Few mountains have the notorious reputation of Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy. This is, after all, the volcano that laid waste to Pompeii 2,000 years ago – and which continues to threaten the area around Naples with the potential for earthquakes and eruptions. Still, most of the time the mountain merely serves as an impressive backdrop to vacation photos, looming large over its landscape. Hiking Mount Vesuvius doesn’t need to remain on the horizon, however.
Mount Vesuvius (it’s Monte Vesuvio in Italian) is less than six miles from the city of Naples, and it’s more than 4,200 feet tall – so it’s visible and prominent almost everywhere you go. The mountain looks like it’s got two peaks – the larger one is the part that’s still active, while the smaller one is the side of what used to be a much larger volcano before it collapsed thousands of years ago. The last major eruption was in 1944, which destroyed a few villages, and since then most of the volcanic activity is in the form of steam being released.
Most people who visit Naples plan to spend time in the historic city, the Amalfi Coast, and Pompeii – but not everyone realizes that you can also pay a visit to Mount Vesuvius. In fact the land around the mountain is a national park, where visitors can explore the landscape via walking paths or hike all the way up to the crater. There are public buses that leave from Naples’ main train station twice a day that drop you off at the main parking lot at Mount Vesuvius. From there, you can hike up to the crater. You can also take the Circumvesuviana railway from Naples to the Ercolano stop and take a bus or a taxi. If you’ve got a rental car, you can drive right up to the main Vesuvius parking lot inside the national park. And of course if you want to avoid negotiating public buses, trains, or Italian taxi drivers, there are guided tours of Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius that leave from Naples.
Remember to wear good shoes for hiking on uneven terrain, and bring a jacket even if it’s summer – the higher you get in elevation, the colder the temperature gets, so you need to be prepared. It’s also a good idea to bring your own bottled water for the hike, especially since the vendors in the park charge exceptionally high prices.