It was inconceivable to my husband that we visit Athens without seeing the ancient city of Delphi. The problem is that it’s a 2.5-hour drive into a fairly remote part of Greece, making it quite a long day. As we’ve never handled large tour group experiences well, I immediately looked into hiring a private car.
So, after reading multiple reviews of praise and an exchange of emails with the company, that’s who I booked. I recommend you do the same.
Why Take a Day Trip to Delphi?
After the Acropolis in Athens, Delphi is the second most popular attraction in all of Greece. We were told that it is also the most popular day trip from Athens.
Located at the base of Mount Parnassus, Delphi was once considered the center of the world and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its citizens were made rich by gifts brought to the Oracle of Apollo here, who was consulted on important decisions.
And that currency was used to build impressive monuments, including stadiums and training facilities for the Pythian games held every four years in honor of Apollo. These competitions were the precursors to the modern-day Olympics.
Some believe it’s still possible to feel the spirit of Apollo here thousands of years later. You are supposed to visit with an open mind and an open heart. And it is surely impressive to see the craftsmanship of the sculptures, pillars, and remnants of buildings that were constructed all those years ago.
The Drive to Delphi from Athens
Our driver picked us up at 8 a.m. from the amazing Hotel Grande Bretagne on a sweltering Thursday in July.
His English was perfect, and though he was not our official guide (nor was he supposed to be), he and my husband (the Harvard history major) chatted about Greek economics, olive oil production, Greek wine, history, geography, and so much more conversation that made the 2.5-hour drive pass rather quickly. We hit some traffic on the way out of Athens, but none on the way back.
The drive is rather scenic in parts with rolling hillsides dotted with crops (tomatoes, olives, and the like). Our driver chose a slightly longer route (it could only have been by a few minutes) as he said that the other way is a little curvy, a much-appreciated gesture as my daughter occasionally gets motion sickness.
We passed through a little ski resort town and then began to wind our way up the mountain to Delphi, passing through some touristy shopping areas along the way.
First Stop: Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia
The sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, also known as Marmaria, is pictured here. The Tholos (circular building with a conical or vaulted roof) is thought to have been built between 380 and 360 B.C. It replaces two previous temples built in the seventh and fifth centuries B.C., respectively.
The three of its 20 columns have been restored, and it’s a popular spot for photographs. Perhaps this is why our driver pulled over here first, as there were only a handful of tour buses parked here at the time. It’s about half-mile or so away from the main archeological site, which we went to next.
However, there are two other important sites worth noting along the way. Near the sanctuary of Athena is also the famous Gymnasium where athletes trained for mostly track and field events. In later years it was used for lectures and cultural events. We could have taken a walk here after exploring the main site but were too hot and tired. You can get a good look at it on the way down the hill.
Castalia is a nymph who was Apollo apparently transformed into a sacred fountain. This is where all athletes of the Pythian games and visitors to the Oracle all washed and drank before entering. It was a cleansing of sorts. We passed this, too.
Delphi Main Archeological Site
Our driver dropped us in front of the ticket booth, told us how to get to the nearby museum, and told us where he’d be parked. I was grateful to have left some things in the car because exploring Delphi involves an uphill walk that was challenging in the summer heat.
Delphi tickets include admission to the adjacent museum, which houses some impressive statues, jewelry, and other wares unearthed from the site. Children under 18 are free. There are also a handful of free admission days for everyone spread throughout the year.
Unless you are a history buff, I would say that you need about an hour to explore this part of the ancient city. The path (which is now called “Sacred Way”) starts at the ticket booth. It winds up past several Treasuries and then the Temple of Apollo (pictured below), where the Oracle was.
The funny thing is that there’s not really a ton of, “The Oracle was here!” signage so you just have to know this is the Temple of Apollo. You can’t miss the columns.
The next big monument is the theatre which over 5000 people could enjoy poetry readings, musical events, and much more.
Wind your way up the path further to the stadium at the very top. It’s built into the hillside and pretty impressive. It was the site of the Pythian games. Imagine the chariot races they had here.
Again, there aren’t signs that say, “Stadium in 100 meters.” So, just keep walking. On the way down, we had a number of tourists ask us, “How much further?” because it is an uphill walk without a clear line of sight to the end.
The good news is that you can revisit the same sites on the way down while catching really amazing views over the valley.
The Archaeological Museum of Delphi
A walkway in front of the entrance to the archaeological site will then lead to The Archaeological Museum of Delphi where treasures from the ancient city are on display.
FYI, there is a concession stand with beer and more slushy drinks than I could count (though it was July) for sale in addition to nice patio seating. We took a quick rest here.
It is not a huge museum but certainly a tribute to the quality and not quantity. This is why it’s lauded as one of the best museums in Greece. The permanent exhibition covers over a thousand years, from the Mycenaean era to the Greco-Roman times. I found it easy to browse and quite awe-inspiring. You need no more than 30 minutes to an hour here.
This is a Spinx of Naxos thought to have been carved near 560 B.C.
It is so amazing to think that thousands and thousands of years ago that artisans had such skill and means to create such vivid and life-like works of art using marble, metals and other stone.
Best Delphi Restaurant: Taverna Vakchos
Next, it was time for a late lunch. Prior to our departure, I asked our butler at Hotel Grande Bretagne where we should eat in Delphi. He called back and said the only restaurant they recommend is Taverna Vakchos. Coincidentally, my husband’s research yielded the same result.
And, even more fortuitously, it was the top recommendation of our driver, too. And now I totally see why because we had a fantastic meal with an open-air view to the sea.
Our server recommended a great bottle of Greek wine which we enjoyed over dolmas and more. Our driver waited for us outside. He’d actually run into a friend so they enjoyed a coffee next door.
The service was excellent at the restaurant and the bill for the three of us was about €60 euros (and we tend to over-order).
Needless to say, my daughter and I napped on the way back to Athens while my husband engaged our driver in more conversation. We were back in Athens before 5:00 p.m., in time for our dinner on the rooftop of Hotel Grande Bretagne which has a stunning view of the Acropolis.
You can totally do a day trip to Delphi from Athens. I was worried it would be too long of a day for my daughter but it actually wasn’t stressful or really that tiring. And, we all enjoyed it much more than I thought.
What to Bring on a Day Trip to Delphi
There is little to no shade at Delphi which meant a summer visit was extremely hot. You will need to bring plenty of bottled water to the site (or buy it at the nearby stand) as once you enter there are no concessions.
Wear a hat and sunscreen. An umbrella to shield you from the sun would not be unreasonable either during the summer.
Closed-toed shoes with traction are a must as paths are unpaved and slippery in parts.
Carry gear in a backpack if you can. You will not be able to climb on any remnants but I did manage to hurt my back hauling camera gear up the mountain in a handbag. It is a workout and the uneven weight on my body was ultimately damaging.
Bring snacks for kids in tow. And, a carrier for young kids as this is not a stroller-friendly place.
Making Reservations with George’s Taxi
Booking with George’s Taxi was rather simple and handled completely via email with no deposit required. I paid €280 total for a yellow E-Class Mercedes (what many Athens taxis are anyway). The car was immaculate, and our driver was steady and efficient.
Truth be told, I thought the car would be cramped (my husband is 6’6″) but it was fine. They do have S-Class Mercedes but it was not available on our date.
The booking agent told me that it’s really the quality of the driver and not the car that makes the difference.
I would have to agree.
(Side note: We have used George’s Taxi on return visits to Athens since I wrote this post. I still recommend them for anything you need from airport transfers to tours. You will be supporting a family run business full of nice people who provide a fantastic service.)