Don't Skip Mainland Greece!
You’ve most likely seen pictures of the beautiful beaches and sunsets that Greece is well known for. Most of their tourist business takes place on the Greek islands, such as Santorini and Mykonos. But what about the rich history and beautiful landscapes that make up the mainland of Greece…
When we began planning our trip, we knew that we couldn’t miss out on the historic sites in Athens, Olympia, and Delphi. However, figuring out what worked best for us took time. It wasn’t till we landed in Athens that we came up with a plan (we don’t recommend this, it was a bit stressful). After 4 long hours we rented an automatic car, and set out the next day on a road trip around mainland Greece. Below you’ll find our itinerary and some of the amazing sites we were able to see.
Note: check to see if you'll need a international ID before arriving in Greece. Americans need this in order to rent cars, and most ATVs
Our tour of mainland Greece began in Athens, where we stayed in an Airbnb that was about a 20 minute walk from the Acropolis. Athens is the capital of Greece and the largest city in the country. Because its recorded history spans 3,400 years, there are tons of ancient ruins, monuments and even art dating back thousands of years. Unless you can spend a week there you probably won’t get to see it all but try to see as much of it as you can, it won’t disappoint.
Our first day was spent exploring the city. We walked around the beautiful national garden, saw the changing of the guards (which happens every hour at the presidential mansions) and had our first (of many) gyros. We continued the day by visiting the Ancient Agora, and headed to the Acropolis museum. There we learned that the Acropolis of Athens was a citadel located on a hilltop above the city. It contained the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon.
For about 20 euros you will be able to see various sites, which can take you up to 3-4 hours. We recommend going in the early morning or the later hours due to the intense summer heat. When we visited we almost got caught in a lightning storm, which was actually cool to view while sitting on top of the hill (As if Zeus was saying hey).
There is combination ticket for 30 euros which allows you to see other sites around the city and lasts 5 days. If you're gonna be in the area for longer you should definitely buy that one. You’ll get access to Hadrian’s library, the Ancient Agora and the Roman Agora.
We had dinner that night at an amazing restaurant, A for Athens, located on the top of a hotel. It has a beautiful view of the Acropolis lit up at night. Definitely make reservations and ask that you be seated along the glass for the best view!
Our next stop was the city of Olympia where the Olympic games were first held more than 1500 years ago. On our way there we had decided to take a little detour and visit the old port town, Nafplio (1 hour 40 mins) which was once the country’s capital. In Nafplio you can find the Palamidi, an 18th century citadel, and the Bourtzi castle which is located in the middle of the harbour. Unfortunately it started down pouring when we were there so we weren’t able to visit either but we did walk around the town where you can find cute boutiques, restaurants and delicious gelato shops. Nafplio is known to be a colorful and enchanting old town. If you have more time, this is a nice mainland Greece stop (there’s also beaches there!).
After this we headed towards Olympia (2 hours 20 mins) cutting through beautiful mountains. The scenery heading there was gorgeous and the drive took around two and a half hours. The Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/23909960?guests=1&adults=1) we chose was in Archea Pissa, a small town about 7 mins from the Olympic sites, located on the mountains. It has a beautiful view and had that small town charm with kids playing everywhere and small yet beautiful homes.
After a good night's rest we woke up and drove down to the Olympic sites. Something we learned quickly is that sightseeing needs to be done as early as possible or later in the day when it’s a tad cooler.
The first recorded Olympic games were held in 776 B.C. and ran until 393 A.D. It wasn’t until 1896 that the Olympic games returned in Athens nearly 1503 years after they ended. The first event was the stadion race, a distance of 600 feet and was the only event for 13 Olympic festivals.
Entrance to the site will run you 12 euros, and includes the archaeological site where the stadion race was held, as well as two museums. Unfortunately most of the structures are no longer standing and you’ll mainly see the foundations of the bath houses, treasury, and various temples.
Our final stop on our road trip was Delphi, a famous ancient sanctuary where the oracle Pythia resided. It is located on Mount Parnassus, overlooking the beautiful coast and the valley of Phocis. On our way to Delphi we decided to stop at the small port city of Galaxidi (2 hours 40 mins). This town has two natural harbours and is surrounded by mountains with beautiful views all around. The colorful buildings and a harbour filled with boats makes it a wonderful stop for lunch or dinner.
Once we made it to Delphi about a half hour later we went on the hunt for somewhere nice to eat dinner. Thankfully Delphi has so many options with gorgeous views of the sun setting, and the mountains all around. You’ll find them on the main street, all of which serving delicious Greek food.
Like the other mainland cities we chose, Delphi is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage sight because of the influence it had in the ancient world. Its occupation can be dated back to 1600 B.C. For 12 euros you’ll get access to the archaeological site museum. This was one of my favorite museums we visited in Greece because of the incredible statues, and exhibits that were showcased. After that you’ll walk up to the Temple of Apollo (Apollo is the god of music, truth and prophecy, and healing), the Theater of Delphi , the Treasury of Athens, and many other sites. This archaeological site covers several ancient structures most of which are in great condition. Like the other sites make sure to go early! Delphi gets hot in the summer and you’ll be spending a lot of the time climbing up stairs and walking around the sites.
After our day was spent exploring Delphi we had a wonderful dinner and got a good night’s rest. The next day we drove back to Athens, caught a ferry and began our island hopping!
The islands are beautiful but they aren’t the only thing Greece has to offer. It also has amazing archaeological sites, beautiful mountains, and port cities. Definitely rent a car and make your way from Athens to Olympia, and Delphi. A plus about mainland Greece is that you can do it on a small budget.
Accommodations and food were way cheaper than on the islands! Mainland Greece has a lot to offer. I promise you won’t regret seeing structures that have been around for thousand of years and have influenced the modern world!
We included our Airbnb accommodations in Olympia! It was a traditional house, very close to the site. Very affordable, very clean, and very nice host, George!
For more information on entrance requirements, hours, and prices please visit https://www.greecetravel.com/archaeology/index.html