Visiting Pompeii in Italy

by Jessica on April 2, 2009

by | April 2nd, 2009  

pompeii_steppingstonesAugust 24th 79 AD changed the lives of the Pompeians forever. Despite what we now recognize as early-warning signs for an impending eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the 20,000 people who lived in Pompeii had long ago stopped thinking of the mountain as a volcano and so continued about their daily business.

>> For a more complete historic picture, be sure to read this Pompeii history

Today, Pompeii is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, and with good reason. Although much of the city was destroyed by the nearby volcano, it was also largely preserved by being buried under more than 60 feet of ash and pumice, sealing history away until it was discovered in the mid-1700s.

The city of Pompeii dates back to the 8th century B.C.E. when it was initially founded, and the archaeological site (which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) reveals its many treasures to visitors to this day. The many preserved frescoes are of particular interest, although the massive influx of tourists every year has caused some level of deterioration at the site. The organization which runs Pompeii now actively encourages people to visit the other nearby sites which were also preserved by the same volcanic blast – among them Herculaneum and Stabiae – in order to lessen the pressure on Pompeii itself.

Some people consider Herculaneum to be a better site to visit, primarily because it’s less bombarded with tourists, it’s smaller and can therefore be taken in more completely in a few hours, and it’s more open than Pompeii. Much of Pompeii, although excavated, remains closed to visitors, while most of Herculaneum’s excavated buildings and structures are visible to tourists.

Do note that although the big attraction here is Pompeii, there is a town not far from the archaeological site called Pompei, spelled with one “i,” which is a living, breathing Italian town. If you were wondering why some signs have the one-i spelling, now you know the answer.

What to See at Pompeii

In Pompeii it’s best to enter through the main Porta Marina entrance. Notice the two openings in the gate – the larger one was for chariots, whereas pedestrians used the smaller opening.

Do not miss the forum (foro); the commercial, religious, and political center stands at the intersection of the city’s two main streets. Behind the grassy square Vesuvius looms menacingly.

In a courtyard alongside the forum stand glass-encased casts of volcano victims. Archaeologists in the late 1800s made these by pouring liquid plaster into hollow cavities they detected underfoot.

On the street stepping stones with grooves cut through them for carts to pass through kept Pompeians’ feet from getting wet and soiled during heavy rainfalls.

At the House of the Tragic Poet (Casa del Poeta Tragico), notice the famous “Beware of Dog” (Cave Canum) mosaic in the entryway. If you think your home needs something similar, replica tiles are sold at almost every souvenir stand.

>> And to see even more of what was uncovered and removed from Pompeii, be sure to stop at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

Tours of Pompeii

Your ticket price includes a map and small pocket guide, A Brief Guide to Pompeii. This book is excellent and will lead you, number by number through the major not-to-be missed sites of Pompeii with clarity and a bit of humor.

Audio guides are available, but are nothing more than a recording of this book.

>> Read more about my experience with “Pompeii’s Little Red Book,” the self-guided tour, from my most recent visit to Pompeii, too.

You also have the option of hiring a guide on the spot (if you have not already pre-booked). The going rate ranges from €100-115 (depending on the season). Often times individuals will pair up to form a group and split the cost. If you notice there are a lot of guides hanging around, offer less.

Note that the quality of the guides varies, so you’re taking your chances.

>> A printable walking guide from Rick Steves can be accessed here.

Additional Pompeii Tips

Walking shoes, or those with low heels, are highly recommended. In warmer weather you may want to bring your own bottle of water. There is a left luggage desk near the Porta Marina gate where I have stored strollers. For those with much younger children I advise a backpack style carrier if your stroller is not heavy duty and up to the ancient Roman roads.

By allowing 3-4 hours you will not feel rushed and will have an opportunity to steal some quiet moments.

Before You Visit Pompeii: What to Read & See

For the flight over, pick up the International bestseller Pompeii: A Novel by Robert Harris. It is a fast and fun read about a Roman engineer rushing to repair an aqueduct near Vesuvius in the final days before the fatal eruption. An intriguing plot thick with period details moves the story quickly without bogging you down in historical minutiae.

Before leaving town watch the docu-drama Pompeii: The Last Day (2004) from BBC Warner. Using archeological evidence (including the writings of one survivor), the film unravels the mystery surrounding Pompeii’s final hours. This is a great way to get kids interested in an upcoming trip, too.

>> And now, don’t forget to take a virtual walk through Pompeii’s ruins with Google Street View!

Pompeii Visitor Information

Pompeii Open Hours
November-March, every day from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission 3.30 p.m.)
April-October, every day from 8.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. (last admission 6 p.m.)
>> Pompeii is Closed: 1st January, 1st May, 25th December

Pompeii Ticket Info
Single ticket: €11, valid for 1 day
Access to 5 sites (Herculaneum, Pompeii, Oplontis, Stabiae, Boscoreale): €20, valid for 3 days
>> ArteCard holders enter for free or with a 50% discount, depending on the type of card purchased. Visit the ArteCard website for more details.

Special Pompeii Events

Sogno Pompei (Pompeii Dream) – Travel back in time two millennia, to the days just before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Lights, sounds, and smells bring to life the mystery of ancient Pompeii.

How to Get to Pompeii

By Train: Entrance at Porta Marina or Piazza Esedra
Circumvesuviana Napoli-Sorrento (stop Pompei Scavi-Villa dei Misteri)
Circumvesuviana Napoli-Poggiomarino (stop Pompei Santuario)
>> Circumvesuviana official site here
FS Napoli-Salerno (stop Pompei)

By Bus: Entrance at Porta Marina or Piazza Esedra
SITA: from Napoli or from Salerno: stop Pompei (Piazza Esedra)
CSTP n.4 from Salerno
CSTP n.50 from Salerno (by motorway)

By Car:
Motorway A3 Napoli-Salerno (exit Pompei ovest)
Motorway A3 Salerno-Napoli (exit Pompei est)

>> For more information, see the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompeii Official Site


karen_biopic_sml

The author of this post and photographer responsible for these pictures, Karen Landes, spent two years exploring Sicily. Read more about her island discoveries in her new book, “In Etna’s Shadow: Culinary Adventures from Eastern Sicily.” Today she and her family live outside of Naples, Italy. She can be found online at www.inetnasshadow.com and www.southofrome.com.


{ 32 comments }

paula sorensen October 29, 2009 at 5:40 am
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I have a question, and I can’t seem to find the answer anywhere in this article.

My daughter, my friend, and myself are going to be in Rome from 11/20 – 11/27. We’d like to take a one-day tour to Pompeii, and we can’t find any tours that are available at that time of year. Most of the day tours end on November 4, according to the sources that we’ve found.

Do you have access to any one-day tours at that time of year that go to Pompeii? I’d surely appreciate your help.

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Jessica October 29, 2009 at 3:37 pm
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Hi, Paula:

I’m a big fan of Context Tours – they’re extremely educational, and small groups so you get lots of personal attention from the guides (who are excellent and fun). I asked the gal I know at Context in Rome about a Rome-Pompeii day trip, and there is one:

http://www.contexttravel.com/rome/tours/pompeii-%28from-rome-by-train%29/PTR3939/?linked-tours=yes

I believe the person I asked said it runs once a week, but since you’re there for a week you should be able to make it work out. You can contact them for more information (there’s an email address listed at the bottom of the page).

I believe there are other day-trips from Rome to Pompeii, but, like you said, they may be seasonal. I don’t see anything on the Context tour that makes it look like it’s seasonal.

Hope that helps!
Jessica

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Paula Douma November 8, 2009 at 8:46 am
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Hello, I have a question. We just toured Naples and at the completion of our Pompeii tour my six year old son bought the souvenir book with the DVD and overlay (to show before and after). He forgot it on our tour bus and by the time he realized it we had set sail for Athens. He is so heartbroken.

Would you happen to know the title or any identifying information. I would like to purchase the book online for him.

Many thanks

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Jessica November 9, 2009 at 9:39 am
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Hi, Paula:

I’m not familiar with the book personally, but I did a little searching online and if this isn’t the same book – it looks like it’s at least got the same stuff (a DVD and overlays of what used to be there vs. what’s there today).

I hope that helps!
Jessica

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Jessica November 26, 2009 at 8:23 am
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Hi Jessica,

I am planning my trip for next August to Italy for my honeymoon. Although I know it is going to be crazy crowded I will try to be prepared. Anyway, Do you think it is possible to visit Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, Postino, and Capri in basically 3 days?? Assuming all we wanted to do in naples was roam the historic center, eat pizzia as you suggest and possiblly visit Pompeii all in one day. Pompeii would be in the morning and then back to naples to walk around. Further if you do think it is possible, where do you advise we stay? I do not want to keep traveling around with my luggage. Would Naples be a good central location or Sorrento since it is closer to the the other ports? We would ultimately be flying out of Naples.
Am I crazy for cramming this all in?

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Jessica November 26, 2009 at 3:46 pm
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Hi, Jessica:

Thanks for your note, and congrats on your upcoming wedding!

I have to say, usually when people ask me if I think they’re crazy for trying to do X or Y, they already know what they’re attempting is too much and just want confirmation. And I think that’s happening here, too. ;)

Could you technically set foot in Naples, Sorrento, Positano, Capri, and Pompeii in the space of three days? Sure. But unless you’re on some kind of race-like trip, I wouldn’t advise it. You’re talking about your honeymoon, for goodness’ sake! I would think you’d prefer a more relaxing version of a trip. :)

One thing you may not be considering is how much time it can take to get from place to place, especially in that part of Italy. The boats and trains will get you back and forth, but it’s not like you’ll be making 10 minute trips from one city to another. Pompeii isn’t right next to Naples, so even though you could do a quick tour of most of the historic site in a half-day trip, it’s definitely a more relaxed trip if you’ve got 3/4 of a day (including getting there and back). Just taking a direct boat from Sorrento to Naples is around 40-45 minutes one-way, and the train is about the same. When you’re talking about visiting lots of places in a short period, it’s the transfer time between them that’s going to eat up lots of your precious vacation time, and that’s the biggest reason I’d say you are trying to pack too much into three days.

I do think you’d be smart to base yourself in one place for those three days and make the other places day-trips. Although I’d personally choose Naples for my home base, it’s not really the most romantic place for a honeymoon – so you might prefer Sorrento. Then your day trip options could be one day in Naples (historic center, pizza, archaeological museum, Naples underground), one day at Pompeii (and perhaps Herculaneum if you wanted to combine the two), one day in Positano and maybe another town or two along the Amalfi Coast, and one day actually spent in Sorrento with a half-day trip out to one of the islands (Capri, Ischia, Procida). Yes, that’s four days I’m listing there – which means, if I were you, I’d pick the three you most wanted to do and skip one.

I hope that helps,
Jessica

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steven January 14, 2010 at 2:44 am
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hi can i have the price for the flight to pompeii

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Jessica January 20, 2010 at 2:32 pm
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Hi, Steven:

If you go to this page, you’ll find a search box at the top where you can look for flights into Italy. The closest big airport to Pompeii is Naples, so you might want to start there, although you may find cheaper flights into Rome or Milan.

http://www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/budget-airlines-that-fly-to-naples.html

Ciao,
Jessica

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Stephen Sherman May 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm
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My Dad visited Pompeii in WWII, and got these old postcards and photos. He was in the US Navy at the time.

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Robin June 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm
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Hi Jessica
Thank you for your informative column on 10 Things to Do in Naples! Naples will be a port stop this summer and wanted to know the distance from dock to Naples and then to Herculaneum. In port 11 hours. Very interested in seeing Old Town as well. What would you suggest other than cruise led excursions?
RJ

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Jessica June 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm
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Hi, RJ:

The trains from Naples’ central station to the Ercolano stop look like they take only about 20 minutes, so if you get there and don’t have to wait too long for a train it’s a quick trip. Getting to the train station from the Naples’ docks is easy – there are taxis lined up at the dock, you just hop into the first one in line. Herculaneum could take 2-3 hours on-site, and walking through the historic center of Naples is another good 2-3 hours – more if you’re really taking your time, exploring the churches, and especially visiting the Archaeological Museum.

Here’s more about Herculaneum:
http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/visiting-herculaneum-pompeiis-overlooked-neighbor.html

I don’t know where else you’re going on your cruise, but you could also take a boat out to the islands in the bay – Ischia, Capri, or Procida – to explore a little bit. Just keep an eye on boat schedules so you know when to get back to the cruise ship.

Ciao,
Jessica

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Terri July 7, 2010 at 8:32 am
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Hi Jessica,
Is there any disadvantage to visiting Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius on a Sunday? I’m bringing my children and hope not to find anything closed. Are there bathrooms, water fountains, snack or lunch places there? Terri

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Jessica July 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm
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Hi, Terri:

The visiting hours for Pompeii are listed at the bottom of the article you commented on, so you can scroll up to see when the site is open each day. And just below the “how to get to Pompeii” information above there’s also a link to the official visitor’s website for Pompeii, where you can find out what facilities are where at the site. Since there are multiple entrances, it will depend on where you go in what’s available.

Ciao,
Jessica

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Thais Peiffer July 14, 2010 at 7:07 am
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Hi, Jessica

Just wanted to tell you that I simply loved your article! So useful! I am visiting Pompeii next week, and I am definitely using your tips and the walking guide you posted here. Thank you so much! :) and keep up the good work! :)

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Johanne Coker August 5, 2010 at 12:22 pm
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Hi Jessica

We are going to be visiting Pompeii with three young boys in the middle of August and in order to get the most out of the trip before the heat and history overwhelm them, have been advised to book a guide before hand. The only trouble is, no one seems to know how to find a reputable guide, especially one who will be able to catch the children’s attention (they are one 7 and two 9 year olds). Can you help?

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Jessica August 5, 2010 at 1:44 pm
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One of my favorite guide companies in Italy is Context Travel – they run day trips to Pompeii from Naples, I know that. What I don’t know is whether they have tours that are especially good for kids. You should be able to contact them and find out, however:

http://contexttravel.com/home/

I also met with a guide in Naples – a woman who was born & raised in the city. She runs guided tours of Naples & the surrounding area, & she’s a mom (her kids are college age now). Again, there are unknowns here – I’m not sure whether she runs Pompeii tours, or whether she does tours that are particularly kid-oriented. But she might know of someone locally, if she’s not the right person:

http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/a-passionate-naples-tour-guide-marina-de-martino.html

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Mary August 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm
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Hi Jessica,
We are going to Salerno in August as part of a cruise. We will be there from 7am to 7pm. Do you think its possible to do Mt Vesuvius, Pompeii and Amalfi in this time. We are hoping to use public transport from Salerno and I’m having difficulty finding good directions from the Port. Could you please advise me the best way to get to these areas from Salerno. Many thanks for your time.
regards
Mary

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Jessica August 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm
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Hi, Mary:

Without even looking up travel times, I would suggest that it’s not possible to see all of those things in 12 hours. But if you’d like to do more research, your best bet would be to start looking up train times on the Trenitalia website. Once you start piecing together how much time it takes to get from station to station, and adding the amount of time to get from stations to the sites you want to see, and then the amount of time you want to explore those sights – and remember, this is Italy, so things often take longer than they should – you’re looking at a lot of time spent in transit between your three chosen destinations, completely leaving any time to explore each place out of the equation.

If your cruise line offers private tours, and those three places are really on your must-see list, that might be a good reason to go with one of those tours (assuming there’s a tour that includes all three). My guess is even the cruise line will offer two but probably not all three of those places in one day.

Ciao,
Jessica

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Mary August 9, 2010 at 1:31 am
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thanks for your advice Jessica. I’ll stick to the two main ones I really want to see Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius.

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Anil Iyer November 14, 2010 at 7:06 am
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Just a word of advice for anyone with children visiting the ruins at Pompeii. Firstly definitely take them; they will love it! Secondly if you are from the UK or anywhere else in the EU take all your passports as you will need to demonstrate EU citizenship of the children to qualify for child discounts; otherwise you could end up paying the full adult fee for them.

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Sheri February 20, 2011 at 9:18 am
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We are a family of 4 adults traveling to Naples/Sorrento to visit Pompeii. We will be there March 20th until the 23rd of March, a short trip. We will definitely be seeing Pompeii and all its related archaeological sites. We also want to see the Underground Markets in Naples. We need suggestions of what else we can see on such a short trip. Can you help with which travel card we would need and when and where we should purchase them? We also do not have a hotel so if you could suggest one (a 4 star if possible) it would be appreciated. We want to use the trains and not a car or tours. If you could email me as soon as possible I would appreciate it as we leave in less than a month!
Sheri

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Jessica February 21, 2011 at 12:22 pm
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For a 3-day visit to Naples, I’d suggest staying in the historic center and taking one day trip to Pompeii/Herculaneum, and one day trip to Sorrento – the remaining day can be spent in Naples visiting the archaeological museum, the “underground Naples” tour, and just enjoying the city itself.

Here’s my article about the Campania Artecard, the region’s discount card:
http://www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/naples-at-a-discount-campania-artecard.html

Here are some hotels in the historic center of Naples:
http://www.italylogue.com/accommodation/hotels-in-naples-historic-center.html

And here’s my article about the top 10 things to do in Naples:
http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/top-10-things-to-do-in-naples.html

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Eric & Jennifer February 26, 2011 at 8:41 am
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Hi there, we are a married couple from shanghai, planning our honeymoon for 2 years now, and we decided to visit Italy in early May this year. We have 11 days and initially our plan will be visiting Rome Florence Venice Pompeii & Amalfi. This will be our first ever visit to Italy. Would be most appreciated if anyone out there can give us some advice and useful info. for our reference:
Would it be more convenient and time saving (in getting from destination to destination) to hire a car for travel between cities in Italy?
Is Pompeii under any renovation at the moment in which might not be the best time for visiting in May?
Is there any train that we can take to travel from Amalfi to Pompeii (we plan to stay in Amalfi and travel to Pompeii for visit)?
Will appreciate any of your kind advice.

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Jessica March 3, 2011 at 9:41 am
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Here are some thoughts:

* I think your itinerary is a bit aggressive for only 11 days. I would encourage you to look up how long it takes to get from place to place on the train before you commit to that schedule. You can do it all, but it won’t be as relaxing as you might want for a honeymoon.

* There seems to always be work going on at Pompeii, and I’ve no idea what will be open or closed there by May. You can usually check the official website which lists major closings.

* There are no trains on the Amalfi coast at all. You’d need to take a bus to Sorrento, and then a train from there to Pompeii. Your other alternative would be to hire a private tour guide in Amalfi (there are a few) who would drive you over the mountains to Pompeii.

* Given your itinerary, I’d say you’re better off sticking to using trains for your trip. Driving in/out of those busy tourist cities is a real headache.

A couple links that may help you:
http://www.italylogue.com/destinations/the-amalfi-coast.html
http://www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/how-to-create-the-perfect-italy-itinerary.html

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Anshul April 22, 2012 at 6:07 am
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Hi. I and my family are travelling to Italy in May. Which do you suggest would be a better place to visit for a day trip from Naples – Pompeii or Herculaneum?

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Jessica April 24, 2012 at 1:35 pm
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No need to choose between them – you can easily do both in one day!
http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/how-to-visit-pompeii-and-herculaneum-in-one-day-without-a-tour.html

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Linda May 18, 2012 at 5:20 am
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What a great blog! 6 of us will be traveling to Positano at the end of June. We are flying into Rome and having a driver take us to our villa. We are thinking of stopping at Pompeii on our way to the villa. Is this too much considering jet lag? We have two teenage boys with us and wanted to start off with something that might interest them. Plus, we have several hours to kill before we can get into the villa. Can you recommend other must see’s while we are there? Capri? Naples? Best beaches?
Ciao!!

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Jessica May 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm
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It’s usually a good idea to try to stay awake – and active – when you first arrive somewhere in order to combat jet lag, so Pompeii might be good. Just be prepared for the visit to be shorter than it might be if you were all feeling energetic. Here’s my Amalfi Coast guide to help you plan your visit to the area: http://www.italylogue.com/destinations/the-amalfi-coast.html

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Laura June 28, 2012 at 1:56 pm
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I am so glad to have found your website. I have planned a long dreamed about trip with my husbnd to Naples and the Amalfi coast in September. We will arrive in Naples on a Thursday and meet up with our Amalfi coast walking group (Backroads) on Sunday. Following that 5 night tour we are going to spend 3 nights in Positano and return to Naples for one night before driving home. This is a first trip after the empty next begins and I have high hopes for it to be the beginning of lots of wonderful travel and I have been so excited.

Then reading about Naples and Pompeii on other websites bummed me out! After reading yours I am excited again. I wanted to ask you about my plans. We arrive Thursday afternoon and I thought we would just hang at the hotel (Excelsior), walk a bit, eat, etc expecting to be tired. I thought on Friday I would book the tour guide you recommended – Martina de Martino for a morning tour. Hopefully we will be energetic enough to walk more in the city on our own in the afternoon. I don’t want to drive or really be on a bus, I prefer walking. On Saturday, I was wondering what you thought of Context Travels 8 hours excursion from Naples which includes Pompeii and the Arch. Museum? I think it sounds wonderful on their website and I know they have received accolades from Conde Naste and more. But I have seen some negative commments about one of their guides…??? Any feed back would be appreciated.

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Marsha Fahrenholz July 25, 2012 at 11:07 am
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Hi, just discovered your website and am hoping to get some ?’s answered. We are flying into Rome Aug. 1, will be staying there until Aug.4, when we take train to Mantua to start a 7 day bike trip to Venice. While in Rome we would like to do a day trip to Amalfi coast and perhaps Pompeii. Is this nuts, what is the distance involved, and what are other suggestions you might have?
Thanks for any help you can offer.

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tess December 30, 2012 at 2:17 am
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Hi Jessica
We are going to Sorrento in February, just wondering what will be best places to visit at this time of year. What the weather will be like. My husband’s father was at Foggia during WW2 and was wondering how far that is from Sorrento and how to get there. We will be there for a week. I would appreciate your comments and advice. Thank you.

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Julia Denney February 13, 2013 at 6:01 am
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Hi Jessica – I want to book a visit to The Collesium and Pompeii. I am thinking of booking 4/5 days in a hotel/b&b near The Colosseum, then travelling by train/bus? on to Pompeii and staying there for 4/5 days, or the other way round. Could you advise which would be best, which airport to fly to and from. Would 4/5 days be enough time to enjoy the sites and have some leisure time. Would we be able to book all this ourselves or do we need to go through a travel agent?

Any advice will be welcome. Kind regards, Julia

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