Visiting Pompeii, the ancient Roman city in southern Italy that was destroyed by a volcano, is on a lot of people’s travel bucket lists – it had been on mine since I was little!
Before I visited Pompeii I felt quite overwhelmed about the best way to visit, so I did a ton of research. Here’s the advice I found most useful on how to visit Pompeii, along with some tips on how to climb Vesuvius.
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First, some basics about your trip to Pompeii.
Where is Pompeii?
Pompeii is in the Campania region of southern Italy, 15 miles south of Naples and 150 miles south of Rome. It’s 16 miles from the lovely resort town of Sorrento and 22 miles from Positano, on the Amalfi coast.
Rather confusingly, the archaeological site of Pompeii (you might see it referred to as Parco Archeologico di Pompei or Pompei Scavi on maps) is right next to a modern town called Pompei (with one “i”).
The volcano that destroyed the ancient city, Mount Vesuvius, is still active, so the people living in the modern town still live with the risk of another eruption. You can see the volcano towering above the landscape from all over the area.
What happened at Pompeii?
In AD79, Mount Vesuvius erupted. The force of the explosion blew the entire top of the mountain off, sending rocks, ash and dust over 10 miles into the sky. The rocks and ash rained down on Pompeii for nearly a full day. Most residents had already fled the city but around 2,000 people (around a tenth of the population) stayed behind.
When, finally, a flood of thick volcanic ash, poisonous gases and superheated rock hit Pompeii at nearly 100 miles an hour, the city was buried underneath millions of tonnes of volcanic debris.
The victims’ bodies decomposed where they’d died, leaving body-shaped spaces in the hardened ash. Almost 2000 years later, archaeologists were able to pour plaster into these spaces, revealing the last moments of the victims and creating Pompeii’s famous body casts.
Pompeii has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997 as a joint listing with nearby Herculaneum and the Villa Opolontis at Torre Annunziata.
If you’re planning to go to Herculaneum as well as visiting Pompeii (and you should), you can buy the Campania Artecard which will get you into both sites (plus a number of other sightseeing spots in the area) over the course of your visit.
There’s a free iPhone and Android app called My Pompeii which will allow you to scan your ticket and then guide you around the site, although some app reviews, particularly on Android suggest that it doesn’t work that well.
Tips for your visit to Pompeii
1. How to get to Pompeii
The best way to get to Pompeii from Naples or Sorrento is by the local train, called the Circumvesuviana. The best station for the ruins is Pompei Scavi – Villa Dei Misteri train station, on the railway line from Naples to Sorrento.
The train can be very busy and has a reputation for pickpocketing but there’s no reason to be scared. Keep your bag close and your wits about you and it’s perfectly safe and convenient.
Pompei Scavi station is less than five minutes’ walk from the Porta Marina main entrance to the ruins.
Pompeii from Sorrento
If you’re travelling from Sorrento or one of the other resorts along the coast, the easiest and cheapest way to get to Pompeii is to take the Circumvesuviana local train to the ruins. From Sorrento, the train takes between 25 and 30 minutes, which is almost certainly going to be quicker than driving or taking a taxi.
Pompeii from Naples city centre
Visiting Pompeii from Naples is an easy day trip, and Napoli’s great rail connections make the train the easiest way to get to the ruins.
I recommend catching the train from Porta Nolana station. Since Porta Nolana is the start of the Circumvesuviana line, you’ve got a better chance of getting a seat on what can be very busy trains. Get on a train that’s headed for Sorrento and get off at Pompei Scavi – Villa Dei Misteri.
Pompeii from Naples cruise port (Stazione Marittima)
If you’re arriving in Naples on a cruise ship, you’re likely to dock at Stazione Marittima. From there, you could walk the 1.2 miles to Porta Nolana station on the Circumvesuviana line. If you’d rather take a bus, the airport bus leaves from outside Stazione Marittima and stops outside Naples Centrale station for the Circumvesuviana line to Pompei Scavi – Villa Dei Misteri.
If you’d prefer a simpler option for your trip and not rely on public transport, there are shore excursion options.
If you’re planning to drive to Pompeii, it’s worth knowing that there are no official Pompeii car parks, but there are lots of places to park around Porta Marina and between the Porta Marina and Piazza Esedra entrances. One of the most recommended is Pompei Parking Zeus near Porta Marina.
2. Don’t take a big bag into the ruins
The level of strictness at Pompeii varies a lot but it’s best to assume that the staff won’t allow you to take large bags or luggage into the ruins. Anything above 30cm wide, 30cm tall and 15cm wide isn’t allowed – as a rough guide that’s a little bit smaller than the size you’d be allowed as a free bag on a budget airline.
As well as being for security, it’s also to reduce damage to the ruins themselves from people rubbing against the walls with their bags. There were a small number of luggage lockers at the entrance when I visited but it’s best to leave bulky bags at your accommodation.
Even if you are allowed to take your bag inside, the massive size of the site means that trying to explore while carrying heavy luggage isn’t a great idea, and it’ll restrict you from getting inside some of the most famous buildings. The Lupanar (brothel) house with its famous wall paintings is a particularly tight squeeze.
3. Do take a water bottle
There are drinking water taps all the way along the main thoroughfare where you can refill your bottle with safe drinking water for free. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and it can be very hot. As a bonus, many of the taps are set above Roman troughs so you’ll get to feel a little bit like a real Roman.
4. Don’t worry about food and drink (but do bring snacks)
There are cafes, ice cream/drinks stands and souvenir shops outside all three entrances to the site, but there’s also a reasonably priced cafeteria with a good variety of sandwiches, pizza slices, salads and snacks inside the ruins, just behind the Forum. There are toilets upstairs.
You can also take your own food and drink into Pompeii, which is a good thing when the sheer scale of the place might mean you’re nowhere near the cafeteria when you get hungry.
Even if you don’t bring a packed lunch, it’s a good idea to take a snack or two, especially if you’re planning on spending the whole day in the ruins.
5. Don’t take one of the guided tours touted outside the ruins
– although they’re cheaper than the official guides they’re much larger groups (30+ people compared to around 15). There’s also a little office just outside the train station with an official-looking sign offering tickets – ignore it, the actual official ticket office is inside the gate.
If you’re visiting Pompeii at a busy time it may be a good idea to buy your tickets in advance. While the queue at the ticket office was relatively short when we visited in April, it can get very busy.
Visitor numbers are already capped at 15,000 on the monthly free entry Sundays and there’s talk of restricting the number of people who can go inside the archaeological site on normal days too in order to protect the delicate site for the future. Buying your ticket for Pompeii online means you’re guaranteed to get in. You can buy a maximum of 5 tickets in each transaction.
6. Do take a guided tour of Pompeii
Official Pompeii tourist guides tout as you’re queuing for tickets *inside* the gate at Porta Marina and Piazza Esedra, between 9am and 2pm. They wear a big official pass around their necks and offer tours in several languages. Tours tend to set off when enough people have gathered.
When we got in we were glad we’d gone on a tour as the ruins are huge and confusing with little signage – we wouldn’t have fully appreciated them even with an audio guide and definitely not with just the map and the guidebook.
If you want to be certain of getting on a tour in your language and at the right time, or if you want a private guide for your group you can book a tour in advance.
Most of the Pompeii tours that you can book in advance will include entry tickets. This small group tour with an archaeologist has great reviews and includes skip-the-line entry tickets.
We had a great guide who’d been a little boy when Vesuvius last erupted in 1944 and he really helped bring the city to life for us. You’ll move quickly and see a lot in two hours, but…
7. …don’t expect to see even the highlights of Pompeii in a couple of hours
With a 2 hour tour and 2-3 hours on your own you can get a taste for the city but Pompeii is easily worth a full day.
We arrived at around 10.30am and didn’t leave until closing time. The main sights are quite far from each other, particularly the larger amphitheatre and the Garden of the Fugitives where the main group of bodies are, and walking on the uneven roads can make distances feel even further.
8. Do get a map of the Pompeii site
While you’re at the entrance, do pick up one of the free maps of the Pompeii site. There’s nothing else really to orientate you when you’re in the ruins and the grid system means it’s easy to get lost.
9. Do wear good shoes
The roads are dusty and uneven underfoot and some of the stones are slippy so you’ll want something comfortable with decent grip. Pompeii is definitely not the place for heels. If you wear sandals, expect your feet to be absolutely filthy when you leave!
10. Do protect yourself from the sun
On sunny days, take a hat, sunscreen and some kind of cover-up. There’s very little shade throughout much of Pompeii (as most of the buildings don’t have a roof!), and the white stone can mean lots of reflected light. An umbrella or parasol could be a good idea. The last time I visited I didn’t see anywhere to buy sunscreen inside the site.
Like many places, summer weather in this part of Italy is becoming increasingly hot – during summer 2023 temperatures at Pompeii hit 40° celsius (104° Fahrenheit). I’d recommend trying to plan your trip to Pompeii to avoid heatwaves, but if it’s unavoidable, then consider getting to the site as soon as it opens so you can see as much as possible during the coolest hours of the day.
11. Do take the time to get some background before your trip
The more you can read up about Pompeii, the more you’ll get out of your visit. I watched a BBC documentary on YouTube and read Robert Harris’s novel Pompeii before we left – not academic at all but it really helped me make sense of what had happened here when Vesuvius erupted. If you want a more in-depth discussion of the myths around Pompeii and how people may have actually lived, Mary Beard’s book Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town is excellent and easy to read.
The official, free Pompeii guide book and map that you get at the site (sometimes known as the red book) has recently been put online as a PDF. Even if you plan to take a guided tour (and you should), it’d be useful to read the guide book in advance so you can make your own hit list of places you want to visit in Pompeii after the end of the tour.
12. Do get a different perspective
by visiting Herculaneum, a few stops along the Circumvesuviana train line from Pompeii and another easy trip from Naples or Sorrento. Herculaneum was also destroyed when Vesuvius erupted, but it’s much quieter than Pompeii. Herculaneum is also much better preserved and many of the buildings still have their upper storey intact.
The tragedy wrought by the eruption feels even more immediate at Herculaneum – by the Roman shoreline are boat houses full of the skeletons of the people who tried to shelter there.
13. Do climb Mount Vesuvius
Visiting Pompeii is unmissable, but it’s an awe-inspiring experience to go to the top of Mount Vesuvius and see (and smell) the smoke that still rises up from the crater.
I chose to take a bus transfer from Ercolano train station to Vesuvius with Vesuvio Express, which was a really easy way to get there. You can book tickets for Vesuvio Express online.
From the upper car park it’s about a mile to Vesuvius’s crater, all uphill. It’s a fairly shallow gradient but it’s fine, dusty gravel underfoot so can be tough going. If it would help, you can take a walking stick from one of the guys at the entrance in return for a tip.
Wear shoes not sandals but don’t do what I did and wear your new white trainers – they’ll be covered in red Vesuvius dust and pretty much ruined by the time you get back!
There are a couple of souvenir shops which sell drinks and basic snacks, and another at the crater. When I visited Vesuvius there weren’t any public toilets anywhere on the volcano, and after overdoing it on hydration for the climb I ended up begging the shop at the car park to be allowed to use their (non-flushing!) toilet. Recent visitors say if you buy something at the shop or pay 1 euro, they’ll let you use their toilet, but that you might still have to hold your nose.
At the top, walk around the crater at least until you get to a jaggedy part with some steps as the crater looks different from different viewpoints. Try to spot Capri and Ischia on the horizon and Pompeii below and look out for puffs of sulphury-smelling smoke to remind you that it’s still an active volcano!
Our visit to Vesuvius took around 4 hours from leaving Ercolano station to returning back to Ercolano.
14. Make sure you give yourself enough time
There are lots of tours that let you visit Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius and Herculaneum in one day, but that seems very rushed to me.
We did it in two days – one full day for Pompeii and another where we visited Vesuvius in the morning and Herculaneum in the afternoon (travelling from Sorrento), and that felt about right to us.
The two archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum are both very moving (not least because of the body casts at Pompeii and the skeletons at Herculaneum) and for me it was worth taking some extra time so it wasn’t too overwhelming.
Visiting Pompeii in 2024
The information below is correct as of 17 November 2023.
Pompeii opening times in late 2023 and 2024
From 1 November 2023 to 31 March 2024, Pompeii is open Monday to Sunday, 9am to 5pm, with the last entry at 3.30pm. Access to some houses is restricted after 4.15pm.
In the summer months (1 April until 31 October 2024) the site is open 9am to 7pm, with the last entry at 5.30pm. Access to some houses is restricted after 6pm.
Pompeii is closed on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and sometimes on May Day. If the site is going to be open on May 1, the authorities tend to announce it only a week or two in advance.
House of the Day
In summer 2023, a new “House of the Day” programme began, and it’s continued into the colder months. This programme gives you the chance to visit a house that isn’t normally open to the public. You can see the latest schedule on the Pompeii website.
How to buy tickets for Pompeii
For your trip to Pompeii you can either book your official Pompeii tickets online or go to the ticket offices at Porta Marina, Piazza Anfiteatro and Piazza Esedra. There was a small queue when I visited in mid April so booking online could be a good idea during the hot summer months.
Tickets for the ruins cost €22.00 for an adult ticket for Pompeii and the surrounding villas, and €18.00 just for Pompeii. There’s a €2 booking fee for booking online.
Most guided tours will include a skip the line ticket.
Visiting Pompeii is free on the first Sunday of every month but it does get very busy! You can avoid the queues for free Pompeii tickets by booking them online.
How to visit Pompeii from Rome
It’s possible to visit Pompeii on a self-guided day trip from Rome thanks to Italy’s amazing high-speed trains. If you choose the fastest train from Rome Termini to Naples Centrale you’ll be there in 1 hour 13 minutes. Tickets are very reasonably priced if you book in advance. From Naples, take the local Circumvesuviana train to Pompei Scavi – Villa Dei Misteri.
As of July 2023, there’s a new direct Frecciarossa fast train service between Rome and the modern town of Pompei. The special train runs on the third Sunday of each month.
When to visit Pompeii
Visiting Pompeii in spring
March, April and May can be the best time to visit Pompeii and all the other attractions in the area. March can be a little chilly with a few days of rain, but cooler temperatures are good for exploring the ruins.
Pompeii is open as normal on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, which in 2024 falls at the very end of March (Easter Sunday is March 31 2024). Trains and buses to Pompeii will also be running but to a holiday schedule with reduced frequency.
I visited Pompeii, Vesuvius and Herculaneum in mid April and thought it was the perfect time to take a trip to this part of Italy. The weather was warm and sunny but not too hot, and at Herculaneum in particular the spring flowers were beautiful. Summer opening hours start on April 1, giving you an extra two hours to explore (I needed it!).
Visiting Pompeii in summer
If you visit Pompeii in June, July or August, you’ll need to prepare for high temperatures, but there are some interesting extra events during the summer that could make summer the best time for you to visit the ruins of Pompeii.
During June and July, there are often theatrical and music performances in the Roman Teatro Grande or occasionally in the Amphitheatre.
Long, warm summer evenings allow for other events too, including evening walks, concerts and theatrical performances.
If you’re visiting Pompeii in early May, be aware that May 1 is officially one of the few days that Pompeii is closed, but that’s by no means set in stone. In 2023 the authorities decided to open on May 1 after all, with less than two week’s notice.
Visiting Pompeii in autumn
The autumn or early winter months of September, October and November can still be good months to visit Pompeii. September and October are both still warm and sunny, and the summer opening hours at Pompeii last until the end of October.
In November you can expect more rain in the bay of Naples and cooler, but still comfortable temperatures.
Visiting Pompeii in winter
December, January and February are the low season for tourism in the Bay of Naples, and if you visit during this time you should find the archaeological sites quieter than normal.
If you’re staying anywhere other than Naples you may find that shops and restaurants that cater mainly for tourists are closed for the winter, but prices are cheaper in the ones that stay open. Christmas in Naples looks absolutely magical, with lots of festive lights and crib displays.
If you’re hoping to climb Mount Vesuvius during your trip to Pompeii then it may be better to come during the slightly warmer months as bad weather or even occasional snow can make the hike up to the top hazardous.
Facilities at Pompeii
Toilets and drinking water are available inside the site. There’s a cafeteria near the Forum but it’s a good idea to take your own snacks, especially since the site is so large and you might be a long way from the cafeteria when you get hungry.
Which entrance to use for Pompeii
There are three entrance gates for Pompeii, all with a range of facilities:
- At the Porta Marina entrance (closest to the Pompei Scavi – Villa Dei Misteri train station where trains from Sorrento stop) there’s a ticket office, toilets and left luggage lockers.
- At Piazza Esedra, a little further along from Porta Marina from the station, there is a bookshop and toilets. There’s a small police station just outside the Piazza Esedra entrance.
- At the Porta Anfiteatro entrance (closest to the modern town of Pompei) there’s an ATM, bookshop, toilets and left luggage facilities.
Where should I stay for visiting Pompeii?
If you’re planning a trip to Pompeii, a big decision is where to stay. Most people choose to either stay in Naples or Sorrento when visiting Pompeii – both places have lots to do and are roughly the same distance from the ruins but they offer really different vacation experiences.
Since it’s such a big part of what to know before visiting Pompeii, I’ve put together another post with the best places to stay to visit Pompeii along with advice on areas, how to get to Pompeii from each place and what to expect.
If you found this guide to visiting Pompeii useful, you might like these other posts about places to visit in the Bay of Naples.
- Where to stay when you visit Pompeii
- How to visit Herculaneum, the “other Pompeii”
- Which is better, Pompeii or Herculaneum?
- Great day trips from Sorrento
- Things to do in Ischia, an alternative to Capri
- Amazing Roman ruins to visit
I hope you’ve found this guide to visiting Pompeii useful. If you have any tips for visiting Pompeii, please let me know in the comments.