The other day, when reaching the ticket offices of the Acropolis, I had an unpleasant surprise. A notice informed me that I had to wait in line together with everyone else, whereas before, guides enjoyed some limited priority.
You’re going to ask me, why is this so bad? Why can’t you just wait in line just like everyone else? Why should you enjoy preferential treatment over the other visitors?
I’m afraid things are not as simple as that. You see, individual tourists don’t have a guide to answer their questions for them, so they ask the clerk instead: “How much is the ticket?” “Twelve euros? Don’t you have a discount?” “Other sites you say? How many?” “Can’t I have just the Acropolis stub?” “Are these sites in Athens? How far away?” “Do you have a students’ discount?” and more. These have to be answered and explained. Meanwhile, the line grows longer.
Guides, on the other hand, have no questions. They come ready, voucher or exact cash in hand, need no change, no explanations. They ought to be able to sail right though, taking their group with them, easing the congestion. However, since there are no separate ticket offices or entrances for groups, they and their guests have to wait patiently for their turn, as everyone else. As groups pile up, one after the other, this creates an enormous crowd of people hanging around under the scorching sun.
There are other hurdles on the way: the automatic ticket vendors do not work; of the six automated gates, only two function; IRS-compatible receipts for travel agencies need to be issued separately, by hand.
The upshot of all of these is that it may take as long as one hour (counting from the time one arrives at the site) to enter the Acropolis proper. During this hour one will have to wait among throngs of equally hot, tired, impatient and increasingly angry people. It is not pleasant.
It is understandable that under the circumstances many lash at the guides or the clerks, but the truth is that these people can hardly affect the way the system works. I really cannot say why it functions so abominably, but the reason must be sought higher up. Perhaps it is the crisis – it certainly has affected everything all around. All income of the Acropolis goes to the government from where it is funneled to Greece’s debt holders. At the same time, cutbacks across the country have reduced the number of employees in every service (including archaeological sites) as well as the cash available for even the simplest things – such as repairing machinery. There may be other reasons at play too – I simply don’t know.
Whatever the reason, the result is the same: if you are visiting the Acropolis, be prepared for a long wait. Make sure to have a hat, and lots of water and sunscreen. The best thing to bring along is good company, but lacking that, a good book or some music certainly help. You may use this time to your advantage: try to strike up a conversation with others and get to know people you wouldn’t otherwise.
Whatever you do, remember that the monuments you’ve come to see are one of a kind. They are well worth the wait, as is the stunning 360 degree view once you get to the top.