The Ruins of Herculaneum (Ercolano) Next to Naples, Italy
The Ruins of Herculaneum (Ercolano) Next to Naples, Italy

When Jonathan 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 the Herculaneum ruins!” Herculaneum, I’d never heard of it. Some travellers, we are!

Fireplace in Herculaneum (Ercolano)
Living Area at a House in Herculaneum (Ercolano) is not Much DIfferent than it was in 79 A.D.

So once again, we embraced the chaotic, not for the faint-hearted drive on Naples roads and headed to visit 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.

In Herculaneum, (Ercolano) Some of the Charred Balconies Look Like The Damage Was From Yesterday
In Herculaneum, Some of the Charred Balconies Look Like The Damage Was From Yesterday

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Herculaneum vs Pompeii

There is a big difference between Pompeii ruins and Herculaneum, Italy. 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.

A Charred Bedframe in Herculaneum
A Charred Bedframe in Herculaneum

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.

Skeletons in the boathouse at Herculaneum (Ercolano)
Herculaneum Skeletons

Once inside Herculaneum, 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.

The Ruins of a Restaurant in Herculaneum
The Ruins of a Restaurant in Herculaneum

Yes, we would definitely recommend visiting Herculaneum. Having said that, it is hard to choose Herculaneum vs Pompeii. Both are worth visiting. Pompeii is bigger and there is something to be said for visiting the more famous one. On the other hand, Herculaneum felt more real, like walking through a ghost town.

Herculaneum is likely to have fewer crowds and the artefacts seem better preserved. Pompeii has more facilities and is substantially larger. Honestly, we might have liked Herculaneum a little more, but would have hated to miss either.

These panels in a living room, now carbonized, show how well preserved Herculaneum (Ercolano) is.
These panels in a living room, now carbonized, show how well preserved Herculaneum is.

Top Tips for Visiting Herculaneum Ruins

  • Wear comfy shoes or low heels. The streets are cobbled.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Herculaneum ruins are very popular so go early or late to avoid the tour buses that arrive between 11-2pm.
  • Visit out of high season
Murals on the Walls In Herculaneum
Murals on the Walls In Herculaneum

How to get to Herculaneum, Italy:

  • 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 Map

You can get a great map of the Herculaneum ruins here.

Hours For Visiting Herculaneum

  • 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
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