Tips for Pompeii Travel

Underneath the accumulation of hardened ash and pumice of a two-millennia-old cataclysm lies a city impeccably preserved, whetting the imagination and sending shivers down the spine of even the most simple-minded visitor. Pompeii, over the centuries, has turned into a living museum than merely an excavation site since it was first discovered. Be among the millions who flock to this ancient Italian city to explore such a beautiful time capsule that has taken more than 25 centuries to be slowly and intricately unearthed.  If you are going to Pompeii, heed the following tips for your Pompeii travel.

Pompeii in a Nutshell

The name “Pompeii” evokes images of a catastrophic event that sent shockwaves around the ancient world. Located in Campania, Italy, southeast of Naples, this ancient city was laid to waste by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79.  In its wake lay some 3,000 inhabitants dead and buried in ash and mud.  Today, Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is considered one of the few excavation sites where an ancient city has been well preserved in detail varying from ornate vessels, elaborate paintings to petrified bodies of humans and animals.  As if frozen in time, the site offers an unparalleled opportunity to perceive how the inhabitants lived around two millennia ago. It allows its visitors to see and be physically present where the people of ancient Pompeii took luxurious baths, where they watched public discussions and performances, where they practiced their beliefs, and how their lives were before that fateful day.

Best Time to Visit

In spring, temperatures are pleasantly warm heading up to a sunny and hot summer.  So, it is best to visit in May or June when prices are a tad lower than in the midsummer month of August where Pompeii is jam-packed with holidaymakers from around the globe.

Climate

As in most places in the Mediterranean, Pompeii enjoys relatively hot summers soothed by light sea winds.  The rainy months in November to February can get pretty much colder, borne by gusting inland winds.  Winter in Pompeii is relatively mild.

Things to Do

Pompeii teems with exciting activities that leave every visitor helplessly eager to try them out. When you're there, never miss out on the fun of doing the following.

1) Get Around

Walking is the best medium of movement within the ruins. Bicycles for rent are sparse.  It would be somewhat unpractical to pedal around over surfaces of cobblestones and rutted earth.  In the heat of summer with temperatures reaching over 95-degrees Fahrenheit, walking across the old Roman cobbled paths can be totally tiresome.  So, bring along lots of water to avoid dehydration unnecessarily. Be ready to don comfy footwear, broad hats, loose clothing, sunscreen and shades.

2) Trek the Vesuvius

The volcano that poured its wrath over Pompeii must definitely be on your list. It will be a short trip from Naples, but it will be a challenging trek to the top. If you don't mind the exhaustion, this activity is one you can't pass up on.

3) Go to the Site of the Ruins

Make sure you have a map. Prioritize the sites you want to see. You can take the tour yourself but a guide would definitely make the difference. Knowing every story behind a building or a plastered shape will enrich your tour.

4) Belt a Song on the Odeon or Theaters

You might not have the energy for it after a tiring and sweat-drenched walk, but the guide sometimes obliges the visitors with a song. Just to let you appreciate the acoustics of the place. That’s one advantage of personal tour guides over recorded audio guides sold at the entrance. The latter won’t be able to belt O Sole Mio at your prompting.

5) Visit Other Attractions of Pompeii

It is true that the excavations in Pompeii are the only archaeological sites today that is preserved in such degree that it is capable of restoring what used to be a Roman civilization. This, however, is not only what Pompeii has to offer. For the religious, pay homage to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Rosary. It is one of the most important Marian devotion centers in Italy. You can marvel at its elaborate architecture, the reception for pilgrims, and even its socially-responsive facilities for mothers and children seeking care and refuge.  Then take the elevator to the church tower and be awed by the magnificent scenery of the Pompeii ruins and its mighty annihilator, Mt. Vesuvius. There is a US$2.60 entry fee.

Address: Piazza Bartolo Longo 1

6) Grab a Souvenir

The entrance gate of Pompeii is dotted with shops that can easily convince you to bring home a piece of the buried ancient city. Take the advantage of your time while you're there. Grab a plaque of the 'Cavec Canem' sign or high quality copies of Roman pottery. They sure are a big bang for your buck.

Top Attractions

The tour to the site is a walk back to nearly two thousand years of civilization. It is worth noting that the explosive and fatal eruption in August 24, 79AD caused the demolition of a whole civilization. It is peculiar that for the same reason, where Pompeii was buried speedily by volcanic ash and pyroclastic materials, that the remains are incredibly preserved and left intact upon excavation and until today.  It is important to hire a guide to understand the history of every site and the process of excavation that took place. The Visite Guidate Pompei at Via Villa dei Misteri should be your first stop to learn what occurred nearly 2,000 years ago to enable you to see the excavation in the correct perspective. Upon entering the site, a one-day ticket will have to be paid for. A ticket costs USD14.50 per adult person, EU citizens have a privilege and pay half the price only.

1) Mount Vesuvius

The volcano that wiped out civilizations in and buried the cities Pompeii and Herculaneum is definitely worth a visit. For USD59 per couple, a tour atop Mt. Vesuvius can be scheduled.  Take a converted army truck up the mountain, explore around the crater’s rim and treasure the fantastic panorama over the Bay of Naples.  Sadly though, a tour is limited to forty minutes only, so make sure that your trip is entirely well planned and timed.

Location: West Coast of Italy

2) Civil Forum

The Civil Forum functioned as the cultural, legal, political and commercial center then. The front was occupied by the Temple of Apollo, the most important religious structure for ancient Pompeii. In the northern side is the Temple of Jupiter, the seat of the cult of Jupiter, Minerva and Juno.

Location: Region VII

3) Tempio di Apollo

The Temple of Apollo existed before the Forum but it has become a major part of it. It was believed to have been built in the 6th century B.C. and later integrated to the Forum. The core of the temple is an altar to the sun god surrounded by columns with several embellishments including the statues of Apollo and Diana. You will find inside the building a long flight of stairs, a sundial, a sacrificial altar, 48 adorned columns, and other ancient Greek architectural elements.

Location: Region VII, 7, 32

4) The Forum Baths

These ancient public baths were the only functioning baths when Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. The other baths at the time were either being built or under renovation.  The baths had sculptures of between the niches on the wall assigned for clothes. It would be great to time you walk to this part early when there is less mass of people, so you can study how elaborately etched were the details on the walls, columns, edges and corners. Having arrived at this site, you might want to know that the only available restaurant inside the site is found next to these Baths.

Location: Region VII, 5 (Between north end of Forum and Via delle Terme)

5) Temple of Jupiter (Tempio di Giove)

This huge and imposing temple, which is situated just at the north side of the Forum, stands in honor of the Capitoline Triad – Jupiter, the chief Roman god; Juno, the queen of heaven and wife of Jupiter, and; Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom.  Among the priceless works of art found during its excavation was the huge and equally impressive head of Jupiter, which is now securely displayed in the Archeological Museum of Naples.

Location: North of the Forum

6) The Triangular Forum

The Forum is strategically surrounded by public buildings, a market place and major temples.  The edifice is well-preserved and well-maintained that you can even tread on the original stonework used by ancient inhabitants.  Exceptionally well-built, the Forum boasts of an amazing acoustics and overlooking the valley and the sea. It will virtually take you back reminiscing of performances and events celebrated right in this place centuries ago.

Location: Southwest of Teatro Grande

7) Teatro Grande (Great Theatre)

After a grueling walk along the other wonderful sites, take a breather in the Great Theatre, occupy a seat in a shaded spot and appreciate the beauty of what was once covered in volcanic debris. You can belt out a song to try the coliseum’s acoustics.

Location: Region VIII, 7, 20

8) Tempio d'Iside

The Tempio d’Iside is located adjacent to the Big Theater of Pompeii.  This small yet attractive temple is devoted to the Egyptian nature goddess, Isis, with frescoes showing a milieu of the Nile.  It is so completely preserved that even some of the original paint still remains intact to this day. An earlier earthquake in 62 A.D. prompted the people of Pompeii to restore the temple, a tangible testimony to the Egyptian cult practiced by the Romans then. The restoration before 79 A.D. could account for the more preserved state of the temple compared to the other temples.

Location: Region VIII, 7, 28 (North of the Grand Theatre)

9) Odeion (Small Theatre)

Early mornings are a good time to visit the Odeion, where one can imbibe the serenity and coolness of the theater in solitary.  Built during the early years of Roman colonization, it was once a covered enclosure that can accommodate more or less 2,000 theater-goers.

Address: Region VIII, 7,19

10) Amphitheater

This structure was presumed to be the amphitheatre of Pompeii, host to gladiator games. The colossal 80 B.C. arena is capable of seating over 10,000 spectators. It is considered as one of the oldest buildings of similar construction and purpose. It could even have been the model for the latter structures. The theatre had a massive canopy that could be stretched over it in case of rains.

Where to Eat

Pompeiians have a record of ancient recipes that make intensive use of cottage cheeses, chopped dried fruits, black olives, some version of lasagna, and many more. The mind already takes delight in the food that is conjured up from these descriptions. On the streets of present-day Pompeii, the same delight and concentration on ingredients selection and food preparation are devoted by chefs and restaurateurs to please their patrons. Relish Italian food at its best in any of these restaurants and brasseries.

1) Add'u Mimi

Food is a field of specialization among Italians. When in Pompeii, find time to eat breakfast or lunch at Add’u Mimi. Spaghetti sauces are made from local tomatoes, the same with the other local ingredients that make for excellent local Italian food. Dining there is made more special by the warm hospitality of the owner. They can deliver to your hotel, too, should you be too tired to hunt for dinner. Try their seafood pasta and complimentary bruschetta. Price range starts from USD21 to USD36.

Address: Via Roma 61

2) Garum

Pick a table by the terrace and order the highly recommended antipasti, sliced beef on sizzling plate, and seafood risotto. Great food and great service – elements you will remember Garum by. Price ranges from USD17 to USD49.

Address: Via G. Mazzini, 63/65

3) O Primmo Ammore

Find your Mediterranean dinner from this posh restaurant. This top-rated diner serves nothing but excellent homemade pasta, freshly prepared appetizers, categorically the best ravioli, and the most divine gelato.   Prices range from USD44 to USD63.

Address: Via Lepanto, 180

4) Il Principe

Bring home a memory of Pompeii that will remain in your taste buds forever. Il Principe serves its version of the cheesecake which, according to the manager of this al fresco restaurant, is similar to the centuries-old recipe from ancient Pompeii. Whether that is a sales pitch or a real cultural heritage note, the cheesecake is something quite out of the usual. There are other items in the menu that you will find hard to resist, such as the octopus salad, and a variety of entrees and desserts. Prices range from US$39 to US$71.

Address: Piazza Bartolo Longo, 8

5) Pasticceria De Vivo dal 1955

The place to go for real Italian gelato, coffee, homemade panettone, and Southern Italian cakes is the Pasticceria de Vivo dal 1955. The names are quite difficult to say, much less understand, but it is very easy to comprehend that the cakes are mouth-watering in whatever language and by universal standards. Prices per serving range from US$7 to US$10.

Address: Via Roma 38

Where to Stay

Hotels in Pompeii are reasonably priced. With the characteristic Italian warmth and charm, be enamored by the accommodations and services provided by the hotels included on this list.

1) Hotel Diana Pompei

Since Pompeii can get really hot, it is necessary to find a hotel that will allow for a cool respite. Hotel Diana is such hotel with well-conditioned rooms and a refreshing garden with lovely shrubs and lemon trees. They serve great coffee with an enjoyable breakfast. The people working in the hotel provide a genuinely warm and helpful service. Room rate starts from US$64 per night.

Address: Vicolo Sant’Abbondio12

2) Hotel Amleto 

This hotel is strategically located near Pompeii’s side entrance near the amphitheater, which is more preferable if you wish to evade the crowd. The rooms are simple and clean. The front desk is well trained to assist guests and Pompeii tourists. There is also free valet parking. Room rate starts from US$115 per night.

Address: Via B. Longo 10

3) Hotel Vittoria

With the ruins of Pompeii located just several footsteps away, this hotel is a great option. Get a room that provides a great window view of the ruins. Family rooms are also available with large bathrooms and comfortable beds. Complimentary breakfast is provided and service is excellent. Room rate starts from US$77.

Address: Piazza Porta Marina 1

4) Palma Hotel

With a 10-minute stroll, you can reach the Pompeii ruins site from this hotel’s doorsteps. The station is about 30-minutes away in case you need to catch a ride to Sorrento or Naples. The management and staff are very friendly and accommodating, too. Room rates start from US$108 per night.

Address: Via Piave 15

5) Albergo Pace Pompei

This hotel is safe on the budget, with clean and spacious accommodations. There is a common roof deck area which offers a great view of nearby ruins, the Cathedral, shops and busy streets. The breakfast room exudes a homey ambiance with professional service. Complimentary breakfast with aromatic cappuccino will wake all your five senses up, no doubt. Room rate starts from US$60 per night.

Address: Via Sacra 29

Pompeii promises to bring you farther back in time, making it imperative that you learn about it before you go, and as you go. Don’t allow all of your efforts and expenses to come to naught. Your readings and the guide are almost always the key, since the stories make the excavated remnants come to life. Pompeii is an ancient city that had been dug up, to allow its visitors to learn and comprehend. So when you take the trip, don’t just skim over the sites. Pompeii summons you to look deeper into it to get to know many fascinating things about the ancient world-- how brothels came into existence, how plumbing was first done, how entrepreneurship commenced, how civilization could be advanced even with the absence of technology-- which would make you rethink and appreciate history more than ever.

Marv Perez