Greece is an incredibly popular tourist destination, especially for cruisers. But, there really is so much more to this ancient country than its idyllic islands, which of course, can be best explored on a Greek Island Cruise Adventure. Visiting Greece by land really is a wonderful way to get some insight into the country’s incredible history and culture.
Thankfully, today’s guest contributor, Phyllis Rose, is here to share her tips for visiting Greece by land. From Athens to Delphi and everything in between, she took an incredible tour of Greece’s breathtaking ancient ruins. Whether you carve out an itinerary on your own, or sign up with a professional tour company, hopefully, you’ll use these tips will help you plan an amazing Greek adventure of your own!
Visiting Greece By Land
“My Trip in Ruins” describes my recent Greece adventure. Nothing went wrong, mind you, but every day on my Trafalgar “Best of Greece” tour, we visited ancient ruins.
Even my Athens hotel, the Divani Palace Acropolis, stood over the stone and marble Themistocles Wall, built in 479 BC to protect Athens from an attack by Sparta.
And that was just the introduction to the ruins that make Greece the spectacular “must-see” repository of ancient history and mythology. Visiting Greece by land gave me insight into the country’s history that I may not have been able to appreciate when on a cruise excursion, which normally have limited time. Either way, you’ll be bowled over at the ancient ruins that await you!
First Stop: Athens
Dominating the Athens skyline is the Parthenon sitting atop the Acropolis 500 feet above the city. Built in 447 BC, the Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess, Athena, the city’s patron.
After an aerobic climb up an uneven cobblestone path, we stood among the rubble of broken pillars and marble blocks, once part of the Parthenon. The temple is in ruins largely due to being hit by a mortar shell during a war in 1687 which exploded the gunpowder that was stored inside. Today, the Parthenon retains a sense of its ancient glory with its fluted Doric columns outlining the building, which is 228 feet long and 101 feet wide.
Nearby is the Porch of the Caryatids where the roof is supported by statues of six maidens. The ones you see on the Acropolis are copies but the originals, minus the one taken to England by Lord Elgin in 1805, can be seen in the Acropolis Museum.
Elgin also took significant portions of the Parthenon’s marble frieze back to England where they can be seen in the British Museum. The frieze depicted the procession of the Great Panathenaia, a festival honoring Athena’s birthday. Of the original 525-foot frieze, only 165 feet remain in Athens. You can see portions of the original frieze in the museum with missing areas filled in with reproductions.
The Acropolis Museum has one of the most impressive and unobstructed views of the Parthenon from the gallery on the third floor.
Second Stop: Cape Sounion
A daytrip from Athens took us to Cape Sounion at the southern tip of the Greek peninsula, a site Homer referred to in the Odyssey. Here, about 440 BC, the Temple of Poseidon was built, dedicated to the god of the sea. The cape is featured in Greek myth in the story of King Aegeus who jumped off the cliffs to his death upon the mistaken belief that his son had died.
Like the Parthenon, the temple is in ruins, but its remaining columns rise into the clear blue sky. Our guide pointed out the column where the English poet, George Gordon (Lord Byron) had carved his name. He was so taken with Sounion that he referred to it in his poem, Don Juan.
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Battling the stiff winds off the sea, we watched amazed as the gusts whipped off a man’s hat, sending it bouncing along the path and over the cliff and into the sea, 200 feet below.
Third Stop: Corinth
Leaving Athens, we traveled to Corinth, stopping first at the Corinth Canal, a four-mile long canal connecting the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf. First proposed in ancient times, the canal wasn’t built until the 1890s. It is so narrow only small boats can pass through.
From the canal, our next ruin was the archaeological site of Corinth, the city the Apostle Paul addressed two letters to in the New Testament. First inhabited thousands of years before Christ, Corinth became an important and prosperous city.
While the archaeological site has the ruins of the Temple of Apollo from 560 BC, of most interest to me was the Bema of St. Paul. This stone rostrum in the ancient city center was where Paul was brought before the proconsul, Gallio, for teaching about Christianity which was illegal. Gallio dismissed the charges saying it was simply a dispute among the Jews.
Fourth Stop: Mycenae
From Corinth, we traveled to the Bronze Age citadel at Mycenae, built about 1300 BC. Legends say this was the capital of Agamemnon, the Greek king who led his army in the Battle of Troy.
Entering the fortress through the Lion Gate, featuring two lionesses above the entrance, we climbed a circuitous, steep, and cobblestoned path to the top about 900 feet above the valley. The reward for our aerobic climb was sweeping views of not only the valley but also the archaeological site.
We also visited the nearby Beehive Tomb, possibly the tomb of Agamemnon’s father. It’s called a beehive because it has a rounded dome and curved walls.
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Fifth Stop: Olympia
The first Olympic games were held in Olympia in 776 B.C. and continued there for 1000 years. Today, you can wander among the ruins and even run a footrace in the original Olympic stadium.
Unlike the other archaeological sites, Olympia is shady and flat. It doesn’t require an aerobic climb uphill, so it’s a nice place to stroll among the fallen columns and statues.
Earthquakes and tsunamis are thought to have destroyed the site and eventually covered it with silt and sand to a depth of about 25 feet. The site was rediscovered in 1776 by Richard Chandler, an Englishman, but excavations did not begin until 1875.
On the way to the stadium, I was expecting a huge marble structure similar to the one in Athens from 1896. But Olympia’s stadium is a large grassy oval bowl where 40,000 spectators sat and watched the games. Only the judges had seats.
Some from our group, including my cousin Judy, ran the 640-foot track to the finish line, raising their arms in victory at the end. They can now say they have run an Olympic footrace.
Sixth Stop: Delphi
The road to Delphi was incredibly scenic, winding up Mt. Parnassus with the Gulf of Corinth glistening in the distance.
Ages ago, pilgrims flocked to Delphi to consult with the oracle, Pythia, the spokesperson for the god Apollo, who gave them advice about their problems. Today, you can climb the steep path along the Sacred Way among the ruins of statues and buildings which the pilgrims had financed in appreciation for the oracle’s advice.
You’ll want to see the Omphalos (navel) which the Greeks believed to be the center of the world. Also, there are several columns remaining of the Temple of Apollo which housed the oracle.
Delphi features one of the best preserved theaters in Greece from about 400 B.C. Here song contests were held in front of an audience of 5,000 people. Like today’s American Idol, the contests featured song writers and singers, but their songs were all dedicated to Apollo and not the “money god” of today.
Early on in our tour, I was reminded of the poem “Ozymandias,” by the English Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe-Shelley. The poem tells of a traveler who comes upon ruins in the desert – “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” and “a shattered visage” sunken in the sand, much like what we had seen over the course of a week.
According to the poem, the inscription on the pedestal said,
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and Despair!”
My trip in ruins didn’t make me despair but gave me a tremendous appreciation for the mighty works of architecture and tremendous skills of the ancient Greeks. Visiting Greece by land definitely gave me an new-found appreciation for the immense history that can be found in Greece.