Planning a trip to visit Delphi on your Greece vacation will be one of the highlights of your trip – guaranteed!
This extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most significant in the country and was once considered by the Ancient Greeks to be the centre of the world. It is one of the most popular daytrips from Athens and a day that the whole family can enjoy.
Whether you are a history buff, fascinated with Greek Mythology, or even just mildly interested in Greece’s rich and fascinating past it is impossible not to be impressed when standing amongst the ruins of Delphi with the towering mountains behind you and the deep valley below.
According to Mythology Zeus, the father of both Gods and Men, released two eagles, one from the east and one from the west and the place where they met in the middle he proclaimed the centre of the world and named Delphi. For many centuries Greeks and others visited Delphi to worship and make sacrifices and offering and most importantly to have their future read by the Oracle.
Regardless of what truth there may be in this story the sheer feat of constructing Delphi is hugely impressive in itself given the time and techniques used. This was 2500 years ago!
Preservation efforts have included restoration of some of the site and the reburial of several lesser buildings. Today the site is a major tourist attraction and considered one of the most important in Greece along with The Acropolis and the sacred island of Delos.
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What is Delphi?
Delphi is both a modern town and an acclaimed archaeological site in Greece, of huge historical and cultural importance.
Boasting several well-preserved ruins that point to its ancient past, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1987.
An integral part of countless stories in Greek mythology, the Ancient Greeks believed that Delphi was the epicentre of the Grandmother Earth, which Zeus, the God of the Sky, was trying to find.
According to an ancient myth, Zeus is purported to have released two eagles from the top of Mount Olympus, one which flew from an easterly direction and the other flew from the west. As they flew towards each other they met at the point where Delphi lies, which was then marked by a stone called Omphalos, which translates as ‘navel’. The stone was later housed within the Temple of Apollo.
So the legend goes, the oracle at Delphi was originally owned by Gaea, the Earth goddess and safeguarded by her child Python, the serpent. However, Apollo is believed to have slain Python, after which he founded his own oracle there.
Famous throughout ancient Greece, The Oracle of Delphi, or Pythia, as it was also known, attracted people from all over Greece and beyond to the area to seek guidance and advice.
As a tribute to Apollo for his heroics, the Pythian Games were established and held every four years. Serving as a precursor of the Olympic Games.
The History of Delphi
Delphi has a rich and fascinating history.
Archaeological excavations have confirmed that the first inhabitants of Delphi lived in the area during the late Mycenaean period of around the 15th century BCE. While priests from Knossos are said to have brought the cult of Apollo to the site in the 8th century BCE.
A couple of centuries later, during the First Sacred War of around 590 BCE, the Amphictyonic League decimated the neighbouring town of Krisa. Their high taxation of visitors to the oracle had been the catalyst to war in the first place, and thus free access to Delphi was now attained.
The league launched the Panhellenic Pythian Games around 1853 BCE, which was decreed to be held in Delphi every four years.
It was around this time that the prestige of the Delphic oracle was at its height. To the point that it was counselled not only for private concerns but also for matters of state as well. Indeed its utterances are often believed to have influenced public policy.
With such influence, it was inevitable that the site became shrouded in controversy and conflict. With several more sacred wars being fought over the oracle, and control of it changing hands regularly.
After capturing Delphi in the early part of the 2nd century BCE, the Romans ruthlessly pillaged the area, with Nero said to have overseen the removal of at least 500 statues from the area.
As Christianity became more entrenched in the area, the old pagan stronghold gradually lapsed into decay and decline, until it was permanently closed around the time of 385 CE by decree of Theodosius.
For many years until 1890, the current site of Delphi was occupied by the village of Kastrí. However, when the village moved and the area was renamed, excavations began.
It didn’t take long for the history of the ancient site to reveal itself, with several significant buildings being uncovered.
Archaeological work continued throughout the 20th century around several Roman buildings that were constructed between the 4th and 6th century CE.
In 2001 the significant discovery of the presence of ethylene gas was made by a team of scientists who posited that it was once used as an anaesthetic that was capable of manifesting a trance-like state within people. These findings were seen as remarkable, as they seemed to back up ancient reports of vapours rising from the floor of the Apollo temple.
Sadly, like many ancient sites dotted around the Mediterranean, Delphi’s archaeological ruins are seriously threatened by erosion. With several ‘lesser’ buildings of historical significance being reburied as an act of preservation.
Nonetheless, Delphi is currently a major tourist attraction which people from all around Greece and the rest of the world come to visit. So these maintenance and protection initiatives are hugely important.
Where is Delphi?
Delphi is located about 100 miles northwest of Athens, and just under 10 miles away from the harbour city of Itea which lies below on the shimmering waters of the Gulf of Corinth.
Situated in the territory of Phocis, within the lower central mainland of Greece, it is nestled in between the two soaring rocks of Mt. Parnassus. Collectively these are known as the Phaidriades or the Shining Rocks.
Just below the ancient site, and around the point, is the modern town of Delphi and less that 10 minutes to the east is the popular resort town of Arachova.
If you would love to combine the mountains with the sea drive on down to the charming seaside town of Galaxidi for a fantastic seafood lunch, or a few nights in a beautiful, authentic Greek town steeped in history.
For those who are interested Delphi’s GPS coordinates are 38°28′56″N 22°30′05″E.
How to get to Delphi?
Delphi is relatively easy to get to from Athens, as well as other Greek mainland cities like Patras and Thessaloniki.
The best ways to do that are as follows:
Book a Delphi Day Trip Tour
There are a number of tours you can consider. Delphi can be visited in around 2 hours from Athens as a day trip or it can be an overnight trip or part of an extended itinerary.
We run a very popular daytrip to Delphi with our Athens partners and can personally vouch for this fantastic day our having just done the tour ourselves in July 2022.
- Your driver will collect you from your Athens accommodation in a late-model, clean and comfortable vehicle, which can take up to 7 people. This is usually an early start and our drivers know the importance of breakfast and coffee, so there is a coffee stop about 20 minutes out of Athens at an excellent bakery and cafe.
- In Delphi your driver will get your entry tickets and introduce you to your Guide. We found Konstantinos to be exceptionally knowledgeable and engaging but all Guides used are licensed, experienced and fantastic.
- You start the tour in the Museum where your Guide will explain the various artefacts and useful information. The Museum is big and modern and there is a gift shop, a cafe and clean and comfortable toilets too.
- You will then explore the outdoor archaeological site together and see for yourself the incredible remains, the restoration efforts and the stunning views and location.
- The onsite portion of the tour takes between 2-4 hours.
- You can then stop for lunch in the neighbouring town of Arachova, one of the prettiest in Greece, especially in winter when it is a popular snow resort.
- You then commence your journey back to your hotel in Athens.
- The entire day takes between 7-10 hours.
Visit Delphi Independently
You can also visit Delphi by driving yourself or catching the bus.
Driving to Delphi
There are two routes to Delphi from Athens, one heads northwest and the other west and over the Rio Antirrio Bridge. A great way to do this trip is the full circuit taking in both routes. This takes around 2-4 hours one way depending on the route.
Athens to Patras (south-west)
From Athens, it’s about two and a half hours across to Patras, the country’s third-largest city. The route is via a modern multi-carriage freeway with numerous toll booths.
Although it’s bustling like the capital, it has a very distinctive feel – thanks largely to the abundance of university students studying at the well-regarded university. With students comes a natural liveliness, with festive squares, restaurants, and bars. While Patras is very much a modern city, there’s also evidence of the past, with a fascinating archaeological museum and castle nearby.
Patras to Delphi
Once you’ve crossed the Rio Antirrio Bridge you will drive on the E65 to Nafpaktos. The whole journey will take less than 30 minutes but there is a 12euro toll to cross the bridge.
Nafpaktos is a popular holiday spot with locals but has managed to (mostly) avoid the tourist crowds. The old Venetian Harbour is well worth exploring as is Nafpaktos Castle, while the Old Town is the ideal place to get lost for an hour or two. It’s also a nice spot to spend a night or two.
The drive from Nafpaktos will then take around 90 minutes. The drive is very scenic and most of it is along the coast where there are numerous beaches and villages to explore. The town of Galaxidi is a great spot to stop for lunch, particularly at Zygos on the waterfront.
Athens to Delphi (north-west)
The other popular route is to get on the A1/E75 highway north of Athens that passes by the towns of Livadia and Schimatari and goes past Lake Illiki. This is a quicker route but not as picturesque and with little to see or do along the way.
Thessaloniki to Delphi
Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in Greece. But unlike Athens and Patras, you can’t really visit Delphi as a day trip as it takes about five hours to get there.
KTEL Fokidas runs a bus service from Thessaloniki to Delphi. However, as it only leaves once a day, should you decide to take the bus you will need to find overnight accommodation in Delphi and stay there until the following afternoon.
Driving between Thessaloniki and Delphi will involve you paying tolls, but you will also be able to stop off on the way at some fantastic places like Mount Olympus, which you can climb if you want, or the town of Vergina, which houses the tomb of Alexander the Great’s father. Meteora too can be on this route with a short detour.
Parking at Delphi
There is plenty of parking along the main road provided you arrive early or late in the day. You may need to walk a fair way to the entry.
Visit DELPHI by Bus
It is possible to visit Delphi by bus from several locations including Athens, Preveza and Parga.
For more information check out the KTel website.
What to see and do in Delphi?
Once you have arrived in the area you will soon realise that there are a lot of things to see in Delphi.
The amount of time you spend here is up to you, but it is fair to say it is not a place that should be rushed.
If your schedule allows three to five hours here, it should give you a really good feel for the place. If you have a bit longer at your disposal, there is plenty to see around the town too.
Archaeological Site of Delphi
Once you reach the Archaeological Site of Delphi you will find several significant ruins, landmarks and historical points of interest.
Some of the most notable are as follows:
The Sacred Way
The Sacred Way is the main route into the Sanctuary of Apollo. It leads from the gateway, uphill for a distance of 200 metres, until you get to the Temple of Apollo.
Originally this walkway was lined with ornate, votive monuments and treasuries that were erected by different Greek cities, to reflect Greece’s diverse political pattern.
Sadly the monuments have all but disappeared, though many of their bases have thankfully survived.
Temple of Apollo at Delphi
Located towards the end of the ‘Sacred Way’, the Temple of Apollo served as the centre of the god’s cult and was also the seat of Pythia, the high priestess.
Within it, the inner shrine that was known as the adyton, the Pythia would sit and murmur the words of the Oracle, which were sent to her by Apollo and interpreted by the priests.
Unfortunately, all that remains of the Temple of Apollo, which was the most important of all buildings in the Sanctuary of Apollo, are the foundations.
Over the years it was built in the same location at least three times and featured impressive columns, statues and sculptures inside it.
The existing ruins showcase the latest phase of the structure, which succeeded older ones which were built from copper, stone, beeswax, feathers and even laurel leaves.
Its walls were carved with the sayings of the Seven Sages, including the famous quote by Thales of Miletus of ‘Know thyself’.
Built within the Doric style around the 4th century BC, the present Temple of Apollo, preserved the previous ground plan of the earlier 6th century BC Archaic temple. It also re-used the old column drums, though the detailing was more typical of the late classical period.
Directly behind the Sanctuary of Apollo stands the impressive Polygonal Wall that was built in the 6th Century BC.
Supporting the platform that the Temple of Apollo stands upon, the stones were cut into striking polygonal shapes, hence the name, and also inscribed with ancient inscriptions.
Stretching for 90 metres in length, its main face is believed to have originally been around two meters taller than it does today.
The Treasury of Athens
Originally built around 510 BC, and re-erected between 1903 and 1906, The Treasury of the Athenians is a stunning structure that was built in the form of a Doric temple.
According to Pausanias, the pre-eminent traveller of the 2nd century AD, it was built as an offering, immediately after the victory of the battle of Salamis in 490 BC. It was constructed from Parian marble that was brought over from the island of Paros, to house the dedications and votive offerings they made to Apollo.
Boasting a fine frieze, what you see is a copy, with the original being housed in the Archaeological Museum of Delphi.
As one of the first public buildings to be sponsored by Athens, this structure is of huge cultural significance, as it is viewed as a symbol of Athenian Democracy, after the collapse of tyranny.
Its walls held inscriptions that offered valuable insights and information that concerned the customs and festivals of the ancient world and ancient Greek music.
The Theatre of Delphi
Adjacent to Apollo’s temple, you will find the ancient theatre of Delphi.
Boasting a capacity to hold 5000 people, the theatre mainly hosted musical contests that formed a part of the Pythian Games – which made up one of the four Panhellenic Games of ancient Greece.
The first stone theatre was constructed at some point within the 4th century BC. Although the ruins you will see today date back to when theatrical contests were introduced in the early Roman times.
If you follow the tier of the theatre towards the west and climb 50 metres to the top level of the site you will enter the Stadium of Delphi.
The Stadium of Delphi
The Stadium of Delphi was originally built in the fifth century BC, although it was given a bit of a makeover by the Romans in the second century.
Its tiered stone seating was able to accommodate around 500 spectators. Similar to the theatre, it was built to host the Pythian Games, which were hosted at Delphi from 590 BC onwards.
Various athletic events would have been held here. The starting point of which was from a magnificent stone áphesis that controlled up to 20 athletes at the same time.
Tholos of Delphi
Within the 4th Century-BC Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, lies the Tholos of Delphi.
Located between the Temple of Athena and the Treasury of the Massalians, the building dates back to the 4th century BC.
Based on a circular plan, it features the remains of 20 Doric columns on its exterior and 10 Corinthian columns on its inside.
Undoubtedly, one of the most iconic of all the ancient buildings on the archaeological site of Delphi, the structure incorporates different types of marble, which gives it a very appealing effect.
Although no one really knows the exact purpose of the building, it is widely acknowledged as being a masterpiece of Classical architecture.
Opening hours for Delphi
Generally speaking, Delphi is open every day from 8 am to 8 pm. With the last admission being at 7.40 pm.
The museum is open at these times too, except for on Tuesdays when it opens from 10 am to 5 pm.
During the year, however, Delphi is either closed completely or operates reduced hours on the following days.
New Year’s Day – 1st January
Greek Independence Day – 25th March
Protomagia – 1st May
Christmas Day – 25th December
Boxing Day – 26th December
Epiphany – 6 January (8:30 am to 3 pm)
Shrove Monday (8:30 am to 3 pm)
Good Friday (12 pm to 5 pm)
Holy Saturday (8:30 am to 4 pm)
The Feast day of Dormition of the Theotokos – 15 August (8:30 am to 3 pm)
Other things to do in Delphi
The Archaeological Museum of Delphi
The Archaeological Museum of Delphi is one of Greece’s major museums, so you should definitely try and spend a good couple of hours here. It really should be part of your visit and best done before you visit the Archaeological site in our opinion, preferably with a Guide who will explain everything to you.
Founded in 1903, the Delphi Museum is operated by the Greek Ministry of Culture and houses some of the most notable discoveries on the archaeological site of Delphi, which date back to the Mycenaean period and the early Byzantine era.
Located on two levels across fourteen rooms and 2270 square metres of exhibition floor space, along with 558 square metres of conservation rooms, the museum is an important centre for Greek history and art.
The exhibition floor space displays a number of exquisite statues, including the famous Heniokhos the Charioteer of Delphi and the Chryselephantine Statues of Apollo and Artemis.
It also showcases architectural elements like the frieze of the Treasury of the Siphnians, as well as votive offerings that were dedicated to the sanctuary of Pythian Apollo, including the Sphinx of Naxos.
The conservation rooms meanwhile have a number of impressive ceramics, mosaics and metals, as well as artefacts like coins and gold jewellery on display.
Visitors to the Archaeological Museum of Delphi can also check out the wonderful entrance hall, as well as the gift shop. There is also a cafeteria here to buy refreshments too.
The Town of Delphi
After visiting the archaeological site and museum why not take the opportunity to explore the charming town of Delphi itself?
Within easy walking distance of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the small town has a number of quaint shops and gift stores to peruse. There are also plenty of cafes, restaurants and tavernas in which to eat, as well as interesting landmarks like the town square to see and photograph.
Roman Sarcophagi Site
On the slopes just below Delphi is another small ancient site worth a quick look.
The Roman Sarcophagi of Delphi are the remains of tombs made by the Romans under the rule of Emperor Nero. It is believed to be a family funerary and dates back to the second half of the 2nd century AD.
Sarcophagus means ‘stone tomb’.
Church of St. Nektarios
Not far from the Sarcophagi, on the same road, is a small church not often used today but sometimes open.
High above the archaeological site and on the slopes of Mt.Parnassus is Corycian Cave, believed to be a sanctuary for nymphs and deities in Greek Mythology.
It takes about an hour to hike from the road at the base of the hill and it is not particularly difficult. The views are quite magnificent!
Ancient Path – Kirra Delphi
About half-way down on the road to the coastal town of Itea is this ancient path, a popular hiking route today.
The path goes south from the small town of Chryso and meanders along the slopes past the tiny Church of Saint George.
Again the views here and quite spectacular and it is particularly popular in Spring when the Valley is covered in wildflowers.
Weather in Delphi
The mountain ranges to the east and north of Delphi and the sea to the south means there is a wide climatic variation from baking heat in summer to severe cold in winter with heavy snowfalls.
Summer is the driest time, storms occurring all year round especially at higher altitudes.
Average monthly temperatures are;
data courtesy of climate-data.org
Where to stay in Delphi
Hotel Aegeli Arachova
While most people visit Delphi as a day trip the site is so big it’s not surprising that some people stay a night or two to explore in detail.
There are are a number of choices when it comes to accommodation for Delphi.
You can stay right in Delphi town itself, nearby in the town of Arachova or down by the sea in Itea, Galaxidi or further along in the pretty town of Nafpaktos. The first two are great in colder months while the others are lovely year round.
There are a number of hotels right near Delphi as well. Our pick is Kastalia Boutique Hotel which is only a 5-minute walk from the site and has spectacular views of the Valley. Nidimos Hotel is also very good.
Pitho Rooms is an inexpensive family-run hotel in a very central location.
Arachova is a charming mountain town that is often described as Greece’s ‘Vail’ as it is a popular ski resort in winter, in fact the most popular in the country.
It is only 10kms past Delphi but is larger and busier and where many people choose to stay when they visit Delphi archeological site.
Here we recommend Elafivolia Arachova Suites and Aegli Arachova both gorgeous boutique hotels with stunning views and excellent amenities including swimming pools. If you are looking for a splurge the views from Clock Tower Luxury Suites and Villas are simply breathtaking.
Further reading: A Complete Guide to Arachova
Located only 30 minutes south of Delphi is the beautiful seaside town of Galaxidi.
This town is renowned for its significant maritime history as well as its excellent seafood tavernas making it a great choice to stay especially in the warmer months.
Further reading: A Complete Guide to Galaxidi
A further hours drive west is another beautiful seaside town and perennial favourite, Nafpaktos. This is quite close to the Rio Antirrio Bridge and Patras and is also centrally located to explore other wonders in the area around the Gulf of Patras including Mornos River, Kilsova Lagoon and Aitoliko, Greece’s other ‘little Venice’.
Where to eat in Delphi
There are a number of great places to eat and drink in and around Delphi, especially in the cooler months when the local produce is at its best.
In Arachova the town square is full of excellent places, mostly in the open air with firepits and blankets for winter. Here you will find Baile Resto Vino Bar and JAY oh, both fantastic, with cheap and cheerful Souvlaki Lois across the road.
You’ll find the locals eating at places like Bridge Tavern, Ffterolakka and Ladokalla, where we had a huge plate of slow cooked Greek lamb and spaghetti on our visit.