Among the best things to do in Delphi in Greece is a visit to the ancient Delphi ruins, which are one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. The ancient Greek built a beautiful city with temples dedicated to the god Apollo against the slopes of Mount Parnassos, where the Oracle of Delphi was housed. The most powerful men of ancient times travelled to Delphi to ask the Oracle of Apollo for wise advice, and through its prophecies, ancient Delphi held one of the most important positions of power. That power and wealth can still be seen in the beautiful ruins that you can visit in Delphi today. The Delphi archaeological site has even been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1987. This blog will tell you more about the myths surrounding the Oracle of Delphi and the best things to do in Delphi.
How to get to Delphi in Greece?
The World Heritage Site of Delphi is located in mainland Greece in the Parnassos mountains overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. The Greek capital of Athens is located further south than Delphi and is just over 2 hours’ driving from the archaeological site. Many day tours to Delphi are offered from Athens, which is definitely recommended if you don’t have your own transport to get there or if you’re short on time.
Where to stay in Delphi
As one of the famous tourist destinations in Greece, Delphi offers many great hotels, restaurants and bars in its towns. Many of them are withing easy walking distance of the archaeological site.
But if you’re looking for the best place to stay in Delphi, you might want to consider staying in the picturesque village of Arachova 8 kilometers down the road. This traditional mountain village is very charming and cozy, while Delphi doesn’t have a lot of charm at all. In the winter months, Arachova is often visited by Greeks because of the nearby ski slopes in the mountains. You can then combine a visit to the Delphi ruins with a day of skiing!
The best hotels in Delphi itself:
- Kastalia Boutique Hotel for a charming hotel with a view of Mount Parnassos. The boutique hotel is centrally located in Delphi.
- Acropole Delphi City Hotel for a beautiful hotel with a phenomenal view over the valley around Delphi. Ceilings with wooden beams and tiled floors give the hotel rooms an authentic atmosphere.
- Amalia Hotel Delphi for a modern hotel with its own outdoor pool and parking. The panoramic views, green gardens and modern rooms make this a favorite with visitors to Delphi.
- Parnassos Delphi Hotel for a colorful hotel with a central location in Delphi. The on-site Epikouros restaurant, colorful decor and modern rooms make this one of the finest hotels in Delphi.
The best hotels in Arachova:
- Domotel Anemolia Mountain Resort for a beautiful hotel that would not look out of place in other European ski resorts. With wooden ceilings, a heated indoor pool and a sauna, this is a wonderfully comfortable hotel to stay near Delphi.
- Boutique Hotel Skamnos for an attractive hotel outside Arachova. There is a swimming pool, sauna, hot tub and spa, all nestled in a beautiful mountain landscape.
- Santa Marina Arachova Resort for a boutique resort with modern and cozy rooms, a swimming pool, a spa and an on-site bar. The rave reviews praise the comfortable rooms and friendly staff.
- Alpen House Hotel for a cozy hotel with traditional wooden ceilings, dark wooden furniture and large windows. The spa and wellness facilities include massages, hydrotherapy and spa treatments.
The Oracle of Delphi
The Oracle of Delphi was one of the most important and most visited oracles of Greek antiquity. As the main place of worship of the god Apollo, a thriving city with temples and beautiful buildings arose at this mountain location. There are several stories about how the worship of Apollo originated here. One of the stories tells of two eagles that Zeus sent across the world, both in different directions. Delphi was the place where they met again, being the center or the navel of the world and the new location of a temple complex.
The Oracle of Delphi was known for its mysterious prophecies, included in many Greek myths and stories. The prophecies were made by the Pythia, a woman receiving messages from Apollo in a trance. She emitted strange sounds, which were interpreted by other priestesses. The messages were converted into enigmatic verses which could often be interpreted in several ways. As the mysterious prophecies weren’t very helpful to the visitors, you wouldn’t expect people to flock to Delphi for them, including the most famous king and powerful men.
Archaeologists now suspect that the Pythia passed into a trance because of vapors rising from a chasm in the floor and that these were the reason that the temple was built at this exact location. There are no longer vapors today, but archaeologists believe they may have been there in the past.
It is now also clear that the Oracle of Delphi was not the first sanctuary on this site. Before Apollo was worshiped at this location, the area was already inhabited and there were already temples. The oldest remains that have been found date from the seventh century BC. Archaeologists can establish with certainty that from the eighth century BC some kind of oracle was active in Delphi. This oracle was later dedicated to the Greek god Apollo.
Eventually the prestige and power of the oracle made Delphi grow into an important player in Greek politics and history. Even later Roman emperors respected the old Greek oracle and had it restored. But due to the ancient shift of power to Rome, Delphi slowly lost its position and the Roman emperor Theodosius eventually had it closed in 192 AD, when he declared Christianity the official religion.
The 6 best things to do in Delphi
#1 The archaeological site of Delphi
The archaeological excavation in Delphi is of course the main attraction of Delphi. A visit to Delphi is all about this special place. The city was once built against a mountain slope, so you don’t get a full picture of Delphi from the entrance at the bottom of the mountain. As you climb up past the ruins, the ancient city unfolds to visitors.
Visitors climb up a zigzagging path, taking them first to the treasure houses and monuments. Many city-states and kings thanked and honored Apollo with the expensive and beautiful gifts and they were placed or stored in this area. To outdo each other and show their wealth and success, the grandest monuments and buildings were built by the political powers of ancient times.
Via the Sacred Way, you will reach the Sanctuary of Apollo where the Pythia once received her monthly prophecies. The current temple remains from the sixth century BC, but there were temples in this location even before that. The temple of Apollo had inscriptions and beautiful decorations. One of the most famous inscriptions “know thyself” urged visitors to do some self-examination before seeking advice from a deity.
One of the highlights and highest points of the Delphi ruins is the ancient theatre. It is one of the later additions to Delphi and dates back to the second century BC and was used during Delphic festivals. It is beautifully built against the mountainside and it is a particularly imposing sight.
Practical tip: the opening hours and rates of the Delphi ruins vary per season and can be checked on the Delphi official site.
#2 The Delphi Archaeological Museum
A ticket to the archaeological site of Delphi also includes the Archaeological Museum, located at the entrance of the ancient site. A visit to the museum is definitely one of the best things to do in Delphi and we recommend going there before visiting the ruins. The museum will learn you about the history and use of Delphi, bringing the excavations to life. A guided tour around the Delphi ruins and the museum is also a great way to learn more about it and fully appreciate the meaning of this World Heritage Site.
The museum has many impressive statues from the old archaeological site. Some of them we once studied in our high school textbooks and it was an amazing experience to now admire those same statues in real life in the Delphi museum. Particularly noteworthy are the two Kouroi of Delphi, the enormous winged Sphinx, the detailed friezes of the ancient temples and the famous bronze Charioteer of Delphi.
#3 The Temple of Athena Pronaia
When you look up pictures of Delphi, you usually see the temple of Athena Pronaia instead of the archaeological site of Delphi itself. The temple was a lot less important than the temple of Delphi, but it is much more well-preserved and appealing to visitors. The temple is located within walking distance of the archaeological site. The entrance is free and there are no opening hours.
The temple is dedicated to the goddess Athena and it is where ancient visitors used to pass first before visiting the Temple of Apollo. The word ‘pronaia’ means something like ‘before the temple’, referring to this location. Long before Athena, other goddesses were worshipped before at this site, including Mother Earth (or Gaia in Greek mythology). At some point in history, it was rededicated to Athena and that is how we know the temple nowadays.
Unique about the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia is the circular Tholos. In the Delphi Archaeological Museum, you can read more about this building and see pictures of what it must have looked like before. The Tholos must have been a magnificent building and in ancient times it was mentioned by many historians for its beautiful architecture.
#4 The old Gymnasium
Between the ruins of Delphi and the temple of Athena Pronaia is the ancient Gymnasium. It was the location where athletes used to train for the competitions at, among others, the Pythian Games in Delphi. There used to be a racetrack, changing rooms and baths, but there is little to see of them now. You are not allowed to enter the Gymnasium, but you have a good view of it from above near the road. The shape of the old racecourse can still be clearly distinguished between the stones.
#5 The Kastelia Spring
The Castelia or Kastelia Spring is located along the road near the old Gymnasium. It is not a very impressive sight and even in ancient times, it wasn’t a very impressive building either. It’s more about the symbolic place. There was already a source here in Greek antiquity and visitors stopped at the spring after visiting the Temple of Athena Pronaia and before entering Delphi to cleanse themselves. The priestesses also used this water to cleanse themselves and it was the main water source of ancient Delphi. Since the spring is on your route from the archaeological site to the Gymnasium and the Temple of Athena Pronaia, it is worth making a stop here and dipping your hands in the mountain water yourself.
#6 The mountain village of Arachova
Arachova is the picturesque neighbor of Delphi. The authentic mountain village with an attractive location on a mountain slope is only 8 kilometers from the less entertaining village of Delphi. The lively town has great taverns, bars and restaurants. Places of interest in Arachova are the old bell tower and the church, but visitors come here mainly for the charming atmosphere and the lovely street scene. During a visit to Delphi, we definitely recommend making a stop in Arachova. And if you are looking for a great place to stay near Dlephi, we recommend you to stay in Arachova instead of Delphi itself.
If you might think Arachova’s high season would be in summer like most Greek destinations, you might be surprised to learn this is actually a famous ski destination. During the winter months, the Greek flock to the mountain area of Parnassos to enjoy the ski slopes. And Arachova is one of the most popular ski resorts in Greece. If you travel around Greece during that time of the year, you could visit both the ruins of Delphi and the Greek ski slopes near Arachova. In summer months Arachova is equally attractive though, attracting visitors for outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking.