We planned lots of different day trips from Pompei, and one of them was to visit Mount Vesuvius and Herculaneum on the same day.
When we were first thinking about this trip, we found that there was very little information about visiting both places back to back and independently. That being said, we knew that Mount Vesuvius and Herculaneum were quite close to each other, so we thought we’d tackle them together.
In the end, it turned out to be quite manageable, especially since we were coming from nearby Pompei, so today we’re going to share some of our tips for visiting Mount Vesuvius and Herculaneum in one day, complete with transportation details and admission costs.
Where to go and how to get there
First things first, we chose a sunny day with good visibility. We were in Pompei for a week and there were a few days when Vesuvius was covered in a thick veil of clouds, so when we woke up and saw the weather had cleared, we jumped at the chance to visit.
While there are many bus tours to Mount Vesuvius from Naples, Pompei and Sorrento, we decided to ride the train to Ercolano, which is the closest access point to the volcano.
Herculaneum has two train stations: Ercolano Scavi and Portici-Ercolano. We rode the train to Portici-Ercolano because that was the closest line to our apartment, however, this train station is about a 15-20 minute walk from the city centre. In retrospect, it would have been better to arrive at Ercolano Scavi, which is right in the city centre and also where the shuttle to Mount Vesuvius departs from.
Once we reached Ercolano Scavi, we walked over to the Vesuvio’s Express office, which is located just outside the train station. It’s hard to miss seeing as the bus is parked right out front. Here we paid a total of 20 Euros per person; that’s 10 Euros for transportation and another 10 Euros for admission to the park. They gave us a two-piece ticket, which we needed to access the site.
I do want to make it clear that Vesuvio’s Express is essentially a shuttle service to transport you up and down the mountain, and that it is not a tour. You will not have a guide providing you information on the drive up, nor will you be accompanied on the walk up to Mount Vesuvius, so if you’re looking for a more educational experience, this isn’t it!
Tip: If you’re driving up to Mount Vesuvius, keep in mind that you’ll need to pay your admission at the ticketing office, which is located just shy of the entrance to the park. There were a few visitors who completely missed the office and had to go back down the hill!
Visiting Mount Vesuvius in the morning
So, even though we chose a clear day, we also visited in December, when the temperatures had dipped below zero, and it had rained the prior night…
Not the best idea.
We didn’t think much of this until we started to near the peak of Vesuvius and our bus started to struggle. It turns out the roads were completely iced over and since it wasn’t safe to continue any further. The driver had to unload all the passengers and we had to cover the rest of the way on the foot – which thankfully, wasn’t that far!
Along the way, we saw a few visitors who had also been forced to abandon their cars and motorcycles on the side of the road because they too were sliding. I’m sure we were all quite the sight trying to “skate” our way uphill.
Once we reached the ticketing booth, it was another 15-20 minute uphill walk on a gravel path, but it can take a bit longer depending on the weather conditions.
Also, keep in mind that Mount Vesuvius sits at an altitude of 1,281 metres, so it will be colder at the summit than it is at sea level, and it can get quite windy, so layer up!
I would say one of the coolest things about hiking all the way up to Mount Vesuvius, was being able to see that it’s a volcano within a volcano. Vesuvius consists of a large cone that’s partially encircled by the rim of an older cone that collapsed. And while there may not have been any bubbling lava visible to the eye, we did get to see steam rising from a few natural vents and that was pretty amazing.
In total, Vesuvio’s Express gives you 90 minutes to hike up to the rim, have a visit, and then hike back down to catch the bus, which we felt would be enough on a good weather day.
A quick lunch break in Ercolano
After all that walking, we were feeling ready for lunch so we chose a pizzeria called La Fornacella.
We went for the classic Pizza Margherita with tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top.
After that, we walked downhill along Via IV Novembre. There’s no way you can get lost because this road connects Ercolano Scavi with the ruins of Herculaneum.
Touring Herculaneum in the afternoon
Once we reached the ruins of Herculaneum, we paid 11 Euros per person to enter the archaeological site.
The first thing that struck we about Herculaneum were the views. Because the modern city of Ercolano is much higher than the ancient city of Herculaneum, you get an incredibly overhead view of the excavated ruins down below.
Much like Pompeii, Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, however, it was preserved in a much different way than Pompeii.
While Pompeii received heavy ash fall that caused the buildings to collapse under all that weight, Herculaneum received very little ash fall. What the city did experience was a series of pyroclastic flows (a mixture of ash and gases), which buried the buildings from the bottom up before solidifying and entombing Herculaneum in time.
This allowed the city to be surprisingly well preserved and when you walk into some of the villas and temples you are met with vibrant frescoes that don’t look to be 2000 years old!
There’s quite a bit to see in Herculaneum and you will receive a map of the archaeological site when you purchase your admission ticket, but a few of the highlights include:
Thermae – separate baths for both males and females that were fed by a large wellHouse of Neptune and Amphitrite – named for its stunning mosaicVilla of the Papyri – luxurious villa that stretched down to the sea in four terracesHall of the Augustales – meeting hall for the priests of Emperor Augustus who were usually ex-slavesSamnite House – one of the oldest mansions, 300 years old at the time of eruptionHouse of the Deer – another luxury waterfront villaHouse of the Relief of Telephus – mansion with red columns and a marble relief
The last place we visited in Herculaneum was the ancient shoreline which in 79 AD sat right on the Bay of Naples. We descended through a tunnel staircase dug into the volcanic rock and were then met with a row of boathouses filled with skeletons.
Those who did not escape Herculaneum on the first day of the eruption, attempted hiding in these boathouses by the water, however, at that point, there was no outrunning Vesuvius’s temperatures and gases.
And that’s pretty much a wrap for the day. After walking through the ruins, we walked back to the train station to catch our train back to Pompei just as the sun was setting.
We did have a busy day trip visiting Mount Vesuvius and Herculaneum back to back, but we found it very manageable and we would recommend doing it if you’re keen to visit these two places.