Best Time for Visiting The Acropolis – Sunset
Visiting Athens? Want to see arguably the best monument in Greece in the best light possible? We have done the famous citadel at different times of day over the last few years. In our opinion the best time to visit the Acropolis is in the late afternoon. As close to closing hours as possible. Not only will you see it when it is quieter and the heat of the day is gone, but visiting the Acropolis at sunset means you get to play a neat game of cat and mouse with the staff….
The Acropolis at dusk
It’s a game of Athenian cat and mouse. We are the mice. They are the cats. They are practiced. They do this every night. We are determined. We only have one night. 24 hours in Athens does not give you time to do much. Especially at crowded ancient monuments. (We are on a summer interrail trip from London to Istanbul and this is just one stop.) The acropolis is closing and we want to make the most of it. There’s only one thing for it; to stretch our time, dodge the staff and be the last ones to leave the building.
The Acropolis at dawn
I have visited the Acropolis at three different times of day; morning noon and night. The first time Stuart and I were students, broke and determined to save money on a hotel. We landed at midnight, slept in the airport and then biked off in the early hours to the famous Greek monument. Only the road sweepers kept us company as we navigated empty roads. We thought we might get it to ourselves. But at the last moment the coach tours arrived. We pushed our way up the hill accompanied by dozens of tourists. And then the early morning cool gave way to intense heat.
The Acropolis at midday
The second time I visited The Acropolis for a travel bloggers’ conference. I chased a shaft of light in the cloud above the stone column artistry, felt the spirit of Athena on the wind, and absorbed the helter skelter view of a whitewashed city at midday. Actually that’s a lie. I sweated my way up the slopes in the heat of the sun, tried to get a decent glimpse of the Parthenon, and then retired to a cafe where the lovely Stavros and his family plied me with white wine and Greek salad. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the cool, statue studded New Acropolis Museum. You can read about Stavros and the New Acropolis Museum in Gretta Schifano”s post on family Athens here.
Trying to avoid the world and his wife
This year we decide to go an hour or so before the citadel closes. To catch the sunset. Apparently queues are shorter. Crowds are lighter. But as expected, even in the cool of the back end of the day, the world and his wife are here.
“This is used as a classical concert hall. Normally it is Carreras and Domingo that play here.” says the world and his wife’s guide as we pause at an amphitheatre half way up the slopes. “But last year we had the Foo Fighters” she adds with a flourish.”
“Shaggy?” asks a backpacker.
“I think Shaggy played here.”
She looks like she’s making a mental note to check; maybe he has got the Acropolis confused with the Seven Jokers on Syntagma.
Finding the perfect spot
This time, with three teens in tow, it’s all about the selfie. Me at the Parthenon. Who wouldn’t want that? Even Zeus would be tempted. Do Gods take selfies?
We need to find a spot where there aren’t any cranes or scaffolding. We need to find a place where a teen isn’t holding The Acropolis in their palm like Lego bricks while their mother immortalizes it for all time, or until the likes run out. We need to find a space without a beautiful face posing, or a mini-me pouting. We need to find a slot where someone is not illegally touching the marble or leaning against the highly polished stone. And there isn’t much time as the army is marching in to take down the flag at sunset, a sign the site is soon closing for the night.
Minutes later and a man is blowing a whistle. And crowds are streaming towards us.
“The Acropolis is closed. “
Going against the flow
The army march on and upwards while everyone else is marched down, hurried along by a handful of guides. I try to go against the flow but the guides are fast. Hopping up steps and over rocks they are lithe as the shepherds and dogs in the high fells back home.
I become a mountain goat
I hop back up the steps but my family has been swept away. The Parthenon is clear of people. Surely its the best selfie ever? The crowds stream down below me. I am last. I hold out my phone, and aim to click the shutter but see only me and the torso of a man in a blue T shirt. He is blocking my shot.
“The Acropolis is closed.”
I grin, and loiter. They are used to this. They move down the hill in a pincer movement. Two of them chase some tourists who have tried to escape by creeping onto another path.
I walk with a guide. “I expect this happens every night, this game of cat and mouse?”
I don’t expect her to answer but she grins. “It’s difficult. We have to get in the way.”
And then I turn. And there it is..one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. And it’s all mine. I don’t take a photo. I just look. Absorb. Notice the light, hear the birdsong and feel the centuries past.
It doesn’t last long But it is enough to have made it worthwhile. The guide pushes me out and her colleague shuts the gate.
The Acropolis at night
The crowds vanish. We wait to see what happens next, enjoying the uninterrupted view and the sun draining out of the sky as we sit on a wonky hill with the whole of Athens behind us. Someone plays s drum. The army comes down and drives away. We are gifted the Acropolis at sunset and as day turns to night the lights come on, as if for us. It sparks up slowly, as though someone is going around turning each bulb on. It changes colour. The sun disappears. The drum stops. We scramble about on the rocks and finally get our selfies.