Pompeii or Herculaneum?

5th April 2019
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If you're thinking about a holiday to Pompeii in Italy, you might also be wondering if it's worth taking a trip to the neighbouring town of Herculaneum, which was also destroyed and preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. 

Pompeii is a sprawling site that covers around 170 acres and an entire day isn't enough for many visitors, what with its myriad frescoes, ancient wheel ruts that can be observed in the stony ground and its telling erotic graffiti. Herculaneum, on the other hand, is a location often missed or looked over by archaeology and history enthusiasts that visit this part of the country. There are many reasons why exploring its remains are worthwhile, from its more compact size to its incredibly well-preserved buildings. With this in mind, we've rounded up a selection of FAQs and hope that by the end of this blog post, you'll have changed your travel plans accordingly!

Can you visit Pompeii and Herculaneum in one day?

Well, in terms of distance the answer would have to be yes. It takes around 30 minutes to drive between the two sites – traffic permitting - although we wouldn't recommend you cram both into the space of just one day. 

How are Pompeii and Herculaneum different?

Pompeii is the bigger of the two sites, taking significantly more time to explore in full. Herculaneum is smaller, meaning that you can get around and discover its evocative remains in just a half-day if you're pushed for time. The thing we love the most about the latter, though, is that it was buried to a greater depth than Pompeii and it boasts houses that in some cases are completely preserved up to their rooftops. What's more, it's a site that has fewer visitors, making for a more pleasant touring experience – especially under the heat of the southern Italian sun!

Interestingly, Pompeii's destruction by Vesuvius's eruption was more direct and this volcano completely incinerated everything in its path here. Herculaneum, on the other hand, was buried under slower-falling ash. This meant that the preservation of buildings was much more complete - with entire houses, as well as the everyday items contained within them, paused in time. 

Which is better, Pompeii or Herculaneum?

This entirely depends on your definition of better. If you're looking for the more iconic sites, which you may have come across in books or on screen, Pompeii is the stronger choice. Here, you can find brothels, an amphitheatre and an array of amazing frescoes that will probably look familar to you once you stand before them in person. Herculaneum is perhaps more suited to travellers with limited time to explore and who are after glimpses of more complete ruins. The richer of the two cities, the artefacts that remain here - such as lavish mosaics - tell perhaps more vivid stories about the citizens. It should also be noted that if you're up for a full-on day of walking, choose Pompeii. Those of us with less mobility might prefer the more modest yet equally rich site of Herculaneum.

Where are the preserved bodies?

At the Boat Houses in Herculaneum there are many haunting skeletal remains in situ and you'll also be able to see plaster casts of bodies dotted around the archaeological site in Pompeii. The casts, it's worth noting, were made by excavators who poured plaster into the spaces around the human remains to bring their poses back to life. 

When is the best time to visit?

Due to the hot Italian summer, it's advisable to avoid these peak months as you'll spend a considerable amount of time outside. Our Pompeii tours pause in late May and resume again in mid-September, which ensures your trip will be as pleasant as possible!

Can you visit Vesuvius?

Yes, you can – and it's worth the trip as the view from the top will put the history of Pompeii and Herculaneum into context in a way that books or films simply can not. If you book our Pompeii, Herculaneum & Classical Campania tour, a bus will take you most of the way up this mighty volcanic crater, and then a short walk is required to reach its summit. From the top, you'll also be able to observe different coloured lava rock that sits in layers. 

To see the itinerary for our Pompeii, Herculaneum & Classica Campania tour, click here

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