The actual site is very large and spread out, spanning what seems to be about a square mile but the actual area which you can explore by foot is much smaller. For people with limited mobility or prefer to walk short distances this would be considered a light to moderate experience with 100% of the site on flat and even ground with switchback packed dirt trails connecting the three main areas.
On first glance what stands out are three massive temples each seems almost complete from a distance. The main temple dedicated to Neptune is colored in deep copper earth tones and the other two are almost whitewash in color; these are the only whole structures in the entire site, but the completeness of each one is quite impressive. Even up close when you realize that the interiors are no longer functional and the majority of the temples are now comprised only of the basic pieces such as the massive columns, the capital, the very top portion of a column, the arcatrave and pediment you still get a great sense of what they may have been like when they were just built.
Unlike Pompeii or even Herculaneum (in modern Italian Ercolano) you cannot enter any of the temples because they are surrounded by small wooden fences. You can get within 25 feet or so from each one, so close up photography or sketching is still possible.
The experience of trying to imagine people worshiping Neptune and Athena in Paestum is quite easy with the temples but the rest of the site takes a bit of imagination. There are very large living quarters, spread out over about half an acre which are no longer visible except for the remaining stone walls which reach knee height. One section in the middle of the site has a few larger walls and a single staircase but other than that there is little to assist in piecing together the entire colony in your mind’s eye.
As you explore the site you must take the time to go on the edges of the fenced area; there you can find the amphitheatre which seems about 20% complete. You can also see several randomly placed columns that may have been entrances to some older buildings.
If you want to see the real artifacts from Paestum you will need to visit the museum which is just across the street from the site. Inside you can see the detailed decorations that covered the façade of the temples as well as some excellent examples of ancient Greek and Roman artifacts.
If you arrive on your own by car, I suggest taking the A3 highway from Salerno and exiting at the city called “Battipaglia” which is also highway 18, but the highway number is very hard to spot. Other than the exit off the highway it’s almost a straight line from Salerno or Naples to the Paestum. If you use GPS make sure it does not put you on 175a; which is a coastal road that goes along the ocean.. “What a nice drive” you might say but 175a is full of trash, transients and old and dying restaurants and shops which are strung along the entire route. 175a felt a little “Mad Max, Thunder Dome” if you ask me so avoid that road at all costs.
If you decide to take an escorted tour then the coach will bring you directly to the entrance. The ticket booth is very non-descript and also hard to spot, but look for the stone archway opposite the line of shops across from the site. Tickets are only 4 euro (2009) and you can buy a combo ticket for the site and the museum for under 10. There is no town at the site and it’s quite out in the boonies but there are a few café’s and two pizzerias to quench your thirst and hunger after appeasing the gods. There is also a smattering of your typical shop keepers offering everything from useful information books to Paestum ash trays and cup holders.