Take a look at what life was like in Italy 2000 years ago…before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii is the more famous of these 2 sites however Herculaneum is just as well-preserved (actually even more intact) but smaller and less crowded than the nearby Pompeii. They’re both easily accessible by train from Naples. Well-worth the detour (my teens would even agree!).
Pompeii is about 15 miles south of Naples and Herculaneum is located between Naples and Pompeii. Both towns are basically in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.
Why to go: Pompeii (and to a lesser extent, Herculaneum) is one of the most visited sites in Italy and for good reason. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD left the towns buried and very much intact. It’s impressive to see all of the artifacts excavated from the sites (many of which you can see at the Naples National Archaeological Museum) and the streets and buildings as they were 2000 years ago.
When to go: As with many popular tourist sites, a visit to this area is best enjoyed during the shoulder seasons of Spring and early Fall. During the summer months, there are loads of tourists, it’s usually hot and neither complex has much shade or indoor shelter from the heat. But if summer is the only time you can get there, it’s still worth it to go – just make sure to bring lots of sunscreen and water!
Where to go: Both Pompeii and Herculaneum are just a short train ride from Naples. They’re on the same line but it’s not the National Rail Line. It’s a special line called the Circumvesuviana. The station for this line can be easily reached from the Naples Central Train Station by underground walkway. However, during peak tourist season, you might want to consider going to the Porta Nolana station to get on at the beginning of the line. You want the Napoli – Sorrento line and the stops you’re looking for are: Ercolano Scavi (Herculaneum ruins) and Pompeii Scavi Villa Misteri (Pompeii ruins). The entrance to both of these sites is within about a 10 minute walk from the station. It’s very walkable even though you might find people trying to sell you tickets for a shuttle bus.
Where to detour: If you’re up for the adventure, take a little extra time and go see Mount Vesuvius up close for yourself! There are buses that go from Naples as well as from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Those buses will get you to the base of the volcano. From there, you can take the special bus that goes up the dirt road snaking around the volcano. This bus will let you off in an area from which you can choose to hike up a steep trail to the rim and take a look inside. It’s a worthwhile excursion but be forewarned that the bus ride going up the volcano is a bit bumpy and can be a little scary if you have a fear of heights!