One of the first destinations we chose to include in our babymoon was Pompeii. Believe it or not, my husband’s go-to for travel advice is his dentist, who often shares stories from his travels during their appointments, including treks into the rainforests of Belize or adventures to the Antarctic. One of his recommendations was to visit Pompeii, but also Herculaneum, a nearby and lesser-known town that was also decimated by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.
We had originally planned to try to do Pompeii in the morning and see Herculaneum in the afternoon. We quickly realized this plan was too ambitious. The Pompeii Archeological Site is HUGE. In the guidebook we were given with our tickets, there were literally recommended itineraries that would last 7 HOURS. We obviously did not have the stamina for 7 hours of sightseeing and ended up spending about 3 hours exploring the town. Going to Herculaneum in the same day would have been too much—instead we decided to visit it the next morning on our way to Positano.
Pompeii is divided into different zones and within each zone you can find points of interest including houses that are open to explore. Two of our favorite finds were the Stabian Baths and the Villa of the Mysteries. The Villa of the Mysteries is located at the very edge of the archeological park, set pretty far away from many of the other sights, so it was one of the least crowded areas we explored and also one of the most well-preserved. It’s well worth adding to your itinerary.
There is so much to see—a small museum with artifacts, modern art dotted throughout the ancient ruins, homes, courtyards, statues, frescos, murals, baths, even a small amphitheater, as well as the famous plaster casts of the victims. You have to be a little bit flexible with your schedule, because not all the homes on the map are open. Some have special hours, which unfortunately are not indicated anywhere in the literature they give you, and some will be closed for restoration. Just take a minute to chart a course and then be open to what you discover—you may find that the sites you stumble on accidentally are some of your favorites.
Do I need a tour guide? We decided to explore the ruins without a tour guide. You will be given a pretty detailed map and a guidebook that includes summaries of each location on the map as part of the cost of admission. We decided that was enough for us, but you could certainly join one of the tours at the ticket office, or hire a private guide through your hotel or a local travel company.
Pro tips, whether you are pregnant or not: Bring a LOT of water. We had two full bottles, but drank them both. There are a few places within the park to buy water or food, but they are very spread out, and not always open. Also, wear lots of sunscreen and consider bringing an umbrella for shade. We visited in late April, and still found the sun to be intense, especially since most sections of the park are unshaded. Also, wear sturdy walking shoes! The streets are cobbled and uneven, so sandals or delicate flats may make walking difficult.
Getting there & parking: We rented a car for our entire trip, and drove from our hotel in Naples to both Pompeii and Herculaneum. Herculaneum is just about 20 minutes outside of Naples and Pompeii is about 30, an easy highway drive. Finding parking at the sites is a little more tricky. For Pompeii, we couldn’t find an official parking lot, so we ended up using one of the many independent lots lining the main street. Some of the parking attendants were pretty pushy, but we recommend the lot we used at Fortuna Village—they were low-key and friendly, our car and belongings were safe for the whole day, and it was very affordable: only 5 euro for the day.
Just a 10-minute drive from Pompeii is another lesser-known archeological site destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Herculaneum was a wealthier town than Pompeii, and was also a little more removed from the destructive path of the eruption. Because of that, the houses are grander and more well preserved overall. It is also a smaller site, and the homes are closer together, so you can see a lot in a shorter amount of time. There are some beautiful mosaics and fresco work, as well as a deeply creepy section containing the human skeletons that were unearthed.
Getting there & parking: If you follow the signs for parking once you exist the highway, you can find the official parking garage for Herculaneum, which will put you right outside of the entrance. You can explore most of the city in 1 to 1.5 hours.