Athens and Sidetrips
Rick Steves' Europe: Episode # 508
The thriving capital of Greece sprawls out from the foot of its magnificent Acropolis. We'll tour the must-sees of ancient Athens: the Parthenon, Agora, and amazing National Archaeological Museum. We'll take the fast-paced pulse of the modern city, but waste no time getting to my favorite side-trip destinations: the ruins of the mystical oracle at Delphi and a fast boat to the romantic, traffic-free Isle of Hydra.
- Read the script from the show.
The four major monuments — the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Propylaea, and Temple of Athena Nike — were built as a coherent ensemble (c. 450-400 B.C.). Unlike most ancient sites, which have layer upon layer of ruins from different periods, the Acropolis we see today was started and finished within two generations — a snapshot of the Golden Age set in stone. There's no way to reach the Acropolis without a lot of climbing (though people with disabilities can use an elevator). Figure a 10- to 20-minute hike from the base of the Acropolis up to the hilltop archaeological site. There are multiple paths up to the Acropolis, but the only ticket office and entrance are at the western end of the hill. Get there early or late to avoid the crowds and midday heat (tel. 210-321-4172).
The National Archaeological Museum is far and away the top ancient Greek art collection anywhere. Since ancient Greece set the tone for all Western art that followed, this museum lets you trace the artistic stream to its source — taking you in air-conditioned comfort from 7000 B.C. to A.D. 500 through beautifully displayed and described exhibits. You'll see the rise and fall of Greece's various civilizations: the Minoans, Mycenaeans, those of Archaic Greece, the Classical Age, and Alexander the Great, and the Romans who came from the west. You can also watch Greek sculpture evolve: from prehistoric Barbie dolls to stiff Egyptian-style, to the David-like balance of the Golden Age, to wet T-shirt, buckin'-bronco Hellenistic, and finally, to the influence of the Romans. Walk once around fast for a time-lapse effect, then go around again for a closer look. The nearest Metro stop is Victoria (line 1/green). It's about a 20-minute walk from the Plaka, through dull urban neighborhoods (tel. 210-821-7717).
The two main attractions — the archaeological site (officially called the "Sanctuary of Apollo") and the Archaeological Museum — are a half-mile east of the modern town of Delphi. You can do the archaeological site and the museum in either order. I prefer doing the site first (while you still have energy for the climb), so you can more easily imagine the original context of the items you'll see in the museum. Crowds or weather might help you decide. If it's hot or raining, do the museum first to hedge your bets for better conditions for the site. Allow 90 minutes for the site (hiking to the stadium alone is nearly a half-hour round-trip), and another 45-60 minutes for the museum (tel. 22650-82312).
It's at the top of town, along the main Miaouli street that climbs through the middle of Hydra. Tel. 22980-53097
For up-to-date specifics, see the latest edition of the Rick Steves' Greece: Athens & the Peloponnese travel guide — or join us on one of our free-spirited Greece tours.