Olympia, the place that athletic prowess stems from, is one of the biggest and most important historical sites in Greece, which isn’t short of ancient wonders. You don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy this place with its busy seaside resort at nearby Katakolon and surrounding mountain forest scenery just waiting to be explored.
They still light the Olympic flame in Olympia, and the archaeological remains here are truly stunning. As well as the ancient Olympic site with its Gymnasium and stadium complete with running track, the area boasts stunning temples to the Gods Hera and Zeus, and one of the best museums in the whole country.
Just a short sprint from all that, the beautiful scenery of the area begins with Mount Kronion, which was the original Olympics grandstand. It doesn’t stop there, with plane trees climbing mountain slopes, where a very traditional way of life still persists in beautiful, isolated villages, Olympia makes the perfect holiday destination in 2019 / 2020.
It’s a case of ‘where to start?’ with the ancient history of Olympia. The Gymnasium is the first building you’ll encounter, before a temple to Zeus that was as big as Athens’ Parthenon, the well-preserved Temple of Hera, and the athletics stadium that once held 20,000 fans. The site’s museum is up there with the best in the world.
The Alfios River has its own ancient mythology, and legend has it that it was the river that Hercules diverted to wash out the Augean Stables in his fifth task. It’s now a beautiful counterpoint to the historic sites and a natural wonder in its own right. Modern sportsmen tackle its rapids and gorges in rafts and inflatables.
If you’d like to see Greece’s traditional and delicious agricultural products in the raw, the wider Elis region is a great place to find authentic producers. Olympia is home to a honey farm and a vineyard, and the Mercouri Estate also offers good value tours and tastings.
Olympia may be compact, but it is fully furnished with cafés and restaurants serving Greek, international and vegetarian cuisines. With a good range of dishes on offer, from meatballs and rice, to stuffed pastries, cheese and salads, there’s something to suit even the fussiest of eaters.
To get a taste of the real Greece and true hospitality, head to a winery, olive farm or honey farm to find out about the local produce, and enjoy some of the great food and sparkling wines while you’re there of course.
The local tavernas will provide you with homemade Greek cuisine, decent wines and beer, such as the popular Taverna Bacchus or the pretty Garden Taverna, where you can dine outdoors under olive trees and enjoy the elegant scenery.
Families will find plenty to do in and around Olympia, from sightseeing tours around the important Olympic sites and checking out the local museums, to doing a spot of gift shopping in the town’s little shops. Keep the whole family amused with the interactive displays in the Archimedes Museum, or join in with a tour around the Museum of the Olympic Games for a better understanding of the history of the games.
Head to the coast where the safe, shallow waters make the beaches perfect for relaxing and splashing around with the family. Take a trip out into the picturesque local countryside or venture a little further out to the coastal towns of Kalamata and Pylos, with their pretty marinas and profusion of cafés, restaurants and shops.
Action & Adventure
To discover Olympia with the people who know it best, there are plenty of tours to suit everyone, from private and group tours to bike tours. The more active traveller will find that the tours by bike are a great way to get out into the hills and see Olympia from a different perspective.
Olympia isn’t just about history, and the surrounding countryside is a popular destination for hiking. It’s no wonder as the area is blessed with ancient forest, scenic settlements, and hills providing those all important views.
Just a short drive from Olympia and you will come across the Oak Forest of Foloi, thought to be one of Europe’s oldest natural forests. The ancient Greeks believed this mysterious and beautiful forest was full of fairies and centaurs, and walking through it, it’s not hard to see why.
Also nearby, visitors can walk along the Alfios River or visit the paradise of Nedas' Waterfalls, where you can walk and swim in one of the most scenic locations the area has to offer.
Greece’s coastline is perhaps its most timeless wonder, and good beaches are within easy reach of Olympia. Katakolon is a busy port and resort town, and for a more secluded seafront experience, pack your flip flops and head the 18 kilometres to Kato Samiko’s unspoiled sands.
You can’t throw a discus in Greece without hitting a beautiful shoreline. Near Olympia you’ll find the busy little port town of Katakolon, the quieter seashore of Kato Samiko, and locals’ favourite, Kourouta Beach. At Kourouta’s pristine long sandy beach find a spot to lounge under an umbrella or take a seat at one of the beach-side tavernas and enjoy some good-quality, great value food and drink.
And if long sandy beaches are your thing, then the untouched Kaiafas Beach, just south of Olympia, is well worth a visit if you are looking for somewhere scenic to relax. The area is famous for its thermal springs which have been attracting tourists for millennia due to their reputed therapeutic properties.
Although Olympia may not be as bustling as the nearby resorts, it does offer plenty of cafés and traditional tavernas for a cosy evening out. What could be better than an evening sat outside under the olive trees with a meal and plenty of the local wine as the sun sets? For a variety of music and modern cocktails, head to the well-loved and atmospheric Zorbas Coffee Music Bar, the main and much-loved venue in town.
For the young, and young-at-heart, Katakolon beach resort is just a short journey from Olympia. Katakolon’s bars, clubs and frequent beach parties will be sure to give you a lively night out to remember and keep you dancing until dawn.
Olympia’s main attraction is the site of the Olympics and couples can make the most of their time here with a private tour of the ancient ruins with a knowledgeable guide, or simply stroll around the stadium and temples at their own leisure. Ride in true romantic style by horse and carriage to Coubertin's Monument, and take in the view of the stadium.
Visit a local winery and dine in relaxed surroundings, or really explore the history of the area with a trip out to the impressive medieval castle at Chlemoutsi and look out over the pretty red rooftops to the sea.
Make a day of it in the port of Katakolon and browse the local giftshops – with hand-carved olive wood, artisan ceramics and natural soaps to choose from, it will be hard to come back with just one souvenir.
At the top of Olympia’s list of places to visit has to be the archeological site itself with the ancient stadium, Gymnasium and temple remains. Only by seeing the columns of what were once two vast and important temples will you really get an understanding of what a remarkable place Olympia is.
Olympia’s Archaeological Museum has one of the best collections of classical art in the world, including some of the most famous sculptures that the Ancient Greeks ever produced. As well as ancient athletes’ kit, this wonderful place will help you put a bit of context to the sacred meaning of all that sweat and blood.
Did the Ancient Greeks invent a type of computer? Find out at the small, but beautifully curated, Museum of Ancient Greek Technology in Katakolon. With a good focus on interaction, demonstrations and explaining exhibits, it’s a great family attraction, particularly for tech-minded teens.
Chlemoutsi Castle, near Killini, stands tall from its beautiful hilltop setting. The castle is one of the best medieval structures in the area, a remnant of the Crusader era. Here too, there’s a good museum with interesting artefacts and kids will be kept busy clambering around the castle walls.