you bring them, you will be asked to check them into the cloakroom for a fee.

Plan to spend at least three hours

The time you spend in Pompeii will be a good gauge of your level of historical nerdiness. But even the most amateur history buff will need to spend at least three hours visiting Pompeii. As I mentioned above, it was a city and there is much to see.

You might want to factor in at least one night in Naples to visit the National Archeological museum as a compliment to your Pompeii experience. Many of the artifacts excavated from the site are displayed there.

Food

There is a cafeteria inside the park, however it can get crowded and the food is, well... cafeteria food. You may have a better experience at a number of food stalls and restaurants in the modern city of Pompei Scavi-Villa de Misteri. Plan to stop for a meal before or after you enter the park, as you’re not allowed to come and go once you’re in. We recommend bringing a picnic into the park and use one of their eating areas.

Pompeii entrance fees and opening hours

  • A regular ticket to the park costs 15 Euros
  • To save time, buy your tickets beforehand online
  • From April 1 to October 31, the park opens at 8:30 on weekends and 9:00 on weekdays. It closes at 7:30 p.m. The last entrance is at 6:00 p.m.
  • Between November 1 and March 31 the park closes at 5 p.m.

Best time to visit Pompeii

Best season to visit Pompeii: Fall, winter and early spring, between November 1 and March 31

Best time of week to visit Pompeii: The highest tourist traffic in Pompeii is on Fridays and Saturdays, if you want to avoid crowds and long line-ups, try to visit the site from Monday to Thursday.

Best time of day: For the best possible, crowd-free experience, visit first thing in the morning before all the tourist buses and groups show up, or after 1 p.m. when the tours begin to leave.

Taking the train to Pompeii: the easiest way to visit

From Rome to Pompeii: The train between Rome and Pompeii takes about two hours. There are 12 trains that depart from Rome to the Trenitalia station near Pompeii everyday. From there you hop on the Regionale train to the Pompei Scavi-Villa Misteri station. 

From Naples to Pompeii: It’s a much shorter train ride from Naples — only 30 minutes (not to mention there’s really good pizza in Naples). There are eight daily trains that leave Naples for Pompeii. The train lets you off at the Pompei Scavi-Villa Misteri station which is only a short walk to the excavation. Learn more and book your tickets on ItaliaRail

Tourist Beware

You’ll find the same tourist scams at Pompeii as you would everywhere else. However, here are a couple you might want to pay special attention to.

Bad tour guides: Do not purchase a tour from one of the Pompeii guides outside the gates of Pompeii; they are overpriced, unofficial and not worth your money. The real tour guides are inside the gates, have official badges and a vast knowledge of the ruins.

Cabs in Naples: If a cab driver at the Port of Naples tries to convince you to pay an exorbitant price to take you to and from Pompeii, saying that it will actually cost you less and will be quicker, don’t believe them. Take the train. It’s faster and much, much cheaper.

The old Pay to Pose scam: If you see people dressed as Romans throughout the park and you want to take the requisite selfie with them, expect to pay them.

What to see in Pompeii: A very selective, random guide

The whole site is worth taking in but there are a few Pompeii points of interest you don’t want to miss besides the obvious amphitheatre, forum and baths.

Consider taking an official Pompeii tour guide to help you navigate the vastness of the site. It usually costs 15 Euros and you’ll get a knowledgeable and entertaining tour from a Pompeii-passionate guide.

The Plaster casts: Imagine ash spewing out of the nearby mountain covering a whole city full of people. Then imagine a couple of thousand years later, when during the excavation, plaster is poured over human remains, still in the positions of their deaths. The casts are mostly crouching in the fetal position, arms thrown over their bodies in a futile attempt to protect themselves. It is a visceral reminder of the tragedy that befell the city, bringing history to life in a particularly macabre way.

The Brothel: There were many brothels in ancient Pompeii but only one of them has survived. It consists of small sections with stone beds and some (ahem) risqué mosaics on the wall.

The Large Palaestra: The Pompei equivalent of the modern-day high school, the Palaestra was Pompeii’s learning and physical fitness center. A building with high walls and columns, there was a swimming pool in its center. It is now used as a museum for recovered artifacts.

House of the Faun: For an idea of how the wealthy lived in Pompeii visit the House of Faun, one of the largest private residences excavated. It gets its name from the small statue in the center of the fountain in front of the home.

Since you’re there already…

If you’re going to take the time to visit the amazing Pompeii, you might also want to stay an extra day for a hike up to Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that caused all the trouble in the first place. As well, the nearby Herculaneum site, though less famous, is also a well-preserved ancient Roman town that fell under the ashes of the volcano.