In the shadow of Vesuvius, the city of Pompeii lies, brought to life again with hundreds of bustling tourists. The city, covered in AD79 by the eruption of Vesuvius, is an archaeological postcard – a snapshot of a moment in time. The remains are an eerie insight into a city in crisis – fleeing the eruption – with personal and public spaces frozen. Exploring the ruined city is an extraordinary experience which cannot be missed if you visit the Bay of Naples, follow these tips for visiting your Pompeii to make your visit unforgettable.
When I was younger, learning about the Romans, Pompeii always popped up. The city has followed me throughout my studies, and I finally got the opportunity to visit it for myself in 2015. And because that wasn’t enough, I went back again in 2016. And again in 2019. Working so close to the Bay of Naples on an archaeological field school left me in the lucky position to visit these ruins for myself time and time again, and this year when I took my family to visit Naples, it was top of everyone’s list. Thinking of visiting Pompeii for yourself? Then you’ll be looking for some tips and guides to help navigate the ruins for yourself.
Tips for Visiting Pompeii
1. Visit off peak
Obviously this tip will be dependant on if you’ve booked your holiday or not, but if you’re flexible, why not consider visiting out with the peak summer season. Queues can be long, and the ruins will be crowded during the height of summer, not to mention the heat. The best time to visit Pompeii is at a quieter time of the year – say February – will give you a more relaxed, quieter visit, and helps to avoid heat exhaustion!
2. Arrive Early
The best time to visit the site is as early – as is always the suggestion for visiting popular tourist sites. Not only will you avoid large queues for tickets, but the site will be less crowded, giving you a bit more freedom to explore at your own pace. Earlier in the day also means that the sun isn’t quite as strong, and you can miss out on the intense mid afternoon heat.
3. Pompeii is big – arrive with a plan
If you’ve decided to visit Pompeii without a guided tour, then you’re going to want to prepare a plan. Make sure you pick up a map as you go into the ruins (or bring one with you) and get to know the layout of the city before you dive in. While a lot of the well known sites are located centrally – like the forum, the forum baths, the brothel – there are some must-see spots that are located further out. For example, the Amphitheatre is located at the far end of Pompeii, and not many people make the walk to visit it – but its impressive remains should not be missed. At the complete opposite end of Pompeii is the Villa Dei Misteri, which has exquisitely preserved and vibrant frescos. If you know you want to visit both these sites, make your self a route so that you’re not walking back and retracing steps. You’ll be thankful when you’re hot and tired!
4. Don’t just stick to the main area
A lot of tourists will stay in the main forum area of Pompeii, exploring the inner city and well known temples. Once you start exploring some of the areas away from this main part, the streets become less crowded and you can stumble upon some true gems. As I’ve already said, Pompeii is much bigger than you expect it to be, and many folk will just stick to the forum area. Wander down some quiet streets and get a feel for the city without hundreds of tourists battling to see things too.
5. Find a reputable guide
If you decide that you don’t want to explore the ruins on your own, or rely on the free map at the entrance, then make sure you get a guide who knows what they are doing. It can be overwhelming when you first hop off the Circumvesuviana, and there’s loads of guides trying to entice you in with their offers. The guides that wait at the station are cheaper, but take you in larger groups – making it harder to hear the tour & to get close to the remains without a fight. Inside are the official guides, a little more expensive, but worth it as you can ask more questions, you’re in smaller groups, and they really know what they are talking about.
6. Bring a water bottle
Be prepared to get hot and sweaty. Pompeii is a hot place (see point below), and you’ll be wanting to keep yourself hydrated. There is a cafe in the archaeological site itself, but if you want to avoid buying from there, bring a reusable water bottle with you. Some of the street taps within the ruins are still functioning, meaning you can refill your bottle as you go along – there’s even some that spill from the mouth of a lion.
7. Be prepared for the heat
Pompeii is hot. You’ll be walking around with the sun beating down on you, and there’s very little opportunity for shade breaks. Not only does it feel like you’re baking in the sun, it can also feel quite stuffy. You’ll find yourself walking a lot more than you expecting, and its not all flat ground either. As well as your water bottle, be sure to have packed sun cream, a hat and sunglasses – as the sun can really reflect off of the buildings.
8. Give yourself time
Pompeii is big, and if you’re committed to exploring it fully then you need to schedule time for it. You won’t be able to hit off all the main spots in just a couple of hours. Don’t do what I did, and hike up Vesuvius before visiting the ruins. Ideally you’ll give yourself a good few hours to fully be able to explore – if you’re a real geek like me, then plan for a whole day.
9. Wear sensible shoes
As I’ve said, there’s a lot of walking involved in a visit to Pompeii, so make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes. You’re walking along the ancient roads, which isn’t always smooth and flat. Make sure you’ve prepared with shoes that support you throughout the day. While you can wear sandals, you should be prepared to get dusty. There are taps at the exit for you to clean your feet under, but you will find yourself with very mucky feet and ankles while walking around.
10. Avoid the first Sunday of the month (or don’t, depending your budget)
In Italy, the first Sunday of the month is free to visit museums and archaeological sites. It’s great for those who are on a tighter budget, and an opportunity to keep costs lower (or squeeze in an extra visit to another site since you’re saving money!). The downside of saving a little cash? The sites can be very overcrowded and queues can be long. Pompeii caps visitor numbers at 15,000 on this Sunday, but this is still a lot of people to contend with. My advice for those visiting Italy on the first Sunday of a month is to take advantage of this deal at a smaller, less popular site or museum, where the crowds may not be as large.
Pompeii is an incredible place to visit, and truly something that shouldn’t be missed if you’re visiting Southern Italy. I hope these 10 top tips for visiting Pompeii helps you to prepare for your visit!