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While many tourists flock to Greece for its picturesque islands and beautiful beaches, what inspired me to visit was the country’s influential history and archaeological remains.
As the cradle of Western society, there are plenty of ancient sites in Greece where you can learn about Europe’s first advanced civilizations. From their architecture, technology, art, mythology, and recreation, so much can be discovered by visiting archaeological sites in Greece.
Ancient Sites in Greece Worth Visiting
From timeworn cities, imposing citadels, sacred sanctuaries, and massive theatres, here are some of the best ancient sites in Greece (and by best I really mean my personal favourites, the ancient Greek sites that impressed me the most!)
The Acropolis of Athens
Every trip to Greece should include a tour of the Acropolis, Athens’ monumental collection of temples built to honour Athena, the goddess of wisdom.
The most famous temple is the Parthenon, a massive structure of doric columns built to house a statue of Athena and serve as the treasury. Other notable monuments are the elegant Erechtheion with its six maiden columns (the Caryatids), and the Temple of Athena Nike.
Visiting the Acropolis is also a great opportunity to see a propylaea, a grand gateway used in ancient Greek architecture.
I visited the Acropolis at the start of my trip to Greece and it was a great introduction to both the architecture and mythology that ancient Greeks are known for. While the restored temples and theatres gave a good idea what the Acropolis looked like in ancient times, the foundations and fragments of other buildings encouraged imagination.
Read more: Tour of the Acropolis- Athens’ High City
Location: The Acropolis is located in Athens, in the Attica region of Greece.
Of all the ancient sites in Greece I visited, no other felt as spiritual and sacred as Delphi.
The archaeological site of Delphi is rich with mythology, from the legend of its founding by Zeus, to stories of the Delphic oracle channeling Apollo.
There are two sanctuaries at Ancient Delphi you can visit, one dedicated to Apollo and the other to Athena. In the sanctuaries you’ll see remains of temples, monuments, treasuries, a stadium, and a theatre with exquisite views of the surrounding valley.
I thought the most beautiful structure at Delphi was the Tholos in the Sanctuary of Athena. Only three columns of the circular structure have been re-erected, but it’s stunning nonetheless!
Read more: Ancient Delphi- The Navel of the World
Location: Ancient Delphi is located in upper central Greece on the southwestern slope of Mount Parnassus, overlooking the Phocis Valley. It’s near the modern town of Delphi and a 2.5 hour drive northwest from Athens.
One of Ancient Greece’s many contributions to western civilization is the Olympic Games and visiting the place where it all started conveys a sense of pride, determination, and celebration.
During a tour of Ancient Olympia you can see remains of a variety of buildings, including public recreation facilities and important temples. You can even test your athletic ability by running on the original Olympic sprint track.
The spot that best bridges the gap between past and present is the Temple of Hera. It’s here that the Olympic torch is lit before making the journey to the current host city of the Olympic Games.
Location: Ancient Olympia is located in the western part of the Peloponnese peninsula, near the small town of Olympia in the region of Elis. It’s about 18 km from the Ionian Sea.
One of Europe’s earliest advanced civilizations were the Minoans in Crete and a visit to the Knossos archaeological site shows just how sophisticated their society was.
During a tour of Knossos and its reconstructed palace, you will learn about the Minoans’ unique and efficient construction techniques, as well as see vibrant frescos depicting mythical and sacred figures.
What makes Knossos Palace different from other archaeological sites in Greece is its colourful (and controversial) restorations. Instead of the plain stones at other ancient sites in Greece, here you’ll see painted columns and bright artwork.
Location: Knossos is located on the island of Crete, 5 km southeast from Heraklion on the north central coast.
Mycenae was once a major centre of Greek civilization, a kingdom so powerful that an entire period of Greek history (from about 1600- 1100 BC) is named Mycenaean in reference to it.
The stone citadel was built on a hill with clear views of the surrounding area, giving Mycenae a strong defensive and strategic position. The population of Mycenae soon grew and by its peak in 1350 BC, 30,000 people were living in the citadel and lower town.
During a visit to Mycenae you can see many interesting remains, including beehive tombs (also called tholos), the royal cemeteries at Grave Circles A and B, and the famous Lion Gate marking the main entrance to the citadel.
For me, the most remarkable structure at Mycenae was the Treasury of Atreus/Tomb of Agamemnon. The beehive tomb is built into the side of a hill and inside you can gaze up at the 13.5 m tall dome, which at one time was the tallest and widest dome in the world.
There also have been many fascinating artifacts found at the archeological site of Mycenae, my favourite being the Mask of Agamemnon. At the time of its discovery, this gold funeral mask was believed to belong to Mycenean king Agamemnon. The mask is displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Location: Mycenae is in the Argolis region in the northeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It’s about 90 km southwest of Athens.
Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus
In ancient Greece, the small city of Epidaurus was known for its sanctuary and healing temple of Asclepius, the Greek god of Medicine. Finding healing may have been what attracted visitors in ancient times, but today’s travellers also come to experience the large theatre.
Built in the 4th century BCE, the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus has acoustics that rival any modern auditorium. From the very top row, you can clearly hear a piece of paper being ripped and a coin dropped at centre stage.
Today the theatre still hosts ancient dramatic plays, a tradition carried on from when it was used for performances in the worship of Asclepius.
Read more: Theatre at Epidaurus, Greece
Location: The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus is located on the Argolid peninsula in the Argolis region of the Peloponnese. It can be found within the Sanctuary of Asklepios, near the small town of Lygourio.
Final Thoughts About Ancient Sites in Greece
Visiting the archaeological sites in Greece was an enjoyable way to get a well-rounded history lesson in Ancient Greece.
I loved seeing the variety of remaining structures from elegant temples, grand gateways, massive theatres, and mysterious tombs. And of course, hearing the stories and mythology surrounding these ancient Greek sites was far better in person than reading from a book. Nothing beats seeing history in real life and that’s what makes Greece a great destination for history lovers!
Tips for Visiting Ancient Greek Sites
- I recommend visiting these sites with a well-trained guide because they can give you an incredible amount of information and point out details you may not notice otherwise. As much as I love wandering around on my own, hearing the history and stories of these sites are what really makes them so incredible.
- Here is the order in which I visited these sites on my trip to Greece: Acropolis of Athens, Delphi, Olympia, Theatre of Epidaurus and Mycenae (can be seen in the same day), and Knossos.
Tours of Archaeological Sites in Greece
Here is a trusted site where you can book tours in Greece. I’ve picked out a few highly rated ones related to what I’ve mentioned in this post:
- 3 DAY ANCIENT GREEK ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES TOUR FROM ATHENS (includes Delphi, Epidaurus, Mycenae, and Olympia)
- FROM ATHENS: 4 DAY CLASSICAL TOUR WITH METEORA (includes Delphi, Epidaurus, Mycenae, and Olympia)
- Full Day Mycenae and Epidaurus Trip From Athens
- ACROPOLIS: 1.5 HOUR GUIDED WALKING TOUR
- DELPHI DAY TRIP FROM ATHENS
Accommodations in Greece
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