Mount Vesuvius is famous as the volcano that buried Pompeii after the big eruption in Roman times. Being one of the most dangerous volcanoes, the Vesuvius has an eruption cycle of about 20 years. The last eruption was in 1944. It is just 22 kilometres away from the modern city of Naples and 25 kilometres from Pompeii.
Despite the dangerous situation, it still attracts tourists from everywhere in the world. Besides, Mount Vesuvius offers many hiking trails, which attracts many outdoor seekers as well. The most popular route among visitors is the hiking trail up the highest reaches to the crater rim.
It is not so easy to visit Mount Vesuvius as independent travellers. We have collected a handful of information during our planning and thought we would find our way there. But our trip turned out to be different than what we expected.
I break down our day trip to the Crater of the Active Volcano Mount Vesuvius in the following sections:
- How we reached Mount Vesuvius
- Enter the national park area at the Piazzale
- Climb up to the crater
- Information about the crater
- Walk around the rim of the volcano crater
- A late lunch on the slope of the Mount Vesuvius
How we reached Mount Vesuvius
Parking places at the roadside
We followed the motorway A3 and exited Ercolano. The entrance to the crater is at the end of the provincial road Ercolano-Vesuvio. But private cars were not allowed to drive to the end of the road. We had to turn into the Strada per Belvedere Vesuvio (Belvedere della Seggiovia) and parked on the street side.
The parking fee was a couple of Euros (I cannot remember how much exactly) per day. One probably would not find this parking place on the Google Map. But if you switch to the satellite view, you could see cars parking along the street.
Take a shuttle bus to the ticket selling place
The person who collected the parking fee also informed us that the shuttle bus to the ticket office departed from the parking area. The shuttle bus service is not free. It costs two Euros for a return ticket. In a few minutes, we arrived at the lower slope of Mount Vesuvius where most buses stopped.
Alternative ways to reach the Mount Vesuvius
From the motorway exit to this drop-off place, it took us more than an hour. But we still didn’t have the entrance tickets yet. So, depending on where you stay, it might be easier to join one of the following tours, which also combine a visit to the other sites:
Enter the national park area at the Piazzale
A large information board near the bus stops displays all walking trails around the craters. According to the official website, nine walking trails are available in the national park. The No. 5 trail is the most popular route among visitors. It goes around the rim of the crater.
Get the tickets
There was neither a ticket office in sight nor a sign showing where to get the tickets. One person on the roadside seemed to be responsible for the ticket selling as many tourists bought the tickets from him. He also informed us that the entrance ticket to the national park includes the visit to the crater.
Shops and Toilet
A few hundred meters further down the road, we saw an unpaved square (Piazzale). A shop sells some souvenirs, some simple snacks, and drinks. Toilets were dirty, no paper and no water. Nevertheless, it’s better to use the chance because there is no toilet available after the entrance bar.
Climb up to the crater
Our hiking began at the entrance to the crater. Someone offered walking sticks for hire at one Euro each. Since I broke my leg before the trip, I hired one to support me on the way. From the entrance bar, it is about another 30 minutes of hiking to the desolated summit.
This stretch is not particularly difficult but quite steep. It is on the surface of the volcanic rocks and stones from the eruption. The air temperature in mid-October was around 24 degrees. There is no shade along the way until we reached a small kiosk, where a tiny shade with several seating places is available. We took a rest there while enjoying the view of the coast area.
Information about the crater
The size of the crater
Behind the kiosk and a few steps further, we finally reached the crater. The crater looks like a giant cone. Currently, it has a diameter of 450 metres and a depth of 300 metres. We could observe some steaming vents inside the crater. Looking around, black ash and lava rocks cover the slopes of the volcano.
Catastrophic eruptions in AD 79
During the most catastrophic eruptions in AD 79, the volcano ejected a cloud of ashes and volcanic gases high into the sky, spewing molten stones and pulverized pumice at the rate of 6×105 cubic metres per second. The eruption produced a hot lava avalanche that blazed down the hill. It had killed thousands of people in the area, buried the city of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
According to historians and scientists, the thermal energy released by the eruption was 100,000 times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings.
A group of research workers was carrying out their research tasks at the bottom of the crater. The Vesuvius is said to be one of the best-researched volcanos in the world. Two kilometres away from the crater of Mount Vesuvius, off the main road to the crater, Vesuvius Observatory Museum exhibits things related to Mt. Vesuvius and volcanology research work, such as studies on terrestrial magnetism. The first seismic and volcanological research took place there. Besides, scientists also tested various measuring instruments on the site.
Walk around the rim of the volcano crater
The hiking trail around the crater
According to the map, the No. 5 trail is just around the rim of the crater. At several places, there are several wooden staircases to negotiate. Sometimes, we also smelt sulfur gases coming from the steaming vents. After about a few hundred metres of walking around the rim, the trail stopped. Perhaps, the path was unsafe on that day. We didn’t know why.
The ruins of the funicular
Next to the crater is the ruins of the first funicular cable car on Mount Vesuvius, which opened in 1880. There used to have a railway built to the lower station of the cable car. Before that, tourists had to climb up to the Vesuvius summit. But the cable car was later destroyed by the March 1944 eruption.
The views on top of the Vesuvius summit
The vistas on top of the Vesuvius summit was spectacular! We could overlook the Bay of Naples and the Campanian Plain. On a clear day, it has a 360-degree panorama view of the surroundings. We were also able to see Capri in the distance. With a professional camera, it is possible to see places like Pompeii ruins.
Before the catastrophic eruptions, the coastline was much closer to the land. The volcano ashes have also formed part of today’s densely populated area. It is hard to believe that millions of people live so close to this active volcano. Many people even live direct at the foot of the mountain. Steaming vents remind everyone that it is only a matter of when the Vesuvius will erupt again. Feeling the volcanic gravel crunching beneath my feet, I wonder how the escape plan could be.
Suddenly, the gusting winds swept along the crater. And, the clouds also moved towards us. Felt cold and hungry, we decided to walk back to the parking lot and drive to the restaurant Terrazza Due Golfi half-way down the slope.
A late lunch on the slope of the Mount Vesuvius
The restaurant on the volcano slope
The restaurant Terrazza Due Golfi has outdoor rooftop seating with a great view over the bay. It offered delicious food at budget prices, from Antipasti, pizza, seafood pasta to dessert.
To our surprise, a bottle of wine only cost around 10 Euros. A group of tourists next to us drank several bottles already and still ordered a new bottle, Lacryma Christi D.O.C., a celebrated Neapolitan type of wine produced on the slope of Mount Vesuvius.
The wine produced on the volcano slope
Lacryma Christi D.O.C., literally, tears of Christ, has been produced since Ancient Roman times. The vines are rooted in dark and porous lavic soil, which naturally retains humidity, releasing it as needed. We took our time to have our late lunch with wine and enjoy the view. It was a great hiking day!
Things to know before visiting Vesuvius
- Wear comfortable shoes to climb the crater. Flip-flops, sandals, or ballerinas are not the best choices.
- It is a lot colder at this altitude of around 1,000 metres than on the coast. Check the weather before you go. You may also need rain gear. Be well-prepared with layers of clothing.
- It is not permitted to climb the crater when weather conditions do not meet the safety level.
- You may need a hat, sun cream, and lots of water. The entire hiking trail has no shade.
- I suggest you take the shuttle bus as it is a tough climb from the parking area to the ticket office. That would save your energy for the trail.
- Check the opening time on the national park website when you plan the visit.
Hot to get there
In the paragraph “How to get to the Crater” of the national park website, you will find instructions on how to get there by car, train, buses, or taxis. Or, refer to this local website to get bus connection details.
I don’t suggest using public bus services as it’s not so easy to find the right bus and its schedule.