Pompeii is an extremely overwhelming experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. There is so much to see that I am going to post a separate photo album of some of my favourite pictures later. This post will not be a run down of everything there is to see because I just don’t have time to write a book. Instead, I’m only going to cover the planning and logistics of visiting the site and my (hopefully useful) advice on how to go about doing so.
If you buy your ticket at one of the four smaller sites buried by Vesuvius 2000 years ago (Ercolano, Boscoreale, Oplontis, or Stabia), you can get a three days pass for all 5 sites for €22. If you are an EU citizen between the ages of 18-24 you will get the same deal but for €12 as long as you have ID.
There are a lot of places advertising that they are the “official” parking for the ruins. This is bullshit, drive past them. They will charge you €3 an hour. Drive down the street, just past the entrance to the ruins and find the restaurant that charges €5 for the entire day. They will also give you a receipt and if you eat in the restaurant you will get €5 off your bill. This is the cheapest parking in Pompei and it is an honest marketing scheme for a local business.
Don’t Buy a Guide Book
There are a ton of vendors selling expensive guidebooks to the ruins. Do not let them convince you that you need one, you are given a guide book and a map when you buy your ticket. The guide books are produced by the Board of Cultural Heritage of Pompeii. They provide an overview of the site in about 150 pages. There is a page for each of the major things to see (yes there are that many).
Do a tour. I very rarely fork out money for tours but Pompei is a lot to take in. I have found that tour guides in Italy are fantastic and extremely knowledgable. They are usually archaeology students or graduates, so you will definitely get your money’s worth. The Pompeii tours are €120 flat for two hours. There is no rate per person, you just gather a group and split the cost between the lot of you (this is in addition to the cost of your ticket which your guide will buy so you do not have to stand in line). The tour could end up being extremely cheap. There were 9 people on my tour so we each paid €13 and it was perfect because we had a small group and an inexpensive tour. I suggest finding like-abled people to form a group. I generally avoid tours with children or older folk because I know what I want out of my experience and it is simply easier to avoid unenjoyable dynamics.
It is always great to do some research before you see anything. It is important at Pompeii to have some knowledge of the site because it is easy to overlook interesting things if you don’t know what you are looking at. It will also make your tour a better experience if you know some basic facts.
Plan to Spend the Day
I spent almost 7 hours at Pompeii. It is literally an entire city, complete with a necropolis, a forum, and an amphitheatre. You would not be able to see a modern city in a couple hours, don’t expect any different from this ancient one. There are no living residents in Pompeii but there are still crowds and they will slow you down. I only saw about half the city even though I was there for 7 hours and I saw none of the museums.
Come Early, Stay Late
I highly recommend either showing up before the ruins open at 9, or staying right till they close so you can avoid lines and crowds. The last couple hours of my visit were the best part because the crowds cleared away from all the coolest places. Because I showed up mid-morning (on Liberation Day, a major holiday) the place was already packed. I did the tour first and then headed directly to a city edge away from the entrance. There were considerably fewer people around and I was much happier exploring there and making my way back towards the centre as the crowds eased. By the time I left, I was able to take plenty of photos in the middle of the forum that have no other people in them. I was also able to enter many of the buildings immediately and there were few or no people there. I wish that I had gone earlier so I could have left earlier and had time to go to Mount Vesuvius or Herculeum in the same day.
There is only one place to buy food in the ruins. If you find it expensive or don’t want anything they are offering, you will not be a happy camper. The original drinking wells are still in use today and you can refill your water bottle at a roman fountain like the Pompeiians would have (I thought this was pretty cool).
At some point, you’ll probably need to use the toilet. Pick the one in the centre of the ruins, near the area that is still being excavated. You will have to go up a flight of stairs to reach the toilet. At the top, you will have panoramic views of Pompeii. If you to take only one of my suggestions, I hope it is this one. It is such a hidden gem and one of the best parts of my visit.