Greece is world-wide famous for its ancient past. Many visitors come to Greece to admire the relics of the ancient Greek civilization. There are over 500 major and minor archaeological sites in Greece, and most of them are open to the public. This article will take you through the top archaeological sites in Greece.
Opening Hours for Archaeological Sites in Greece
Before we go on to explore the ancient sites in Greece, it’s worth making a note on opening hours, as not all sites are open at the exact same times.
The most important thing to remember is that opening hours for the archaeological sites vary according to season. As a rule, there are summer opening hours, and shorter winter opening hours.
Most people visit Greece during the tourist season, from April to October. Summer opening hours for the top archaeological sites in Greece are typically 8.00-20.00. The smaller sites and museums have shorter opening hours, typically 8.00-16.00, but this may vary from one year to the next.
Winter stretches over the off-peak months, November to March. During that period, the majority of the ancient sites open around 8.00 and close somewhere between 15.00 and 17.00. Some of the minor sites and museums are closed in winter. This includes the island of Delos – for more information, see below.
The best place to look for updated information for each individual site that you want to visit is the official Ministry of Culture Website. Here you can also find out more about entry ticket prices, free entrance days, and closures on public holidays.
Archaeological sites in Athens
If you are a fan of archaeology, you should definitely aim to spend a few days in Athens. Apart from the world-famous Acropolis, there are six more archaeological sites in central Athens, which you can visit with the Athens combined ticket.
The seven ticketed sites that you can see in Central Athens are:
- the Acropolis, where you can see the temple of Parthenon, the Erectheion and the theatre of Dionysus
- the Temple of Zeus
- the Ancient Agora of Athens
- the Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery
- the Roman Agora
- Hadrian’s library
- the Archaeological site of Lyceum
These sites are open 8.00-20.00 daily during summer, and 8.00-17.00 during winter. Times vary during the shoulder seasons, so check in advance.
You can buy your tickets on the spot, or in advance through the official website. If you only want to visit the Acropolis, it’s best to get your ticket online, as the queues can get very long, especially in summer.
If you prefer to visit Ancient Athens for free, you can look for the days of free entrance, or take a look at my free Ancient Athens walking route.
Here is a cool story explaining how Athens got its name!
Archaeological sites to visit on a day trip from Athens
If you are based in Athens for a few days, you can always take a day trip or two, and combine a visit to the ancient sites with the beautiful Greek nature.
There are many sites that can be visited on a day trip from Athens. Here are the most important ones.
The Temple of Poseidon at Sounion
One of the most photographed sites in the whole of Greece, the temple of Poseidon is built at Cape Sounion, about 70 kms out of central Athens. Sounion was a key point for Ancient Athens, as it was close to the ancient Lavrion silver mines, that contributed in Athens developing as a city-state. Sounion was also close to the important Piraeus port, which was an important commerce hub.
It is possible to get to the Temple of Poseidon by bus, but bus services are rather infrequent and the buses can be full. It’s best to have your own transportation or maybe take a tour. The most popular time to go to Sounion is the sunset – and it can be truly magical.
For more information on the Temple of Poseidon, check the official website.
Archaeological Site and Museum of Delphi
The UNESCO site of Delphi is one of the most famous and most visited ancient sites in Greece. Roughly a three-hour trip out of Athens, the site and the superb museum are totally worth a visit. The ancient ruins are pretty unique, and so is the landscape. For some people, the area has a special, vibrant energy.
The Sanctuary of Delphi was considered to be the centre of the ancient world. It was originally sacred to Mother Earth, and later became home to the priestess Pythia, the Oracle. Today, you can see the remains of various temples, most notably of Apollo and Athena, and other ancient ruins.
If you climb up the hill, you will also see a fascinating stadium. Some visitors have missed it because they didn’t feel climbing up the top, but it’s really worth it.
In summer, the site is open from 8.00 to 20.00 daily. Note that the museum is only open 10:00-17:30 on Tuesdays. Check the website for more details.
Archaeological sites in the Cyclades islands
If you are planning to visit the Cyclades islands, you can take the opportunity to discover the ancient culture. There are a fair few ancient sites scattered around the islands, complemented by several museums.
Delos – Archaeological Site and Museum
The UNESCO site of Delos covers a whole island, where overnight stays are prohibited. The island is very close to Mykonos.
Delos was sacred to the Greeks, as both Apollo and his twin sister Artemis were born there. The first inhabitants arrived at around 2,500 BC, but Apollo’s sanctuary was built a lot later. Greeks from all around the known Greek world came to pay their tributes, especially between 7th and 4th century BC.
According to evidence, Delos developed extremely quickly after 167 BC, when it was declared as a free port. The island became the world’s most important commercial hub, and many traders, merchants and bankers moved there. Evidence shows that the population reached an impressive 30,000 people.
Many of the new residents came from faraway lands, such as the Black Sea, Cyprus, Cappadocia, Libya and Egypt, and as a result the island was very multicultural. Even though the official language was Greek, there was no official religion, as people coming from other cultures were free to worship their own gods.
The golden days of Delos didn’t last long, as it was attacked twice by foreign enemies only a century later, and was soon abandoned.
Today, you can visit the island as a day trip from Mykonos and possibly Tinos and other nearby islands. You can find more information about the island on the official website. Note that the island is closed over the winter period.
The Archaeological site of Akrotiri in Santorini
Akrotiri, on the famous island of Santorini, is a prehistoric settlement that dates from the 4th millennium BC. By around the 17th century BC, it had developed into one of the most important ports in the Aegean. Unfortunately, a series of earthquakes and a volcano eruption towards the late 17th century BC, brought the end of the ancient settlement.
Many buildings, tools and artefacts survived under the lava and the ashes, and they have helped to understand the importance and level of development of the ancient civilization.
Today, the site is open to the public and fully covered, so you won’t have to deal with the scorching summer sun. You can easily visit Akrotiri on your own, but you can also take a guided tour if you want to find out more about it. Check the official website for more information and opening hours.
The Catacombs in Milos
If you visit the beautiful island of Milos, make sure you visit the Catacombs. They are located close to Plaka, the main town of the island.
The Milos catacombs were built in the 1st century AD, in order to be used as a Christian cemetery. They are the biggest catacombs in Greece, with a length of 184 meters. They were abandoned in the 5th century AD, due to landslides. Around 2,000 Christians are estimated to have been buried here.
You can visit the catacombs with a site guide, and you will have roughly 15 minutes in the site itself. For more information, read the official website.
Archaeological Museums on the Cyclades Islands
Apart from the above sites, there are several museums that you can visit on the Cyclades islands. Some of the most important ones are
- Santorini – Museum of Prehistoric Thera
- Naxos – Archaeological Museum
- Syros – Archaeological Museum
- Mykonos – Archaeological Museum
Archaeological sites in Crete
The Minoan civilization developed in the island of Crete from 2,000 to 1,500 BC. Many settlements, palaces, tombs and cemeteries have been discovered on the island. You will need several days – and preferably a car – to visit them all. Who knows, you might even decide to return to Crete for another vacation!
The Palace of Knossos near Heraklion
Just a short bus or taxi ride from Heraklion city, lies the famous Palace of Knossos. This is the best known archaeological site in Crete, partially due to its easy access.
The area of Knossos was continuously inhabited from around 7,000 BC to the 5th century AD, and reached its peak from 2,000 BC onward. The town became an important and wealthy commerce centre during the times of the Minoan civilization.
The Knossos Palace is said to be the palace of the legendary King Minos. It was first built around 1,900 BC, but was later destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times. Apart from the famous large palaces, the site was also home to rich tombs, several workshops and several other buildings.
The site was excavated and extensively reconstructed in the 20th century. The items that were excavated, including the exquisite frescoes, figurines, other artwork and everyday items, can be seen in the Heraklion Museum.
The Palace of Knossos is open from 8.00-20.00 in summer. Visit the official site for more information.
Archaeological site of Phaistos in Crete
While many visitors go to Knossos, not as many make it all the way to Phaistos in south Crete. Phaistos was the second most important Minoan city after Knossos, and its history follows a similar timeline.
Phaistos continued to be wealthy until the 2nd century BC, when it was destroyed by the nearby city of Gortyna. The site is really well preserved, or perhaps restorations are not so obvious to the untrained eye. I enjoyed Phaistos a lot more than Knossos, and not only for the amazing views of Crete.
You can drive to Phaistos in about an hour and a half from Heraklion, or you can take a public bus. For more information on opening hours, visit the official website.
Archaeological site of Gortyna in Crete
The archaeological site of Gortyna is close to the site of Phaistos. The first inhabitants arrived around 3,000 BC. The city became more prosperous during the late Minoan period and later, including during the 5th century BC, when the Gortyn Law Code was written. Gortyn reached its peak during the Roman era, and was destroyed by the Arabs much later, in 824 AD.
The site is open from 8.00-20.00 in summer and has irregular opening hours in winter. Check the official website for more information.
Spinalonga in Crete
The small island of Spinalonga is located to the east of the island, close to the popular Elounda. You can visit the well preserved Venetian castle, that was built in 1579. In my opinion though, the main attraction of Spinalonga is its sad recent history.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the island was chosen to be a place of exile for the lepers of Crete. Soon, lepers from all around Greece and abroad were forcibly quarantined here. Initially, living conditions were very poor, but due to the efforts of some of the residents they gradually became better. The island was closed down in 1957, after the remedy for Hansen’s disease was discovered.
Victoria Hislop’s book “The island” describes life on Spinalonga, and a popular TV series has also been created. It’s worth reading the book or watching the series before you visit, as it will help bring the island to life.
You can find more information about Spinalonga on the official website.
Other sites and museums in Crete
Crete has many more sites and museums to see. You will probably find that it’s impossible to visit them all in one trip! Some other famous sites and museums in Crete include the following:
- Palace of Zakros
- Malia palace
- Archaeological site of Psychro – Diktaion Antron
- Archaeological site of Matala
- Herakleion Archaeological Museum
- Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon
- Archaeological Museum of Chania
Archaeological sites in Rhodes
The island of the medieval knights is quite different to other Greek islands. The medieval town of Rhodes, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, is very popular at most times of year. At the same time, there are more archaeological sites on the island that are worth visiting.
Tip: leave some free time to visit the beaches!
- Palace of the Grand Master: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Museum of Rhodes: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Acropolis of Rhodes: Free access Tue-Sun daily
- Archaeological site of Filerimos – Acropolis of Ialyssos: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Site of Kamiros: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Site of Lindos: 8.00-20.00 daily
Archaeological sites in the Peloponnese
Peloponnese is probably the area with the most archaeological sites in Greece. Places like Mycenae, Olympia and Corinth might have figured in your history books – but there are plenty more to visit. Much like Crete, Peloponnese has lots to offer – ancient history, Byzantine settlements, lovely beaches and dramatic landscapes.
I strongly recommend renting a car and driving around the Peloponnese, in order to visit as many sites as you can!
- Archaeological Site and Museum of the Sanctuary of Asklepios in Epidaurus: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological site and museum of Olympia: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological museum of Patras: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Temple of Apollo Epikourios: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Site and Museum of Ancient Corinth: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Site and Museum of Nemea / Nemea Stadium: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Site and Museum of Ancient Messene: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Museum of Messenia: Tue-Sun 8.00-20.00, Mon 13.30-20.00
- Archaeological Site of the Acropolis of Sparta: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Site and Museum of Mistras: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Museum of Pylos: Tue-Sun 8.00-20.00
- Pylos Castle: Tue-Sun 8.00-20.00
- The Palace of Nestor: Tue-Sun 8.00-20.00
- Kalamata Castle: Tue-Sun 8.00-20.00
- Castle of Methoni: Tue-Sun 8.00-20.00
- Rio Fortress: Tue-Sun 8.00-20.00
Archaeological sites in Northern Greece
As you are moving towards the north, the landscape changes, and so do the sites, settlements and ancient civilisations. The tombs of Vergina and the ancient sacred city of Dion are among the best examples of the Macedonian civilisation. Combine that with the amazing archaeological museum and the Byzantine churches in Thessaloniki, and Northern Greece might become your new favourite Greek destination!
- Archaeological Site and Museums of the Royal tombs of Aigai (Vergina): Tue-Sun 8.00-20.00, Mon 12.00-20.00
- Archaeological Site and Museum of Pella: Tue-Sun 8.00-20.00, Mon 12.00-20.00
- Archaeological Site and Museum of Dion: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Site and Museum of Amphipolis: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Site of Nekromanteion: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological Site and Museum of Philippi: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological site and Museum of Nikopolis: Tue-Sun 8.00-20.00
- Castle of Platamonas: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Cave and Museum of Petralona in Chalkidiki: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Archaeological museum of Thessaloniki: 8.00-20.00 daily
- Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki: 8.00-20.00 daily
- White Tower in Thessaloniki: 8.00-20.00 daily
You can also download the attached official document, which includes opening hours for all 400+ archaeological sites and public museums in Greece.
I hope you have found this article useful! Which of those sites have you visited? And did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments!