The Acropolis of Athens Without the Crowds - The Maritime Explorer


The Acropolis of Athens Without the Crowds

My last post from Greece featured the final days of the Via Egnatia tour led by our good friend Victor Romagnoli for Adventures Abroad. However, it was not the end of trip for Alison and me. We are going to spend a few days in Athens and then at Victor’s suggestion, head to the Pelion Peninsula for the final part of the trip. The main reason for going to Athens was to once again climb the Acropolis to see the Parthenon and then the relatively new Acropolis Museum which was not open the last time we were here. I also wanted to see if the city had changed for the better since the economic crises that gripped Greece from 2009 to 2018 which resulted in massive spending cuts and tax increases. The Greeks had been subjected to some pretty ‘tough love’ from their EEU partners, especially Germany and from talking to Victor there was still a lot of resentment about that, but had it been effective? Join us in Athens and let’s find out.

We flew from Ioannina to Athens and got a ride into the city with Victor’s driver. I chose a hotel in the Monastiraki area of the city which in my opinion is far preferable to the much more touristy and kitschy Plaka area. It is within walking distance of many of Athens’ most famous sites including the Acropolis, has tons of good restaurants and hotels and seems far more authentic than the Plaka.

The first thing I noticed about the city that was different from my previous visits was that it seemed to have taken a chill pill. There were a lot more pedestrianized areas and even where there were automobiles, the drivers were calmer and more sane than I remembered. There wasn’t the cacophony of honking horns, roaring motorcycles and shouting taxi drivers that used to make walking here quite unpleasant. This time you didn’t need to worry about getting run over on the sidewalk either which was once a real threat.

The city was also cleaner with less graffiti, dog shit and garbage that were once a standard of Athens along with the noise. There was also a sense of vibrancy that I hadn’t noticed before where the air was more of desperation than anything else. By way of analogy I would say Athens was moving more towards Rome and further away from Cairo.

And like Rome, Athens is absolutely overrun by tourists. And they all want to go to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon.

Prior to 2024 the Acropolis was averaging 23,000 visitors per day. That’s enough to fill the largest hockey venue anywhere, in an area that’s not much larger than a big arena. Recently the numbers have been cut back to a mere 20,000  per day. So how in hell can you ever see this place in relative peace?

The answer is surprisingly easy – go at 8:00. First buy your ticket at the official government site here at least a day or two before you plan to visit. Since 2023 the tickets are based on choosing a specific hourly time, so pick the 8:00 to 9:00 slot which always seems to be available.

From the Monastiraki where we are staying requires leaving the hotel around seven and then making the long climb up to the Acropolis via a series of stairways and lanes that is actually quite pleasant.

On the Way to the Acropolis

Along the way you’ll pass some very fine street art that reminds you that you are in a land where some of the most famous episodes in ancient myth took place like Hercules slaying the hydra.

Hercules and the Hydra

Or the legend of ill-fated Medusa, so cruelly transformed into a monster by Athena after being raped by Poseidon. After she was beheaded by Perseus, Athena placed her likeness on her shield or aegis and forever after she became a symbol of protection rather than opprobrium.

Medusa near the Acropolis

Greece is also the land of the fables of Aesop and you may pass by these two murals depicting the story of the lion and the mouse. In the first the lion, who spared the mouse’s life earlier, more as a joke than anything else, is caught in a hunter’s net and will surely be killed.

The Lion Entrapped

In the second the mouse, responding to the lion’s roars, frees the lion by gnawing through the netting and proving Aesop’s moral that kindness is never wasted.

The Mouse Frees the Lion

You should get to the entrance about 15 minutes before 8:00 and you’ll probably be among the first twenty people or so when it opens at 8:00. Instead of dilly dallying when you get in, go straight to the front of the Parthenon and you may well have the place to yourself, at least for a few minutes.

These are the pics you can get in those few minutes.

At the Parthenon


The Parthenon at the Acropolis
The Parthenon

One thing you can’t avoid is the eternal scaffolding.

Side View of the Parthenon
Parthenon Side View

Once the inevitable crowds arrive at the Parthenon you can make you way back to the entrance at leisure taking in the Erechtheion in relative peace.

The Erechtheion

Getting a shot of the Caryatids along the way, knowing that you will be seeing the real ones at the Acropolis Museum shortly.

The Fake Caryatids on the Acropolis
The Fake Caryatids

And the Temple of Athena Nike.

Temple of Athena Nike, the Acropolis
Temple of Athena Nike

Now that you’ve seen the major monuments on the Acropolis, it’s time to enjoy the fantastic views that you get from up here. Like the agora and the Temple of Hephaestus which is in much better shape than the Parthenon.

View from the Acropolis
Agora & Temple of Hephaestus from the Acropolis

Or the Philopappos Monument that dates from Roman times.

Philopappos Monument from the Acropolis
Philopappos Monument

By now the Acropolis will be literally crawling with tourists and you might begin to feel claustrophobic despite the fact you are in the open air. It’s time to head down to the Acropolis Museum passing Maria Callas on the way.

Alison Putting a Hat on Maria Callas

You will also pass hundreds and hundreds of people now heading to the Acropolis in a stream that goes on for the entire distance between the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum.

Tourists Heading to the Acropolis

The Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum is an ultra modern structure that displays artifacts from the Acropolis in an uncluttered and understandable manner and is a necessary second stop on any visit to the Acropolis. Here’s the good news – it only opens at 9:00. So if you’ve timed your arrival at the Acropolis for 8:00 then you should be here just before opening time and once again be able to beat the crowds that will swarm in here by 10:00.

We were literally the first people into the museum on the morning we visited.

First Person into the Museum

The most important artifacts in the museum are undoubtedly the original Caryatids from the Erechtheion and once again if you get here at opening time you might have them to yourselves.

Alison with Three Caryatids, the Acropolis Museum
Alison with Three Caryatids

I won’t go into detail about other artifacts in the Acropolis Museum, but content my readers with this gallery. Double click to open a photo and double click again to enlarge. Suffice it to say that it’s an amazing museum and an important addition to Athens’ many attractions.

So you don’t have to be a VIP to have an enjoyable visit to the Acropolis and its museum, just a little gumption to get up early and plan ahead. The best part is that not only will you avoid the crowds, but also the crushing heat that descends on Athens by mid-morning during the height of tourist season.

In my next post from Greece we’ll head to the Pelion Peninsula, the home of the Centaurs and one fantastic country getaway. I hope to see you there.