Perhaps the most recognized building in western civilization, the Parthenon watches over Athens from its perch atop the Acropolis. Coming to Greece without seeing it would be a shame. The site is absolutely amazing. The history is rich on this hilltop.
Getting to the Parthenon
Getting to the Parthenon is as easy as surviving the Athens metro system, which in all honesty may not be that easy. Meagan ranks riding the Athens metro among the most scary experiences of her life. It really isn’t that bad. Considering that a full third of the Greek population lives in Athens and the metro is made up of just three train lines, you can imagine that it might be a little cramped. Ok, very cramped. Ok, like sardines. I’ve never ridden a train in Asia, which I hear is absolutely insane, but I have been on what I thought were some pretty crowded trains in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York, and Paris. Athens blew them away in terms of crampedness.
I am not telling you this to scare you away from visiting the Parthenon, I really think you need to go there. I am however telling you this so you can be prepared. Just realize that you are going to get very close to some Greeks, and like in any crowded city you need to be alert for pick pockets. While I’m sure many people make this trip with children every day it is not something that I would want to try to do. If you are taking your kids to the Acropolis, then I might suggest taking a cab if you can find it in your budget to do so. Since I didn’t I can’t give you any advice on this. But I was offered one many times at the port and I can tell you they are plentiful; I’m sure the airport is the same way.
If you do take the metro look for the Acropolis stop to get off. There are other stops you could use, but this one will let you out right by the East gate to the hill where lines are much shorter. We pretty much walked right in through the East gate but when we came over the hill we saw very long lines on the other side (near Mars Hill). Just to clarify, the Acropolis is the hill itself which includes various buildings, while the Parthenon is the main building/attraction at the top of the hili.
You will have the choice at the ticket booth of purchasing either a €30 combined ticket, or a €20 Acropolis only ticket. We got the combined ticket because we were also visiting the Agora later in the day. There are several other sites on the combined ticket, but we did not have time to visit them before we needed to be back on the ship.
The early in the day you can arrive the better. This allows you to avoid long lines, crowded sites, and heat.
Note: Near the East gate are vending machines stocked only with water, if you do not have sufficient water with you, you may want to pick some up here for a pretty reasonable price. The Acropolis can get extremely hot.
What You Will See at the Acropolis
We suggest that you use the Rick Steve’s audio guide to the Acropolis. Be aware that he starts you from outside the main gate which is different than what we have advise. This means you will need to start the guide in the middle of the track and then skip back to the beginning parts later, or walk from the East gate to the main gate and begin your tour there.
As you walk up the hill you will pass the amphitheater on your left. Its pretty cool, Rick has some things to say about it in his audio guide, and apparently there are still performances there so you will likely see modern lighting equipment along with the ancient stones.
Walking up hill will eventually lead you to the Parthenon. Iwas under the impression that the walk up would be a lot more strenuous than it ended up being. Of course, it cannot be done with a wheelchair or stroller, but it is not overly taxing for most people.
When you reach the top of the Acropolis you will pass through a large gate, the Propylea, to enter the hill top. It is after passing through here, an impressive sight in itself, that you will first see the Parthenon. It is one impressive piece of architecture with a fascinating history that Rick Steves will explain to you.
Depending on when you are there, the best place to get pictures will change. This is because the Parthenon is, and has been, undergoing extensive reconstruction/restoration. The work leads to scaffolding and construction equipment being in various parts of the ancient building. While this is a little sad for current tourists, it will be pretty amazing in the long run. Throughout the site you will see patches of bright white stone where new stone has been cut to exactly fit into gaps between old stones.
There is an observation platform on the far side of the hill from the entrance gate. This gives you a good place to both look at the Parthenon and to survey they city of Athens. If you like ancient buildings be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to walk around and observe the Parthenon and its companion buildings.
Outside the main gate there is a large rocky out cropping known as Mars Hill. This site is of particular importance to Christian visitors like ourselves because it is one of the places in Athens where the apostle Paul preached. In particular he gave the sermon on the unknown god to the people of Athens here.
It also happens to just be a really cool rock as well. You can either climb the modern stairs that have been built to take you to the top, or the ancient stone stairs. If you choose the stone stairs be aware that like all rocks on the Acropolis they are extremely slippery from thousands of years of people walking on them.
The Parthenon is an amazing place to see. If you are in Athens chances are the Acropolis is the site you came for. It is a bit expensive to get into, but I guess that’s all you can expect from one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. There are free bathrooms as well which is always a nice find in Europe. The fact that it does involve a significant amount of up hill walking and is not accessible to wheel chairs or strollers is something to consider in your plans for visiting Athens.