The 18th of April is the International Monuments and Sites Day, and these are the top Greek archaeological sites you must visit!
However, with a history as rich and expansive as that of Greece, it is no surprise that there are countless archaeological sites that you should visit while touring the country.
Of course, everyone knows the popular tourist attractions, such as the Acropolis and Delphi, but there is much more waiting for you in Greece (and, of course, they are included in our list)!
Top 20 archaeological sites that you don’t want to miss out on
1. The Acropolis, Athens
The Acropolis is a world-renowned historical site and is actually an ancient citadel. Located on a hilltop overlooking the city of Athens, it contains the remains of several ancient buildings of immense architectural and historic significance, such as the Erechtheion temple, the Propylaia entrance, and the temple of Athena Nike.
Of course, the most famous building of all atop the Acropolis is the Parthenon. This Doric temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena, is something that everyone simply must see and experience in person at least once in their lifetime!
2. The ancient Temple of Apollo Epicurius, Bassae
Another archaeological site that one should definitely include on his or her itinerary is the ancient temple located in Oichalia, a town in the northeastern part of Messenia. It is especially important because the building is amazingly well-preserved which is not always the case when speaking of buildings constructed almost 2,500 years ago. It served as the Temple of Apollo Epicurius and dates back to the mid-to-late 5th century BC.
3. Delphi, Central Greece
Near the beautiful resort town of Arachova on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus, one must, of course, visit the sprawling archaeological site of Delphi on any trip to Greece. Considered to be one of the most stunning archaeological sites in the entire world, you will need at least three hours to explore the ancient shrine of Delphi and the excellent archaeological museum on the premises, which houses the original bronze bull and many statues from the time when it served as the most important religious site in Greece.
Since the site is so large and there is so much to see, you should buy an all-day entrance ticket to Delphi.
You can see Delos from the shores of Mykonos and the beauty of the island and its surroundings inspire all who visit. It is one of the most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites in all of Greece.
There have been extensive archaeological excavations on the island, revealing ruins that tell tales of Delos as a holy sanctuary, dating back to over a millennium before Greek mythology named it as the birthplace of the Greek gods Apollo (the God of Light) and his twin sister, Artemis (the Goddess of Hunting).
Ruins of ancient stone huts on Delos date back to the 3rd millennium BC, and from 900 BC to 100 AD the island served as a religious center. Eventually, it became a site of religious pilgrimage for Ionians after they underwent a number of “purifications” at the command of the city-state of Athens around the 6th century BC.
5. Ancient and Medieval Rhodes
The Greek island of Rhodes is home to a variety of important archaeological sites. Here, you will find the ancient city of Kamiros, which had a three-storied acropolis that overlooked the city. The area was also once inhabited by Mycenaean Greeks during the prehistoric period while the ancient city itself was founded by the Dorians. Other must-see sites on the island are the Grand Master’s Palace and Monolithos Castle.
The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes is known as the primary historical and architectural landmark of the medieval city of Rhodes. Its Gothic style of architecture is very rare in Greece, and this will be one of the few examples of this type of structure that you will see in the entire country.
Originally built in the late 7th century as a Byzantine citadel, in 1309 it became the seat of the Knights Hospitallers when they occupied Rhodes, and they used the fortress as the palace of their Grand Master and administrative center.
On the outskirts of the village of Monolithos is the ancient medieval castle built in 1480 by the order of the Knights of Saint John. The castle was constructed to protect the island from attacks, and was never breached, probably due to its location atop a huge cliff that towers 100 meters high.
6. Mystras, Peloponnese
Known as Myzithras in the “Chronicle of the Morea,” Mystras is a fortified ancient Byzantine city. Located in Laconia on Mt. Taygetos near Sparta, back in the 14th and 15th centuries, the city flourished as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea. In the year 1242, the young Prince William II of Villehardouin built the now-famous fortress known as Mystras.
7. Olympia, Peloponnese
Located on the Peloponnesian peninsula in Greece, Olympia was historically a popular destination for people from all across the Greek world. Its Temple was primarily dedicated to Zeus, but there are over seventy other temples, treasuries, altars, statues, and other structures in the area, including the Temple of Hera, or Heraion, which was dedicated to the goddess of that name. This site has so many ruins you will definitely need a great deal of time to explore.
Be sure to take a few moments to also walk to the Philippeion in the Altis of Olympia. This circular memorial in limestone and marble has been somewhat reconstructed but is well worth a visit. It was the only structure inside of the Altis dedicated to a human rather than a god.
8. Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments, Thessaloniki
The city of Thessaloniki, the second-most influential city in the Byzantine Empire, also played a significant role in Christianity during the Middle Ages. Here, you will find dozens of important archaeological sites, including fifteen of which have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
From the Walls of Thessaloniki—built during the 4th and 5th centuries, with parts that date back to the late 3rd century BC—to the famed White Tower and the 14th century Byzantine Baths, one of the best preserved baths in the country from that time period, there is so much to see!
9. Mycenae, Peloponnese
This incomparable archaeological site, located near Mykines in Argolis, is home to The Lions Gate at Mycenae, which is the only known monumental sculpture from Bronze Age Greece! The settlement was built on a sloping hill rising 900 feet above sea level.
During the second millenium BC, this ancient site was the scene of one of the major centers of Greek civilization, said to have had over 30,000 residents at its peak of population and prosperity. The settlement still displays faint traces of evidence of Neolithic roots, and its ruins demonstrate how the city survived and thrived throughout the centuries.
Be sure to check out the Treasury of Atreus or the spectacular Tomb of Agamemnon while visiting Mycenae.
10. Meteora, Central Greece
Meteora is the second largest monastic and pilgrimage site in Greece after Mount Athos. Its towering cliffs were the perfect place for the monks to take refuge from the invading Turkish army around the 11th century.
Here, you will find several breathtaking monasteries that still remain some 400 meters (1,312 feet) above the ground, including perhaps the most impressive monastery in the world, the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Jesus, better known as Great Meteoron.
11. Knossos, Crete
Knossos, the capital of the Minoan civilization, was incredibly wealthy and influential in its heyday. As Europe’s oldest city, it ruled over a massive maritime trade empire during the Bronze Age. The ruins of its magnificent palace spread out over 20,000 square meters on the hill of Kefalas, and the city is the setting for many well-known myths, such as the Labyrinth with the Minotaur, as well as Daedalus and Icarus.
12. Ancient city of Corinth
This sacred destination is only 50 miles west of Athens, so be sure to make arrangements to check it out while on vacation. This ancient city had inhabitants dating back as far as the Neolithic period, from 5,000-3,000 BC. For thousands of years, until the Romans destroyed it in 146 BC, it remained a major Greek city.
Things to note in this ancient city are the Temple of Aphrodite, the Temple of Apollo and the Roman forum, as well as the sacred spring, which is located along the northern edge of the forum, near the Lechaion Road.
13. Epidavros, Argos, Nafplio, and Tiryns in the Peloponnese – so much to see, so close together!
In Epidavros (Epidaurus) you will find ancient ruins and an impressive ancient Greek theater, one of the best preserved ancient theaters in the entire world! Epidavros is a must-see on any trip through the Peloponnese, and during the summer months there are weekend shows at the ancient theater there that attract thousands of spectators from all around the world.
Be sure to check out the Sanctuary of Asklepios in Epidavros as well, an ancient religious site thought to be the rival of such major cult sites as the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia and Apollo at Delphi.
Argos is considered to be the town in Europe with the longest continual habitation. It is dotted with ancient ruins of citadels and theaters. An intriguing theory, which may very well be true, is that Argos was the center of the Mycenaean empire which ruled over Greece from 1,600 to 1,100 BC.
The first capital city of modern Greece was Nafplio and even day you can see the ruins of its fortress high up on the mountainside, overlooking the town. You can visit the ruins and not only experience history, but also get a bird’s-eye view of the stunning Neo-classical port city below!
Tiryns, the Mycenaean archaeological site in Argolis is also not to be missed by anyone who appreciates history. This is where Heracles (Hercules) is said to have performed his Twelve Labors. Although it is widely considered to date back to the Bronze Age, the hill fort has recorded occupation ranging back seven thousand years before the beginning of the Bronze Age! An ancient legend holds that the massive walls that surround it were built by the Cyclops himself.
14.The ancient city of Aigai, near Vergina
Aigai, the first capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia, was amazingly only discovered in the 19th century. This ancient city, which is now called Vergina, was home to the family of Philip II and Alexander the Great. While there you can see ruins of the theatre, the sanctuaries of Eukleia and the Mother of the Gods, the city walls, and the royal burial grounds, containing more than 500 tumuli, dating from the 11th to the 2nd century BC.
15. The archaeological site of Sparta
In 650 BC, the city-state of Sparta was home to the dominant military force of all ancient Greece. It is believed to have first been inhabited in the Middle Neolithic period due to some pottery discovered in the vicinity of Kouphovouno, around 1.2 miles from Sparta. Excavations begun at the site in 1906 revealed many structures and a glimpse into the life of the ancient city-state.
16. The Athenian Agora
As you are walking around modern-day Athens, remember that you are actually walking on layer upon layer of ancient history. You won’t ever be able to forget this concept after visiting the Athenian Agora, where you can see how everyday life once was in Athens during ancient times.
The Agora, meaning “marketplace,” includes the city’s arsenal, the Tholo, and numerous stoas where merchants could sell their goods. Excavations from 1934 onward have revealed more than thirty known major buildings inside the ancient Athenian Agora, and thousands of artifacts.
17. Ancient Temple of Poseidon – Cape Sounion
This majestic temple was first constructed from 444–440 BC. The temple, dedicated to the god Poseidon, was actually built on top of earlier ruins dating back to the Archaic period. It is believed that the earlier temple was destroyed in 480 BC by Persian troops during Xerxes I’s invasion of Greece. When you walk around the ancient temple grounds, you will not only feel a part of the ancient history of this great nation but you will have incomparable views of the sea, the cliffs and outlying islands.
18. Akrotiri, Minoan Bronze Age settlement, Santorini
Santorini offers tourists more than a unique moon-like landscape and enchanting villages with their white and blue-painted houses overlooking the azure sea.
The Minoan Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri was destroyed in the 16th century BC by the volcanic explosion known as the Theran eruption. However, as a result of the eruption, the city was covered in ash, much like what happened in Pompeii, which helped preserve many artifacts and frescoes. The legend persists that Akrotiri is the lost city of Atlantis, which Plato famously wrote about.
19. The Pythagoreion and Heraion, Samos island
The small island of Samos has been inhabited since the 3rd millenium BC. It was considered to be one of the most important centers for political and cultural development from prehistory through the 4th to 5th century BC and up until the Middle Ages.
The fortified ancient city of Pythagoreion and the ancient Temple of Hera, the Heraion, are important sites on the island. Evidence suggests that the main settlement of this area occurred around the 1000s BC; however, there are also finds that date back to the Neolithic period, during the 5000s- 4000s BC.
20. The Archaeological Site of Philippi and ruins of Macedonian city Krinides
These ruins are considered the most important archaeological site in Eastern Macedonia. The settlement called Krinides was originally founded by the people of Thasos in 360 BC. However, when King Philip II of Macedon was asked to help keep order in the city, he decided to conquer the city instead, since it was ideally situated for economics and battle. Once he conquered it, he fortified it and modestly named it after himself!
All in all, you cannot go wrong visiting any of these ancient sites which constitute a significant part of the basis of archaeological sites of Western Europe. From exquisite ancient Classical temples and archaeological treasures to stunning vistas over the sea and islands which make you feel you are part of the history of this great nation, Greece truly has it all for any traveler.