Do you plan on visiting Greece for its staggering ancient history and culture but you don’t know which archaeological sites you should visit first? Here is a list of the most important archaeological sites which are definitely worth your time! Athens may well be the cradle of Democracy and Western civilization, but there are other places in Greece which host must-see archeological gems as well!
Table of Contents
#10 – Akrotiri: Santorini / Cyclades
Akrotiri Lighthouse on the southern of Thira island in Santorini - credits: cge2010/Shutterstock.com
The island of Santorini is known worldwide for its spectacular deep blue sea and the stunning view of the island's caldera. A fact, however, that never gets mentioned, is that the island is actually an active volcano shaped after numerous violent explosions. Santorini or Thera -as it was called in antiquity- during the Bronze Age, was one of the most important centers of the Cycladic civilization. As proof stands the archaeological site of Akrotiri. The settlement was of great importance, covering a large area with hundreds of houses, public squares, and palace complexes, reflecting a prosperous civilization with high standards of living. After the explosion of the volcano, the site was buried under 60 meters of ash, and as a result, the settlement of Akrotiri was outstandingly preserved, including houses of more than two-stories high, roads, public facilities, priceless artifacts, and impressive frescoes. The site of Akrotiri is the Aegean equivalent of Pompeii, capable of time-traveling the visitor back to the Bronze Age!
Tip: Combine your traveler's interest with the pristine beaches of the island and enjoy the experience of a lifetime! Santorini will definitely capture your senses!
#09 – Aiges: Macedonia
Ancient Macedonian tomb of King Philip at Aiges, Macedonia - credits: Panos Karas/Shutterstock.com
Dominating the plains of Aliakmonas river and built on the foothills of Pierian Mountains, lies the ancient royal city of Aiges, the political center of the ancient kingdom of Macedon. With a history of thousands of years, the city of Aiges was the seat of the Macedonian king. The famous Argead dynasty of Macedonian kings succeeded in making the city an important cultural, political and economic center of ancient Greece. A famous painter called Zeuxis worked here, as well as the famous tragedian Euripides during the last years of his life. The most famous kings of Aiges were Phillip II and, of course, the world-known Alexander the Great. In 168 BC, the city was left in ruins after the coming of the Roman army. In 1977, the famous Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos discovered the royal city and showed its riches to the world. Don't miss the chance to check from up close the palaces with the exquisitely-made mosaics, the public buildings and of course, the necropolis, the burial site of the Macedonian Kings. Additionally, don't forget to pay a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Vergina, where golden wreaths, tombs, and glittering armors are only some of the artifacts that will have the chance to witness!
#08 - The Island of Delos: Cyclades
The ancient monuments and ruins on the sacred island of Delos - credits: Dimitris Panas/Shutterstock.com
Delos is a small island opposite to Mykonos. It is located almost in the center of the Cyclades complex and, probably due to its geographic location, it has been inhabited since ancient times. The first inhabitants of Delos built their houses around 2,500 BC, with the number of Delos' inhabitants reaching 30,000. They were mainly Athenians and Romans, as well as people from all over Greece and other Balkan and Mediterranean countries. According to Greek mythology, gods Apollo and Artemis were born on this island and that’s the reason why there is the great temple of Apollo. Although the temple had been constructed around the 11th -10th century, it was in its heyday in the Archaic and Classical period (7o-4o century). During that period, there were many people coming from other Mediterranean towns just to visit this temple. Today, only 44 people are permanent residents on the island of Delos, with most of them being employees of the archaeological site. Despite this, however, there are ferries transferring people who want to visit the archaeological area of Delos on a daily basis.
#07 – Mycenae: Argolis
View from the Acropolis of Mycenae - credits: barbar34/Shutterstock.com
Mycenae lies northern to the city of Argos on the top of a low hill that overlooks the valley, stretching till the shores of the Argolic Gulf. Built on a naturally fortified location, the Acropolis of Mycenae is the first thing the visitors see by the time they set foot on the region. With huge stone blocks put to create an impenetrable wall for the protection of the “Anax” and his people, Mycenae was for sure one of the most progressive and impressive places of prehistoric Greece. Don't miss the chance to visit the birthplace of Agamemnon and relive the history of Mycenae through the words of the most revered poet n human history, Homer. During your visit, relive the stories of the Trojan War, visit massive tombs of Kings and Queens and walk around the palatial complex of Mycenae surrounded by the impressive Cyclopean walls!
#06 – Epidaurus: north-eastern Peloponnese
Epidaurus theater - credits: Georgios Tsichlis/Shutterstock.com
Epidaurus is the place where one can gaze in awe at the most renowned ancient theatre of Greece. During the late Classical era, Epidaurus was mostly known about the town’s Asclepion; an original remedial center. Despite people’s belief that prayer would heal them, patients did receive treatment in Asclepion thanks to the experiential knowledge of the priestesses. At first, Asclepius was not considered a God but was rather idolized as a hero. Later, a temple was built and people worshipped him as a god. The Asclepion signaled a transition from meddles attributed to supernatural powers to real medicine, and therefore, the ancient edifice and relics of Asclepion are a reminder of the development in medical science back in the 4th century BC. What is most impressive about the area and the original health center of Asclepius, is that besides the medical center itself, one can find a whole building complex that was built to accommodate the needs of the people who visited its premises. There was a building where ailing people could be hosted for as long as they needed, a stadium where Games used to be held as a tribute to Asclepius, two sanctums for the healing God Apollo and Goddess Artemis, a bathhouse, a house for the priests and of course the theater of Epidaurus. Unfortunately, only a few parts of the buildings survive today. However, archaeologists try to maintain the ruins, while there is also a museum where all the relics are exhibited. Apart from its rich history, Epidaurus still holds the interest of both locals and visitors with one of the most interesting theatre festivals taking place in the ancient Epidaurus Theater every year!!
#05 –The Pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Delphi: Central Greece
Delphi ancient ruins - credits: elgreko/Shutterstock.com
In ancient Greece, it was unheard of to go to war without first receiving advice from Pythia, the priestess of the Oracle of Delphi, the most trustworthy oracle of the ancient world. Pythia was a messenger of god Apollo and no one dared doubt her oracles. The earliest findings in the area of Delphi date back to the Neolithic period and unfortunately, they are fragmentary until the 8th century BC, with notable proof of occupation evident only after the establishment of the Oracle. The Oracle maintained its glamor for 2 centuries and during the 6th century, the sanctuary became totally independent, with its political and religious influence soaring and the first Pythian Games taking place. From then on, the Pythian Games were held every 4 years and were the second most important Games in Greece, after the Olympics. Today, Delphi is one of the most popular archaeological sites in Greece, one you should definitely experience first hand!
#04 – Agora: Athens
Ancient Agora of Athens with the temple of Hephaestus - credits: barbar34/Shutterstock.com
The area of Agora has been a prominent testament of ancient Greece. It was established around the late Neolithic period as a cemetery, however, Agora swiftly became both a cultural and commercial center of ancient Athens and shaped the political, religious, cultural, social, educational, administrative, philosophical and financial life of the city. For one to comprehend Agora's importance, it should be noted that its grounds hosted the public library, the Stoa of Attalos, the temple of Hephaestus, the Bouleutirion, the Tholos, and the music school of Agrippa, among many other significant buildings of the time. The Stoa of Attalos was a present to the city from the staunch student Attalos, who felt gratitude for the knowledge he had gained in Athens and in the 2nd century BCE, it became the shopping center of the Athenians. Despite most of the buildings being destroyed by hostile raids across the years, the Stoa of Attalos was restored in 1956 and now hosts exhibits as the museum of the archaeological site. Another surviving building that still stands proud and stunning, is the temple of Hephaestus. Even if only a small part of the ancient Agora is still standing, the importance of the archaeological site has in no way, shape or form, been diminished and it remains one of the top destinations for the exploration of Greece's history. Therefore, we suggest you put it high on your 'to-visit' list and marvel at its admirable beauty the first chance you get!
#03 – Knossos Palace: Crete
Knossos Palace, Crete - credits: KevTate999/Depositphotos.com
Knossos was the center of the Minoic civilization, which existed between 2,000 and 1,500BC, and is directly connected to many tales of Greek Mythology, with 'Minotaur and the labyrinth', and 'Icarus and Dedalus' being the most popular myths related to king Minoas and Knossos Palace. The city of Knossos was inhabited from the 7th millennium BC until Roman times and Knossos palace is the largest preserved part of the palatial complex, reaching 22,000 m2. It’s an engaging palace, consisting of plenty of workshops, shrines, storerooms, royal quarters and various other rooms. Most of them are designed with amazing colorful murals, which depict religious rites, elements of Mother Nature or emblazonments of the everyday Minoic life and civilization. The palace suffered many damages throughout the years due to natural disasters, however, it remains very impressive to anyone who visits it. Let's not forget that it was built millions of years ago!
#02 – Olympia: north-western Peloponnese
Philippeion monument at ancient Olympia - credits: elgreko/Shutterstock.com
The sanctuary of Olympia was the most glorious sanctuary in ancient Greece. It was dedicated to Zeus, the father of Gods and humans, however, besides the Temple of Zeus, Olympia hosts the Temple of Hera, the Bouleutirion, the ancient Stadium where the Olympic Games were held in ancient Greece, Prytaneion, an ancient Gymnasium, the Palaestra, the Leonidaion, the workshop of Phidias, the Theokoleon, the Zanes, the Philippeion, the Echo Hall, the Metroon (dedicated to the mother of Gods), the altar of Zeus, the altar of Hera, the Pedestal of the Nike of Paionios, the Pelopion, the Hippodrome and many other historical buildings. Most of the buildings were constructed in the 4th century BC, and many of them have survived, reminding us of Olympia’s bright past. Many ancient buildings were used by the athletes of the Olympic Games for training, as well as celebrating their wins. If you are to visit the Peloponnese, it would be a grave omission not to visit Olympia! Keep in mind that there are still events taking place in Olympia, keeping the ancient spirit alive. Every single year, the Olympic Torch is ignited through a reaction caused when the sun hits a parabolic mirror. Eleven women are dressed up representing the Vestal Virgins and perform a celebration at the Temple of Hera. If folklore tradition is your cup of tea, you will absolutely love the event!
Tip: Be an archaeologist for a day at the ancient site of Olympia and discover your own artifacts and ruins of the ancient world!
#01 – The Acropolis: Athens
Aerial view of the Acropolis - credits: Aerial-motion/Shutterstock.com
The Acropolis is the most well-known monument in Greece. It dates back to the 5th century BC and it accurately depicts the glory of the Golden Age of Pericles. It is mainly dedicated to Athena; the patron goddess of the city. There are several awe-inspiring buildings in the Acropolis, with the most popular ones being the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Propylaea. Replicas of the famous sculptures of Caryatides decorate the porch of the Erechtheion, while the original artifacts are exhibited in the new Acropolis museum, which is located just opposite to the archaeological site. The Parthenon is arguably one of the most impressive buildings on the site. With the temple being dedicated to goddess Athena, the eastern pediment depicts her birth, which according to Greek Mythology, happened through Zeus’ head, while the western part of the pediment depicts the battle between Athena and Poseidon. who fought over who was going to become the patron of the city of Athens. The Acropolis is a great sample of classical Greek art, which justifies its place among one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and when you visit it, be sure that it will leave you speechless!
Despite being almost impossible to narrow them down, these are our top 10 archaeological sites in Greece and we hope that when you visit our beautiful country, you will love them as much as we do! Plan your own visit to Greece or check out one of our available Greece tours and we'll make sure that you'll have the time of your life!