The Acropolis in Greece takes bold step, imposing visitor limits to protect ancient site

Anyone with plans to visit Greece is going to find a few changes to the entry system at the country’s most popular tourist attraction.

The Acropolis in Greece takes bold step, imposing visitor limits to protect ancient site
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Greece has implemented a new scheme to curb overcrowding and protect its most visited attractions.

As of Monday, a new visitor cap is in place at the Acropolis, limiting attendance to 20,000 people per day. An hourly time slot will be in place throughout the day, too, to even out visits, particularly in the morning time when the site is at its busiest.

“The limits apply to everyone,” Greece‘s culture minister Lina Mendoni said in an interview. “A certain number of visitors will be allowed in each hour. For example, the 8–9am period has 3000 people. You can’t have 3000 plus one visitors. This results in visitors having a greater opportunity to tour and enjoy this major site properly.”

Up to 23,000 people were visiting the site each day during summer, a number 70% higher than last summer. As a result, authorities in Greece have pushed through these new measures to protect the ancient site and the welfare of visitors, many of whom had little choice but to stand in line in blistering temperatures during Greece’s punishing heat wave this summer.

Red Cross workers distributed bottles of water to visitors outside the Acropolis last summer © Angelos Tzortzinis /AFP via Getty Images

In July, the Red Cross was on site, distributing water and attending to visitors suffering from heat exhaustion. On days when temperatures peaked above 40°C (104°F), authorities closed the part of the site containing the Parthenon temple for the hottest hours  of the day.  

A new entry system for the Acropolis 

From the beginning of September, an hourly time-slot – or “visitor zone” – system is in place for those who pre-purchase online tickets. This new measure has been introduced along with electronic scanning of tickets for speedier access. There is also a separate entry points for large organized tour groups.

Cruise ships account for a high percentage of visitors to the Acropolis, with vessels docking for an average of nine hours in the port of Piraeus. Thousands of fresh passengers arrive daily, eager to experience Athens’ premier archaeological attraction during their very short time in the city. 

The overcrowding situation has raised alarms with Unesco, which has expressed concern about the structural preservation of the Acropolis, listed as a world heritage site since 1987. “The wait and the number of people here is overwhelming,” a customer-service operator told AFP. Prior to the introduction of the new measures, World Heritage Watch, a non-governmental organization supporting Unesco in protecting and safeguarding sites of international value, noted that the Acropolis lacked visitor-management plans required under the UN watchdog’s World Heritage Convention, to which Greece is a signatory.

Tourists queue at Propylaia, the Acropolis’ ancient gate  © Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP via Getty Images

The co-founder of Athens Walking Tours, Despina Savvidou, who visits the Acropolis weekly with tour groups, told Lonely Planet she welcomes the new changes. “The new regulations will undoubtedly contribute to alleviating the challenges,” she said. “Separate entrances for groups and implementing time slots, as seen in many renowned monuments worldwide, will allow better planning and control.”

A cap on ticket sales is also something she thinks will help. “Authorities will block specific days or times when visitor capacity is reached. However, it is essential that adjustments can be made in situations such as extreme weather conditions.”

Top tips for visiting the Acropolis

Buy tickets in advance
Take advantage of discounts for students and anyone under 25 from EU countries. Many sites sell tickets and combo tickets. Be aware that the on-site ticket office doesn’t accept cards, only cash.

Consider visiting on Saturday
This is cruise turnover day, which means crowds are significantly lower.  

Be patient and flexible
Time your visit well. “Aim to visit before 11am or after 5pm,” advises Savvidou. Most people try to avoid the heat by visiting the Acropolis early in the morning, which leads to waiting times at security lines. The site opens at 8am, when lengthy crowds will have already formed. 

Remember to cover up
There is little shade at the site, so bring a hat and wear plenty of sun protection. Comfortable, rubber-soled, closed shoes are a must, as the stone and marble ground is uneven, slippery and hot. According to official dress guidelines, shoulders and knees must be covered.

The Parthenon is Athens’ most famous attraction, and especially fetching from a rooftop bar © Shutterstock

Bring as much water as you can carry
Once inside the site, there is nowhere to buy water.  The culture minister has said she is prioritizing having water stations inside the site – but for now, come prepared.

Research ahead of your visit
Read up as much as you can before visiting, or watch a meaty documentary to enhance your time at the Acropolis. The audio guides provided at the site can be glitchy, so bring your Lonely Planet Greece guide, or (and?) have our online content queued up. Opting for a guided tour is also a good option. Experienced licensed guides like Despina Savvidou will lead you to the most significant parts of the iconic landmark, minimizing time spent under the sun. Also, make time for the Acropolis Museum, at the foot of the southern slope, which gives great context for the marble structures you’ll see on the hill. 

Important: find a good rooftop bar
When evening comes, the monument is illuminated and visible across Athens – if you have the right vantage point come sunset, that is.

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