Greece may be in the grip of an economic crisis, but the country remains a magnet for tourists from all over the world thanks to its incredible history, vibrant culture and stunning sights. Having spent some time here now, I present to you the top five places you should visit on any holiday to the country that is widely credited as being the cradle of western civilization:
Top 5 Places to Visit on Your Holiday to Hellas
There are so many things worth writing about in the Greek capital city that I did a separate article about what to do, see and eat when in Athens, which you can read here. Safe to say this city is packed with things worth seeing and exploring! As most flights to Greece land in Athens anyway, it’s definitely worth staying in the city for a couple of nights, even if your actual holiday destination might be one of the famous Greek islands.
The Acropolis in Athens
4. Ancient Olympia
Situated on the western side of the Peloponnese island, the town of Olympia can easily be reached by car and is an ideal destination for a day trip or overnight stay. It’s around a 300 Kilometer trip if you start from Athens and the fastest way to get there is via the better developed E roads (E95, E65 and E55) which are all in really good condition and allow for fast travel. Keep in mind that there are quite a few tolls to be paid if you stay on these nice roads, though: we counted 14 tolls going there and back, with a total cost of around 30 Euros for the pleasure of using this modern motorway network.
While you’re on the way to Olympia, make sure to stop by the Corinth canal. You will pass this man-made engineering marvel that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea when you follow the E95 just outside Athens, and a quick stop for a souvenir photo with the famous narrow canal is definitely recommended.
The Corinth Canal
Once you reach Olympia, you will probably be surprised by how small it seems. The municipality has a population of only around 13,000, while the town itself is home to fewer than 9000 Olympians. The archaeological site of Ancient Olympia, together with the museum that is situated right next to it, is therefore really easy to find. Simply park near it and prepare for quite a bit of walking.
The Temple of Hera in the background, where the Olympic flame is lit
The combi-ticket for museum and the archaeological site costs 12 Euros and allows you to see and learn everything there is to know about this most celebrated sanctuary of ancient Greece. Things you will see at the vast outdoor site include the temple of Hera (which today is the starting point of the Olympic torch relay), the remains of the temple of Zeus (a gigantic temple built between 470 and 456 BC that was the largest temple in the Peloponnese at the time), as well as of course the stadium of Olympia. With a length of 192 meters and space for 45,000 spectators, it was the greatest stadium in ancient Greece and as the main sports venue of the ancient Olympics saw competitors trying to outdo each other in sports such as running and wrestling.
The original, ancient Olympic stadium
Before you leave the town again, try and stop by a smaller but no less interesting attraction: the Archimedes’ museum. Situated at the center of town, this small but lovingly created exhibition showcases some amazing ancient inventions and is definitely worth some of your time.
Runners and non-runners alike will be well familiar with the name Marathon, which today is almost automatically associated with the 42.195 kilometer race. There are over 500 marathons taking place all over the world every year these days, and the event is actually held in commemoration of the legend surrounding a Greek messenger by the name of Pheidippides. Legend has it that this sporty news carrier was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon, which took place in the autumn of 490 BC. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping before bursting into the assembly in the Greek capital exclaiming “we have won!”. Sadly, legend also has it that he died of exhaustion straight after passing on the good news.
The trophy of the battle of Marathon
There is no need for any running these days if you don’t want to, as Marathon is easily accessible by car. The relatively small city is situated to the north east of Athens and things worth seeing include the Marathon Run Museum near the center of town, as well as the Marathon Museum and archaeological sites (where you can see the tomb in which the Athenian dead were buried after the Battle of Marathon), as well as (a replica of) the trophy of the battle of Marathon, which is situated right where the ancient battlefield would have been.
The Athens Marathon, also called The Authentic due to its route
If you are a proficient runner, then taking part in the Athens Marathon might be something for you, but be warned: the event, often referred to as the Authentic Marathon, is one of the tougher road races in the world. Carried out under the grueling Mediterranean sun and with a route that is mostly uphill, this race will challenge even experienced runners.
The ancient sanctuary of Delphi is best known as the seat of the oracle that was consulted on important decisions throughout the ancient classical world. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, a visit to this impressive area on the south-western slope of Mount Parnassus is definitely recommended. Make sure you stop in the beautiful village of Arachova on the way, where picturesque streets and tasty local delicacies will compete for your attention. Once in Delphi itself, you can again enjoy the double experience of museum plus archeological site, and plenty of walking is involved. When exploring the site, make sure you don’t miss the stadium at the top end of it. Also, a small distance away from the main site is the Athena Pronaia Sanctuary with the Tholos, a circular building constructed between 380 and 360 BC. It is not part of the main site but access to it is free. Just park near it and walk the short distance downhill.
The Sanctuary of Ancient Delphi
The most famous of all the Greek islands, Santorini is stunningly pretty and certainly worth a visit if you’re in Greece. I wrote a complete guide based on our own visit to the island previously and you can find out how to do Santorini on a budget by clicking here.
The world famous island of Santorini
If you are planning a trip to Europe, then Greece definitely deserves a spot on your shortlist of destinations to consider. The country is stunning, the people friendly, the food great, and the culture and historical sites are second to none. With flights getting ever cheaper, there’s probably never been a better time to explore this fascinating country.