Visit Herculaneum – A Fantastic Alternative to Pompeii

Herculaneum may be lesser known than its famous neighbour, Pompeii, but in many ways it’s a fantastic alternative to visit. It’s smaller, with fewer crowds and some would say that it is better preserved.

Although Herculaneum suffered the same volcanic eruption of Vesuvius as Pompeii in AD 79, it was covered in compact layers of volcanic material that solidified into rock, at depths of up to 25 metres. Pompeii on the other hand was buried in ash and pumice pebbles up to 10 metres deep. That’s why Herculaneum has features such as wooden beams and furniture that are comparatively well preserved.

Having said that, the ancient city is in danger of disintegration due to erosion, weathering and water damage. Since 2001, the Herculaneum Conservation Project has striven to improve infrastructural issues, focusing on drains and roofing. Along the way they have made new archaeological discoveries and uncovered fascinating details about the history of the city.

Herculaneum site Italy
Ercolano, as it is known in Italy, is UNESCO World Heritage Site located close to Naples and Pompeii in the district of Campania. Wealthier than Pompeii, the city had numerous fine houses with elaborate decoration. Today it’s a modern town with a population of 55,000, overlooking the ancient site. Inside, you have a bird’s eye view of the site and the entrance bridge. Despite it being a sunny September day, there were relatively few visitors.

Herculaneum bridge
Walking through Herculaneum’s cobbled streets lined by columns, you certainly get a sense of what life must have been like for the inhabitants. Excavation has uncovered around 25% of the original site, with three quarters still waiting to be rescued from the volcanic ash. The town was rediscovered in 1709 when the Duke of Elbeuf, who was having a house built nearby, heard of ancient marbles and columns being found in the nearby town of Resina. The duke bought the land and decorated his residence with the excavated items. News of the find soon reached King Charles VII of Naples who in turn bought it from the duke and began a concerted campaign to uncover the archaeological marvels that we know today.

Herculaneum street
Some of the buildings have remnants of their upper floor, which is quite unusual, and Herculaneum had a central bathhouse or thermae with sections for both men and women. The men’s baths had two entrances opening onto the paelestra, which was a recreational area and meeting place. which served not only as a

Herculaneum Pompeii alternative
The thermopolia really surprised me – these were places that sold hot food, stored in terracotta pots that were heated below a marble counter. This could then be taken away to eat at home. Evidence of over fifty have been found in Herculaneum.

Herculaneum bath
The College of the Augustales is an impressive building that had entrances on two streets. The Augustales were members of an order made up of freedmen. The main room is divided by four central columns supporting a flat roof and at the back there are wall paintings showing Hercules and Mount Olympus.

Herculaneum temple of Augustus
There are many other stunning artworks, from frescoes to fountains, marble statues and the mosaic floor in the women’s section of the bathhouse.

Herculaneum art
Sadly, the well-known House of the Deer was closed for renovation when we visited, but it contains copies of two intricate marble statues of deer being attacked by dogs, the originals of which were found in the garden.

Herculaneum Roman villa
The House of the  Relief of Telephus is a colourful structure with an attractive atrium bordered by columns. One of the largest structures in the excavated area, it had several dozen rooms.

visit HerculaneumThe town was thriving until it suffered significant damage from an earthquake in AD 62. Repairs were still being carried out on 24 August AD 79, when Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying Herculaneum under layers of mud and volcanic matter.

Herculaneum pillars
The inhabitants died of thermal shock, unlike in Pompeii where they were buried under ashes. Descending the stairway towards the boathouses, you come across this statue of  Marco Nonio Balbo. He was a Senator and proconsul who constructed a large villa here and was cremated in the same spot.

Herculaneum Roman statue
Close by are recently discovered wall reliefs, a remnant of the Sacellum of Four Gods, a temple dedicated to the four gods that were worshiped in Herculaneum: Mercury, Minerva, Neptune and Volcano.

Herculaneum Roman frescoes
The most tragic part of the visit for me was at the end, when you find a macabre surprise in the former boathouses. Originally located on the shore in 79 AD, the waterline has since moved further back due to the eruption. When the volcano erupted, Herculaneums’ residents fled to the beach, hoping that rescue boats would arrive, and yet they never came. 300 people perished, a sad reminder of this chapter of Italy’s history. Herculaneum is well worth a visit and nearby, there are many other unmissable places to visit on the Amalfi Coast.

Herculaneum Pompei

  • By car – from the A3 motorway, take the exit for Ercolano and then look for the brown road signs to Ercolano Scavi. There is a paying car park located a minute’s walk away from the entrance.
  • By train – make sure to alight at Ercolano Scavi rather than Ercolano Miglio D’Oro, from where it’s a ten minute walk downhill.
  • It is possible to visit both Herculaneum and Pompeii as the Circumvesuviana train runs between both, although a little tiring! Allow a couple of hours to visit Herculaneum.
  • Opening hours – 8.30 am to 7.30 pm from 1 April to 31 October, last entrance at 6 pm. Rest of the year – 8.30 am to 5 pm with last entrance at 3.30 pm
  • Tickets can be purchased for each individual site, or as a combined ticket, the Campania ArteCard, valid for three consecutive days, giving you entrance to two places free including Herculaneum and Pompeii, plus a 50% discount on all others and unlimited use of public transport.
  • Refreshments – there is a self service machine dispensing fresh drinks and snacks
  • An audio-guide can be hired at the entrance and is well worth it as there is little information in the site itself
  • Marissa Tejada

    I loved Herculaneum. Totally agree it is a fantastic alternative to Pompeii. Archaeology lovers should see both for sure 😀

    • I didn’t get time to see Pompeii but friends who went the same week found it really crowded, so think I had a lucky escape!

  • Catherine Lux

    I didn’t even know Herculaneum existed! All your hear about is Pompeii. Great write-up, definitely adding it to the list!

    C x | Lux Life

    • Thanks Catherine, it’s true that Pompeii gets the lion’s share of the attention!

  • Oh wow I had no idea this existed it looks so cool

    Candice | Beauty Candy Loves

    • It’s quite under the radar, I hope that more people do visit and that they use the money to excavate more

  • I visited Pompeii a few years ago and absolutely loved it! Herculaneum looks just as fascinating!

    • I’d love to return, so that I could visit Pompeii and see how it’s different

  • Angie SilverSpoon

    I literally didn’t know it existed! I visited Pompeii with my parents when I was little, I’d be interested to visit here too.

    Lots of love,

    SilverSpoon London

    • I’m hearing that quite a lot, it definitely deserves to be better known even though it’s on a smaller scale than Pompeii

  • This is a really amazing place!!!

    Black is Back With

    Follow me on snapChat: @FrancyGFashionblog

  • this location is stunning! I can just imagine the history it contains.


    • It feels like a happy place on a sunny day, it’s sad to imagine what happened though

  • So gorgeous and SO much history!

    Le Stylo Rouge

    • Yes it’s such a fascinating history Ashley, I really feel for those people

  • Lucy

    I have always wanted to visit Pompeii mainly because of the historical significance but judging by your pictures of Herculaneum’s I would also like to visit here looks beautiful Lucy x

    • Yes I think they’re both worth a visit, Herculaneum suited us well as we didn’t have much time and with heavy colds this was more relaxing!

  • Wow, you always travel to the best places


    • I’m really glad we fitted this in, nice to do a bit of culture as well as the beaches 😉

  • Creme Rose

    Beautiful pictures! 🙂

    x Arwa |

  • I visited both Pompeii and Herculaneum and I think they complement each other very well. Somehow though, Pompeii makes you feel closer to the drama that took place over 2000 years ago.

    • I can see why, because the people were better preserved in Pompeii. I did get a sense of the human drama at the end though with the boat rooms

  • Have you been to Pompeii as well? I’m going in April and can’t decide between Pompeii and Herculaneum. Beautiful pictures by the way 🙂

    • I haven’t been to Pompeii, I think if you have lots of time and can go early morning or with a special tour then Pompeii could be best but this was great for us with limited time in the afternoon

  • OMG wow! Pompeii has always been a dream of mine to visit, completely unaware of this fabulous city. It seems even better and now totally on my list too.


    • I think as Anda says, they do complement each other well and it depends on your schedule. Have fun if you go!

  • I love Pompeii but next time I visit I’ll have to head there too, looks very interesting!

  • This looks like such an interesting place to visit- like you are stepping back thousands of years! It looks wonderfully preserved! It’s so funny that they had ‘take away’ type eateries 😛 haha

    Rachel xx

    • I know, amazing that they had take away eateries, they were pretty forward thinking 😉

  • ♫ Alison M ♪

    What a fascinating place. I would love to visit and also take in Pompeii

  • That is amazing! So much preserved architecture in this historical place. The last part broke my heart. 🙁

    • I was thinking that it lacked a human element, until I saw the last section of the site, it was so sad

  • When I travel I love to visit this kind of sites because you learn about history and for a brief moment you get to escape into a different time. Thanks for sharing.

    • That’s a very good point Anouk, it does feel like an escape into a different time

  • Shveta Sontakey

    Such an informative read! Bookmarked this for when I plan to make my next Italy trip <3

    • I’m glad that you enjoyed it Shveta, and hope you have a wonderful time in Italy when you get manage to get there

  • rococostyle

    Thanks for sharing these amazing pictures with us! I enjoyed reading this article!

    The Rococo Style

    • That’s very sweet, Eva – it was a gorgeous day so easy to get good pics

  • Danielle

    Italy is my favorite country! I would like to go there again and visit this place. My husband loves history and would really enjoy Herculaneum, too.


  • What a special place! This is definitely going on my to-visit list. It helps that Italy is my favorite European holiday destination 🙂

  • Corinne C

    Oh wow, what a history! The end does seem sad, I wouldn’t like that either.

    Volcanos terrifying, I wonder what the place would look like now if it hadn’t been covered in ash!

    Corinne x

    • I guess the site would never have been discovered if it hadn’t been covered in ash. It must be scary living in the shadow of Vesuvius even now

  • WhatWouldVWear

    WOW! Love all of your travel reports! Italy is my personal fave! Stunning pics, dear!

    xoxo, Vanessa

    • Thanks very much Vanessa, and Italy is one of my fave places to visit – still not been to Venice so that’s on my wish list!

  • Sad to read about the history at the end when the people were waiting on the beach. Your photos are incredible, feels like I am there! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    PS: I’m hosting a giveaway on my blog, be sure to check it out:

    • It’s horrible to think that those people were waiting for help that never got there

  • I’ve never heard of Herculaneum before but I’ll definitely be adding it to my list of places to visit! I Loved scrolling through all of these pictures, they’re beautifully taken and you really captured some great sites to see, I found everything you wrote about the history so interesting and I find extremely old places such as this that have been standing for so long amazing! Although the part at the end was very sad.. Lovely post 🙂


    • I’m pleased you enjoyed it Gemma, we certainly had fun visiting. Greetings from a rainy Devon where I’m on a blogger retreat

  • This a place I have never heard of but I do think it would be worth visiting for sure. I always love to learn about the history of a place even if it is sad. Your pictures are really great and sure show what this lovely place has to offer.


    • That’s very kind Rebecca, I’m fascinated by the history of the places that I visit too

  • It’s brilliant to hear there are steps being taken to preserve the history and good condition of this place – it’s always heartbreaking to hear places at risk are crumbling! I’m genuinely very keen to visit Herculaneum now!

    Gabrielle | A Glass Of Ice


  • Jenna Francisco

    What an amazing place! I’ve heard about Herculaneum before but I love the detail you provide in this post. Pinning for future reference!

    • I’m very glad you enjoyed it Jenna! Have a fantastic weekend

  • I’ve been to Pompeii but never here – it looks fascinating. Next time I’m heading for the Amalfi Coast (one of my favourite places) I’ll definitely take time to explore Herculaneum.

    • It’s definitely worth a visit, Suzanne – so compact and uncrowded. Lovely to have met you recently

  • I totally agree with you. I visited both Pompeii and Herculaneum in a single day and found the time spent in Herculaneum much more peaceful (well, except for all those skeletons at the beach) and less overwhelming.

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