I remember learning about Pompeii and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in school as a child. As someone who’s always had a fascination with history and ancient civilisations, I knew that one day I would find my way there.
My previous visit to Italy back in 2012 saw me walking the streets of Milan, Florence, Siena, Verona and Venice, but I didn’t make it any further south, much to my regret. So this year, when I decided to finally tick Rome off my bucket list, I just knew my chance to see Pompeii had come. I scheduled an extra day into my trip just so I could make the journey down to the ancient ruins.
There are many tours offering trips to Pompeii on a day trip from Rome, but it’s actually really simple (and much cheaper) to do it by yourself.
The three-hour train ride to Naples flies by surprisingly quickly. Rolling hills and green fields slowly give way to mountain tunnels. About an hour from Naples, I caught my first glimpse of the sea, the morning light sparkling on the blue waters of the Mediterranean. Once you get to Naples it’s a second, albeit much shorter, train ride out to Pompeii and Herculaneum. For a day trip you really need to choose one of the two ruined towns…it was an easy choice for me.
Arriving at the station at Pompeii, I could feel my excitement growing. It’s not often a childhood dream comes true. After several days of rain, the sun had decided to show its face, and I actually worried about getting sunburned (yes, in March. I’m Irish, it happens). Ticket bought, tour guides politely but firmly declined, I went through the turnstyle, entering the ruins. Oh. My. God.
Pompeii is exactly how I imagined it would be. Uneven streets, those roofless houses, broken columns…it’s incredible to see the damage the volcano wrought, but also to see how much survived. Hundreds of storage jars, pots and coins sit on shelves in the granary alongside a few of those famous casts of the unfortunate inhabitants, including a dog, its limbs twisted in its final resting pose. It’s sobering and fascinating all at once.
This is more than a tourist site – it’s an entire city. This means kilometres of streets to wander, and very sore feet at the other end. The most well-known sections are labelled on a handy map, with a free booklet giving basic information on many of the houses and buildings you pass. There’s no way to see everything Pompeii has to divulge in one day, but it is possible to hit the main attractions if you ignore those aching legs.
My favourite sites in Pompeii would have to be the amphitheatre, the House of Mysteries, House of the Faun and the Forum. Oh, and every floor mosaic in the city – seriously, those old Pompeiians knew their stuff when it came to floor decor. And if you’re in need of a good, childish giggle, head to the House of the Vettii and check out the painting of Priapus to the right of the door. The people of the Roman Empire were no prudes, that’s for sure.
Almost 2000 years have passed since Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum were destroyed, but Mt. Vesuvius is ever-present. Standing in the Forum, the still-active volcano is visible through the ruins. Though clouds obscured the summit on the day of my visit, it still loomed over the landscape, a character in its own right in the tragic story of Pompeii.
I think March was the perfect time to visit Pompeii. The summer heat can be extremely intense, but at this time of year the winter chill had started to recede and the sun shone bright. Though the more popular parts of the city seemed a little crowded at times – especially when a school group passed loudly through, there were other times when I felt completely alone. Step off the main streets and discover a maze of empty alleys with their mismatched cobble stones and strangely peaceful atmosphere. Just watch your footing!
While a day trip from Rome to Pompeii is a long journey, every minute on the train was worth the amazing experience of walking through history. I highly recommend it to anyone, whether you’re in Rome for a few days, or spending longer in Italy – one of my favourite countries.
How to Visit Pompeii on a Day Trip:
- Trains to Naples depart from Rome’s main station, Roma Termini, throughout the day. The ticket price depends on the type of train – the newer, faster trains with less stops obviously cost more. If you’re really on a budget, catch the Regionale trains there and back – at €11.80 each way, it’s an absolute steal. Tickets on the faster trains can cost as much as €42 or more. I’d recommend getting the 7.56am train to really make the most of the day.
- Once you get to Napoli Centrale, follow the signs for the Circumvesuviana. Single tickets cost €2.60 and the same train takes you to both Herculaneum and Pompeii. However, be careful which train you get on, as the tracks separate at the stop just before Pompeii. I didn’t realise this and had to get off, return to the previous station, then wait for the right train for the last few minutes of the journey. Take the train marked ‘Sorrento’, or else make the change at Torre Annunziata – Oplonti.
- Entry into Pompeii and Herculaneum costs €11 per adult each. There are five ruin sites in total in the area, and you can get a ticket covering all for €20 that is valid for several days. So even if you want to visit just Pompeii and Herculaneum while you’re there, it would be worth buying the 5-site ticket.
- I spent about 4 hours in total walking around Pompeii, and was pretty happy with how much I saw, despite the very sore feet. You could spend days wandering the city and still not see everything, but for a day trip I felt this was a good amount of time, allowing plenty of time to get to Naples for an evening train back to Rome.
- There are toilets, water fountains and a first aid centre in the city, as well as a cafe with typical tourist attraction-type food, and prices I didn’t feel were too expensive. A restaurant is planned at some point in the future too, so you can make a whole day of it there if you aren’t rushing anywhere after.
- Not including food, by taking the longer-but-cheaper trains I managed to do the whole day trip from Rome to Pompeii for €40. Not bad at all!
Have you ever been to Pompeii? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Or are you adding it to your bucket list right this second?
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