While we definitely could have spent longer in Naples, Italy last spring, four days was a great amount of time to accomplish what we came there for and also enjoy the trip. So for those of you interested in archaeology and looking for a quick European weekend getaway, I would highly suggest visiting Pompeii!
Day 1: Arrive from United States, check in, and go explore the National Archaeological Museum.
Depending on your connections, you’ll probably land in Naples in late morning. Don’t try to venture far on your first day–but do accomplish something! Head to the National Archaeological Museum to check out their wonderful artifacts from Pompeii, Herculaneum, Egypt and more. While many suggest that you have to visit the museum after the archeological sites themselves, I don’t really think it matters and the visit left us even more excited to see the sites. Stop for gelato along the way. More than once if you want. Grab a quick dinner–we loved Osteria Il Garum, and head to bed early.
Day 2: Day at Pompeii!
Even if you don’t think you’ll spend all day there, block out most of the day to spend. We don’t like to linger and easily spent about 5-6 hours wandering around and enjoying the site. If you decide to leave early, you can spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Naples. I definitely would not try to do Herculaneum and Pompeii in the same day. While it’s possible, I would have been burnt out and cranky. Take the Circumvensia out to Pompeii via either station downtown. It was not crowded when we went (late March, early April), and there were plenty of seats. At Pompeii, be sure to grab a map (some are better than others), and some water. There are street vendors on the way in if you’ve forgotten. I think Pompeii is best enjoyed at leisurely pace with plenty of time to read and wander around. By the time you are ready to head back to Naples, it will be later in the afternoon. Stop for some gelato or grab some pizza and enjoy a leisurely stroll back to your hotel in the evening.
Day 3: Relaxing Day in Capri
To break up the constant stream of archaeology, Capri can be a fun day-trip. Alternatively, the Almalfi Coast may be more up your alley. You can take either the ferry or the ‘express’ hydrofoil to Capri. I’m not really sure the hydrofoil is that much faster, so if you are looking to save money, the regular ferry works just fine. It will be pretty busy, but in the morning you don’t need to buy tickets ahead of time. When you get off the ferry in Capri, I’d suggest you go buy tickets for the return ferry–or at least do so before lunch. Even in “off” season, the hydrofoil was sold out for quite a few hours, and the regular ferry also was not available at peak return times (like 5pm and 6pm). Decide if you are interested in the blue grotto, and take a boat ride around Capri–lots of choices, we used LaserJet which was just fine. You can also hire a private boat. Enjoy the crisp breeze and crystal water. Take the funicular up to the top, spend time wandering around the heinously expensive shops and find somewhere good to eat. Or just have more gelato. There are fantastic views to be had. If you want and have time, you can head over to Anacapri. You’ll be ready for dinner and bed by the time you return on the ferry to Naples. Side note–the ferry terminal and surrounding area is safe, clean, and o.k. even in the evening.
Day 4: Tackle Vesuvius and Herculaneum
There is a ticket office/tour service for Vesuvius right off the Ercolano stop on the Circumvensia. It’s not cheap (though it also includes entrance fees), but it was fun to walk up Vesuvius, which is still smoking/venting in parts. It takes about 25 minutes to get to the drop-off point, and they give you I think 2 hours to make it to the top and return. It’s not particularly leisurely, but if you are relatively fit you can make it and also walk part-way around the rim. This isn’t America–there aren’t lots of ‘danger’ signs, so be careful with your footing. We enjoyed seeing the crater and the huge ash fields, as well as a beautiful view of Naples below. Once you return on the bus, you can take a short walk from the Ercolano stop to Herculaneum, which is a totally different experience from Pompeii. Right on the shore, Herculaneum reminds you more of a metropolitan area–some of it remains under the city of Ercolano. There are lots of fun details at Herculaneum that you didn’t see at Pompeii (like wooden beams, iron bars, two story buildings), so enjoy and wander leisurely. Stop in the quaint Ercolano for a bite to eat (or some beer or gelato) before you return to Naples.
Day 5: Return to the United States
Spend the morning if you have an hour or two exploring Naples and just taking a stroll. Even around the port areas the water is a deep, rich, sparkly blue, so heading to the sea is always a good plan. With some gelato, of course.