The city of Pompeii, buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD, is a fascinating place to take your kids. Not only is it historically significant, the personal stories of the event are so fantastical and amazing that even the smallest child is intrigued.
Pompeii is an easy day trip from Rome via the fast train to Naples. However unless you book a private driver, getting from Naples to Pompeii is not easy. Naples can also feel a bit unsafe, especially around the train station, so be sure to hold tightly to your little ones and your bags!
We took the early train from Rome to Naples (1 hour, 10 min. trip), where our driver met us at the train platform and drove us the 45 minutes to Pompeii. If you take the train to Naples and plan to drive to Pompeii, I encourage you to have a driver meet you – the city is very frantic, especially with children. I would not recommend driving in Naples at all. Our children still comment on the abundance of motor scooters in the city and how it seemed that no one paid any attention to the traffic lights – if there were any!
There is also a connecting train you can take from Naples to Pompeii called the Circumvesuviana train. However this slow regional train leaves from the Napoli Garibaldi station, which is a 5 minute walk in a connecting tunnel from the Napoli Centrale station. Depending on the ages of your children, this is an unnecessary complication to an already complicated trip! If you do take this train, be sure to get off at the Pompei Scavi station, which is right beside the site. More train tips can be found here.
You can find several options for bus day trips from Rome or Naples to the site, which include fast access. I also encourage you to look at the recommendations from Rick Steves or Ciao Bambino to arrange transportation to the site. This is not a place that you just want to wing it!
It is worthwhile to explore options for a private guided tour of the ruins. The site is massive and can be confusing to tour on your own, with few signs and lots of crowds. We scheduled our tour through a travel agent with Absolute Italy and our tour guide was invaluable. Rick Steves recommends this private or shared tour provider. Your tour guide will purchase your tickets ahead of time so you can miss the massive crowds at the gates and they can tailor the tour to see what interests your family most (and what you want to avoid!). Their help in describing the site through the eyes of those who lived there is something that will enable your children to really enjoy the tour.
If you are not doing a guided tour, be sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time here. It is also worthwhile to purchase the Rick Steves’ guidebook on Pompeii for a great walking tour or to download his tour to your phone.
Once you enter, everyone will spread out in the massive site so it won’t feel quite as crowded. There are so many amazing stops to see, including the amphitheater, theater, beautiful villas, temples, and the baths. Your children will marvel at the stone roads, with the chariot ruts still preserved. One of our children’s best memories is walking on the “crosswalk” – larger stones that served as a street crossing for people but were spaced far enough apart for chariots to still pass through.
It is also amazing to see the restaurants, or taverns, with their countertops intact. On many of these countertops, you can still see the hole where their pots of food would sit. In the more elaborate houses, the mosaics and frescos that served as the residents’ artwork are still preserved, along with the beautiful interior courtyards and smaller bedrooms. Most of the actual artwork and statues, however, have been moved to the Naples Archeological Museum.
Our guide really brought to life the site for our children and told stories of what it would have been like for children like them in Pompeii. Just having her to guide us over the maze-like cobblestone streets was helpful. It was also neat how she described the city’s water fountains using the Roman aqueducts – still providing drinkable water today!
There are some areas that you will want to avoid with children, including some villas with art for adult eyes only. These include the House of the Vettii and the brothel (Lupanare). Do not take your children in these and be sure to tell any tour guide that you do not want to see these sites.
We ended our tour back towards the entrance/exit in the forum (foro) area. Much like the Roman forum, the Pompeii forum was the center of the town. Most of the buildings were destroyed in the blast but you can still get a sense of its grandeur and importance. While this site is very crowded and not shaded at all, it is a good place to let the kids run around a bit. This site is great for pictures, with Mt. Vesuvius looming the background. You can see how the volcano is missing a big chunk of land near the top – that is what rained down in 79AD!
A must-see is the forum’s granary, which stretches along the left side of the forum. This was the site of the ancient granary and produce market that today houses many items excavated from the ash. Among the pottery and other items, you will also see the casts of victims discovered upon excavating the site. If you have little ones and don’t want to explain what these casts are depicting, skip this section. There is a great children’s book linked below, Secrets of Vesuvius, that explains the body casts in a child-appropriate way.
After spending several hours in Pompeii, our driver took us to Positano for lunch and we drove the Amalfi Coast all day before heading back to Rome that night. While it made for a long day (our kids slept in the van for most of the drive back!), it was definitely doable and made for a memorable trip!
If you cannot make it to Italy with your kids any time soon, I encourage you to consider visiting Richmond, VA to see the Pompeii exhibit at the Science Museum of Virginia. This exhibit opened just this past weekend and will be in Richmond through early September. There are some interesting artifacts and interactive displays, including the opening video that simulates the eruption and fallout. At the end of the exhibits, there are even two of the body casts to see. The museum itself is a great place to bring your kids for fun and the Pompeii exhibit really adds to that.
- Cost: 13EUR/free with the Campania ArteCard; costs for private or shared tours vary
- Recommended: ages 6 and up (site is not stroller-friendly)
- Plan to spend at least 2 hours touring the site
- Gift shop onsite
- Bring refillable water bottles and sunscreen. Pompeii has little shade and it can get very hot!
- Transportation: See description above. Nearest train station is Pompei Scavi (Circumvesuviana line)
- Dining options nearby: Cafeteria onsite behind the Temple of Jupiter in the Forum. There are also several places to picnic inside the site. Another option outside of the site is Restaurant Hortus.
- Hotels nearby: While I am sure there are some lovely hotels nearby, I would recommend making Pompeii a day trip from Rome or Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast. Both places have multitudes of child-friendly options.
- Nearby attractions include: Herculaneum, visiting the summit of Mt. Vesuvius, Naples’ Archeology Museum (where most of the Pompeii art and statues are located), and the Amalfi Coast.
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up:
Have you been to Pompeii – in Italy or to the exhibit in Richmond? Comment below on your favorite artifact!