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A Visit to the Ancient Archaeological Site of Olympia

Do you love the Olympic games? If so, you need to visit the ancient archaeological site of Olympia, where the Olympic games began, on your trip to Greece.

As we continued along our epic Peloponnese road trip, there were a few must-see stops that we couldn’t miss. Along with Mystras, Mycenae, and Epidaurus, Olympia was immediately inserted into our itinerary and we really looked forward to visiting. I mean, who wouldn’t? Olympia!

Steeped in Greek mythology from the origins of the Olympic games that starred some of our favorite gods and heroes…Zeus and Hercules I’m looking at you, we were super excited to finally arrive on this sprawling site.

In this article:

What is Ancient Olympia?

Olympia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an ancient ruins on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula that hosted the original Olympic Games, founded in the 8th century B.C. This extensive sports complex includes athletic training areas, a stadium, and temples dedicated to the gods Hera and Zeus. The Archaeological Museum of Olympia exhibits finds from the site, including a statue of Hermes attributed to the sculptor Praxiteles.

Temple of Hera, Olympia, Greece.

Even though the site is most associated with Zeus, the first temple was built to honor Hera (source). Hera is the goddess of women, specifically married women, and was the sister and wife of Zeus (source). Because of this, the original temple was built for her, but she shared it with Zeus until one was built for him.

Collected marbles and rocks from the Ancient Archaeological Site of Olympia in Greece.

It is at Hera’s temple that the Olympic flame is still lit. According to the sign at the site, the first torch was lit for the Berlin Olympia in 1936, and the tradition is still carried on today.

Other than Hera, the other two mythical people who are linked to Olympia are Zeus and Hercules.

Zeus – The King of the Gods, son of Kronos (source), there are many myths that revolve around him. However, for this site, an important one is that he fought and defeated his father in an epic battle and from that day on the Olympic games were born.

Hercules – Most famous for completing his 12 labors, Hercules has been credited with starting the Olympic games tradition when he held the first competition to honor his father. The first games included very traditional sports like wrestling and running (source).

Columns found in Olympia.

Why Go? What We Did

After stopping at one of the ubiquitous and amazing bakeries for a coffee and some pastry, we drove to Ancient Olympia. Luckily, there was plenty of parking. We timed our arrival to get there as early as possible. Unfortunately, there were already about a dozen tour buses in the lot.

After buying our tickets, we started to realize just how big this site was. We first came across the on-site museum, and at first, we were going to bypass it and head to the ruins, then come back to view the artifacts, but we changed our minds when we realized that this popular site was already getting pretty busy.

A bronze museum artifact; Olympia, Greece.
The Museum of Ancient Olympia.

Olympia’s Archaeological Museum

The museum overwhelmed us, in a good way. After traveling to many Greek archaeological sites, most of which do have on-site museums, we were expecting it to be small, with most of the items moved to Athens and its National Archaeological Museum. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case.

We were happy to discover that this museum retained so many original artifacts and the information placards described exactly where they were found on the site, what they were, and what they were used for during ancient times. We were pleasantly surprised.

A cat poses on the Temple of Hera in Olympia.

The Site of Ancient Olympia

When we were finished viewing the plethora of exhibits at the museum and taking a quick bathroom break, we left to continue on down the meandering path to the ruins.

We expected this site to be large, but we were still surprised at just how massive it was. Because of the size, there were some crowds and tours at key spots, but there were plenty of places to wander and be on your own.

Standing columns, Olympia, Greece.

It was a stunning spring day with fluffy white clouds and blue skies, and we enjoyed being outside in the green grass, wildflowers, and shade trees throughout the site.

Rating our Experience

5 Star Activity Rating.

We would give it a rating of five out of five. The museum on site sets it apart from other places we’ve visited. It’s rich and full of things to see, with good information.

There were a couple of places to eat, and toilets were available everywhere. It was easy to get around, and the place was beautiful. I just liked everything about it.

We saw many things we really liked during our trip, such as the Temple of Zeus and the Temple of Hera. Additionally, there was everything from the stadium to the baths, nobles’ houses, and the agora to explore.

Marble statues found in the archaeological site of Olympia.

As I mentioned before, Hera’s temple is a key point for every visitor, because they still light the Olympic torch on the altar for the games.

Zeus’ temple was somewhat rebuilt, and the floor was about ten feet higher than the ground. Here, they had collected pieces of columns, like bases and stone carvings. There were hundreds of them. It showed how large and prosperous Olympia was during its time.

Olympic columns.

There is a lot of walking on this site. It’s a toss-up whether Messini or Olympia are larger and have the most walking. The gravel paths are mainly flat, and the caretakers pay close attention to the site so no one is climbing on the antiquities.

I’m not sure what would be the best time to visit, because we did not pick it. Even during the week, there are school groups who go there for field trips, so just expect some crowds no matter when you go. However, I’m sure the summer season would be even more crowded and hot as well.

Spring day in Olympia.

How to Get There

Olympia is located on the Peloponnese Peninsula about 290 km from Athens and 115 km from Kalamata. It’s not the easiest site to reach, but one of the ones that I would say you don’t want to miss.

  • Driving time from Athens is around 4 hours, from Kalamata is about 2 hours
  • Many tour operators offer tours from Athens, Nafplio, Kalamata
Carved faces found in the ruins at Olympia, Greece.

Where to Eat

There is a small cafe onsite, with a few food offerings. They had pastries and snacks, but if you want to eat lunch, you probably want to cross the parking lot and wander into town like we did.

We were pretty hungry when we finally left, so we didn’t venture too far into town. We ate at the Πολύγευστον Restaurant and had regular Greek fare, some stuffed grape leaves, souvlaki, and lamb chops. We sat outside because it was such a nice day. It was a great way to end our time in Olympia.

Column parts collected at Olympia Ancient Ruins Site.

More Things to Do on the Peloponnese Peninsula

Things to Visit in Athens

Most people will fly into Athens, and of course there is plenty to do in this amazing city. Here are a few of our Athens articles that you might be interested in:

Rounded stones at the Temple of Hera, Archaeological Site of Ancient Olympia.

Visitor Information

Opening Hours: Most of the year, the site is open for 12 hours from 8:00-8:00. However, the museum closes much earlier, make sure to check the times and if you go later in the day, hit the museum first.

Cost: Cost can vary hugely depending on the season you visit. Also, if you buy online, you get a guaranteed slot and you might save a few Euros. Check out this website for tickets.

Entrance sign, Olympia, Greece.

Rules: You will not be allowed on-site with heels. Leave them in your suitcase!

Note: You might want to have an umbrella, like a shade umbrella for those who don’t want to be outside in the sun. In the springtime it was wonderful, but with such a large site, a hat or other shade cover would be worth it for sure.

Accessiblity: At a few sites, we noticed it was possible to hire a driver and an electric bus to take youthrough the site. If you have trouble walking this is a great option. I didn’t check the prices, but I’m sure if you contact the site, they can tell you how to do it.

Spring blossoms over the Olympia ruins.


No matter when you go to Greece, whether for vacation or even on business, I would say figure out how to do Olympia. It’s that impressive!

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Sage Scott

Tuesday 5th of March 2024

Such a great experience to add to my return trip to Greece bucket list. It's been a while since I've visited, and it's such an amazing country!


Monday 4th of March 2024

As a huge fan of Greek mythology, Olympia is like a dream come true for me! Can't wait to explore the temples dedicated to Hera and Zeus.


Monday 4th of March 2024

We missed Olympia on our trip to the Peloponnese last summer as we ran out of time. Can't wait to go back and see it after reading your article. So much history to discover in this part of Greece. Thanks for the tips!