Greece is a country that is rich in history, turmoil, and culture. Beginning with the Neolithic Age in 7000 BC to Modern Greece covering a period from 1821 to present, the scope of Greek habitation and rule has varied throughout the ages. Traces of human civilization can be found in all corners and there are over 100 impressive archaeological sites portraying a history that exceeds 5000 years.
If you don’t have time to explore them all, these 4 sites won’t give you a comprehensive picture of life in ancient Greece but they’re a great start!
Rising triumphantly above the small town of Kalambaka are immense monolithic pillars upon which sit 6 Meteora Monasteries. Meteora translated literally means “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above” and that is exactly how you feel when you visit these holy places. Mostly dating to the 14th -16th century, the monasteries were built by monks who previously lived in caves in the area and it must have haven plenty of determination and preservation for the united monks to construct these elaborate buildings on the top of 1200-foot-tall massive rocks.
Kalambaka really comes alive in the evenings with the locals drinking coffee in the sidewalk cafes or sampling the array of desserts at one of the many mouth-watering bakeries.
We encountered a few other tourists in town – many were staying in the centrally located hostel – but most of the tourists appeared to arrive by tour bus, some even all the way from Corfu! We did see this “excursion” touted while in Corfu and after traveling from there ourselves we find it amazing that people take the 2-hour ferry ride and 3-hour bus ride there, see the sights, and then head all the way back in the evening.
A day trip from one of the neighboring cities would be reasonable but the town is so darling and the monasteries so impressive, it’s worth spending more than an afternoon here. This is a stop for many buses all over Greece.
Where to Sleep
King Hotel is centrally located on Trikalon Street. The rooms are fairly basic but the beds are comfortable and the staff members are super friendly and helpful.
Where to Drink
Start your day of hiking with a freshly brewed coffee to-go at Mikel Coffee Company where you can get American-sized filtered coffee! Finish the day surrounded by older Greek men playing board games at Cafe Woody near the Shell station. Sit outside or near the window for the best people watching in town.
Where to Eat
Dessert lovers will salivate at the storefronts of the many bakeries that dot the main street in the center of Kalabaka. After a long day of hiking, stop at Kyvelia Patisserie for a slice of orange cake and the best baklava in town!
Hike to the Monasteries
At the base of the mountains in a residential area of Kalambaka you will find a very well maintained trail that zigzags steeply up to the very top. It’s a relatively short hike but the steep slope will cause even the fittest of person to need a few breaks. Plan for 30-60 minutes to make it to the top. Once you do you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the Holy Trinity Monastery perched on a rock towering above. Climb the 140 steps that lead through the rock and inside.
From there you can follow the road as it snakes along the mountain top and past the 6 archaeological masterpieces. While the inside of each monastery is interesting to visit with intricately painted icons, the real beauty of the area is in the viewpoints along the road.
Climb out to onto the rocks at sunset to watch the sun creep down to the valley floor and bathe the gigantic rocks in pink hues. Marvel at the extreme effort it must have taken not only to build the monasteries but also how difficult daily life must have been – to haul goods such as water and food to the top without the modern luxuries of cars or paved roads.
Start your hike early in the day to beat both the heat and the crowds and then rent a motorbike later in the day to head back up to watch sunset.
The hours visitor hours and days vary for each monastery so be sure to plan accordingly. Each one costs 3 euro/person. You must be dressed appropriately but if it’s too hot for long pants, each one offers a long wrap for you to cover up.
- Holy Trinity Monastery: Open 9:00 – 17:00. Closed Thursdays.
- Roussanou Monastery: Open 9:00 – 14:00. Closed Wednesdays.
- St. Stephen’s Monastery: Open 9:30 – 13:30 and 15:30 – 17:30. Closed Mondays.
- St. Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery: Open 9:00 – 15:30. Closed Fridays.
- Varlaam Monastery: Open 9:00 – 16:00. Closed Fridays.
- Great Meteoron Monastery. Open 9:00 – 17:00. Closed Tuesdays.
Read More: European Gem: Meteora in Greece
The impressive site of Delphi is situated on the slopes of Mount Parnassus with breathtaking views of the Gulf of Corinth as well as the valley below. It is one of the most famous and important archaeological sites of the classical period of Greece and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The myths of Delphi describe it as the location that Zeus determined to be the center (or “navel”) of his “Grandmother Earth” after the two eagles flying from the eastern and western extremities crossed paths above this spot. It is also where the Oracle consulted about important decisions throughout the ancient classical world.
Delphi is only 180 kilometers northwest of Athens so many people take a day trip with a tour bus. The buses seem to arrive around 11:00am – right in the heat of the day. The town of Delphi is actually really quite lovely so if you have time definitely stay a night or two and visit the ruins early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowds.
Where to Sleep
Kouros Hotel is perfectly located on the main road in the center of town – walking distance from the Delphi ruins as well as loads of little shops and amazing restaurants. The rooms nice, the beds comfortable, and each room has a little patio with lovely views. Have a lazy afternoon of reading and lounging on the beautiful rooftop in the shade.
Where to Drink
Grab a coffee and a treat at Cafe Melopoleio in the morning on your way to the ruins. Their baked goods and deserts are absolutely decadent! But be sure to finish your coffee before you get to the ticket office – no coffees allowed inside. After your morning tour of the Delphi site, have an afternoon siesta and then head to Telescope Cafe for a giant glass of rose, beautiful sunset views, and telescopes that you can use to spy on the nearby coastal town.
Where to Eat
For amazing views of the valley and delicious traditional food check out Taverna Vakhos. Try the stuffed zucchini, the eggplant salad, and the lamb. Order a bottle of wine from their impressive collection and linger at a front table until sunset.
If you’re looking for a quick, no frills lunch, head over to Dionysios Souvlaki Gyro Shop for a massive Greek salad and deliciously seasoned meats over the grill.
Hike to the Ruins
The hike to the ruins starts at a ticket office where for 12 euros/person you get entrance to both the ruins and the museum. Arrive as early as you can for a few reasons; the hike is uphill and there is very little shade along the trail, and the tour buses don’t start arriving until around 11:00am so the earlier you arrive, the less people you’ll have to contend with.
In the 1930’s archaeologists did some reconstruction of the site so there are some incredibly impressive pillared buildings, like the Treasury of Athens, as well as many that have been virtually untouched for centuries. There is a main trail that zigzags up the hill and there are signs all along the way that tell the history of the site as well as show photos of what the buildings originally looked like.
The Temple of Athena is another must-see site and is just a bit further down the road from the ticketing office. There is no entrance fee.
8:00am – 8:00pm during peak season.
Visit the Museums
After you’ve had your fill of wandering around the ruins, head into the Museum of Archaeology to see the amazing collection of treasures that were discovered buried there in a massive earthquake that leveled the city. The level of detail in the statues and the tiny figurines are truly impressive. You can take pictures inside but only of the ancient pieces, you can’t post next to them (apparently there were some inappropriate photos taken with the nude statues and posted on social media).
Olympia is the most celebrated sanctuary of Ancient Greece. It is an incredibly important archaeological site not only for Greece but for the entire world as it is the birthplace of the Olympic Games. The ancient games were help in Olympia from 776 BC through 393 AD when Emperor Theodosius decreed that all such “pagan cults” be banned. It took 1503 years for the games to return which, thankfully they did, to Athens, Greece in 1896.
The games began in the year 776 BC when Koroibos, a cook in the nearby city of Elis won stadion race which was a foot race that was 600 feet long. According to literary traditions the stadion race was the only athletic event of the games in Olympia for the first 13 festivals. The games took place every 4 years and the events expanded to mainly athletic but also combat sports such as wrestling, boxing, and horse and chariot racing events. Men of all social statuses (married women were not allowed to attend or participate, by penalty of death) came from all over Greece and beyond for the games and for a short time before, during, and after the events all conflicts among the participating city-states were postponed. The winners of the events were admired and immortalized in poems and statues and were welcomed home to a parade of cheering fans.
Olympia was also home to the massive ivory and gold statue of Zeus, sculpted by Pheidias, which was destroyed by fire but has since been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Olympia is accessible via bus or train from Pyrgos which is just 20 kilometers away. There are many buses to/from Pyrgos through Patras or Tripoli.
Where to Sleep
Anesi Rooms to Rent is a no-frills hotel with hot water, reliable internet, and is located right in the center of town and only a 10 minute walk from the ruins.
Where to Eat
After a long morning at the ruins, grab a seat in the shady patio area of Rodo Cafe. They take a different spin on the classic Greek salad and their gyros are delectable.
Hike Through the Site
The walk through the ruins of Olympia begins just right outside of the small town and is very easily accessible. The entire archaeological site is fairly flat, although incredibly large and well preserved with modern conveniences of shady benches and toilets. It is well signed so you can learn much about the purpose of each of the buildings including the Temple of Hera, the Prytaneion, the Bouleuterion, treasuries, the gymnasium, bathhouses, stoas, and of course the enormous Temple of Zeus.
The ancient stadium racetrack is 212.54 meters long and 30-34 meters wide. On the south bank is a podium area meant for judges and on the opposite side the Priestess of Demeter, goddess of fertility was given a privileged position next to the stadium altar. The stadium could accommodate approximately 45,000 people but there were no permanent seats other than for the officials.
You can also see the site where the Olympic Torch is still ignited several months before the opening ceremony. 11 women, representing the Vestal Virgins, perform a celebration at the Temple of Hera and then the torch travels around Greece via short relay before starting it’s transfer to the host city.
The archaeological site is open from 8:00am until 8:00pm. Tour buses begin piling in early so plan on arriving right at opening time if you want to avoid the crowds. Although the area is so expansive that it never feels all that crowded.
Visit the Museums
The archaeological site entrance fee (12 euros/person) includes two lovely museums; the Olympia Museum and the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games. Both are full of interesting relics that were buried in the earthquakes and subsequent floods that destroyed Olympia and neither should be missed.
Athens is home to one of the most famous landmarks in all of Greece – the Acropolis and within that, the Parthenon. The word “acropolis” comes from the Greek words ἄκρον (akron, “highest point, extremity”) and πόλις (polis, “city”) and is located on a flat-topped rock that rises 150 meters above sea level. You can see the ruins from pretty much anywhere in Athens but you won’t comprehend it’s brilliance until you see it from the top. The Parthenon was a temple that was dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena and was built in the 5th century BC. Not only are the ruins some of the best preserved in all of Greece (and have been undergoing renovations for years) but the 360 degree views of the city from the top are absolutely breathtaking.
Athens is the capital of Greece and the heart of ancient Greece. It has a massive international airport and a nearby port for ferries to/from the islands.
Where to Sleep
Athens is full of apartments and hotels for every travel style and budget. We recommend Airbnb to get the most bang for your buck.
Where to Eat
After a long day of exploring the Acropolis, stop at Mouses Cafe along the Adrianou boardwalk for some shade and glass of vino. The boardwalk is bustling and it’s a great spot for some afternoon people watching. For a full dinning experience try Agora Select in the Zagrafou district where you’ll be welcomed like family. The food is fantastic and the portions are huge.
Spend a day browsing the Monastiraki Flea Market for classic Greek statue souvenirs and then head to the amazing garden bar at Six D.o.g.s for a fantastic selection of beer, wine, and cocktails. But skip the food and instead take a short walk to Lithos for a mouthwatering salmon filet and tender leg of lamb.
Hike to the Acropolis
The top of the Acropolis is accessible by a short but steep walk along a paved road. Try to arrive early in the morning as this is the must-do attraction in Athens so it gets packed. The entrance fee is 20 euros/person or you can pay an additional 10 which includes entrance to 6 additional archaeological sites around the city. The Athenian Agora, Roman Agora, and Kerameikos Cemetery are the best 3 of the bunch.
After wandering around the ruins of the Acropolis and admiring the city views, head over to the large rock visible from the top for fewer crowds and equally amazing views.
The Acropolis site is open from 8:00am – 8:00pm every day.
Visit the Museums
The National Archaeological Museum is a bit outside of the main tourist area but is worth the short taxi ride to see it. Spend a few hours wandering around the beautiful exhibits and grab a snack in the cafe while sitting among the shipwrecked ruins that were discovered only 100 years ago.
The Acropolis Museum is a must-see stop as well to learn more about the rich history of the archaeological wonder. It’s a relatively small museum but offers stunning views of the Parthenon while you bask in the air conditioning.
We hope you enjoy Greece as much as we did!