Known as the ‘cradle of Western civilization’ and birthplace of democracy, Greece is a treasure trove when it comes to history. And for those interested in ancient times, it’s tricky to find a country as rich and fascinating.

Luckily, the remains of many of these ancient sites still stand today – and Greece’s sunny climate makes them even more enjoyable to explore.

From the Parthenon in Athens’ Acropolis to the ancient Minoan palaces at Knossos, here are eight historic sites to visit in Greece.

1. The Acropolis, Athens

The Acropolis, Athens

The Acropolis is Greece’s most famous, recognisable, and complete archaeological site. Overlooking the city of Athens, it’s home to several monuments and buildings from ancient times – including the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Erechtheion, and the temple of Athena Nike.

The Acropolis began gaining religious significance during the 8th century BC when the cult of Athena, the city’s patron goddess, was established. Though, it wasn’t until the 5th century BC – during the ‘golden age’ of Athens, when the city was empowered by its victory over the Persians – that most of the sites here were built.

The Acropolis’ structures were developed by a talented group of architects and sculptors, including the famous Iktinos, Pheidias, and Alkamenes. They transformed an unassuming hill into a unique complex that became the home of classical Greek art and thought. Many experts see the Acropolis as the birthplace of democracy, theatre, philosophy, and the concept of freedom and expression of speech.

Despite suffering various wars, earthquakes, fires, explosions, and alterations over the years, the Acropolis’ mythical monuments still stand strong today, almost 25 centuries later.

2. Olympia, Peloponnese

Olympia, Peloponnese

Olympia was once a thriving Greek city. As the name suggests, it was the birthplace of the most famous and significant sporting event in the ancient world. In 776 BC, the first Olympic Games took place in honour of the Greek god, Zeus. The games continued until 394 AD, when Roman Emperor Theodosius I, who saw them as a ‘pagan cult’, cancelled them.

But, Olympia wasn’t only used as a sporting ground every four years. Long before this, during the 10th century BC, Olympia became the centre of worship to Zeus – the father of the 12 Olympian gods. And, the Atlis, which was Olympia’s sacred grove and centre of worship, once contained one of the highest concentrations of art masterpieces in the ancient world.

While many of these masterpieces were lost over the centuries – such as the gold and ivory cult statue of Olympia Zeus – others have survived. This includes sculptures from the temple of Zeus and the famous statue of Hermes by Praxiteles. These sit alongside the remains of various other magnificent buildings and monuments that the ancient Greeks dedicated to sports and worship.

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3. Delphi, Phocis

Delphi, Phocis

Delphi was an ancient religious sanctuary dedicated to worshiping the Greek god Apollo. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that Delphi may have been occupied since the Mycenaean period (1500-1100 BC). Though, it’s the area’s later history that makes Delphi famous.

Delphi was once considered the centre of the world. According to Greek mythology, when Zeus sent out two eagles to locate the centre of the world, they met at the future site of Delphi – so he set a sacred stone here, the omphalos (meaning navel).

The Temple of Apollo, which archeologists trace back to the 4th century BC, was the most central and important part of the city. Supposedly the home of the famous oracle Pythia – a priestess believed to deliver prophetic messages from Apollo – people would travel here to get advice on private matters and political and military affairs. Many city-state rulers would even visit the Oracle of Delphi before launching wars or new colonies.

Delphi was also the birthplace of the Pythian Games which, after the Olympics, were the second most important games in Greece. Therefore, Delphi today is home to an incredible range of ruins that speak to its religious, political, and sporting past.

The Tholos is arguably the most iconic site and was once a circular building constructed around 380 BC. Three of the six Doric columns still stand today, yet, the Tholos’ exact purpose remains unknown.

4. Mycenae, Peloponnese

Mycenae, Peloponnese

Mycenae is an ancient city perched atop a small hill on the Argolid Plain in Peloponnese. Some archeological studies trace Mycenae back to the 7th millennium BC. However, it was between 1,600 and 1,100 BC that Mycenae became one of the great cities of the Mycenaean civilization and a major centre of Greek culture.

Mycenae has several connections to Greek mythology. It was the city of the legendary King Agamemnon, son of Atreus, who led the crusade against Troy during the Trojan War – an event which was famously documented in Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad.

Today, Mycenae is home to a collection of well-preserved ancient sites, including the Lion’s Gate and the North Gate, which were part of the city’s fortified walls that once stood 18 metres high and up to eight metres thick. There’s also the Terraced Palace and various religious structures that were once home to magnificent temples and shrines.

But, the 13th century BC Tomb of Agamemnon, also known as the Treasury of Atreus, is arguably Mycenae’s most impressive site. The tomb was carved into the hills in around 1250 BC and stands 13.5 metres high with a diameter of 14.5 metres. Its interior was once painted with elaborate reds and greens – colours which were rare at the time.

The site of Mycenae was excavated in the 19th century by German businessman Heinrich Schliemann and recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

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5. Knossos, Crete

Knossos, Crete

The ancient site of Knossos is located on the outskirts of the modern city of Heraklion, Crete. Knossos is believed to have been built as a settlement around 7,000 BC, during the Neolithic period, and was continuously inhabited until Ancient Roman times.

The ancient site reached its peak between the 19th and 14th centuries BC, when it served as the capital of the Minoan civilization. The Minoans were known for creating remarkable palaces and cities – something which Knossos is a magnificent example of today.

Despite suffering large-scale disruption sometime between 1500 and 450 BC, Knossos is home to a vast collection of ruins. The most famous of these is Knossos Palace whereKing Minos – who, according to legend, was the son of Zeus – was thought to have lived.

Knossos was later inhabited by the Mycenaeans and the Romans too and became the setting for several mythical stories, including those of Ikaros and the Minotaur.

6. Akrotiri, Santorini

Akrotiri, Santorini

Akrotiri is a volcanically-preserved ancient site in Santorini that experts believe may have been inhabited as early as 4,500 BC, during the Neolithic period. Starting life as a small fishing village, over the Bronze Age of the next millennium, Akrotiri grew into a much larger settlement, covering up to 20 hectares.

However, due to increasingly frequent earthquakes, Akrotiri was abandoned around the 17th century BC, before a volcanic eruption buried it in ash. Luckily, the eruption meant that many of Akrotiri’s artworks and frescoes were preserved and are still maintained today after an excavation project in 1967.

Protected by a bioclimatic roof, visitors can wander comfortably around the site away from the heat. As well as fine artwork, Akrotiri’s buildings have been very well preserved, and many still stand multi-stories high. For this reason, Akrotiri has earnt the title of ‘Minoan Pompeii’.

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7. Mystras, Peloponnese

Mystras, Peloponnese

If you’re more interested in early modern than ancient history, you might be interested in visiting Mytras, or ‘Morea’, in the Peloponnese region of Greece. This archaeological site houses the remains of a 13th century city, which are remarkably well-preserved.

In roughly 1248-1249, William II of Villehardouin – a prince of Archaea who had taken part in the Fourth Crusade – built Mystras as a stronghold defense against the Byzantines. Though, soon after the castle was completed, William was taken prisoner. So, from 1262, Mystras became a place of shelter for the citizens of Sparta, who began building a city around it.

The city reached its peak in 1438 when it became the capital of the Byzantine province of Despotate of the Morea – a title it held until 1460, when it was captured by the Ottoman Empire, who held the site for centuries.

Likely abandoned during the 19th century, today Mystras is home to the remains of a series of Byzantine churches, a monastery, and the ruins of a castle, roads, and fortress walls – all of which are set against a magnificent landscape. During its time as an active city, many of the structures here were considered some of the most impressive architectural works of their times, so-called the ‘wonders of Morea’.

The nearby Mystras Museum also houses a collection of artefacts from the site.

8. Meteora, central Greece

Meteora, central Greece

Meteora is a collection of UNESCO World Heritage protected monasteries that sit in an area inhabited since the 11th century.

Meteora literally translates as ‘suspended in air’ and once you’ve been here, it’s not difficult to see why. Huge stone pillars rise outside the city of Trikala, near the mountains of Pindos. And, perched atop are a collection of monasteries, which are the home of Greece’s second most important monastic community, after Mount Athos in Halkidiki.

The history here dates back millennia, and there are various theories about how the stone pillars came to be. Some scientists believed they were formed around 60 million years ago, during the Tertiary Period. Though, many of the Meteora monasteries seen today date back to the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.

Of the 30 monasteries founded here throughout the centuries, only six of them remain active today. The most significant is arguably the 14th-century Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, which is now a museum.

Final thoughts…

Greece is famous for its ancient roots and captivating mythology. And whether you tour the magnificent palaces at Knossos or stand at the ancient centre of the world in Delphi, it’s an ideal destination for history lovers. The sunny climate and turquoise waters are just an added bonus.

For further reading, head over to the history section of our website. Here, you’ll find everything from UK and American history articles to more historic sites to visit in the UK and abroad.

Which historic sites have you visited in Greece? Have any of the ideas on our list sparked your interest? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.