A Trip to the Remarkable Oracle of Delphi in Greece

The Oracle of Delphi, a UNESCO monument today, was a large, rich, and powerful religious establishment in Ancient Greece. The Oracle was offering prophecies made by the god Apollo through his female priest, Pythia, to the powerful leaders, kings, or any rich family and city-state that was seeking valuable advice.

Hercules came here to ask for advice after he had killed his wife and children. The Oracle advised him to serve King Eurystheus of Tiryns and Argos for twelve years and perform the tasks that Eurystheus would command him.

Delphi, Tholos

In this post, we will explore the Oracle of Delphi and the in-house Delphi Archaeological Museum. What to do in the nearby Arachova village, where best to stay, how to get to Delphi, and when is best to travel to the site.

Yοu will also find brief information on the UNESCO monument of Osios Loukas Monastery, a Byzantine masterpiece of the 11th century CE.

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Where exactly is the Oracle of Delphi Greece?

The Olive-Tree Valley in Delphi

The Oracle of Delphi, the Delphi museum, and the adjacent modern small village of Delphi are located 185 km northwest of Athens, about a 2.5-hour drive in a region called Fokida. The road to Delphi is a large national road, easy to navigate. The national road becomes much more interesting and beautiful as soon as you reach the slopes of Parnassos mountain, set in a rare natural environment.

Me and a friend hiking in olive trees towards Delphi

The area between Delphi and the Corinthian Gulf, where the seaside resort Galaxidi is, is covered by over a million olive trees, making it a favorable and stunningly beautiful hiking area.

Why was Delphi a Sacred City?

Reconstruction of the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi by Albert Tournaire, 1894, in Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Art

According to the Ancient Greeks, Delphi was the center or else ‘the naval of the world’. One myth stories how Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, released two eagles, one from each end of the Earth. At the point where the eagles met, Zeus threw down a stone to determine the center of the Earth. That point was Delphi.

The position of Delphi was also in a strategic area from Ancient Corinth, a powerful trading Greek city, transporting its goods to the north of Greece. We know from history that Delphi was a small settlement in the 8th century BC, but by the 5th century, it was already the most well-known sacred site and oracle in Greece.

After Byzantine Emperor Theodosius banned all pagan rituals in Greece in 398 CE, Delphi was abandoned.

How did Pythia Speak the Prophecies?

Pythia with the sacrificial lamb

The Oracle of Delphi was not working during winter. Apollo disliked cold weather and Delphi is built on Parnassos mountain which is usually snow-clad during the winter, so traveling back then was difficult.

During the other 9 months that Pythia was consulting, only the 7th day per month she was accessible. That meant that the visitors often had to spend weeks in Delphi premises, waiting for Pythia to communicate with Apollo.

Pythia was a woman in her 50s from Delphi village, served for life as a priest, and lived permanently within the Oracle. Before the consultation, she would bathe in the Castalian Spring.

The Oracle, by Biacca Camillo Miola, 1880, via the J. Paul Getty Museum

Pythia would then go under the nave of the Temple of Apollo to Adyton (sanctuary in ancient Greece). In Adyton she was seated on top of a bronze tripod, the room was scented with burning laurel leaves and she would hear the questions from the priests.

Then Pythia would fall into a trance and start raving and her words were translated by the priests of the temple. The oracle was usually given succinctly, difficult, and enigmatic. Everyone could interpret the oracle as they wished.

Achilleas and the most Famous Pythia Prophecy

Achilles, struck with the arrow, dying.

The most famous oracle by Pythia was ‘Ixis afixis ou en polemo thnixis’ translated as ‘You will go you will return not you will die in the war’. Pythia offered this prophecy to Achilleas when he asked her whether he should participate in the Trojan War or not.

The oracle was a clever and highly ambiguous reply because the word ‘not’ in ancient Greek could go either to the first part of the sentence – you will go, you will return, you will not die in the war – or the second part – you will go, you will not return, you will die in the war.

And as we all know, Achilleas died in the Trojan War.

What remains at Delphi today?

The Oracle of Delphi, just like Epidaurus Sanctuary, besides its main function (prophecies for Delphi, healing for Epidaurus) provided also additional operations on its grounds.

Delphi was attracting visitors from all over Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt and the donations to the oracle were legendary like Croesus of Lydia, who gave a solid gold lion statue and large mixing bowls in gold and silver. The donations were primarily offerings to ensure, the favor of the Apollo god.

The highlights of the remaining monuments of Delphi Oracle are:

The Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo in Delphi
Temple of Apollo in Delphi

The Temple of Apollo, the most important building in the Oracle of Delphi was first built in the 7th century BCE. It was destroyed by a fire in the 6th century BC and was rebuilt in the same Doric column form. The Temple of Apollo was again destroyed in 373 BCE by an earthquake this time but was rebuilt for the third time in 330 BCE

Today, only the Temple’s foundations and some of its Doric columns survive and it is the same temple that was constructed in 330 BCE. Made of soft porous limestone – and not marble- had significantly contributed to its advanced decay.

You can see some of its pediments that decorated the Temple, in the nearby Delphi Archaeological Museum.

The Athenian Treasury to Delphi

The Athenian Treasury in Delphi

The treasury was built by the Athenians to house their dedications and offerings to the Delphi Oracle. It was made between 510 to 480 BCE with Parian marble. According to Pausanias, the treasure was built in memory of defeating the vast Persian army in the battle of Marathon in 490 BCE.

There is an exact copy of the small Doric building in Marathon in Athens.

The Theater

Delphi Theater
Delphi Theater

The theater is where the musical contests of the Pythian Games took place, which made this theatre the artistic equivalent of the athletic stadium at Olympia.

Delphi Theater-lover Cat!

The theater lies right above the Apollo Temple and is not in very good condition as it is also made of limestone.

Tholos Athinas Pronaias

 The Τholos of Athena Pronaia
The Τholos of Athena Pronaia

The tholos of Athena Pronaia is of unknown purpose and a masterpiece of Classical architecture. The impressive Doric building was raised in 380 BCE by the architect Theodoros of Phocea.

The columns have multiple colors an effect that was achieved by the variety of materials used: Parian and Pentelic marble, and blue Eleusinian limestone for the structural details, the base of the cella wall, and the floor.

The Stadium

Overview of Delphi Oracle archaeological site
The Stadium is on the bottom left and the Gymnasium is on the top right

Around 590 BC the first Pythian Games were held at Delphi in honor of Apollo.

Ancient Greeks organized four Athletic Games in different time zones so that everyone could participate in all four if he wanted to: The Olympic Games in Ancient Olympia, the Nemean Games in Nemea Peloponnese, the Isthmian Games, and the Pythian Games.

The Pythian Games took place in the stadium of Delphi and the stadium is one of the best-preserved monuments of its kind, situated in the highest part of the ancient city.

Other Significant monuments in Delphi are:

  • The Polygonal wall
  • The Stoa of the Athenians
  • The Castalian fountain 

Delphi Archaeological Museum

Charioteer of Delphi

100 meters far from the Delphi entrance stands the 2-story Archaeological Museum of Delphi, one of the most important museums in Greece.

The exquisite exhibits come from the Delphic sanctuary and oracle, covering the long period from prehistory to late antiquity. 

Some of its masterpieces include the Charioteer of Delphi, the sacred symbol of Delphi, the Omphalos (Navel), and the Naxos Spinx. The museum is open every day between 8.30 am – 3.30 pm.

Opening Hours and Tickets for Delphi

Opening Hours 8:00-20:00 from May to September.

The schedule from September 1, 2022, is configured, due to the gradual reduction of the length of the day, as follows: 1st to 15th September 08: 00-19: 30, 16th to 30th September 08: 00-19: 00, 1st to 15th October 08:00 -18: 30 and 16th to 31st October 08: 00-18: 00. During the winter the sites in Greece close around 15.00

The entrance fee to the Delphi site and museum is €12 per person for the time between April and October and €6 between November and March. You can use credit cards or cash to get your ticket.

Free Entrance: From November to March, admission is free on the first Sunday of the month and on the dates March 6th, April 18th, May 18th, the last weekend of September, and October 28th.

Tips for Visiting Delphi

Delphi Greece
Delphi Site

Is Delphi Accessible?

No, it isn’t. You can visit the nearby museum but the archeological area is not that accessible with a wheelchair as it is placed on a hillside with a steep path.

Is there a WC inside Delphi?

Yes, there is, free of charge, at the small cafe in the area between the museum and the site.

Can I drink or eat inside Delphi?

You are not allowed to eat, drink, or smoke inside any archaeological site in Greece, only water is allowed to carry around.

Lunch in Arachova Town

Arachova in winter

After you visit the archaeological site of Delphi which usually takes about 3 hours, you can have lunch in modern Delphi village. You can try ‘To Patriko mas,’ a fantastic traditional tavern with stunning views of the Olive Tree Valley or you can drive to picturesque Arachova which is 10 km from the Delphi Archaeological site.

Arachova has a large choice of taverns and restaurants and one of the best things to taste is the local cheese, formaela.

Parnassos Ski with sea view
Parnassos Ski with sea view – Photo: Klaus Listl

If you visit Arachova in winter, you will see many visitors dressed in ski clothes. Parnassos ski resort, the largest and most organized of the 19 ski resorts in Greece, is 25 km up towards the mountain top.

Where Best to Stay in Arachova

Xenonas Iresioni (3-star, breakfast, family-friendly) is a beautiful property with traditional and classical decorations in the center of Arachova.

Delphic Horizons (4-star, family-friendly) is one of the most hospitable properties in Delphi with a stunning balcony view.

Byzantine Monastery of Osios Loukas

Osios Loukas Monastery
Monastery of Osios Loukas

25 km from Arachova stands the UNESCO Byzantine masterpiece of the 11th century, Osios Loukas Monastery. The Monastery is comprised of two large churches with unique frescoes and religious artifacts. Daily open between 8.30 am – 3.30 pm.

Related Articles:

Athens Byzantine Churches

UNESCO Daphni Monastery in Athens

How many Sanctuaries with Oracles were in Ancient Greece?

Map of Ancient Greek Sanctuaries, Credit Marsyas

There were many sanctuaries in ancient Greece dedicated to various Greek gods.

Five of the sanctuaries were the sacred cities in Ancient Greece: Delphi, Athens, Eleusis, Olympia in Peloponnese, and Delos island in Mykonos. Those five Greek cities were called sacred because the ancient Greek gods would appear and communicate with the humans usually through their priests either to express a prophecy like in Delphi or participate in a ritual like in Eleusis.

When is Best to Go to Delphi

The vast olive tree forest valley between Delphi and Itea in Greece
The olive tree forest between Delphi and Itea

Delphi might be very warm to walk around in July and August, some older visitors from colder climates can’t walk the whole uphill area. If you think this might also be you, you better choose a different time of the year to visit Delphi and Arachova, perhaps spring, early June, or October.

If you love cold weather, snow, and wood in the fireplace, you should come over in January – February a very popular and busy time to be in Arachova.

How to Get to Delphi

Air-conditioned and new public buses from Athens go to Delphi a few times per day (KTEL buses). However, I always go to Delphi by car or a rental because I want to make as many stops as I want, for as long as I want without stress about bus timetables. 

Athens to Delphi Itinerary (for History and Nature Buffs + Video)

If you are staying in Athens and would like to see as much of the off-the-beaten-path Greece as you can then I suggest you follow this itinerary:

  • Athens to Thebes with the exceptional archaeological site.
  • From Thebes, you get to the small waterfalls in Petra village, a short hike of around an hour in total.
  • Petra to beautiful Livadia town with the Erkyna River.
  • Chaeronia with the ancient Lion.
  • UNESCO Osios Loukas Monastery.
  • Arachova and Delphi.
  • Delphi is also often combined as a 2-day trip from Athens to Meteora. Check out this amazing 2-Day Delphi and Meteora Tour from Athens.

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Evgenia Mataragka
Hi! I am an Athens-based Greek obsessed with exploring Greece and bringing you the best travel experience ever!

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