Walking Tour Around the Legendary Acropolis, Athens

Walking Tour Around the Legendary Acropolis (Self Guided), Athens

Also called "the sacred rock", the Acropolis was home to temples and sanctuaries throughout recorded history, and is a symbol of the city of Athens. Its religious importance was paramount to the ancient Greeks, and the buildings on the summit still capture the essence of their classical architecture. You can see the temples from most parts of the city, which adds to the feeling that this area is still the heart of Athens. The name ‘Acropolis’ derives from the Greek words “ákro”, meaning ‘highest point’, and “polis”, meaning town. The first habitation remaining on the site dates back to the Neolithic period!

Thankfully, much of Athens’ ancient culture can still be seen at the Acropolis Museum, complete with statues, weapons of a bygone era, stories of philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, astrologers and healers … This wonderful documenting of the apogee of treasures from antiquity may take a few hours of your time, culminating with the top floor and its particularly impressive Parthenon Gallery.

Set into the hillside opposite the museum are the extensive remains of the Theater of Dionysus – the birthplace of dramatic/comic art as well as the social/political heart of Athens during its ‘golden age’. Another place to get a sense of ancient artistic interests is the Roman-style Odeon of Herodes, which still provides the venue for spectacular outdoor performances during summer festivals.

The Parthenon – perhaps the epitome of Greek civilization – is the main attraction on the other end, and a walk around it will yield many fabulous views. Other main extant buildings worthy of a visit are the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion, which afford equally fantastic views right across the city in all directions from their walls.

Acropolis is the one historic place in Athens you cannot miss – so follow our self-guided walking tour to best explore its many different sites without need of a guide.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Walking Tour Around the Legendary Acropolis Map

Guide Name: Walking Tour Around the Legendary Acropolis
Guide Location: Greece » Athens (See other walking tours in Athens)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
Author: emily
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Acropolis Museum
  • Museum of the Center for Acropolis Studies
  • Theater of Dionysus
  • Odeon of Herodes Atticus
  • Temple of Athena Nike
  • Propylaea
  • Erechtheion
  • Parthenon
Acropolis Museum

1) Acropolis Museum (must see)

A four-story, entirely glass structure, the modern Acropolis Museum is home to all artifacts discovered in and around the Acropolis since 2009 and offers stunning panoramic views of the Acropolis itself. Collections are displayed on the first three levels, while the fourth level houses a museum shop and a café serving authentic Greek cuisine.

Upon entering, visitors are welcomed by an ancient owl, the revered bird of Athena, dating back to 500 BC, followed by an impressive array of exhibits: freestanding sculptures of deities and humans, marble figures, fragmented artifacts, and friezes. The exterior entrance and walkways mostly feature glass floors, allowing visitors to glimpse the excavated remnants of ancient civilization beneath them.

The collection is thoughtfully arranged in chronological order, commencing with discoveries from the Acropolis slopes, such as statues and reliefs from the Sanctuary of Asclepius. The Archaic Collection is displayed in a magnificent double-height gallery, showcasing fragments of painted pedimental statues with mythological scenes, including Hercules grappling with monsters. On the level below, the post-Parthenon Collection comprises sculptures from the Temple of Athena Nike and architectural elements from the Propylaea and the Erechtheion. This includes five of the original six caryatids from the south porch, with the sixth held at the British Museum.

Why You Should Visit:
To enjoy an excellent introduction to the Acropolis and the birthplace of democracy. Well-organized and air-conditioned, this museum provides a fascinating glimpse into daily life in ancient Athens. Multimedia presentations enhance the experience, and personal guides are available for a deeper understanding of the significance of the displayed artifacts.

Start with the informative video on the third floor, which effectively connects the museum to the Acropolis itself (also stunning views of the Acropolis through the windows there), then work your way down, and take a break on the outdoor terrace on the second floor.
Museum of the Center for Acropolis Studies

2) Museum of the Center for Acropolis Studies

Located in the Weiler Building, named after the Bavarian engineer who constructed it in 1836, this museum is an integral part of the Acropolis Museum's research workshops. The building has a rich history, having served as a military hospital and a gendarmes barracks before becoming the home of a remarkable exhibition, offering a fascinating glimpse into the original state of the Acropolis and providing a concise overview of its history.

Among the treasures on display are casts of pediment sculptures from the Parthenon, casts of the Parthenon's Metopes depicting scenes from the Trojan War, casts of friezes from the Parthenon, and models depicting the Acropolis as it appeared in ancient Greece. You'll also find paintings representing the facade of the Paroplaia as it was in classical Greece, examples of the clay-tiled roofs that once covered the monuments near the Acropolis, as well as an archaeological dig site!

The museum's gift shop features unique and high-quality products, including children's books and jewelry, setting it apart from typical souvenir shops. Additionally, the on-site café boasts the best view in Athens of the Acropolis, making it a perfect spot to enjoy the scenery, although some may find the prices a bit steep. Nonetheless, the view makes it well worth the visit.
Theater of Dionysus

3) Theater of Dionysus (must see)

Carved into the cliff face of the Acropolis, the Theatre of Dionysos holds immense cultural and historical importance, as it was the birthplace of Greek drama and a central venue for performances in ancient Athens, besides being the first stone-constructed theater. Its location was deliberately chosen near the temple of Dionysus, the God of wine and patron of drama. During the annual Dionysia festival, renowned playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides had their works performed here as part of dramatic contests.

Initially a modest wooden and earthen structure, the theater was later rebuilt in stone by an Athenian statesman in the 4th century BC; however, the ruins visible today are partly remnants of a much larger edifice built by the Romans, which seated 17,000 spectators. The Romans repurposed it as a gladiatorial arena and added a marble balustrade with metal railings to enhance spectator safety.

Above the theater, a cave dedicated to the goddess Artemis holds significance. In the Byzantine era, this cave was transformed into a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Cave ("Panagía i Spiliótissa") and served as a place where mothers brought their ailing children. Nearby, two sizeable Corinthian columns mark the remnants of "choregic" monuments erected to celebrate a benefactor's team winning the drama festival. To the west lies the Sanctuary of Asclepius, son of Apollo, founded in 420 BC and dedicated to the god of healing.

Why You Should Visit:
Fantastic opportunity for theater enthusiasts, students, and children to gain insight into what one of the most significant and ancient theaters in the Western world must have been like. Although you can't explore every nook and cranny, you can walk around the stage's perimeter and sit in the seats, which is a great way to make history come alive.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus

4) Odeon of Herodes Atticus (must see)

This stone amphitheater, nestled at the base of the Acropolis, ranks among Athens' most sizable and well-preserved classical Greek theaters. Originally constructed as a memorial to his wife by the wealthy Greek aristocrat and Roman consul Herodes Atticus in 161 AD, it has hosted both popular and serious plays during classical times. While the orchestra area was likely covered with cedar roofing, seating appears to have been open to the sky, as there are no remnants of supports for an extended roof.

Following extensive renovations in 1950, the Odeon has been restored to its former grandeur, including the marble seating in the gallery, with cushions provided for spectator comfort. Serving as the primary venue for the summer Athens Festival, it showcases music performances and opera, having witnessed unforgettable shows by acclaimed artists such as Maria Callas, Luciano Pavarotti, and Sting.

Why You Should Visit:
To marvel at the grandeur of ancient Greek architecture at its peak! Attending a concert here on a balmy summer evening, with the moon overhead, may be the greatest experience you could have. Otherwise, you can simply include it as part of your city tour.

International acts are frequent, so check the schedule in advance of your trip to Athens.
Of course, securing tickets in advance is contingent on favorable weather conditions for an open-air performance.
Temple of Athena Nike

5) Temple of Athena Nike (must see)

Measuring a mere 11 feet (3.3 meters) in height, this small, jewelbox-like temple often escapes notice amid the grandeur of the Acropolis. Positioned atop the rock wall to the right of the Propylaea Gate, it comes into view as you enter the Acropolis site from the upper right.

Despite being destroyed twice in its history, it has been meticulously reconstructed since the turn of the millennium, using original masonry fragments. As a result, you can now appreciate its immaculate symmetrical design, featuring four Ionic columns at each end, much as it appeared in 420 BC when Athenians gathered here to commemorate their victories over the Persians (the temple's frieze showcases scenes from the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC).

Designed by Kallikrates, the temple served dual roles as an observation point and an ancient shrine dedicated to the goddess of Victory, Athena Nike. A remarkable sculpture of Athena Nike graces the balustrade of the temple. Unlike typical statues, which usually depict the goddess with wings, this one at the temple is wingless, symbolizing that victory would never desert the city.

Legend has it that the temple's location marks the spot where King Aegeus awaited his son, Theseus, upon his return from his mission to Crete to vanquish the Minotaur. Theseus had promised to swap his ships' black sails for white upon his return but forgot his pledge. When the king saw the black sails, he assumed his son was dead and plunged into the sea, which now bears his name—the Aegean Sea.

6) Propylaea

The Propylaea serves as the grand entrance to the Acropolis in Athens, welcoming thousands of tourists who pass through it on their way to the other ancient monuments surrounding the Acropolis. With the original stairs having been lost to time, visitors today enter and exit via specially constructed slopes. As you walk through this gateway, take a moment to contemplate the incredible architectural achievement of the ancient Greeks, who built such a monumental structure on such a challenging site.

Designed by the architect Mnesicles and constructed between 437-432 BC, the Propylaea is a remarkable structure in its own right. It consists of a central building flanked by two wings on the outer side, one to the north and one to the south. The colonnades on the east and west sides featured Doric columns, while Ionic columns divided the gateway into three sections. Notably, this is the first known building from the classical period with both Doric and Ionic colonnades visible at the same time, supporting the roof. The coffered ceiling of the Propylaea's central building was originally painted to depict a heavenly scene, adding to its grandeur.

As you pass through the gateway, you can imagine the anticipation of ancient pilgrims, as each of the five heavy wooden doors along the walkway would have been opened in succession. Among the rooms within the Propylaea, the only one that was completed is the second room on the northern side. This space served as a refuge for visitors to the Acropolis and, according to the 2nd-century AD geographer Pausanias, also functioned as a picture gallery (Pinakotheke). Its walls were adorned with panels and frescoes.

The Propylaea endured through the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods, but it suffered significant damage in 1656 due to an explosion of a powder magazine. Since 1984, efforts have been made to partially restore this magnificent gateway.

Just beyond the Propylaea, to your right, lie the remains of the Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia, dating back to the 4th century BC.

7) Erechtheion (must see)

Constructed between 421 and 406 BC, the Erechtheion was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon, two powerful deities of the Greek pantheon. According to myth, they competed to provide the city with a valuable gift. Poseidon, the sea god, struck the ground with his trident, creating a saltwater spring, while the wise Athena planted an olive tree that sprouted. Her gift was deemed more beneficial, and she became the city's patron goddess, although it is said that the temple stands on the very spot where Poseidon left his trident marks.

A sacred sanctuary and a focal point for religious rituals in classical Athens, the unique monument is renowned for its graceful and highly adorned Ionic architecture. The spacious rectangular cella within comprised three chambers. One of these held the sacred olivewood statue of Athena, while the other two were dedicated to Poseidon, symbolizing their reconciliation after the legendary conflict.

The cella was encircled by porticoes on the north, east, and south sides, with the south one famously known as the Porch of the Caryatids, featuring six imposing female figures seemingly supporting the porch roof on their heads — a distinctive feature unmatched by any other temple. These maidens, however, are replicas, as the original sculptures are now housed in the Acropolis Museum to protect them from further deterioration in Athens' harsh climate.

Over the years, the Erechtheion complex has served various purposes, including functioning as a harem for the wives of the Ottoman commander in 1463. It suffered extensive damage when a Turkish shell struck it during the War of Independence in 1827. Today, it stands as a UNESCO World Heritage site, a testament to both the architectural and mythological richness of ancient Athens.

Consider taking a guided tour to gain a comprehensive understanding of the site's history and significance. If you opt to explore independently, plan to visit in the morning and be sure to carry water, as refreshments are not available inside.

8) Parthenon (must see)

Perched right at the top of the Acropolis, overlooking the city of Athens, the ancient Greek temple, Parthenon, is one of the most iconic and well-preserved examples of classical architecture, renowned for its historical and artistic significance. Built in the 5th century BCE during the leadership of the Athenian statesman Pericles, it replaced an even older temple dedicated to Athena, the city's patron deity and the goddess of wisdom and warfare. Covered in ivory and gold, her 12-meter-high statue—"Athena Parthenos"—took center stage.

At the time, Athens was at the height of its power and influence, particularly after its victory in the Persian Wars and the establishment of the Delian League, an alliance of Greek city-states. The temple's construction was not just a religious endeavor but also a political statement, symbolizing the city's wealth, cultural achievements, and its leadership in promoting democracy and the arts.

A prime example of Doric architecture, the structure was constructed using high-quality Pentelic marble, which contributed to its enduring beauty and structural integrity, even as it was turned into a church during the 5th century and later into a mosque under Turkish rule. In 1687, during the Venetian siege of the Acropolis, the temple endured substantial damage from bombardment. Further harm occurred in the early 19th century when Lord Elgin looted much of its sculptural decoration, which now resides in the British Museum.

Despite these adversities, the Parthenon endures as one of Greece's most significant surviving architectural monuments and, over the years, has served as a source of inspiration for many public buildings worldwide, including parliaments, universities, museums, and libraries. Recent renovations continue to reveal the timeless beauty of this masterpiece.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the world's most renowned structures, originally constructed as a testament to the glory of ancient Athens and still serving as the city's emblem today. The panoramic views of the city from this vantage point, one of the highest in Athens, are undeniably beautiful.

Plan your visit to the Acropolis early in the morning to avoid long queues. The site has two entrance gates; ensure you enter and exit through different gates to fully explore the site. Consider purchasing a combination ticket, which covers entry to other attractions, including the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theater of Dionysus, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Ancient Agora of Athens, saving you money.

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