Monte Vesuvio haunts the city of Naples with a slow, steady plume of distant smoke.
Here's how to visit the mighty volcano:
Seeing the devastation in Pompeii brings the power of mighty Vesuvius to the forefront of your mind but amongst the buzz in some of Italy's busiest city streets, it's easy to forget you're in the shadow of an active volcano with the last eruption merely 78 years ago.
Why choose to live here? A Napolitano would have it no other way. This is the best city in the world! 'Vedi Napoli e poi muori!' they say - Die in peace after seeing beautiful Naples.
Our blog post 'Naples for a day' packs a lot into one day. 'Vedi Napoli' - See Naples - well, you need time for that and naturally, a trip to Naples wouldn't be complete without exploring the archaeological site of Pompeii, and moreover, the explosive volcano that destroyed it in 79 AD.
Naples and Mount Vesuvio
There's a love/hate relationship here with Mount Vesuvio, some say the volcano brings a melancholic edge to the people's sense of humour. You'll notice graffiti on every street corner of Naples but look through the 'vandalism' to discover socio-political comments dripping in irony and witty topical digs. To get a sense of Naples's satirical humour, delve into the sorrowful verse echoed in their song or visit La Via dei Presepi, because besides a collection of charming Nativity Scene figures is a wealth of characters and trinkets tapping into Naples's quirky creativity. Their deep love of the land, even with a looming potential crisis in the background, perhaps brings a sense of 'carpe diam' to daily life here and an unshakable appreciation of every given moment.
To visit Mount Vesuvio you will need half a day. If you're thinking of seeing Pompeii and Vesuvio in one, opt to rather see Herculaneum and Vesuvio in one. The ruins of Herculaneum are a well-preserved archaeological site, also destroyed in the 79 AD eruption, but quieter and smaller.
Trains efficiently connect the city of Naples with both Herculaneum (Ercolano) and Pompeii - this is an easy way to escape the city for a day.
If you're driving, the Vesuvius carparks are managed by Ercolano municipality, in busy times, we advise you book a space on their website. Carpark B (800m up) is reserved for cars and A (1000m up) for motorbikes and tour buses. This is where the Gran Cono trail to the crater starts. The walk from Carpark B to A is 40 minutes up the road or you can catch a quick shuttle for 2 euros but make sure you have your crater tickets before you board the shuttle.
Top tip: A nifty bus from Ercolano Train Station will take you straight up to Car Park A in a scenic hour and a half, with time to see the crater before your Vesuvio Express return trip, find details on their website here.
Gran Cono tickets
Gran Cono sounds like a gelato option but scherzi a parte - jokes aside, things have become strict with pre-booked tickets essential to enter the famous walking trail. Purchase them online in advance for 12 euros per adult and children under 1.2m free, first entry is from 9am in the morning.
The Crater Trail
From Carpark A, wind your way up dusty path no.5 - il Gran Cono, for roughly a mile until you reach the top. The views from anywhere are gorgeous, gaze over the Bay of Naples towards the islands of Capri and Ischia and then spot Pompeii below. The gradient is not steep and the wide walk is relatively gentle but there's no shade so do take it easy, with as many panorama stops as you need. After a 20 minute guided talk at the summit, you're left to encounter the crater. With ever-changing views, look out for puffs of smoke as a gentle reminder of the mount's sleeping heart of magma.
Give yourself time - at least 3 hours if you're walking from Carpark B (4 on the safe side).
Get there early. From 9am the park is open and it's worth aiming for the cooler hours if the weather is hot. That said, if you're not visiting from May to October, the fading afternoon light is stunning as it shifts over the mount, experiencing golden hour from the crater.
Check the weather - the crater is colder than you think, there's no volcano heat here so pack an extra layer!
Wear good shoes - the top trail is fine gravel and after a while, a consistent gradient becomes tough on the feet, especially if you're not used to hiking.
Borrow a walking stick from the vendors at the entrance for a tip.
Bring a hat, shades and sun cream - there's zero shade.
And no toilets either - the public facilities here are unreliable.
Bring water - basic food and drinks can be bought at kiosks but pack a bottle, just in case.
Mount Vesuvius is not just a volcano, but a geological treasure trove with a extensive park map of trails to hike. For budding geologists (above), hikers or volcano enthusiasts, it is truly magical, and to think every 20 years the volcano may erupt!
Mount Vesuvius may look distant and dormant from Naples, but don't miss scaling this sleeping giant, because who knows when he'll wake up next.