The best way to visit Pompeii

When the ancient city of Pompeii was struck by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, it was simultaneously destroyed and protected under the ash.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


How to visit Pompeii

Visiting Pompeii today is like stepping back in time to a Roman city 2000 years ago, where you can walk the streets and explore the temples and theatres.

But it's an enormous archaeological site and there's lots to know about a Pompeii day trip before you go. I would recommend a bit of planning.

Normally, time passes.

In most cases, a city evolves as the generations follow each other, the next leaving their mark on top of the previous.

Sometimes a city is abandoned, as history has shown us countless times. The elements then get their chance to mould what is left, gradually stripping away what was made by man and covering it with nature.

And this is why visiting Pompeii is so special. Frozen in time, it neither evolved nor was abandoned. What it was in 79 AD is what it also became. Except, of course, without life.

Self Guided Tour of Pompeii

Is a city still a city if it has no life? Is a city defined by the buildings and the urban layout or is it defined by the people who move throughout hit?

When Mount Vesuvius erupted, did it preserve Pompeii or did it destroy it? I wonder whether it can do both.

When was Pompeii destroyed?

Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, spewing out gases, molten rock, and ashes that covered the city of Pompeii. Historians have never known the exact date of the eruption for sure, although the best current estimate is the last week of October.

Why is Pompeii important?

Although an entire city being wiped out by a volcano would have made Pompeii important regardless, the reason we hear so much about it is because the city’s infrastructure was so well preserved under the ash for centuries. The archaeological site of Pompeii has given historians one of the best looks into life during the Roman Era.

Is it easy to visit Pompeii?

The site of Pompeii has become a hugely popular tourist attraction and it is easy to visit, in the sense that you can just buy a ticket and go in. But the site is enormous so it can be difficult to see everything and find your way around. There is also not much shade or many places to rest.

As I walk through the streets of Pompeii, almost 2000 years after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, I think about this question.

I’ve been to a lot of ancient sites in my travels, a lot of ruins, but this is different. Never before has something that’s been struck by such disaster felt so complete.

Visiting Pompeii is certainly a remarkable experience and one of the best day trips from Naples.

Self Guided Tour of Pompeii

Remember, the Pompeii ruins were once a city and they’re spread out over an enormous area. It can take a long time to walk through and see everything.

I would definitely recommend a guided tour of Pompeii – partly because the guide will take you to the highlights, but also because they’ll offer the context you need to appreciate it properly.

If you need a suggestion, I would recommend either this tour with an archaeologist, or there is also this tour that includes Mount Vesuvius.

There are some other great options here that I would also recommend:

Even with a guided tour of Pompeii, it’s unlikely you will be able to see everything properly in just one visit.

What will definitely help is having a bit of an understanding about the history and the main features at Pompeii.

The story of Pompeii

In the time before the eruption, in the first century AD, Pompeii was a thriving city.

It had more than 10,000 inhabitants and it was a wealthy centre because of the fertile agricultural land around it. Culturally, it was influenced by the neighbouring Greeks and Etruscans and was known for its art and architecture.

After Pompeii fell under the control of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century BC, it became a prosperous trading city and popular seaside resort for Romans.

As we know, though, the volcano that gives the rich land takes away with the other hand. Despite earthquakes and tremors in the years leading up to the major eruption, many people didn’t move away from Pompeii.

On that fateful day in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted unexpectedly and many people weren’t able to flee from the volcano in time.

Those who remained were suffocated by toxic gases and buried under metres of volcanic ash.

Self Guided Tour of Pompeii

It’s this ash that I can thank for what I am seeing today. It protected Pompeii from the moisture and the air that would normally damage a city.

The ancient city stayed underground, preserved for centuries until it was rediscovered in 1599 and then excavated properly for the first time in 1748.

Imagine what opening that time capsule for the first time must have been like.

Self Guided Tour of Pompeii

Pompeii was an enormous city and although there have been many years of archaeological work here, much of the urban area is still buried underground.

In fact, the best estimate is that about 70 per cent is still to be excavated!

The best things to see at Pompeii

Before starting, it’s important to know that there are two main entrances to Pompeii. There’s the Porta Marina entrance (and adjacent Piazza Esedra) at the southwest of the site, and the Piazza Anfiteatro entrance at the southeast.

Porta Marina is the main entrance and it’s where you can get an audioguide. It’s also closest to the main attractions in Pompeii. However, this makes it much busier and the queues for tickets can be long during busy periods.

Self Guided Tour of Pompeii

I would actually recommend using the other entrance at Piazza Anfiteatro. It’s much quieter and you’ll get in faster.

Also, it is close to the Trenitalia station called Pompeii, which is a much nicer way to travel than the Circumvesuviana line (I’ll explain more about that soon too).

Either way, it will save you time if you buy your ticket online in advance.

Map of Pompeii

To assist with your visit to Pompeii, I have put together this map with my suggested itinerary of the archaeological site. If you’re going to do a self-guided tour of Pompeii, I hope you’ll find it useful.

You’ll see in this map of Pompeii, that the suggested route begins at Piazza Anfiteatro and loops around. If you prefer, you could start at the other entrance and do the loop anyway.

You will go past many things on this route and, depending on how many you stop at along the way, it will take you between three and five hours (just walking alone at a brisk pace would take at least one hour).

Large Palaestra

This large gymnasium is a square with sides of 140 metres each. It is from the 1st century AD and would have been used for training young people, physically and mentally.

It has an exhibition in one of the porticos of frescoes from a building discovered near Pompeii.

Large Palaestra, Pompeii, Italy


The amphitheatre is quite significant because it is the oldest among those known in the Roman world.

The stands could hold up to 20,000 people, who would have come to watch all sorts of violent shows. It is on the outskirts of the city to help with the flow of the crowds.

Amphitheatre, Pompeii, Italy

House of Venus in the Shell

You will see a lot of houses but, as this may be one of the first, it’s worth noting the layout. There is a central space, in this case, a garden, and frescoed rooms come off it.

You can still see quite a few of the artworks and the most significant is the one of Venus on the back wall.

House of Venus in the Shell, Pompeii, Italy

House of Octavius Quartio

This is certainly a grand house and its layout is a smaller version of the aristocratic villas that were found in the countryside.

The main building has some beautiful artworks but the highlight is the large garden at the back that stretches out with a water feature down the middle.

House of Octavius Quartio, Pompeii, Italy

House of Sirico

The last owner of this house was a powerful man with connections in politics and trade. He used this space almost daily for entertaining and you can see that in the ‘exedra’ room where guests would have sat around on couches.

The floor had found marble slabs and there were beautiful frescoes with mythological subjects inspired by the Trojan War painted on the walls.

House of Sirico, Pompeii, Italy

House of Marcus Lucretius in via Stabiana

Here you can a house that has been created by combining two smaller adjoining houses. There are paintings of mythological creatures that have been preserved well, but the most interesting element is the garden. The elegant marble fountain is one of the highlights.

House of Marcus Lucretius in via Stabiana, Pompeii, Italy

House of the Faun

This is one of the most famous houses in Pompeii because it is one of the largest and most opulent. You can see that straight away in the pillars and inlaid floor of the entrance.

There are two atriums and two courtyards with private and entertaining rooms coming off them. The two most important elements are the statue of the faun and the floor mosaic of a famous battle.

House of the Faun, Pompeii, Italy

House of the Tragic Poet

This is another famous house but for a completely different reason. It is the small image of a dog at the front of the house that makes it interesting because it also comes with the words “Beware of the Dog”.

Perhaps the ancient Romans of Pompeii weren’t so different to homeowners of today!

House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, Italy

Forum Baths

It gets dark when you go inside the Forum Baths, one of the few spots of Pompeii that isn’t uncovered.

These baths were built early in the city’s history and are quite complex. In the men’s area, you’ll find different areas for baths of various temperatures. The decorations in the rooms are also really interesting.

Forum Baths, Pompeii, Italy

Forum Granary

This space was once used as the fruit and vegetable market but it now holds something much more important. Under this roof are artefacts that have been found during the excavations of Pompeii.

There are more than 9000 items, including pots, jugs, tables, baths, and even a dog! (But if you want to see the best artefacts from Pompeii, make sure you visit the National Archaeological Museum in the centre of Naples.)

Forum Granary, Pompeii, Italy

Temple of Jupiter

The Temple of Jupiter is one of the iconic buildings of Pompeii – not just because of its scale but because Mount Vesuvius looms behind it. The temple dominates the northern part of the Forum and would once have had statues dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.

Temple of Jupiter, Pompeii, Italy

The Forum

Of course, the Forum itself is one of the most important parts of Pompeii. All the main public buildings would either have been situated on the square or would be found very close.

It would also have been used for markets and other sorts of trading. Excavations show that it changed shape several times over the centuries.

The Forum Granary, Pompeii, Italy

Sanctuary of Apollo

The Sanctuary of Apollo is one of the oldest places of worship in Pompeii, with the current shape from around the 3rd century BC, and evidence of an older temple from the 6th century BC.

It was built in an important location, that many people would pass through on their way into the main part of the city.

Sanctuary of Apollo, Pompeii, Italy

The Basilica

This incredible building would have been used effectively as a court – where justice was administered and important business decisions were made. The judges would have sat at the bench on the western side and the walls were decorated with stucco like large blocks of marble.

The Basilica, Pompeii, Italy

Grand Theatre

The Grand Theatre was the first large public building that was completely excavated at Pompeii, many centuries after the eruption. The auditorium of the theatre was made into the natural slope of a hill.

Grand Theatre, Pompeii, Italy

The stage was used to perform comedies and tragedies in Greek and Roman styles. The nearby Small Theatre was used for other entertainment like mime shows, singing, and music.

Visiting Pompeii

Remember, Pompeii was a city, so it stretches out over the size you would expect a city to fill (even an ancient one). Understanding how to visit Pompeii before you set off will save you a lot of time – and maybe even money.

The first decision to make is whether you’re going to take a tour or not.

Then the practical information you’ll need will depend on whether that tour is picking you up from your accommodation, or whether you still need to get from Naples to Pompeii to meet the guide.

Self Guided Tour of Pompeii

Pompeii may be one of the most popular tourist sites in Italy but your first visit always makes you feel like an explorer.

Discovering Pompeii by walking through the entrance gates can have the same emotional effect as discovering it by digging down into the ground.

Either way, it is equal parts exhilarating and overwhelming.

There are the highlights – the amphitheatre, the basilica, the temples, and the fora.

There are dozens of houses that have been restored to much of their former glory and are worth exploring.

And then there is just the general layout of the city, filled with intersections offering new opportunities, and streets that must be traversed to see the best sights in Pompeii.

Guided tours of Pompeii

I know I’ve offered a lot of information so far on many of the main things to see in Pompeii, but that’s just scratching the surface (a relevant pun considering the fate of the city).

However, this is certainly a place where you will benefit from having an expert who can give you the context of what you’re seeing.

If you need a suggestion, I would recommend either this tour with an archaeologist, or there is also this tour that includes Mount Vesuvius.

There are some other great options here that I would also recommend:

Trust me, doing Pompeii on your own can be overwhelming so a tour can also be really beneficial if you’ve got kids or are in a group, which can make the logistics even harder to do independently!

Visiting Pompeii on your own

If you’re planning to visit Pompeii independently, it is definitely worth being prepared.

As I’ve explained, the site is enormous and can take a long time to explore. It’s likely you’ll be doing that in the hot sun and you don’t want to be wasting too much time with the logistics.

When you buy an entrance ticket for Pompeii, you’ll be given a map and you can also ask for a 150-page booklet with detailed information about the highlighted locations. You can see the map online here (24 megabytes) and read the booklet here (7 megabytes).

These will help you understand more about the site and give you a lot of the history and details you need to interpret what you’re seeing.

Self Guided Tour of Pompeii

Before starting, it’s important to know that there are two main entrances to Pompeii. There’s the Porta Marina entrance (and adjacent Piazza Esedra) at the southwest of the site, and the Piazza Anfiteatro entrance at the southeast of the site.

In the FAQ section below, I’ll explain which one I think is better.

A few other useful bits of visitor information:

  • There is a restaurant on site but it can get very crowded and is not great quality.
  • You can buy drinks at the restaurants, and there are drinking fountains throughout the site, but I would recommend bringing water with you (or a bottle to refill).
  • There is not much shade so make sure to bring sun protection.
  • There is a special itinerary called ‘Pompeii for All’ designed for visitors with mobility issues. It claims to be Italy’s longest accessible path in an archaeological site.

How long you spend at Pompeii is up to you – it could easily be all day! But because it’s generally quite hot and there’s lots of walking involved, I would recommend factoring in about half a day to see Pompeii, with a minimum of about three hours.

Where is Pompeii?

Pompeii is about 25 kilometres southeast of central Naples and 240 kilometres southeast of central Rome. You can see it on a map here.

How do you get to Pompeii from Naples?

If you’re going by public transport, there are two options. You can catch the Circumvesuviana train between Naples and Sorrento and get off at the Pompei Scavi stop, which is right at the main entrance.
The other option is to catch the Trenitalia train to Pompeii station and then walk for about 10 minutes.
In my opinion, the Circumvesuviana is awful and best avoided. It’s crowded, hot, dirty, uncomfortable, and has a reputation for pickpockets. The Trenitalia train is much nicer and I think the walk is worth it. (Plus, with Trenitalia you will arrive at the entrance that has shorter queues to buy tickets.

When is Pompeii open?

From April – October, Pompeii is open from 09:00 until 19:00 (with the last admission at 17:30).
From November – March, the site is open from 09:00 – 17:00 (with the last admission at 15:30).

How much is the Pompeii entrance fee?

The entrance fee for Pompeii is €22 and a concession is €2. You’ll save time by buying the ticket in advance here.
You can also get a combined ticket for Pompeii, Oplontis and Boscoreale for €18 for full admission and €2 for a concession.

My top Pompeii tips

There are very limited options for food and drink inside. There is a cafeteria that does fast food but there’s often a long line and the quality isn’t great.
I would suggest bringing in your own food and drinks for the day. In summer, it gets very hot so make sure you have enough water.

You can find out more information on Pompeii’s official website.

However you visit Pompeii, however long you stay, remember that this really is a moment frozen in time.

We don’t get to see them very often. Most places have some form of evolution or damage. Of course, Pompeii was damaged – more than any city should be able to handle. But, in some strange way, it has left us with something that is also so perfectly undamaged.

There are lots of things to see in the region and I would recommend basing yourself in Naples while you visit some of the other sites, including climbing Mount Vesuvius.

Here are my suggestions for good 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.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

5 thoughts on “The best way to visit Pompeii”

  1. Thanks for this very good overview of Pompeii, Michael! Especially, thanks for posting links to the official map and guidebook, these will keep me occupied for a long time!

  2. Hi
    Will be visiting Pompeii with daughter and her two 3 year old boys. Any suggestions as what best to do so the boys stay happy. Will be going in Oct so heat should not be that big a problem

  3. Thank you so much for this great site with photos and info. I visited Pompeii many years ago and have always wanted to take my grandkids. This spring it might happen. I am trying to figure out which Italy sites I need to hire guides and transportation for and which I can do on my own. (Booking tours for 7 people really adds up!)

  4. Hi Micheal thanks for you very thorough and helpful guide’s around sorrento etc . It will be most useful when we travel in june


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