Mount Vesuvius (Vesuvio, in Italian) is probably the most famous volcano on Earth and is best known for its eruption in Roman times (24 August 79 AD) when Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed. The eruption left a large crater which has grown and shrunk with subsequent eruptions and can be visited today. Its last eruption occurred in 1944, and since then it is dormant. Vesuvius is an active volcano and may erupt any time in the near future.
Over the last few centuries, Vesuvius has erupted at intervals ranging from 18 months to 7½ years, making the current lull the longest in 500 years.
Its lack of eruption may merely indicate a build-up of pressure, which may result in a more explosive next eruption, posing a lethal hazard to over 500,000 residents living in the same place that got destroyed in 79AD.
At the top of the volcano is a crater rim that affords a view of the caldera and into the crater. Besides that, you will have (only on clear days, but the mountain is notoriously covered in fog or clouds) a stunning panorama overseeing the Bay of Naples, Naples, Capri, Ischia, the edge of the Amalfi Coast and more.
Vesuvius has a long historic and literary tradition. It was considered a divinity of the genius type (somehing like protective angel) at the time of the eruption of AD 79: it appears under the inscribed name Vesuvius as a serpent in the decorative frescos of many household shrines (lararia), surviving from Pompeii. An inscription from Capua “IOVI VESVVIO” (Jupiter Vesuvius) indicates that he was worshipped as a power of Jupiter. Mount Vesuvius was regarded by the Romans as being devoted to the hero and demigod Hercules.
According to the historian Diodorus Siculus, Hercules, "in the performance of his labors, passed through the country of nearby Cumae on his way to Sicily and found there a place called the 'Phlegraean Plain' (Φλεγραῖον πεδίον-plain of fire), ... from a hill which anciently vomited out fire ... now called Vesuvius... it was inhabited by bandits, 'the sons of the Earth', who were giants... with the assistance of the gods he pacified the region and went on".
An epigram by the poet Martial in 88 AD suggests that both Venus, patroness of Pompeii, and Hercules were worshipped in the region devastated by the eruption.
Climbing on the mountain is hassle free if you follow my advice here.
The young, fit and energetic ones, as well as those who have plenty of time, can do a 6km hike to the summit along the winding roads. Get a local bus from Ercolano to San Vitto, which is closer to the crater, and from there to walk to the summit. You can enjoy the views of the national park and enjoy the local wildlife.
For the rest of us, the easiest way is to take a bus either from Pompei or Ercolano.
To tell you the truth, I did not even try to do this because it doesn’t worth the hassle.
I went for the easiest and fastest way, which is the bus from Ercolano. As you exit Ercolano Scavi Circumvesuviana train station to a small square, on your left hand you will see the Vesuvio Express office. There is no way to miss it.
At Vesuvio Express offer a bus ride up and down the mountain for €10 each person. For €20, they will offer a ticket with entry to the crater. Please get your entrance ticket here, do not expect to buy one on the summit.
Vesuvio Express offers a return bus ride to the mountain for €10 each person. For €20, you get also a ticket to enter to the crater area. Please get your entrance ticket here, do not expect to buy one on the summit.
Typically, when a bus is full it departs. The bus drops you off at a big car park, some meters away from the entrance to the summit and the crater.
The bus after exiting Ercolano enters into the “Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio” and through a woodland arrives at the main car park (at 1000m altitude).
There is a box next to the bus driver, calling for a tip! I really do not understand why I have to tip someone to do his job, but that is another story.
The driver (either you have tipped him or not) will wait for all of you at the car park (at exactly the same point he dropped you off) for 90 minutes, which is generally about right. Personally, I would like to have more time to enjoy the views. If you miss your bus, you can take the next one down, but you have to pay the full €10 price again.
The ride is short (30 min) and pleasant.
At some point, halfway up, the driver stops the bus and urges people to take pictures of the Gulf of Napoli. I really do not understand why he does that... in 10 minutes you will be on the top of the mountain where the views are much better. Maybe, this way the tip is justified?
I have read in the internet some really stupid comments, of how dangerous this road is, how much they were scared, how bad drivers are in Italy, etc… people can get so strange and over the top sometimes.
The road is narrow, but well paved and well maintained and certainly you do not hang over cliffs at any point of the trip. My dear travelers you have to try somewhere else for that “vivere pericolosamente” experience.
At the car park, where the bus drops you off, there are tacky souvenir shops and a café where you can rest... if you manage to find a free chair.
The most ridiculous thing of all, though, is the toilets. One should expect that for such a popular tourist destination, they would have built proper public toilets. Well, wrong...there are some filthy, portable toilets just outside the entrance to the crater path. These toilets are run by a rude, middle aged man to whom you have to pay €1. A real disgrace for the area and the country in general!
You pass through a souvenir shop to enter the path. This is supposed to be the ticket check-in. A lady sitting on a step will ask to see your ticket. From there onwards you hike up the path to the caldera.
You read everywhere in the net that you can borrow a walking stick there. I do not know what borrowing means, but someone will remind you to tip for that borrowing.
The next ridiculous thing you will see on your way back is this: as the path is covered with dust, your shoes will get very dirty for sure. So, on your exit you will find a metal tray and in it 2-3 brooms (yes, the kind of brooms we use to clean the floors in our house, without the stick, though) for you to brush your shoes. Again, these are free, but you have to tip.
After going through the ticket check, it is a 20 min grind up a wide path (about 1 km long) leading to the 1170m mark. From there you can walk around the crater rim.
Keep on looking at your watch, because you have only 90min to go up and down before your bus departs.
Wear good walking shoes as the trail is covered with dust and rock pebbles which make it slippery.
The excitement of looking at the crater of this infamous volcano is big and the views are just stanning. The volcanic rocks and colorful lava layers are beautiful, as well as the local flowers that grow on the slopes.
I believe though, the most interesting of all is to sit on a rock and watch people passing by. There is a procession of people of all ages and sizes: fit seniors skip up the hill leaving out of shape teenagers in their wake, small children seem to have little problem, sweaty people, panting people, ladies with inappropriate shoes and clothes, Indians with umbrellas to protect them from the merciless sun, people prone to take selfies, people who have to see this attraction before they fly to the sky to meet with their Creator, groups of people wearing all the same t-shirts, etc.