Greece is one of those destinations that calls out to travelers. Many of us – especially if we were raised in Western cultures – grow up hearing stories about how important Greek culture is to modern civilization. It almost feels like a pilgrimage to visit Greece at least once. Whether you spend a week exploring Greece, or just a day or two as part of a larger trip through Europe, it’s a fascinating destination.
While the primary purpose of my visit to Greece was a sailing trip, I couldn’t skip visiting the Acropolis while based in Athens for a few days.
I put together a guide to help you get the most out of your experience after exploring both the Acropolis and its accompanying museum. If you don’t feel like reading, you can also watch a short 90-minute video with the same tips.
Bonus: if you’re hungry before or after taking in these famous Athens sights, here’s a guide for where to eat in Athens.
Start at the Acropolis Museum
It’s a chicken and egg question: should you visit the Acropolis first, or the Acropolis Museum? I would argue that you should visit the Acropolis Museum first, and not just because that’s what I did.
The Acropolis Museum helps lay the foundation so you can understand what you’re seeing when you visit the Acropolis itself. The four-level museum is beautifully laid out with thousands of relics on display (and millions more being cataloged and preserved). You can explore each level to your heart’s content, learning far more about the history and purpose of the Acropolis than you’ll get at the Acropolis – even with a guide.
Additionally, the Acropolis Museum’s top level is a modern version of the Parthenon. As you wander the beautiful glass hallways on the top floor, you’ll be walking the equivalent of the perimeter of the Parthenon. It is also home to major artifacts and reconstructions of the Parthenon, giving you a sense of the impressive scale that the Parthenon once had.
Tips for Visiting the Acropolis Museum
- Entry is just €5 for the main museum; occasionally there are special exhibits which cost an additional fee.
- The museum has a summer and winter schedule, so be sure to check which one applies before you visit.
- Photography or videography is limited on the lower floors of the museum. You can shoot as much video or photos as you like on the top floor.
Take in the Amazing Views – Especially from the Terrace
While at the Acropolis Museum, be sure to take time to admire the views of the Acropolis from the different floors. In particular, the top floor and terrace offer spectacular views, and are high enough above nearby buildings that you can really enjoy what you’re seeing.
On the terrace, you can also enjoy a meal or drink from the museum cafe and restaurant in between visiting different floors. Both offer spectacular views (the restaurant is inside, whereas the cafe is on the terrace). Every Friday, you can stay late at the museum (until midnight) to enjoy dinner and a view of the Acropolis lit up for night.
Arrive Early – or Late
When it comes time to visit the Acropolis, you have two choices: arrive early, or arrive late. If you want to enjoy your experience, don’t arrive in the middle of the day! The Acropolis is Greece’s second most popular tourist sight (after Santorini) and draws crowds year round. Avoid said crowds by waking up early or turning up within the last two hours before closing.
The Acropolis is open nearly every day of the year at 8am. If you decide to go in the morning, arrive before 7:30am as there may be a queue, and be sure to bring lots of water. The sun in Greece gets intense quite quickly, and facilities are limited once you climb up into the main part of the Acropolis. (There are bathrooms and a water fountain in the southeast corner.)
If you decide to go to the Acropolis in the late afternoon, you’re going to sacrifice being able to spend as much time as you like among the ruins. Since the Acropolis closes at 8pm most days, the stewards begin shepherding everyone out 15-30 minutes before that – the climb down takes time and they want to ensure everyone is out at 8pm.
We visited the Acropolis in the evening, and were annoyed to be shepherded out so early, especially as the ticket agents hadn’t warned us that we had less than an hour to see the whole site. Acropolis tickets are €20 per person* so make sure you plan enough time to get your money’s worth.
Pro-Tip for Skipping the Queue and Saving Money
If you know you’re going to see some other sights in Athens (such as Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, or Olympieon), invest in the Multiticket for €30 instead (€10 in winter). This will get you access to seven major sights, plus allows you to skip the queue at the Acropolis if you already have your ticket before you go.
While exploring the Acropolis, you’re going to be looking down – a lot! The white marble stones are quite slippery and uneven, and it takes steady steps to keep from stumbling or falling.
Make sure to stop, find even ground, and look up sometimes. One of the most amazing parts of the Acropolis was not that it was built, but how it was built. Many of the Ionic columns are topped with beautiful volutes and egg-and-dart design. For you non-architecture buffs, that means they’re really, really pretty. You’re missing out on the details of what make the Acropolis so impressive, if you don’t attempt to take in the whole view.
Take in Views Other than the Parthenon
Most people visit the Acropolis just to see the Parthenon, and I admit that was a major draw for me. (Once I learned the difference between the two, which I’ll admit I only learned at the Acropolis Museum.) While exploring the Acropolis, be sure to spend time exploring the other ruins, such as the Temple of Athena Nike or the Erechtheum with its famous Porch of the Caryatids.
There are also really impressive views of Athens from all angles at the Acropolis. Built as a temple and later used for various defensive plans, the Acropolis’ base, a rocky outcropping, towers above the entire rest of the city. It’s a great chance to see what else is around from a different perspective.
(P.S. Why yes, I did just write a post AND shoot a video of the Acropolis with virtually no images of the Parthenon. There’s SO much more to see!)
If you love museums, don’t forget to add the Stoa of Attalos (the Museum of the Ancient Agora) to your list too! Athens is full of amazing museums, so be sure to plan time to enjoy them all.