Visiting the Acropolis in Athens

Visiting the Acropolis is one of the highlights of your visit to Athens, a must-see site that epitomises Ancient Greece. This rocky hill is topped by the Parthenon temple dedicated to Athena, Goddess of wisdom and war, who planted the first olive tree on this very spot to found the city of Athens. I’ve visited a few times over the years, so read on to discover my top tips on how to get the best from your visit to the Acropolis and the nearby Acropolis Museum.

Filopappou Hill Athens Photo

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When is the best time to visit the Acropolis?

The Acropolis site is open all year round, apart from a few public holidays. The cooler months in Spring and Autumn are ideal times to visit the Acropolis, before the scorching heat and crowds of summer descend on Athens. Winter in Greece is short and you may find bright, clear days in winter too, but the generally cold and wet days in December and January are not ideal. If you visit in the hottest months of July and August, you need to plan your visit carefully to allow for crowds and heat.

It’s also worth considering the best time of day to visit, if you have a flexible schedule. Guided group tours generally start at 9.30am, while coach parties start arriving from 10am, so the hours between 10am-3pm will be the busiest time to visit. The late afternoon after 3pm is a good time to visit, but check the website so you know the closing time, which is around 5pm in winter and may be later in summer. You should allow at least 2 hours to see the site, so factor this into your plans if you visit later in the day.

Acropolis in Athens Photo
Acropolis in Athens
Acropolis in Athens Photo
Acropolis in Athens

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What to see at the Acropolis

Before you reach the top of the Acropolis Hill, there are some interesting things to see on the southern slopes of the hill, once you are past the ticket barrier. Be aware that there are two entrances, one by the metro station and the other close the the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Depending on which way you come in, you may see a different part of the site. At the top of the hill you can’t walk inside any of the temples, so it’s more about taking in the views of the ancient buildings and over the city of Athens and wondering at the huge scale of this iconic site.

The Theatre of Dionysus

If you enter the Acropolis site from the metro entrance you’ll pass the Theatre of Dionysus which is a well preserved amphitheatre, with stone seats in the front row carved with the names of nobles who reserved them. Theatres were popular in ancient Greece and always dedicated to Dionysus, the God of wine who was associated with having a good time.

The atmosphere during a performance was rowdy with plenty of chatting and laughter, so the actors had to work hard to hold the attention of the audience. A handful of male actors performed all the characters, even the female ones, and plays were generally stories about the Gods and ancient myths.

Theatre of Dionysus at Acropolis in Athens Photo
Theatre of Dionysus at Acropolis in Athens

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Also worth a look as you head up the path to the top of the Acropolis Hill, is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an ancient theatre that was built in 161AD by a wealthy Athenian in memory of his wife. From inside the Acropolis site you’ll look down on the amphitheatre from above, with fantastic views across the city of Athens and the wooded slopes of Filopappou Hill to your right.

The 5000 seat theatre is used for music, opera and concerts during the Athens festival that runs throughout the summer and even if you don’t visit the Acropolis, you can see its stone arched front from the outside, near the ticket office.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus Athens Photo
Odeon of Herodes Atticus Athens Photo
Odeon of Herodes Atticus Athens

The Propylaea gateway to the Acropolis

After climbing up the rocky paths on the side of the hill, the first glimpse of the Parthenon and other temples at the top is through the Propylaea. This monumental entrance, with columns and porticoes was commissioned by the Athenian leader Pericles in 437 BC as one of the works to rebuild Athens after the Persian Wars.

The entrance was designed to impress and emphasise the importance of the sacred site, as well as providing a gateway to control who could enter the site.

Acropolis in Athens Photo
Propylaea gateway to the Acropolis in Athens
Acropolis in Athens Photo
Propylaea gateway to the Acropolis in Athens

The Temple of Athena Nike

Visible as you ascent the Acropolis Hill and close to the Propylaea gateway is the small temple of Athena Nike which you can’t normally get up close to. The goddess represented victory in war so would be offered prayers by the Athenians in hope of victory in battle against their enemies. The temple as you see it has been heavily renovated and rebuilt, with its original frieze on display in the Acropolis museum.

Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis in Athens Photo
Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis in Athens

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The Parthenon

Once up the marble steps and through the Propylaea gateway, visitors get their first close up view of the Parthenon, the iconic temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, after whom the city of Athens was named.

Within the Parthenon temple originally stood a 12 metre high gold and ivory statue of Athena, although it was lost in the Byzantine era and only copies remain. Around the top of the temple runs a frieze of all the gods which now resides in the Acropolis Museum, since most of the original stone carvings have been replaced with copies.

Acropolis in Athens Photo
Acropolis in Athens

One surprising aspect of the Parthenon is that much of it resembles a building site, dominated by scaffolding, with a restoration underway that will continue for some years. Blocks of stone and parts of ancient columns piled up near the temple, ready to be hoisted into position. In another area near the entrance, some of the carved stones that will replace the frieze could be seen close up, stacked as if in a timber yard.

Walking around to the front of the Parthenon will give you a scaffolding free view of the temple, although you can’t walk into the central area within the columns.

The Erechthion and Caryatids

Once you’ve viewed the Parthenon from all angles, you’ll want to explore the other main monument, the Erechtheion that stands on the northern side of the Acropolis rock. This temple was built on the sacred spot where the goddess Athena is said to have planted the olive tree, the symbol of Athens that brings peace and prosperity.

Acropolis in Athens Photo
Erechtheion at Acropolis in Athens

The temple is best known for the Caryatids, the row of maidens in draped tunics that support the roof. The ones here are copies, since the originals are in the Acropolis Museum, with one in the British Museum (part of the ‘Elgin Marbles’ collection that Greece is campaigning to have returned.)

Acropolis in Athens Photo
Caryatids at Acropolis in Athens

Views from the Acropolis Hill

Before you conclude your visit, take time to stroll around the perimeter wall of the Acropolis Hill to take in the views of Athens stretching in all directions. At the western end of the rock, a raised area flies the flag of Greece which you can see raised and lowered on Sundays and other public holidays. The ceremony is conducted by the Evzones or Presidential Guard who stand guard in front of the Greek Parliament Building in Syntagma Square.

From this viewpoint look westwards across to Filopappou Hill, the smaller Areopagus Hill and the dome of the Observatory of Athens. From the southern wall, look down on the Acropolis Museum and beyond to see the port of Piraeus, which was the main port in ancient times.

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Guided tour of the Acropolis Photo
Our guided tour of the Acropolis

Take a tour of the Acropolis

If you have limited time in Athens, I highly recommend taking a tour of the Acropolis and Acropolis museum like this one that we tried with Athenian Tours. Our excellent guide Alexia met us outside the metro station and we had a fascinating 4 hours visiting the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum.

The tour included entry tickets for both attractions so there were no delays in entering the sites and we got so many stories and interesting facts about the places we visited. We were provided with an audio set and our own disposable headphones, so that we could clearly hear everything Alexia was explaining, without her having to shout.

Of course you could see all of this on your own, but here are some reasons why you should consider booking a tour of the Acropolis;

Guided tour of the Acropolis Photo
Guided tour of the Acropolis

– An Acropolis tour is a great option if you are short of time and want to see as much as possible – it takes all the hassle away so you don’t need to spend all your time planning.

– Taking a tour enables you to skip the line, so you have no worries about queuing for tickets or needing to buy them in advance. Your tour guide will have purchased tickets for the whole group in advance and will get you quickly into the site.

– The tour guides can give you so many more insights and entertaining stories than just reading the signs around the site, so they really bring the experience to life.

– I especially recommend tours for solo travellers, as it’s a fun way to spend a few hours in a group and connect with other travellers.

– Your tour guide is also a great source of tips and recommendations for other things to see, so you can access all their local knowledge to plan the rest of your visit to Athens. At the end of our tour, our guide gave us lots of restaurant recommendations.

Without our guide Alexia from Athenian Tours I wouldn’t have heard about how the Parthenon was built in only 8 years by slaves, learned that ancient Greek doctors would whisper to patients in their sleep as part of their treatment, or noticed how the most wealthy could have their name carved into the stone at the theatre to reserve the best seat. All these fun stories brought the Acropolis to life for us and made us feel a part of the city.

You can book the same tour that we took of the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum with Athenian Tours here or if you prefer they also offer an Acropolis tour on its own.

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Best ways to visit the Acropolis – our top tips

  • Around the site are information signs telling you about each temple and of course if you visit as part of a guided tour of the Acropolis, you will get plenty more information. If visiting independently, you can hire a registered guide at the entrance if you wish, or use your guidebook to give you an overview of the site.
  • There are toilets outside both of the main entrances as well as at the top of the Acropolis rock. However, once inside, there is nowhere to buy drinks or refreshments, so you should at least take some water with you. In the hotter months it will be baking up here with only a few places for shade.
  • Wear comfortable, flat shoes with a good grip, as the paths are quite stony and the marble steps leading up to the top of the hill can also be slippery, especially when wet.
Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis in Athens Photo
Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis in Athens

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Visit the Acropolis – tickets and opening hours

  • The entry is €20 per adult, €10 for reduced tickets (aged 65+ from EU if you produce a passport) covering the Acropolis site and slopes. In low season the ticket rate is reduced. If you plan to visit a number of archaeological sites in Athens, it’s worth buying the package ticket for €30.
  • In winter (1 Nov-30 March) the site opens 8am-5pm and in summer 8am-8pm. Last entry is 30 mins before closing time, however you need to allow at least 2 hours to see the whole Acropolis site. Check the details of opening times before you visit on the official Acropolis website.
  • We recommend that you pre-book your ticket to the Acropolis – not only can you pick up your tickets close to the Acropolis and then skip the lines at the ticket desks but you have the option of a refund up to 24 hrs before your visit.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus Athens Photo

Ticket for the Acropolis – your options

There are a few different options for buying tickets for the Acropolis and pre-booking or taking a tour is definitely a good idea so that you can skip the line.

  • Option 1: Arrive at either of the two Acropolis site entrances and buy tickets from the kiosk. Then pass through the security barrier, scanning the bar code on your ticket. The disadvantage with this is that there is almost always a queue which is very long at weekends and in high season.
  • Option 2: Buy tickets online directly from the official website. You can do this before you arrive or on arrival by scanning a QR code at the ticket booth that will take you to the website. Choose the Attica / Acropolis and slopes option, then select a date and time. Note that the time is just for statistical purposes and does not commit you to arriving at that time. At the next stage you can select either a single ticket or a combined ticket for all the archaeological sites. One issue I found was that once arrived at the ticket office, the data signal was very weak to buy tickets on your mobile, so I’d recommend that you do so before you arrive. Another disadvantage is that once you have selected the day and bought your ticket, it cannot be used on another day or refunded.
  • Option 3: Another convenient way to buy tickets is to pre-book from a trusted agent like Get your Guide – use this link to pre-book your ticket to the Acropolis. Tickets can be ordered at any time on your mobile and then you take the voucher you are sent by email and exchange it for your tickets at the Key Tours office, a 3 minute walk from the Acropolis metro entrance. You can then skip the lines at the ticket desks and go straight through security. The advantage of this method is that you have the option of a full refund if you cancel up to 24 hrs before the visit, so it has more flexibility than buying directly from the official site, although there is a small service fee.
  • Option 4: Book a guided tour of the Acropolis and your entrance ticket is included in the price, as the guide will have purchased it in advance. Tours are available for the Acropolis site or there are longer tours that also include the Acropolis Museum (and again the museum ticket is included). We can recommend this tour of the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum from Athenian Tours which we took and really enjoyed or you can also take just the tour of the Acropolis with the same company.

Accessibility at the Acropolis

The Acropolis is suitable to visit for anyone who is reasonably fit, but be aware that there are quite a lot of steps and the ground is uneven in places. I’ve visited in the past with my parents who were in their 70’s and we had to navigate quite cautiously since the rock was worn and slippery in places. Although the site is flatter at the top there are many places where the ground is rocky and uneven, so visitors with mobility issues will need to take care.

There is also a wheelchair lift at the Acropolis entrance that’s closest to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the main coach park (not the entrance closest the metro). The path up to the ticket office and entrance is also wheelchair accessible. This lift is designed for wheelchairs and not for buggies and pushchairs, however there is a place where you can leave pushchairs near the ticket office. From there you will need to walk with your child or carry babies in a sling.

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Visit the Acropolis Museum

After the Acropolis, the next obvious places to visit is the Acropolis Museum, a world-class setting for the treasures of the Acropolis hill that rises above it. Most of the statues and friezes on the Parthenon have been brought here to preserve them, being replaced by modern copies on the temple itself.

Acropolis Museum Athens Photo
Acropolis Museum Athens

On the outside, the museum shows its clean, modern lines with walls of glass to shed plenty of natural light and give views towards the Acropolis hill. The museum is built over the remains of the ancient city and you can look down into the kitchens and latrines of Ancient Greece as you walk towards the entrance.

Acropolis Museum Athens Photo
Archaeological remains under the Acropolis Museum Athens

The open galleries on the first floor are supported by columns and many of the sculptures from different periods of the Acropolis are on display here. Originally many of these would have been painted in bright colours, very different from the serene white marble appearance of today. I was surprised to see how different the statues would have looked, with almost garish blues and reds and details picked out in gold.

If you are visiting the Acropolis and Acropolis museum together, we recommend taking this tour that includes entrance tickets, so that you skip the line and make the most of your visit with an expert guide.

Acropolis Museum Athens Photo
The owl is the symbol of Athens – in the Acropolis Museum Athens
Acropolis Museum Athens Photo
A copy of the Parthenon pediment frieze – Acropolis Museum Athens
Acropolis Museum Athens Photo
A model of the Parthenon – Acropolis Museum Athens
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The Parthenon Gallery

On the third floor, the Parthenon Gallery is laid out to mimic the Parthenon itself, with steel columns in place of the marble pillars of the Parthenon, and the friezes that ran all around the sides of the temple and formed the pediment at the top.

Acropolis Museum Athens
Acropolis Museum Athens

Where parts of the frieze were missing, for instance the parts that are on display in the British Museum, a copy was shown in raw plaster next to aged ivory colour of the original carving.

Acropolis Museum Athens Photo
Acropolis Museum Athens

Most famous are the Caryatids that you’ll have seen at the Erechtheion on top of the Acropolis; this is where the real ones are kept to preserve them from the elements. They are also a favourite spot for visitors to have their photograph taken which is allowed in this part of the museum although not in all the galleries.

Acropolis Museum Athens Photo
Acropolis Museum Athens

On the second floor we watched a video in English about the history of the Acropolis which made it quite clear where they stand on the Elgin collection, now kept in the British Museum. There is a long-standing campaign to have these artefacts from the Parthenon returned to the Acropolis museum which you can even vote on as you pass through Athens airport.

Acropolis Museum Athens Photo
Acropolis Museum Athens

We finished a very enjoyable visit to the Acropolis Museum with a drink on the sunny terrace cafe looking up at the Acropolis Hill above.

Acropolis Museum Athens Photo
Acropolis Museum Athens

If you are visiting the Acropolis and museum together, we recommend taking this tour that includes entrance tickets, so that you skip the line and make the most of your visit with an expert guide.

Acropolis Museum – tickets and opening hours

  • The museum is set at the foot of the Acropolis Hill next to Acropolis Metro station.
  • Entrance charge is €5 (Nov-Mar) or €10 (Apr-Oct) with concession tickets also available.
  • If you are visiting both the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum, we recommend pre-booking a joint ticket so that you skip the queues. The tickets offer 24 hr cancellation and are valid for a month.
  • Open normally 8am-8pm April-October, 9am-5pm Nov-March (check website for variations some days)
  • There is a great cafe with waiter service and views of the Acropolis from the terrace
  • On the top floor, watch the video in English about the history of the Acropolis.
  • Photography for personal use is allowed in some but not all of the galleries.

Other Ancient sites in Athens

Around Athens there are plenty of other ancient sites and if you plan to visit them, we recommend that you pre-book this ticket that allows access to 7 archaeological sites including the Acropolis and is valid for 5 days. The sites included in the ticket are; Acropolis and slopes, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Olympieion, Kerameikos, Aristotle’s School (Lykeion).

Filopappou Hill for the best views of the Acropolis

Once you’ve finished your visit of the Acropolis, you may want to climb the nearby Filopappou Hill, which offers some of the best views of the Acropolis from the top. The most obvious path to climb the hill is near the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, next to the coach park and the well known Dionysos Zonar’s restaurant. As you follow the paved road up the hill, look out for the pretty church of Agios Dimitrios Lounbardiaris which is worth visiting if it’s open to see the frescoes.

Filopappou Hill Athens Photo
Views of the Acropolis from the top of Filopappou Hill in Athens

Then follow the signs to the left that take you up the hill past the Cave of Socrates. Doorways carved into the rock face are said to be where the philosopher Socrates was imprisoned before his trial in 399 BC, when he was convicted of impiety and sentenced to death by drinking a cup of poison hemlock.

Filopappou Hill Athens Photo
Cave of Socrates on Filopappou Hill Athens

Continue the walk up the hill under the shady pines to the top where you’ll find the Monument of Filopappos, built in AD 114 in honour of the prominent Roman consul, Julius Antiochus Filopappos. From here there are stunning views in all directions, not only looking towards the Acropolis Hill but also towards the port of Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf.

Filopappou Hill Athens Photo
Monument of Filopappos in Athens

Areopagus Hill for sunset views

Walking along the path from the Acropolis Museum leading toward Monastiraki you’ll see the Areopagus Hill, a rocky outcrop which has some wooden steps to allow you to climb to the top. From here you can get a great view of the Acropolis as well as over the whole city and it’s a favourite place to come at sunset as the city turns golden below you.

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Areopagus Hill in Athens Photo
Areopagus Hill in Athens

Where to stay when visiting the Acropolis

I highly recommend the 5 star Electra Palace Hotel where I stayed while in Athens. This elegant, luxury hotel is in the Plaka district of Athens, at the foot of the Acropolis, and is well situated to walk easily to most of the ancient sites. The hotel is classic in decor and is a haven of calm to return to at the end of your day’s sightseeing.

Electra Palace Hotel Photo
Electra Palace Hotel

Even when not sightseeing, you’re never far from those prized Acropolis views, since there is a rooftop pool and bar to relax in the hotter months as well as a rooftop restaurant serving modern Greek cuisine where you can dine in the evening.

Electra Palace Hotel Photo
Views of the Acropolis from Electra Palace Hotel

Electra Palace Hotel,18 N. Nikodimou Str., 10557 Athens, Greece

Read my full review and video of Electra Palace Hotel Athens here

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