With tips on avoiding the crowds, the best time to take photographs and a rant about the entrance fee

Avoiding the crowds at the Acropolis is not rocket science: you just need to arrive soon after it opens at 8 am when most independent travellers haven’t yet jumped into action and the tour groups are still tucking into their hotel buffet breakfast (lucky them!). But steering clear of the mass of scaffolding and other such building material that seems to be a permanent fixture on the structure these days is much trickier to achieve.

The Parthenon Acropolis Athens Greece-1-2The eastern colonnades of the Parthenon, viewed in the morning light

In fact, it is nigh on impossible to avoid it but the huge crane that dominates the western side of the Parthenon (the most recognisable part of the Acropolis) and semi-permanent work’s site nearby would suggest that the bulk of the renovation work is happening on the western and southern side of the building for the foreseeable future (we visited in late March 2017). This means that another plus of visiting in the morning is that at least you can photograph the eastern colonnades of the Parthenon, which are currently free of scaffold, in good light and with the sun behind you. But that’s about as good as it gets photography-wise. Come in the afternoon and the sun will be in the wrong position for photographing this part of the Parthenon and what you will be looking at instead, in terms of decent light-wise, is a very crowded and scaffold-covered/crane-dominated set of western colonnades.

The eastern colonnades of the Parthenon, viewed in the morning light

The western and southern side of the Parthenon, viewed from Filopappou Hill in the late afternoon

The entrance fee for Acropolis was reduced to half price from 1st November 2016 to the 31st March 2017 (€10 versus €20), an initiative introduced by the government to attract more visitors after they increased the entrances fees quite significantly for all government-managed sites and museums the year prior. €10 is still a hefty ticket price in our opinion and €20 is taking the piss somewhat, given that a substantial area of the Acropolis resembles a building site.

We understand that ongoing renovation work at important archaeological sites such as the Acropolis is essential. We’ve been to plenty of ancient cities (Angkor, Bagan, Ephesus, etc.) where restoration work has been taking place during our visit but it has been restricted to specific areas and never felt like it was that dominating. This is the first site of such magnitude that we have walked around and got the impression that the entire place was being restored around us. Of course, not all of the Acropolis is under restoration but it felt like it at the time because of the state of the Parthenon. It’s the most dominating structure within the Acropolis and you can’t help but focus on it. For us it raised the question; why can’t the people in charge work on a smallish area at any one time and then move onto another section once the one they are currently working on is complete? It’s a bit like motorway (highway, freeway, whatever you like to call it) maintenance in my opinion – why do the powers-that-be need to close an entire lane in order to work on half a mile of road?

Athens Greece-5The Acropolis looks impressive from a distance. This view is from Filopappou Hill in the late afternoon

I’m sure there plenty of experts out there who can give me a plausible explanation as to why the renovation work needs to be so large scale (and take so long, it started in 1975!)  but I wonder if any of those involved in the restoration project for the Acropolis have considered tourists in the grand scheme of things and the disappointment they will invariably incur (not to mention the hefty entrance fee) when they first clap eyes on the Holy Rock?

This large-scale renovation coupled with the crowds (who did arrive about an hour or so later) and the high entrance fee meant we weren’t that impressed with the Acropolis. I’ve visited the site four times now. The first was on a school trip and the second was during my early days of backpacking around Europe so my memory is a little hazy but I definitely remember there being scaffolding on the Parthenon and other parts of the Acropolis during my third visit and that was at least fifteen years ago. As one of our friends pointed out on Facebook when we lamented about the topic;

There was scaffolding when I was there over 2 yrs ago!! Not sure it will ever be finished::)).

It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to Athen’s archaeological wonders, however. The rest of the ancient sites we visited in the city were blissfully free of renovation works plus, to boot, they had distinctly fewer tourists at them. I didn’t spot any ongoing renovation at the impressive Ancient Agora, nor at Hadrian’s Library or the sprawling Keramikos and I only saw the tiniest section of scaffolding within the colonnades of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Even the monuments on the south slope of the Acropolis (namely the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Theatre of Dionysus) were reasonably scaffold-free and thankfully the famous Porch of the Caryatids, part of the sacred Erechtheion within the Acropolis itself, was looking very snazzy indeed!

Odeon of Herodes Atticus Acropolis Athens Greece-2Just a tiny amount of scaffolding on the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which is located on the southern slope of the Acropolis

The Erechtheion looking very snazzy indeed!

Don’t let the restoration work put you off visiting Athens, it’s a nice city with plenty to do, but I would suggest lowering your expectations if you do decide to shell out €10 or €20 (depending on when you visit) in order to see the Acropolis close up and make sure you visit early in the morning if you want to take some decent photos and avoid the hordes as much as possible. And just in case you don’t believe me, here are some scaffold-free photos of Athen’s other ancient sites.

Tower of the Winds Roman Agora Athens Greece-1-2The Tower of the Winds, part of the Roman Agora

Temple of Olympian Zeus Athens Greece-4The Temple of Olympian Zeus. There is currently a small section of scaffolding within the colonnades but its easily avoided

Ancient Agora Athens Greece-1-2A distant view of the Temple of Hephaestus, part of the Ancient Agora

And a A closeup view of the Temple of Hephaestus

Looking down on the Keramikos, which used to be the city’s cemetery 

Hadrian’s Library Athens Greece-2Hadrian’s Library 

And one final suggestion … if you do want a picture of a scaffold-free (or virtually scaffold-free) Acropolis then buy a postcard from one of the nearby tourist shops. These said shops are still selling postcards of the Acropolis circa 1975 or possibly earlier! Here’s a couple I bought in 1989!

Postcard from Athens 28th February 1989 (1)

Postcard from Athens 28th February 1989



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