Naples offered us many choices for our day trips. We wanted to avoid the one dimensional cruise ship tours and see as much as we could, so after a lot research and planning, we chose to walk through Naples, visit the ruins of Pompeii, explore the enchanting city of Sorrento and cruise the Bay of Napoli – all in less than eight hours and without feeling rushed.
The port in Naples can accommodate large ships providing us with easy access to our adventures ashore. With the help of other online contributors I have created a "Pompeii on Your Own" guide in MS Word format that will help you to navigate travelling to this spectacular site on your own. It features pictures and step by step directions to easily navigate walking to the Naples train station from the cruise ship docks and how to take the train to Pompeii. I would be happy to send it to anyone who would like it – just send us a line on IgoUgo.
Naples has a reputation as being a little rough around the edges, unrefined and well…pushy and within our first few steps outside of the Port Authority we understood why. The taxi drivers in Naples are very aggressive. In walking the 200 yards to the main entrance road, we weren’t harassed but it wasn’t too far removed from it either. As we walked to the train station we were shocked at what we saw. Naples was so different from Rome and Pisa. There was garbage everywhere. From old billboard posters dropped onto the sidewalks below to household garbage tossed onto the median of a busy street by a resident as we walked by, Naples did not make a good first impression. I would not recommend walking alone here– especially at night. We weren’t uneasy, but we were aware that the areas around the ports may not be the best parts that a city has to offer. We were thankful that we were not spending our day here.
Then there are the drivers. You will read that in Naples, traffic signals are merely suggestions, loosely interpreted by only a few motorists. This statement proved to be very accurate. You are able to cross safely at intersections with traffic lights however you should not take it for granted that everyone will stop for you. The complacent become speed bumps!
Getting to the train station took approximately 30 minutes and once inside, we purchased our tickets to Pompeii. We planned on stopping at Pompeii for a few hours and then continuing on to Sorrento so we only purchased a one way ticket. The cost for each ticket was only 1.40 Euros. The train you take is a local commuter train with many stops. We were certain that it was the Naples version of the NY subway as it was filled with graffiti and in need of a little TLC!
The trip to Pompeii takes approximately 30 minutes as the train winds its way around Mount Vesuvius. Mount Vesuvius is on the coast of the Bay of Naples and only a short distance from the shore. Mount Vesuvius is best known for its eruption in AD79 that led to the destruction of the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It has erupted 50 times since then, the last in 1631 and is today regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to the dense population of 3,000,000 people living nearby. Mount Vesuvius has a tendency to have explosive eruptions and with Naples less then 10 miles away one can only wonder what disaster would follow another eruption. Pompeii was long forgotten through history and only discovered 300 years ago when excavations and restoration work began after the last eruption of Mt. Vesuvius took place in the area. For nearly 1600 years, the city lay buried beneath the ground.
The admission fee to the Pompeii Ruins is only 11 Euros and if desired, you can negotiate a guided tour when you arrive for another 10 Euros however, while we were navigating the ruins on our own we heard three guides give three different explanations of the same area so buyer beware. You can also rent audio equipment for a self guided tour if you wish.
The ruins of Pompeii are unlike that of Rome as the architectural focus turns from political monuments to a resort village of the wealthy You will find that it is easy to distinguish the lavish residences from the modest ones. You will be surprised at how many colourful murals and artefacts still exist. I would recommend buying a guidebook if you don’t hire a guide so that you may fully appreciate the commercial buildings of the main street, including the brothel that describes the specialty of the house through its artwork! These books can be purchased at the entrance to the ruins.
The streets of Pompeii were designed to allow carts and pedestrians to walk comfortably. Stepping stones strategically placed at intersections allowed horses and carts to pass and pedestrians to stay dry as they crossed the street during rainstorms. The deep ruts that exist in the roads bring life to this magnificent site.
A typical home in Pompeii would appear rather plain from the outside, with only bare walls and very few windows visible. Once you were through the main entrance you would see a large atrium, open to the sky and lavishly decorated with colourful mosaics and statues. Small ponds and baths were characteristic of more elaborate residences.
There are several casts of mummified residents including the twisted remains of a dog on display at the site. As we looked up to Mount Vesuvius looming in the background we could only imagine the terror that the people of Pompeii must have felt as the lava encircled them.
Leaving Pompeii, we purchased another one way train ticket and continued south from Pompeii on route to Sorrento. This trip also cost 1.4 Euro each and took about 20 minutes. Sorrento is the gateway to the Amalfi coast and is in a word – beautiful. You will know you are getting close to Sorrento as glimpses of the Bay of Naples and homes with lemon trees full of fruit flash by on the right side of the train.
Sorrento is built into a hillside with dramatic views of the Bay of Naples and small winding streets brimming with local produce, souvenirs and of course Lemoncello, a tart liquor native to this region of Italy. Free samples are everywhere in Sorrento. There are several marinas that offer gorgeous views of the Bay of Naples and the tranquil beaches cut into the Cliffside below.
Upon leaving the train station we ventured out onto one of the main streets and picked up a local map at one of the Hotels nearby. Piazza Tasso is the center of Sorrento and a place where you can comfortably dine in one of the many outdoor cafes, catch a miniature train ride to tour the town (6 Euros), or simply to establish a meeting place if you are splitting up to cover this beautiful seaside city. From the Piazza and facing the Bay of Naples, we navigated our way south (left) and then west to the Bay of Naples towards Marina San Francesco. There is a lookout area near the Hotel Bellevue Syrene that is the best vantage point in Sorrento for looking down to the green waters and dockside beaches below. There are stairs located nearby that descend down to the water, winding down through the rock and ending at a boardwalk that runs along the beach. The boardwalk extends north towards Marina Piccola and the center of town. It was at this marina that we caught the Hydrofoil back to Naples. Tickets for the Hydrofoil are 11 Euros per person and you should allow 30 minutes of waiting time as the Hydrofoils depart for Naples every 45-50 minutes. In purchasing your tickets, make sure that you ask for the Hydrofoil specifically. The ticket booth is at the Marina Piccola and you will see it in a small half circle courtyard right at the docks. Vendors with standalone booths do not sell the Hydrofoil tickets and will put you on a "Metro del Mare" water taxi that makes several stops along the way. These vendors are unscrupulous and will attempt to sell you a water taxi ticket if you are not careful. We departed Sorrento at 4:25 pm and were back at the Port Authority docks in Naples by 5:05 pm, in plenty of time for our 5:30 on board deadline.
As we departed Naples, we took advantage of our Starboard side room to catch a blazing sunset as we sailed by the island of Corfu. This spectacular sunset made us slightly late for dinner but we didn't mind. Chasing perfect sunsets is a passion of ours and when presented with a clear sky and fiery sunset we couldn't pass it up.
Next stop - Santorini