The Forum is one of the best things to see in Pompeii.

Best Things To See And Do In Pompeii

Pompeii is one of my all-time favorite places. It’s a very sophisticated, 1st century Greco-Roman city preserved for 1,500 years under a thick layer of volcanic ash and rock. It’s one of the world’s top archeological sites. But this ancient city is large, 2 miles (3 km) in circumference, so it’s best to have a plan in advance. I’ve listed the highlights; the best things to see and do while visiting Pompeii, to help plan your trip.

The fateful, 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius left us with an amazing view of history, what life was like here almost 2,000 years ago. Pompeii was frozen in time, with bread still sitting in ovens, utensils left on kitchen tables, and sadly, bodies found contorted in agony from heat, gasses, ash, and stone.

Today, after centuries of researchers carefully digging through ash and stone, you can walk down ancient paved streets, lined with shops, businesses, and even brothels, step into stylish homes filled with beautiful frescos, mosaics, and gardens, and explore communal spaces like the Forum, public baths, theaters, and more, transporting you back in a way that no museum can.

Best Things To See In Pompeii

This ancient archeological park fascinates me and is one of my all time favorite places. I was awed when I stopped here on one of my first trips overseas. I went back a second time, solo, to walk it more thoroughly, and was amazed yet again. If you’re like me, and prefer exploring at your own pace, know that you can easily do this solo. This guide will help you understand the best things to see in the Archeological Park of Pompeii.

The Forum

The Forum was the heart of Pompeii, the economic, political, and religious center of the city. This is where Roman citizens gathered to shop, conduct business, socialize, debate, and even bathe. It contained some of the most beautiful buildings of the city, including markets, temples, public baths and more.

The Forum is one of the best things to see in Pompeii.
The Forum

Some of the top sites to explore here include the Temple of Apollo and Temple of Jupiter, the Bascilica, a civil and political building, and the Forum Thermal Baths, where everyday Romans came to relax and socialize.

The Bascilica in the Forum is one of the best things to see in Pompeii.
Bascilica

Best Houses To See In Pompeii

There were many spectacular houses in Pompeii, detailed with colorful, hand-painted walls and brilliant frescoes, stunning mosaic floors, furniture, and beautiful gardens. Many more spectacular than the ones we live in today. The following are some of the best houses to see in Pompeii. Click the links on each to see its location in the park.

Tip: If you don’t have time for all five, just focus on the first three.

The House Of Faun

The complex of the House of Faun, one of the largest and most spectacular houses in Pompeii, takes up an entire block (almost 32,000 square feet). It has 2 atria, 4 dining rooms, and 2 large peristyle gardens.

It was named for the bronze statue of the dancing faun below, a mythical half goat, half human creature symbolizing wildness, vitality, and sexuality.

House of the Faun

This home is also known for its mosaics, particularly the Alexander Mosaic, which depicts the 333 BC Battle of Issus, between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia. The original is in the Naples National Archeological Museum, so this is a replica.

Alexander Mosaic is one of the best things to see in Pompeii.
Alexander Mosaic

House of Mysteries

The House of Mysteries, known for its well-preserved, brilliantly colored wall paintings, sits a little outside of Pompeii Park. Its largest, and most well known, covers three walls, representing the initiation of a young woman, although scholars disagree what she’s being initiated into. Whether part of a Dionysian rite, preparation for a marriage, or just the rite of passage to adulthood, no one is certain.

Fresco From House of Mysteries | Eugene

House Of Venus In The Shell

The back wall of the peristylium, or courtyard, of the House of Venus, built in the 1st century BC, also has beautiful frescos. The most well known is Venus In A Shell, which is how this house got its name.

Venus, the goddess of love, has been found in inscriptions elsewhere in the city, described as a ‘protectress of Pompeii’.

Venus On A Shell Fresco is one of the best things to see in Pompeii.
Venus On A Shell Fresco

The House of Vettii

Owned by two brothers that bought their way from slavery, the House of Vettii is another one of the largest homes in Pompeii. Actually, several private residences combined into one. The many well-preserved, bright frescoes depicting mythological scenes, and some more erotic in nature, make this house a highlight, as well as its large peristyle courtyard.

Praedia of Giulia Felice

Praedia of Giulia Felice, one of the first houses excavated here, has large gardens surrounding thermal baths (below right).

The Thermopolium is one of the best things to see in Pompeii.
Thermopolium
Giulia Felice is one of the best houses to see in Pompeii.
Praedia of Giulia Felice

The Thermopolium, or Cook Shop

The thermopolium, or cook shop (above left) served ready-to-eat food in earthenware jars on the marble counter. Very similar to a modern-day, fast food shop.

Best Mosaics To See In Pompeii

In addition to the Alexander Mosaic noted above in the House of Faun, the Cave Canem Mosaic is another must see mosaic. It’s also one of the most iconic images of Pompeii.

Cave Canem Mosaic

Cave Canem translates to “Beware of the Dog”. Interesting how similar life was almost 2,000 years ago, right? This mosaic is at the front door of the House of the Tragic Poet.

Cave Canem Mosaic is one of the best things to see in Pompeii.
Cave Canem Mosaic

Stabian Baths

Dating from the 2nd century BC, the Stabian Baths are some of the oldest in the Roman world. There were two sets of baths, for men and women, with dressing rooms, and options for hot, medium, and cold baths. The water was heated in pipes inside the walls and floor. The men’s baths are more elaborate than the women’s, as they frequented them more often.


Lupanar, or Brothels

Yes, there were even brothels, which is lupanar in Latin. In fact, this lupanar, the largest in Pompeii, was conveniently located around the corner from the Stabian baths (above). It had two floors, with the ground floor for lower class customers and the upper floor for upper class citizens.

There were simple, small rooms with stone beds covered with cushions, as well as erotic frescos on the wall.

The Lupanar is one of the best things to see in Pompeii.
Lupanar Frescoes

Theaters

There are two theaters in Pompeii, the Teatro Grande and the Teatro Piccolo. The large theater seated around 5,000 spectators, primarily for dramas and plays. An interesting side-note here is that the colonnade leading to it was once used as barracks for the gladiators.

The theater is one of the best things to see in Pompeii.
Grand Theater

The small theater held about 1,500 spectators, primarily for musical performances. Once roofed, it’s the earliest example of a roofed Roman theater. The two theaters sit adjacent to each other.

Amphitheater

The amphitheater of Pompeii, the oldest surviving stone Roman amphitheater, dates to 80 BC. It’s one of the most complete before the Colosseum in Rome. Used for sporting events and gladiator battles, it seated up to 20,000 spectators. Holes are located near the top, that once support a roof for protection from the elements.

Streets

While walking, don’t forget to look at the formal, paved streets, as well as the stepping stones, designed to keep pedestrians shoes clean and dry. Who would have thought cities were so well organized this long ago?

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Antiquarium

You also shouldn’t miss the Antiquarium, a museum with archeological finds from the area and narrative on the history of Pompeii. It recently reopened in 2021. You can see artifacts from daily life, frescos, statues, and, gruesomely, casts of some of the bodies found buried in the ash.

Map of Pompeii

Visit Pompeiisites.org for a map and more details on entrance, hours, tours. They are always discovering more here, so always make sure to get the latest. As always, try to visit early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds.

How To Get To Pompeii

Buses and trains connect Rome to Pompeii several times a day.

The fastest way to get to Pompeii from Rome is by high speed, direct train, taking about 2 hours. There is also a high speed train that requires a change in Naples, but that adds time, making it about 4 hours. Less expensive, commuter trains from Rome will take about 4 hours.

There are direct buses, like Flixbus, that offer very comfortable rides from Rome in about 3.5 hours. I’ve used them before and find them safe and convenient.

From Amalfi, on the Amalfi Coast, there is a direct bus, while from Sorrento, there is a commuter train.

From Sicily, you can take a train from Palermo, although it goes to Salerno, where you need to change trains to Pompeii. It takes about 11 hours. You can also fly from Sicily to Naples, then head down to Pompeii via train.

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Sculptures Near The Forum

Note: The sculptures you see in some of my photos are from a posthumous exhibit by artist Igor Mitoraj. They are no longer in park, but I adored the exhibit!

If you’ve enjoyed my list of the best things to see in Pompeii, or have a place that’s your favorite, please drop a note below.

Other Top Spots in Italy

South of Pompeii is Sicily, full of fascinating cities and sites. Beaches with stunning views, ancient temples, and amazing Sicilian food, theres a ton to explore here. While the lovely Aeolian islands are scattered north of it. They’re fun to ferry between and explore one-by-one. I explored a few and hiked up the volcanic island of Stromboli to watch it spit fire at sunset.

North of Pompeii, highlights include the idyllic beauty of the famous Amalfi coast, one of the most beautiful coastlines in Italy, with breathtaking views along its many curves and 13 seaside villages. And, from there, the jaw-dropping beauty of Capri and its Blue Grotto, is just a ferry ride away.

Rome, about 2.5 hours north, one of the world’s top travel destinations. This must-visit city, with its iconic Colosseum and ancient archeological sites, rich history, impressive architecture, and top-notch food is nothing short of amazing.

From there, Florence, with its iconic Duomo, and outstanding Renaissance Art, is less than a 3 hour drive, another must-visit in Italy. Especially is you appreciate beauty.

Heading farther north along the coast, you can visit, and hike, between the 5 charming towns of Cinque Terre. The vistas from each city are spectacular. If you find these 5 cities too crowded, try Portovenere, just a short drive south.

Not far from Cinque Terre is the port town of Genoa. This melting pot city was the birthplace of both Christopher Columbus and Pesto Pasta, which I thought I didn’t like until I tried its AUTHENTIC version.

On Italy’s east coast, Venice is a top highlight. I loved wandering its lovely canals and side streets. And became fascinated watching the gondoliers gliding along the canals.

To see all the highlights of Italy, as well as understand how to get around, safety, scams, logistics, and more, to help you plan your trip, see my Italy Travel Guide.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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