Travelers to Pompeii, the modern Italian city, are often only interested in visiting Pompeii, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and ruins of the ancient Roman city.
Pompeii is magnificent and should indeed be included on any cultural stop in Italy, but there is more to see and do along the road less travelled near Pompeii.
Visit the Archeological Site of Pompeii
When considering cultural places near Pompeii, visiting the archeological site of Pompeii is a must. There are three entrances to the archeological site (Porta Marina, Piazza Esedra and Piazza Anfiteatro). Advanced research is recommended to determine if ruins you’d like to see are closer to a specific entrance, as the site is very big, and it is near impossible to experience everything in one visit. The archeological excavations are ongoing at Pompeii and new discoveries are made daily.
During the spring/summer months, Pompeii is open 9am – 7pm, with the last entry at 5:30pm. Tickets are available for purchase for 24 Euro, but if you plan on spending more than one day visiting or want the freedom to come and go, the MyPompeii Card is highly recommended. This annual pass can only be purchased online prior to the first visit for $35 Euro and allows unlimited access.
Alternatively, you can get this Pompeii Pass which includes a fast-track access to Pompeii including a 2-hour guided tour, entry to Magic Ancient Pompeii and a ride on the new Touristic Train.
Book your reserved entrance ticket to Pompeii below:
If you’re able, take advantage of the late afternoon hours, there are fewer people visiting and you’re able to capture beautiful photos in the light of the setting sun. In the summer months, the mid-day sun can be very intense, and it is important to dress appropriately and carry a water bottle (or collapsible cup) with you to take advantage of the many available fountains in Pompeii.
Available for free download is the new MyPompeii App, an interactive map of the ruins, with valuable information about the homes, including names, hours of operation and days they are open for public view. It is a good way to orient oneself, as it is quite easy to get lost or turned around among the many side streets.
Most visitors of Pompeii follow the stone roadways, sunken paths to allow for flooding, with large stepping-stones to cross without getting wet/dirty. Depending on the state of the homes along the way, some may only be visible from the outside, may have an accessibility ramp, have a designated walkway inside (some rooms or paths inaccessible) and/or have a representative inside monitoring tourists.
Walking through the ruins of Pompeii, it is a constant wonder how beautiful pieces of artwork, delicate frescoes and lavish mosaics with intricate details, managed to survive. The colours are so vivid, it is hard to imagine that they were once covered in layers of ash. Between the excavated homes, there are often open spaces with ruins, where visitors are free to walk through unsupervised, stepping into the rooms, touching the marble and stone.
At the Porta Marina entrance, there is a large gift shop. In addition to goods for sale, there are casts on display, some of small children and one of a horse. The casts are the bodies of victims frozen in the same position as when the volcanic flow reached them. Having been covered by layers of ash, the shape of their bodies remained preserved even after decomposition. Many in defensive positions, their teeth and bones are sometimes visible, the casts are eerie reminders of the tragic end many encountered in Pompeii.
Dine Ancient Pompeii Style at Caupona Restaurant
If you are visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii, plan for a lunch break (or special dinner) that will enhance your experience and knowledge of the ancient city. Caupona is a unique restaurant located near the archeological site of Pompeii, that promises a magical and authentic Roman experience. Step back in time and make a cultural stop to ancient Pompeii.
“Caupona” refers to the place where food (and sometimes lodging) was on offer in ancient Roman times, often seen in the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the caupona could be opened to the street for “fast food” service. The Caupona Restaurant in Pompei is considered the first faithfully reproduced ancient caupona. It is a mere 10-minute walk from Pompeii’s Porta Marina exit, following the slope of Via Villa dei Misteri. The restaurant is located on Via Masseria Curato, along a narrow laneway that is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.
Stepping through the iron gates and into the courtyard, hosts welcome you, sometimes dressed as ancient Romans (an option that is also available for patrons). Inside, small wooden tables with simple wooden chairs are adorned with terra cotta goblets and tapered wax candles. Ancient Pompeii was considered a major resort city during the times of ancient Rome. The walls of Caupona Restaurant are painted to imitate the stunning frescos found during excavations at the archeological site of Pompeii.
Caupona offers both contemporary and ancient Roman dishes, all served on hand-painted terra cotta plates. The menus themselves are a work of art. Bound with white string, each adorns a unique cover made from thin wood with hand-painted images. All patrons are provided with a rustic loaf of bread, hand made the way it would have been in ancient Pompeii. It is crunchy and flavourful, especially drizzled with olive oil or coupled with the rustic tomato and thick bufala mozzarella starter, drizzled in balsamic vinegar.
The menu options are all delicious, including the cheese agnolotti with tomatoes and cream, the gnocchi with mussels in broth, the pomegranate-berry granita and the special cheesecake, beautifully decorated with edible flowers and cookie crumble. Visiting Caupona Restaurant is cultural experience for all the senses.
Visit the Less-Frequented Archeological Site of Herculaneum
Often overlooked, is the nearby city of Herculaneum, whose people were also affected by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and whose archeological site is surprisingly well preserved. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the entrance on the day of the visit. We recommend booking skip-the-line tickets that include a guided tour with an archaeologist to get the full experience.
The ruins of ancient Herculaneum are located lower than the current city, which provides an opportunity to see the excavated ruins from a unique high vantage point when entering.
Located only 17 km away from Pompeii, the ancient city of Herculaneum sat closer to the base of Mount Vesuvius. A seaside town with a small harbour, it was a holiday destination for the wealthy. On the day of the tragic eruption, the wind direction blew the rocks onto Pompeii, causing mass destruction, but spared Herculaneum, giving its people a chance to escape, but the fast-moving pyroclastic flows that came later, instantly incinerated them and buried Herculaneum in 25 meters of ash. Five times the amount of ash that covered Pompeii.
The Herculaneum archeological site is much smaller than that of Pompeii, with only a fraction of its original size uncovered. Most of Herculaneum remains buried, some of which is underneath the modern towns of Ercolano and Portici. Dozens of skeletons were unearthed inside boathouses along the shore. This is, in fact, one of the first things you see as you enter the archeological site, a grim and shocking reminder of how ancient Herculaneum fell.
In Pompeii, the rocks destroyed most of the buildings, none of the second levels survived, but in Herculaneum, the conditions preserved not only strong structures, but wood, paper books/scrolls and organic materials, including food and human waste. It is the high level of preservation of Herculaneum that makes it an important cultural stop when visiting nearby Pompei.
Around the site, there are directional street signs and building signs on those open to the public, but they are small and subtle. Like in Pompeii, visitors are able to wander at will, but most of Herculaneum is much more accessible, with only the occasional rope or barrier to advise visitors not to venture any further. Visitors have direct access to rooms with phenomenal frescos, the ability to walk over and on top of mosaic floors and into private rooms and gardens.
With many buildings intact and second stories visible, Herculaneum feels complete. Though smaller, there are significantly less tourists visiting, leaving Herculaneum feeling more of a ghost town abandoned, rather than an archeological site. Herculaneum is less restricted, less commercial, and much more intimate than Pompeii.
Hike up to the Crater of Mount Vesuvius
Overshadowing everything in its vicinity, is the volcano that destroyed and preserved the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Located squarely in between Naples city center and Pompei city, the Vesuvius National Park is a short 30-minute drive either direction. Drivers can park, but then need to hike an extra 30-minutes to the main entrance. Tour buses and private guides, however, will drive past the parking lot and directly to the main entrance.
We recommend booking the Vesuvio Express which includes roundtrip transport and an entrance ticket to the Vesuvio National Park.
Regardless of how you arrive, tickets must be purchased online, they are no longer available at the gate. For safety reasons, groups of 60 are allowed access every 10-minutes. Each ticket has an entrance time, with a short leeway prior and after to enter, but latecomers will not be accepted nor refunded. Official tickets can be purchased through the Vesuvius National Park website for $11 Euro but note that the tickets appear as a downloadable link and will not be emailed to you.
The main entrance is located at the top of a series of switchbacks, on a tight rocky expanse with souvenir stands and a small variety store/café that allows patrons use of their small, shaded patio and the only bathroom with purchase.
On the hike, the incline is deceivingly steep and the terrain sometimes slippery. The rocks are loose in sections, so proper footing is crucial. Hikers are of all ages and fitness levels, each walking at their own pace. The path is quite wide, and most are able to hike each incline and rest when it levels off to switchback. Some hikers use the wooden railing posts to lean on or help propel themselves forward.
Those in average physical shape should reach the top landing in 45-minutes, where there is a little shop to purchase snacks, souvenirs, and drinks (including alcohol). There are also locals offering a guided walk around the crater (at cost). From the shop, the walking path continues to the mouth of the crater, where the terrain remains rocky but there is less of an incline.
The view is indescribable. A breathtaking view of the city below from 4,000 ft and the mouth of one of the most famous volcanoes in the world. The path continues beyond the crater, climbing up to a higher level for a different view. The hike down retraces the same path and is much easier, but not much faster, as the incline and loose rocks make it easy to lose ones footing and balance.
Hiking Mount Vesuvius is worth any pain or exhaustion you may feel afterwards. Wear proper footwear and clothing to be protected from the elements, but most importantly, take your time, drink water, and bask in the phenomenal views.
Wine Tasting at Cantina del Vesuvio Winery
After a long hike or stroll through ancient streets, make a stop at a local cantina for lunch and/or wine tasting. The Cantina del Vesuvio Winery is located within the Vesuvius National Park. Anyone can make a reservation for a lunch wine tasting and simply drive up to the winery.
If you don’t have access to a car, you can book a transfer and tour from nearby Naples or take advantage of the free shuttle the winery offers from Pompei city. Sit back, relax and soak in the view on this unique and enjoyable cultural stop near Pompei.
Wine tastings are offered daily between 11am – 4pm, where guests can choose between the Classic ($38 Euro) and Superior ($48 Euro) packages, each with a total of 6 wines served with a multi-course lunch. Families are welcome; children 4-17 are $25 Euro each and children under 3 dine for free. Dietary restrictions are also accommodated.
Down the long, rocky driveway, Cantina del Vesuvio Winery resembles a large white modern home, but is in fact the main winery, shop, and restaurant. After registering with the receptionist, patrons are handed a delicious glass of sparkling rose to enjoy while waiting for the next tour to begin.
The brief tour provides background on the land, the family and of course, the wine. The vineyard is planted within volcanic soil, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. First planted by the Greeks centuries ago, the wines have been made from these grapes since Ancient Roman times. The Russo family have worked this land since 1930, creating unique tasting wines in limited quantities per year, sold directly from their shop. Also available in the shop are bottles of Vesuvius olive oil, red wine vinegar and their signature hand-painted ceramic rooster jug.
Post tour, patrons are escorted onto the large rooftop terrace and to individual bistro tables. Overhead, thick white canvas provides much needed shade without blocking the phenomenal view of the vineyard. Lunch begins with a basket of warm bread, Extra Virgin olive oil and a red wine vinegar, paired with a very soft and subtle white wine.
A simple antipasto is next, with a variety of local meats, cheeses, and vegetables, paired with a fresh and fruity rose. The next plate is homemade meatballs in a rich tomato sauce, paired with an intense red wine, with strong and rich tones. The main course is a generous helping of homemade spaghetti, tossed in a sauce made from heirloom tomatoes, paired with a dark red wine with a harsh plum finish. The lunch ends with a sweet ricotta cake, paired with a dessert wine with strong apricot and fig flavours.
The wine tasting experience at Cantina del Vesuvio runs approximately two hours from start to finish. For a reasonable price, the winery offers generous portions of delicious food, very generous samples of their wines, in a spectacular setting. Italian culture is embedded in the relaxed enjoyment of food, wine, nature, history, and people. On your next trip to Italy, follow the road less travelled and experience these unique culture stops near Pompei at your leisure.
Explore places near Pompeii
Beneath Pompeii’s ruins lie hidden treasures. Explore archeological wonders like Pompeii itself, where ongoing excavations uncover daily insights, or the well-preserved Herculaneum. Hike Mount Vesuvius for panoramic views, and indulge in Cantina del Vesuvio Winery’s wines and fare. These gems beyond Pompeii’s ruins offer intimate encounters with history, art, and nature. Embrace the road less traveled to unearth Italy’s vibrant tapestry.