Renowned for having housed the ancient Olympic Games nearly 3,000 years ago, Olympia is an ancient Greek site worth discovering in Peloponnese.
Ancient Olympic Games
The first Olympic Games were organized in Olympia, in 778 BCE. These legendary sports competitions are named after the ancient town and were dedicated to Zeus.
The Olympic Games was one of the four Panhellenic Games held in ancient Greece. The other three competitions were:
- Pythian Games: Organized in Delphi in honor of Apollo.
- Nemean Games: Dedicated to Zeus and Heracles, these games took place in Nemea and Corinth,
- Isthmian Games: Held in Isthmia and Sicyon in honor of Poseidon.
Like the modern Olympic Games, the ancient Pan-Hellenic Games were held every four years between June and August. The four-year period was called Olympiad and it's how the inhabitants measured time.
The most popular sports played during the Olympic Games included wrestling, javelin throw, discus throw, and chariot racing. Only men could enjoy the numerous sporting events since the athletes were always men and competed naked.
The Olympic Games were forbidden by Roman Emperor Theodosius in 393 CE. The modern Olympic Games were not re-established until 1896 and were held in the Panathenaic Stadium.
Nowadays, the Olympic flame is still lit up with the light from a parabolic mirror in Olympia before the Olympic Games commence.
Things to do in Olympia
- Archaeological site: Visit the astonishing original stadium where the Olympic festival took place every four years. The area also houses the remains of the Temple of Zeus, the studio of Phidias, the gym where the athletes would train before the tournament, and a lot of other interesting remains.
- Archaeological Museum of Olympia: This museum displays the numerous relics found in the archaeological site. It's considered one of the best museums in Greece. The museum’s highlights are the debris from the Temple of Zeus.
- Museum of the History of the Olympic Games: Although it's not very visited, this museum features items, mosaics, and paintings that express the importance of the ancient sporting competition.
Olympia is also home to the Museum of the Modern Olympic Games, which displays various medals, but we don't necessarily recommend this museum, there are others that are more interesting.
How to get to Olympia
Olympia, on the Peloponnese peninsula, is relatively well connected with the rest of Greece. You can book a tour online, or if you want to get there on your own there are various ways to get to the sanctuary:
Booking a tour
Booking a tour is the most comfortable way to visit Olympia, without missing any details. Because it's far away, there are no one-day tours, but you can take part in a tour that also visits other cities in Greece.
Hire a car in Athens and drive to Olympia and other areas of Greece. This is the fastest way to get to Olympia, and a great way to discover other scenic parts of the country. Check and compare rental prices in this link.
It's very easy to get from Athens to Olympia. You can take one of the following routes:
Olympia and Athens are also connected by buses, which depart from Terminal A (Kifissou 100) at 9:30 am and at 12:30 pm (midday). The journey takes 5 hours and 30 minutes.
You can also take a coach to Pyrgos and then another to Olympia since these two towns are extremely well-connected and there are numerous buses that run between both sites throughout the day. We suggest you purchase the return tickets in advance.
- Corinth-Patras-Pyrgos: Although the distance is longer, this highway is the fastest way to get to Olympia from Athens. It takes approximately 3.5 hours to complete this 350-km journey.
- Corinth-Tripoli-Arcadia: Take the highway to Tripoli, and just before getting to the destination, turn off towards “Ancient Olympia”. The distance is 320 km long, but since the road is not very good, it takes around five hours to get to Olympia. Even though it takes longer than the first option, the road is extremely scenic. You can also stop off at Mycenae and Epidaurus first.