Greek is full of ancient ruins, and there are plenty of amazing places to see them outside of Athens!
If you’ve seen the Acropolis and its museums and ambled through the Agora, you might be getting burned out on the hustle and bustle of Athens.
When you’re itching to see ancient ruins and want to take the show on the road, here are five unforgettable ancient ruins outside of Athens that you won’t want to miss while in Greece.
1. The Temple of Poseidon at Sounio
For a beautiful day trip outside of Athens, consider making the drive or taking a bus to Cape Sounion, where the ruins of a 5th century Doric temple stand overlooking the Aegean.
Located on the southernmost tip of Attica, the Temple of Poseidon was one of the many places where Hellenophile and writer Lord Byron ventured. You can still find his name carved onto one of the columns.
The Temple is a perfect place to watch the sunset if you have time, and there are many beaches nearby for some great swimming and lounging.
How to get there from Athens: Many tour companies offer day trips to Sounion, as well as some hostels (Athens Backpackers has a day trip that goes to the cape and also to a natural spring). The cheapest option is public transport, which takes 1.5–2 hours, depending on traffic.
Take a KTEL bus from Aigyptou Square, near the Archaeological Museum (tickets may be bought on board); it leaves every hour on the half-hour. Last bus leaving from Sounion is at 9 p.m. Be sure to take the Paraliako (Coastal) route, as it goes along the water and has stunning views.
Site hours: 9:30 to sunset, daily
Cost for admission: 4€
Ever wonder where the famous oracle of Delphi hung out and prophesied the fate of Sparta’s 300 or predicted the genius of Socrates? You can take an easy day trip, or spend a night in Delphi, 180 kilometers from Athens and the second most popular site of ruins in Greece.
How to get there from Athens: KTEL buses go from the Athens KTEL Station B on Liossion St. to Delphi (about 3 hours) roughly six times a day, depending on the time of year.
Check the Fokidas KTEL site for up-to-date times, although be warned that the sites aren’t always updated frequently. If you choose to do a day trip from Athens, try to take the 7:30 a.m. bus and return in the evening.
Site hours: Archaeological museum, daily, 9 a.m. to 4p.m. Site, daily, 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Cost for admission: Admission for the museum and the site is 9€. I highly recommend buying a combo ticket to see both.
Note the closing times for the museum, however. If you just see the site, it is 6€.
If you do want to avoid crowds, especially in the summer, I recommend spending a night in Delphi and going to the ruins first thing in the morning. During high season, not only will the site be very crowded, but it gets hot.
Delphi has a ton of budget hotel options, and it’s a quaint little town to explore for an evening before seeing the archaeological site in the morning.
3. Ancient Olympia
If the modern Olympics inspire you, see where it all began and head west to Olympia. You can see where the first Olympians trained, run in the original Olympic stadium, and wander through their version of the Olympic Village.
Although definitely too long for a day-trip from Athens (about 6.5 hours by bus), it would be easy to create an itinerary returning to Athens through the Peloponnese featuring stops in towns like Kalamata (home of the famous olive) and Nafplio. If you’ve rented a car, even better.
How to get there from Athens: Leaving from KTEL station A, there are usually two buses leaving for Olympia — in the morning, around 9 a.m., and in the afternoon, around 1 p.m. Stay overnight and see the ruins the next day, giving yourself time also to see the museum on the grounds.
Site hours: Monday–Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Museum open Tuesday–Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday and Monday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until November 30th, at which point winter hours start. Check online for details traveling in winter.
Cost for admission: Admission for the museum and the site is 9€, just like at Delphi. The museum at Olympia is absolutely worth a trip, as it houses the sculpture from the Temple of Zeus and a Hermes by Praxiteles. Cost for the site alone is 6€.
4. Ancient Mycenae
If the names Agamemnon, Helen or Paris don’t ring a bell, either you paid no attention in high school history classes or haven’t seen Troy.
In either case, ancient Mycenae was supposedly founded by Perseus (you know, the Medusa slayer) and the generations that followed there started as long ago as 2000 BCE to develop an entire civilization that dominated Southern Greece for many years. Remaining today is the famous Lion Gate, as well as remnants of the palace, fortress and more.
How to get there from Athens: Buses run from Athens to Mycenae via Nafplio or Argos a few times a day. If you want to do a day trip, go from Athens to Argos (a couple hours) and switch buses to Mycenae (Mikines), which is a bit less than an hour.
Site hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until October 31st. Winter hours usually are from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. but check online. Museum open Tuesday–Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, noon to 7 p.m.
Cost for admission: 8€ for the site, the Treasury of Atreus (located within walking distance down the road) and the museum.
While Epidaurus was known as a center of healing in the ancient world, one of the most impressive relics is the Theatre at Epidaurus, which could hold 15,000 people.
You can try out the amazing acoustics of the theatre or see where ill folks would sleep in the hopes that the god Asclepius would give them medical advice in their dreams.
How to get there from Athens: Buses run from Athens to Epidaurus also via Nafplio. Be sure to specify when you’re looking for tickets that you’re going to the Theatre of Epidaurus, as there are two other stops in the vicinity that won’t quite get you where you need to go.
Site hours: 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily until October 27th. Winter hours are usually from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., but check online. Museum hours are 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday–Sunday. Mondays it opens at 1:30 p.m. Winter hours follow the site’s.
Cost for admission: 6€ for site and museum
General Tips and Information
My hearty recommendation is to use Nafplio as a home base to see Mycenae and Epidaurus. You’ll be hard-pressed not to fall in love with Nafplio, and you’ll probably be glad for the opportunity to get some beach time in. Be sure to check out the Palimidi Fortress and eat some good gelato!
Be sure to drink lots of water and wear sun protection while visiting these sites; many have little shade, and Greek summers can be sweltering. If you are able, travel to these places during the off-season and you’ll find that they’re much less crowded and the temperatures are a lot more tolerable.
When checking for KTEL times, keep in mind that the websites are organized by region. You won’t find schedules from Athens to Delphi on the same site as Athens to Nafplio. For more thorough information on transportation in Greece, visit Living in Greece’s Travel page.
A super useful website for current visiting hours and information on all the sites in Greece is that of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.