Updated: Apr 6
Have you ever dreamed of visiting Athens and climbing up to the Acropolis?
We did, and after some research and selecting options that worked best for us, we had the most amazing experience. On our second morning in Athens, bright and early, we headed to the side entrance of the Acropolis (away from the tour buses). Research indicated that though both the front and side entrances (and climbs) were equally challenging, starting away from the parking lots was less crowded and the best option for us.
Slow and steady, we made our way up the winding path to the marble steps near the top. It was not easy, but it was not overly difficult. The angles were somewhat steep and it was a near consistent climb, but something almost anyone could do. The key is always to take your time and move at your own pace.
As we approached the steps and started to climb, we were asked to stand aside and make room for the guards. It happened that at that moment, the Presidential Guards were leaving the Acropolis, in their determined and structure routine, after having raised the flag. Once they passed, we walked through the columns and Acropolis Hill opened itself up to us. It was utterly beautiful.
Speaking of the flag, have you heard the heroic story of the two teenage boys who secretly climbed to the Acropolis to remove the Nazi flag? We hadn't until we were in Athens. In the dead of night on May 30, 1941, armed with nothing but book knowledge, two young Greek men climbed over wire fences, up to the hill and silently removed the Nazi flag. It was seen as the first major act of resistance in Europe, and the Greek flag remains posted there today as a reminder. Neither of us are Greek, but the story moved us, and standing atop that hill, we were proud to see that flag.
TIP: If you plan on visiting the Acropolis without a guide, purchase a combo ticket from one of the other ancient sites included in the package in the day/s before you visit the Acropolis. This allows you to avoid the long lines at the Acropolis ticket office on the day of the visit, as the combo ticket is valid at all participating sites for the next consecutive 5 days. If you'd like to combine everything into one package, consider a combo tour, like a full Athens Tour with Acropolis Museum.
We spent a lot of time at the top, walking across every possible area, not wanting to miss a different view or angle. The Parthenon, even covered in scaffolding, is a gorgeous piece of architecture. Impressive and intimidating, it commands respect. The Erechtheion is equally impressive, especially the phenomenal Porch of the Maidens (or, The Ladies, as I called them). The Maidens were once six in total. One was taken and now stands in the British Museum, the remaining five are on display at the Acropolis Museum. The artifacts upon the Acropolis Hill are beautiful replicas.
While taking in the monuments and outstanding views from the Acropolis, we in fact experienced each area at least twice. The skies were partially cloudy that morning, and from time to time, the clouds would part, sometimes partially, sometimes fully, and the brilliant sun would shine on the marbled structures. When fully exposed to the sunshine, it would be an understatement to say that they glowed.
TIP: If you want to avoid the big crowds but don't want to play tour guide on your own, you may want to opt for a Private Ancient Athens tour (which includes the Acropolis).
The Parthenon may be the main attraction for most tourists, but there is so much more to the Acropolis and surrounding area. Leaving the hill, we walked back down through winding paths to the north and south slopes to visit the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Theatre of Dionysus. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a beautiful theatre, sometimes still used for events and performances. The Theatre of Dionysus is somewhat less impressive visually, but historically considered the world’s first theatre.
After lapping up the outdoor history, we headed indoors for some more via the new Acropolis Museum. Underneath the museum, partially exposed to visitors as they enter, is an excavation site from the early Byzantine era. Inside, the museum is spacious and considerate, each artifact provided the respect it deserves. The museum gift shop lured us in with it’s beautiful gifts and we left carrying heavy bags of souvenirs. (I don’t think we have ever spent as much money on gifts for ourselves as we did in Greece).
After an eventful morning, we cleaned up and headed out for a late lunch. There are endless restaurants to choose from in Athens. If you want to guarantee a great meal and experience, opt for one of the many available food tours that include both sites and tastes, like a Private Ancient Athens & Food Tour or an Athens Walking Food Tour.
After lunch, I ventured out on my own in search of Socrates’ Prison and the Pnyx, one of the earliest sites where Greeks would gather and one of the most important sites in the creation of democracy. I felt comfortable and safe walking the streets of Athens alone, but admittedly, searching for the sites around the Acropolis was a bit of a challenge without a guide. Had it not been for my fear of getting lost in the dark, I would have walked for hours into the night.
TIP: If you prefer to have a guide walk with you to all of the sites around the Acropolis, there are many tours, like this Hiking Around the Acropolis Rock tour or Walking Around the Acropolis Sunset tour, that combine art, history with a casual walk.
The Acropolis is by far the most recognizable attraction in Athens, but it is certainly not alone. This modern but ancient city is not afraid of welcoming the future, but will never forget (or stop celebrating) it's illustrious past.