When Jon and I agreed to housesit for two daft dogs and a cat in Naples, we couldn’t wait to visit nearby Pompeii, which had been on my personal bucket list for years. But as soon as we mentioned this to others, nearly everyone said, “If you like Pompeii, you should visit Herculaneum!” Herculaneum, I’d never heard of it. Some travellers, we are!
So once again, we embraced the chaotic, not for the faint-hearted drive on Naples roads and headed to Herculaneum or Ercolano as the road signs say, just to confuse us! And yes, we loved it. Much smaller than Pompeii, far less crowded and easier to see it all in one day. This city was once a Roman seaside town and port with some rather wealthy inhabitants.
Herculaneum vs Pompeii
There is a big difference between Pompeii and Herculaneum. Most of Herculaneum is actually far better preserved than Pompeii (which was covered by ash and pumice) as Herculaneum was destroyed by hot gasses from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. This left the city buried under 20-25 metres of mud and rock. Apparently, when archaeologists started digging they found completely preserved furnishings; beds, wine racks, wooden lofts but no bodies, so it was assumed for a while that the inhabitants had managed to escape. But during excavations in the 1980’s, sheltered in vaults near the ancient beach were 300 skeletons. Most of the skeletons hidden in the arches were women and children, many of the bones still preserved in-situ. And that is your first sight as you enter the ancient town.
Once inside the town, the streets are on a grid system, it’s quite well signposted, so it’s easy to get around. We opted to rent an audio guide, to get a better idea of what we were seeing. But as many of the buildings were so well preserved, it was actually easy to imagine and appreciate life in Roman times and how strange that in some ways, we haven’t changed at all. A bed still looks like a bed, pots remain as pots, a bar still looks like a bar. Unbelievably, remains of frescoes still remained on the walls and I just love the mosaics.
Yes, we would definitely recommend a visit to Herculaneum.
Top tips for visiting Herculaneum
1) Wear comfy shoes or low heels. The streets are cobbled.
2) Bring water and snacks. There is a small snack bar with vending machines but not much on offer. But there are plenty of eateries, just outside the main entrance.
3) Grab a free map as you enter or consider renting an audio guide. €8 for one or €6.50 if more than one rented. We shared one. (Prices as at January 2018) NB: You will need to leave a passport or driving license as a deposit.
4) Go early or late to avoid the tour buses that arrive between 11-2pm.
5) Visit out of high season
How to get to Herculaneum:
Naples to Herculaneum by train: take the circumvesuviana Napoli-Sorrento/ Poggiomarino/ Torre Annunziata
Get off at the Ercolano Scavi. It is about a 15-minute walk from the Herculaneum train station to the site itself.
To Herculaneum by car – take motorway A3 Napoli – Salerno exit Ercolano. Follow the signs; easier said than done though. Parking at €2 an hour is available close to the site.
Herculaneum Opening Hours
April-October 08.30- 19.30 Last entrance 18.00
November-March 08.30- 17.00 Last entrance 15.30
Closed 1st January, 1st May and Christmas Day.
Herculaneum Tickets Cost (as at January 2018)
One day adult ticket €11.00
One day children ticket € 5.50