Herculaneum Ruins Naples

Train from Naples to Herculaneum, the Circumvesuviana Adventure

Posted on Posted in Italy, Naples
Herculaneum Ruins Naples
Herculaneum view from above shows the town buildings

Italy by train can be quite easy for travel between cities (Naples-Rome-Florence-Venice-Milan) as well as local travel to towns and villages along the way if you do a bit of research and don’t get distracted. I was interested in a day trip via train from Naples to Herculaneum, a town affected by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. I decided to skip the pricey bus tour and do it myself via the Circumvesuviana train which has five train routes around Vesuvius (each marked by a specific color) and in about 20-30 minutes would transport me from Naples Garibaldi station to Ercolano Scavi in nine stops on two of the five train options.  Herculaneum is an easy day tour from Naples if you arrive by cruise ship.  I was thrown off my solo traveler game by a few American tourists – there’s a story to tell, a lesson to be learned and a free lunch!

Bus N151 from the Waterfront (or Cruise Terminal) to Naples Train Station

I was staying along the waterfront at Partenope Relais and many local busses were frequently flying around the corner to all parts of the city. Bus N151, would transport me to the Naples Garibaldi Train Station.  I want to say the cost was about €1.20 vs. €15 taxi so I decided to experience the local bus.  I’m accustomed to standing on the bus so didn’t mind standing with space around me but when we stopped at the ferry/cruise port and folks crammed in with suitcases and I was packed like a sardine did I start to wonder about the ROI on the bus vs. taxi conundrum. Luckily, I’m tall and had the upper window for air as it was a humid morning.  With many of the Italians standing or sitting around me eye to boob height, I was a bit uncomfortable so I looked out the window at the local life passing by. With each stop, I hoped people would leave but they didn’t spill out until the last stop at the Naples Garibaldi Train Station.

Naples Bus Stop
Naples Bus Stops are easily signed so you know which bus to Naples Train Station

The Naples Train Station (Naples Garibaldi)

Never one to look lost or wander aimlessly in a foreign train station, I had done a bit of online research and found my way underground (down the stairs from the main floor of Trenitalia and high speed trains) to the local Circumvesuviana ticket windows (look for blue signs that say Biglietteria which is the ticket office). Quickly, I learned what I called the “Italian way”. The “Italian way” involves me picking one of three lines (always the wrong line), waiting until it was my turn and then the man behind the window puts up the “closed” sign as I approach.  I, and the others, shifted to the other lines because this is apparently how it works, of course I was grumbling about “inefficiencies of the lines”,  “poor customer service”, “fairness”, etc.  I was not happy nor was I really surprised as I was learning about daily life in Italy.

Train from Naples to Herculaneum Circumvesuviana
The Italian way of lines at the Naples train station – definitely could do with a roped queue but alas

Again I waited and when it was my turn, a guy tried to cut ahead of me and without me speaking any Italian, I said a forceful “no” with a look of indignation mixed with Philly street that said it all as he made his way to the back of the line.  The agent didn’t speak English but I had written Herculaneum/Ercolano on a piece of paper to show him (I find this is an easy way to avoid problems) and had cash ready (no credit cards, only cash). With my day ticket in hand, I had the obligatory “pee before you flee” visit to the restroom before making my way to the tracks.

The Bathrooms at the Naples Train Station

Unlike the Amtrak bathrooms in the U.S., which frankly are abysmal/disgusting (our tax dollars not at work), the Italian train station bathrooms are pretty nice and very clean.  They should be as you need to pay to pee (budget this line item folks).  I’m not keen to pay for a basic need but this is commonplace, good or bad, in Italy.

Naples Train Station Bathroom Entrance
The bathroom entrance at the Naples Train Station

The signs are easily marked to find the bathroom but the signs are missing the €€€.   Unlike the other bathrooms with cover charges of 50 euro cents, the Naples train station bathroom charges 1 Euro!!  (about $1.15 at the time).

Naples Train Station Bathroom Cost
Familiar view in Italy – pay to pee so have coins ready and budget for your bladder

Don’t worry if you just have bills, there is a convenient coin machine to break the bills so you can put the coins in the slots to gain entry to the bathroom.

Naples Train Station Bathroom Change
The bathroom change machine because you can’t use VISA or paper to pay

Circumvesuviana Train from Naples to Herculaneum

After the gouging at the bathrooms, I made my way to the train track and looked around.  You could be anywhere in the world standing at the train platform however, this being Naples, the graffiti covered train cars approached. You might think it was the 70’s or 80’s in NYC with the vision of vandalism but it wasn’t, this was Naples – chaotic and gritty.

Graffiti Naples Trains from Naples
The commuter trains in Naples – surprised to see the graffiti

The track had three options – Red to Sarno (wrong), Green to Poggiomarino (good for Herculaneum and Pompeii) or Blue to Sorrento (good for Herculaneum). Two of the three trains would stop at Ercolano Scavi (yes, you already know what happened). The trains from Naples to Sorrento are notorious (right or wrong) for pickpockets and thieves as it is filled with tourists with too many bags, easy cash and distracted on their way to the luxe Amalfi Coast via Sorrento.  An American couple approached me to ask about the train as they were going to Herculaneum too.  Then a few more folks gathered around (funny how I collect clueless Americans).

Circumvesuviana train naples to herculaneum
The Circumvesuvian train line – blue & green to Ercolano Scavi, red is wrong

We made a group decision to board the train (I didn’t see the train name or color when it arrived as the couple was talking to me) with everyone else on the platform and almost immediately a young man told us in Italian, “No Sorrento” and we nodded and said “Si” as we weren’t going to Sorrento.  He kept at us for many stops (I should have whipped out my TripLingo app to converse with him but he was talking to the couple away from me as I watched the stops along the map) and all of us were skeptical based on what we had heard so just said in English “we aren’t going to Sorrento”.  And then the train made a left after Barra and I knew that “No Sorrento” meant I had boarded the Red (wrong) train that wasn’t going to Ercolano Scavi.  I was that typical distracted tourist!  It’s been awhile since I made a rookie mistake. (Lesson Learned – Americans are distracting! and There’s always another train!)

Time to Go Back to Barra

I told my new American friends that the train diverted and I was getting off at the next stop, Ponticelli, to turn around.  They weren’t sure about my plan but I showed them the map and they reluctantly agreed to follow me.  So the young Italian “No Sorrento” guy had been right we weren’t going to Sorrento and I think may have had an Italian version of that big knowing smile that says “I told you so in Italian” as we left the train.

Train from Naples to Herculaneum Ercolano Station
There are two Ercolano stops on the train from Naples to Herculaneum so make sure you pay attention

As it was Sunday, the trains weren’t running on a normal weekly schedule so we crossed the tracks to the other side surrounded by trees and homes in the background waiting for the next train.  The upside was that we got to talk about our travels for the half hour or so.  One couple was going to Herculaneum like me, the other two couples were going to Pompeii. We were all in various stages of travel – beginning, middle, and end with different ways to traverse Italy but all with great food and wine memories thus far.

Circumvesuviana train from naples to herculaneum
Circumvesuviana Train from Naples to Herculaneum – two train lines (blue and green) serve the area

Going back one stop to Barra, we switched to the other side of the platform to resume our journey toward Ercolano Scavi (Pompeii and Sorrento).  My view was of more graffiti on the walls that bordered the train tracks with apartment buildings in the background filled with laundry drying on lines in the sun (I’m not sure what Europe has against clothes dryers).

View train from Naples to Herculaneum
The view along the train from Naples to Herculaneum
Train from Naples to Herculaneum Ercolano Scavi
This is the stop for Herculaneum – Ercolano Scavi

Ercolano Scavi Train Station

The stop at Ercolano Scavi is unremarkable as it would be in most suburbs but there are two Ercolano stops so make sure you get off at the Ercolano Scavi for Herculaneum.  The difference was that we were asked if we needed a taxi to Herculaneum, a quick ten minute walk downhill.


Herculaneum Walk from Ercolano Train Station
It’s an easy walk downhill to Herculaneum from the train station but remember it’s uphill on the way back!
Ercolano Town View From Herculaneum
View of Ercolano from Herculaneum entrance up to the train station in the distance

Unless you have mobility issues, the downhill walk (about 1/4 of a mile at 400m) is easy so bypass the taxi line.   We passed the normal market shops, cafes, bars and restaurants as you would expect near a train station. The sun was bright and beating strong as we approached the ruins (thankfully I had bottled water and a power bar).  My new friends asked me to join them to discover the ruins and later for a late lunch (upside to solo travel is being adopted for the day).

Herculaneum Entrance - Train from Naples to Herculaneum
The entrance to Herculaneum, an UNESCO World Heritage site outside of Naples

So how will Herculaneum measure up to Pompeii?

Herculaneum View UNESCO site via Train from Naples to Herculaneum
The first view upon entry to Herculaneum Site in Ercolano – a day trip from Naples


4 thoughts on “Train from Naples to Herculaneum, the Circumvesuviana Adventure

  1. Hi, Thank you for putting your Ercolano Experience on the web. I am going to Naples with my friend on Sunday, and we thought about doing Ercolano under our own steam as you did. Your tips about the train service are well worth knowing, but I was wondering if there were walking tours that you can join when you get to the site. I haven’t been able to find much on the internet, it’s all about Pompeii, it would seem!

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for putting all this information out there. It was very useful and made our experience finding herculaneum much easier. The only thing I would like to add the herculaneum is that there are tours there that you can join which are done with an independent tour guide. Meaning that there is some person hanging around that has a blue shield pendant necklace (i saw this on other tour guide people) there and they will offer you a tour. Basically they try to ask any group of people if they want a tour for a fee. I heard this and said I’d jump in as well. The tour lasted about two hours for a total of €100 for the whole tour. That cost is divided by how many people can get in on the tour and there is a ten maximum that he’ll take. We had six in total so everybody paid around €16. I don’t believe there is a set time for the tour it’s just if there is a person offering a tour then they trying to make some money legitimately, so look for them inside the ticket office building area.

    1. Thanks Daniel for the info on the tour guide. I didn’t see that option during my visit but it sounds like a good one as the site is so interesting that a professional tour guide to provide more insight would be great and it sounds not too expensive. Glad the post helped you take the train from Naples to Herculaneum as it really is a special site more folks should visit after Pompeii to compare.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *