DIY Pompeii and Amalfi Coast Day 1: the archaeological wonders of Herculaneum and Pompeii
Now with the trip planned, here's a detailed look at how I spent my two days touring Pompeii and Amalfi Coast with suggested timing (always double check the train and bus schedules in advance!):
In the morning I took a 10:11am Circumvesuviana train from Napoli Garibaldi station, getting to Ercolano Scavi (Herculaneum Excavation) at 10:28am - yes, it's a super short ride! The Circumvesuviana is kind of like a commuter rail car, completely covered in graffiti.
From the train station it's an easy walk down to the Herculaneum excavation site. In the entry building is where you have a free bag check.
You can see that Herculaneum is quite compact, so I felt 1 hr 30 min to 1 hr 45 min was good to spend here. Some people skip Herculaneum on their way to Pompeii, but I think it's well worth the stop because it's not only smack in the middle on the way to Pompeii, but also because it's a good introduction to the bigger site.
I loved seeing the mosaic floors here. They seemed so contemporary!
One of the houses is also painted in a cool red to yellow gradient. It really reminded me that these classical sights weren't the white marbled and brick places that we think of, but rather were richly painted and decorated.
I didn't have enough time to sit down for lunch, but grabbed a slice of macaroni pie on the way to the train station. Dare I say it was like a baked mac-and-cheese with ham? It was delicious in a gluttonous way! A 12:58pm train from Ercolani Scavi got me into Pompei Scavi (Pompeii Excavation) at 1:17pm. From the station it is a very short walk to the entrance to the site.
At the entrance there are lockers for bags, and also a guarded left luggage room. I left my bag at the guarded room, since somehow I felt a bit safer leaving my bag with someone there, rather than at the lockers which are unmonitored as they're just before you actually enter. At the station there is a privately-run left luggage service, but I believe it costs money.
Now, at the entrance of Pompeii is also where you sort out the tour business. I knew I wanted to go on a guided tour, because I personally find that I absorb more information that way, and I like having someone to whom I can ask questions. Now, during normal summer months, I think it's not a problem at all to find a tour guide. There are many waiting at the entrance and they work among themselves to form groups of 10 or so, and then each visitor splits the fee for the tour guide, making it about 12 Euros each. This being low season however, Italian tour groups quickly formed, but I was the only one requesting English. Eventually, the guide I spoke with found another guide who was about to lead a French couple; this French couple kindly said that they would do the tour either in French or English. So instead of them paying the tour guide 120 Euros, the three of us went on the tour for 40 Euros each. I was very thankful to this nice French couple!
Our tour guide was a funny guy named Ettore, who told us about the one-way streets in Pompeii...
...the plaster-covered brick construction, made out to look like marble...
...phallic wayfinding "pointing" the way to the brothel...
... the famous "beware of the dog" mosaic...
...the snack bar (with some rooms in the back for brothel-like activities), among many other points of interest.
In the winter, the site closes at 5pm, so I had a couple hours on my own to see some places that the guided tour didn't cover, like the theater and coliseum. I also actually went back and played the Rick Steves free audio guide on my phone, and learned some new things even about the places we had visited on the tour! So if it's not possible to take a guided tour, or it's too pricey, I would really recommend the Rock Steves guide. You can find links to download the mp3 here, where you'll also find links to the app on the iOS and Android app stores.
After Pompeii closed at 5pm, there was a 5:17pm and a 5:47pm train to Sorrento, the last station on the line.
So 30 minutes after leaving Pompeii, I ended up in the cute seaside town of Sorrento. They are really into Christmas in this part of Italy, and I really liked the festive (yet tasteful) atmosphere!
After checking into my hotel, the Hotel Mignon Mueble, I stopped by the cathedral, where the nativity scene included a dinner of Italian treats like spaghetti with ragu sauce and prosciutto!
Next up was a well-deserved dinner after a full day of touring.
Here are all of the posts in this Pompeii and Amalfi Coast itinerary:
This post: DIY Pompeii and Amalfi Coast Day 1: the archaeological wonders of Herculaneum and Pompeii