Come for a vacation to Greece and it's impossible not to visit the ancient monuments. In Athens, there are several scattered around the capital, yet there are two that many come to experience, and for different reasons.
The Acropolis -- possibly the most famous -- and the lesser-known Temple of Poseidon both make up part of what’s known as the Sacred Triangle of Greece, the third element of the triangle being located on the Greek island of Aegina. Numbers, geometry, and astronomy were very symbolic to Ancient Greeks, hence their temples were constructed to worship this.
There are some key differences when deciding which monument to visit -- although I strongly recommend ensuring enough time to experience both.
The Sacred Rock of the Acropolis is located bang smack in the center of Greece’s capital city, Athens. The symbol of ancient Greek culture, it’s also one of the most important ancient buildings in Europe. At 490 feet above sea level, it’s possible to see the rock from almost every spot in the capital, especially in the center and neighborhoods such as Plaka and Monastiraki, located at its base.
The Temple of Poseidon can be found 43 miles southeast of the center, along the Athens Riviera at the southernmost tip of the peninsula on a cliff by the sea. Away from the city center yet within its reach, the Temple of Poseidon offers fantastic views across the Aegean at sunset and is a very peaceful place to come and contemplate the ancient Greeks and their history.
The journey along the Riviera takes you along the beach road through many glitzy Athenian suburbs such as Glyfada and Vouliagmeni where you can stop and enjoy lunch, have a Greek coffee, or do a spot of shopping.
2. Who They Represent
The Parthenon, atop the Acropolis, is dedicated to the patron goddess of the city -- Athena. She was the Goddess of Wisdom and War and was also a virgin, hence Parthenon means “apartment of the virgin.” The city of Athens is named after her, and the Parthenon built to honor her.
You’ll know that Greece is popular for its olive trees, and atop the Acropolis and Parthenon, you’ll find a single olive tree, reputed to have been planted by Athena. Legend has it that when the Persians burned down the Acropolis in 480 B.C., the olive tree immediately started sprouting a four-foot-long branch -- proof that the Greeks will never be defeated.
The Temple of Poseidon at Sounio was the place where Aegeus, King of Athens, fell to his death. The myth has it that his son, Theseus, traveled to Crete to kill the feared Minotaur monster and told his father that if he was successful, he would fly a white flag from his ship upon arrival at the Sounio peninsular. Theseus successfully killed the Minotaur, yet forgot to hoist the white sail, hence Aegeus, upon seeing the ship, assumed his son was dead and threw himself from the cliff to his own death.
The Acropolis consists of several buildings, the Parthenon being the most well-known -- a rectangle and an example of Doric architecture with a total of 25 Pentelic marble columns. Along the top are friezes of gods fighting giants and important Greek religious festivals.
The Erectheion Temple is considered the most sacred part of the site with the six famous Caryatids, women who seem to hold the roof on their heads. It’s here that the olive tree grows and where all the ceremonies of Poseidon and Athena took place.
Many more structures exist within the Acropolis, including the Temple of Athena Nike, The Propylaea -- Gateway to the Acropolis -- Panathenaic Way where the processions would march down, Statue of Athena Promachos, Theatre of Dionysos, Temple of Thrasyllos, Stoa of Eumenes, the Asklepieion and Temple of Herodes Atticus -- a Roman amphitheater still in use today for live performances, including the annual Arts Festival of Epidaurus.
By contrast, the Temple of Poseidon is a single structure atop the cliffs facing over the Aegean sea. Again a Doric structure built between 444 and 440 B.C., it has 16 out of the original 38 fluted columns still standing, made of white marble and standing at roughly 20 feet high and a solid three feet in thickness. Unlike the Parthenon there are no friezes depicting war scenes; instead, The Temple of Poseidon is a very simple structure.
4. Getting There
Being in Central Athens, the Acropolis is located within walking distance to its very own Metro stop: Acropoli. It means you can incorporate the site as part of a day sightseeing or shopping within the city.
The Temple of Poseidon, located a 45-minute drive and just over 40 miles out of the city, is best reached by rental car for more independence with your itinerary as there are many opportunities to stop along the way and have a swim at one of the many beaches along the coastal road. Alternatively, many regional buses go to the temple from the Mavromateon bus station in the city center. Buses run every hour from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., but times frequently change so do check out the timetable. However, you’ll get to the Temple of Poseidon, plan on the outing amounting to a full-day trip.
The entrance fee to access all the structures on the Acropolis is currently 20 euros. There are free entrance days at certain times of the year. Note that on some national holidays, it’s closed. Double-check the official site as you plan your visit.
As there’s just one structure at the Temple of Poseidon, entrance is 10 euros, again with free entrance on some days and closed on national holidays. Check the website for more specifics.
The Acropolis has several tourist shops and tavernas nearby, especially in historical Plaka district below the rock. There is also the world-famous Acropolis Museum, which not only houses spectacular archaeological finds from when the Acropolis was constructed but also has a wonderful rooftop cafe and restaurant with coffee and meals served on a terrace with views to the Parthenon.
As it’s located by the coast, the Temple of Poseidon has more nature surrounding it, and there is a small cafe at the site where one can sit with a homemade pie and coffee and relax. Due to its gorgeous location, there are some wonderful luxury hotels located near the site, which could make a great place to stay and spoil yourself for a few days with a change from the city center.
One such is Grecotel Cape Sounio, which offers suites and private bungalows, some with private pools.
7. Time Of Year To Go
Both sites are exposed to the elements without shade, especially the Temple of Poseidon, perched as it is atop the peninsula by the sea. Bear this in mind when visiting in winter as it can get chilly and occasionally rain -- but the best time for the Acropolis would be fall, not the height of the summer as temperatures in the city center reach above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are visiting Athens in the summer, visit the Acropolis early morning.
Due to its coastal location, the Temple of Poseidon is a good choice year-round, but bring a windproof jacket in the winter, and try to avoid the mass crowds of July and August for both sites.
Whether you’re a Greek history lover or appreciate nature, both destinations will appeal and shouldn’t be missed during your Athens break. Check out these incredible boutique hotels in Athens.