The ruins of the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum (Ercolano) live in the shadow of their more famous neighbor, Pompeii. But many enthusiasts consider this smaller archaeological site—one of Italy’s most important UNESCO-listed spots—to be equally interesting and engaging.
Herculaneum, like Pompeii, was buried by the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Unlike Pompeii, however, Herculaneum was preserved rather than destroyed by the blast, so many of the original Roman buildings are still standing—including a few that have an intact second story—giving visitors a more accurate feel for what the city looked like before the eruption. The volcanic ash and mud that covered Herculaneum sealed frescoes and mosaics decorating the homes and baths, protected wooden furniture, and even encased food in household kitchens. Today, the modern city of Ercolano sits above sections of the ancient city that haven’t yet been unearthed.
To fully understand the history and importance of the ruins, it’s best to visit Herculaneum as part of a private tour led by an expert tour guide. Herculaneum is an incredibly popular attraction, so tours including skip-the-line tickets are a must in the busy summer months. As the ruins are located near Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, all three sights can easily be combined in a single full-day tour.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Herculaneum is a must-see for ancient history buffs.
- Kids especially enjoy exploring the Herculaneum ruins—choose a tour with an expert guide who is adept at engaging the whole family.
- Almost all of the remains of the ancient town are outdoors, so be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen in summer, as well as comfortable shoes.
- Most of the archaeological site at Herculaneum is accessible to wheelchair users.
How to Get There
Herculaneum is located just north of Naples along the Bay of Naples. It’s centrally located for an easy day tour or shore excursion from Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Capri, and even Rome.
When to Get There
The archaeological site is almost entirely outdoors, so is best to avoid visiting on the hot days. In summer, visit in early morning or late afternoon to avoid midday heat.
Choosing Herculaneum over Pompeii
Where much of Pompeii is off-limits to visitors due to the dangerous instability of the structures, almost all of Herculaneum is open to the public, and you can walk into many of the ancient Roman town’s buildings. The experience is eerie and poignant, as it can feel as though the owners have just stepped out for the moment rather than having died in an volcanic eruption two millennia ago.