27km (17 miles) SE of Naples
On that fateful day, August 24, a.d. 79, the people of Pompeii, a prosperous fishing town, and Herculaneum, a resort just down the coast, watched Mount Vesuvius hurl a churning column of gas and ash 10 miles high into the sky. It was only a matter of time before ash and pumice buried Pompeii and flows of superheated molten rock coursed through the streets of Herculaneum. Volcanic debris quickly hardened into a layer of mud that fossilized everything—furniture, wooden beams, clothing, skeletons, graffiti, mosaics. Terrifying indeed for the ill-fated townsfolk, but lucky for us, the layer of ooze preserved Pompeii and Herculaneum as time capsules. Pompeii is much more extensive than Herculaneum, with more to see, while Herculaneum provides an easier-to-manage, less crowded experience. You could easily do both in one day, though that might be “excavation overload.” If you have to choose, Pompeii provides the more sensational experience.