The ancient city of Pompeii is one of the most important archeological sites in the world. The booming Roman city was covered in lava and ash by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Incredibly much of the city survived and was excavated, including houses, theaters, thermal baths, villas, artwork, pottery, and even plaster casts made from victims of the volcanic eruption.
I was always interested in seeing Pompeii but until I actually arrived there, I had no idea how unbelievable this site was. It quickly became one of the most mystifying places I’ve ever visited and I couldn’t resist taking photos of nearly everything I saw. The only downside was that we only scheduled in 2 hours for a visit which wasn’t nearly enough time.
Visiting Pompeii is an incredible experience and I definitely would love to go back in the future to see more of the ruins. I visited Pompeii in early October 2022 as part of a trip to the Amalfi Coast and this is my ultimate guide for visiting the ancient ruins.
How to Get There
Pompeii is located in southern Italy, with the nearest city center being Naples. There are several ways to get to Pompeii. You will most likely want to fly into Naples, as it is only a 30 minute drive to Pompeii.
I was heading to the Amalfi Coast with my girlfriend Monika, so I found a private transfer that picked us up at the Naples airport and drove us to our hotel in Positano. This service also offered a 2 hour stop in Pompeii (more on that later). This was a great deal and if you can afford it, I would recommend something like this - although 2 hours was not nearly enough time to visit Pompeii. We also added another stop over at the Pompeii winery Bosco de' Medici for 1.5 hours which was a magical experience after seeing the ruins.
So your first option is a private transfer, which could also be a taxi or through a travel company like we did. You can get these from Naples and places on the Amalfi Coast like Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi.
You can also arrange a day tour from these same places (Naples, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi) which will be a little pricey as well but will offer transfer plus guided tours. Sites like Viator, Airbnb Experiences, and Get Your Guide offer tours of Pompeii.
If you want to do it alone, you can either rent a car - which I wouldn’t really suggest, or take the train. From Naples you can take the Circumvesuviana train and arrive at Pompeii in about 35 minutes for $4 euro. You can also take a SITA bus from Naples that will take about 35 minutes and cost around $2.80 euro.
If coming from places on the Amalfi Coast like Positano and Amalfi, you most likely will have to arrange a tour or a taxi that will provide a roundtrip journey. Sorrento has the Circumvesuviana train option.
Alternatively, if you are a big history buff and planning to spend a full day at Pompeii, I’d suggest staying in the actual city of Pompeii for a night or two, which is beautiful itself and has hotels right at the entrance to the archeological site.
Tickets & Guides
Tickets can be purchased online in advance at www.ticketone.it or bought at the entrance of the ruins. They are $16 euro each. One of my top 7 Tips for Visiting Pompeii is to buy your tickets in advance to skip the lines and secure your spot. We did not buy our tickets in advance and didn’t have any problems getting one at the entrance on a Saturday in early October, although it cost us about 20 minutes for our visit instead of walking right in. It took us about 10 minutes to wait in line to get tickets, and another 10 minutes for the audio guide.
If you are exploring the ruins solo, you have the option of renting an audio guide at the entrance, which costs $6.50 euro each. You will need to leave your ID, passport, or credit card with them to rent them out for the day. They are essentially large iphones with an app installed to explore the ruins. The app interface is nice as it shows your a GPS tracked map to show where you are with sites numbered in the different areas of Pompeii. Each number will give you a 1-3 minute audio recording with information about that site that you will have to hold up to your ear to listen to.
As nice as the audio guides seem, after about 30 minutes I had to ditch mine since it was taking a very long time and I was limited with the time I had to see Pompeii. To sit and listen 2-3 minutes at every marked site would take all day. Plus, I love taking photographs and it was a major inconvenience to hold this iphone up to my ear and in one hand while wanting to photograph everything around me. Then I put it in my pocket (so I had two iphone in my pocket): it’s a little inconvenient if you aren’t on a longer visit. The best part about it however was the GPS tracked map so you could find out where in the park you were. That was super helpful in figuring out how to find some of the more popular sites and getting back to the exit.
The other option you have is to hire a guide. This can be arranged beforehand on sites like Viator, Airbnb Experiences, or Get Your Guide, or with tour companies. You can find tours from Naples, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, and even Rome. Having a guide is helpful to learn more about the ancient ruins and the incredible city that Pompeii was. They are helpful as well if you only want to go for 2-3 hours and see a few of the highlights. Most groups I saw had a lot of people in them - which is not always an ideal way to experience something. You can also find guides at the front entrance, which isn’t a bad option, although when I was there I saw them rounding up people and having them wait until they found more people to create a bigger group to take into the ruins. Not ideal if you are short on time.
A private tour guide would be the best and most expensive option, as it would give you the information and also flexibility with your time and what sites to visit. Pompeii is a massive area so knowing where all the top ruins to see are is definitely an advantage.
How Long Do You Need to Visit Pompeii?
Before my trip, a lot of articles I read said you only needed about 2 hours for a visit. Even the travel company I booked a private transfer with from Naples to Positano (with a 2 hour stop over in Pompeii) told me that we only needed 2 hours to visit Pompeii. Once there, you find this to be quite inaccurate.
With our driver waiting for us, 2 hours felt like a mad rush to explore the ruins. This of course includes waiting in line to get your ticket, and then the separate line for an audio guide, which ate up about 20 minutes of our time.
You have to remember that Pompeii is a CITY. It’s very big. You can walk for blocks and blocks and just scratch the surface of one section of the city. I didn’t fully understand this before my trip and wish I would’ve planned a little better.
On the way out is the Antiquarium Museum, which deserves a quick visit as well. As we were running back to the entrance where our driver dropped us off at, we quickly ran through the museum, sweating and out of breath, to see the plaster casts. Not the ideal way to experience such a historic sight. We even told our driver we were lost and running behind since we stayed a full 45 minutes past our 2 hour limit. In less than 3 hours we only saw about half of the site and were rushed and running back.
I would highly recommend as much time as possible at the site if you really want to see all it has to offer and enjoy the experience at a leisurely pace. That will be different for everyone, but 2 hours is completely rushed and you will only see a handful of Pompeii.
A full experience of Pompeii would take around 4-5 hours comfortably. If you are with a guide, they may just visit the highlights for a shorter 2-3 hour trip. The audio guides can be convenient, but if you listen to all of the numbered prompts it would take all day to get through.
If you love taking photos like me, and exploring on your own, give yourself as much time as possible. You can easily spend a full day exploring the ancient city. After all, it is one of the most iconic ancient sites in the world and you never know if you’ll ever make it back there.
How to Explore Pompeii
Pompeii is explored by foot, and like I mentioned earlier in this article, there are several options when it comes to visiting the ruins. You can hire a guide either through a travel company or on places like Getyourguide, Viator, or Airbnb Experiences. You can also find guides at the entrance (that will corral you until they have enough people for a tour). If you can afford it, the best option is probably to hire a private guide - but even they may be hard to lock in at a certain time.
If you want to do it without a guide, you can either rent an audio guide or just walk the ruins independently. We did a combo of this, as we rented the audio guides and after about 30 minutes completely ditched them in favor of just exploring the ruins.
I believe having a guide would be nice and informative, especially for something as vast as Pompeii, but the groups I saw had many people and seemed to take a long time to see any of the sites. So for a 2-3 hour tour I don’t think you are going to see much of Pompeii at that pace, and you will be (most likely) with a large group of people.
If you are limited on time, I would do a little research ahead of time and focus on seeing the sites you really want to see. The Forum, the Thermal Baths, the Theaters, the Amphitheater, the Temple of Apollo and the Brothel are popular sites. Don’t miss the Antiquarium near the front entrance to see some of the plaster casts and preserved artwork from Pompeii. I somehow missed the Garden of the Fugitives which houses 13 plaster casts so I’d make sure to save time to see that.
There are two entrances. One way to save time would be to enter one end and exit the other - if you can coordinate your ride that way. The front entrance contains some thermal baths, the forum, the temple of Apollo and the Antiquarium. The back entrance is near the Amphitheater and the Palaestra which has been turned into a museum on the inside.
The best advice I can offer is to do your research ahead of time so you know which sites you’d like to see, and give yourself as much time as possible. Have a big meal before (or bring snacks) and plenty of water and take lots of photos! It’s an incredible place.
No matter how you visit Pompeii, seeing the ancient city that existed nearly 2,000 years ago is a wild experience that every traveler should be adding to their bucket list. If you ever find yourself in Italy, make sure to make the trip down to Pompeii. Or create a trip around visiting Pompeii and explore the city of Naples and the nearby Amalfi Coast. It’s a trip you won’t forget. For more information on visiting Pompeii, check out the 7 Tips For Visiting Pompeii.