Are you traveling to mainland Greece? You will most probably visit the iconic Acropolis of Athens. Read our essential mini-guide of the Acropolis!
You can see it in all the travel photos of Athens. It easily pops up in one’s mind at the mere evocation of Greece, along with the quaint little white houses of Santorini or the paradise beaches of Mykonos. The Parthenon is the iconic temple of the Acropolis of Athens, proudly overlooking the modern Greek capital. But the Athenian Acropolis is much more than a heap of ancient ruins: it is a rocky outcrop rising at 512 feet above sea level. Approximately 1000 feet long and 300 feet wide, it extends over a total area of three hectares. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Acropolis is home to ancient Greek monuments and is one of the world’s most visited tourist sites.
About to visit the Acropolis of Athens? The Acropolis is home to invaluable remains, which have withstood the ravages of time, including earthquakes, plundering and bombardment. A visit to the Acropolis offers a unique “time-travel” experience to all visitors, especially history lovers. Here is our mini-guide of the Acropolis, a useful read for those who plan to visit the Acropolis of Athens.
The Acropolis of Athens: presentation and history
The Acropolis of Athens dates as far back as the 5th century BC. Following the Greco-Persian Wars against the First Persian Empire, the Athenians were forced to abandon their city, and the Persian army took the opportunity to destroy the city during their exile. At the beginning of the 5th century BC, the Acropolis of Athens consisted of an old temple – dedicated to the city’s protective goddess, Athena – at the foot of which the Greeks organized ritual processions called the “Great Panathenaia.”
Following the sacking of the fortifications by the Persian King, Xerxes I (519 to 475 BC), the Athenians began to rebuild the old temple. Greek city-states, still threatened by the Persian Empire, joined forces as part of the Delian League, allowing Athens to prosper by imposing a tax in exchange of providing protection to neighboring cities, including Sparta.
After the Persian war ended in 449 BC, Athens entered what is now referred to as the Golden Age of Athens. The 5th-century in Athens was a peaceful era marked by the city’s political hegemony, economic growth, and cultural flourishing. At the time, Athens dominated ancient Greece in the fields of art, architecture, culture, and philosophy. The playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides all lived and worked in 5th-century BC Athens, as did the historians Herodotus and Thucydides, and the philosophers Plato and Socrates. The Acropolis of Athens became the “laboratory” of Athenian democracy, a place where Athenian citizens came to debate and vote, except for women, immigrants, the poor, traders, craftsmen, and slaves.
Under the impulse of Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BC), the Parthenon became the symbol of Athenian power. Over the centuries, the monuments of the Acropolis of Athens suffered the curses of successive rulers (Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians).The Parthenon, which was transformed into a church (6th century) and was later converted into a mosque (15th century). In 1687, during a war fought between Venice and the Ottoman Empire, the Parthenon was used by the Ottomans as a gunpowder magazine. In September of that year, the building was blown up by a Venetian bombardment. The bombing severely damaged the Parthenon, destroying its roof and its many sculptures. After more than 2,000 years of looting and damage, the Acropolis has finally become a protected archaeological and tourist site in the 20th century. The Parthenon is one of the most reproduced monuments in the world, an example of which is the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington DC.
What to see and do in the Acropolis of Athens?
Visiting the Acropolis of Athens allows you to discover an array of historical monuments:
- The Propylaea, the “gateway” to the Acropolis
- The temple of Athéna Nikè
- The Erechteion
- The Dionysus Theatre Eleuthereus
- The Parthenon
The Acropolis of Athens is also home to ruins that have been almost completely destroyed or are in an advanced state of decay:
- The Odeon of Herodes Atticus
- The sanctuary of Asclepius
- The Odeon of Pericles
- The Themistoclean Wall
- The Temple of Rome and Augustus
- The statue of Athena Promachos
If you visit the Acropolis of Athens, you will start with the Propylaea, the gateway to the site by the steep slope and the stairs (restoration in progress). Continue along the Parthenon, built between 447 and 432 BC (the oldest and most famous monument on the site). Then head towards the temple of Athena, before making your way to the Erechteion, an ancient temple recognizable by its six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns. Spend a moment meditating on the Agora, and imagine yourself dressed in a toga, debating laws with fellow Athenians.
Finally, don’t miss the city’s best preserved ancient monument, the Temple of Hephaestus (also called ‘Hephaisteion’), a temple dedicated to Hephaestus. On the south-eastern slope of the Acropolis, discover the theater of Dionysus, the cradle of Greek tragedy, a must-see site. Make sure you visit the Acropolis Museum, located by the southeastern slope of the Acropolis hill, on the ancient road that led up to the “sacred rock” in classical times. Finally, make your way to Philopappos Hill to capture superb views of the Acropolis, the perfect spot to take photos of the ancient citadel. If you get hungry while visiting the Acropolis, we recommend walking a little out of this ultra touristic zone to avoid tourist traps and their gouged prices. We recommend heading to Monastiriki where you’ll have decent options.
For more information on where to eat in Athens : The 7 best areas to eat in Athens
How to visit the Acropolis of Athens?
Visiting the Acropolis of Athens requires some preparation. Make sure you read the essential information regarding the site. Here’s a list of some essential points for you to remember:
- A visit lasts for about 2 hours, especially if you want to experience this exceptional historic site fully!
- The best time to visit the Acropolis of Athens is early in the morning (not only will you avoid the crowds, but you’ll also avoid the blazing heat during the summer season). Alternatively, you can arrive in the late afternoon, before the entrance to the site closes.
- Concerning accessibility, the Acropolis features toilets for people with reduced mobility, an elevator and a lift (max 160kgs).
- Pets are not allowed on the site
- Visitors will only be allowed to enter the archaeological site with small backpacks and handbags only.
If you’re keen to get an in-depth understanding of the Acropolis in Athens, why not hire the services of a guide? A great way to learn more about the context in which the monuments were built, the history of Athens, Greek mythology and how the Acropolis changed throughout its history. A guided tour with an English guide is possible: English-speaking archaeologists work on the site permanently, and are keen to inform tourists.
You will discover, for example, that the Doric columns of the Parthenon are not straight and rectilinear, but convex. Also, its lines that intersect at right angles are not straight, but curved. This shows the civil engineering genius of Greek architects: they had understood the laws of optics and geometry, and the way the human brain interprets the visual world. You will also learn how the Greeks were able to assemble these massive, heavy marble blocks into columns and drums that would remain standing – at least parts of them – for nearly 2500 years.
Of course, you can always opt for a self-guided tour, but in our opinion the Acropolis is one the places where you benefit the most from a knowledgeable guide.
How to get to the Acropolis in Athens?
- By foot. If you’re staying in Athens, you will enjoy easy access to the Acropolis, which sits on a rocky outcrop situated only 15 minutes away from Syntagma Square by foot.
- By metro. If you choose the subway, you’ll have to stop at the “Acropoli” station on line 2, the red line. You’ll find the main entrance to the site on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street. But this entrance promises to be crowded all day long. Alternatively, you can enter the site through the Dionysus Theatre, a much less crowded entryway.
- By bus. Lines 1, 5, 15, 040, and 230 will take you to the Acropolis.
Acropolis of Athens: opening times and rates
The monuments of the Acropolis in Athens are open to the public every day, from 8am to 5pm. Be aware that the Acropolis closes at 3pm on certain public holidays.
The closing days are January 1st, March 25th, May 1st, Easter Sunday, December 25th and 26th.
You can purchase a ticket either on the spot, at the ticket office (but beware of the queue!), or alternatively find a skip-the-line ticket via online booking which spares you along wait, which can be quite unpleasant in the scorching Summer Sun.
The rates are:
- Single ticket full price: $22.
- Single ticket reduced rate: $11.
- Full price combined ticket (tickets for the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, Keiramikos, Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Agora, the Olympieion, and Aristotle’s Library): $33.
- Combined ticket at a reduced rate: $16.
– Students from outside the European Union (EU) and EU citizens over 65 years of age can benefit from reduced rates. Admission is free for minors under 18 years of age as well as for students from EU Member States.
– Access to the Acropolis is free of charge on the first Sunday of each month from November 1st to March 31st, as well as on October 28th, April 18th, May 18th, March 6th and on the last weekend of September.
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