A 150 km northwest of Athens, on the western slopes of Mount Parnassus, you can find the Temple of Apollo (God of Light, Knowledge & Harmony) and the Sanctuary of the Oracle – Pythia.
Also known as Delphi, the historic site marked the center of the world in Ancient Greece and it was considered a sacred space with religious meaning for ancient Greeks. Today, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Delphi is one of the most visited historic locations in Greece.
The beautifully preserved ancient site is a major tourist destination along with the Acropolis in Athens, the island of Delos and Olympia. The fame of the land comes from the ancient God of Purification and Divination – Apollo, who established his faith in Delphi.
God’s will was dictated by Apollo’s wife – Priestess Pythia. It is believed that for centuries, no major decision in history was undertaken without the advice of the oracle.
Another legend says that Zeus sent two eagles in search of the world’s centre. They flew through the skies in both directions and then their paths crossed in Delphi. That’s why this land symbolises the centre of the world in Greek culture.
Getting to Delphi from Various Locations
From Athens to Delphi
Getting to Delphi from Athens is possible by bus, but the trip takes between 2.5-3.5 hours in each direction. The easiest way to make that trip is by using your personal vehicle or getting a rental car in Athens.
In case you need to rent a car, then it is best to take the train to the airport and take a car from there. This way, you will evade driving in the centre of the city, which is a rather unpleasant experience.
Athens to Delphi takes around 2-2.5 hours with a car, with a distance of around 110 miles. The beginning of the road goes through farmland, but once you go through the mountains, some scenic views will open before your eyes.
If you’d like to go on a bus, the road takes a bit longer but comes at an affordable price of less than $25. The bus company that operates on this territory is KTEL of N. Fokidas SA and we recommend booking in advance as buses tend to fill up quickly.
Should you decide to go with a taxi, you must know that it is best to make a private arrangement with your driver in advance. There are a number of companies that would take you to Delphi for $75-$100.
From Meteora to Delphi
Reaching Delphi, starting from Meteora is easy with a bus. However, you have to be alert as you need to change buses in 3 different cities – Trikala, Lamia & Amfissa.
A piece of friendly advice that we received from the locals is to tell the bus driver where you stop is. In most cases, they are quite helpful and would leave you at your stop if you ask politely. Below, we have attached relevant bus schedule as of November – 2019.
Local Transport in Delphi
What makes a standing impression for Delphi are the regular bus lines. That’s why the easiest and most comfortable way to get from point A to point B in town is with public transport. Of course, Delphi isn’t a large town and taking a walk during a wonderful weather is always a good option.
When you are ready to head back to Athens, you can purchase your ticket from “In Delphi Cafe”. Currently, this is the official merchant of bus tickets.
Accommodations in Delphi
Given that you reach Delphi in the early hours of the day, you will have enough time to visit all archaeological sites and museums. Delphi can easily be a day trip away from Athens, but if you wish to stay overnight, then there’s plenty of quality accommodation in the region.
The village of Delphi has a variety of hotels to stay and it’s a perfect option for short-term travellers due to the close distance to archaeological sites and museums.
The nearby town of Arachova is only 15 minutes away and it is a preferred choice for people with cars as it offers more privacy. If you’d like to have a greater choice of hotels and restaurants, then Arachova is the better option for a stay.
The summer is an off-season for the town, because Arachova is a popular ski-resort that gets crowded in the winter. That’s when the prices tend to go up as more and more tourists come for skiing.
Food in Delphi
The town offers a great number of restaurants, known for their tasty food. We asked a couple of locals for recommendations and their votes went for Taverna Vakchos and Epikouros. Seemingly, the two of the most famous restaurants around as we can see from the big tourists group that come one after another.
- Epikorous is open all day and it is great for people who have lost track of time and have decided to eat during off-hours. The restaurant is popular with tour groups, due to the fascinating views of the valley and the sea.
- Taverna Vakchos is a favourite spot for locals, due to its delicious meat dishes. The tavern has a beautiful terrace with nice views and it’s popular with the private tour guides. It’s important to note that the restaurant closes for several hours in the afternoon each day.
Of course, there are more than two restaurants around Delphi. If you head outside the town, you can find some hidden gems in the ski resort of Arachova.
Located on the southern side of Mount Parnassus, Delphi can be a warm place during the summer. The beautiful mountain offers a great number of views where you can enjoy your food at its fullest.
History of Delphi
Before continuing with the excavations and beautiful monuments that you can view in Delphi, it is important to tell you about the history of this magical place.
By the end of the Mycenaean period (1600 – 1100 BCE), Delphi was a key center in Greek politics and religion. However, artifacts point out evidence that the region was inhabited even earlier in time – during the Neolithic era.
Archaeologists have found enough proof that can tell us the importance of Delphi as a religious center in Ancient Greece. The oracle of Delphi was an important figure, famous for its accurate predictions, who gave international fame to the region.
Soldiers, kings and common people came from far and wide to consult with the oracle on important matters. It is considered that the Pythia had great power because her advice could start, end wars, or even establish new regimes
An interesting fact is that before it was converted to a place of Apollo’s worship, Delphi was a site that honoured Mother Earth. Over the years, the fame of Delphi grew increasingly, until it became internationally known for the accurate predictions of its oracle.
For centuries, the sanctuary remained a cultural and religious hub of high regard for Ancient Greeks. With the rise of Christianity, the influence of the region slowly started to lower.
The Pythian Games
The region of Delphi thrived not only religiously, but culturally as well. Soon enough, the area became a host of different activities such as athletic games and theatrical plays.
These games became popular as the Delphic Games or the Pythian Games. They were athletic competitions, similar to the well-known Olympic tournament.
Similar to the Olympics, the Pythian Games were hosted every four years to honour Apollo. The first competition games were held in the 11th c. BCE, but they included only musical contests. By the 6th c. BCE they grew into athletic contests, much similar to the ones we know today.
Archaeological Sites of Delphi
Nowadays, Delphi is one of the most famous archaeological sites of Greece with its well-preserved excavations. Due to its location and stunning landscape, it is no surprise why it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Greece.
The main archaeological sites include the Temple of Apollo, the stadium, the theatre, the Tholos and the treasuries of the Syphnias and the Athenians.
The Serpentine Column
Along the way, you will reach a black twisted column with a missing top – that’s the Serpent column. It is often an overlooked attraction by travellers, but it has a meaning worth knowing.
After the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC, the column was built to commemorate the defeat of the Persians from the hands of the Greeks. However, in 324 AD Emperor Constantine had it removed and relocated to Istanbul as a trophy. That’s why, the one available now is a recreation of the real column.
The Temple of Apollo
At last, you’ve reached the temple that you’ve come for. Probably the most immersive structure during the flourishing days of the oracle. Unfortunately, today the reality is a bit different and Apollo’s temple is rather underwhelming.
It was from this temple that the Pythian priestess would communicate with the gods and share their will. Unfortunately, now there are only ruins of what was once the mightiest temple in Ancient Greece.
The Sanctuary of Athena Pronea and Tholos
Considered the second most important site in Delphi, The Sanctuary of Athena Pronea and Tholos is located southeast from the Temple of Apollo.
We highly recommend leaving “The Tholos” for visiting after seeing the first main site. In the late hours of the day, there would be less tourists and the view would be much better.
The name Athena Pronea translates to “before the Temple,”. This is because the sanctuary is the first visible site to visitors coming from east. Athena Pronea is known as the guardian of Pythia, that accepted the sacrifices given to the Oracle for her predictions.
The Tholos is a round-shaped temple, originally built around 360 BC. It is special not only for its beauty, but because of the fact that it remains intact from the early days of the Mycenaean civilisation.
This fascinating monument used to be encircled by twenty columns on the outer side and ten on the inner. Nowadays, only three remain standing.
Between the main archaeological site and Athena Pronea, you can see the ancient Delphi Gymnasium. It was a place where athletes prepared themselves for the Pythian Games.
If you continue further after the temple, there are two more intriguing sites to see. Above the temple, there’s a conserved theatre dating from the 4th century BC.
It had a capacity of over 2,000 people and was used for hosting sports and performances for entertainment. Note that the view it offers is worth seeing and you would not regret visiting it.
Just above the theatre, there’s a trail that goes to the side of the mountain. High above the first sites, you can find the Delphi stadium.
Most groups with tourists don’t have enough time to visit it, while others turn back due to the steep hike. That’s why in most cases you’ll be alone on top and the trip is worth the efforts.
With a size of a football pitch, the Delphi stadium hosted the Pythian Games every four years to honour god Apollo. These games are known to be the predecessors of the famous Olympic Games.
The Archaeological Museum at Delphi
After you visit the Temple of Apollo and the Tholos, you must take a look inside the Archaeological Museum of Delphi. It is surely not the biggest museum but it is a tribute to quality over the quantity, which makes it one of the most significant in Greece.
Inside you can find the statue of Apollo, the famous Charioteer of Delphi, the sculptures from the Syphnian Treasury frieze and the statues of twins Kleobis and Biton. For many people, the Sphinx of Naxos was the highlight of the exhibition.
The exhibited items in the museum follow the Greek history from late Helladic & early Mycenaean period through Classical Greece and Hellenistic Greece, going as far as the rise of the Byzantine empire
Note that children under 18 years old can enter the museums free of charge. There are admission-free days spread throughout the year, so it might be your lucky day.