Mount Vesuvius is probably the most famous volcano in the world. School children across the world have read about it in their history textbooks for generations – the volcano that destroyed Pompeii!
(Some people, like me, even remember reading about it in their Latin textbooks… poor Caecilius.)
It’s safe… for now… and has become one of the most popular day trips from Naples. Climbing Mount Vesuvius – reaching the rim and staring down into the crater – is an incredible experience and doesn’t just put you in the mouth of nature’s power, it puts you in the centre of one of history’s most important events.
I’ve got more info soon about visiting Mount Vesuvius independently, but if you want to take a guided tour that also includes Pompeii, I would recommend this excellent day trip.
When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 and wiped about Pompeii (along with other nearby cities like Herculaneum), it killed up to 20,000 people. (We don’t know the exact number, but more than 1,500 bodies have been found.)
I think it’s important to remember that when you hike Mount Vesuvius today. Yes, it’s a fun tourist attraction and you should enjoy your day there. But this mountain is deadly. It’s killed before and it will kill again.
Why is Mount Vesuvius so important?
Mount Vesuvius is one of the most famous volcanoes in the world because its eruption in 79 AD destroyed the nearby cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum (which were also preserved, in a way).
It is the only volcano on mainland Europe to have erupted in the past century (most recently in 1944), and at least 600,000 people currently live in its danger zone.
Can you climb Mount Vesuvius?
Visitors can climb Mount Vesuvius and, in fact, it’s one of the most popular attractions near Naples. A road takes you most of the way to the top but the last kilometre to the crater rim needs to be done on foot (up a pretty steep incline!).
Is it safe to visit Mount Vesuvius?
Although it’s an active volcano, Mount Vesuvius is safe to visit because authorities can use technology to predict an eruption at least two weeks in advance. Don’t worry, there’ll be no surprise lava!
However, the trail to the top of Mount Vesuvius can be quite steep and uneven, so there is a slight risk of slipping (but that has nothing to do with it being a volcano).
It’s relatively easy to climb Mount Vesuvius, but there are a few little logistical challenges (it is Naples, after all!) as well as some physical ones towards the end of the journey.
It’s worth planning and booking ahead, and that’s what I want to run through with you now.
The history of Mount Vesuvius
Usually Vesuvius is discussed in the context of the eruption in 79 AD – a story of history and a natural disaster of the Ancient World.
It certainly was a massive event. The population of the surrounding towns that were destroyed was about 20,000 people and it’s assumed that many of them were killed (remember, they didn’t have cars to quickly drive away from the lava).
Exploring this part of the history of Vesuvius is best done by visiting Pompeii, where you’ll see the direct impact of the eruption, including the casts of the people who were killed suddenly in the city.
But it’s also important to note that Mount Vesuvius is still active and one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
Since Pompeii was destroyed by Vesuvius, there have been dozens more eruptions. We don’t know the exact number because the historical records of ancient time are incomplete, but the best estimate is about 40 times in the past 2000 years.
In fact, Mount Vesuvius is the only volcano to have erupted in Europe in the past century, most recently in 1944. In its most dramatic volcanic event of the 20th century, lava flowed over the rim and huge clouds billowed into the air – all of it clearly visible from Naples.
It makes you stop for a moment and wonder whether climbing Mount Vesuvius really is a good idea?
Climbing Mount Vesuvius
I think about that as I walk up the The Great Cono trail to the crater (this is the main one that almost everybody uses from the end of the sealed road).
The views out from here stretch right across the Bay of Naples and over the city itself.
It makes me feel slightly insignificant in the vastness of it all, until I’m jolted back to the present moment when I see a sign warning of rock slides. I focus on where I am and where I’m walking.
Eventually I get to the summit of Vesuvius and I can look down into the crater. All seems quiet and calm now – no lava, no gas. But the cracks along the inside are reminders of the force that has spewed out of here in the past.
After walking further along the top of the mountain, with the crater of the volcano down to one side, I can look over to the ruins of Pompeii. Thousands of people died down there when this volcano erupted – but today, I have conquered it.
I stand proudly on top of Vesuvius and I don’t let it scare me. Nature may be much more powerful than I am, but I can still be above it all.
The sense of pride at the top of Vesuvius is coupled with a sense of achievement. Getting to the top is not easy – physically or logistically – but I like to think that adds to the reward.
If you are interested in hiking Mount Vesuvius, then there’s some information you’ll need to know.
Regardless of which form of transport you use to arrive (and I’ll discuss that shortly), you’re going to have to climb up the last bit yourself. The trail is wide and relatively safe – but it is longer and steeper than you might expect.
Winding up the side of the volcano in switchbacks initially, the path then follows uphill around the edge until you reach the edge of the crater.
This first bit is about 800 metres long but because of the incline, it will probably take you between 20-30 minutes. You will need a moderate degree of fitness and it may take you longer if you’re not used to hiking uphill.
Once you’re at the top, the path continues for about 800 metres along some of the rim of the crater, You can’t go the whole way around, but this gives you the opportunity to get some different perspectives.
At the end of this trail, there is a small cafe where you can get a drink or something to eat (it probably won’t shock you to hear it’s quite expensive, though, so I would recommend at least bringing your own water with you).
In total, the hike to the top of Mount Vesuvius is about 3.5 kilometres, with an elevation of about 170 metres.
It’s not super easy and if you’re not fit, you’ll find yourself out of breath at some points. But it’s also not particularly hard, considering you’re climbing a volcano, and the average person will be able to do it.
Tours to Mount Vesuvius
Before you start to climb Mount Vesuvius, you need to get to the starting point of the trail, which is at an elevation of about 1000 metres.
If you have a car, you can drive. And there are bus transfers too. I’ll talk about both of them in a moment.
But the transport logistics are a little tricky and can be time consuming, so for many visitors to Naples or the Amalfi Coast with limited time, a tour may be the best option – especially if you want to combine it with a visit to Pompeii at the same time.
If you’re coming from Naples, I would recommend this half-day trip to Mount Vesuvius.
If you’re coming from Pompeii, I would suggest this tour to Vesuvius direct from the archaeological site.
And if you want all the transport covered for both sites, I would suggest this combined trip to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius from Naples or Sorrento.
There are some other options – from Naples and other places like Rome and the Amalfi Coast – and I’ve put them here for you:
It’s also worth mentioning that you can get a private tour if there’s a group of you. This private tour, for example, is a great option and also includes Pompeii.
Visiting Mount Vesuvius
Since the pandemic, you need to book your tickets for Mount Vesuvius in advance and you need to choose a specific timeslot for your visit.
Although there are lots of tickets and availability, the timeslots definitely start to book out closer to the day, so I would recommend doing this as early as possible. You can see what’s available and buy them here.
You can drive yourself up Vesuvius but you will have to leave your car at the lower parking lot (only buses and other tours can use the higher parking lot) and that will add another 30 minutes of walking along the road to your trip.
Also, it’s well worth booking your car parking spot in advance, which you can do here.
If you want to use public transport to get to Mount Vesuvius, the best option is to catch the Vesuvio Express bus from the Ercolano Scavi station of the Circumvesuviana train.
I would definitely recommend booking the Vesuvio Express in advance, because it also includes your time entry tickets to Mount Vesuvius.
One advantage with doing it this way is that you can often get tickets for a timeslot that might be booked out otherwise!
To get to the station, you can catch the Circumvesuviana train, which runs between central Naples and Salerno. Note, though, it’s a pretty awful train (dirty, unsafe, crowded).
Once the Vesuvio Express driver drops you off, you’ll have between 1.5 – 2 hours until you need to come back and meet the bus. This is enough time to walk up, explore the edge of the crater a bit (in my case, also have a beer) and then walk back down.
Where is Mount Vesuvius?
Mount Vesuvius overlooks the Bay of Naples in southern Italy and is about halfway between Naples and the start of the Amalfi Coast (each about 14 km away).
You can see Mount Vesuvius on a map here.
How do you get to Mount Vesuvius?
If you’re coming by car, it’s possible to drive almost all the way to the top. However, parking is very limited and the car park is about one kilometre from the entrance. It costs €6 per car and you should book in advance here.
By public transport, I would recommend catching the Circumvesuviana train from either Naples or Sorrento to Ercolano Scavi station. From here, you need to take the Vesuvio Express bus to Mount Vesuvius. It has ten departures throughout the day and you should book in advance (including your entry ticket). Check the timetable and book here.
When is Mount Vesuvius open?
Mount Vesuvius is open at the following times throughout the year:
Jan – Feb: 09:00 – 15:00
March: 09:00 – 16:00
April – June: 09:00 – 17:00
July – August: 09:00 – 18:00
September: 09:00 – 17:00
October: 09:00 – 16:00
Nov – Dec: 09:00 – 15:00
How much does it cost to visit Mount Vesuvius?
Since the pandemic, tickets to Mount Vesuvius need to be booked in advance for a specific time slot. If you’ve booked transport with Vesuvio Express, entry is probably included, otherwise you can book online here.
Because you have to book online, the price includes an extra booking fee (crazy, right?!). The prices are:
Full price: €11.68
Children under 6 are free.
Are there tours to Mount Vesuvius?
Yes, there are quite a few tours to Mount Vesuvius, and you may find it’s much easier to take one than organise the transport yourself – especially if you want to combine it with a visit to Pompeii.
If you’re coming from Naples, I would recommend this half-day trip to Mount Vesuvius. If you’re coming from Pompeii, I recommend this tour to Vesuvius, and I would suggest this combined trip to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius from Naples or Sorrento.
The other option you might consider is hiking all the way from the bottom of Mount Vesuvius to the top. Let me give you one bit of advice about that – don’t do it!
Although there is technically a path marked within the Vesuvius National Park, it usually has locked gates blocking the way. The only guaranteed trail is the road that all the cars and buses go up and that’s really long and pretty dangerous.
Each was exciting in their own way… but none was as symbolic as Mount Vesuvius. The physical exertion is not the hardest of them all but it means so much more to conquer this piece of history.
When you combine it with a visit to Pompeii, you see the power of the intersection between nature and humanity.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for some good accommodation options for your time in Naples, I’ve got some tips here:
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN NAPLES
I’ve got lots of tips about where to stay in Naples in another article, or have a look at some of the highlights below.
The bunk beds are fairly standard, but Tric Trac Hostel has a fun modern feel and a great breakfast.
A large apartment with a cool design, Casa Calu makes a great base if you’re staying a while
Like an oasis in the middle of the city, Costantinopoli 104 is set within a gorgeous 19th-century villa with a pool.
It doesn’t get much more luxurious than the Britannique Hotel, with fabulous suites and panoramic views.