AD79, this is the date Vesuvius erupted, sending ash, mud and rocks 33 km (21 miles) into the Stratosphere. The effect of this eruption was devastating on Pompeii, Herculaneum and some other lesser known towns. Pompeii was buried up to 6 metres (20 ft) and whilst it was discovered in the 16th century, excavations on a major scale were not started until 1748. The excavations revealed frescos (some erotic), damaged buildings and of course petrified remains of the residents.
It is possible to drive to the car park, which is situated about half way up Mount Vesuvius. I don’t recommend it, the road is steep, narrow and difficult when faced with oncoming vehicles. The railway runs parallel to the coast and the stop at Ercolano is convenient for the Vesuvius Express. A ticket costs €20 and includes the entrance fee. The views of Naples and its bay during the ascent are fantastic and another reason for taking the bus. The bus will drop you off and return 90 minutes later, a brisk and reasonable tricky 30 minute walk will see you arrive at the top. I gave myself 30 minutes to take photographs and explore the rim and another 30 minutes to descend.
Nothing that you will read about Pompeii can prepare you for the size of the town, it is huge. I walk at a fairly reasonable pace and it took me over 3 hours to get around it. Some parts of the excavations are more intact than others, if your time is limited, it is worth reviewing the literature and map provided with your entrance fee (€13) and concentrate on those areas that are better preserved. I would certainly recommend, Villa dei Misteri, Porta Nocera, Amphitheater, Forum and House of Venus in the Shell. Better still, plan for an extended stay and decide for yourself what is worth seeing.
Herculaneum is situated straight down the hill from the train station at Ercolano, the site is better preserved than Pompeii and at 1/5 of the size, it can be viewed in less time. Having already been to Pompeii, I didn’t feel the need to visit the excavations at Herculaneum. However, there is a reduced price ticket available for those wishing to visit both sites.