Practical advice for visiting Olympia in Greece
During the trip to Greece in which I dedicated myself to the “continental” I spent most of my time in the Peloponnese, a wonderful region and, from what I could see, despite being at the beginning of the tourist season, decidedly less touristy I respect the rest of Greece, especially its islands.
One of the main destinations of the Peloponnese is certainly the archaeological site of ancient Olympia, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1989, home of the ancient Olympic Games, where the enormous Statue of Zeus was located, considered in the past one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Olympia is located near the western coast of the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece, 16 km away from the sea where the rivers Alpheus (Alfios) and Cladeus (Kladios) are located.
Immersed in an idyllic landscape between wooded hills alternating with agricultural land, the archaeological site of Olympia has an extraordinary cultural importance, it is small enough to be visited in a couple of hours, the entrance ticket also includes the Archaeological Museum of Olympia and the museum of the history of the Olympic Games and represents an unmissable stop for those visiting the Peloponnese for the first time.
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Read also: Visiting the Acropolis in Athens: the essential guide
If you are traveling to the Peloponnese be sure to include this truly special place in your itinerary. In this post you will discover what to see in ancient Olympia, how to visit it, what to see beyond the archaeological site and where to sleep.
If you plan to visit Athens make sure you also read the post on what to see in Athens (with itineraries with maps)
How to get to Olympia
The easiest and fastest way to get from Athens to Olympia is by car. Olimpia is 3.5 hours away by car and the journey is not particularly demanding. So if you want you can also visit it in a day starting from Athens, it won’t take you more than 2 or 3 hours.
If you don’t have a car I recommend booking a private day tour from Athens. Given its proximity to Athens, many tour operators offer day trips to Olympia but they are usually private, very convenient if you are traveling as a family or in a group.
Buses connecting Athens to Olympia leave at 9.30 in the morning and at 12.30 from Terminal A of the bus station. The journey takes approximately 5 and a half hours. You therefore have to sleep in the city.
Alternatively, it is better to reach Pyrgos by taking the KTEL buses, and from here take the direct bus to OIimpia.
The journey from Athens to Pyrgos takes approximately 4-5 hours and from Pyrgos to Olympia 30 minutes longer (the bus runs approximately every 2 hours). a>
KTEL buses from Athens to Pyrgos depart every 1-2 hours. Tickets can be purchased at the station or on the bus, if you buy the ticket on the bus make sure you have cash.
Thebus from Athens to Pyrgos departs from Kifissos bus terminal (KTEL Bus Station A). The station is located on a highway in the northwestern part of Athens. The closest metro stop is Agios Antonios on the red line (M2) of the Athens Metro, and you will have to walk about 15 minutes from the stop. Kifissos bus terminal can also be reached by city bus 51 from Omonia Square.
Where to sleep in Olympia to visit the archaeological site
The site of ancient Olympia is located a stone’s throw from the small and pleasant village of Olympia which practically has a main road where there is no shortage of bars, restaurants and obviously hotels.
If you travel in summer I recommend a hotel with a swimming pool so you can cool off after walking in the sun. Among the hotels with swimming pools, I recommend the hotel Bacchus, which is located 3 kilometers from Olympia and overlooks the valley. The hotel only has 6 rooms. You need a car to get around.
If you want to stay literally at the entrance to ancient Olympia then book at the Amalia hotel Olympia which in addition to having a elegant and large outdoor spaces, including a swimming pool in the large garden, it also has a restaurant where you can eat very well.
If you are not interested in the swimming pool and want to spend little I recommend the rooms Anesi which offers rooms simple but very spacious and also offers the kitchen if you want to cook yourself.
For a complete list of hotels in Olympia: book your hotel in Olympia
Tickets to visit Olympia
The entry ticket to ancient Olympia costs €12 per person and includes 3 entrances:
- Entrance to the archaeological site of ancient Olympia
- Entrance to the Archaeological Museum of Olympia
- Entrance to the Olympic Games Museum.
You can buy the ticket in one of the three places, the ticket is however cumulative and at each entrance the corresponding piece of ticket will be retained.
If like me you don’t understand much about archaeological sites I recommend you book a guided tour or rent a 3D viewer, which I did io, which will allow you to see, following a map on a visor, what Olympia must have looked like in the past.
The 3D viewer is not rented directly from the archaeological park, so if you opt for this option (I really recommend it especially if you are traveling with children who will have a lot of fun) you have to go to the shop that rents them, in the center of Olympia , and then proceed to the site. Book well in advance because there are only 25 viewers available.
The rental lasts about 3 hours, enough to visit the site, and also includes explanations of the places you visit (you can select the language in Italian) and costs €25 per person.
A little history on ancient Olympia and the Olympics (video)
If you want to know a little; For more on the history of Olimpia I recommend watching this video which “prepared” me for at the entrance to the archaeological site.
What to see in Olympia in Greece
There are several sites and museums in Olympia. The Archaeological Museum of Olympia, the archaeological site of Olympia, the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games in the Antiquities and the Museum of the History of the Excavations of Olympia.
Opening hours vary depending on the time of year and the last entry is 20 minutes before the end of visiting hours; check the Ministry of Culture website for updated information.
Advice for visiting Olimpia: Since Olimpia is a tourist destination for cruises and daily tours for groups arriving by bus I advise you to enter the site after 2/3pm, after all the tour buses have left and the site will be significantly emptier.
Archaeological site of Olympia
Olympia was the cradle of the most famous and important sporting event of the ancient and contemporary world.
The Olympic Games have been held at this site every four years, since 776 BC. to 393 AD, between two subsequent celebrations that fell every five years.
The games became a system of chronological reference and dating widely used in the Greek world but their importance was also due to the fact that, in ancient times, the Greek cities agreed on a sacred three-month truce and they gathered, coming from all the Greek cities of the Mediterranean world, to compete.
This practice demonstrates the highest ideals of Hellenic humanism: a peaceful and fair competition between free and equal men, whose the only ambition is the symbolic reward of an olive wreath.
Olympia was also a place of worship dedicated to Zeus, father of the twelve gods of Olympus, and a place where artists of great fame, like Phidias, were inspired by and worked on works of notable artistic importance. In fact, on the site you can see Phidias’s studio where he created the enormous statue of Zeus for the temple.
Within the archaeological site, the sanctuaries of the gods, the temples of Zeus and Hera, and the remains of some very ancient sanctuaries, such as the PelopionPelopion, the buildings for accommodation, Leonidaion and Roman hostel, and all the used for the preparation and celebration of the Olympic Games: the stadium, the hippodrome, the spa, the gym.sports facilitiesTheokoleon, the structures used by the priests,
The most important points of ancient Olympia are:
- The gym
- Phidias’ study
- The temple of Zeus
- The temple of Hera
- The Echo Colonnade
Advice: For an interactive, fun and exciting visit I highly recommend you rent the 3D viewer which will allow you to follow the route alternating views of the ruins with 3D images of how it was intended be in the past.
Looking downwards the viewer will display the map making it easy to orient yourself within the archaeological site. Theagency that rents them only has 25 viewers, you can keep them for a maximum of 3 hours. If you travel in high season I recommend you book them well in advance.
The Archaeological Museum of Olympia
After visiting the archaeological site, or before if you want to wait until the early afternoon to enter, visit the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, one of the most important museums in Greece.
The museum displays finds from excavations in the sacred enclosure of Altis, dating back to prehistory up to the early Christian period.
Among the exhibits on display you will find many sculptures, for which the museum is very famous, the rich collection of bronzes, exceptional pieces in terracotta.
Among the most important pieces to see be sure to pay attention to these:
- The ornaments of the Temple of Zeus – The 42 figures that decorated the two pediments of the temple represent one of the best surviving groups of ancient Greek works of art and date back to the first mid-5th century BC The eastern pediment depicts the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos, while the central figure that dominates the work is that of Zeus. The western pediment depicts the abduction of the Lapith women by the Centaurs and has Apollo as its central figure.
- Hermes by Praxiteles – One of the masterpieces of ancient Greek art which represents Hermes holding the little Dionysus in his arms. It is thought to be a Praxitle original and dates back to 330 BC. approximately.
- Nike of Paionios – The marble statue depicts a winged woman. The inscription on the base states that the statue was dedicated by the Messenians and the Naupacti for their victory against the Lacedaemonians (Spartans), in the war of Archidemia (Peloponnese), probably in 421 BC.
- Bronze pectoral with decoration – A scene of Zeus and Apollo is engraved on the lower part of the pectoral.
- The helmet of Miltiades – The helmet worn by the Athenian general in the battle of Marathon, where he defeated the Persians, and then offered to Zeus as a sign of gratitude .
- Bronze Ram’s Branch – The only surviving siege tool of its type from Antiquity. On all sides of the ram there are symbolic depictions of ram heads, from which the name derives.
The Museum of the History of the Olympic Games
In this beautiful museum, where the archaeological museum was originally located, you will find more than 400 finds, ranging from the prehistoric period to the 5th century AD.
The finds are displayed in thematic groups. Most are from Olympia, but there are many others from other major sites in Greece. In this museum you can get an insight into the historical development of the Olympic and other Panhellenic Games through a wide selection of exhibits with information panels.
In the basement of the museum, a digital exhibition on ancient games is set up through multimedia content: texts, images, maps, videos, 3D representations of ancient games and an interactive 3D theatre.
The Archimedes Museum
This museum is very small but you could spend hours there. It is one of a kind and is dedicated to Archimedes who made an invaluable contribution to the world of technology.
The museum displays around 350 models of ancient inventions that work and can be played with.
The goal is to show and demonstrate that the technology was extremely similar to the beginnings of our modern technology.
The pieces are accompanied by audiovisual material (in Greek and English), explanatory panels and the girls at the museum explain some of the inventions well. The Archimedes Museum is located in the center of Olympia, it is entrance with donations.