The Must-Visit Ancient Sites in Greece for History Lovers

As men talk in a dream, so Corinth all, wrote the poet Keats of this ancient city, with its still-surviving temples to Aphrodite and Apollo
As men talk in a dream, so Corinth all, wrote the poet Keats of this ancient city, with its still-surviving temples to Aphrodite and Apollo | © Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Michelle Schmid
28 April 2021

Recognised as the birthplace of western civilisation, Greece feels like a history book come to life. These are Culture Trip’s pick of the must-see sites no history lover should miss.

Ancient Greece’s imposing temples, striking citadels, preserved theatres and iconic monuments are among the most impressive archaeological sites in the world and provide visitors with an extraordinary insight into ancient times. From the oracle at Delphi to the site of the original games at Olympia, to enter the world of the classics is to be transported millennia back in time.

The Acropolis

Historical Landmark
Map View
© Alpineguide / Alamy Stock Photo
High on top of a hill overlooking Athens stands the proud remnants of four of the most well-known ruins preserved from the ancient world. The iconic Parthenon, Propylaea, Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike make up the Acropolis of ancient Athens. The word “Acropolis” refers to the highest point of the city; to reach these impressive structures you must ascend a slope up a steep bluff. After passing through the Propylaea (the monumental gateway), guests can walk the hilltop and take in the great marble facades that have stood here for over two thousand years.

Delphi

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
The circular Tholos at the Temple of Athena Pronaia, Ancient Delphi, Thessaly, Greece.
© Peter Eastland / Alamy Stock Photo

Dive into one of the most wondrous ancient places in the world, where heaven and earth once met. Delphi was known as the prime place of worship for Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, as well as a place of worship for many other gods and goddesses. It was also the location where the oracle of Delphi was filled with the spirit of Apollo. Today, numerous ruins from the city remain, including the Temple of Apollo, treasuries, the theatre and athletic structures, including the stadium that held the athletic Pythian Games, when competitors gathered from all over Greece to compete.

Corinth

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark
Map View

The ancient city of Corinth is located on a narrow stretch of land joining the mainland of Greece and the Peloponnese. Before being sacked by the Romans in 146 BC, the city was one of Greece’s major establishments, flourishing with commerce resulting from its tactical location. Under the Romans, the city continued to prosper, which explains why the most interesting ruins to view here are of Roman build. When visiting, check out the Temple of Aphrodite, the Temple of Apollo and the Roman forum. There is also a sacred spring with a secret passage nearby, leading to a small shrine.

Epidaurus

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View

Known for the masterful acoustics of its well-preserved theatre, Epidaurus was a small city blessed with a mild climate, fertile land and several natural springs. Within the city stood the Temple of Asclepius, a god famed for having extraordinary powers of healing. Consequently, pilgrims travelled to Epidaurus from all over, bringing dedications that funded numerous art and construction projects. Because of the excellent condition of the theatre, it is perhaps the favourite structure to visit while at Epidaurus. The acoustics allow guests to hear clearly from anywhere in the stands, which makes the ruin a fascinating place to visit. Today, the theatre at Epidaurus is still used for live music concerts and performances during the summer.

Knossos

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Knossos  Minoan Palace . Restored North Entrance with charging bull fresco, Crete, Greece
© Gary Blake / Alamy Stock Photo

Knossos, the capital of Minoan Crete, is the largest archaeological site in Crete. It houses the ruins of an expansive palace that is supposedly the location of the fabled labyrinth from the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. It’s considered to be one of Europe’s oldest cities, and the site is home to numerous intricate murals and art works, including the Royal Chambers, porticoes and irrigation drains.

Mycenae

Historical Landmark
Map View

The ancient city of Mycenae, once the home of Agamemnon, the king who united the Greek city states and proceeded to demolish the city of Troy, is perhaps one of the most important and awe-inspiring sites of ancient Greece. During the Bronze Age, Mycenae dominated the culture of the area – not surprising when considering the impressive structures that remain today. The world-famous Lion Gate still stands, constructed from large stones stacked upon one another, along with a cylindrical-shaped tomb that is often considered to be the burial place of Agamemnon’s father, Atreus.

Olympia

Historical Landmark
Map View
Olympia, Greece. Birthplace of the Olympics.
© Andrew Michael / Alamy Stock Photo

Olympia, a sanctuary dedicated to the worship of Zeus, the king of the gods, was the location of the Pan-Hellenic Games, held every four years. These games are considered to be the first Olympics, which has made the site quite popular. Within the Temple of Zeus was a statue of the deity that stood an impressive 12m (39ft) tall – it was thought of as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, the site contains a myriad of ruins, including the thermai (ancient baths), the Heroon (monument of the unknown hero) and various temples.

Vergina (Aigai)

Historical Landmark
Map View

The ancient city of Aigai, near Vergina, Greece, was known as the first capital of the Macedonian Kingdom. Today, Aigai, which comes from the Greek word for goats, is known as the burial site of the Macedonian King Philip II – father of Alexander the Great. It is an incredibly large burial site, featuring more than 300 tombs that are lavishly decorated and stand above ground. Aigai is also known as the city where Alexander the Great, the conqueror of much of the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, was proclaimed king.

Sparta

Historical Landmark
Map View

As the great rival of Athens in ancient Greece, Sparta prided itself on the iron-hearted warrior culture that remained the backbone of their civilisation. The archaeological site of Sparta today is more widespread and scattered than many of the ancient cities of Greece. As this is also the fabled home of Menelaus, the brother of Agamemnon, one of the more well-preserved and studied ruins is called the Menelaion. Despite its sparse culture as far as art and impressive buildings go, the Spartan ruins still have an acropolis and city which includes a theatre.

The Athenian Agora

Historical Landmark
Map View
greece athens the athenian agora temple of hephaistos
© Terry Harris / Alamy Stock Photo

Arguably the second-most famous archaeological site in Greece is the ancient Agora, located just below the Acropolis, in Athens. In Greek, the word “agora” refers to a gathering or market place, which is basically what this collection of ruins represents. Located in the centre of the city, the Agora remained in use for nearly 5,000 years, undergoing many new constructions and demolitions. Now, archaeologists work to explore the site in reference to ancient Athens, and visitors can enjoy the rebuilt Stoa of Attalos, a long colonnaded building that extends along the edge of the site, plus learn about the well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus.

Meteora

Natural Feature
Map View

A Unesco World Heritage Site, Meteora is the largest archaeological centre in Greece in terms of the area it covers. The looming sandstone cliffs are astonishing enough, but these are somehow topped by a complex of Byzantine monasteries teetering on narrow stone pillars and overlooking the vast green valley below. Considered the ideal place to achieve isolation in early Christian times, the first monastery here was established in the 14th century, and only six of the initial 24 are still active today.

Akrotiri

Building, Museum
Map View
Santorini, Greece - September 18, 2020: Prehistoric town of Akrotiri, an archaeological site in Santorini, Greece
© vivoo / Alamy Stock Photo
Most tourists flock to Santorini for the world-famous sunsets and romantic restaurants, but the holiday island is also home to the Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri. A vital Minoan port town, it was covered in volcanic ash in the 17th century BC and excavations did not begin until 1867. It is now referred to as the Greek Pompei, and treasures including frescoes, buildings and artefacts have been unearthed there, with excavations continuing to this day.

Lindos Acropolis

Historical Landmark
Map View
Greece, Rhodes, Lindos Acropolis, temple, Athena's temple, landmark, tourism, place of interest, pillars, ruin, tourist, woman, person, sit, sea, waters, horizon, Lindos, Acropolis,
© mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Climb the headland above Lindos in Rhodes to reach the dramatic Acropolis that towers over the sea below. The remains of the citadel are surrounded by battlements and include the ruins of a theatre, a 14th-century Castle of the Knights of St John and the Temple of Athena Lindia which dates back to the 4th century BC. Go early to avoid tour groups and get the sweeping views over the coastline to yourself.

Siobhan Grogan contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on April 28, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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