Paestum: Planning Your Visit

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James Martin
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84047 Paestum, SA, Italy

History buffs will enjoy a visit to the ancient Greek city of Paestum in southern Italy. An archaeological site, and one of the most interesting stops on the Amalfi Coast, these ruins feature three of the world's most complete Doric temples, dating back to circa 600 to 450 BCE. The temples include the Basilica of Hera, the Temple of Athena, and, on the southern end of the site, the Temple of Neptune, which was built in 450 BCE and is considered the most preserved of Italy's Greek temples.

The ruins, coined a UNESCO World Heritage site, are located in the Italian region of Campania, known for some of the best food in the country. They lie in the middle of a dense tourism zone that includes must-see locales like Pompeii, Herculaneum, the Amalfi Coast, and Naples. While there, make sure to take in the dramatic coastline and visit other ancient sites, castles, and palaces.


Around the seventh century BCE, Greece began to colonize parts of southern Italy and Sicily by founding colonies among the small, agrarian settlements. The arrival of the Greeks—in this case, Achaeans coming from Sybaris—first built fortifications on the coast, and then moved inland to build their city. The city-state of Paestum, first named "Poseidonia" in honor of Poseidon, the god of the Sea, was built in a spot chosen for its fertile plain and seaport.

The city suffered a serious population decline during the 2nd century BCE, when its economic fortunes declined due to the construction of the new roman Highway which bypassed the city. And then, late in the 1st century BCE, the city was partially affected by several earthquakes, as well as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. After that, Paestum's drainage system became severely compromised, resulting in floods and making the swampy and mosquito-ridden area an unhealthy place to live. Many of the remaining population fled to the hills to avoid malaria, and the others who stayed fell in Saracen raids.

Paestum was "re-discovered" in the 18th century, when poets like Goethe, Shelley, Canova, and Piranesi visited and wrote about the ruins while on the "Grand Tour." Today, Paestum contains an adjacent archaeological museum, alongside the old town, which houses collections of ancient artifacts.


A trip to Paestum takes you back to an unimaginable time by modern standards. This era can only be experienced by immersing yourself in the remnants of the three existing temples, an amphitheater, and a cultural museum.

  • Temple of Hera: The Temple of Hera is the oldest of the three temples in the city of Paestum (built in 550 BCE), and was first thought by archaeologists to be a Roman public building, or basilica. Inscriptions in the temple mark its dedication to Hera, the goddess of women, marriage, family, and childbirth, and its open-air altar allowed worshippers to make sacrifices without entering the cella (holy area).
  • Temple of Athena (or Ceres): This temple, thought to be used as a Christian church, was built in 500 BCE and shows early Doric architectural features. The grounds consist of a typical Roman forum, surrounded by the foundations of various public and private buildings. In the 1930s, a civil engineer built a road across the northern half of this site and was tried and sentenced for destruction.
  • Temple of Neptune: The well-preserved temple of Neptune remains almost completely intact, except for the roof and a few sections of the inner walls. It contains impressive rows of columns, two altars, and statues that indicate its dedication to Apollo, the god of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, and healing and diseases.
  • Amphitheater: Nearby the Temple of Athena sits the amphitheater, a central element of the old town, which is partially buried by the new road. Built in 500 BCE, this amphitheater is one of the earliest existing amphitheaters in the world. It's constructed in a typical Roman pattern, but only the western half is still visible today.
  • National Archaeological Museum of Paestum: The Tomb of the Diver—constructed in 480 or 470 BCE and containing a plaster depiction of a man plunging into a pool of water—is one of the main attractions at this on-site museum. The museum also contains other tombs with interesting depictions that date back to the fourth century BCE. Other artifacts on display include terracotta figurines of goddesses, painted vases, and the remnants of limestone metopes.

Visiting Paestum

Paestum makes a great stop-off for anyone visiting this section of Italy, and it's best enjoyed in the slack season when the weather is mild. However, if you choose to come during the winter, you get a discount on admission fees.

  • Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Paestum is during the months of May and October, when the temperatures hover around 20 degrees C (68 degrees F) and 25 degrees C (77 degrees F), respectively. If you travel during these months, you'll avoid the tourist crowds of summer.
  • Location: Paestum is located in the Province of Salerno in Campania, Italy.
  • Hours: The archeological area of the ruins is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Admission: From December through February, the cost for an adult to visit Paestum is 6 Euros; admission for students 18 to 25 years of age is 2 Euros; a family pass is 10 Euros. From March through November, admission for adults doubles to 12 Euros, students cost 2 Euros, and a family pass is 20 Euros.
  • Tours: Day tours include a two-hour guided Greek temple tour of Paestum and the Archeological Museum, combined with a visit to a buffalo mozzarella farm, and a tour of Paestum with a certified archeologist. These tours allow you to skip the line and enjoy the site in a small group.

Getting There

To get to Paestum from Salerno or Naples by car, take the autostrada A3 motorway to Battipaglia, exit toward SS18 (the Paestum exit). The trip is approximately 50 minutes from Salerno and an hour and a half from Naples. Paestum is also accessible by bus, with frequent service available from Salerno or Naples. CSTP bus 34 in Salerno takes about an hour to Paestum, and from Naples, the trip takes around 85 minutes. You can also take a 30-minute train ride from Salerno, or an hour and a half ride from Naples (make sure it's a local train that stops at Stazione di Paestum). From the train station, head west, walking approximately 15 minutes and crossing through the gate in the old city wall (Porta Silena). Then, continue until you see the ruins in front of you.  

Where to Stay

Since Paestum is near the Amalfi Coast, you can combine a visit to the ruins with a trip to the beach, by staying in a centralized location, like a residential vacation rental. However, you can also book a boutique hotel in Capaccio or Paestum, like the Mec Paestum Hotel or the Grand Hotel Paestum, and stay closer to the ruins. Also, since Paestum is located in a foodie-rich part of the country, world-class dining options are sprinkled throughout the area, including the popular seafood restaurant known as Ristorante Nettuno.

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Paestum: Planning Your Visit