Here’s what to see in Pompeii in a day: an itinerary for exploring one of the world’s oldest and best-known cities, unearthed as it was 2,000 years ago.
We are in Campania, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, just a few kilometers from Naples and the Amalfi Coast. It is here that we find historic Pompeii, one of the best-known Roman cities in the world, mainly due to the ongoing archaeological excavations, research, and restoration that have brought it to light.
Founded around the 8th century B.C. by the Oscans who settled on the southern slopes of Vesuvius near the Sarno River, Pompeii soon became a prosperous Roman colony. It was a commercial hub of the Mediterranean, as well as a vacation destination for the nobility with their summer residences, alongside the Pompeian domus and other buildings such as amphitheaters, temples, gladiator gyms, artisan workshops and… brothels. Yes, there were so-called “lupanari” (from Latin lupa = prostitute), brothels or “brothel houses” in Pompeii.
People come to Pompeii mainly to visit its excavations. Begun in the 1700s (1748) and still active today, they are accessible in the large Archaeological Park, an area recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, along with Herculaneum and Oplonti. The archaeological park, which holds the remains of the historic core, is located a short distance from the modern city that arose in medieval times.
Pompeii’s park covers 440,000 square meters and includes public and private buildings, monuments, sculptures, paintings and mosaics. These are the remains of a civilization that comes down to us today preserved as it was millennia ago, thanks to restoration techniques combined with the effects of ash and lapilli (small stones) erupted by Vesuvius (79 AD). The lava petrified the city into the appearance it had that morning two thousand years ago, an event that turned the life of this city upside down, causing the deaths of more than 2,000 people.
But people come to Pompeii for other reasons as well. The Neapolitan city also has a modern part developed from the end of the 19th century as a rural village around the Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii, a place of devotion built (between 1876 and 1891) thanks to the work of the lawyer Bartolo Longo, which has more than 4 million visitors a year.
Discover Pompeii attractions in one day
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The archaeological area is very large and includes many monuments to visit, either by guided tour or on your own.
For those who want to explore Pompeii on their own, there are 4 pre-made tour routes lasting from 2 to 7 hours. You can choose to spend an entire day exploring the entire site, or focus on a particular area of the ancient city.
Note that many artifacts from Pompeii are also on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples and the Antiquarium of Pompeii.
To give you an idea of the most important things to see in Pompeii, and to help you plan your tour, we have prepared this guide with highlights for visiting Pompeii even in half a day.
However, if you have more time, you can also go further: visit the surroundings of Pompeii and discover all the activities to do in the area.
A few tips to enjoy a relaxing tour:
- wear comfortable clothes and footwear, especially if you visit Pompeii when it is warmer. Although it is preferable to do this in the fall or spring (there is a lot of walking!).
- Bring some snacks and fresh water bottles with you (in summer, also a hat and/or sun umbrella).
- If you arrive by car, park it outside the walls, plenty of parking spaces are available nearby. It’s best to get around on foot or with the Sita, Cstp and Eavbus bus service.
The archaeological area is accessed from 3 different entrances: Piazza Esedra / Piazza Porta Marina Inferiore; Porta Marina / Via Villa dei Misteri (coming from Pompeii West); Piazza Anfiteatro / Piazza Immacolata (coming from Pompeii East-Scafati).
Other useful information: entrance times and ticket prices available for purchase online or on site at the Porta Marina ticket office, the main entrance.
Opening Hours: April 1 to October 31: admission Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (last admission 5:30 p.m.).
November 1 to March 31: admission all days 9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. (last admission 3.30 p.m.).
Closing days: every Monday; December 25; January 1; May 1.
Ticket prices: daily admission to Pompeii costs 17.50 (full ticket); 3.90 (reduced ticket 18 to 24 years old); free for children under 18 and specific categories (visitors with disabilities and their companions).
Free admission for all, every first Sunday of the month (Ministry of Culture – Sunday at the Museum).
Please note: Reduced (18-24 years old) and free (under 18 and other specific categories) tickets cannot be purchased in advance.
For these tickets, you must show your documents and proof of entitlement at the Archaeological Park box office, proving you are eligible for free admission.
Now let’s enter the Pompeii Archaeological Park to visit our first attraction.
1. Forum of Pompeii
A visit to Pompeii begins in this large square, once (4th century B.C.) the hub of commerce and public life in the city.
Observe the ancient artisan stores, religious and political buildings, granaries, the macellum, the baths, and the three temples: the Temple of Apollo; the Temple of Venus; and the Temple of Jupiter.
As many as 25 brothels existed in Pompeii, the most famous of which was found during the Bourbon excavations.
The lupanari were two-story structures (the first for the lower class, the second for the noble classes), which were mostly located in the back streets. Everything hints at the theme unmistakably, from the frescoes with erotic scenes to the details drawn on the walls.
To reach them, phallic symbols indicated on the facades of houses were followed. On the walls of buildings are still visible what we now call “reviews”.
3. Amphitheater of Pompeii
What to see at the excavations of Pompeii, if not its Amphitheater? It is one of the oldest (70 B.C.) and best-preserved amphitheaters in the world and takes us back in time to the epic gladiator fights that were once held there.
With a capacity of as many as 20,000 spectators, the amphitheater was carved out of a natural quarry.
Today we can still see the stage and stalls structure which was used for the live, private, spectator-free performance of Pink Floyd in 1971: the film-concert “Live at Pompeii”, a classic of rock music.
Right next to the Amphitheater is the Great Gymnasium, where gladiators trained before their fights.
4. The House of the Faun
After passing through the Honorary Arch and continuing along Via del Foro, we reach the famous House of the Faun, or rather the remains of this ancient Roman villa built and renovated in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. It is the largest villa in Pompeii, covering an area of 3,000 square meters. It seems that the Villa belonged to a magistrate, one of the richest men in Pompeii.
The House owes its name to the bronze statuette depicting a dancing faun, an ancient Roman deity protector of the countryside, which was found during the excavations.
Inside, you can see two gardens and decorative frescoes. The mosaic floor depicting the Battle of Darius and Alexander is preserved in the Archaeological Museum in Naples.
5. Villa of the Mysteries
Famous for its frescoes, the Villa of the Mysteries is a Roman-era mansion located just outside the walls of Pompeii, still partly buried in the ashes. It owes its name to the celebrations of the Sacred Mysteries.
From here it is possible to enjoy a panoramic view of the excavations and the Gulf of Naples. While inside you can see some marvelous frescoes, including one depicting the myth of Dionysus from the first century AD.
The Villa also offers a beautiful belvedere over the Gulf of Naples.
From research and evidence obtained by archaeologists, it seems that the Villa was once the residence of the Emperor Augustus’ wife, Livia.
In the Triclinium room you can see scenes regarding preparations for a rite of which nothing is known, although it is presumed to be a Dionysian rite (hence the Villa of Mysteries) and life-size human figures. There are several rooms in the complex including rooms for living use and a spa facility.
6. House of the Tragic Poet with the “Cave Canem” mosaic
Worth visiting in Pompeii is the House of the Tragic Poet, so named because of the mosaic depicting theatrical scenes of actors. But what makes it so popular is the mosaic with the inscription Cave Canem (“beware of the dog”) that can be seen from behind glass at the main entrance.
Also worth observing are the frescoes depicting Venus with Cupids and the mythological scene from the Iliad with the theme of Arianna abandoned by Theseus.
The originals of the mosaics and paintings are preserved at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
7. House of the Vettii
This Roman-era domus, which was buried during the eruption of Vesuvius and later unearthed during archaeological excavations between 1894 and 1896, dates back to the first century A.D., and was named after its owners Aulus Vettius Restituito and Aulus Vettius Conviva, two freed slave brothers (freedmen) who later became wealthy through the wine trade.
The house is famous for the painting at the entrance of Priapus (the god of abundance) weighing his huge phallus, a good luck charm for the Romans but also ostentatious pride in the economic rise of the two brothers. A statue of Priapus has also been found.
In the part of the house reserved for the owners, you can observe various rooms including frescoed halls, gardens with statues inspired by Greek myths, fountains and peristyle, and many valuable ancient art artifacts, including marble and bronze sculptures, basins, and decorations. While in the part inhabited by the servants, objects for cooking and housekeeping.
8. Other Noble Villas and Pompeian Houses
In addition to the villas just described, if time permits and depending on your preference, you can visit other Pompeian villas and houses:
- House of the Ephebe
- House of the Golden Cupids
- House of the Centenary
- House of Marcus Lucretius Fronton
- House of Loreius Tiburtinus
- House of the Geometric Mosaics
- House of the Venus in Shell
- The Villa of Julia Felix
- House of Menander
- Villa of Diomedes
- House of Pansa
- House of Caecilius Jocundus
- House of the Labyrinth
- House of Casca Longus
- House of Paquius Proculus
9. House and Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus
On Via dell’Abbondanza you can reach the Thermopolium of Lucius Vetitius Placidus, which features an indoor garden for growing herbs.
In ancient Rome, a Thermopolium was the place where hot food and drinks were stored and sold. The food was stored in large jars embedded in the masonry counter, and customers could either eat at the counter or take their food away. The premises also housed the owner’s dwelling.
Note the aedicule on the back wall, which is a lararium dedicated to the household’s patron gods (Lari), the owner’s protector Genius, the god of commerce (Mercury) and the god of wine (Dionysus).
10. The Garden of the fugitives
The Garden of the Fugitives is a powerful reminder of the destructive power of nature, and it is a sobering reminder of the fragility of life. It is a poignant and moving attraction in Pompeii.
It is here that the casts of 13 people who were caught and submerged in lava as they tried to flee the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD were found.
“Brought back to life” by the plaster cast technique, which involves pouring plaster into the voids left by the bodies after they decomposed. The ash-covered silhouettes are vivid evidence of that tragic event, unearthed by excavation work between 1961 and 1974.
The casts are still in the exact position at the time when they were found, men, women and children surprised by the ashes and lapilli. And they give visitors a chilling sense of the horror that these people experienced.
11. Sanctuary or Temple of Apollo
One of the oldest places of worship, built between 575 and 550 BC, with a tufa portico and columns with Ionic capitals. Inside the courtyard are two large statues of Apollo and Diana.
12. Temple of Venus
Near Porta Marina, on a hillock facing the sea, is this marble temple dedicated to Venus, the goddess of beauty worshipped as creator and Mother of the Universe, to whom Sulla dedicated the colony, naming it Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum.
Few remains of the temple, an altar, and two statue bases, can be seen today. In fact, after the earthquake and eruption of 62 AD, the floor and marble decorations were taken away.
13. Stabian Baths
Dating back to the 2nd century B.C., the Stabian Baths are Pompeii’s oldest complex, built with rooms distinguished by gender and according to the classical scheme of Frigidarium (cold baths), Calidarium (hot baths) and Tepidarium (lukewarm baths).
Worth noting, Stucco Decorations depicting characters from Roman mythology adorn the central dome.
14. Schola Armaturarum Juventis Pompeiani
On Via dell’Abbondanza you can also reach this military representative building built a few years before the eruption of Vesuvius, whose functions are still not well understood today.
The Schola is thought to have housed a military association, meetings, and athletic and gladiatorial activities to be held at the Amphitheater and the Palestra Grande. Hence, in fact, the name Schola Armaturarum Juventus Pompeiani. Everything points to these theories, supported also by the discovery of wooden shelving where armor was stored.
After the 1915 excavations, more recent excavations unveiled other rooms used as storerooms with amphorae containing olive oil, wine, and fish sauce, to be used for the preparation of ceremonial banquets.
15. The Casts of Pompeii
The Orto dei Fuggiaschi is the most representative site of Pompeii’s plaster casts. But there are other places in the Pompeii Archaeological Park where you can see the famous plaster casts of the inhabitants of Pompeii who lost their lives during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Here is where you can find plaster casts, in addition to the aforementioned Orto dei Fuggiaschi:
There are casts of the victims from the villa of Civita Giuliana.
Over 20 casts.
Some casts are on display in the Stabian Baths.
- Villa of the Mysteries
Display cases with some of the casts found in Pompeii can also be found here.
Plaster casts are a technique devised and pioneered by the archaeologist and director of the excavations, Giuseppe Fiorelli, in 1863.
The cast procedure consisted of pouring plaster into the voids formed, through decomposition, in the hardened ash on the lava-covered bodies.
This archaeological technique practically restored the history of the city before the eruption of Vesuvius.
16. Shrine of Pompeii
About 10 minutes from the archaeological excavations, in Piazza Bartolo Longo in modern Pompeii, you can visit the Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary of Pompeii (1876), a Papal Basilica since the early 1900s, as well as the main place of Christian worship and one of the most visited Marian shrines in Italy.
Especially on May 8, the anniversary of its inauguration, and on the first Sunday in October, on the occasion of the Supplication to Our Lady of Pompeii.
The shrine was built at the behest of Bartolo Longo and Countess Marianna de Fusco, who were actively engaged in welfarism. The two collected offerings from the faithful around the world and on May 8, 1876, commissioned the construction of the Shrine.
Note the ornate facade, characterized by a lower part in Ionic style and an upper part in Corinthian style. Towering 80 meters high, the bell tower with a bronze cross. From the top you can admire all of Pompeii, against the backdrop of Vesuvius and the islands of the Bay of Naples.
The best things to do in Pompeii
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Unless one dedicates an exclusive visit to ancient Pompeii, the most common scenario is to consider the Park a cultural tour to complement a vacation in some of the nearby cities, such as Naples, Caserta (to visit the famous Reggia), or to take a vacation on the Amalfi Coast.
One of the most interesting activities to do, then, is to explore the surroundings of Pompeii. If you have time, the distance from Pompeii to Naples is only 25 km, for a travel time of about half an hour. To reach Amalfi, the landmark of the Amalfi Coast, you need about an hour (36.5 km via the SP2a).
The Amalfi Coast is a stretch of coastline overlooking the Gulf of Salerno, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. It takes its name from the town of Amalfi, the hub of the Coast dotted with many small, world-famous tourist resorts, such as Positano, a town overlooking the sea.
Only 17 km from Pompeii is Herculaneum, which can be reached by car, but also by direct train (19 minutes) departing from Pompeii and arriving in Portici-Ercolano or by bus (53 minutes) departing from Pompeii (Viale Mazzini).
There are archaeological excavations in Herculaneum as well. In fact, Herculaneum, too, was buried alive by lava from Mount Vesuvius. The same as the nearby Stabia and Oplonti.
From Pompeii you can reach Castellammare di Stabia, only 5 km away, where you can see the archaeological excavations of ancient Stabiae from the Roman era, and more.
The town is also famous for its location between the sea and the mountains, for its thermal baths, for which it is known as the “Water Metropolis”-and for the beaches in the surrounding area:
- Pozzano Beach
- Calcina beach
- Varo beach
- Miniera beach
- Gragnano beach
Another nearby town that can be reached from Pompeii is Gragnano, only 10 km away (travel time 24 minutes), known as the “pasta town,” where you can see the Castle and the Valley of the Mills.
If you don’t have time to visit the surrounding area, here are some ideas on what to do in Pompeii:
- visit modern Pompeii (the shrine and monuments in Bartolo Longo Square
- hike in Mount Vesuvius National Park and nature trails in Castellammare di Stabia, up to Monte Faito by cable car
- taste street food
- visit typical markets
- discover local handicrafts
- taste the excellent local wine, including the Pompeiano IGT and Campania IGT labels
- participate in cooking classes, an opportunity to discover many secrets of Neapolitan gastronomy and the ancient Pompeian cuisine
A curiosity about wine
You should know that wine is not a modern-day novelty in Pompeii. In fact, the city was the focal point for the wine trade throughout the ancient world. From the findings of the excavations, gardens and vineyards have been found within the walls, as evidenced also by many frescoes.
In Pompeii, already in Roman times, thanks to the presence of the many vineyards, “VINUM POMPEIANUM” was produced, which was aged up to 25 years.
Some Pompeian families had learned and refined the technique of viticulture by letting wine age in cellars, a special wine sweetened by honey. In reality, however, the origins of wine culture are to be found in the ancient Greeks to whom we owe certain cultivation and pruning techniques, later fully developed by the Romans.
Even today, volcanic soils, excellent allies for vine cultivation and high-quality wine production, are the soul of native grape varieties of different qualities.
Among whites, the most widespread grape variety in the province of Naples is Falanghina.
Local food and wine
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Among the things to do in Pompeii, we definitely recommend tasting typical specialty and dishes, which draw on ancient gastronomic culture and the natural conformation of the volcanic terrain.
Already quite advanced in Roman times with the concept of street food, thanks to the discovery of the thermopolis, Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus, the Pompeii of the time was characterized by a cuisine based on bread, vegetables, fruit, and olives.
Today the Vesuvian area continues to give its typical products, including:
- the tomato piennolo del Vesuvio DOP that grows in the Vesuvius National Park
- the apricots of Vesuvius (in dialect, the “crisommole”)
- the white onion of Pompeii.
Don’t miss fish dishes, but also meat and the Neapolitan pizza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We recommend some local specialties: the famous Gnocchi alla Sorrentina; Spaghetti con Vongole veraci (those clams that come from the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno); Riso e Verza; Zuppa di Soffritto; Impepata di Cozze; Polpetti Affogati; Caponata di Castellammare.
Getting to Pompeii
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By plane, you can reach Pompeii by arriving at Naples Capodichino Airport, from here you can take a direct train departing from Naples Piazza Garibaldi and arriving at Pompeii Scavi Villa dei Misteri. Departures are on a daily basis every 20 minutes. The trip takes about 37 min.
They arrive at Pompeii Scavi, the Circumvesuviana Napoli-Sorrento with stop “Pompei Scavi – Villa dei Misteri,” and the Circumvesuviana Napoli-Poggiomarino with arrival at the Pompei Santuario stop.
By bus from Naples to Pompeii Scavi, with Sita Sud services departing from Naples station.
Trains to Pompeii also leave from Salerno’s central station, but once there you will have to reach the Piazza Anfiteatro (or Piazza Immacolata) entrance by walking for about 10 minutes.
If you are coming from Rome, you can get to Pompeii by train, with the direct Rome-Pompei Frecciarossa.
By car, coming from the north you need to take the A3 Naples-Salerno highway and exit at Pompeii Ovest.
Now that you know the best things to do in Pompeii, we just have to wish you a happy trip to Campania. Remember that, with Italia Delight, you can book tailor-made food and wine experiences and foodie trips, designed and created by local Experts! 😍
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