The most sacred place in Ancient Greece, and today one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece, second only to the Acropolis in Athens, this is the place where the world-famous oracle of Delphi foretold the future. Known in Ancient Greek times as ‘the navel of the world’, the UNESCO sanctuary dedicated to the Greek god Apollo was the religious centre of the ancient Greek world in the 6th century BC.
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How to make a day trip to Delphi from Athens
How to get from Athens to Delphi
Rent a car and make your own way to Delphi allowing you to choose how long you can stay to explore and where you stop en route. The journey time, without stops, is approximately 2 hours 15 minutes.
The KTEL bus departs Athens daily at 10.30am returning at 3pm with earlier and later departures on selected days of the week – see timetable for details. The journey takes approximately 3 hours depending on traffic.
Get picked up from your Athens hotel and head to Delphi on a full-day (10 hours) coach tour with friendly and knowledgeable English and/or Spanish speaking guide. Enroute to Delphi you’ll stop at the town of Livadia with the opportunity for lunch after visiting the archaeological site which includes exclusive access to the Athena Pronaia Sanctuary.
There are many organized day trips going to Delphi. I recommend this 10 Hour Guided Day Trip to Delphi.
Brief History of Delphi Archaeological Site
Located at the foot of Mount Parnassus, the ancient religious sanctuary of Delphi developed in the 8th century BC with priests from Knossos on Crete bringing the cult of Apollo to Delphi and developing the sanctuary with the first stone temples built at the end of the 7th century BC. The site itself is much older though with remains of a Mycenaean settlement and cemetery discovered by archeologists as well as artifacts uncovered from a nearby cave that dates back to the Neolithic period.
Delphi is best remembered for the famous oracle, the priestess Pythia, who gave predictions to individuals, foreign dignitaries, and Greek city-states who would consult with the priestess before making any major decision – the sanctuary being pan-Hellenic meaning it was not controlled by any one Greek city-state. We know today that the trance the priestess entered into was due to inhaling light hydrocarbon gasses that wafted out of the ground, the priests of Apollo translating her incomprehensible words for petitioners.
The sanctuary was also the place where the Pythian Games were held – the second most important Greek games after the ancient Olympics, these games taking place every 4 years from the 6th century BC until the 4th century BC and initially was just for music and poetry contests, the athletic events added later.
Due to the Sacred Wars in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the sanctuary came under rule of the Phocians and later, the Macedonians. In the 3rd century BC the Aetolians conquered Delphi until the Romans came along 100 years later in 191 BC Delphi was important to the Roman Emperor Hadrian, along with others, but some emperors such as Lucius Cornelius Sulla pillaged the sanctuary. The practice of pagan religion was outlawed in AD 394 by the Byzantine emperor Theodosius I which put an end to the power of the oracle with the temples subsequently destroyed.
Things to see on your day trip to Delphi
Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia
Originally built in 380BC the Tholos of the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia is a circular building featuring stunning Classical architecture. Built three times and dedicated to the goddess Athena, the exact purpose of the building is still unknown.
Temple of Apollo at Delphi
The building where the cult rituals took place, including the famous divination ceremonies, the temple of Apollo is the most important building at the sanctuary. It was also used to store the offerings to the god including statues and is where the list of winners of the Pythian games were stored until they were destroyed in 373BC.
Treasury of the Athenians
Another important and impressive building despite its small size, the Treasury of the Athenians was built in the late 6th century or early 5th century and was used to house trophies from various Athenian victories as well as a variety of votive objects dedicated to the sanctuary.
Ancient Theatre of Delphi
The largest structure in the complex, the Ancient Theatre is where the music and poetry contests of the Pythian games took place. The first stone-built theatre was built in the 4th century BC and refurbished several times, the current remains of the Ancient Theatre dating from approximately 160BC and 67 A.D.
The Sacred Way
The 200 meter long main road that guided pilgrims through the sacred site from the entrance of the temonos to the temple of Apollo and then uphill to the theatre and the stadium was in existence from the Archaic period through to late Roman times when it was paved. Once lined with statues, podiums, and treasuries it is still walked on to this day as a way to guide tourists around the ancient site.
Ancient Gymnasium of Delphi
The 4th century BC remains of this building complex consists of a gymnasium (originally used for track and field events and training) and a palaestra (wresting school) with baths added by the Romans at which time the whole of the gymnasium complex was rebuilt. Later, in the Hellenistic period the gymnasium became a cultural center with poets, philosophers, and orators holding their lectures here.
Archaeological Museum of Delphi
One of Greece’s top museums, this modern two-storey building contains artifacts that date back as far as the 8th century BC and include architectural sculptures, statues, pottery, mosaics, metal objects, and more. Be sure not to miss the lifesize bronze charioteer from 478-474BC, the Column of Dancers, the Sphinx of the Naxians and the pair of kouroi known as the Twins of Argos.
The Castalian Fountain
Built in 600-590 BC but refurbished many times up until the 1st century BC, this rectangular fountain structure with its covered pipes and bronze waterspouts is known as the Lower Castalia and can be seen from the modern roadside. The water was once channelled from the Castalian spring – the same spring that was the sacred source of Delphi.
Click here to book your day trip from Athens check this 10 Hour Guided Day Trip to Delphi.