The Do-It-Yourself Tour of Pompeii

You know it. The tour with the guide holding up a sign, umbrella, or some other object so you don’t lose your group. Though it doesn’t really matter if you do lose your group – it’s so large, you have to battle your way to the front to even hear what the guide is saying. And that’s not the only battle; if you want any decent photos, you’re no doubt sighing in annoyance as you try to avoid your fellow tour group members’ heads or, worse of all, their totally obnoxious iPads as they too try to snap photos of the sights. No, thank you! Instead, try this do-it-yourself tour of Pompeii.

The Forum, Pompeii

The Forum was the main town square and was strictly pedestrian only

In 79 AD somewhere around 20,000 Pompeians went about their daily lives giving nary a thought to the volcano they lived alongside. August 24th would change their lives forever. On that fateful day as Mt. Vesuvius spewed, though much of the city was destroyed, Pompeii was also buried under 20 feet of ash and pumice. Centuries of history were sealed away until 1748 by Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in intentional excavations after Herculaneum was accidentally discovered in 1738 when workers were digging the foundation for the King of Naples’ summer palace. Due to the lack of air and moisture, artifacts buried under the ash and pumice at both archeological sites were extremely well preserved. It’s no wonder then that Pompeii is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy and some 2 million people make the trek south to see it.

There are several ways to visit Pompeii: on a pre-booked guided tour, to hire a guide on the spot (the going rate is €100-115), to hire an audio guide (which is simply a recording of Pompeii’s Little Red Book that hawkers will be pedaling near the Porta Marina entrance, or on a do-it-yourself tour of Pompeii. Your ticket includes a map and small pocket guide to the site, which is excellent and leads you number by number through the not-to-miss sights at Pompeii. You can also download a great guide right on your iPhone with the Pompeii app.

The Comitium, Pompeii

The Comitium was used as a voting station for municipal elections

Planning Your Do-It-Yourself Tour of Pompeii

With a pre-booked tour, you know that your tour is four hours long, for example. With a do-it-yourself (DIY) tour of Pompeii, you need to determine how much time you plan or have to spend at Pompeii. Download your Pompeii – A day in the past app in advance of your trip. We like this app, though there are several DIY Pompeii guides in the app store, because you can break down your visit by the amount of time you have to spend at the archeological site with a 2 hour, 4 hour, or full day tour. Browse the app by building and mark your favorites right in the app. You can also look at seven different itineraries to see which monuments and sights that interest you most are located near each other. If you really want to get a feel for Pompeii before your visit, take a virtual walk through Pompeii’s ruins with Google Street View. You should allow at least 3 – 4 hours for your DIY tour of Pompeii and can cover quite a bit of the site in that amount of time.

The Basilica, Pompeii

The Basilica housed Pompeii’s law courts

Finding Your Way Around on Your Do-It-Yourself Tour of Pompeii

As I mentioned, you ticket includes a map and small pocket guide to the site, which leads you number by number through the not-to-miss sights at Pompeii. And if you’re not a great map reader, you can use the app with location services turned on to guide you from sight to sight (this function will require an internet connection). If you’re not on any sort of time schedule, you can always wander the site and use the location feature to tell you more about which building you’ve stumbled upon.

The House of the Ancient Hunt, Pompeii

The House of the Ancient Hunt has large frescoes that are some of the best examples of fourth style decoration

The Thermopolion, Pompeii

Fast food existed even in Pompeii. Ready-to-be-eaten meals could be bought on consumed on the spot in The Thermopolion

The Guide on Your Do-It-Yourself Tour of Pompeii

The app does a great job of providing information about each building and includes an audio guide if you don’t want to read. If you use the audio guide, just be sure to bring headphones with you!

Grain Stores, Pompeii

The Grain Stores is a building used for storing archaeological findings

Our Recommended Must-See Sights at Pompeii

It’s best to enter Pompeii from the Porta Marina entrance. Don’t miss The Forum, which was Pompeii’s commercial, political and religious center. Alongside The Forum, visit the Grain Stores where you can see many of the plaster casts of Vesuvius victims.

Clear on the opposite end of Pompeii and following Via dell’Abbondanza is the Amphitheatre, which was built in on the outskirts of Pompeii. It’s well worth the walk as the Amphitheatre is the oldest building of its kind in the world. Like the Colosseum in Rome, gladiators had bloody battles with wild animals while some 20,000 spectators watched.

Continue wandering this end of the archeological site and make your way back toward the Porta Marina gate via the Necropolis. You’ll find many beautiful tombs and gardens and you’ll practically have the area to yourself.

Temple of Isis, Pompeii

The Temple of Isis was completely rebuilt after the earthquake of 62 AD by an ex-slave who made a fortune

Other Tips for Visiting Pompeii

Wear flats. The streets are very uneven and heels or even wedges are completely unsuitable for walking around the site. For this same reason, if you have little kids you’ll want to bring a carrier as opposed to a stroller, which we imagine would be incredible hard to push over the stepping stones.

Bring bottled water. It’s perfectly fine to bring it in and you’ll be glad you did with the sun blazing on all those ruins.

Forum Baths, Pompeii

The Calidarium was a hot water bath in the Forum Baths, which were equipped with all the bathing facilities Pompeians could desire

Pompeii Visitor Information
  • Pompeii is open November – March daily from 8:30am – 5pm (last admission is 3:30pm)  and April – October from 8:30am – 7:30pm (last admission is 6pm). Pompeii is closed on January 1, May 1, and December 25.
  • Admission is €11 and is a single day ticket. A global ticket (Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis, Stabia, and Antiquarium of Boscoreale) is available for €20 and is valid for 3 days.
  • Audio guides are available at Porta Marina entrance in Italian, English, French, German and Spanish for €6.50 or €10 for two.
  • There is a storage room for bags, strollers, and anything else you might not want to lug around Pompeii located at the Porta Marina entrance.
The Amphitheatre, Pompeii

The Pompeian Amphitheatre is the oldest of all existing buildings of its kind

The Necropolis, Pompeii

The Necropolis outside the Porta Nocera gate houses the tombs of the Flavius family

Getting to Pompeii
  • By train: Pompeii can be reached by train on Circumvesuviana. On the Naples – Sorrento line, use the Pompei Scavi-Villa dei Misteri stop. On the Naples – Poggiomarino line, use the Pompei Santuario stop.
  • By bus: Pompeii can be reached by bus from Naples or Salerno on SITA. The stop is Pompei (Piazza Esedra).
  • By car: Pompeii can be reached on the motorway A3 Napoli-Salerno (exit Pompei ovest) or motorway A3 Salerno-Napoli (exit Pompei est).

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The Do-It-Yourself Tour of Pompeii


  1. says

    DIY Touring is the only way I like to tour a place – I just don’t like schedules, especially when I’m traveling. Sure it’s nice having a guide explain everything, but you can always overhear what some guide is saying if the place is busy enough, haha. I just prefer to wander about and read the plaques at the sites. Though having a little guide book/app sounds even better!

    • says

      When touring sites like Pompeii, we also much prefer DIY. We want to be able to spend time at the buildings or monuments that interest us and quickly move on from those that don’t. Group tours, even if they’re small group tours, just don’t give you that flexibility. There are other things, like say a walking tour of a city or a food tour, where we loved short small group tours though.

  2. says

    Thanks for this, I went about 10 years ago with a guide and we are taking our daughter next month and I’ve been debating whether or not to get a guide upon arrival or do it ourselves between this app and some guidance from Rick Steves.

    • says

      We really think that you can get just as much out of a DIY visit as with a guide – and save a whole lot of money in the process. Let us know what you decide and how your trip goes Tamara!

  3. says

    I think I would have enjoyed my visit to Pompeii much more, if I wasn’t part of a tour group. Like you said, the groups are too big to hear anything anyways and, my least favourite part is how they rush you through the site. I much preferred my visit to Ostia Antica over Pompeii because I went alone and could linger as long as I liked, plus there were no crowds. I had the place practically all to myself!

    I would go back to Pompeii though to give it a second chance, but next time I would do a do-it-yourself tour!

    • says

      We saw tour groups and how they were rushed through. Definitely not our style! We haven’t been to Ostia Antica yet. We’ll have to check it out. Any place that doesn’t have a crowd entices us.

  4. says

    This is such a rad guide! You went super in depth with detail…looking to visit Pompeii myself while in Rome this week! Cannot wait! Again, amazing guide =)

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