Visiting Pompeii

The statue of the faun in PompeiiWhen I was growing up, I wanted to be an archeologist. I loved history, and the thought of uncovering temples and tombs in jungles excited me. I used to read books on Greek and Roman history and have discussions with my history teacher, even as young as 13. In short, I was a huge geek from the get-go. Being such a huge history geek, visiting Pompeii, the city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, has always been high on my list of things to do. The falling ash came so quickly it preserved the city just as it was. It’s a place frozen in time.

This year, I finally got to see it. I’ve traveled the world and seen plenty of marvelous ruins, but this is one of the best. The buildings, the frescoes, the streets, the pots, the bodies—everything is so well preserved. And even though a lack of upkeep has taken its toll on the site, I still found it a fascinating place to spend the day. My only hope is that the Italian government will get its act together to keep this site from falling into further disrepair.

Located near Naples, Italy, Pompeii takes a full day to see. If you truly want to indulge your inner Indiana Jones and visit every building here, schedule an extra half day. I saw a lot on my full day, here but there was even more that I missed. With that in mind, what should you see, especially if you can’t come back a second day? Here are some highlights of Pompeii:

The Brothel
A painting of the brothel at Pompeii
The brothel is a tiny house with stone beds and scenes of the acts customers could pay for. It’s ancient porn and is one of the most-visited houses in all of Pompeii. (Probably back then too!)

The Forum Baths
Dark photo of the main baths near the forum at Pompeii
Located near the forum, these baths are incredibly well preserved, and you can even peek inside the wall to see how they heated the baths.

The Villa of the Mysteries
The interior of the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii
Located outside the main area, I liked this place because the frescoes were amazingly well preserved and had such great color. Since it’s a bit of walk, there weren’t that many people here either.

The Forum
Tourists walking around the grounds of the Pompeii forum
The most crowded place in Pompeii, the forum is right near the main gate. It was the main center of life in Pompeii and is also were you can go see the relics they found.

The Stabian Baths
The ancient art on the walls of the Stabian Baths in Pompeii
Another well-preserved bath, this one is the oldest in Pompeii, has a slightly bigger chamber, and sees a whole lot less crowds. You can also see some preserved bodies here.

House of the Small Fountain
Fresco painting on the wall of the House of the Small Fountain
A beautiful house with a large back room, wonderful frescoes, and a beautiful mosaic fountain. You can even still see the sloped roof used to gather rainwater.

House of the Faun
The House of the Faun Courtyard with bushes and grass
This is the biggest house in Pompeii and gets its name from the statue in the front courtyard. There’s a large courtyard in the back where you can also find a very detailed mosaic of a battle scene.

Garden of the Fugitives
The statue bodies in the Garden of the Fugitives
Located in the back of Pompeii, this old vineyard has preserved casts of people who didn’t make it out of the city alive. There’s also a fantastic garden here.

House of Venus in the Shell
The painting of Venus in the Shell at Pompeii
Another place located far away from the crowds, this house has a colorful fresco to the goddess Venus. There are also a few gardens here and a detailed statue of Mars.

The Amphitheater
The amphitheater as seen from above in the Spring
This huge amphitheater is where they held the ancient games that entertained them. It’s a quiet place to walk around and given its position at the far end of Pompeii, you’ll see very few people there, especially during the early morning or late afternoon hours.

Great Palestra
The columns of the Pompeii Palace
Right next to the amphitheater, the “great palace” was an exercise park and place for youth groups. It’s also a great place to escape the crowds.

House of Sallustio
The House of Sallustio at Pompeii
One of the oldest houses in Pompeii, this was most likely an inn. There’s a small garden in the back, a fresco of the goddess Diana, and even a little food shop in the front.

There are hundreds of buildings to see and wander through in Pompeii. Just the highlighted ones will consume a lot of your time. These are just my favorite sites—both popular and less popular, but all beautiful.

Pompeii Visiting Tips

  • Watch out for closings. Not all the attractions are open as they say they are. I found a number of places you were supposed to be able to get into closed. They even started closing one while I was looking around.
  • Start in the back. To avoid the crowds, move from the farthest temples toward the front. The majority of people stick to the center of Pompeii, and you can visit the main area when the crowds have gone by late afternoon.
  • Don’t do the audio guide. I bought the audio tour for 10 euros and found it to be a waste of time. The free book they give you includes enough information. The audio guide doesn’t explain much more.
  • Limited time? Do a guided tour. I listened to a number of guided tours while I was walking around and I was impressed with their knowledge. Plus, I like being able to ask questions that can further explain things. The guided tours simply take you to the highlights, unless you do a personal tour.
  • Bring lots of water. During the summer, it gets scorchingly hot. Bring lots of water and some sunscreen to avoid being burnt.

In the time I was there, I barely scratched the surface of Pompeii, and I filled a whole day! One day, I’d love to go back and visit all the buildings I missed. But then again, I’m a history geek and could spend days upon days among ruins. If you don’t live and breathe history like I do, one day would be enough to see the highlights. Make sure you move away from the city center to see some of the lesser known and less crowded sites. Walking among the ruins is an eerie but beautiful feeling.

  1. Thanks for the summary. I’ve always wanted to go there too. Hopefully I’ll go next time I’m in Italy, maybe later this year. Do you know if they open all year round?

  2. Forest

    I’ve not yet made it to Pompeii, but it looks and sounds fantastic! Did you stay nearby? Or did you travel to and from Naples or Sorrento?

  3. I gotta say out of tons of travel sites, your content stands above the rest. Nice post.

    I gotta checkout Pompeii when I’m in Italy.

  4. It is amazing to see how well preserved the place is. One of the wonderful things about travelling is visiting such places where the history is so raw and real. I did not realise it was such a large place, I hope, like you said, that the Italian Government get it together to ensure it is well looked after. Excellent pictures Matt.

  5. Very cool. I can’t wait to visit Pompeii. I absolutely love ruins. I love walking around imagining what it must’ve been like to live there. It’s amazing when you can see, touch & walk the same areas as people did hundreds of years ago. It never gets old.

  6. Love it! I went to Italy last summer and we hoped to make it to Pompeii, but we ran out of time. I’ve been fascinated with it since I was a kid, so I definitely plan to get there one day. I’ve never seen anyone break it down like this before with an image and short description of each area–that’s really helpful.

  7. calloddie

    Great photos! I visited Pompeii in 2005, but had an ailing camera I’d borrowed for the trip that was very hit or miss in capturing good shots. Loved reminiscing through your much better pics. I don’t know if they are open year round, but we were there in late November. It was very cold and windy, and yet we walked through the ruins for hours – couldn’t believe how much they grabbed our attention & interest!

  8. I wanted to be an archaeologist too – i fancied history and mythology , literature and arts ..missed Pompeii during my last visit to Italy ..shd plan one soon

  9. Excellent photos! I visited Pompeii in 2005 with a large group. We broke off and took guided tours, and our Italian tour guide was knowledgeable and also funny, which made the whole experience a lot of fun. Pompeii is one of those surreal places that I find amazing. It’s raw and it’s real, and there’s so much history (and pretty solemn history, at that). I feel lucky that I got to experience it.

  10. I wish I had read this before going to Pompeii! I would also recommend Rick Steve’s free audio guide which you can download to your iPhone or iPod. I think my favourite part was learning about all the ingenious engineering that went into the town – so very clever!

  11. Thanks for an interesting and informative post about Pompeii! I’m heading to Rome in May and am definitely planning to do the day trip. I’ve seen so many pictures but am excited to actually have the opportunity to see for myself soon! Also, thanks for the tip about the audio guides. I never know if those are worth the money or not, but I’ll keep your advice in mind when I go. Thanks again!

  12. courtney

    its interesting to see how well the city has formed to all the life that began and ended in the city’s last flourishing hours

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