As soon as you book your flights to Athens, you dream of getting to visit the most fascinating archaeological site of Greece, and probably the whole world. The Acropolis never fails to steal the heart and leave in awe each of its visitors with its beauty, grandeur, and rich history. While climbing up the imposing rock, you will get to discover the legendary tales behind each corner and watch the ancient Greek world come to life. Here, we present to you the ultimate guide to the Acropolis and some visitors' tips that will help you enjoy your Acropolis experience to the fullest.
Table of Contents
Definition and Meaning of the 'Acropolis'
The word 'Acropolis' is the name of every city or town built on the top of a hill or on a high ground level. The word derives from the Greek 'acropolis' and is a composition of two other words, 'acro', which means 'edge', and 'polis', which means 'city'. However, when we talk about the Acropolis, we always refer to the Acropolis of Athens, the famous navel where the Ancient Greek spirit was nurtured in order to later illuminate the track of western civilization.
General History of the Acropolis
The Acropolis hill of Athens- credits: TTstudio/Shutterstock.com
The Acropolis of Athens is a rocky hill in Attica that is about 6 km away from the beach of Faliro. It has a height of 60-70 meters from the perimeter of the hill and is located at an altitude of 156 meters from the sea. A few fragments of pottery and some remains of houses testify that it had been continuously inhabited since 5000 BC., however, the coordinated construction of the buildings that we see today was launched by Pericles in the 5th century B.C, during the so-called Golden Age of Athens.
The inhabitants of the city, which began to develop under the Acropolis, found refuge inside it when faced with enemy raids. Its character became religious when the inhabitants of the surrounding settlements decided that the common center of worship should be placed in it.
In the time of Constantine, the Acropolis of Athens began to decline, as the old religion lost its glory. Its religious character, however, remains unchanged, with the Parthenon being transformed into a temple of the Virgin Mary, the Propylaea into a temple of the Brigadiers, and the Erechtheion into a temple of the Virgin.
During the Frankish rule, the area became the residence of the rulers, the Propylaea were formed into palaces, while in a part of them a high square tower was built. In general, however, its appearance did not change dramatically. When the Turks occupied Athens, the Parthenon became a mosque. The Turks built houses on the Acropolis and used various buildings for ammunition depots. In 1655, lightning struck the Propylaea, while shortly after the Turks demolished the temple of Apteros Nike to build a machine gun.
The greatest destruction, however, took place in 1687, when the Venetian Morosini besieged the Acropolis. A shell fell on the Parthenon of Athens, tearing down the majority of the temple.
As history of the Acropolis shows, it has been used for a variety of purposes through the centuries depending on the ruler of the time. It went through serious damages during the 17th century A.D., while in the early 19th century, many sculptural artifacts were removed by Lord Elgin. Eventually, the Acropolis went under restoration during the emancipation of the Greek state in the 19th century, with the restoration process continuing to this day.
The Acropolis Monuments
The one who associated his name with the classical form of the rock was Pericles, who with the help of worthy architects, such as Iktinos and Kallikrates and the unsurpassed sculptor Pheidias, created the most important monument of ancient times, an artistic ensemble that people admire from all over the world to this day. The Parthenon’s construction ended in 438 BC, then the Propylaea, the impressive marble construction that surrounds the natural entrance to the plateau, was inaugurated in 432, while the temple of Apteros Nike was completed in 425. The last building built, in the vortex of the Peloponnesian War, was the Erechtheion.
Apart from these, the rock of the Acropolis includes other small monuments, such as the ‘Vravronio’, dedicated to goddess Artemis, as well as the Conservatory, the Asclepieion, and the theater of Dionysus, which were built on its slopes. Subsequently, various Mycenaeans kings of the Hellenistic period and Roman emperors sent various tributes to the Holy Rock, but they cannot be compared with the statues of the classical period. A circular temple was built in honor of the emperor Augustus and Rome, while a marble staircase and the gate that is still used today for entrance were built later, around 180 AD.
The Parthenon was built on a former temple of Athena (patron goddess of Athens), which was destroyed by the Persians during the Persian Wars. It is built in honor of the goddess Athena, protector of the city of Athens, and it was the result of the collaboration of important architects and sculptors in the middle of the 5th century BC. century. The era of its construction coincides with the ambitious expansion plans of Ancient Athens and the political prestige that followed against its allies during the period of Athenian hegemony in Ancient Greece.
The Parthenon, dedicated to the 'Athena Parthenos', is the most brilliant monument of the Athenian state and the colophon of the Doric style. Its construction began in 448/7 BC. and its inauguration took place in 438 BC. in the celebration of ‘Megala Panathinaia’, while the sculptural decoration was completed in 433/2 BC. According to the sources, the architects who worked were Iktinos, Kallikratis, and possibly the famous sculptor Pheidias, who was also responsible for the sculptural decoration. It is one of the few all-marble Greek temples and the only Doric one with all its metopes in relief.
Many parts of the sculptural decoration, the entablature, and the ceiling panels were painted in red, blue, and gold. Pentelic marble was used, except for the pillar, which was made of limestone. The wing had 8 columns in width and 17 in length. On the narrow sides, there was a second row of 6 columns that created the illusion of a double temple. Another peculiarity was the existence of a frieze that surrounded the nave along its entire length and is, perhaps, the most obvious of the Ionic influences. The metopes on the east side depicted the Battle of the Giants, the west depicted the Amazon Battle, the south the Battle of the Centaurs, and the northern scenes from the Trojan War.
The imposing temple manages to survive relatively unscratched through the years of foreign rule. However, In 1687 the Venetian army besieged the Turks who were on the Acropolis of Athens. A shell fell on the Parthenon, which was used as a gunpowder depot, causing an explosion that blew up the building, large parts of which were destroyed or hurled.
The Venetians eventually took possession of the Acropolis and in his attempt to steal some sculptures caused further damage. The following year the Venetians left Ancient Athens and the Turks returned. In 1801 AD Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin, the British ambassador to the High Gate, managed to extract from the Sultan a firman authorizing him to remove from the countries under the sultan's jurisdiction whatever antiquity he wanted.
Elgin took various sculptures . In his attempt to grab as much as he could, he also caused great damage. In total, he transported to London 18 statues from the gables, 15 metopes, and 50 stones from the 75-meters-long frieze. In 1815, the British Museum bought the sculptures of the Parthenon from Elgin, where they remain to this day.
The Old Temple of Athena Nike
To the right of the Propylaea, high, on the roof of the old Mycenaean palace, at the southwestern end of the Acropolis of Athens, you can find the small and graceful temple of Athena Nike. During the Mycenaean times, it was fortified with a tower, a continuation of the Mycenaean wall, to protect the main gate of the site and must have been located in the current location of the southern wing of the Propylaea.
At the same time, there was a small sanctuary, with a double niche, on the west side of the cyclopean tower. In 409 BC, a marble shield about 1 m high was built on the edge of the tower, to protect the pilgrims.
This shield consists of relief plates, which depict winged Nike who sacrifice or lead bulls to the sacrifice or decorate trophies, as well as the goddess Athena sitting to watch these scenes. Several of the shield plates as well as parts of the frieze can be admired by the visitor at the Acropolis Museum of Athens, while other parts of the frieze are in the British Museum.
The temple was demolished in 1686 AD. by the Turks, who used the marbles of the temple to strengthen the fortification wall that was built between the Tower of Victory and the Gallery of the Propylaea. In 1835, after the founding of the Greek state, many restoration efforts were made, with the last one being carried out between 2000 and 2010.
Directions and Important information about visiting Acropolis of Athens
Monastiraki Square in the Greek city of Athens - credits: igabriela/Shutterstock.com
You can easily access the archaeological site of Acropolis, as it is located in the city center. You can either walk a few minutes from Monastiraki Square or take the metro red line and disembark at the 'Acropolis' station. Please bear in mind that the opening hours are 8.00 am to 20.00 pm daily during the summer months and the ticket costs 20 euros (including the north and south slope of the hill).
If you plan on visiting the archaeological site, we suggest you take the time to check up-to-date information about opening hours and ticket prices at the official website of the Ministry of Culture and Sports.
Tip! A tour around the Acropolis Museum will help you put all the pieces together, quite literally, as many original artifacts from the Acropolis' buildings are part of the exhibition.
Walking around Acropolis
Begin your Acropolis tour first thing early in the morning, so you can avoid the heat and the crowds. Additionally, a good time to visit the temple would be approximately an hour and a half before it closes; the sun setting dresses the site in an adorning setting under the mystical light of the forthcoming dawn.
Columns of Propylaea gateway - Athens - credits: Fotokon/Shutterstock.com
Enter the site and walk towards the monumental entrance of the Acropolis of Athens, Propylaea. Get ready to be amazed by a Doric-order fronted structure with internal Ionic-order columns. Having served multiple purposes over the centuries, Propylaea were initially designed to provide an impressive entrance to the hill plateau – and it still succeeds in that! Mnesicles, the architect of the building, achieved in embedding the already built temple of Athena Nike as a construction that adjusts to the abnormal terrain of the craggy hill and reflects the fused architectural order of the Parthenon.
Heading towards the entrance, stand on the staircase for a moment to relish the Athena Nike Temple perched on the right wing of Propylaea. Although most depictions of the goddess Athena Nike showed her having wings - as most representations of Victory deities in Greek mythology - the Ionic-order shrine was built to honor Athena as 'Nike Apteros', which means 'wingless victory'; that way, residents of Athens made sure that the wingless goddess would never fly away and abandon their city.
Porch of the Caryatids at Erechtheion temple, Acropolis of Athens - credits: Anastasios71/Shutterstock.com
Continuing your tour in the Acropolis of Athens, walk up the staircase that leads up to the main area of the sanctuary through the impressive towering columns of Propylaea. Erechtheion is found on the left, revealing the famous maidens, Caryatids, standing there, exhuming pure elegance and beauty. The temple was most probably named after Erechtheus, a former heroic ruler of Athens, and according to Greek mythology, this is the place where Athena and Poseidon competed for the patronage and protection of the glorious capital of Greece.
On the right-hand side, the absolute architectural masterpiece of antiquity is erected: the Parthenon, the classical symbol of perfection and harmony! Dedicated to the goddess 'Athena Parthenos', which translates to 'Athena the Virgin', one of the goddess’ multiple qualities, Parthenon was constructed in a time span of nine years and was designed by Iktinos and Kallikratis, while Pheidias – the famous sculptor – supervised the general construction.
It is the literal representation of the golden ratio, as everything in the Parthenon is built in the mathematically perfect analogy of about 1.61. What is also interesting, is that Parthenon's structure lines are barely vertical, as its designers took into consideration optical illusions and used curved lines to present a sight perfect to the human eye. You don’t need to be an architecture geek though to marvel at the perfection of the building and be awed by the magnificence of the Parthenon.
Acropolis entrance fees
From one of our Athens tours
The entrance fees to the Acropolis of Athens are relatively cheap, while they are subject to change from time to time. Depending on the season of your visit, the prices may also vary. Here is the price list of the Acropolis entrance fees for 2020:
- 20€ in the summer season and 10€ in the winter for people from 25 to 65 years from countries both within or outside the European Union.
- 10€ all year round for people from 6 to 25 years old from countries outside the European Union.
*Please note that people who are eligible for free access or a reduced ticket (10€) will need to show their ID to confirm their age and country of origin.
Who is entitled to free access to the Acropolis?
- People up to 25 years old from countries within the European Union.
- Children up to 5 years old from countries both within or outside the European Union.
- People above the age of 65 from countries within the European Union.
Free admission days
There are several days within the year when admission is free for everyone:
- 6 March (in memory of Melina Mercouri)
- 18 April (International Monuments Day)
- 18 May (International Museums Day)
- The last weekend of September annually (European Heritage Days)
- 28 October
- Every first Sunday from November 1st to March 31st
How much time do you need to see the Acropolis?
The Acropolis of Athens is a rather large archaeological site packed full of fascinating monuments and mythical stories under every nook and crevice. Therefore, in order to be able to fully appreciate it and thoroughly wander around its premises, you will need at least 2 hours; any less than that and you won’t have the time to get a proper taste of it.
Can you buy tickets to the Acropolis online?
Yes, fortunately, the site hasn’t stayed back in its ancient times but has rather kept up with the modern, digital world. You are able to buy tickets to the Acropolis online here, and the way to do so is by clicking on ‘Visitors’, completing the 4-step form, and there you have it, your online ticket is ready to go!
One thing you should take into consideration, however, is that while the simple 20€ adult ticket can be printed from your computer, if you wish to buy a reduced ticket, you can only print a voucher with which you will need to go to the Acropolis ticket office to issue your ticket upon showing your ID/passport.
*Please keep in mind that having a prepurchased ticket in hand will help you skip the lines at the ticket office, but the Acropolis rock itself may still be quite crowded.
Explore the sacred rock through fascinating Acropolis tours
Aris, one of our licensed tour guides in Athens
If you want to get an authentic Acropolis experience and appreciate it in all of its glory, your best bet is to join a guided ‘Acropolis and Acropolis Museum Tour’ and let the experts show you around, sharing their valuable knowledge and making you gain a better grasp of the ancient civilization.
If you’re visiting the Acropolis with kids, joining an ‘Acropolis for Families Tour’ will make your life incredibly easy, as our family-friendly, fun guide will make sure to keep your children engaged throughout the whole experience, interacting with them through discussions, story-telling, and entertaining games.
In case your kids are fascinated with the enchanting world of Percy Jackson, you can opt for an ‘Acropolis and Acropolis Museum tour inspired by Percy Jackson’, where with the help of a specially-trained guide, you’ll retrace the steps of the mythical character and watch his adventures come to life!
Additionally, mythology buffs will be glad to know that by booking a ‘Mythology tour of the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum’, they will get local insight into the imaginative tales of Greek mythology associated with every monument they’ll come across on the hill of the Acropolis.
Of course, like true Greeks, we couldn’t help but present you with the opportunity to discover both the magical Acropolis and the riches of Greek cuisine at the same time! Therefore, if you’re a foodie, we highly suggest you take part in the ‘Acropolis Delights: Acropolis & Athens Food Tour’, a 4-hour walking tour that is the perfect blend of history, mythology, culture, and gastronomy.
Alternatively, you can follow the ‘Greek Breakfast Experience With Acropolis Tour’ and upgrade your tour to the Acropolis with a premium Greek breakfast in a cozy, local bistro in the hip neighborhood of Koukaki, made with fresh, traditional Greek products.
Acropolis opening hours
The Acropolis Athens opens its doors to the public from sunrise to sunset, which means that the opening hours depend on the season of your visit. In the summertime, the opening hours are from 08:00 to 19:00, while in the winter, they are from 08:00 to 17:00, with the last admission taking place at 16:30.
Of course, there are a number of days when the archaeological site remains closed, and these are the following:
- 1 January: closed
- 25 March: closed
- 1 May: closed
- Easter Sunday: closed
- 25 December: closed
- 26 December: closed
Can I ensure skip-the-line access to the Acropolis?
If you opt for one of our Acropolis tours, we can provide you with repurchased Acropolis tickets that will help you avoid the huge line that forms at the ticket house, especially during the summer months. However, on the basis of new legislation, all minors under the age of 18 need to show their ID or passport to confirm their age in order to enter the archaeological site.
In that case, the reduced cost tickets must be reserved online and you’ll need to get them at the ticket office on the day of your visit, which may result in some waiting by your side. If, however, you are not a minor and don’t travel with one either, having a ticket in hand is a godsend and you should -without a doubt- take full advantage of it. Just let us know and we’ll make it happen!
Amenities for the physically challenged
Unfortunately, the site as a whole is not very physically challenged-friendly, due to its steep hill, uphill trails, and numerous steps. It is only partially accessible for disabled people and you can examine the accessible part here.
There is a specially-made elevator available on site to accommodate wheelchairs, but it is located at about 350 m. far from the main entrance of the archaeological site, while it is not always open to the public.
For that reason, if you wish to use the elevator, please make sure to contact the Acropolis in advance for additional information (+30 210 3214172, +30 210 9238470), keeping in mind the service is not available during extreme weather conditions and strong winds.
Access to the Acropolis
Being at the heart of Athens, the site of the Acropolis is thankfully incredibly easy to access by car, public transportation, or on foot from the city center. The metro stations that are the closest to the site are the following:
- Metro Station ‘Acropolis’, from which you can then walk up Dionysiou Areopagitou street to reach it.
- Metro Station ‘Monastiraki’, from which you can then walk through the archaeological site of Ancient Agora, or the picturesque district of Plaka to reach it.
Tips for visiting the Acropolis
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and make sure to dress in layers. Athens is a city you can easily walk around! It can get incredibly hot or a bit chilly depending on the time of your visit. Additionally, make sure that your shoes are not only comfortable but also slip-resistant, as there are parts of the site that are very slippery due to the thousand-years old rocks and marble that decorate its ground.
- Bring a hat, sunglasses, a bottle of water -or two- and plenty of sunscreen to protect yourself from the blazing sun of Athens. Even the locals struggle up there.
- Carry with you as little as possible; everything feels like it weighs a hundred pounds when you carry it up a lofty hill under direct sunlight. Please keep in mind that, for security reasons, you can’t enter the site with large luggage, but only with small backpacks and handbags.
- Plan your visit to the Acropolis as early as you can to escape the large crowds and the intense heat, especially during the summer months. You want your exploration of the Acropolis to be a fun, memorable and comfortable experience, not an exhausting obligation!
- Take your time on the hill. This is a once in a lifetime experience and you don’t want to rush it. Explore the sacred rock at your pace, taking in everything before you; you don’t want to return to the hotel and have no recollection of any of its monuments. We know it sounds odd, but excitement and speed can make the whole visit seem like a blur afterward.
- Don’t skip visiting the Acropolis Museum. Although much less exciting to look at, it is by no means lackluster or boring. There, you will have the opportunity to marvel at the artifacts, sculptures and everyday items brought to light from the Acropolis’ excavations and the fascinating stories behind each and every one of the exhibits are sure to leave you in awe!
If we’re talking about cool things to do in Athens, visiting the Acropolis is up there on the list! It is an attraction you can’t miss whether you’re a first-time visitor or a returning fan of Greece. Now that you have all of the practical information at your disposal and a number of tips to make your visit to Athens more enjoyable, you have no excuse but to delve into the magical world of the Acropolis the right way and leave with heaps of knowledge and a better understanding of Greek culture.