A Perfect Day Trip To Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

A great time to visit a major archaeological site in Greece is in winter due to the mild weather and the lack of tourists, compared to summer, and Ancient Olympia is no exception.

Whether you have come with your own car or hired one, visiting the beautiful Ancient Olympia is a perfect day trip from Athens.

This is how to make the most of your time on the road around the archaeological site.

Ancient Olympia

It takes about three and a half hours from the Greek capital via the Athens-Tripoli motorway to arrive at Ancient Olympia.

The most interesting part of the journey is the last 30 kilometres away from the coastal area at Kaiafa and gradually entering the interior of Ilia. After Krestena, the unique beauty of the ecosystem of the Alfeios Valley unfolds.

Ancient Olympia

The archaeological site sprawls across a splendid valley. It includes the sanctuary of Zeus, with temples and buildings directly related to the cult and various structures built around it.

The sacred grove of Altis occupies the central part, within which the core of the sanctuary develops.

Other important monuments are the Temple of Hera, the Bouleuterion, the Prytaneion, the Gymnasium, the Palaestra, the Workshop of Phidias, the Leonidaion, the Philippeion, the Echo Stoa, the Base of Nike of Paionios and the Nymphaeum.

Ancient Olympia

The ancient stadium marks the place where the ancient Olympic Games and the Heraia were held.

It took the form we see today in the early 5th century BC when the great temple of Zeus was built. In the same area, there are complexes of baths and villas, such as the famous villa built by Nero when he stayed in Olympia to participate in the games.

Ancient Olympia

Your visit to the Archaeological Museum concludes with truly significant exhibits such as the Hermes of Praxiteles and the Nike of Paionios.

Enjoyed the priceless beauty of the sculptures, the warmth of the museum and the fact that, because it’s off-season, there are no crowds, which allows you to enjoy the experience even more.

Ancient Olympia

In the Ilia Mountains

The next day, hop into the car early and in a perfect mood and discover a spectacular ecosystem just 40 minutes away. The Foloi oak forest is unique in Europe and known as the “balcony of Ilia”. Situated at 660 metres, its flat terrain makes it ideal for hiking all year round.

At this time of year, the leaves of the oak trees (called “kapeli” by the locals) have fallen, forming thick “carpets” of red and brown leaves, a sight of rare beauty. The forest is suitable for walking, but if you encounter it in bad weather or simply don’t feel ‘fit’ enough to cross it, know that it’s also almost entirely visible from the car as there is a large network of forest roads.

From Foloi, it is about 15 kilometres to Lampia, at an altitude of 900 metres. The road is beautiful, with gentle bends through forests of trees and firs as we gained altitude. The temperature is distinctly wintery.

Perhaps the most beautiful mountain village in Ilia is Lambeia (or Divri). The village has lost much of its former splendour, but walking through its streets, you can still sense the prosperity it once enjoyed.

It’s divided into several neighbourhoods, each acting as a miniature village with its own church. The Archontiko Petralia Cultural and Environmental Centre is particularly noteworthy. It is housed in the historical mansion of the famous Petralia family in a 19th-century stone building in the Perdikarades neighbourhood.

Another exciting route is the one that starts in Ancient Olympia, passes through the natural spa of Lake Kaiafa and ends in Katakolo.

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Karytaina/Photo: Periklis Merakos

Lovely Katakolo was the last and most pleasant experience in a full excursion that begins and ends in Athens.

Tips for Driving Around the Region

The road network in Ilia is fairly easy, even in the mountainous areas, making Ancient Olympia and the surrounding region an ideal destination for a road trip, even for novice drivers.

If you visit Ilia in the summer, your trip will be mainly “coastal” as there are many famous beaches in the area.

Also, in summer, it’s worth driving nearly 70 kilometres from Ancient Olympia to the gorge and waterfalls of Neda. You’ll reach a point by car, and from there on, an interesting nature adventure unfolds.

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At the waterfalls of Neda/Photo: Perikles Merakos

If you’re looking for a different kind of culinary experience, drive another 12-13 kilometres from Divri to the fish tavern “O Milos” in the village of Tripotama, on the border of Ilia-Achaia.

Here, you’ll find a lovely atmosphere on the banks of the Erymanthos River and excellent grilled or smoked trout.

A beautiful, partly off-road route runs parallel to the river Alfeios towards the stone villages of Andritsaina and Karytaina.

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Karytaina/Photo: Shutterstock

The route passes through pine-clad mountain slopes and ends in Karytaina, which was so important in Greek history.

READ MORE: Kozani, the crossroads city of northern Greece.

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