Herculaneum is an exceptionally well-preserved archaeological site dating back to Roman times, located about 15 kilometers from Naples and Pompeii. In our opinion, a visit to Herculaneum is a must on your trip to the Naples area, for several reasons that we’ll detail in this article.
To be completely honest and transparent, as always, we definitely preferred visiting Herculaneum to its famous neighbor. The ruins are of course less impressive than those at Pompeii, but much better preserved.
This makes your visit to the site much more pleasant. We felt as if we were visiting Herculaneum before Vesuvius exploded.
At the end of the article, you’ll also find our map with our itinerary to make sure you don’t miss a thing on site, what we recommend you see, and our best addresses. As always, our goal is to to help you organize your trip.
- Herculaneum or Pompeii?
- The incredible history of Herculaneum
- Our must-see items, not to be missed, on our map
- How to reach Herculaneum from Naples or Pompeii?
- Where to buy these tickets to visit Herculaneum ?
- Why and how to book a guided tour in advance?
- Where to sleep to be the first on the site?
- Where to eat a good pizza?
- How to continue to Vesuvius?
Herculaneum or Pompeii?
Obviously, it’s difficult for us to answer this question, as the two sites are so complementary. As mentioned in the introduction, we had a slight preference for our visit to the archaeological park of Herculaneum, so we’ll explain why we think it’s essential to add this site to your list of things to do around Naples.
Why visit Herculaneum?
The town of Herculaneum (Ercolano) was closer to Vesuvius, so the town was buried under a more important layer of material (15 to 20 meters of ashes and stones).
This thick layer allowed for excellent conservation. As you can see, there are still paintings on the walls of almost all the houses, wood and furniture have been found almost intact.
The floors have also been better preserved than in Pompeii, which will give you a precise idea of the volumes of the houses of the time.
You will have the impression to walk through a city which was recently abandoned by its inhabitants, whereas it was built 2 millenia ago!
Its moderate number of visitors
300,000 visitors come to the site every year, which is less than the 3 million visitors to Pompeii.
We started our exploration as soon as it opened, as is often the case, we were almost alone for the first few hours, and when we left at around 12:00, there was a line at the ticket office.
We also enjoyed Pompeii less because of the many groups that visit it, knowing that the streets are narrow and the houses generally small. The crowd effect is more noticeable.
Its small size
Only a quarter of the site has been unearthed and excavated, as the new city was built on top of the old one.
You will access it by a footbridge from which you will have an excellent overview . This will help you to understand quickly the organization of the excavated part, which allows you to enter quickly in the visit.
The site is ideally located
It’s easy to include in your itinerary, as it lies between Naples and Pompeii.
You can leave Naples in the morning, either sleeping there to be able to do Vesuvius the next day or to reach Pompeii after your visit.
We’ve even met travelers with vehicles, who visited Herculaneum in the morning and Vesuvius in the afternoon. The sites are so close to each other that you won’t waste any time getting around.
The incredible history of Herculaneum
Herculaneum was a small agricultural and fishing village, where about 4000 people lived in Roman times. This city, once on the sea, also attracted the rich Romans of the region, as evidenced by the magnificent mansions found on the waterfront.
In October 79, the city was completely buried under 20 meters of ash and stones, following the violent and sudden eruption of Vesuvius that affected the entire bay of Naples.
As mentioned above, it was the closesttown to Vesuvius, so this thick layer of rock has enabled excellent preservation, giving you an insight into how the Romans lived.
Note that, the public and religious buildings are still buried under the current city, that’s why we find that Pompeii brings a complementary reading to the life in antiquity.
Our must-see items, not to be missed, on our map
Before your visit
We also recommend that you go to the Virtual Archaeological Museum the day before your visit. Unfortunately we could not go there because it is closed at the beginning of the week.
The 3D film projected, seems perfect to better understand the eruption of Vesuvius, and the life at the time of Pompeii and Herculaneum. If you have the chance to go there, you will tell us if it is an interesting museum (entrance fee 4€)
Let’s go for the visit of Herculaneum
As mentioned above, the view of the site from the footbridge allows us to understand the organization of the excavated area. Your tour will start with the port area and then you will go to the city .
We suggest you simply stroll through the streets of Herculaneum, so well preserved. Project yourself into life in Roman times, observing the houses, terms, shops and taverns still in excellent condition.
The explanatory panels are non-existent in Herculaneum. If you don’t have time to prepare your visit or if you want to optimize your visit and get information and anecdotes, don’ t hesitate to book a visit with a French speaking guide.
Here are a few of the most important places we think you should see:
1. Suburban spas
They are extremely well preserved, you will be able to observe the various basins as well as the beautiful mosaics on the ground.
2. Deer House
Lacasa dei Cervi (TheDeer House) is, in our opinion, the most beautiful house on the site, with beautiful mosaics on the floor and walls, frescoes on the walls and a magnificent garden (Peristyle) overlooking the sea (in Roman times).
3. Telèphe relief house
Maison du relief de Télèphe (La casa del Relievo di telefo) is the second-largest villa in the town, with many red paintings on the walls and well-restored columns, surrounding the impluvium (rainwater collection basin).
These little taverns (thermopolium) are generally well-preserved, while the earthenware jars (used to hold hot dishes) are still in place, integrated into the countertop. You will find several of them during your visit to the site.
5. Maison de la belle cour
The House of the Beautiful Courtyard, (la Casa del bel Cortile), is a must-see house, if you go all the way to the bottom take the stone staircase you can reach and explore its upper floor .
It’s impressive, we were close to missing it, because it’s a bit hidden.
6. Store and house of Neptune and Amphitrite
This extremely well-preserved store gives an excellent idea of the structure of the shops of the time.
The wooden floors have been reconstructed from the remains found during the excavations and beautiful amphorae are stored. In the background, beautiful mosaics on the wall with still shells.
7. Decumanus maximus (street)
The street is located at the bottom of the site, it is the closest to the actual city. We found it extremely interesting because there are many stores (with still pieces of wood found during the excavations) and even inscriptions on the walls still well preserved.
You can also imagine that after this area, there are all the ruins still buried under the new city.
8. House with wooden partition
The house with the wooden partition(casa del tramezzo di legno) here you’ll see a remarkably well-preserved wooden panel that separated the atrium from the tablinum, where the owner talked business with his clients, as well as the remains of a bed.
How long does it take to visit Herculaneum?
In 3 hours you should have time to explore almost the entire site. To see Pompeii in its entirety, you’d have to stay several days.
How to reach Herculaneum from Naples or Pompeii?
As mentioned above, this site is ideally located, equidistant from Naples and Pompeii (about 15 kilometers from each city). There are several options for visiting Herculaneum from Naples.
By train from Naples or Pompeii
This is a very good option, especially in high season. The Circumvesuviana train from the “Napoli Centrale” station takes you to the “Ercolano Scavi” stop, 500 meters from the entrance, in 20 minutes, for just €2 per journey.
When you leave the station, you only have to go down the 4th of November road to the excavations. You can take this train again if you wish to continue to Pompeii.
We joined the site in car because we were there out of the tourist season, be careful the driving is a little bit sportive in Naples, there is a lot of traffic and the traffic rules are particular in Italy (mean specific to each driver…), it will become easier when you get closer to Herculaneum.
Then you can park for free (not secured) a few meters from the site, we have indicated the parking on the map more.
A secure parking lot is located at the foot of the site, but please note that it costs 5€ per hour. It is also a good option to visit the site with peace of mind. It is certainly necessary to arrive early in high season to have space.
How to get to Naples?
To reach Naples from France, you can find flights from 30€. We advise you to compare the prices of the different flights on the Skyscanner website.
Of course, we recommend a 1-day walking tour of Naples, a city with a typically Mediterranean atmosphere that’s sure to give you a change of scene. If you have time, we recommend a visit to the wild and beautiful island of Capri in the Bay of Naples.
Where to buy these tickets to visit Herculaneum ?
There are two options for purchasing the ticket:
- Buy your ticket on site (attention to the world) or the take onlineA ticket to Herculaneum costs €19, including a ticket for a guided tour of the site. French reservation siteThis will help you avoid long queues.
- To acquire the Campania Artecard is a range of cultural cards, which allows you to visit many museums in the region, several packages are offered, with or without transport included. If you want to visit several sites, it can be quite profitable.
We let you look at the details on the official website and do your own calculations!
Beware, Vesuvius is not included, we were tricked, finally our card was not profitable … We did not find the offer very readable. We still point you to the official website, because we like to support this kind of initiatives.
Why and how to book a guided tour in advance?
As you can see, once on the spot, there is no explanatory panel present in the site. We were very surprised, it is very rare to have a tourist site and so few explanations. Fortunately we had, for once, had some time to prepare our visit.
As you can see in Herculaneum and Pompeii, most visitors walk around the site accompanied by a guide.
We would have liked to have more explanations once we were there.
To book your guided tour in advance, please follow the links below.
Where to sleep to be the first on the site?
As mentioned above, we advise you to arrive as soon as the site opens in order to avoid the crowd of tourists. The ideal is therefore, in our opinion, to sleep near the site.
The hotels are cheap and most of them are located near the archaeological site, anyway there is nothing else to see in this city!
➡️A Herculanum : Ruins B&B, les chambres sont agréables et la literie hyper confortable. Le personnel est adorable. L’hôtel est situé en face des ruines donc parfait pour être les premiers sur le site et avec une superbe terrasse ! Pour 10€, l’hôtel vous propose un parking sécurisé.
You can also spend the night in Naples or Pompeii, here are our hotel recommendations:
➡️A Pompeii : we stayed at Il Vecchio Fauno, a 5-minute walk from the ruins, the town center and the station. Our room was spacious, clean and well decoratedAs an added bonus, there are paintings on display in the hotel’s common areas. The breakfast is very good, homemade cake, blinis, eggs, ham, fruit etc…
The hosts are lovely and will gladly answer all your questions, which is always great! If you come by car the parking is free, which allows you to save about ten euros and stress less! In short, an excellent quality/price ratio!
To make your search for accommodation in Naples easier, we’ve put together an article detailing the most interesting neighborhoods and those to avoid, as well as our best hotel addresses.
➡️A Naples: we recommend the hotel Garibaldi Rooms, the location is ideal just next to the central station, and therefore the stop of the airport shuttle in the historic center so you can do everything on foot. We slept there for 3 nights in a quiet place.
Where to eat a good pizza?
We were tempted by the excellent reviews of the Pizzeria Ro.Vi. located at the foot of the site. We were a little skeptical, because so well rated and so close to a tourist site it is not usual. Indeed, the pizzas are good and copious for a small price.
How to continue to Vesuvius?
The only access road to Vesuvius starts fromHerculaneum. If you wish to explore the volcano, we recommend you to go there after your visit or following before going to Pompeii.
This is an excellent option, with Vesuvio Express The bus is located in front of the station and takes 30 minutes to reach Vesuvius and back for 10€ per person.
You have to book your ticket for Vesuvius online, for 10€, otherwise the company sells them for 15€…
Once there, you will have only 1h30 to climb to the crater. If you want to take your time there, you will have to go by your own means.
From Herculaneum the road is extremely well indicated, the parking fee is 5€ and there are minibuses to the beginning of the ascent, at the ticket office 2km above (1€/person or possibility to do it on foot).
Attention we warn you, it is absolutely necessary to reserve your ticket before arriving at the ticket office. The number of places is limited and the tickets go quickly, usually the same day there are none at the ticket office at the level of Vesuvius, you will have come all this way for nothing.
In short, as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, we thoroughly enjoyed and learned from this visit. In our opinion, it’s a must-see, and we strongly recommend that you include this site in your itinerary when visiting Naples.
We thank you for having read all the way to the end, don’t hesitate to leave us a note below to tell us if you are planning this trip, or to ask any questions you may have, we will answer you with great pleasure!