By Katherine Brubaker
Below towering Mount Parnassus lies the remains of ancient Delphi. This location is rich with history and one of the most important archeological sites in Greece. As a visitor, you are transported back to a time where fact and fiction are intertwined and sometimes indistinguishable. Less than a three hour drive from Athens, you can experience the tangible past of Delphi in a single day. Here is everything you need to do and know for your trip.
Helpful Historical Context
Delphi was an ancient religious sanctuary dedicated to the Greek god Apollo. Developed in the 8th century BC, the sanctuary was home to Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi and high priestess of the Temple of Apollo. Pythia was famed throughout the ancient world for divining the future.
The ancient Greeks considered the center of the world to be in Delphi, which was marked by the omphalos (navel). According to myths surrounding the founding of the Delphic Oracle, Zeus located the center of the earth by launching two eagles from opposite ends of the world.
Starting simultaneously, the eagles crossed paths above the area of Delphi, and so was the place where Zeus dropped the stone.
A Guide to the Sacred Way and Athena Pronaia
The sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, constructed around the 7th century BC, is the first site you’ll visit at Delphi. The Tholos is one of the structures belonging to the Athena Pronaia and is dated between 380 and 360 BC. Considered one of the most iconic buildings in Delphi because of its graceful beauty and resilience against the test of time, it is situated next to the treasury of the Massaliots. After passing the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, visitors can walk along the Sacred Way, which was the route taken by the ancient pilgrims on their way to the sanctuary of Apollo.
Walk in the Oracle’s Footsteps at the Castalian Spring
The Castalian Spring, located in the ravine between the Phaedriades (two large rocks), is where all visitors of the sanctuary stopped to wash themselves and quench their thirst. It is also where Pythia and the priests cleansed themselves before prophecies were made. This site has another facet to its mythological past: it’s considered sacred because it is where Apollo killed the monster Python, who was guarding the spring.
The Greek Treasuries
Continuing on the Sacred Way are a number of votive statues and treasuries. These structures were built by the Greek city-states to commemorate victories and to thank the oracle for her prophecies, which had helped them be victorious in battle. Still standing tall is the now-restored Athenian Treasury, built to commemorate a victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. In this temple made of Parian marble, trophies of important victories were kept and dedicated to the gods.
Discover Delphi’s Main Event, the Temple of Apollo
Located at the end of the Sacred Way stood the Temple of Apollo, which was the pinnacle of Apollo's cult. The deepest, underground chamber of the temple, “Adyton,” is where the divination ceremony took place and was only accessible to Pythia and the priests interpreting her prophecies. The Altar of the Chians, located in front of the Temple of Apollo, was the main altar of the sanctuary.
Ancient Entertainment: the Theater and Stadium of Delphi
Right next to Apollo’s temple lies the ancient Theater of Delphi. Capable of seating 5,000 people, the theater mainly hosted musical contests which were part of the Pythian Games, one of the four Panhellenic Games of ancient Greece. Looking out from the theatre you’re greeted with a spectacular, panoramic view of lush, looming mountains.
If you follow the tier of the theater to the west, you’ll find the Stadium of Delphi. Built in the 5th century BC, the stadium was reconstructed many times in the centuries that followed. It is considered one of the best surviving stadiums of antiquity in Greece, so you do not want to miss it!
Take a Hike to the Mythological Corycian Cave
If you are looking for a scenic hike during your time in Delphi, then the trek up to the Corycian Cave should be on your itinerary! Located above the sanctuary of Delphi, the Corycian Cave is accessible by a path (European path E4) that is a three and a half hour walk through the forest. The cave has two main chambers and continues to a great depth with a narrow tunnel.
Looking up, you get a dazzling view of stalactites with some stalagmite complexes. In use since the Neolithic era, this location has been both a place of worship and shelter for locals. The grotto is also associated with myths revolving around the cult of the goat-like god Pan and the Nymphs.
Step Back in Time at the Archaeological Museum of Delphi and Museum of Delphic Festivals
Built in 1903, the Delphi Archaeological Museum is a paradise for those who love art and history. The museum houses an extensive, valuable collection of pieces that were discovered in excavations performed at Delphi; these artifacts include inlaid tiles, Kleobis and Biton (The “Twins” of Argos), the Hymns of Apollo, and the Charioteer. The Museum of Delphic Festivals is located in the previous home of the poet Angelos Sikelianos and his wife Eva. The castle-esque building, constructed between 1924-1926, is situated next to the archaeological site of Delphi. The Museum displays include photographic and printed material from the Delphic Festivals and costumes from the performances of ancient dramas, among other materials from the Sikelianos.
Detours While Exploring Delphi
Be Dazzled by the Byzantine Era Monastery of St. Lucas Hosios Loukas Monastery is located 35 km southeast of Delphi and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Within the monastery complex you can visit the Church of Theotokos, the only church in Greece that was definitely built in the 10th century. This church is attached to the Katholikon cathedral, which houses various galleries and chapels.
Looking up in this Byzantine era monastery, you’ll find striking ceilings decorated with gold leafing, as well as frescoes and mosaics depicting various religious figures. These sites are made even more angelic by light pouring in from windows at every angle. The churches of the monastery also include valuable relics, altar cloths, and gold and silver plates.
Take a Stroll in the Village of Aráchova
Built at an altitude of 980 meters, the charming village of Aráchova is perched on the slopes of Mount Parnassus and only 8 km from Delphi. At the entrance of Aráchova, there is a bridge with a panoramic view of mountains and the Gulf of Itea. The village has maintained its traditional architecture, sprinkled with charming stone houses, balconies, and picturesque squares.
In town you will find a myriad of wonderful cafes, restaurants, and boutiques to explore.
For espresso lovers, you can relax and sip coffee from Sehre, which is an all-day coffee bar
located in Lakka square. Or if you prefer tea, perhaps try O Tea Pineis, which has a wide variety of tea types, aromatic coffees, herbs, chocolates, and honey jars.
If you are looking to dine out, you can try one of the many quality restaurants in the village, such as Dasargryis, which is one of the most historic taverns in Aráchova and is highly recommended among food lovers. You can alternatively head over to Barile, a bar with tasty dishes and selected labels of wine.
Relax By the Shore in Galaxidi
Adorned with brightly colored homes and shops stretched along the shimmering waterfront, the seaside town of Galaxidi is a popular place to visit in Greece. The town lies on the mouth of the Gulf of Itéa and is located a half an hour away from Delphi.
With no shortage of things to do, you can stroll about the town’s first port, stop at quaint coffee shops and old taverns, head up cobblestone paths, and explore the town’s history in the Archaeological Museum, Folklore Museum, or the Maritime Museum.
Make sure to visit Agios Nikolaos Church, which has a wood-sculptured altarpiece, as well as Agia Paraskevi Church, which features a solar calendar in its roof, a zodiac cycle embedded in its floor, and a unique sundial at its entrance.
Get the Full Delphi Experience With a Guided Tour
There are a myriad of guided tours available to take when going to Delphi. Options range from private tours, to multi-day trips, to tours that focus solely on architecture or art. With breathtaking mountains, ancient ruins, and an awe-inspiring history, you do not want to miss out on this destination while in Greece!