I look over the city in amazement after climbing to the top of the hill. I’m visiting the Acropolis. Below me, all those white city buildings where everyday life is busy taking place, whilst around me these ancient stoic structures stand their ground, having done so for centuries.
- A private guided tour with skip-the-line entry. This tour takes place in the late afternoon when it's a bit cooler and less crowded.
- Full-day mythology tour at the Acropolis and Acropolis museum. This tour includes a map of Ancient Athens and an illustrated Acropolis post card.
- Guided tour of the Acropolis in a small group. This tour includes skip-the-line entry.
Visiting the Acropolis: all you need to know
It's a warm October day. Much warmer than I'd expected it to be. I arrived in Athens, Greece only a few hours ago and now I'm standing at the bottom of the Athens Acropolis. I've seen quite a few historical places already, especially in Europe, but this feels different somehow.
It's the Acropolis, you know?
Any moment now I expect the skies to become cloudy and a lightning bolt to strike the earth. I expect to hear Zeus's heavy voice speaking to me to put me straight because chocolate knows I don't pay a lot of attention to the gods.
Walking to the Acropolis, the moment passes. I go through the entry gate and see other tourists enthusiastically taking pictures. A few minutes later I've joined them, trying to capture on camera that feeling of “wow” you often get when traveling, but never manage to completely recreate when telling – or writing – about it later.
It's not that crowded. There are other visitors, but I rarely have to wait for someone to get out of my shot or to get a good look at something. Is it because it's lunchtime? Or is this a display of the decreased tourism flow to the city because of the socio-economical troubles of the past years?
I know that it’s probably because most of the summer tourists have gone home by now. But it reminds me of my visit to the Luxor Temple in Egypt: happy not having to use my elbows to get through, sad because not more people are seeing this at that exact moment.
What is the Acropolis of Athens?
The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient collection of buildings and monuments sitting high atop an elevated plateau in the center of the city. The hill has been inhabited since the 4th Millenium BC, but the buildings of the Acropolis date back to the 5th century BC when they were commissioned by a guy called Pericles during what is known as the Golden Age of Athens.
Although each building has its own story to tell, many of the most famous structures that remain were built around this time.
Something wonderful that you’ll discover if you travel to Greece: all the words and names have a meaning! The word ‘acropolis’ comes from the Greek for ‘highest point’ and ‘city’. Although there are other ones, the Acropolis of Athens is considered the most celebrated.
Time and all its hardships have inevitably taken their toll on this historic place. It has endured earthquakes, wars, acid rain, pollution and the footfall of millions of people who visit the Acropolis every year. The Acropolis has, over the millennia, morphed and evolved while being passed from hand to hand.
The site suffered a particularly large amount of damage in 1687 when the Turkish army was using the Parthenon as a garrison and storing their gunpowder in it. When the Venetians attacked and opened fire, the Parthenon exploded and the entire site was damaged.
It’s now considered the most important ancient site of the Western world, a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site and the birthplace of Western civilization as we now know it.
This piece of history is under renovation and has been since 1975 – a painstaking process of restoring the Parthenon columns and many other buildings. It’s important to value this heritage and not touch or stand on any of the ancient structures when you visit the Acropolis.
The Greeks firmly believe that it is the right of the entire city to share a view of the Acropolis – it should not be the privilege of the wealthy few. Because of this, most of the buildings in Athens are constructed quite low to the ground compared to other cities. How democratic!
It is a good idea to read up a bit on the site before you go as there is so much fascinating history to learn. There are information points and signs scattered around the site, but these can be difficult to get to if the place is swarming with tourists.
There’s also the option of paying for an audio guide at the Acropolis entrance, signing up for an Acropolis tour, or even downloading a phone app with information and helpful tour maps.
Climbing the Acropolis, Athens
When to go
The Acropolis is open from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. during the tourist season (April 1 to October 31). During the off-season (November 1 to March 31) opening times are from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. If you don’t want to share your experience with a horde of other people, here are a few tips for visiting the Acropolis of Athens:
1. Visit in the fall or spring.
In these shoulder seasons, you’ll get the best of both worlds. You’ll have perfect weather, avoiding the unbearable heat of summer and the dreary rains of winter. When I visited the Acropolis it was October so I managed to avoid the crowds, even at lunchtime.
Summer is the most popular time to visit so if you’re visiting then, be prepared for an influx of tourists.
2. Go early in the day.
Regardless of the season, the Acropolis is at its busiest in the middle of the day, from about 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. This is also when it’s at its most sweltering, and there’s not much shade. It’s advised to arrive just before the opening hour at 8 a.m. if you can bear the early start!
If you manage to get there early, head straight to the Parthenon and ignore the other buildings on the Acropolis on the way up the hill. This way, you’ll get to see the busiest building at its quietest – you can always double back and explore the other sites afterward, once the hordes have arrived.
3. Or go late in the day.
The Acropolis is an essential stop for most cruise-trippers who arrive in tour bus-loads throughout the day. If you want to avoid them, they tend to head off during the afternoon to get back to the port, so in the tourist season, there are normally a few golden hours from about 5 p.m. until the closing time where you’ll have a more peaceful experience, out of the midday heat.
4. Check it’s open before you go.
There is a smattering of days throughout the year on which the Acropolis is closed to the public.
5. Avoid going in the rain.
Thousands of years of footfall have worn the stones and pathways down into smooth cobbles, which makes the walk up the hill rather treacherous in the rain. Unless you’re confident/ have grippy and safe footwear/ are spiderman, you might want to check the forecast before heading up the hill.
Acropolis admission fee and tickets
An Acropolis ticket costs €20 in tourist season (April 1 – October 31) and €10 in the off-season (November 1 – March 31). Ticket lines can be really long so unless you’re buying in advance or using a combination ticket (see below), make sure you factor the ticket queue when you visit the Acropolis.
People under the age of 18, people with disabilities, EU students and others can visit the Acropolis for free. Certain discounts are also available for non-EU students and seniors.
There are also a handful of days when the entire site is free entry, but on these dates, it can get much busier than usual. Make sure you bring identification if you fall into any of these brackets.
One popular option is purchasing a combination ticket. This costs €30 and gives you entry to the Acropolis as well as six other archaeological sites including Hadrian’s Library, the Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Kerameikos, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Aristotle’s School.
This special multi-site ticket is valid for five days, and can only be used once at each site. You can get hold of one at kiosks on any of the participating sites.
One of the best tips is to purchase it at one of the lesser-known, quieter archaeological sites such as the Roman Agora or Hadrian’s Library – this will mean you can skip the ticket queue at the Acropolis, saving valuable time!
How to get onto the site
It’s pretty impossible to not be able to find the Acropolis, given that you can see the Parthenon from pretty much everywhere in the city center. However, it can be a little bit confusing working out how best to get inside.
The Acropolis itself is located next to the Plaka district, just south of the Ancient Agora and right in the heart of the city. There are a few different metro stops that get you close, including Thissio or Monastiraki, but the best one is the Acropoli station (the clue’s in the name). This station is right next to the Acropolis Museum, and the Acropolis itself is just a 15-minute walk away.
There are actually two visitor entrances. The main Acropolis entrance is on the western side, on Rovertou Galli, and has a parking lot right next to it. This one gets really crowded, and summer waiting times can exceed an hour there.
The Acropolis side entrance is lesser-known so it is a great bet for avoiding the chaotic crowds. It’s found on the southeastern corner of the site on Dionysiou Areopagitou, right near the Acropoli metro stop.
The hike to the top of the hill is similar to the main entrance, but you’ll benefit from much calmer ticket lines. You’ll walk past Dionysus’ Theater and get an amazing view across the Odeon of Herodes Atticus before eventually climbing the Acropolis steps to Propylaea, the ancient gateway.
Be prepared for a steady uphill hike over rough, uneven surfaces. Some of the rocks have been worn completely smooth by all the people that have walked here before. Most people find the hike takes them about 15 – 20 minutes.
There is an elevator to provide access for people in wheelchairs, which can be found on the northeastern side of the site. There seem to have been some problems with this in the past, but to find out if it is open for public use you can contact +30 210 3214172.
What to pack and wear tips
- Plenty of water. There are water fountains on the site but they get crazy busy.
- Sun hat. There’s not much shade up there.
- Snacks. Especially if you’re going at peak times and are going to be stuck in a line for a long time!
- Wear grippy shoes. The terrain is uneven and sometimes slippy.
I walk around the monuments, snapping furiously with my camera, photographing structures so old it’s impossible to grasp. Unbelievably, the first stones of the Acropolis were laid in 447 BC!
This was after years of careful planning, under the orders of Pericles, an influential Greek statesman. Pericles intended the Acropolis as a monument to the city’s own goddess Athena, and to proclaim to the world the glory of Athens.
He spared absolutely no expense in its construction, using Greece’s finest sculptors and architects, alongside thousands of other painters, artisans, woodcarvers, and laborers. It was an amazing feat of architecture (and still is!), built to perfectly fit the unusual landscape it sits upon.
The initial plans were for four primary buildings: the Propylaia, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion, and the main attraction – the Parthenon. There are now many monuments and buildings that make up the complex, which is split into two sections – the Acropolis itself and the slopes to the north and south. It’s easy to let time get away from you here – there is just so much to see.
Walking up towards the Parthenon, I see that the Propylaea is covered in scaffolding. So is the Parthenon itself. The interior is filled with cranes and other building materials. Renovations are ongoing here, but they seem to have been put on hold for the moment. I'd love to come back when the works are finished.
I visited in 2014. This post has been updated since.
The Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos, the patroness of Athens. It’s the most iconic building on the site and the most important surviving structure of Classical Greece.
Its unique design has been imitated all over the world – although it looks simple, there are no true verticals or horizontals in the entire building! Every building block was built with utter precision, fitting perfectly into another.
The Propylaia is the grand entrance to the Acropolis, built on the western side of the hill. It’s the first thing you’ll see if you walk up from the main entrance in the west. Even with scaffolding on, it’s truly breathtaking, with huge columns of white marble either side of the entrance forming a monumental gateway.
Propylaia is the name for all grand gates in ancient Greek cities. Normally they would have been used to separate the secular and religious parts of the city. It would have been designed to wield a load of impact, and it still does today, taking the breath away from its 21st-century visitors.
Temple of Athena Nike
This one is a small but significant temple, found to the right of the Propylaia as you enter the site, perched on top of a high cliff. It was built on the spot where previously destroyed temples had stood – also dedicated to Athena Nike.
Like most of the other buildings, it was built from white Pentelic marble which was taken from nearby Mount Pentelicus. This rock is a bright white but laced with small amounts of iron, which has oxidized over time giving the stone a stunning caramelized quality. Part of why the Acropolis is so striking to see at sunrise and sunset!
An ancient Greek temple named after the mythical King of Athens Erechtheus, the Erechtheion (also called the Erechtheum) was constructed in order to house an important wooden statue of Athena. Found on the north side of the site and built over the course of about 15 years somewhere in the 5th century BC, it would have also been used as a general shrine to worship other ancient figures, such as Erechtheus himself, and the gods Poseidon and Hephaistos.
There are six female statues that prop up the porch on the northern side, called Caryatids. These are unfortunately copies – five of the original ones are now in the Acropolis Museum, and the last one was taken about a century ago and put in the British Museum.
The Erechtheion was built on a sacred spot where Poseidon and Athena allegedly fought for the patronage of Athens. It was here that Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, making a saltwater spring appear. It was also here that Athena hit the ground with a rock, making an olive tree spring up. There’s still an olive tree there now, but this one was planted much more recently.
Old Temple of Athena
Right in front of the Erechtheion are the ruined foundations of the Old Temple of Athena, or Archaios Neos – a large archaic temple that would have stood opposite the Parthenon. Like the Parthenon, it was dedicated to the goddess Athena, but was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC and never rebuilt like the rest of the Acropolis.
Now, you can clearly see where the inner sanctums and passageways would have been. The foundations were discovered and excavated by Wilhelm Dörpfeld, so they are sometimes referred to as the Dörpfeld foundations.
Also in the space next to the Erechtheion is where once stood the Pandroseion. This too was a sanctuary, this time to Pandrosus, the daughter of the founding king of Athens Cecrops I.
The sanctuary would have housed the altar of the protector of the hearth, Zeus Herkeios along with a shrine to Pandrosos. According to some scholars, sacred snakes were kept here!
The Brauroneion is found near the Propylaia in the southwest corner of the Acropolis – now only the foundations are visible. It was the sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia, the goddess and protector of pregnant women and childbirth.
This is the place where people would have brought offerings of woolen and silk clothing, draping them about her statue, petitioning her for help and blessings.
Theater of Dionysus
The Theater of Dionysus was the first theater in the world! It’s found on the southern slope of the site not far from the Acropolis Museum and can be seen if you walk up from the side entrance to the Acropolis. The word “theater” means “viewing things” in Greek, and this one was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and plays!
It could seat 17,000 people and had fantastic acoustics. The people who came to see plays here would have witnessed the Greek tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides.
Viewpoint of the Acropolis and Athens
For incredible views of the city and the rest of the Acropolis as a whole, head to the eastern side of the site where there is an elevated viewpoint. You can find it easily because it has a huge Greek flag sticking up into the sky, which has a rather nice story.
During the Nazi occupation of Athens, in 1941, two brave teenage boys, Manolis Glezos and Lakis Santas took on the Acropolis climb in the dead of night and took down the swastika that had been hoisted by the Nazis.
This was such a symbolic act of defiance that it has widely been accredited for beginning the Greek resistance itself. Their act is written about on a plaque next to the flag that stands there today.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
For me, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, on the southern slopes not far from the Propylaia, is another highlight. It's clearly been renovated and the chess-patterned stage seems like the perfect place to dance ballroom. Not that I can ballroom dance, but I'm willing to learn.
Built between 160 – 174 AD by Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife, this structure is one of the most modern on the site! It can seat nearly 5000 people and amazingly it is still used today. During the summer the city of Athens puts on concerts, cultural performances and ancient theater shows here. The locals call the Odeon the Herodeon!
Whether you’re going for some background info on the Acropolis or just for the refreshing air-conditioning, the Acropolis Museum is worth a trip. Acropolis museum tickets costs €10 in the tourist season, and €5 in the off-season (with various concessional discounts available). It does not count as part of the multi-site combination ticket.
The Acropolis museum was built in 2009 and is now a protective home for many of the artifacts that have been taken from the Acropolis. There is so much to see inside, from statues to archaeological remains, even part of the ruins in the process of being excavated that you can watch through a glass window. There are interactive and multimedia exhibitions and temporary expos too.
It’s the perfect accompaniment to a trip to the Acropolis, giving body to the shell of the buildings and context to the stories that they tell. Huge windows look out across the ruins, and if you fancy a drink or a snack – the museum’s cafe has awesome views. If you’re feeling really keen, you can also sign up for a museum tour.
And that's it for my tips on how to visit the Acropolis! I hope you found them useful.
How to get to Athens
There are direct flights to Athens from all over the world. Run a search on Skyscanner to get a good overview of the options and prices.
Once you're at the airport, there are several ways to get into the city center, which is about 20 km (12 miles) away. You can take the metro, hop on one of the 24-hour express buses or grab an official taxi which will take you into the center at a fixed rate. You can find all the information you need on these options at the Visit Greece website.
Alternatively, you can also pre-book a transfer that will be waiting for you upon your arrival and will take you straight to your accommodation. The benefit of this is that you won't have to wait when it's busy at the airport and you won't have to worry about payment anymore, as that will already be taken care of.
If you want to book a transfer, Taxi2Airport is a safe choice. This platform offers 24/7 support in 10 languages and always finds you the cheapest transfers among their verified taxi partners. It also gets a rating of 9/10 on Trustpilot with more than 14,000 reviews.
Book your airport transfer here
Where to stay in Athens
Budget: Thanasis Place
Thanasis Place is a brand new hostel with shared dormitories with a great location in the city center. All rooms are air-conditioned and stylishly decorated, and the beds have little curtains that can be pulled to give a bit of privacy. It has a 24-hour reception desk, free WiFi and a communal lounge and kitchen.
View on Booking.com
Boutique: Neratzia Rooms
Bright and breezy suites in gorgeous colors, Neratzia Rooms are full of character. Situated in the heart of Athens, the Acropolis Museum is just a short walk away as are many of the most famous Athenian attractions. Free WiFi, a continental breakfast and fantastic city views are also highlights.
View on Booking.com / Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Chain: ibis Styles Athens Routes
This ibis Styles hotel has a central location and clean, attractive interior. Guests can make use of the free parking, on-site restaurant, fitness suite and bar. All the rooms have flat-screen TVs, en-suite bathrooms, desks, and air-conditioning.
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Luxury: A77 Suites by Andronis
These individually decorated suites are beautifully modeled and authentically Grecian. Quaint, shuttered windows and wood-paneled ceilings, rooms are spacious with stunning furniture. Breakfast boxes are offered to guests daily. For an ultra-luxury experience, opt for the rooftop Iconic Suite for a private hot tub with jaw-dropping views of the Acropolis.
View on Booking.com / Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Apartment: Modern Loft with Acropolis View
A perfect, compact loft apartment to use as a base for exploring Athens. It has a fully equipped kitchen in an open-plan living area, which leads to a balcony with a stunning vista of the city. Guests can also use the terrace with views of the Acropolis itself. Everything is immaculate, and free WiFi and parking is available.
View on Booking.com
For even more apartment options, check out Airbnb. While I use Booking to find hotels, I always check Airbnb for apartments as they have such a large selection.
If you'd like to try Airbnb but don't already have an account, you can get a discount on your first booking if you book through my link. This doesn't cost you anything.
If you found this post helpful but already have an account, please consider booking your next Airbnb through my link. While the price for you stays exactly the same, I'll earn a small commission. Income like this helps me travel independently and create new content.
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