Ram and I visited Pompeii together almost ten years ago. We purchased the audio guide and our visit lasted longer than the batteries did - we were there for nearly 8 hours and it was exhausting. With our recent cruise stopping in Naples we really wanted our children (Mia aged almost 4 and Harry aged 6) to experience Pompeii, but we knew that a visit like ours was unrealistic. So here are my tips if you are planning a trip to Pompeii with small children.
Before you visit
We prepared the children, in particular Harry, for the things that he would see, to get him interested before the trip. There are lots of videos on YouTube with information about Vesuvius and Pompeii, but it's a good idea to watch along with your children so that you can censor the information if necessary - some of the videos can be a little scary for young children. I can recommend this video from the BBC - David Tennant visits Pompeii ;) We also looked up pictures on Google image search, both present day photographs and images of the excavations over the years, I found it all pretty fascinating too.
Plan your visit in advance as much as you can - Pompeii is big. Although the buildings open to the public are found in clusters, there is still a lot of ground to cover. If you only have one day to visit, even without small children in tow you need to be prepared for the fact that you won't be able to see it all. You can download a map of Pompeii and a guide to Pompeii, with free paper copies of these documents being available to pick up when you arrive. We planned a route through the city that visited some of the major sites, but we didn't stray too far from the entrance and we knew that it would probably be unrealistic to get as far as the amphitheatre located on the other side from our entrance.
Getting to Pompeii
Our cruise ship docked in Naples. We took a taxi to Porta Nolana station and travelled on the Circumvesuviana line to Pompei Scavi - Villa dei Misteri which takes you to the Porta Marina entrance. The Circumvesuviana line is a separate train line to the main Italian train network and it runs from Naples to Sorrento. We found taxis in Naples to be quite a hassle - very pushy, wanting to drive us all the way to Pompeii and trying to put us off taking the train. Of course a direct taxi is easier, but it is a lot cheaper to take the train, and although it's a bit scruffy it felt perfectly safe with plenty of other tourists. For travel from different starting points, see the official Pompeii website (in English).
We felt that a guided tour would be too long and intensive for our children, but there are plenty of companies offering tours, both bookable online in advance, outside the gates as you approach, or through your tour operator. The audioguide is also another option which you can purchase along with your tickets at the entrance, it certainly served us very well ten years ago.
It's important to arrive as early as you can to avoid the queues - Pompeii opens at 8.30am. We arrived around 9.30am which was the earliest we could manage and the queue was still relatively short, but when we left around 2pm there was a very long line. The site can get very busy as the large tour groups arrive, so an earlier visit is definitely better if you are sticking to the popular buildings. When you purchase your tickets, look out for a sign on the window telling you which buildings are open that day, and don't forget to pick up your free map and guidebook. There are also toilets here tucked away in the corner.
Tips for a visit to Pompeii with small children
When you arrive, a good place to head for is the Forum which is a short walk from the Porta Marina entrance. It's a big open space so that you can orientate yourself, and along one side are sheds containing various artefacts including some of the plaster casts made from the bodies, which the children found fascinating although I'm not quite sure they understood what they were.
We got Harry his own free map and guidebook from the entrance. The guidebook is quite difficult for little ones to read, containing lots of Latin terms, but he loved identifying the buildings from the pictures as we saw them and he felt important as he told us bits about them.
If you can manage it, don't take a pushchair. Although Mia very rarely uses a stroller now we do take one for trips that involve a lot of walking. But Pompeii with a pushchair would be almost impossible. There are pavements, but you can't rely on them as they are often blocked by scaffolding, and they are pretty rough anyway. For a younger child you might not be able to do without one, but you'd have to bear in mind that the areas you would see might be quite limited.
Be led by your children, and spend more time on the things that interest them. Our children spent quite a lot of time splashing in puddles made by the water fountains and jumping across the stepping stones, but amongst their play they were still learning.
Although the facilities have improved since our previous visit nearly ten years ago, there are large areas of the site with no toilet or refreshment areas, and a visit to Pompeii can be very hot and tiring. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes with hats and sunglasses, wear lots of sun cream, take plenty of water and snacks, and make frequent stops in shady areas. There are many places where you can stop for a sit down on a step for a bit of a rest and a chat about what you can see around you.
We spent around three hours in Pompeii, which was plenty of time to see the main buildings and get a really good feel for the site. The children were very good, but when they started to ask when we were going back to the ship we didn't push it too much. We were lucky because we had both already visited the site and were happy to just see the highlights, and the children definitely took in a lot from their visit. Since we returned home they've been busy reconstructing Pompeii with Duplo, and even Mia keeps talking about it! I'm really glad that we made the effort to take them.
I'm linking this post to Time Traveller at Mari's World.
I'm linking this post to Time Traveller at Mari's World.
Children under 18 are free to visit Pompeii. We bought our tickets on the day at the entrance and paid 13 Euros each. Tickets are also available to purchase in advance online, and you can find lots of helpful information about your visit on the official Pompeii site.