Pompeii is to archaeology, what the Empire State building is to architecture, so it's important to do it right - and trust me it is very, very possible to do it wrong. I'll prelude this itinerary with stating that this was not my first visit to Pompeii but it sure felt like it was. My first visit to Pompeii back in 2013 was as part of a day tour from Rome, which also included a hike up Mount Vesuvius. Although the trip included a guided 2-hour tour of Pompeii we failed to see much of the archaeological site and only saw 3 plaster casts (of which 1 was hidden behind thick metal bars). For the two hours, we stuck largely to the main entrance area and saw only the forum (stop 6), Terme Stabiene (stop 40), the Grand Theatre (stop 43) and the Brothel, skipping many of the known highlights of the site such as the Amphitheatre (stop 60), the House of Mysteries (stop 30) and the House of Fawn (stop 17). So upon returning to Pompeii last month with 8 hours up my sleeves to see all that I could, it felt like I was getting a second first chance to do Pompeii properly all over again. Below I've compiled a recommended itinerary to allow you to see all the highlights of Pompeii (as well as Herculaneum if you so desire) in one day from Naples.
Naples to Pompeii
Although packed and lacking air conditioning in summer, the circumvesuviana train is the easiest and quickest way to reach Pompeii from Naples. From the central railway station in Naples (i.e. Napoli Garibaldi), just follow the plethora of signs guiding you to the circumvesuviana and its specially appointed ticket desk. Arriving ahead of your planned time in Summer is definitely a good idea as the wait to buy tickets is likely to be at least 15 minutes; although the trains depart every 30 minutes anyway. The train that you will want to catch is the Napoli - Sorrento train. Be sure to stay on the lookout for the station signs as there will be no announcements during the 36 minute journey. For a time table click here.
When you alight (or push yourself through crowds of people as I had to) at Pompeii station, the entrance is just a few metres down the path. Another word of advice is to pre-purchase your entrance ticket here before visiting as you will definitely have a long queue ahead of you other wise. Moreover, avoid the first building offering audioguides you see, and instead get the official audioguide that is offered alongside the ticket desks before you enter through the turnstiles. This audioguide offers information on many more sites and is ALOT easier to use than the phone version offered by other businesses. With your ticket and audioguide in hand, stroll through the turnstiles and into the archaeological wonderland of Pompei! (Note: you will begin at stop 1 on the map below).
The Forum (Stop 6)
The Forum and the overshadowing Mt. Vesuvius will be one of your first views as you enter Pompeii, however don't dwell here too long as there is little shade in the summer heat and it is a much better experience to explore this section later in the day when the tours crowds have left and the sun is lower in the sky.
The Temple of Isis (Stop 47)
Make your way across Pompeii in contrast to the Sun (i.e. from West to East) towards the Amphitheatre. Along the way be sure to stop in the the Temple of Isis (stop 47) and the Grand Theatre (stop 43). The Temple of Isis was one of the first discoveries during the excavation of Pompeii and was - as the name suggests - dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, whose cult was widespread throughout the Roman Empire at the time.
The Amphitheatre (Stop 60)
If plastercasts and/or giant well-preserved roman ruins are how you get your kicks then this is the place for you. As if the amphitheatre is not enough of an architectural and historical marvel in itself, centred in the amphitheatre is an pyramidal structure filled with more plastercasts than any museum. Have your mittens ready though as these plaster casts have skulls and bones visible which can be pretty chilling.
The House of Fawn (Stop 17)
Make your way north via the House of the Fawn. This site is consideered to be one of the largest and most impressive of all of the private residences in Pompeii, housing many esteemed pieces of artwork. It is said to reflect the period even better than the archaeological evidence found in Rome!
The House with the Small Fountain (Stop 18)
Alongside the House of Fawn sits my personal favourite spot in all of Pompeii - the House with the Small Fountain. As one of the most elegant residences of the ancient city, I believe the pictures speak for themselves.
The Villa of Mysteries (stop 30)
Although the northern most part of the site, it is only a 30 minute walk here from the southern most part of the site (i.e. the amphitheater). With some of the most well-preserved and esteemed frescoes of ancient Roman times its definitely worth the calories.
The Central Baths
Finally, en route back to the Forum visit the central baths and take your last chance to jump across the roads of Pompeii
Pompeii to Herculaneum
The Robin the Pompeii's Batman, Herculaneum sits mid-way between Naples and Pompeii. As a much smaller site, it is possible to see all of Herculaneum in just one hour. To get there just catch the Sorrento-Pompei circumvesuviana train back towards Pompeii but alight at the Ercolano Scavi station. Be sure to catch a train that will allow to arrive atleast an hour before the site closes. Here's some of the architectural, archaeological and aesthetic sights that await you....
Herculaneum to Naples
When you've seen all the ruins, mosaics and frescoes that you can handle, just reboard the Sorrento-Pompei circumvesuviana train and head back to your bed, bath and beyond awaiting you in Naples.
Did you find this helpful or do you have some Pompeii tips of your own? Let me know in the comments below. :)