Note: This post on mistakes to avoid when visiting the Acropolis is a guest post by Monique Skidmore of Trip Anthropologist. See below the post for our recommendations and tips.
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No visit to Athens is complete without stopping by the Acropolis, one of the most important archaeological sites on earth. For many, a visit to this incredible place is a highlight of their time in Greece.
There are a few pitfalls, however, that can take your trip from totally mind-blowing to kind of underwhelming. At best, visiting the Acropolis is magical – but at its worst, it can be hot, over-crowded and slippery!
So, to make sure you see the Acropolis at its best, here are ten common mistakes – and how to avoid them.
The Top Mistakes You Can Make When Visiting the Acropolis
Here are the worst mistakes you can make when you visit the Acropolis.
Not buying your ticket in advance
The last thing you want to do when you finally arrive at the Acropolis is spending hours waiting to buy your ticket! Not only does it eat into your sightseeing time, but it’s also likely to be hot and uncomfortable.
Luckily, since 2017, you have been able to buy tickets to the Acropolis online through the official Greek Ministry of Culture website or through Get Your Guide. I recommend booking through Get Your Guide as your ticket will be refundable up to 24 hours in advance. On the other hand, if you book through the official website then you cannot make any changes once you’ve bought your ticket.
Another great tip is to buy a skip-the-line ticket. It does cost 5 euros more, however, this will keep time in hot and boring queues to an absolute minimum. That leaves more time to explore the Acropolis!
The absolute best ticket to pre-purchase is a Skip-the-line ticket that you download to your phone and doesn’t have to be exchanged for a “real” paper ticket at an office or kiosk hundreds of meters away from the Acropolis entrance.
Visiting during the busiest time
The Acropolis is amazing, but the experience is not as great when there’s a sea of people and searing heat. Not only is it uncomfortable, but there’s also the difficulty of trying to capture some great photos when every square inch is crawling with visitors!
The Acropolis is so popular that it’s pretty much impossible to visit without sharing it with at least a few other eager visitors! However, with a bit of pre-planning, you can see it at its best.
The Acropolis is at its busiest around 10 am to 2 pm, which is when the cruise ships and day-trippers arrive. You can beat them to it by arriving as early as possible. The site opens at 8 am, so I recommend arriving at 7:30 am so you can be near the front of the line.
You’ll be able to enjoy the Acropolis a lot more, without the crowds and before the sun is out in force! This is especially the case during the busy summer season when temperatures are often over 35°C degrees (95°F).
If you aren’t able to visit early, the next best option is to go in the late afternoon when the crowds have thinned. The Acropolis stays open quite late, especially in summer, so you can visit after 5 pm to have a calmer and more enjoyable experience.
A final reason to skip the most crowded time of day is about photography. The Parthenon, in particular, is difficult to photograph without a wide-angle lens. As you look out from the Acropolis over Athens, the panoramic views are best captured with a wide-angle lens. It’s hard to take these shots amid a throng of tourists!
Using the main entrance
Another big mistake (that most visitors make) is using the main entrance to enter the Acropolis. Sure, you’ll get in – along with hundreds and hundreds of other people.
Instead, use the lesser-known second entrance located at the south of the site. You enter through the ticket office, on Dinysiou Areopagitou, not far from the Acropolis Museum. The line here is usually much shorter than the main entrance on Rovertou Galli.
By using this entrance, you’ll save some precious sightseeing time! This is especially important if you are visiting during the Acropolis peak period between 10 am to 2 pm.
Not wearing appropriate shoes
To get to the top of the Acropolis (where the Propylaia, Pantheon, and Erechtheoin are), you need to walk about twenty minutes uphill. While the walk is not difficult, it’s not the place to wear your stilettos!
The stones on the ground have been worn smooth over the centuries, meaning they are extremely slippery – especially if there’s been any rain. Make sure to wear footwear with a bit of grip. Sneakers and hiking boots are great options! A bit of ankle support is also a good thing.
There is an elevator for people with mobility concerns, however, check ahead to make sure it’s working as it is often out of service.
Trying to do it alone
The Acropolis is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites, and its history is seriously astonishing. It can be quite overwhelming to try to understand the site’s incredible history all on your own. Without some kind of guide, you’re likely to miss out on a lot of the smaller details and context.
This is especially the case as there is not a great deal of signage around the site.
The ultimate way to experience the Acropolis is to take a guided tour so that you can ask questions and hear some insider information. However, if you’re on a budget, then there are several excellent audio guides available to download – completely free. The Rick Steves’ Europe audio guide is particularly well-regarded.
Forgetting to visit the Acropolis Museum
If you think the Acropolis looks a tad empty, that’s because the smaller objects and artifacts have been moved out of the site. This way, they can be preserved and studied.
Luckily, they’re not too far away – just down the street, in fact, at the Acropolis Museum. Sadly, quite a few people skip over the Museum. This is a big mistake! The recently renovated Museum is full of artifacts that give a glimpse into what life at the Acropolis was once like.
You can visit the Museum before or after the Acropolis (do note you’ll need a separate ticket). It comes down to personal preference, however, if you only have one day then I’d recommend visiting the Acropolis first to avoid the crowds, and then going to the Museum afterward.
Once you’ve seen the images that have been removed from the Acropolis, you have a whole different perspective on just how incredible it must have been to have seen it in Antiquity.
Not leaving enough time to see everything
The Acropolis is essentially a very large rocky complex, made up of many different structures. However, many visitors just rush up to the Parthenon before leaving the site – missing out on many great places along the way.
For example, the Erechtheion is famous for the astonishing Caryatids – the sculptures of the maidens – that support for the porch that faces the Parthenon.
But the Erechtheion is also the location of “trident marks” where the god Poseidon wanted to show his power and struck the ground with his trident causing seawater to spout from the ground.
There is a hole deliberately left in the ceiling of the Erechtheoin that architects left there to show the path of Poseidon’s trident as it flew through the air before lodging in the ground.
On the opposite side of the Erechtheion is the sacred olive tree. It was replanted after the original olive tree was chopped down by the invading Persians.
The original olive tree is believed to have grown from the spot where the goddess Athena struck the ground with her spear in a bid to be seen as more powerful than Poseidon. Apparently, the Athenian love of olives won out and Athena won the context as the most powerful and revered deity in Athens.
I recommend leaving a minimum of two hours to properly visit the Acropolis, but you might like to stay even longer. The longer that you can stay, the more time you’ll have to discover all the smaller details and oft-overlooked places on both the Northern and Southern Slopes.
Again, a guide can help you to discover all the different sights. Another option is to take a walking trail such as the Peripatos Walk. It takes about two hours in total, and you won’t want to rush through – so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time.
Not bringing any water
Your trip to the Acropolis is unlikely to be as enjoyable if you find yourself thirsty, hot and bothered while exploring it. There is one water fountain at the Acropolis, but there’s nowhere to buy water once you’re inside the site.
This means that bringing some kind of hydration is a must! It can get extremely hot at the Acropolis in summer, and the walk is quite tiring. If you drink it all, you can fill it back up at the water fountain.
If you’re visiting in summer, you’ll also want to wear some sunscreen to make sure you don’t leave the Acropolis looking like a lobster!
Skipping the southern slopes of the Acropolis
The most show-stopping parts of the Acropolis are on top of the hill such as the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, and many visitors barely glance at what’s around the lower part. This is a big mistake! There are major archaeological sites to see on the Southern Slope.
Most famously, the Theatre of Dionysos was a central point of religious life in Athens from the 6th Century B.C. It is also considered the birthplace of the European Theatre.
The plays performed here honored Dionysos and were written by some of the greatest Greek writers such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
The most impressive structure on the southern slopes is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This enormous stone theatre was completed by 161 AD, It once had a Lebanese cedar roof but the Odeon was destroyed by the Heruli (an East Germanic tribe) in 267AD.
It remains a wonderful part of the Acropolis – be careful on the steps from the Acropolis down the slope to the Odeon!
Several smaller sights are well worth exploring, including caves, churches and several sanctuaries.
So, once you have headed to the top to take in the dazzling views, be sure to leave some time to explore the wider sights.
Not getting the combined ticket if you’re visiting multiple sites
Archaeology lover? History buff? If so, then chances are you’ll want to visit other sites than just the Acropolis. However, those entry fees will start to add up if you are purchasing them individually.
Luckily, there’s a great solution that will leave more euros in your pocket. You can purchase a multi-pass which will give you access to a number of the most important archaeological sites. This includes Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Agora. You’ll be able to visit all of the sites over five consecutive days.
You can only buy the Special Package Ticket on the official Ministry of Culture website, or at the entrance to the sites. As the Special Package Ticket is the same price all year round (30 euros), it is better value in summer when the Acropolis ticket price alone is 20 euro.
About the Author: Monique Skidmore is an award-winning cultural anthropologist and a prize-winning writer. An Australian and a long-time expert on Myanmar, Monique blogs about the culture, history and scenic beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating and iconic destinations.
See below for our Greece resources and tips.
Organized Tours Mentioned in this Post
Here are all the guided tours mentioned in this post in one easy-to-reference list:
5 Things to Bring with You to Greece
If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.
– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.
– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in Athens is drinkable, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! There are places in Greece, especially on the island, where the water tastes like minerals.
We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.
– Motion sickness pills. Santorini roads are winding, especially around the coast. If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.
– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.
– Travel safety items. We think Athens is safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Allison or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.
It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.
Where to Stay in Athens
We have a complete guide to where to stay in Athens, plus a separate post for those looking for the best hotels with Acropolis views. If you are looking for our overall top picks, here are the best places to stay in Athens for each budget category:
Budget: If you’re looking for a budget hotel in lively Monastiraki, book a stay at Fivos Hotel. Located right by Monastiraki Station, the hotel has free wifi and ensuite bathrooms. Most rooms include continental breakfast. You’ll be just minutes from Ermou Street, Monastiraki Flea Market, and the Cathedral.
Mid-Range: For my most recent trip to Athens, we stayed in a couple of different places, but my favorite was the Ares Athens Hotel off of Omonia Square. I loved it’s location, close to Omonia station, across the street from a Coffee Island (my personal version of Heaven), and with views of Mount Lycabettus. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and each room has a private terrace.
Luxury: To enjoy a bit of luxury in the middle of Monastiraki, check into the four-star Emporikon Athens Hotel. The rooms are sophisticated and swanky, with a mid of modern textures and colors with a traditional take on comfort. Located in Agia Irini Square, the building dates back to the nineteenth century. This is a true Athens boutique hotel in one of my favorite parts of the city.
More Greece Travel Resources
First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more.
Next, you’ll want to read our all-season Greece packing list.
Since if you landed on this page, chances are you’ll be spending time in Athens! Check out our Athens Instagram guide, the best Athens day trips, and our complete Athens hotel guide. We also have a guide to the best things to do in Athens in winter.
We also have Athens safety tips so your trip can be hassle-free. We are currently working on our mega-post of things to do in Athens as well as our itineraries, so stay tuned!
We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world!
Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While Athens is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel,” and we think it’s true!
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