Pompeii, and to some extent its sister site Herculaneum, are notable for being destroyed by a particularly ferocious eruption of Vesuvius. Time stopped at that very moment. The archaeological site became a vast museum of that moment in time, which is why it is so compelling--and why archaeologists have learned so much from the ruins of Pompeii.
Pompeii is one of the top Roman era attractions in Italy. It's also pretty easy to get to. The main train line, the FS from Naples, and the private line, the Circumvesuviana, both arrive in the modern Pompei, albeit at different stations, as you see on our Pompeii map below.
As you can see from the map, the ancient town of Pompeii to the north of the modern Pompei is not so much smaller than the modern town that's grown up around it. You can take quite a long time exploring it--the whole city is at your feet.
It takes a while. The ancient streets and sidewalks aren't exactly flat. It'll tire you out sooner than you think. There is a cafe inside the archaeological site so you can have a break, but it's still an amazingly complex site.
It used to be said that the modern town, differentiated from the older one by its spelling--Pompei, with one "i"--wasn't worth staying in. But it's a pleasant enough town, especially if you stay in one of our recommended hotels, chosen for their quiet locations. Remember that lots of folks do Pompeii on a day trip, so nights can be nicely quiet and relaxing. Pompeii, in fact, has a nice passiagiata, an evening stroll that citizens participate in, walking up and down the main street, Via Plinio, that marks the southern boundary of the ancient Pompeii excavations.
Pompeii is also notable for a recent event: a new barrier free route through the ruins is the country's longest:
Unveiled on the eve of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a new barrier-free route through the Pompeii ruins now allows wheelchair-users access to this world-renowned archaeological site. The three-kilometer trail features smooth pathways, access ramps and a very doable grade. Previously a steep ash covered path led through the site, which prevented wheelchair access. ~ Pompeii Accessible to All
The recommended things to see in Pompeii are marked on our map. The top-left quadrant is the ancient city. It takes a while to see if you want to see all of it.
Ancient Pompeii is your main target here. You'll see villas, Roman baths, the forum, and the city of Pompeii. Don't skimp on the time you spend here. Before you go, you might want to check the event page.
Santuario di Pompei is the main church of Pompei and gives its name to the stop on the Circumvesuvius stop on the train from Naples. There is a small museum downstairs. It has quite a stunning facade, and marks the spiritual center of the new Pompei.
La Bettola del Gusto Ristorante on Via Sacra across from the FS station offers good food at reasonable prices. It's especially convenient if you're staying at the Hotel Diana, which doesn't have a restaurant of its own.
The map below shows the major named structures as well as the train station for Pompei Scavi - Villa Dei Misteri.
Near the entrance to the excavations of Pompeii, you will see thriving vineyards. The wine here is produced in the ancient way that Romans did it before Pompeii was covered in ash.
The vineyards were excavated in the 1980s. Archaeologists called in wine maker Piero Mastrobeardino to find out how the ancient wine was produced. By studying casts of vine roots, fragments of farming texts, and frescoes, Mastrobeardino and his team determined that the Pompeiians were growing Piederosso Sciacinoso and Aglianico, just like the local farmers. But the similarity ends there.
"Pompeii wines were fermented in open-topped terracotta pots, called dolia. These were lined with pine resin filled with wine and buried deep into the earth. Asking a modern wine-lover to drink ancient wine would be foolish. The Romans knew their system was far from perfect but didn't have the technology to change it."
15 of the vineyards have been replanted and some 1,700 bottles of Villa dei Misteri are produced.
You can buy it online. Cheap it is not.
Hotel Diana Pompei a reasonably priced three star hotel in a quiet area near the FS station with good Internet connection and helpful staff. Highly rated by folks who've stayed there, which includes your humble scribe. Nice public areas where you might have a coffee or glass of wine outside while relaxing from your day of sightseeing.
Hotel Visagi is a highly rated hotel 800 meters from the excavations, also a three star hotel. Reasonable.
The B&B La Casa Di Plinio is very close to the excavations, inexpensive and highly rated by visitors.
Viator offers many tours of Pompeii, including coach tours from Naples, Rome and Sorrento. Select Italy offers an interesting option, a chauffeured road trip to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. You can also get a 3 hour private tour of Pompeii in which the cost depends upon how many people you can gather.