A DIY trip to Pompeii from Sorrento

Excursions to Pompeii for both half or full days are one of the most popular trips you can do from Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast. They’re advertised everywhere and if you book your holiday through a package then it’s also likely to be one of the tailor made excursions they try to sell you. If you don’t want to be tied in to big groups, bus pick up times, tour guides and high costs then it’s really easy to do it yourself.

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Tickets for Pompeii

I found that many of the organised trips don’t actually include your entrance ticket to Pompeii when you get there, so you end up queuing in the ticket line regardless. It was the one thing we pre booked weeks before our holiday, and after a bit of research we purchased our entry tickets from this website.

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Tickets are booked for a specific date, but there are no allocated time slots so you can go whenever you want on the day, and stay for as long as you please. On that link above you can choose to buy just a ticket, or go for a tour guide option if you prefer.

How to get to Pompeii from Sorrento

Like many popular spots for tourists, it’s much better to get up and go early before the crowds and the blistering heat of the day. We walked from our hotel to Sorrento train station at about 8am, planning to be there by opening at 9am. The train station is really easy to find, it’s just up the street from the main square Piazza Tasso, and is called the Circumvesuviana rail.

At the train station you buy train tickets from the little newsagent/ticket office to the side of the entrance. Return trains to Pompeii were €4.80 per adult, and we also bought a Pompeii guide and map here for €8.

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I’d read that it’s not easy to purchase maps and guides when you get to Pompeii itself, which is true, but they are absolutely everywhere else. Any tourist, souvenir, gift shop and info point in Sorrento was selling them, and it meant we could read through on the 30-40 minute train ride to plan which route we would take through the city when we got there. 

The train was easy, Sorrento is the first stop on the line so you can’t go wrong getting on any train to Naples. Pompeii is about 12 stops along the route, taking just over half an hour to get there. Some trains have air con, others don’t so plan appropriately with water and a fan. They get busy and they get hot.

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On arrival at Pompeii you can enter from one of three entry points, but only two of them allow fast track entry, so if you have pre booked tickets then make sure you get to the right one. There are loads of little street stalls that line the road up to the entrance we used, the Porta Marina Gate, and it’s your last chance if you want to pick up any last minute refreshments or sun hats.

The entrance for Porta Marina Gate is clearly signed, and there are two queues, one for general ticket sales if you haven’t pre booked, and one for collecting pre booked tickets online. This one was empty so it really was worth booking ahead. 

Brief info and history of Pompeii

Pompeii was an ancient city with a long and complex history, located in the Gulf of Naples and in dangerous proximity to Mount Vesuvius volcano that looms above. It’s history includes Greek, Etruscan, Samnite and Roman settlements and rule, and the influence of all of these can be found within the site. 

in 79AD on August 24th, Mount Vesuvius erupted violently, after a few weeks of tremors and rumblings. Ash, volcanic lava, poisonous gases and rocks were thrown into the air causing utter devastation for a 70km radius. 

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The city of Pompeii was buried underneath the solidified lava, preserving the entire settlement. It wasn’t until many years later in 1952 that the first ruins of Pompeii were discovered, prompting a full site excavation that lasted until the late 1860s. Relics and items were still being found as late as 1961.

The site of Pompeii that we can now visit is what is left of the whole city post excavation. Buildings, temples, shops, housing, city baths, amphitheatres, are all there to be seen on your visit. The treasures and relics have been removed and are stored, some of which you can see on site, as well as the casts of humans who perished there trying to escape the city but failed to make it.

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Plan your route through Pompeii

The guide we bought highlighted two walking routes, depending on if you’re doing a half or full day trip. One takes two hours and one takes four. Here’s a snap of the routes that were in our guide.

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It really is a good idea to stuck to one of these, or plan your own route, as it gets so hot, there is very little shade, and you could easily spend a lot of time wandering around without really seeing anything too interesting. 

Being an entire preserved city, known as the Lost City, there are rows of streets that were once just houses, and so there’s not really much to see except empty stone buildings. You don’t want to find yourself using the time you have without seeing anything.

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Pompeii itself is clearly signed up, with streets, landmarks and signs everywhere to keep you orientated. But remember it’s still a full city, so read up on the areas of it you want to see and pick the best route for you. 

On entry to the site of Pompeii, it’s pretty mind blowing from the moment you get there. The uphill into it can actually be quite slippy, so you absolutely need good footwear, and the archway you enter into is what was once the Pompeii city gate.

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Notable things to see at Pompeii

The entire city is astonishing to see, the detail that has been preserved for so long with details like graffiti on the walls of the theatre, and the paintings in the rich houses, as well as the shopping street and public baths.

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Some of the key things to target on your visit should be:

The Basilica

A huge site that is full of the base of huge pillars that once formed the city basilica. This is right in the middle of the city Forum, and was used as the law courts and where important decisions were made. In here you can see the etchings of ancient graffiti in the walls.

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Temple of Venus

The Goddess of Love had her very own temple and it’s one of the first things you’ll see coming through the Porta Marina gate on your right. There’s actually not that much of it left, but it was once entirely marble, with a beautiful view right out over the Bay of Naples.

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Temple of Apollo

The most important building in the city the religious temple dedicated to Apollo, it was probably the oldest building in Pompeii. There’s a bronze statue of Apollo, and a sun dial at the base of what would have been the altar.

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The Forum

The equivalent of an old town, or historic city centre this was the heart of Pompeii, and is surrounded by the temples dedicated to the Gods and the Basilica. It was pedestrianised and leads off to the main city streets and buildings. The Forum baths can be found at the far end.

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Via Di Mercurio

This street has some of the houses that belonged to the fairly wealthy, one of which is called the House of the Tragic Poet. You can’t get fully inside but you can see the detail of the mosaic dragon at the entrance, and the detail of some of the paintings inside.

The House of the Faun

This mansion belonged to someone very wealthy, with separate living quarters for what would have been the servants at the time. There are multiple atriums, rooms and entrances, and it gets it’s name from the bronze faun statue in the middle. The detail of the tiled flooring is still visible. 

House of the Vettii

Another high status house, noticeable for the colourful paintings that decorated it’s walls. You can still see them today.

The Stabian Baths

Essentially a city swimming pool, with changing facilities and private rooms with private baths in too. There were separate areas for men and women, and the whole structure would have been pretty big. 

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The Gladiator Barracks and Large Theatre

This was really impressive, and reminded me a lot of the Colosseum in Rome, albeit a lot smaller, and horse shoe shaped. You can clearly see the marble seating areas in prime position for the rich facing the stage with the best view, and the barracks at the back to keep the entertainment in until showtime.

Considering I hadn’t been massively enthusiastic about visiting Pompeii before we went, I actually really enjoyed it when I was there. It was pretty fascinating, and a very surreal experience especially towards the end of the route we took when we came across the preserved body casts. 

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Visiting Pompeii is well worth your time if you’re staying anywhere near Naples or Sorrento, and is easily done in a half day. Definitely go in the morning as early as you can, it was so busy and full of tour groups by the time we left at about 11:30am.

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The train to Pompeii from Sorrento is very straightforward, and I’d definitely recommend pre booking tickets.

I’d also 100% recommend the lemon and orange slush stall by the station to cool off at with a frozen lemonade afterwards.

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Other posts you might like:

A Guide to Visiting the Colosseum, Rome

The Vatican and Sistine Chapel

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