Making the most of your visit to Pompeii

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20,461 Posts
Joined Mar 2005
I just returned from a weeklong stay in Sorrento, which was a base for an in-depth tour of the many ancient Roman (and a few Greek) sites in the surrounding area of Campania. I will do reviews of the major sites visited separately.

There must be at least a few other people out there who are nearly as interested in Pompeii's history and ruins as I am, and I did a lot of research on the site before I left home, so I thought I'd share it here for the benefit of others.

Planning in advance is critical to really get the most out of your time in Pompeii -- it's a huge site (most of a whole town), so walking from place to place inside takes a while. Also, directional signs and even signs with the (modern) street names are strikingly absent in many cases. Finally, only a few of the many excavated and restored houses and buildings are open on any given day.

If you have a real interest in Pompeii, it's easy to spend a full day at the site without running short of things to see. For a first time, it's good to plan a variety of places to visit, so you don't get bored (as if it's possible) just looking at house after house. However, if you MUST be there for only a half day visit, I would definitely suggest going in the morning, for two good reasons: 1) it will be cooler and less crowded in the peak summer season, and 2) some houses that are "open" on a particular day may only be open in the morning. If you arrive too late, you may find it closed, even though you were told it would be open all day (unfortunately learned by experience and also heard from others).

Here are some of the tips I picked up while researching the site:

1. Get a good map and become familiar with it. There are several on the Internet, but none of them is optimal -- and here's why. Pompeii is organized by Region (Regio; 9 in all), and then by Insula (Latin for "block") within each region. The roads throughout the site are frequently not signposted, but the Insula and Regio numbers are always indicated on the buildings. Once you acquaint yourself with this system, it is marvelously easy to find your way around the site. If you can't find a good map in advance, at least study some of the maps available on the Internet and mark off things that you want to see. At Pompeii, you can ask for a free map that has the Regio and Insula numbers marked on it.

2. Read at least one book about Pompeii before you go. (Robert Harris's novel is nice, but doesn't count.) I can recommend this one, which gives a lot of good info and visuals, and the price is very fair:

3. Visit a good website, like the Google site, AD79 Eruption (, to get an idea of what you'll see onsite at Pompeii. Be prepared to do a little detective work. In nearly all the houses, the best frescoes (and often mosaics) were removed years ago, either by early "excavators" -- who often were working for wealthy private collectors -- or later by archaeologists to be kept safe in museums. However, there are still some houses in Pompeii where you can see stunning frescoes. Two in particular include the House of Menander (or Menandro, in Italian), which is only open on a rotating basis, and the Villa of the Mysteries, which is nearly always open but is a bit of a walk from the main site.

4. Make reservations in advance (at no charge) to visit two outstanding sites that are NOT open to the public without reservation and that cannot be reserved on the day of entry, the Suburban Baths and the House of the Prince of Naples. The site where this can be done is: (the link should take you directly to the reservations page). The site is all in Italian, but you can use a translator if needed; it's pretty easy to figure out. Just remember when entering the date you wish to visit, that you must enter it in the European style (day/month/year). You must select a time for your visit. Note that the Suburban Baths is near the main entrance, so it might be a good idea to book your time to coincide with the time you plan to arrive or leave the site.

5. Arriving at Pompeii: Get there as early as you can. Your first stop should be the ticket line to get your ticket. Next, visit the small office to the left of the ticket line, where you can pick up the free Pompeii site map and a detailed "mini" guidebook full of information about the various houses. IMPORTANT: This is where you must also ask them to tell you which houses are open that day. Otherwise, there is no way to tell once you get inside the site, and you will waste a lot of time traipsing to houses that look good on paper, only to find them locked up tight when you get there. If you want to get a really good, detailed map, go into the bookstore to the right of the ticket line and look for it (multi-language) near the cashier. It does cost 10 euro but makes a dandy souvenir and is invaluable onsite for those who are truly interested.

6. Once you've done all of this and you know what houses are open, you can plot a course around the site. In addition to houses that are open, you should also plan to visit the Civic Forum (with its chilling view of Vesuvius), and the Forum Baths (just around the corner). In another area, you'll find the Triangular Forum, the Temple of Isis (very worth visiting if it is open), and the Large Theatre. Also visit the Amphitheatre. For fans of Robert Harris's Pompeii, it may be worthwhile to see the Castellum Acquae near the Vesuvian Gate (where you can also climb up on the ancient walls and take a nice photo overlooking the site). Many will want to visit at least one of the famous brothels (called Lupinare). Finally, as I already mentioned, consider walking to the Villa of the Mysteries (about 10 minutes outside the ancient gate, but still part of the site), the frescoes are stunning.

7. Set out on your trek. The streets can be hot and dusty. Fortunately, the water in most of the (ancient) fountains onsite is still running and is drinkable. There's a small restaurant near the Forum that crowded and expensive; best to bring something with you to eat, if possible. Bathrooms are also located here (and at the main gate).

8. There are periodic wooden one-room huts throughout the site that house the Pompeii guards. They can help you locate a house or area if you get lost, and it is sometimes necessary to find one to let you into a reserved house -- don't expect them to be waiting for you (except for the for-pay tours mentioned below).

9. If you are lucky enough to be visiting Pompeii on a Saturday or Sunday, there are two more "special" onsite options open to you. These are the House of Julius Polybius (featured in several specials on Pompeii that I've seen) and the House of the Chaste Lovers, which is right next door. These are only open for one tour daily, at 11:00 am (Chaste Lovers, or "Casti Amanti" in Italian), and noon (Julius Polybius), and only on the weekends. If you want to see them, you MUST make your reservation when you purchase your ticket at the main gate. You cannot do it in advance. There is an extra charge.

I hope this is helpful in planning a successful trip to Pompeii. After spending the better part of two days there, I have to say that I think it is a far richer site (in terms of the quality and variety of what you can see) than Herculaneum, but it is also more challenging because it is so big.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
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Wherever the wind takes me I travel as a visitor. (Horace)
20,461 Posts
Joined Mar 2005
Sorry, just thought of a couple more things:

The Arethusa site that I gave a link to above (for making the free advance reservations) does not play well with all browsers. Seems like I got it to work with Firefox but not with Google Chrome. Just be forewarned that if one doesn't work, try another.


The free Pompeii map that you get onsite gives you some suggested itineraries if you have 2 hours, a half-day, or a full-day at the site. Pay no attention to the Houses they suggest visiting unless you know they are open. I see many on the list that were not open on either of the two days I visited. Instead, substitute the ones you are told are open at the Information desk.
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Wherever the wind takes me I travel as a visitor. (Horace)
4,125 Posts
Joined Feb 2005
Great info. Thank you Cynthia. I am also looking forward to your reports on the other sites you visited and recommend. I will be there in 2013 and have been contemplating something different to do combined with a stop in Positano for lunch.
Portland, Oregon, USA
536 Posts
Joined Oct 2010
Great information, we will make use of it.. thanks!
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Santa Rosa, Ca
1,151 Posts
Joined Mar 2012
Yes, Thanks for taking the time to post this for us. I am finding it hard to wait for our August cruise and visit there.
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11,377 Posts
Joined Apr 2009
Originally posted by flipflops84
Thank you for the great info!

Can I ask a random questions? Are there restrooms inside of Pompeii? I have read about people ducking into restaurants on their way into Pompeii and it got me wondering? Thanks!
Yes, there are restrooms at the entrances and at the cafe inside the ruins.
Raleigh NC
24,687 Posts
Joined Oct 2007
Thanks for taking the time to post this, it is a great how to guide. I will have to check out the book as I read Fire of Vesuvius prior to our visit.
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This is very useful information. Thank you for taking the time to put it together. It is especially helpful to know that some reservations should be made in advance. I have copied and saved it to my Pompeii file.
Oak Park, CA
5,896 Posts
Joined Jul 2006
Okay, in no way do I mean this to be disrespectful because your advise has always been great.... but is this your first time to Pompeii? If so, I'm stunned because of all your trips.

For others wondering, there are 3 or 4 people on this section of the board that are a great reference. Their help is wonderful and their knowledge irreplacable.

For us, we hired a guide. I'm not so much into reading as I go as having someone tell me. Granted when we were done and I was trying to put picture with info it was difficult but...

Cruiseman42 you have a way of making history come alive and that is amazing. I wish I could see it through your eyes. While I'm interested, it in no way comes close to your vision.
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Joined Mar 2005
Originally posted by notentirelynormal
Okay, in no way do I mean this to be disrespectful because your advise has always been great.... but is this your first time to Pompeii? If so, I'm stunned because of all your trips.

For others wondering, there are 3 or 4 people on this section of the board that are a great reference. Their help is wonderful and their knowledge irreplacable.

For us, we hired a guide. I'm not so much into reading as I go as having someone tell me. Granted when we were done and I was trying to put picture with info it was difficult but...

Cruiseman42 you have a way of making history come alive and that is amazing. I wish I could see it through your eyes. While I'm interested, it in no way comes close to your vision.
Goodness no, I had been to Pompeii twice before -- but both times were on tours (one ship tour, one private guide) where time was limited. I mainly posted this so that people who are VERY interested in Pompeii will realize the great value of doing it on your own.

It was eye-opening to me to see how much guided tours of 2-3 hours miss. Folks are fond of saying on this forum that Pompeii is not as well preserved as Herculaneum -- but I submit that I've been inside houses in Pompeii that are as well or better preserved than those at Herculaneum, it's just that group or private tours don't tend to take you there. They take you to the large houses (big groups can't fit in the small ones) and into the houses that they know are reliably open. When I get the chance, I'll post some of the photos to this thread.

It's interesting that you mention about matching up the photos. The beauty of doing all the research up front is that a) you remember a lot more about where you visited and b) it's easier to figure out what all those photos are afterwards.
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Wherever the wind takes me I travel as a visitor. (Horace)
St Ives, England
2,204 Posts
Joined Apr 2010
I so wish I'd seen cruisemom's notes before I went as I'd have had an even better visit than I did. If it's any interest or help I made this from 2 hours there which shows more or less the route most of us walk.
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Columbus, Ohio
18,630 Posts
Joined Mar 2006
As always, cruisemom42 or Cynthia does a super job in sharing her wonderful experiences and expertise. All of us need, however, to determine the level of depth and detail we seek and need in visiting such a large and busy site as Pompeii. The other challenge is that Pompeii is only one of many great options in and around the Naples, Amalfi and Capri region. On a cruise ship visit to the area, you can maybe only see a tenth of what is here. Priorities? Priorities?

Depending on your luck and weather, Pompeii can be busy, busy and/or hot/hot. Plan and prepare accordingly. Below are some of my notes and visuals for this wonderful and impressive location. Whatever you do and how time spent there, you won't forget this spectacular sampling of ancient history.

Pompeii is super awesome. Why??? It is so unique and historic. It gives you a keen insight about how people lived and operated during that long-ago era. My most memorable moment was in walking into Pompeii and noticing certain grooves in the stone pavement. I asked our guide what caused those marking in the stone. Our guide replied: "That's from the chariots." WOW! It became very, very visual for where we were walking and what had happened here long, long ago.

Visiting the brothel house was also super interesting. Our guide pointed to the seven different visuals on the wall that provide "customers" a choice on what position they wished to choose. They needed to use visuals there as sailors from all of the world visited Pompeii and its port in that era. They didn't speak the local language. Our guide in 1999 said on one of the wall visuals that it was the "Monica Lewinsky position". He noted that people from all over the world touring this site knew what that phrase meant, nodding and smiling, regardless of their language spoken. Interesting little detail and moment!!!

Nearby, if you have been to Pompeii previously, there is Herculaneum a smaller luxury resort town for the elite of the Roman empire. Very interesting and a nice "matched set", if you have already seen and done Pompeii. Only about a third of the total site has been opened up as the other above it areas are covered over by current housing/suburbs of Naples. This seaside resort dates back to the 4th century BC. The city was thought to have been founded by or named for the legendary Hercules. This elite Roman resort was devastated by the same volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii in 79 AD. Unlike the ash and lava that devastated Pompeii, Herculaneum was covered by a torrent of mud, which protected the ruins from atmospheric agents and illegal excavators. The site was discovered by accident in the early 1700's when a well was being dug and workmen struck a stone pavement, the stage of the city's theater. Serious excavations began under Mussolini but only about eight blocks have been excavated. The rest is covered not only by rock but also by this dense, modern neighborhood.

On a typical day, Pompeii will have 12,000 visitors, while Herculaneum will have 800-1200 a day. Herculaneum is closer to Naples, but does not have the train station that drops you right there at the main entrance.

THANKS! Enjoy! Terry in Ohio

Did a June 7-19, 2011, Solstice cruise from Barcelona that had stops in Villefranche, ports near Pisa and Rome, Naples, Kotor, Venice and Dubrovnik. Enjoyed great weather and a wonderful trip. Dozens of wonderful visuals with key highlights, tips, comments, etc., on these postings. We are now at 102,165 views for this live/blog re-cap on our first sailing with Celebrity and much on wonderful Barcelona. Check these postings and added info at:

Here are some samples of what we saw in Pompeii with our guide. There are a wide variety of buildings, interiors, art and architectural objects, etc. Very interesting and super historic!!!:

An example of the art on the walls within a residence in Pompeii. Amazing sites and sights in this historic area.: