Discover the Ancient Sanctuary of Delphi in 1 Day – Yoga, Wine & Travel

Discover the Ancient Sanctuary of Delphi in 1 Day

You can’t talk about Greek mythology and history without referencing Delphi. Once considered the centre of the world, Delphi was home to the most famous oracle (no, they probably didn’t look like the ones in 300: the movie) in all of Greece and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After visiting Athens, Olympia and Meteora, Delphi was our last stop in mainland Greece before hopping over to Santorini. If you’re considering visiting Delphi (because honestly, why wouldn’t you?), it’s very easy to do a day trip from Athens; alternatively, you could spend the night and drive on to Meteora.

The Oracle was also known as the Pythia, and was thought to have existed since the dawn of time. She was a prophet for the Greek god Apollo and handed out sage advice and wisdom to kings as well as ordinary citizens – her prophecies could send armies to war, or break up relationships. It was the Oracle who told Hercules to serve King Eurystheus in order to cleanse himself of the murder of his own wife and children – this is what led to Hercules undertaking the 12 labors.

Getting there

Delphi is a 3 hour drive away from Athens and the drive is relatively easy, with a few tight bends along the way. Make sure you have change ready for the various toll booths along the Greek highways. If you are planning to visit Delphi, you could easily visit all the sites, monuments and museum in a few hours’ time and there are plenty of tour operators that offer day trips from Athens.

Want to stay overnight in Delphi? Click here to book accommodation in Delphi!

For those of you who are driving, there are a number of spots along the road in front of the archaeological site that you can park at at no cost. If you’re looking to nab a spot, make sure you head there early (before 11 am/noon) so that you avoid the tour buses.

What to bring

A bottle of water (there is a shop outside the museum if you forget); sunscreen and/or a hat (there is zero shade inside the archaeological site); and a comfortable pair of walking shoes with good grip as the path within the site can be slippery. You have to walk uphill within the archaeological site so you may also want to bring a fan and/or wet wipes.

What to see

There are a number of sites and a museum located in Delphi. Tickets are €12 (€6 for children) and covers your entry to all sites. The sites are open between 8 am to 3 pm (last admission at 2:30 pm) and the museum is open between 9 am to 4 pm (last admission at 3:40 pm). Both locations are closed on certain days of the year (such as Christmas, Boxing Day, Easter Sunday etc.) so make sure you check the Ministry of Culture & Sports website if you’re planning on heading there on a major holiday.

Sanctuary of Athena

If you’re coming from Athens, this is (quite fittingly) the first site you will hit. This site is a few hundred meters away from the main archaeological site and contains the iconic Tholos (which you’ve probably seen on many a postcards), a circular building that was consists of about 20 columns. It’s probably one of the most popular places for tourists to take photos, and for good reason. There is a small platform as you walk down the hill to the site that serves as an excellent photo spot. When we were there, there was no ticket booth to enter the Sanctuary of Athena.

The Main Archaeological Site

Once you have arrived at the main archaeological site, you can purchase your tickets and go straight in (hang on to your ticket). The path is mostly uphill and some sections are slippery, so be careful. As you ascend up the Sacred Way towards the Temple of Apollo, there are a number of notable monuments to see.

Those wishing to consult the oracle ascended the Sacred Way on the ninth day of each month, sacrificed an animal on the altar at the top and were then allotted their place in the queue.

The Treasuries

The elegant treasuries were erected by several Greek cities to host their votive offerings to the sanctuary. The treasury of the Siphnians was shaped like a small temple and hosted votive offerings dedicated to Apollo, but only the foundations are still located at the archaeological site – the surviving sculptural decoration is on display in the museum.

The Athenians’ treasury contained trophies from important battle victories and other votive objects dedicated to the sanctuary. Parts of the architectural sculpture of the treasuries are on exhibit in the museum, including an inscription on a wall of 2 unique hymns to Apollo.

The Omphalos

If you weren’t looking for it, you’d probably walk right by it and think “oh that’s a funny looking cone-shaped rock”. Among the ancient Greeks, Delphi was believed to be the center of the world. Legend is that Zeus sent out 2 eagles from the ends of the earth to fly across the world at the same speed, and where they met was determined to be the navel of the world – the Omphalos marks this location. Spoiler: this is a copy of the sacred Omphalos at the sanctuary, the “original” stone is on exhibit in the museum.

Temple of Apollo

Jackpot! The Temple of Apollo is arguably the star of the show and was built with donations from every Greek city. The base and several columns still stand and it’s not hard to imagine how it might have looked during its heyday. Once you walk further up the hill, you can look back on the Temple of Apollo with lush mountains as its backdrop and just marvel at its beauty. It is here where the Oracle carried out the divination rituals.

Looks like the Oracle and Apollo were not fond of the cold. The Oracle only gave prophecies during the 9 warmest months of each year as it is said that Apollo deserts his temple during the winter months.

The Seat of the Oracle

Have you watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Nia Vardalos wrote the screenplay and starred in the comedy – she then went on to write and star in My Life in Ruins, a predictable (yet hilarious) romcom with the most incredible scenes of the landscape and ruins in Greece. In the movie, she points at this holey (yes, holey as in with holes, not “holy”) slab of rock and said that the Oracle used to peek through the holes to deliver prophecies. It is said that this slab of rock was actually placed flat, rather than on its side, and that the holes were for the Oracle’s tripod seat. Some people say this is a replica – who really knows?

When the Oracle sat in her seat, she would inhale fumes that would send her into a trance so that she could act as a medium for Apollo and deliver prophecies. Geologists have found that it might have been possible that these gases were hallucinogenic and released from fault lines between tectonic plates. The researchers found traces of ethylene at Delphi: ethylene has a sweet smell and produces a narcotic effect described as a “floating” or euphoria! Read more on National Geographic.

The Ancient Theatre 

By this point you’re probably getting a bit sweaty and panting from the uphill climb. But seeing the well-preserved theatre is worth it. Perched high up on the hill, this is where the musical performances of the Pythian Games (more to come on the games) and other religious festivals took place. Apparently this theatre can accommodate approximately 5000 people! Of course I couldn’t resist striking a Yoga pose here. #Shameless.

Stadium

Honestly, after the theatre I was extremely disinclined to keep walking up the hill. I was exhausted (probably all those back bends!) and wasn’t sure if the stadium was worth visiting – turns out that it was (kind of). The Olympic Games was not the only sports event in Ancient Greece, turns out that there are a total of 4! The stadium hosted the athletic portions of the Pythian Games, which was hosted every 4 years at Delphi, and could accommodate approximately 6000 people.

Delphi Archaeological Museum

Last but not least is the Delphi Archaeological Museum, I hope you still have your ticket! Before you enter, you should know that the museum staff are very strict about posing for photos with the sculptures and artifacts for photos – apparently some rowdy visitors disregarded the fact that the exhibits had cultural and religious significance and took stupid, silly photos with the sculptures. Anyhoo, the museum contains lots of impressive statues, votives, pediments, architectural elements and the famous Charioteer, the last remaining bronze sculpture from Delphi. Other major exhibits include the Kouroi of Delphi or the “Twins of Argos”, two matching male statues, the Sphinx of Naxos, the Dancers of Delphi, the Omphalos and the statue of Antinous.

Dancers of Delphi Statue_small
Kouroi of Delphi_small
Delphi Sphinx of Naxos_small

Delphi is an incredible, unmissable place to visit in Greece. I would go as far to say that no trip to Greece is complete without exploring Delphi, and the good news is that while there is a boatload to see, it can easily be seen in a few hours’ time. Is it on your list of places to visit in Greece?  Tell me in the comments section below!

Planning a trip to Greece? Check out my other destination guides!

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71 Comments

  1. Love these places with ancient looking. Athens , Delphi… ‘s so incredible with museum, stadium, temple. Hope I get there once day soon.

  2. Wow, just two hours outside of Athens?! Delphi should be on everyone’s list to see. This is such a great guide and it looks like there were no other people there making it easy to explore. The Temple of Apollo would be worth the trip alone. Really enjoyed your post.

    • Flo says:

      It’s such a wonderful place – we managed to get there before the busloads of tourists arrived but the Sanctuary of Athena was very quiet!

  3. John says:

    I would love to visit Greece someday! Delphi and Athens looks like such an awesome trip! That theater looks incredible. In the meantime, I’ll just have to settle for the replica Parthenon in Nashville 🙂

  4. How did I miss Delphi when I visited Athens? I guess I’ll have to make another trip. The museum fee is very reasonable.

  5. Renata says:

    Greece is soooo amazing! If I could I’d tour all these historical cities there to…! I’m amazed at how empty the main archaeological site was! When I visited Athens you could barely move up there at the Parthenon!

  6. Wendy Maes says:

    I studied Latin and Greec, so I am a big fan of Greec history and myths. I have been to Athens, but never to Delphi. So it’s on my endless bucketlist.

  7. Ellis says:

    I was in Delphi back in 2002. Lovely place that is always nice to visit.

  8. I’ve been there so long ago that I almost didn’t remember half of it! It was so great to experience it again through your post, thank you!

  9. Ah man this looks stunning! It reminds me of Jordan actually, so steeped with history. I didn’t realise how close it was to Athens so will mark it down on my list!

  10. Daisy Li says:

    Sooo cool, crazy to see how the similarities between Greece and Turkey! Absolutely in love with the history behind it all

  11. Evie says:

    Really interesting! I’d love to know more about the Oracle and how they were selected and more importantly how did they know what to say!! Off to research!! 🙂

    • Flo says:

      It looks like many of them were selected from the group of priestesses – female, “of good standing”, etc. Age didn’t seem to be a massive factor 🙂

  12. You have some awesome pictures! We visited here a few years ago but it was so so hot!!! I loved the Ancient Theatre I can just imagine how amazing it must’ve looked all those years ago.

  13. Anisa says:

    I love see the ruins in Greece. It is just amazing to think about how they were able to build these structures so many years ago and how they are still standing. I would love to spend some time exploring Delphi.

  14. Julie says:

    Wow, I would love to check out this place if I have time when I go to Greece. We may go this fall so I’ll definitely bookmark this. Is it pretty easy to drive through Greece?

  15. Great and well written article! My husband and I were here last September during our Taste of Greece tour. It’s good to learn about the history at the same time seeing the place in person.

  16. Wow, about 100 childhood memories came flooding back. I did love the Greeks at school and I even read about them at home. I I had never thought about visiting, I suppose I think if it all as myth?

    This was an incredibly informative piece and I love the snippets you included!

  17. Having studied ancient Greek archeology in uni, I’d say this place is definitely going on my list. I love the backbend for 5000 spectators there, pretty wicked. Any good gyros to be found around Delphi?

    • Flo says:

      Delphi town had plenty of restaurants but we didn’t end up having a meal here as we were on our way back to Athens 🙂 I always wanted to study Greek archaeology and mythology in uni but it wasn’t offered at my school – must have been an amazing course!

  18. Cassandra says:

    I love love love all of your guides to visiting these cities in Greece! As a secret obsessor of Greek mythology, just seeing your pictures and the little small facts you throw in, in each post, makes me seriously want to book a flight as soon as possible. Seriously bookmarking all of your guides to the three cities to use when I make it over there (hopefully soon, I’ve been hinting at it to the boyfriend!)

  19. Suz says:

    First I have to say WOW to your photos!! They’re stunning! If I ever make it to Athens I will definitely have to make a point to head to Delphi. I can only imagine how it felt to walk among these ancient sites; the architecture alone in incredible, but with a backdrop like this I’m sure it was even more impressive.

  20. The Oracle at Delphi seems like the height of classic Greece to me. Perhaps even more so than the Apollo Temple. Perhaps it’s one and the same but the idea that somebody could actually talk to a god just amazed me as a kid. As a nerd, having two computer tie ins is pretty cool. I never realized that the Omphalos was considered the center of the world. I thought Eratosthenes measured the diameter of the earth from Egypt because he realized it was on the equator. Still cool the Greeks believed the Earth was round. If you assume the Earth is a perfect sphere you could pick any spot to be the center. In case you couldn’t tell, I am a huge fan of Greek Science.

  21. Love everything about Greece! Your pics are amazing, giving the place that additional awe. Great views and such mystical place, love it. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  22. Ivy says:

    Your Greece guides have been on fire as of late! Love that they’re all so informative each with a history lesson. Did you know everything about Delphi before your visit? Wondering if it’s a good idea to hire a guide to walk us through each temple, theatre, stadium, etc. so we can better appreciate Delphi. Also, which month did you go? I can’t imagine wearing jeans in Greece in the summer, let alone hiking uphill with so little shade!

    • Flo says:

      They have pamphlets and the Museum is also incredibly informative! I personally probably wouldn’t hire a guide (but that’s just me!) – we went in July so it was BLISTERING hot. Must. Bring. Hat!

  23. What an informative guide! I love how you included a map so we know where the locations are! A trip to Greece isn’t complete without a stop in Delphi to learn all about the ancient history!

  24. Sandy says:

    Looking forward to going there in July – finally!

  25. I love that there seems to be nobody else around! This would be a great place to experience some serenity. Aside from the architectural delights, the natural landscape is just breathtaking!

  26. Kassie says:

    This is such a great and informative guide! I only had a short time when I was in Greece last and this post made me realize that I still have so much to see! Can’t wait to see more of your Greece posts.

  27. Beautiful pictures and awesome information! Delphi has never been on my radar, it definitely is now. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Sheri says:

    Wow, what amazing information and pictures. We are in Austria so pretty close by and this post is wonderful as a motivator to want me to travel there. Awesome!

  29. I love my history but admittedly, I don’t know very much about my Greek history. Definitely a very informative post, Flo! Gave me a little crash course. I tend to visit museums to learn a bit about ancient history but it’ll be completely different visiting an ancient site like this! I’m impressed with how well-preserved the grounds are. And that view!

    Also, are you wearing jeans in that photo? The weather in your photos looks extremely warm, kudos to you!

  30. Karin says:

    Haha, the best advice of all is “take wet wipes” 😀 I haven´t visited here – we just rushed through Greece last year – but one day I´d love to! It seems on your beautiful photos that it is not quite as crowded as I would imagine (or maybe you just waited long enough ;-))

  31. What an interesting an gorgeous place to visit Flo, definitely worth hiking around in the heat for! Love the yoga pose in the ancient theatre too! 😀

  32. Colby says:

    Ever since studying Greek Mythology (many many moons ago) in school, I’ve always dreamt about going to Greece. Your post makes me want to go even more! Such a great and comprehensive guide.

  33. Sophie says:

    Well, I have to go see the center of the world, now, don’t I?! What a great day trip idea. I was supposed to tour most of the ancient sites in Greece with a class, but it was planned for right after the September 11th attacks so the entire trip got called off and I’ve never made it out that way. Time to replan that trip!

  34. Damn!
    Really missed out this place to add in my bucket list. I’m a history lover, loved the historic carvings at Delphi Archaeological Museum, those are really magnificent.
    Keep posting such historic places 🙂

  35. Ferna says:

    first time to hear about Delphi and I don’t even know that there is a more amazing place to explore for Greece. Beyond bless to know this. Thank you.

  36. Loudy says:

    This post will definitely help me organize my trip to Greece. Honestly I have never heard of Delphi I always see photos and posts about Santorini. It sounds an interesting place to visit. Greal post , it contains lot of details which makes it good and easy for the reader. Thank you for sharing

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