What are the top historical sites in Greece?

Greece is often referred to as the birthplace of Western civilization. During ancient times, the country was home to some of the world’s greatest philosophers, artists, and scholars. These ancient Greeks lived in advanced structures and cities, of which the remains can be found around the country. Here are some of the top historical sites in Greece:

The 10 most famous archeological sites in Greece

The Acropolis

Located in the city of Athens, the Acropolis is a citadel that was built in the 5th century B.C. The Acropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the most popular tourist attraction in Greece. It is home to several important ancient buildings, including the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion, and more:

  1. The Parthenon
    It is often believed wrongly that the Parthenon and the Acropolis are the same sites since the Parthenon is the most famous structure on the Acropolis. It is a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, built in the 5th century B.C. The Parthenon is considered one of the finest examples of ancient Greek architecture.
  2. The Theater of Dionysus
    Located on the slopes of the Acropolis in Athens, the Theater of Dionysus was the first theater in ancient Greece. It was built in the 6th century B.C. and was used for drama performances and other cultural events.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus

Located in the center of Athens, the Temple of Olympian Zeus is a temple dedicated to the king of the gods. It was built in the 6th century B.C. and is one of the largest temples from ancient Greece.

The Delphi Archaeological Site

Located in central Greece, the Delphi Archaeological Site is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was home to the Oracle of Delphi, a sacred place where people came to seek guidance from the gods. The site is home to several ancient buildings, including the Temple of Apollo and the Theater of Delphi.

  1. The Temple of Apollo
    Located at the Delphi Archaeological Site, the Temple of Apollo was a sacred place where people came to seek guidance from the god Apollo. It was built in the 4th century B.C. and is one of the most well-preserved temples in ancient Greece.
The Ancient Agora of Athens

Located in the center of Athens, the Ancient Agora was the center of public life in ancient Greece. It was home to several important buildings, including the Temple of Hephaestus and the Stoa of Attalos. At the present time, the Agora is a popular tourist destination, with ancient ruins and artifacts on display.

The Theater of Epidaurus

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus is known as the most well-preserved ancient theater. Above all famous for its amazing acoustics. Although the theatre is constructed in the 4th century B.C., it is still used for performances during the summer months. Due to the theatre’s exceptional preservation and architecture, it is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

The Palace of Knossos

Located on the island of Crete, the Palace of Knossos was the center of the ancient Minoan civilization. It was built in the 4th millennium B.C. Therefore, it is considered to be one of the oldest palaces in Europe.

Mycenae

The ancient city of Mycenae is one of the oldest archeological sites in Greece, constructed between 1350 and 1200 B.C. Although Mycenae is famous for its cyclopean walls and impressive lion gate, don’t forget to check out the underground cistern and tholos tombs. The site is located on the Peloponnese peninsula and is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage. Even though Mycenae is not as famous as, for example, the Acropolis, it is one of the most impressive ancient sites you can visit in Greece.

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Although located in western Turkey, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was built in the 6th century BCE and was dedicated to the goddess Artemis.

The Temple of Athena at Lindos

Located on the island of Rhodes, the Temple of Athena at Lindos was built in the 4th century B.C. It is dedicated to the goddess Athena. It is a well-preserved temple that is popular amongst tourists.

The Archaeological Site of Philippi

Phillipi is located in Nort-East Greece and was named after the powerful Macedonian king Phillip II. The archeological site is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage. Phillipi offers a range of very different but interesting ruins. Examples are a theatre from the 4th century B.C., coupled with a forum from the 2nd century A.D., and a Christian church from the 4th century A.D. 

Archeological sites are everywhere

In conclusion, Greece is home to many important historical sites that are worth a visit. Whether you’re interested in ancient architecture, art, or culture, there is a site to suit your interests. From the ancient ruins of the Acropolis in Athens to the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete, these sites offer a glimpse into the rich history and culture of Greece. 

Besides the list of sites provided above, the country offers a glimpse of history in even the smallest towns. Historical sites are literally everywhere, and in order to explore ancient Greece, you often don’t have to travel far. 

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Experience the ancient theatre of Epidaurus

In the north of Peloponnese, close to Nafplion and just 2 hours away from Athens, lies the ancient city of Epidaurus. Epidaurus was a small city established in the sixth century B.C. Today, it is a big tourist attraction due to the most well-preserved ancient theatre. The site is on the list of UNESCO world heritage and is famous for its acoustics. Epidaurus is known as the most impressive ancient theatre in the world. But what is the true experience of visiting this place?

Argolis, Peloponnese

Archeological site

1 hour

€6 – 12,-
depending on age and time

Yes

Yes

History

The city of Epidaurus was not like the average ancient city. Since the sixth century B.C., it is known as the healing center of the classical world. Ill people from all over Greece would come here to visit the Sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Treatment would involve a cleansing diet and healing through dreams. But there are also records from performed surgeries and the use of medication.

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus was created as a part of the healing practice. It was believed that the observation of dramatic shows could increase not only mental but also physical health. The original theatre was completed in the fourth century B.C. with 34 rows. Later, in roman times (2nd century B.C.), 21 more rows were added. The complete theatre provides space for about 14.000 spectators.

Architecture

The theatre of Epidavros is an architectural masterpiece designed by the architect Polykleitos. It is built as part of the Cynortion mountain and looks over the lush landscape below. Impressive and giant gates mark the entrance on both sides of the theatre.

The gate at the entrance of the theatre, against the high walls that surround the theater’s koilon or cavea.

From the entrance, you first see the perfectly circular stage, the orchestra, with a width of about 25 meters. The center of the stage is the center of the entire theatre. This spot is marked by a small circular stone, the thymele or altar. This is the stone on which the actor in ancient Greek times would stand to reach all the spectators with his voice.

Around the stage are the 55 rows of seats, the koilon or cavea. With a radius of 60 meters and at a 26-degree incline, these rows make the theatre most impressive. The scale and the height, the perfect symmetry, and the excellent preservation. The theatre of Epidaurus is one of the few places that make you understand the scale of ancient Greek society.

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Theatre experience

The instructions for visiting the theatre of Epidaurus are clear. You leave your travel partner on the circular stone plate in the middle of the stage while you start to climb up. After approximately 110 steps, you sit down on the highest row. When your friend below speaks, and you can hear every word.

In reality, however, I was not surprised when I tried to communicate with my boyfriend on stage. I could vaguely hear some of his words, but my ears mostly caught the sound of crickets around. How could it be that I was finally at this famous architectural masterpiece, and all I felt was disappointment? Was the whole story about the theatre just a way to lure tourists?

Aggrieved, I climbed down the stairs and sat in a row halfway in the theatre. When putting my phone back in my pocket, I heard a coin drop. Where did my money fall? I searched around but couldn’t see it. Another coin drops. What is happening? How can I be losing money I did not know I had with me?

Confused, I looked at the stage. And at this moment I realized just how special the theatre actually is. A man, standing in the middle of the stage, was dropping his coins. The sound started 40 meters away, but according to my ears, it sounded right next to me. That’s impressive acoustics!

The truth about the acoustics

What they often forget to tell about the theatre is how the material contributes to the acoustics. The theatre’s benches are made of limestone, except for the first marble rows for special guests. Limestone has the ability to filter out low-frequency sound and amplify high-frequency. With this material, the noise of the crowd is absorbed while the higher tones from the stage travel from bench to bench, to reach even the spectators in the highest rows.

This is why my boyfriend was surprised when I spoke to him from the stage, but reversed, the acoustics failed. His, and many other men’s voices, are too low to be amplified. So when you plan on visiting Epidaurus with a male travel partner, remember to use a coin!

The limestone benches and the theatre of Epidaurus

How did the theatre work in ancient times?

The material’s acoustics made me wonder. Did men plan in ancient Greek theatres? Or was it just women and boys before the age of puberty? Or is it the aging of the limestone that changed the acoustic aspects of the material?

No. 

The limestone properties did not change. And strangely, ancient Greek actors were men. One man, actually, during the time of the completion of Epidaurus. And although the number of men on stage changed over time, actresses were never allowed on an ancient Greek stage.

However, this one man used costumes and masks to define the different roles he played. And it is these masks that are the key to good acoustics. Ancient Greek masks both amplify the actor’s voice and change its acoustical qualities. It was the mask that helped the actor’s voice to work together with the limestone material and travel through the entire theatre. Amazing!

Tips:

  • Attend a theatre at the summer festival of Epidaurus. For a unique experience, Epidaurus offers ancient theatre plays, performed at the ancient theatre during the summer months. After sunset, you can watch a play from the same spot the Greeks used to sit thousands of years ago. For more information and tickets, check https://aefestival.gr.
  • Combine with a visit to the museum and the rest of the site. At Epidaurus, not only the theatre is well-preserved. Instead, the whole site provides a unique look into ancient times. 
  • Epidaurus is close to Mycenae, another UNESCO world heritage site. Mycenae is famous for its lion’s gate and well-preserved tombs.
  • When visiting during summer, the temperatures at Epidaurus might ask for a refreshing swim afterward. At Palaia Epidaurus, a picturesque town on the coast, 15 km away from the ancient site, you can find the sunken city of Epidaurus. Here, you can swim around the ruins of an ancient villa, a rare and exciting experience. Don’t forget to bring water shoes and snorkeling or diving gear.
  • The site of Epidaurus is well accessible for people with a disability. Paths are paved or asphalt. However, the theatre and the paths between the ruins are not.
  • Bring water, sunblock, and a hat. Not unlike anywhere else in Greece, temperatures in summer can rise to 40 degrees Celsius. Be prepared and protect yourself. Drink lots of water while you explore the ancient site.

Frequently asked questions

How to reach the ancient theatre of Epidaurus?

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus is easiest to reach by (rental) car from Athens in about two hours. For tourists, there are also many organized day tours to the site from Athens and other towns around. However, when joining these tours in summer, be prepared for high temperatures since you will reach in the middle of the day.

Do I have to pay an entry fee at Epidaurus?

Yes. A ticket for the ancient site of Epidaurus, the theatre, and the museum costs 12 euros per adult and 6 euros for children in summer. From November till March, tickets are half-price. There are a couple of days each year on which entry is free. Examples are the 18th of April, International Monuments Day, and the 18th of May, International Museums Day.

What are the opening hours of the theatre of Epidaurus?

In general, the site is open when the sun is up. From 8 am to 8pm in the summer months, and from 8 am till 5 pm during the winter. In April, September, and October it is best to check the opening hours before your visit. During holidays the site is either closed or has adjusted opening hours.

What is the best way to experience the acoustics of the ancient theatre of Epidaurus?

Drop a coin in the middle of the stage, and check how many people start looking around for money. Many guides tell you to speak from the center point of the theatre, but the best and most impressive experience is dropping a coin. You can literally hear a pin drop at all the 14.000 seats. 

Meteora

Breathtaking and magical. Six monasteries on top of huge rock pillars that seem surreal. No words nor pictures can capture the beauty and impressiveness of this Greek landmark, where history, spirituality, nature and architecture truly come together. No wonder Meteora is on the UNESCO world heritage as well as the Natura 2000 list. Definitely visit this place when you’re around in Greece!

Location Overview

Thessaly, Central Greece

Nature / Religion

3 hours
to 3 days

Free
€3,- p.p. per monastery

Be careful

Average

Landscape

Meteora is located in central Greece, in the Thessaly region. Thessaly’s landscape is extreme. From the highest mountain in Greece, Mount Olympus, to endless cultivated plains around Trikala and Larissa. The most unique part of Thessaly’s landscape is Meteora. Where giant rock columns rise from a lush green forest.

How the rock pillars at Meteora are created remains kind of a mystery. The rocks consist of a mixture of sandstone and something called conglomerate. Conglomerate consists of small rounded pebbles and sand, created from sediment deposited by fast-flowing rivers or by waves on beaches.

There are multiple theories about how nature was able to create the pillars of Meteora. They could have been created by the sea, rivers, earth-movement, or extreme weather conditions. Most probably, Meteora is a result of a combination of all of the above. However, a real scientifically proven origin is yet to be found. What is known, is that the pillars date back about 60 million years ago and are a true natural wonder.

religious site Meteora with monastery on a rock pilar with a lush forest below
View from one monastery to another between the rock columns

Mythology

Like all unexplainable or unique natural locations, Greek mythology has a story to explain the existence of Meteora. The Olympian Gods, led by Zeus, fought a war against their ancestors, the Titans. The fight flattened the earth, creating the large valley around Meteora. However, the Titans who lost the battle turned into stone and stand in the landscape as large rock pillars.

History

The rock pillars of Meteora have always been a special place for humans. In the most famous cave in the area, the Theopetra cave, signs of the transition from Neanderthals to modern humans have been found. As well as the change from hunter-gatherers to farmers.

The history of Meteora as a holy place for the Greek Orthodox church starts in the Byzantine era. In the 9th century A.D., monks searched for the caves in the rock pillars to practice their faith in peace and solitude.
Later, from the 11th century, the caves of these hermits became the place to hide from Turkish occupants. In the 14th century, the first of the twenty monasteries on top of stone pillars were constructed.

Access to the monasteries was originally difficult and required a literal leap of faith. A long ladder or large net was the only way to reach this religious site. Since the 1920s, improvements in accessibility have opened the monasteries up to the public.

During the Second World War, Meteora was bombed. And in the 1950s an earthquake shook the famous rock pillars. Fortunately, this marvelous and unique place still exists today.

The monasteries

In the 14th and 15th century, a total of twenty monasteries at the tops of the stone pillars are constructed in Meteora. Six of them still remain standing today. The other fourteen have unfortunately become inaccessible ruins, taken over by nature.

Experience:

Today, there are multiple ways to explore the unique and beautiful area of Meteora. You can visit the monasteries by car, or with a guided tour. A concrete road takes you through the area of Meteora. Along this road are various viewpoints are well as parking areas from which you can easily access the monasteries by bridges and steps.

But you can make the experience of Meteora as religious or adventurous as you want. It is possible hike up the rock pillars from the village of Kalabaka and in the area are various hiking trails with different levels of difficulty.

No matter how you choose to discover the unique landscape of Meteora, be prepared to be blown away by the beauty of the area. During every season and every time of day, this landmark is marvelous.

The Great Meteoron Holy Monastery

Tips:

  • The name Meteora comes from the ancient Greek word meteoros. This means, raised from the ground, which is exactly what the monasteries at Meteora look like.
  • Have you seen Game of Thrones? Real images of Meteora were used in the view from Tyrion’s cell in the castle Vale, above the clouds.
  • The Thessaly region is known as the hottest part of Greece. During summer, temperatures can easily rise up to 35 or even 40 degrees. Bring enough water and plan your visit early in the morning. Even better is to visit in spring or fall.
  • Even when you’re not able to climb these, due to physical reasons or fear of heights, the area is still worth your visit, you don’t actually have to get inside one to be impressed by this landmark.
  • Monasteries in Greece often close early and have one day a week on which they do not open at all. When you want to visit one of the six monasteries in particular, make sure to check the opening hours before planning your trip. A tip for visiting in summer is to wear appropriate clothing, covering your shoulders, upper arms and knees. Read our guide for visiting religious sites in Greece before your visit.

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