As the sun sets, its rays shine through the Doric columns of the Temple of Poseidon.
I walk around the temple here at Cape Sounion, looking at it from different directions, to see the hulking monument lit up by the setting sun on one side, then as a silhouette on the other side.
The enormous Temple of Poseidon dominates the tip of the cape – intentionally large enough to be seen by sailors who were setting out on voyages, so they could pay their respects to the god of the sea.
And up close, it’s certainly imposing. But it’s not the only thing around me.
Within the archaeological site of Cape Sounion, there are the remains of a number of ancient structures, some dating back to as early as the 5th century BC when the Athenians built this house of worship.
And even beyond the manmade heritage here on the site, there are the stunning landscapes, the glittering water in almost every direction, bordered by beaches and striking cliffs.
As the end of the day approaches, they are also bathed in the warm light of the setting sun, an orange glow adding to the beauty of Cape Sounion and its Temple of Poseidon.
To time your visit to Temple of Poseidon with the sunset, I would recommend this affordable tour from Athens.
The Temple of Poseidon is a popular attraction for visitors, and one of the best day trips from Athens. Even Lord Byron came out here in the early 19th century during his Grand Tour of Europe.
Captivated by the majestic ruins, it’s said that he carved his name into one of the columns (obviously not something that you should ever do, but he seems to have been forgiven for the act of vandalism).
When was the Temple of Poseidon built?
The Temple of Poseidon was built by the Athenians between 444 to 440 BC at Cape Sounion, southeast of Athens. It’s believed it was built on the site of earlier (but destroyed) temples from about 700 BC.
Why is the Temple of Poseidon famous?
The Temple of Poseidon was one of the most important temples of the Athenians, located in its coastal position because it was dedicated to the god of the sea.
It’s become a very popular destination for tourists because it has been relatively well-preserved and because of its scenic setting, particularly at sunset.
Can you visit the Temple of Poseidon?
Yes, the Temple of Poseidon is open to visitors all day and doesn’t close until just after the sun has set. It’s part of the archaeological site at Sounion, which has an entrance fee. You can reach the Temple of Poseidon from Athens by car, public bus, or tour.
The Temple of Poseidon is one of the most important monuments of Ancient Greece, and it is the highlight of a visit to the south of the Attica peninsula.
But there are plenty of other things to do in Cape Sounion on a trip from Athens, so let’s briefly have a look at a few of them before we talk about the temple in more detail.
Things to do at Cape Sounion
First, to orient you with your geography, you’ll need to know that the Attica peninsula is the protruding bit of land, about 75 kilometres from north to south, that’s surrounded by the Aegean Sea and has Athens in the centre of its western side.
The very southern point of the Attica peninsula is called Cape Sounion. It’s about 60 kilometres’ drive south from central Athens and you can reach it via an inland highway or a road along the coast (a region called the Athens Riviera).
Although many people will just head straight from Athens to the Temple of Poseidon, the landscapes along the way are noteworthy in themselves.
Driving along the coast, for example, the seaside resorts on the sparkling Aegean coast offer some lovely places to stop for a drink or a fresh seafood meal.
Once here, you’ll find that there are some charming beaches at Cape Sounion. There’s Sounion Beach, just to the west, that has facilities for food and drink. Or there are some small unnamed beaches to the east that can be reached by walking trails.
And spreading inland from the archaeological site is the Sounio National Park. Although it’s relatively small, there’s enough here to spend much of the day exploring its walking trails, particularly the route through the forest from the Temple of Poseidon to the village of Agios Konstantinos about 12 kilometres away.
Driving the inland route to Cape Sounion from Athens, you’ll pass the Ancient Theatre of Thorikos, a popular spot to stop for visitors.
It’s said to be the oldest theatre in existence (quite a claim!), built from 525 BC for the local citizens, who were relatively wealthy because of the silver found here. It’s been partially restored and has amazing views out across the water.
And not from the theatre, the town of Lavrion also makes a good point to have a rest from the drive. It has a large range of restaurants if you want a proper meal.
The Temple of Poseidon
Greek mythology tells the story that Aegeus, the legendary king of Athens, would come to Cape Sounion to wait for his son Theseus, the hero who had gone to kill the Minotaur in Crete.
Aegeus had told Theseus to hang a white sail on his ship if he was returning safe and well. But the legend says that the youngster (who had successfully beaten the Minotaur) was partying a bit too hard and forgot his father’s request.
When Aegeus saw the ship returning without the white sail, he assumed his son had died, so he killed himself by jumping off the cliffs of Cape Sounion.
This story, one of the most important in Ancient Greek mythology, is one of the reasons why the Athenians built the Temple of Poseidon here on Cape Sounion, in a spot that held special significance to their heritage.
But it wasn’t the only reason.
It was also because there had previously been temples on the site, so it had a degree of significance already.
And, another critical factor – it was a prominent location that could be seen from the sea, so sailors leaving Athens could ask Poseidon (god of the sea) for safety, and visitors arriving would be awed by its size.
The Temple of Poseidon was one of the most important monuments of the Athenians, and created a trinity with two of their other main landmarks: The Acropolis in Athens and the Temple of Aphaea on the island of Aegina.
It was built at Cape Sounion between 444 and 440 BC, during what’s known as the Golden Age of Athens.
This was the time of Pericles, the statesman who was trying to make Athens the cultural centre of Ancient Greek after the Persian Wars, and the Temple of Poseidon was part of that campaign – along with other famous monuments like the Parthenon.
The design of the Temple of Poseidon follows the classical Doric style, built on a solid limestone base with 6 marble columns at each end and 13 down each side.
The temple here didn’t have as much decoration as Parthenon on the Acropolis, but there’s evidence of at least some statues on the east pediment, along with a marble frieze with scenes representing the Athenian victory over the Persians.
The Archaeological Site of Sounion
The Temple of Poseidon would’ve been a busy place, even though it was relatively far from Athens.
As a place of worship, offerings, and ceremonies, sailors and travellers would often have come here before embarking on dangerous sea voyages.
That’s why a large sanctuary formed around the temple, with infrastructure for all the visitors and the other functions that took place here, including an extravagant festival every four years.
You can see remnants of the wall that would’ve once surrounded the fortress here. There are also some remains of the settlement that took up much of the area within the wall.
There were houses, commercial buildings, and a garrison.
And down on the shore, there’s the ancient port of Sounion, protected from the northerly winds in a sandy cove. There were ship sheds here, as well as other maritime buildings.
When you visit Cape Sounion, it’s worth exploring the rest of the archaeological site to see some of these ruins. It doesn’t take long and the trails lead you to some beautiful viewpoints as a bonus.
It’s an important reminder that the Temple of Poseidon did not exist in isolation when it was at the peak of its use about 2500 years ago.
How to visit Cape Sounion from Athens
When it comes to visiting the Temple of Poseidon, the first question you need to answer is when you want to be here.
Sunset is the most popular time (and even feels a bit romantic) because of the vibrant colours of the sky and the picturesque images of the temple silhouette.
But the problem with visiting at sunset is that it is quite crowded (parking can be difficult, for instance) and you won’t get back to Athens until late (not until 10pm sometimes).
If you don’t feel the need to visit specifically for the sunset, you’ll find the Temple of Poseidon to be much quieter at other parts of the day. The very middle of the day can be very hot in summer, though, so that’s best avoided.
The second question to answer is how you’re going to get to the Temple of Poseidon from Athens.
If you’re taking the public bus, the shortest time you’ll have at Cape Sounion between services is normally about 1.5 – 2 hours, which is plenty of time to see the archaeological site, but possibly not to have a swim as well. (You could, of course, just get a later bus to have more time.)
With your own car, you can be a bit more flexible and time your visit to also include a swim at the beach and lunch somewhere on the drive between Athens and Cape Sounion.
For a full day out of Athens, stopping for a meal, having a swim, doing a bit of a walk, and seeing some sights, I would recommend hiring a car, because that gives you the most options.
Where is the Temple of Poseidon?
The Temple of Poseidon is within the Sounion Archaeological Site at Cape Sounion, at the southernmost point of the Attica peninsula. It’s about 50 kilometres southeast of Athens.
You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to the Temple of Poseidon from Athens?
If you have a car, you can easily drive from Athens to Cape Sounion – either along the coast or inland will take about an hour. (If you need to rent a car, I recommend Discover Cars in Greece.)
By public transport, there are several daily KTEL buses that leave from the corner of Alexandras Ave and Patision St in Pedion Areos. The trip takes about 1.5 hours each way, and there’s even a departure each way that’s time so you can catch the sunset. (Check the timetable here.)
The other way to easily get to the Temple of Poseidon is to join a tour, many of which are very affordable and basically just glorified bus transfers.
When is the Temple of Poseidon open?
All year, the Temple of Poseidon is open from 9:30 – sunset.
Last entry is 20 minutes before sunset time.
The Temple of Poseidon is closed on 1 January, 25 March, Good Friday/Easter Saturday/Easter Sunday, 1 May, and 25/26 December.
What are the Temple of Poseidon entrance fees?
Entrance to the Cape Sounion archaeological site (including the Temple of Poseidon) costs €10 for a full-price ticket, or €5 for a concession.
Are there tours to the Temple of Poseidon?
There are lots of tours to Cape Sounion, some of which include a guided visit around the Temple of Poseidon, and some which are more about just the ease of transportation.
For an affordable tour that offers a comfortable and convenient bus transfer, I would recommend this option from Athens. For a fully-guided tour, you can have a look at this option.
If seeing the Temple of Poseidon is the priority, then I think a tour from Athens is the best option if you don’t have a car.
Luckily there are lots of different tour to the Temple of Poseidon, catering to a range of interests.
Temple of Poseidon tours from Athens
When I was researching my visit to the Temple of Poseidon, I ended up choosing to take a tour rather than use the bus because it wasn’t going to cost much more, and it made the logistics much easier.
Because there are so many tour operators that offer Temple of Poseidon tours, there’s fierce competition and some of the trips are really cheap. The cheap ones won’t offer much more than the transport in each direction – but that’s great, because it’s all I wanted!
Then there are some that include a bit more, like extra stops or a guide to show you around temple, which gives you that option if you want.
And on top of that, you’ll be able to choose tours to Cape Sounion during the day or ones that are time to coincide with sunset, so you can make a visit fit in with your schedule.
Let’s look first at the ones that are more than just transportation:
- For a half-day trip to the temple that includes time at a nearby beach, there’s this good tour that has morning or afternoon departures.
- For a trip that includes a guided tour in the temple site, there’s this good value excursion from Athens.
- If you’re looking for a private tour that will feel more like a relaxing exploration of the Athens Riviera along with a visit to the Temple of Poseidon, then this lovely tour is a great choice.
- Or for something special (I love this one!), this excellent tour will take you kayaking in the sea around the Temple of Poseidon as well as visiting the archaeological site.
Now, if you would prefer just to have all the logistics organised, but then have time to yourself when you arrive, I would recommend this sunset tour from Athens. It’s the most reputable – and throws in a stop at the Ancient Theatre of Thorikos as a bonus.
But there are some other decent options here that are often offering even cheaper rates:
On my sunset tour, clouds end up gathering near the horizon just as the day is ending. The yellow glow that had started to light up the majestic columns disappears, and we don’t get the final orange projection as the sun drops away to make room for the night.
Still, it really doesn’t matter. The sunset is a nice touch and something a little special, but it’s not the main attraction. This monumental temple is the highlight – one of the great landmarks of Ancient Athens (even if it doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the Acropolis).
Coupled with a journey through the Athens Riviera – and possibly a swim at the beach, a hike in the national park, or a seafood lunch – a trip to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon is the perfect escape from the city.