So, you’ve decided to visit the amazing ruins of Herculaneum – good choice! (and if you’d like a visitor’s eye view of a trip there, check out my story here) In order for you to really make the most of your day, here’s my top 5 tips.
1. Take the train
On previous trips to the area, I’d been tempted to sign up for a coach tour to Herculaneum, especially as I’d been assured by the tour companies that Ercolano, the modern town surrounding the site, was some kind of lawless badlands where you were almost guaranteed to be mugged. Well, ignore those guys – indeed, it’s pretty insulting to Ercolano’s people. Whilst Ercolano isn’t going to be high on your list of amazing and picturesque Italian towns, it’s far better described as “nondescript” rather than dangerous. So instead of getting an expensive coach, go via train.
Trains leave from Naples (got to Porta Nolana to beat the crowds), or from Sorrento at the other end of the line, and a return ticket will cost about 7 euros – a coach tour will quite often cost over 100 euros, so quite a saving! Disembark at Ercolano Scavi station. From there, just walk straight down the Via IV Novembre, and you can’t miss the arch marking the entrance.
Opening times are as follows:
1st April to 31st October – 8.30am to 7.30pm daily, last admission at 6pm. Closed May 1st.
1st November to 31st March – 8.30am to 5pm daily, last admission 3.30pm. Closed December 25th and January 1st.
Going to be visiting on the first Sunday of the month? Good news! It’s free admission. Otherwise, prices are:
Single ticket: 11 euros
Concessions: 5.50 euros
EU citizens under 18: Free
2. Get a guide or tour
There are a number of ways you can see Herculaneum, and come away thoroughly informed on the site and its history.
Starting with the most expensive, you can hire a guide to escort you around. Now, I haven’t actually taken this option myself so I can’t recommend one in particular, but if your heart is set on this option, I’d advise looking online before you leave for Italy. A good number of tour guides will arrange their services online, letting you turn up at Herculaneum safe in the knowledge that your tour is secured.
If you prefer to live on the edge a little, there are guides touting for business at the ticket office. This can work to your advantage financially – quite often the guides have a flat rate of 100 euros for their services, but if you can muster a group of ten people to take the tour, then the cost will be split – you’ll be paying a rather more bargain price 10 euros each. Of course, you have no way of checking feedback for your guide – spend a bit of time talking to them to make sure you’re comfortable with the arrangement, and that you can understand them.
Prefer to do things yourself? You can hire an audio guide at the ticket office. These cost 8 euros, but be warned – you’ll be required to produce a passport, driving licence, or credit card as identification, which the ticket office will keep until you return. Also, you’ll join the zombie hordes who roam the site with an audio guide attached to their ears – by all accounts, the the audio guide can be a tad long and dry, and it’ll hold you captive in one particular point until it divulges all its information.
A good do-it-yourself option is to use a book – either purchase one from the very good bookshop located by the ramp into the site (after you’ve passed through the ticket office), or have a look at this handy link for a downloadable guide. Don’t say that I never do anything nice for you.
3. Take plenty of water, and a hat
Anyone who has been to Pompeii will tell you that these are necessities – the hot sun, combined with a total lack of shade in that site, can quickly leave you frazzled and exhausted (or to use the example of my trip there, near to heat exhaustion). Herculaneum isn’t quite so bad – there’s building which still have their roofs, providing a needed oasis of shade – but water and a hat are going to make your trip significantly more comfortable. You’re going to tire pretty quickly, otherwise.
There is a cafe inside the site, next to the bookshop, but do you really want to pay captive audience prices? No, you don’t. Similarly, some of the cafes outside in Ercolano can be a little pricey; if you’re after lunch, try one of the establishments further up the road towards the station.
4. Wear comfortable clothing and flat shoes
Similarly, think carefully about what you wear. Herculaneum is a place far better suited to wearing comfortable clothes than anything impractical. Anything that’s going to keep you a little cooler, like shorts or a dress, is a good idea, though you may want to top up on the sunscreen to avoid getting burned.
And my absolute top tip – wear flat shoes. An awful lot of the surfaces you’ll be walking on are not flat or even (I managed to stumble a few times whilst wearing trainers), and you’ll find yourself hopping down off some pretty lofty Roman curbs in order to cross the streets. I saw a young woman in the middle of Herculaneum who had decided to wear stiletto heels; all she could do was sit on a piece of fallen masonry and listen to the audio guide describe places she could barely walk to. She was not having a fun time.
5. Have an interest in the site and history, and go with an intent to learn
Might sound rather obvious, but I did spot one or two people in Herculaneum who seemingly had no interest in what they were looking at, or reading/listening to a guide – and boy, did they ever look bored. Don’t go to Herculaneum if it’s just ticking a box on a list of things in the area, or if you just want to get a photo of yourself there and nothing else; it’s really not the kind of place that you’re going to get anything out of unless you put something – namely your time and interest – in. You don’t have to be an expert in history, you don’t even have to know your Julius Caesar from your Caesar salad, but if you visit with a desire to learn, you’ll be so, so much more fulfilled from your trip.
Got any tips to add? Found something I’ve missed? Pop a comment below! 🙂