7 Reasons to Drive from Athens to Delphi Across the Gulf of Corinth

There are several routes for the drive from Athens to Dephi. Our post will help you decide whether you would like to spend a little more time driving across the northern Peloponnese in order to visit some worthwhile sites, or make straight for Delphi. We have driven from Athens to Delphi across the Gulf of Corinth and don’t hesitate to recommend it.

The drive from Athens to Delphi across the Gulf of Corinth first passes through the historic region of Ancient Corinth. There are several major sites to visit which include the Corinth Canal, the Acrocorinth, the Temple of Poseidon and the archaeological site of Ancient Corinth.The drive then resumes along a modern tollway to the Rion-Antirion Bridge which spans the two shores across the Gulf of Corinth. The Rion-Antirion Bridge has been designed for a special purpose and that purpose may surprise you. The drive to Delphi continues along the opposite shore through traditional Greek villages and towns.

Renting the Car at Athens for the Drive to Delphi

If you’re thinking of driving from Athens to Delphi then irrespective of the route you choose you will need to consider carefully the mechanics of renting a car. Whether you rent a car in Athens or at the airport is immaterial in respect of the process. When we started our Greece road trip we decided to rent a car at Athens International Airport. Our reasons for renting a car at the airport, how to get to the airport from central Athens, reminders about insurances and our recommendations about inspecting the car before departure and upon return have been included in our post describing the drive from Athens to Meteora. We strongly recommend you have a look at the post if you are new or inexperienced to car rental, and particularly the information about insurances.

Which Route to Drive from Athens to Delphi?

There are three routes that will get you to Delphi from Athens – two are reasonably direct whereas this post will concentrate on the route for travellers who are in less of a hurry.

Route 1: The Shorter Drive from Athens to Delphi via Kastro

This popular route is used for a day trip to Delphi from Athens. You take the A6/E94 from Athens and follow the signs on the tollway towards but not as far as Elefsina. Turn off the A6/E94 at Metamorfosi onto the A1/E75 all the way to Kastro. Leave the A1/E75 at Kastro towards Orchomenos for the EO48 which will take you through Livadia (Leivadeia) to Delphi and Arachova.

Item Information
Approximate Distance: 210 km
Car Rental: Driver’s Quotation
Fuel Costs: 28 Euro
Tolls: 10 Euro
Active Driving Time: Allow 3 hours
Recommended Driving Time: Allow 4 hours

Route 2: A Comparably Short Drive from Athens to Delphi via Thebes

A comparable day trip from Athens to Delphi is to again use the A1 but instead of continuing to Kastro, take the A3/A962 Thebes (Thiva) turnoff which is about 15 kilometres past Schimatari. Stay on the A3 until you pick up the EO48 to Delphi as previous. The time and cost of the journey is about the same.

Route 3: The Longer Drive from Athens to Delphi Across the Gulf of Corinth

We like to make travelling part of our trip and avoid trying to visit to a significant site as well as drive sizeable distances. This is particularly the case with a site like Delphi where you’ll appreciate having time to ponder over the things you will see. After all, an Athens to Delphi day trip requires a minimum of 5-6 hours safe driving which, along with a tour of Delphi, suggests a long and tiring day. And even then, you will probably do no more than ‘see’ Delphi when really it needs to be ‘experienced’.

We decided to drive to Delphi from Athens, stay overnight and then take the whole of the next day to enjoy the site. We used this alternate, longer but least travelled route around the Gulf of Corinth.

The escape out of Athens is the same as Route 1 above except just keep following the signs in the direction of Elefsina without turning off the A6/E94. The A6 becomes the A8 tollway and it continues all the way down to Rion and the Rion-Antirion Bridge. Once across the bridge and on the other side of the Gulf, the E65 then heads back in the opposite direction along the opposite shore to Delphi.

Item Information
Approximate Distance: 350 km
Car Rental: Driver’s Quotation
Fuel Costs: 60 Euro
Tolls: 29 Euro
Active Driving Time: Allow 5 hours
Recommended Driving Time: Allow 6 hours

7 Reasons to Drive from Athens to Delphi Across the Gulf

The Corinth Canal

When on the A8 and nearing Corinth you also approach Isthmia, the first point of interest. Isthmia announces that you are on the approximate threshold of the Pelopponese. You will have to locate an exit ramp to take you off the A8 towards Isthmia. It’s worth the stop because you will be able to stand on a bridge that straddles the Corinth Canal.

The sight of the rail bridge spanning the Corinth Canal is another engineering spectacle
The rail bridge spanning the Corinth Canal

The Corinth Canal was a great feat of engineering for its time, begun in 1882 and completed in 1883. The Canal, which is 70 metres wide and 26 metres deep, cuts through the Isthmus of Corinth and runs linearly for 6.3 kilometers from Isthmia to the Gulf of Corinth, not far from modern Corinth.

Ancient Corinth drew much wealth from maritime activities. The finger of land controlled by Ancient Corinth was bordered to the west by the Gulf of Corinth and to the east by the Saronic Gulf (the port of Piraeus is built further to the east on the Saronic Gulf). Given the design of commercial vessels at the time, mariners preferred to avoid the sometimes high winds and boisterous seas of the 300 kilometre journey around southern Peloponnese’s Cape Malea and make use of the narrow Corinthian isthmus instead. Large craft from the west would sail up the Gulf of Corinth and unload the cargo at Ancient Corinth’s harbour of Lechaio. The cargo would then be transported across the isthmus in wheeled carts on tracks that had been greased with fat to reduce friction. The cargo would then be loaded on to another vessel at the port of Kenchries on the Saronic Gulf. Cargo arriving from the east experienced the reverse. Smaller vessels were not unloaded. They were simply hauled across the isthmus to the alternate harbour with their cargo aboard. The overland route across the isthmus was tagged ‘the bridge of the sea’.

Click on the images to enlarge

Ancient Corinth capitalised commercially by imposing significant tolls on the cargoes that traversed the isthmus and by providing facilities for ship maintenance. Merchants also benefited from the free spending by the seamen who sought to take advantage of the city’s entertainment.

The idea of a maritime conduit across the isthmus was not new. It was introduced by Periander in the 7th Century BC. The Romans saw the advantages of a canal across the isthmus linking the two ports but their attempt to produce one under Nero failed in 67 BC. Herodes Atticus, known for his contribution of a fine Odeon in Athens, also failed in his cut through the isthmus, And there were others, including the Venetians.

The Greek government was motivated by the successful completion of the Suez Canal. and opening ceremonies were held on August 7, 1893. Approximately 10,000 vessels use the canal annually.

You will find the Temple of Poseidon quite handy to the Corinth Canal. The site is mainly a footprint of what was once an obviously beautiful temple.

If you like solving puzzles, look closely at the images of the canal. Do the bedding planes match up or have they been displaced by movement?

A Decision about Visiting Ancient Corinth

The Corinth Canal is within a stone-throw of one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece – Ancient Corinth, and its related but elevated neighbour, Acrocorinth. But what to do?

You have several alternatives.

  • The first is to sail by and head to your primary destination, Delphi. If you have visited the Pelopponese before, why not?
  • If you start your journey very early in the day you might decide to whizz around Acrocorinth and Ancient Corinth before you continue on. It pains us to think about it! The ruins of Ancient Corinth, in particular, need time to sort out. But if you just want to see them and are not particularly interested in their historical or religious significance, it is possible.
  • The third alternative is to visit Acrocorinth and Ancient Corinth at leisure, stay locally overnight, and continue the journey the next day. Yay!
  • And of course, the fourth alternative, and the one we would argue for, it to schedule 10 days to stay on the Peloponnese and not only visit Ancient Corinth but also Mykines (Mycenaean), Tiryns (Mycenaean), Epidaurus (Epidavros), Sparta and Olympia, resting in pretty little coastal towns like Nafplion.

 You can read about these destinations in our published posts, ie

Ancient Corinth: Rich In History, Culture and Religion

Mycenae: Civilisation And Culture Of A Bronze Age Mycenaean Community

Mycenaean Tiryns

The Theatre at Epidaurus Including its Acoustics; Palaia (Ancient) Epidaurus and its Little Theatre; and Ancient Healing at the Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus

The Acrocorinth

The Acrocorinth is an imposing fortress which is at an elevation about 550 metres above Corinth and can be considered Corinth’s acropolis. This fortified citadel is established on a precipitous rock formation that bears the same name. The profile and distribution of the fortifications were very much determined by the very irregular limestone terrain on which they were built. Three gates led into the fortress which was constructed of limestone hewn from surrounding formations. The walls of the fortification totalled 2 kilometres in length and enclosed an area of approximately 2.5 hectares.

The car park at the foot of the Acrocorinth soars above Corinth
The car park at the end of the ascent up to the Acrocorinth

The dates of Acrocorinth’s historical past are not unlike those of Athens simply because the city-states that populated the Peloponnese all emerged and competed contemporaneously. Buildings and temples were being built on the Athenian acropolis in the 7th Century BC and so it was consistent that the first fortifications on the Acrocorinth were constructed about the same time.

Click on the images to enlarge

Corinth was sacked by the Romans in 146 BC as was the Acrocorinth and so many features of the ancient fortifications were destroyed. Those still visible are considered to be of the 4th Century BC. During the first century AD the Acrocorinth when ruled by the Romans Corinth had recovered to become a prosperous and somewhat licentious city. Men were attracted to the Acrocorinth to engage in the delights available in the ‘Temple of Venus’, Venus being the equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. The temple was a sanctuary of prostitution where it is said that over 1,000 priestesses were available to attend to the desires any who cared to make the pilgrimage up the hill and still had the energy to ‘participate’.

Elevation of Acrocorinth
Panorama from Acrocorinth over Ancient Corinth

The second millennium AD history of the Acrocorinth was colourful for other reasons in that the fortress was reconstructed but control of the fortress changed due to sequences of invasions. The panoramic view of the Corinthian Plain from the Acrocorinth made it attractive as a pinch point for the defence of the Peloponnese. This landscape enabled Acrocorinth to be held successively by the Byzantines during the Middle Ages, Franks (1210), Venetians (1358), Mystras (1394), Turks (1458), Venetians (1687),Turks (1715) and finally Greece in 1821. There are remnants of these periods scattered within the citadel.

The Rion-Antirion Bridge

The drive from the area of Corinth is on a relatively new toll road and as is the case with other parts of Greece, the tolls are not inexpensive and the sections between gates are short. But the journey is swift and pleasant with the Gulf of Corinth permanently in view. There are very many beautiful little bays and beaches along the route which provide idyllic locations for holidays or even a place to stop and snack during the drive.

The Rion-Antirion Bridge and the Gulf of Corinth are interesting in themselves. The Rion-Antirion Bridge spans a 3 km-wide strait of the Gulf of Corinth, northeast of the city of Patras on the Peloponnese. It links the town of Rion on the Peloponnese with the town of Antirion on the Greek mainland.  The bridge’s public specs are that it is 2,880m long, 28m wide and considered to have the longest continuous, cable-stayed, fully suspended deck in the world, measuring 2,252 m in length. Its design is important as we will find.

Rion-Antirion Bridge Across the Ever-Widening Gulf of Corinth

The Dynamic Widening of the Gulf of Corinth

The earth’s crust is made up of 10-14 separate plates that ‘float’ on the mantle. If you are not familiar with this concept then think of the earth’s crust as being a giant jigsaw puzzle with 12 pieces that fit together. Each plate experiences movement relative to an adjoining plate and it is along these boundaries that seismicity in the form of earthquakes, volcanoes etc is most likely to occur. Maps showing the locations of the earth’s tectonic plates indicate that a plate boundary runs along the length of the Gulf of Corinth. This would suggest the Gulf should be a zone of high seismicity, and it is. The earth’s crust is being forced apart there. The process, called rifting, is very slow but results in faulting and subsidence, producing a sizeable basin that can be filled with water. Such is the case with the Gulf of Corinth. The rifting and divergence of the gulf will continue so the distance the bridge will need to span will increase each year. This is no doubt the principal reason for the choice of the bridge’s design – each end of the bridge sits on an opposite side of the expanding Corinthian Gulf rift zone. It raises interesting speculation. What is the long-term future of the Peloponnese?

Other rifts you may be interested in looking at also resulted in notable landscapes. A rift was identified in our post describing the drive from Meteora to Delphi; and rifting was also referred to twice in our posts while driving through Montenegro – the rift along the drive from Montenegro to Bosnia and the rift at the spectacular Skadar Lake.

Driving from the Rion-Antirion Bridge to Delphi Through Unspoiled Greece

The sealed road (E75) from the Rion-Antirion Cable Bridge to Delphi occupies a narrow coastal corridor that separates the Gulf from the Southern Pindos Range. Views along the road are plentiful but thoughts haven’t been given to providing locations where tourists can safely pull to the side of the road to view and photograph the scenery. It is also slow going. This isn’t a toll road, just a single carriageway that passes through the main street of each village. But you may be as fortunate as we were and have the road to yourselves. And at least your wallets will get a rest.

Gulf of Corinth from E75

As you drive along you can think about the ancients and how they would have acquired their necessities. Did they cross the Gulf for supplies at Corinth? After all, Corinth was probably their nearest commercial centre. Or did they remain inland and trade with Thebes and Athens? How long did it take them? And how regularly did they need to do it? That’s the thing about travelling. It never fails to throw up more questions than answers.

The E75 leaves the coast at Itea and heads for Delphi. 

Athens to Delphi via Itea
Gulf Town of Itea With the Ascent Towards Mt Parnussus in the Background

Itea is not very far from Delphi, only about 10 minutes, and it is worth considering Itea as a place to stay overnight. We preferred staying in Itea to Delphi because its lovely coastal aspect allowed for eating by the sea, promenading along the water’s edge after dinner and the mandatory quick dip. Some travellers also recommend Galaxidi as an attractive town for overnighting.

Itea is a Convenient Place to Overnight when Visiting Delphi

The Short Drive from Itea to Delphi

Delphi is located in the Southern Pindus Range so the road ascends from the coastal plain inland from Itea across the narrow coastal plain and through the olive groves. So many olives! Some drool while others explain that it’s not normal to like olives. We wonder how many olives are eaten each year world-wide.

Approximately half way to Delphi from Itea the road overlooks both the village of Chryso and a very interesting gravitational aqueduct that provides water to the villages.

Returning to Athens

Should you take the longer route around the Gulf, you can now reward yourself, if not proceeding to Meteora, by returning to Athens using one of the more direct routes.

Our Final Thoughts on the Drive from Athens to Delphi

We’d recommend a brief visit to the Corinth Canal and the Acrocorinth on the way if nothing else is planned, but recommend you don’t try and take in Ancient Corinth if you plan to drive this route in one day. Leave it to when you have more time. Acrocorinth is small but is interesting historically and structurally, and the panorama it offers across the Gulf of Corinth is worth the drive up to the site.

The drive from Athens to Delphi across the Gulf won’t be the highlight of your holiday, but you won’t be disappointed either. It is a simple case of needing to get from A to B and irrespective of the route make it was part of your journey and seek ways to enjoy it. In other words, don’t think of driving as a means to an end but always make the travelling a meaningful part of your tripping around.

References:

Google Maps

Site Literature: The Corinth Canal and Acrocorinth
Hellenic Republic
Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs, 2015

de Gelder, G., Fernández-Blanco, D., Melnick, D. et al.
Lithospheric flexure and rheology determined by climate cycle markers in the Corinth Rift
Sci Rep 9, 4260 (2019)
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-36377-1
Figure: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-36377-1/figures/1