But on nine days over Christmas and New Year, the hours are extended to 4.45pm, allowing a calm and queue-free visit over lunchtime until closure.
Those key dates are 24, 27, 28, 29 and 31 December; and 2, 3, 4 and 5 January. For ¿20 (£14) you get three days of admission to archaeological sites and many museums, a map and unlimited public transport.
It has one of the biggest pools you'll see, and the frescos are as good as anything in Pompeii. Back in Naples, the National Museum of Archaeology features most of the works of art dug out of the sites themselves, including mosaics, urns, busts, statues and household items such as frying pans, and even window glass. Situated halfway along the Tyrrhenian coast, between Messina and Palermo, Cefalu lies within an enclosed bay with a long, sandy beach, and is dominated by a large windswept outcrop hanging over the town.
To complete your Vesuvian tour, stay in splendour for your final night at the Vesuvio at 45 Via Partenope in Naples (00 39 0; Theu otwin towers of the Norman cathedral peer out over the tightly packed streets and washing-draped houses.
The 13 rooms are simply furnished, the staff are friendly, and the hotel's location is surprisingly peaceful, given its position just round the corner from the Pantheon itself. First fly south to Naples – on British Airways (0870 850 9 850; com) from Gatwick; or easy Jet (08; Jet.com) from Stansted.
Stay nearby at Antica Locanda Solferino, at Via Castelfidardo 2 (00 39 ; But between November and February, this great dark peach-hued city has fewer tourists and more Florentines than during the rest of the year.
The 11 finely furnished double rooms range in price from ¿260 (£186) to ¿300 (£215); four apartments are also available, from ¿300 (£215). In the Galleria degli Uffizi (00 39 0; one of the most revered art galleries in the world, you can see Uccello's Rout of San Romano and Botticelli's La Primavera, as well as works by Da Vinci and Michelangelo.
There is even a post-Christmas holiday on 8 January for Epiphany; this celebration centres on Piazza Navona, with stalls laden with sweets and figurines.
The queues are as seemingly endless as ever at the Vatican Museums at 100 Viale Vaticano (00 39 06 698 83 333; because winter opening hours are reduced: just 10am-1.45pm daily except Sundays, admission ¿13 (£9), although they open additionally on the last Sunday of every month (9am-12.30pm), when admission is free.