Better than Pompeii?
When I was in the 8th or 9th grade, I visited Herculaneum on a school trip. At the time, my fellow classmates thought Herculaneum was even better than Pompeii. it certainly can not rival it in size. It is a tiny site in comparison. It is little known in comparison to Pompeii, though the same eruption from Vesuvius covered both at the same time. It does not have the extensive theaters and temples like Pompeii, but it has an incredible charm and the preservation of the site helps to immerse you into a city where the structures, art, and gardens are all right there, densely packed into a community that is easy to interpret.
We drove to Herculaneum on our own. We rented a car at the Fiumicino Airport, drove to Pompeii, visited the site, and then took off the next morning to find Herculaneum. Traffic is thick and slow paced once we were close to the site. I remembered visiting a cameo shop when we were on our class trip, but to find anything like that in this town, which felt much larger and much busier today, would be impossible. We could do "in", "find parking", and "out".
The brightly painted rooms was one of our favorite things at Herculaneum. The frescoes (painting in plaster) covered entire walls, like we have wallpaper today, but were painted in a fashion indicating 3 dimensions, and also details like birds and fruits decorated the scenes further. Paintings of people also decorated the walls throughout the site.
Below is a photo gallery of details of pantings, a mosaic on a wall feature, and a mosaic floor. It was incredible to see the preservation of these details at the site. This was something that differentiated Pompeii from Herculaneum. Pompeii, to us, is grand in its structures and Herculaneum is exquisite in its density of details.
I can't say whether Herculaneum or Pompeii is "better". We liked how Herculaneum was a manageable size for an hour or two, that at every turn there was something that fascinated us, that we learned a lot about how the people lived at that time, and appreciated how they are setting up the courtyards with plantings that were of the time to give the visitor a better sense of how it really was.
I have visited this site twice now and would return if the opportunity arose. We recommend it.