CONTRIBUTED BY MICHELLE W.
No trip to Athens is complete without venturing into the vast complex of the Acropolis. The most recognizable building is the Parthenon.
Since Neolithic times, this limestone hill has been at the very heart of Athens and remains one of the most visited attractions in Athens. Come see the temples and sanctuaries where Greek philosophers and Xerxes once stood. It’s has one of the best views of modern day Athens.
Tip: Pack light (snacks) and dress in comfortable and light (fabric) clothing for walking. Bring bottled water—there are 2 water fountains on the top of the Acropolis to refill your water bottle. Wear sturdy shoes with nice grip. The stone on top of the Acropolis is very slick that is made worse with rain. During the summer, wear a hat and don’t forget to put on sunblock. Not many spots on top of the hill to avoid the sun’s rays.
Walking along the path from the ticket booth, you’ll come to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. An impressive 5,000-seat amphitheater that during the summer months hosts many musical and theatrical performances can be viewed along the pathway. This year, the festival season will be June 1st through August 31st. Herodes Atticus, a Greek with Roman citizenship and good friends with Emperor Hadrian, built the amphitheater in memory of his wife. Although it was destroyed and rebuilt, the ruins still host performances for which it was built for and if you’re lucky, you could catch a free show while they’re practicing for this festival.
As you continue climbing the narrow steps towards the grand gates of Propylaea (entry into the Acropolis), it’s a good spot to catch your breath or take a family photo. It can get crowded very quickly but the zigzag path keeps the tourists moving. In Ancient times, this was a colonnade entry lined with paintings that resembled a “mini Parthenon”. If you’re on the steps, look up and to your right to see the Temple of Athena Nike. Currently, there’s no entry to see the temple personally so this would be your only vantage point. This small temple dedicated to Athena, patron God to Athens, was the chosen spot for citizens to worship Athena to ensure their future victories (“Nike”) and ask for protection for Athens.
There are many signs stating not to touch the marbled columns and depending on restoration, there could be scaffolding blocking some of the beautiful architecture. If you hear a whistle, someone or perhaps yourself are getting a warning from the staff for doing something wrong.
As you cross the threshold of the Propylaea, you’re officially now inside the Acropolis. The beautiful six caryatids or maidens are to your left and the Parthenon is to your right. The six Caryatids on the Acropolis are only replicas as the originals are in museums in London, France and four are inside the New Acropolis Museum. Take your time to enjoy the hill and tour the hill in a circular fashion as to not miss anything.
Directly ahead is the Acropolis flag where you can stand to see incredible views of the Plaka and Monastiraki districts, Temple of Olympian Zeus and Lykavittos Hill (Athens highest point with the gleaming white Chapel of St George). The Acropolis flag is raised once the hill is opened to the public and when it removed, it’s closed.
One noticeable aspect of the Parthenon in my opinion is it’s pretty “bare-bones” and your imagination must take over. Standing impressive at the highest point of the hill, it’s the largest Doric temple throughout all of Greece. It’s 228 feet long and 101 feet wide. You are not able to enter the interior but you can walk around the perimeter.
There are informational displays on the east side of the building (also one of the water fountains is here). Statues and reliefs that once decorated the temple are gone and very few remain on the building today.
The most impressive piece of artwork that used to be on the Parthenon is the relief carvings called “metopes” that was mounted throughout the entire building on the crossbeams. 92 metopes depicted the epic battle between the Amazons and the Athenians that crossed under the Pediment. On the pediment, were statues of Poseidon, Athena, Zeus, horses, olive trees and other Gods. If you go inside the New Acropolis Museum on the top floor, they have reconstructed this layout of artwork to mimics the Parthenon. Also, on the top level of the museum is a miniature version of the pediment in its full glory. It’s a must see!
Only one original statue of the pediment remains on the Parthenon. Underneath the metopes, there was a 525-foot long frieze of panels that depicted an annual grand parade Athens once celebrated. Each frieze had images of dancing citizens, men riding horses, food being brought to the festival and much more while the Gods looked on. Originals can be found in the British Museum and a few can be seen inside the New Acropolis Museum. Many of the original friezes that were scattered around Europe are being sought for return to Greece.
For families traveling with young children, there is not much to do or to play on the hill. With lots of story telling, you can make your trip to the Acropolis much more entertaining and memorable. For example, for my daughter, I talked to her in great depth about Athena. She was enthralled with the Greek myths how Athena was born, why Athens received its name, why olive trees and owls are symbolic and how Athena was a strong warrior for the Greek people. This helped a great deal to stomp out all boredom and bring a bit of educational tidbits whilst on vacation.
For my younger son, we focused on Zeus. There is a great children’s book that we purchased at the New Acropolis Museum that explains Greek mythology in short stories for children to easily understand. During our three week stay in Greece, I read this book to my son about 3 times and to this day, he can tell you all about Zeus, Hercules, the Trojan horse and Medusa.
Once you leave Acropolis Hill, there is so much for the children to explore, eat and see. Later, as you venture around town, the children will always catch a glimpse of the hill and point out “Hey, I went there!”
- You can purchase the Acropolis ticket for each adult for around 12 Euros (check website for current rates) which also has entry tickets attached for the following attractions: Ancient Agora, Roman Forum, Keramikos Cemetery, Temple of Olympian Zeus and Theater of Dionysus.
- Children under 18 years old are FREE!
- Arrive at the Acropolis early before they’re officially open due to the long lines especially during the summer, to avoid the midday heat or visit later in the day after the tour groups have left.
- Keep your ticket handy and don’t misplace since you will use the ticket again as you near the top of the hill.
- When you arrive, take a look at the ticket windows. People tend to line up at the first window and most don’t realize there is another to the left of the main counter. We skipped about half an hour of waiting with our kids due to this error of the other tourists.