It was my first trip to Europe along with my family comprising of my wife and our seven-year-old daughter. I have traveled solo several times but traveling with family has its own set of challenges. Staying overnight at a hostel was not possible neither was skipping meal ever into the picture. Most of the trip had to be pre planned to the last detail and if possible have a backup plan.
For the most part of the trip, we planned to travel together except for three days in between where my wife had to attend an important meeting and I was left to take care of my daughter and on top of that also take her around. I was brave enough to plan a trip to Napoli and Pompeii/ Herculaneum all the way from Rome along with my daughter. This would be our first father daughter trip that too in a foreign land.
How to Travel From Rome to Naples by Train
Napoli or Naples is well connected by train from Rome, there are broadly three types of train that travel between Rome and Napoli Frecciarossa (Super-Fast), Regionale (Slow Multiple Stops), and Intercity (Medium Speed Limited Stop). If you want to have a day trip to Pompeii then you have to use the service of super-fast Frecciarossa trains which travel at high speed on dedicated tracks. These also have limited stops which would mean less waiting time at stations.
To book a train just log in to the website of Trenitalia and select your destination along with your date. You have to also choose a time band within which you are looking to travel depending on which options will be shown. The price of a ticket varies depending on how many days before you book also make sure to look into multiple options like single change, no change options which can drastically reduce the final price. If you are traveling with a child (Bambino) then make sure to select the option which also gives you a reduced rate.
These high-speed trains are very comfortable with comfortable seating and luggage space both on top and at dedicated luggage racks mostly located near the door. There are pantry coaches where you can visit and have a bite or sometimes even have food vendors pass by from whom you can buy snacks and drinks. Also with some tickets, you get complimentary snacks and drinks.
Tip: For Rome station search for Roma Termini and for Naples search for Napoli Centrale (pronounced as Chentraalay)
How to Travel from Naples to Pompeii by Circumvesuviana Train
Once you arrive at Naples (Napoli) which is a terminal station exit the station and go towards the left. A little fifty meters from the station gate you will find another train station called Garibaldi from where another local train service run called the Circumvesuviana Train. This is an independent rail service which operates around the city and connects major tourist attractions. This train system is not part of Trenitalia thus you won’t be able to book the tickets online and have to buy them from the counter.
Ticket costs just 2 Euros each way and you can buy a return ticket at the counter itself. The ride is free for children up to 11 years of age. The train carriages are more like metro coaches with limited seating and more of standing space. The train runs every thirty minutes and takes around an hour to reach Pompeii.
Take the train that goes Sorrento and the important stations would be Ercolano Scavi for Herculaneum and Pompeii.
Choosing between Pompeii or Herculaneum?
In reality when Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 spewed lava and pyroclastic flow not only destroyed Pompeii but Herculaneum, Oplontis, Boscoreale, and Stabiae. Amongst all of them Herculaneum is most well preserved and compact. People often visit Pompeii and ignore Herculaneum but in reality Herculaneum is much well preserved and visually stunning.
If you have time then I would recommend you to visit both Herculaneum and Pompeii. Herculaneum falls right at the midpoint between Naples and Pompeii and you would need to get down at Ercolano Scavi. From the station, Herculaneum is around ten minutes by walking and it’s a straight downhill walk thus no need to take a cab.
History of Herculaneum and Its Excavation
Pompeii was destroyed severely but Herculaneum somehow was spared the destruction but the incinerating heat had killed hundreds of civilians who were waiting for a means of escape. Over the years Herculaneum was lost to mankind and its existence only remained documented in ancient texts.
Herculaneum was a Greek town as the name resembles the name of the Greek God Heracles (Hercules). With an inhabitant of four to five thousand, this was quite a prosperous town located near the bay.
Much before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, there was a massive earthquake which obviously was the result of lava movements and ground adjustments in the year A.D. 62. This earthquake had already destroyed significant buildings in the town and before they could be completely repaired it was struck by the eruption.
Much of the remains of the town is below the ground level which was the result of volcanic flow and thus the town was buried underground for centuries. The existence of some historical site was actually discovered while digging a well in the year 1709, a section of the theater wall was discovered.
Official excavation work only started in the year 1738 which lasted until 1764. This part of the excavation was mostly carried out by tunneling process thus the town in its entirety was not visible. Excavation work continued over the years and in the year 1823, the whole area was excavated by removing the top soil layer instead of the tunneling method. This excavation continued till 1875 but was limited to a particular area and was forced to stop since by then the surrounding areas were full of residential buildings.
Till date it can be clearly understood by looking at the site that excavation had been done right till the edge of the residential neighbourhood and for sure a large section of the city is still present below.
Getting Inside Herculaneum
After walking around ten minutes you will reach a gate which had the word Herculaneum written on top, walk straight and reach the ticket counter. There is no need to pre book your tickets neither do you have to book skip the line tickets as the tourist flow is relatively less and with many ticket counters it’s just a quick walk through.
Ticket prices are 11 Euro for an adult and 5.50 Euro for a child under 18 year of age. You can also buy a combined ticket costing 22 Euro for all the five sites for three consecutive days. For child, the same combined ticket would cost 12 Euro.
* Ticket prices as on April 2017
The best view of the city would be from the top, you would get a panoramic view of the entire city. Herculaneum was the closest to Mount Vesuvius around 6 Kilometres but was saved from direct destruction because the wind direction was towards Pompeii which was around 10 kilometers away. What caused catastrophic damage but indirectly helped to preserve the city was the large pyroclastic flow which covered Herculaneum under 20 meters of debris. Some of the structure that you can still see at Herculaneum are as follows:-
Both the male and female baths, which are next to each other, are well preserved. They were fed by a large well, which brought water from a depth of 8.25m, heated by a large furnace and distributed around the baths by a network of pipes that also served to provide central heating.
House of Neptune and Amphitrite at herculaneum
Worth the visit alone for its stunning mosaics, particularly that of Neptune and Amphitrite (a sea goddess and wife of Poseidon), after which the house is named.
Gymnasium at herculaneum
This large complex extends over much of the southeast side of the excavations and is on your right as you walk down to the ticket office.
Villa of the Papyri at herculaneum
The coastline was significantly altered by the eruption but this large and luxurious villa originally stretched down to the sea in four terraces. Its sea front was about 250m long. It is below you on your right as you leave the ticket office and head towards the audio guide kiosk. The villa contained a fine library of scrolls and, although these were badly carbonized, there is hope that modern technology will soon make it possible to read them without destroying them by opening them.
House of the Deer at herculaneum
This was another luxurious waterfront dwelling.
Samnite House herculaneum
This is one of the oldest properties so far discovered on the site. Excavations suggest that, at various times, the upper floor was rented out and the courtyard was sold off. What remains now is a large roofed and elegantly decorated atrium with a few small rooms around it.
House of the Beautiful Courtyard
The attractive courtyard is said to resemble an Italian medieval courtyard more than a Roman building. In a display case, there are two skeletons fused with volcanic rock.
College of the Augustales herculaneum
The Augustales were an order of Roman priests responsible for attending to the maintenance of the cult of Augustus, who was considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire. The building consists of one large, well-decorated roofed room.
Boat House herculaneum
This is the section where you will find skeletal remains of the inhabitants of the town. People were trying to escape from the eruption and was hoping to be rescued by ships from the bay. Many of them had gathered at these boat houses to go out to the sea but unfortunately, debris prevented them from reaching safety and all of them perished where they hid.
Note & Tips:-
– All sites are free every first Sunday of the month.
– Luggage and big bags not allowed inside the site, ideally keep them at Naples station luggage rooms.
– Bring some snacks and water along with you the walk can be lengthy
– Ask for a map at the ticket counter, these are available for free
– Audio guides can be booked at the ticket counter itself
– Guides are available and many will approach you at the main gate however quality is not guaranteed. Some try to hurry up in order to get many clients in a day while some take a time to explain all the relevant rooms and section within the site. It’s more of a luck.
– If you want to visit all the five site and also Mount Vesuvius then it will take at least two full days.
Our next father daughter trip was to Mount Vesuvius, shared mini vans depart from right outside the main gate. All that in my next blog, till then bon voyage.