History buffs who prefer to be outdoors can experience the ancient world on this tour of mainland Greece's top classical sites. From Mycenae to Meteora, you'll visit ruins spanning back across the ages: sample the descendants of millennia-old grapevines in Nemea, see where the tale of the Iliad started at Mycenae, and tread on the same ground as the first Olympic athletes. End the trip hiking around Delphi and Meteora's six active clifftop monasteries, surrounded by Mediterranean landscape.

Highlights

  • Spend a day in Athens exploring the Parthenon, museums, cafés, and flea markets
  • Stay overnight in Nafplio, one of the prettiest seaport towns on the peninsula
  • Hike on a series of trails to see several monasteries hanging from cliffs
  • Drive on a beautiful coastal route to get to Delphi and the Temple of Apollo

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Athens Athens
Day 2 Drive from Athens to Nafplio Nafplio
Day 3 Explore Mycenae & Epidaurus, Drive to Dimitsana Dimitsana
Day 4 Explore Lousios Gorge, Drive to Olympia Olympia
Day 5 Explore Olympia, Drive to Delphi Delphi
Day 6 Explore Delphi, Drive to Meteora Meteora
Day 7 Drive from Meteora to Athens, Depart Greece  

Day 1: Arrive in Athens

The Parthenon can be spotted all over the city

Welcome to  Greece! The mythology of this spectacular country precedes it, with towering temples to Classical deities and the ruins of ancient marketplaces rubbing shoulders with bass-pumping nightclubs, crowded flea markets, and contemporary cuisine. You'll begin your trip in Athens, home to both the iconic Acropolis and so much more. Make the most of your time in the city at some of these spots:

  • Climb up to the can't-miss Parthenon. (Pro tip: The Parthenon is the temple, the Acropolis is the hill.) This temple to Athena has enchanted visitors since its construction was completed in 438 BC. It's probably the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of ancient Greece and it's well worth the brief uphill hike.
  • Stop at the sprawling National Museum for a crash course in ancient iconography. Be sure to seek out the room housing the Antikythera mechanism, essentially an ancient astronomical computer.
  • Visit a smaller archaeological site at the Tower of the Winds, then stroll down neighboring pedestrian Aiolou Street to stop at shops and cafes. 
  • Find your perfect souvenir or sun hat in the busy stalls of the Monastiraki flea market. 

Spend your evening exploring the up-and-coming Pangrati neighborhood or amid the nightlife and mezze of the Psyrri district.

Day 2: Drive from Athens to Nafplio

An aerial panoramic view of Nafplio

After breakfast in Athens, you'll leave the big metropolis behind and begin the drive west to Nafplio, with plenty of detours along the way. Your first stop takes you to the Corinth Canal, connecting the Ionian and Aegean seas. This narrow shipping canal was first conceived in the 7th century BC but not successfully constructed until 1893. 

Next, you'll stop at a winery in Nemea known for its Agiorgitiko wine. These grapes, which are similar to Merlot, are considered to be one of the finest Greek red varietals and have grown in the region for thousands of years—possibly since the 4th century BC. The ancient red wine called Fliasion was also believed to be produced in this area. 

End the day with your arrival in Nafplio, one of the prettiest seaport towns in the Peloponnese peninsula and once believed to have been founded by the son of Poseidon. The town was the first capital of the new Greek state after the war of independence in the 1800s. Take a stroll through the old town, where you'll pass statues honoring significant figures from Nafplio's history, Ottoman fountains, and Venetian architecture along the winding streets. 

Driving time: 3 hours

Day 3: Explore Mycenae & Epidaurus, Drive to Dimitsana

The theater at Epidaurus

After breakfast in Nafplio, you'll travel further back in time to the well-preserved archaeological sites of Epidaurus and Mycenae, both deserving of their UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

You may recognize Mycenae from its role in Homer's Iliad: It was home to the famous Helen, whose Mycenean husband Agamemnon led his people to war when she left him for Paris of Troy. See its Cyclopean walls, whose construction method is still a mystery. They got their name due in part to the belief that only the mythical Cyclops would have been strong enough to lift their boulders. You'll pass through the Lion Gate to enter the ruins of the city, wandering past the tombs of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra and the Treasury of Atreus.

Next, you'll visit the small ancient city of Epidaurus, which was one of the most visited healing centers in the world during its peak. The sick would travel to the Sanctuary of Asklepios, the god of medicine and healing. They would spend the night in the temple's sleeping hall in hopes that the deity would appear in the dreams with a diagnosis and cure for their condition, whatever it may have been. 

You'll also see the city's third-century theater, one of the best remaining examples of its type due to the excellent acoustics and aesthetic arrangement.

Today's drive ends at a mountain village in central Peloponnese called Dimitsana. You can spend the evening walking around the cobblestone streets and checking out the town's scenic viewpoints. 

Driving time: 1.5 hours

Day 4: Explore Lousios Gorge, Drive to Olympia

A stone monastery above the gorge

After breakfast, you'll depart Dimitsana and begin the drive to Lousios where you'll have time to enjoy the setting of a spectacular river and gorge. Hiking trails run both along and through the gorge, also known as the "Mount Athos of the Peloponnese" due to the many monasteries that appear to be literally hanging from the cliffs. Visit these ancient spots to catch a glimpse of tranquil monastic life, surrounded by beautiful views and the waft of incense.

The hike continues all the way to the archaeological site at ancient Gortyna along the river, where you'll find the second temple to Asklepios alongside the acropolises and bathhouses. Enjoy lunch amid the city ruins before you continue onward to Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient Olympic games.

Driving time: 1.5 hours

Day 5: Explore Olympia, Drive to Delphi

Views of Nafpaktos town on the way to Delphi

Today, you can take time to explore the site of the first Olympic Games at the archaeological site of Olympia. And there's a lot to cover—it's one of the largest sites in the country, surrounded by wild olives and plane trees. Your comprehensive guided tour will take you under the grand temple columns, past the Sanctuary of Olympian Zeus and through the onsite Archaeological Museum

There will also be free time after the tour to explore the site on your own. Scope out the treasuries, sacrificial altars, and ancient stadium once used by the ancient world's best athletes.

From here, you'll spend the afternoon driving to Delphi. Head over the "Little Dardanelles" from Rio to Antirio and through the picturesque town of Nafpaktos where the mountains meet the sea. The rest of the road to Delphi is along the crystalline coastal route, so keep your camera close. 

Driving time: 3.5 hours

Day 6: Explore Delphi, Drive to Meteora

The Athenian Treasury

Today, you can "consult" the oracle on an ancient trail from the slopes of Mount Parnassos to the village of Delphi. (This historical figure spoke for the god Apollo and answered questions for the Greeks.) This ancient footpath was once used by worshippers of the god Pan, who started from the temples of Delphi and proceeded to Corycean Grotto for their religious rites. You'll take the downhill path from the Livadi plateau to the sanctuary, surrounded by the valley of olive trees and views of the Corinthian Gulf and peaks of Peloponnese on your way. 

Rest your feet near Pan's cave with a picnic lunch in a traditional sheep barn before you reach Delphi. Once you arrive at the site, meet your professional guide for a walk through the Treasury of the Athenians, the Temple of Apollo, and the museum which contains masterpieces such as the Bronze Charioteer and the image of the famous athlete Aghias.

In the afternoon, you'll hop back in your vehicle to traverse the Thessalic plain to Kalambaka, the small town that serves as your base for exploring the marvel of the cliffside monasteries of Meteora.  

Driving time: 3.5 hours

Day 7: Drive from Meteora to Athens, Depart Greece

A morning hike before heading to Athens

This morning, you can ascend the six cliffside monasteries on your morning hike up the rocks of Meteora. You'll tread the same paths that monks used for hundreds of years to reach these holy places, climbing close to 1,000 feet in the air above the canyons of the Pindos range. Reach the clifftop monasteries of Meteora, including Megalo Meteoron and Agios Stefanos, which are still inhabited and used by monks and nuns today.

Enjoy a final lunch in the shadow of the dramatic rocks before your return to Athens for your departure.

Driving time: 4 hours