On April 18, it’s the World Heritage Day, or International Day for Monuments and Sites. Greece offers free entrance to all archaeological sites and public museums. Here’s all you need to know for this important day.
World Heritage Day in Greece
The World Heritage Day is celebrated all around the world. Every year, on the 18th April, all nations offer free entrance to their historical sites and monuments.
On 18 April, all Ancient Greek sites, monuments and public museums are free to visit. Locals and visitors can enjoy sites like the Acropolis and Ancient Agora in Athens, Mycenae and Olympia in the Peloponnese, Delphi and many more.
In addition, museums like the National Archaeological Museum in Athens or the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki have free entrance.
But what exactly is the World Heritage Day? Let’s dive into how and when it was established.
What is World Heritage Day?
You will probably have heard of UNESCO, which stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This agency was created in 1945. It aims to promote peace and safety around the world by means of education, science and culture.
In 1972, UNESCO established the World Heritage Convention. This document aspires to connect two universal aims: the preservation of culture, and the conservation of nature.
The World Heritage Convention acknowledges the sensitive balance between culture, nature and man’s impact on both. Every country has responsibility to protect its World Heritage Sites.
After careful examination, the Convention also defines the types of cultural and natural sites which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List.
Some examples are archaeological sites and monuments, architectural works, cave dwellings, geological formations and natural sites of outstanding universal value.
Celebrating cultural heritage
In 1983, the UNESCO International Council set the 18th April as the International Day for Monuments and Sites. This annual anniversary extends to all important cultural monuments and natural sites in the world. Its purpose is to educate the public on the world’s heritage, and the work needed to maintain it for future generations.
In 1992, the Unesco World Heritage Centre was founded. Together with ICOMOS, the International Council for Monuments and Sites, it aims to raise awareness about the World Heritage Sites.
International Day for Monuments and Sites in Greece
All the Ancient Greek sites are free to visit on the World Heritage Day. There are dozens of them, all around the country. Here are some of the most popular sites in Greece that you can explore on the International Monuments and Sites Day.
Opening hours for these sites vary during April, so it’s best to contact each individual site to confirm. As an example, the Acropolis, Ancient Mycenae and Ancient Epidaurus close at 19.00, but Delphi and Ancient Olympia close at 15.30.
The Acropolis in Athens
Unsurprisingly, the Acropolis of Athens features first in this list. The magnificent UNESCO site is one of the top-rated ancient sites in the world.
The Acropolis of Athens is in fact a whole complex up on a hill. Once inside, you will see the remains of several temples, walls and other constructions.
The most important temple is the Parthenon, which was built in the second half of the 5th century BC. It was dedicated to the Goddess Athena, the protectress of the city. Here’s a cool story about how Athens got its name.
The World Heritage Day is a great opportunity to visit the Acropolis. The weather is mild, in contrast to our high summer temperatures. In addition, the surrounding areas are full with spring flowers! Regardless, bring a bottle of water with you, and allow for at least an hour and a half up on the Acropolis.
Here’s a little more information about the Acropolis and other ancient sites in Athens.
The Ancient Agora in Athens
While the Acropolis is the most famous site in Athens, I find the Ancient Agora absolutely intriguing. This was the area where everything happened in the city. The Agora was where people gathered to socialize, shop, exercise, discuss and exchange ideas.
Inside the Agora, you will see the temple of Hephaestus, the best preserved temple in Greece, and many ancient ruins. You can also visit the Stoa of Attalos, which was originally a shopping area. Today, it hosts the Museum of the Ancient Agora.
As you walk around, you will also see the Church of the Holy Apostles, a superb 10th century Byzantine church.
I love walking around the Ancient Agora on World Heritage Day, with all the blossoming flowers! Athens rarely features among the greenest cities in Europe – however, if you visit in spring, you will be surprised with the blooming nature.
Here is some more information on the Ancient Agora of Athens.
Temple of Poseidon in Sounion
Visiting the Temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion on a World Heritage Day is a great option for Athenians.
This beautiful temple was built out of marble between 444 and 440 BC, and was dedicated to God Poseidon. The location is a really good fit for the God of the Sea, as the views over the Aegean are outstanding.
Cape Sounion is located in south Attica, about 70 kms from central Athens. This half-day trip from Athens, along the Athens Riviera, is very popular in summer, and is an fantastic experience in spring, when all the flowers are blossoming.
Here’s more information on the Temple of Poseidon near Athens, including how to get there. You can also stop for a swim on the way.
Ancient Olympia in the Peloponnese
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of my favourite ancient sites in Greece. It’s a large area, where you can see the remains of temples, buildings and other constructions. This is where the Olympic Games started in 776 BC.
As the Games became more important over the years, the site grew bigger and bigger. More buildings and sports areas were constructed to accommodate all the athletes and visitors that came from far and wide.
There was also a large temple and statue dedicated to Zeus. Sadly, neither of them have survived.
The World Heritage Day is a lovely time of year to visit Ancient Olympia. There are plenty of trees around the site, and the flowers will be in full bloom! Allow at least a couple of hours to see the whole site and the excellent museums.
Here is some more information about the Ancient Olympia in the Peloponnese, in the Regional Unit of Ileia.
The Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus in the Peloponnese
The theatre of Ancient Epidaurus is one of the largest theatres of Ancient Greece. This impressive theatre is inside a large complex, the Sanctuary of Asklepios.
Asklepios was the God of Healing and Medicine. His sanctuary was a place to heal body and soul, equivalent to a modern day’s wellness centre. The healers of the time used treatments similar to modern dietary advice, sleeping therapy and art therapy.
The site itself is awesome, and you can spend at least a couple of hours exploring. The location, with a thick forest all around, is amazing.
I still remember the theatre acoustics from the first time I went there with school. As this is over 30 (!) years ago, you can imagine how impressive they are! The theatre is still in use for performances on summer weekends.
Here is some more info about Ancient Epidaurus in the Peloponnese, in the Regional Unit of Argolida.
Archaeological Site of Delphi
The ancient site of Delphi is one of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece. You can easily visit Delphi on a day trip from Athens.
In Ancient Greece, Delphi was the centre of the world. The Sanctuary was dedicated to the God Apollo, whose temple we can still see today. People travelled here from far and wide to take advice from the Oracle, a priestess named Pythia.
The ancient site is up on Mt Parnassus, at an altitude of 632 metres. Climb all the way to the top, and you will see the big stadium. The views from up there are incredible, and you may well feel the special energy of the area.
Here is some more information about the Ancient Site of Delphi in the Regional Unit of Fokida.
Top Archaeological sites in Crete for World Heritage Day
The island of Crete is one of the most popular destinations in the whole of Greece. This is where the Minoan civilization developed, in the 2nd millennium BC.
There are several ancient sites around the island, and you would need many days to see them all. Among the most famous ones are Knossos, Phaistos and Gortyna, in the Regional Unit of Heraklion.
The Palace of Knossos is the most famous ancient site in Crete. Knossos was an important commerce centre for several centuries, and the Palace was destroyed and rebuilt several times. After its excavation, heavy restorations took place.
Unlike Knossos, Ancient Phaistos is not as extensively restored, and I personally find it more interesting. Many of the ancient ruins are still in place, and you can almost imagine the ancient city as it was thousands of years ago.
Close to Phaistos, you can find Ancient Gortyna, a much less visited site. Look out for the astonishing Gortyn Law Code, a famous inscription on a city wall.
It would be a bit of an overkill to visit all three in the same day, but you could try if you are based in Heraklion!
Top Ancient Greek Sites to celebrate World Heritage Day
This was only a short selection of the dozens of archaeological sites in Greece. I hope it gave you an idea of our rich cultural heritage, and that it’s inspired you to visit one or two on World Heritage Day!
By the way, there are ten more days when you can visit the ancient sites in Greece for free. Here is a guide to all free admission days in Greece.
Hi! My name is Vanessa, and I am a travel writer from Athens in Greece. I love exploring my country and our wonderful ancient sites. I also enjoy helping out visitors by sharing my local knowledge and views. Hopefully this article on World Heritage Day and ancient sites in Greece was helpful! You can get in touch through the Real Greek Experiences FB page and FB group.