Where should you go- Pompeii or Herculaneum?

Pompeii or Herculaneum?

Pompeii or Herculaneum?
Pompeii or Herculaneum?

Naples is one of the popular tourist destinations in South Italy. There are various places which can be easily visited as a day trip from Naples. Pompeii and Herculaneum are such historic destinations which can be easily explored while staying in Naples. Pompeii is more popular than Herculaneum. During my visit to Naples, I happen to visit both of these places and that lead to me asking this question- Pompeii or Herculaneum?

In this article, I have discussed various points which differentiate between Pompeii and Herculaneum. Then I have also disclosed my pick between those places.


Let’s first brush up some history so as to get an idea of what these both sites are about. Mt. Vesuvius which is situated towards the south-east of Naples, erupted vigorously in 79 AD. This eruption engulfed many small towns settled at the base of the mountain. The ruins of Pompeii settlements were rediscovered in 1748 along with other places nearby like Herculaneum, Oplonti, Boscoreale and more such areas scattered around Mt. Vesuvius. For the history lovers, all these archeological sites are worth visiting. In the available time, I managed to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum on 2 separate full days. Let’s now see what do these sites have in common and where do they differ. 

Watch a video series on what to see in Pompeii


Pompeii and Herculaneum, both can be easily reached in about an hour by a train from Naples. Herculaneum is about 10 min prior to Pompeii station. If you are coming by car, both the sites have car parking.

Time to spend

The ruins in Pompeii are spread in the wide area. We reached there early in the morning and pen almost entire day but still, we could not cover everything. We shortlisted the sites as per our interests and finalized a path to explore these vast ruins of Pompeii. If you are not much interested in history, you can definitely change the time you spend here. Normally people spend here from half day to 2 days.

Ruins of Herculaneum is much less and spread on a smaller area as compared to Pompeii. One can say spend few hours to full day here.


Both Pompeii and Herculaneum has all basic facilities like toilets, sitemaps, and guides, guided tours etc. Being more touristic, Pompeii has lots of restaurants, shops outside the actual site. There are various tour operators who take tours to Mt. Vesuvius volcano crater. There is one restaurant inside the site also just behind the Forum of Pompeii.

The Herculaneum archeological site is little like isolated from the crowd. There are only a couple of restaurants outside the site. But there are lots of options available in the town and nearby train station. I didn’t see any other shops or tour operators near the archeological site, at least during my visit. 

Watch a video on why should you visit Herculaneum

What to see

The real difference between Pompeii and Herculaneum archaeological sites comes to this point- what is there to see? As I said before, Pompeii is spread over a large area as compared to Herculaneum. Pompeii was much bigger town than that of Herculaneum. Therefore, the ruins in Pompeii include various different elements of the settlement like amphitheater, villas and small houses, shops, Tavern (restaurants), markets, basilica, temple and so on. At the time of eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, Pompeii was at its peak of settlement. One can look at it as a perfect example of lifestyle and towns during the Roman era.

Herculaneum, on the other hand, was contained only for rich people and therefore it was a smaller settlement. But in this small area of excavations, one can find almost all of the elements like villas, shops, Taverns, temples, baths etc.

The consequences of Mt. Vesuvius eruption were such that Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried quite differently. At the time of rediscovery, Herculaneum ruins were more intact than that of Pompeii. The houses, marble floorings, different frescos etc are better preserved in Herculaneum than in Pompeii. Thus even though Herculaneum site is smaller, it is much densely packed with the ruins.

In the table below, I have compared the features of Pompeii and Herculaneum archeological sites. This will help you get an idea of each site

Points to compareHerculaneumPompeii
Area to exploremuch smaller as compared to PompeiiThe largest site in the area
Facilitiesnot many at the siteall the basic facilities are present
Quantity of ruinsfewer ruins in a smaller areamany ruins scattered in a large area
Quality of ruinsbest preservednot as good as Herculaneum


If you want to visit a more popular place with better facilities, I would say visit Pompeii. There you will get all different ruins in one place, organized tours to other nearby sites, souvenirs etc but off-course you need to walk a lot. Protect yourself from the heat and remain hydrated.

If you are more interested in history stuff and want to escape from the tourist crowds, go to Herculaneum. You will get more information, better-preserved artifacts and much better insight as compared to Pompeii. Let me remind you, for this, you will need to compromise with some facilities like other organized tours, restaurants and shops etc. For the history geeks, I am sure, Herculaneum is the place!

We all liked Herculaneum more. Even Aarush- my son, also retained his interest while exploring Herculaneum.


If you have decided to visit Herculaneum, here are my 2 tips which will be useful for you.

  • Audio guide– I liked the narration of audio guide in Herculaneum. This may be because the ruins are more elaborate and we can actually see many things mentioned in the narration. They have a separate audio guide for kids also and that too in different languages. Aarush explored the entire site on his own with this guide and with full-on fascination.
  • Restaurant  When I visited Herculaneum, there was only one small restaurant open beside the parking area. We were hungry and had no other option in the vicinity, so we decided to try that restaurant. For our surprise, we got excellent, freshly prepared, authentic Italian food. We ordered Bruschetta, Pizza, and salad. Everything was amazingly tasty. We couldn’t resist ourselves and repeated our order. So the point is, even though the place looks cheap, non-professional and may raise doubt in your mind; just don’t worry, be hungry! Go and order your meal. You will thank me for this recommendation. Do let me know if you try this restaurant.

What have you decided? Where are you going? Pompeii or Herculaneum or both, like we did? Let me know.

Pompeii or Herculaneum?
Pompeii or Herculaneum?