What You Need to Know Before Visiting the Acropolis

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Visible from almost anywhere in the downtown area, the Acropolis is as central to modern Athens as it was in its heyday nearly 1500 years ago. By far the biggest tourist attraction in the city, no visit is complete without ascending the hill to marvel at the Parthenon and all the other buildings and ruins that make up the site.

Unsurprisingly, then, the Acropolis sees plenty of visitors year-round, and becomes almost impossibly busy during tourist season. If you’re going there between mid-spring and mid-autumn (and despite the heaving crowds, you definitely should), a bit of forward planning will be the difference between an enjoyable visit and a miserable one.

With that in mind, my top tips for visiting the Acropolis are:

  • Go as early as possible
  • Don’t use the main entrance
  • Buy your tickets in advance
  • Pay attention to the opening hours
  • Wear appropriate clothing
  • Head straight to the top
  • Don’t forget the museum

Here’s what you need to know.


The Best Time to Visit the Acropolis Is as Early as Possible

When the cruise ships are in town, roughly April through October, the best time to visit the Acropolis is as early as possible. In reality, that means you should aim to get there at least half an hour before opening time.

I can’t emphasise this enough. We visited in mid-September, and there was no shortage of tourists in Athens. Even so, we were almost the only people ascending the steps of the famous Propylaea (monumental gateway) at the top of the hill, following a fast walk from the entrance gate after it opened ten minutes earlier.

Acropolis without the crowds
Acropolis entrance without the crowds

With the sun’s rays peeking through the columns of the Pantheon and just a few other people dotted around the sprawling site, it was one of those breathtaking, reflective moments that’s getting increasingly hard to find in the age of mass tourism.

No more than 20 minutes later, a vast wall of sound announced the arrival of the crowds. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it, and the ambiance instantly disappeared, replaced by a seething sprawl of humanity.

Hundreds upon hundreds of people swarmed through the entranceway, and even walking around became an ordeal. Tour leaders led their charges from building to building, flags waving as commentary in a dozen languages filled the silent spaces.

Acropolis with the crowds
Acropolis entrace, half an hour later

I left the hilltop not long afterward, sad I didn’t have longer to explore in solitude, but glad to have even the short time I got. If I’d lain in bed half an hour longer, I wouldn’t have.

Don’t Use the Main Entrance

Line waiting to enter the Acropolis
Line at the southeast entrance of the Acropolis

The Acropolis has two visitor entrances. The main one on Rovertou Galli is right beside the parking lot, and as a result, it’s the one used by tour groups. In summer, it’s not unusual to have to wait an hour or more in line there once the buses start rolling in.

Instead, enter via the ticket office at the southeast of the site, on Dionysiou Areopagitou near the Acropolis Museum. The climb to the top is fairly similar in length and difficulty from either entrance, but everything is less chaotic, and the lines are usually much shorter.

The exact spot isn’t marked on Google Maps, so use this link to get you to the right place. Coming from the east, if you get to the entrance of the Acropolis Museum, you’ve gone slightly too far.

Buy Your Acropolis Tickets in Advance

During the tourist season, the best way to skip the ticket line at the Acropolis is to simply pick up a multi-site ticket the day before. Costing €30 year-round, it gives access to several different historic sites in central Athens.

As well as the Acropolis, the combination ticket lets you enter the Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Kerameikos, Aristotle’s School, the Olympieion, and the Roman Agora, once each over a five-day period.

The Temple of Hephaestus at the Ancient Agora

You can buy these tickets at any of the listed sites, all of the rest of which are far quieter than the Acropolis at any time of day. We bought ours at the Ancient Agora the previous morning, and visited several of the smaller sites throughout the afternoon.

When the gates opened at the Acropolis the next day, the line split into two. Those without tickets waited impatiently to buy them from the booth, while everyone who already had one simply scanned it at the turnstiles and walked straight through.

If you only want to see the Acropolis, a single full-price ticket costs €20 between April and October. It’s possible to buy these in advance for a few extra euros, which lets you skip the ticket line even without a multi-site pass. You’ll need to exchange your voucher for a ticket at a local travel agent’s office nearby before entering the Acropolis.

Just to be clear, having an advance ticket or multi-site pass only lets you skip the line for the ticket booth. If you arrive later in the day when there’s a line for the entry turnstiles as well, you’ll still need to wait in that.

Visiting the Acropolis in Winter

You’ll get 50% off the individual ticket price at all ancient sites during the winter months, but not the combination pass. Since the lines are shorter in winter anyway, you may as well save money and buy single passes as needed if that’s when you’re visiting.

50% discounts are also available year-round to seniors and non-EU students, with free entry for children under 18, EU students, people with significant disabilities, and others. Bring appropriate ID if you plan to claim one of these discounted tickets.

Free Entry to the Acropolis

Entrance is free on a few specific days each year, as below. I’d personally avoid visiting on those days since the crowds are even bigger than usual, but if you’re on a tight budget, it’s an option.

  • 6 March
  • 18 April
  • 18 May
  • The last weekend of September
  • 28 October
  • The first Sunday of the month from November through March

Pay Attention to the Opening Hours

The Acropolis has two different sets of opening hours, one for the summer season from the start of April until the end of October, and one for the winter season that covers the rest of the year.

In summer, the Acropolis is open from 08:00 a.m until 8:00 p.m each day. Plan to arrive by 7:30 a.m. to be close to the start of the line.

From November through March, the Acropolis is open from 08:30 a.m until 5:00 p.m. Although it’s not open for as long at this time of year, you’ve actually got more flexibility about when you go due to the reduced visitor numbers. No matter what time of year you visit, the last entry is half an hour before closing time.

View from the top of the Acropolis
View from the top of the Acropolis

The Acropolis is closed entirely on many public holidays, as below. Double-check the hours ahead of time if you’re visiting on other public holidays as well.

  • 1 January
  • 25 March
  • 1 May
  • Easter Sunday
  • 25 December
  • 26 December

Wear Appropriate Clothing

Going early during the summer months has another advantage beyond beating the crowds: it beats the worst of the heat as well. It was relatively cool when we walked through the gates at 8:00 am, but by the time we left 90 minutes later, the sun was out in full force.

There’s no real shade or shelter on most of the site, and a single water fountain at the top that quickly gets very busy. Take plenty of water with you, along with appropriate sun protection.

If you’re there in winter, on the other hand, it can get cold, windy, and wet at the Acropolis. Warm clothing and a rain jacket are important at that time of year.

While most (although not all) of the areas where you can walk on the hilltop itself are relatively flat and well maintained, the same can’t be said for the paths that lead up there. No matter which direction you enter from, expect to encounter some uneven steps and rough ground along the way.

Looking back, Acropolis

Ironically, when the ground isn’t rough, it can actually be too smooth. The weathered steps have been worn down by humans and the elements to a point where they’re often very slick, especially if there’s been any rain. It’s easy to slip!

As a result, whatever the weather, wear enclosed shoes with plenty of grip and padding. Sneakers with decent tread are much better than flip-flops or high heels. Proper walking sandals are likely ok as well, but don’t be surprised if you stub your toe on the occasional rock along the way.

There is an elevator that lets people in wheelchairs skip the ten-minute climb, but it’s been out of order since September 2018. The entrance to the lift was roped off when we were there.

Head Straight to the Top, Then Work Your Way Back

While the Parthenon and other important buildings on the top of the hill get most of the attention at the Acropolis, there’s plenty else worth visiting on both the northern and southern slopes.

Even so, if you’re visiting in summer, my advice is to ignore everything else when you first arrive, and head to the top as quickly as possible. When you’ve probably only got half an hour or so until the crowds arrive at the Parthenon, don’t spend that time checking out other buildings along the way.

The area on the top of the hill has housed many buildings over the years, some of which remain reasonably intact, some that are little more than excavated foundations. I explored the largest first, making my way slowly from the entrance past the Temple of Athena Nike, Parthenon, and Erechtheion, to the raised terrace with glorious views over the city at the rear.

Once the crowds started appearing, I then went back to the smaller buildings and ruins. That approach worked pretty well, as most visitors understandably make a beeline straight for the Parthenon when they arrive.

When even those areas became uncomfortably busy, I pushed back through the tour groups at the entrance, and explored the remainder of the northern and southern slopes. There’s a path below the summit that loops around the Acropolis, but the eastern section of it was blocked off, so I had to double back to see it all.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Odeon of Herodes Atticus

We’d walked straight past the Temple of Dionysus on the way in, and looked over the top of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. They’d both be major attractions in their own right anywhere else in the world, and returning to them on the way back down meant we could explore at a much more leisurely pace.

While the Odeon was still fairly busy by the time I got there, it wasn’t a patch on the flash mob I’d left at the top. The Temple of Dionysus was almost deserted, which was a wonderful surprise.

Don’t Forget the Acropolis Museum

The old Acropolis Museum used to be housed onsite, at the top of the hill. In 2009, however, it moved to a brand-new building nearby on Dionysiou Areopagitou. It’s very close to the side entrance that I recommend above, so if you exit where you came in, you’ll have no trouble finding it.

Entry to the Acropolis Museum costs €10 in summer, and it’s worth every cent. The museum is not covered by the Athens multi-site ticket, but like the ancient sites, discounts are available in winter and for various groups.

The lines were short when we arrived mid-morning, but longer when we left a couple of hours later. They moved fast, though, and while you can book in advance to skip the ticket line, you probably don’t need to unless you’re there in the heart of summer.

Ancient Greek writing, Acropolis Museum

Full of art, artifacts, statues, archaeological remains, and much more from the top and slopes of the Acropolis, there’s a lot to see inside. Two floors are devoted to the permanent exhibits, while the other two house temporary exhibitions, multimedia galleries, cafes, shops, and restaurants. In summer, the air conditioning is very welcome!

Between the Acropolis and the Museum, it’s easy to spend an entire morning in the area. Unless you’re really in a hurry, don’t rush either of them.

So there you have it, my top tips for visiting the Acropolis in Athens. Have a great time!


7 things you need to know before visiting the Acropolis

2 Responses to “What You Need to Know Before Visiting the Acropolis

  • Thanks for all this useful information Dave! I’m planning a trip to Athens in a couple of months, this comes at the perfect timing. 🙂

    Would you have other suggestions of other must-see places in Athens?
    And any restaurant that you particularly enjoyed?

    Many thanks!

    • Funnily enough this piece started off as a more general guide to Athens, and then the Acropolis section got so big that I split it out into a separate post. Hopefully I’ll get around to writing up the rest of it before long!

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