Local Tips for Visiting Olympia, Greece

Olympia was the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games in 776 BC, and one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Greece. Many tourists filter in through the cruise ship port Katakolo, which is lined with sandy beaches, seaside restaurants and shops. Between Olympia and Katakalo is the town of Pyrgos, where my father was born. Pyrgos presents an opportunity to experience everyday Greek life and delicious local restaurants, because most tourists skip it. Here are some highlights of the birthplace of the Olympics and other nearby recommendations to help you plan a trip to Olympia!

Greek god statues at the museum


Olympia is arguably the second most important archeological site in Greece, after the Acropolis in Athens (where western democracy was born). The ancient games were held every four years between 776 BCE and 393 CE. During the three month Pan-Hellenic truce, athletes and upwards of 40,000 spectators came from all over Greece to participate in the ancient Olympics.

Olympia Tour Options

The grounds of ancient Olympia are peaceful, inspiring and among the greenest in Greece. A downside to a self visit of Olympia is that information on the grounds in sparse. You will learn a lot more through an official guided tour of Olympia. These can be booked online, or at the archeological site prior to your visit.

The Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece is where the olympic torch is lit prior to each Olympics.

You can book a self-guided virtual tour of Olympia if you do not want to book a group or private tour. The virtual tour begins with an introduction to the Ancient Gymnasium of Olympia. Along with history, the tour covers the training of athletes, values of the ancient Greeks and their attitude towards health and wellbeing. A virtual tour is a great way to learn about the history of Olympia while touring the archeological site. The cost is $17.69 USD.

An Ancient Olympia Audio Tour is another great self-guided option. You can play the audio tour directly from your smartphone. An advantage over a guided tour is being able to pause and take the tour at your own pace. The Ancient Olympia audio tour can be downloaded for $15.49 USD.

Archeological Museum of Olympia

City-states and individuals brought offerings for Zeus, which included money and statues. One of the most impressive gifts is housed in the Archeological Museum of Olympia today: Hermes of Praxiteles. Also known as Hermes and the Infant Dionysus, the marble statue dates to the 4th century BCE and is one of the most perfect statues from antiquity. It is pictured below on the right. On the left is the statue Nike of Paionios, which dates to 425 BC. Nike is the Greek goddess of Victory, in addition to being one of the world’s most popular sports apparel companies.

Statues of Greek gods at Archeological Museum of Olympia

Temple of Hera: Where the Olympic Torch is Lit Before Each Olympics

A high priestess lights the Olympic flame prior to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Olympia Greece.

The torch is lit at Olympia in front of the Temple of Hera before every Olympics, winter and summer. Hera was Zeus’ wife. The ceremony is presided over by a group of priestesses dressed in white robes. The high priestess lights the flame and the symbolic ceremony connects the Ancient Olympics with the modern games. Watch the video above to see the most recent ceremony prior to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The Olympic torch is then relayed around the world before arriving in the host city. As the ancient and modern Olympics originated in Greece, Greek athletes march during the opening ceremony first. The Greek flag is raised along with the host nation’s and the Olympic flag.

Alexs dad among the ruins in Olympia

Olympia Was a Venue for the 2004 Athens Olympics

When Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics, the shot put event was held on the track of the ancient Olympic Stadium. A popular thing to do in Olympia today, after entering through the stone archway of the Krypte, is to jog around the dirt track of the stadium that athletes competed on thousands of years ago. If you’re an Olympics and/or history buff, the experience will give you goose bumps.

Alex infront of stone archway of the Krypte
A selfie of Alex and his dad in Olympia

Ancient Temples of Olympia

Olympia is an impressive site for its ancient temples and two museums: the Archeological Museum of Olympia, as well as the separate Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games. Modern Olympia has some good hotel options, but for many visitors, staying closer to Katakolo Beach is more ideal for a vacation.

Greek columns - Tholos ruins, the Philippeion

Olympia Hotels

Hotel Europa Olympia is one of the best hotels to stay near the archeological site of Olympia. 80 spacious guest rooms are appointed with marble floors, and a balcony. Set among the enchanting landscape of ancient Olympia, rooms have great views of the Arcadian Mountains and the Alfios Valley. Amenities include a pool, on-site restaurant and 3 bars (one pool side).

Bacchus is a nice place to stay just outside Olympia, in the picturesque village of Ancient Pissa. Its swimming pool, garden and large terraces are ideal for relaxing. Housed in a traditional stone mansion, it offers lovely views of the surrounding area.

Katakolo (Katakolon)

The October day we visited Katakolo, we were stunned to find four cruise ships docked in the harbor. This is a testament to just how booming tourism in Greece is, and how much the area has to offer visitors. Near the cruise dock, Katakolo’s harbor is lined with restaurants and cafes. And with that many cruise passengers, the area is frequently bustling, even on a Tuesday in October.

Katakolo's harbor with small boats and cruise ships docked in harbor
Multiple cruise ships docked in the harbor of Katakolo, Greece

Olympia to Katakolon by Train

Katakolon is 20 miles (33km) west of Olympia. From Katakolo you can take the train to Olympia, which takes around 45 minutes each way. There is then the opportunity to tour Olympia at your leisure. You should consider a guided tour of Olympia though, as you’ll get a much better understanding of the site that way. Stop in Pyrgos for lunch or dinner, to get a taste of a medium-sized Greek town that is not flooded with tourists.

Katakolon Beaches

Katakolon is also a popular place for Greeks to vacation because there are sandy beaches in an area that covers around 40 km. Plakes Beach is right in Katakolo and will suffice if you’re short on time. But if you want to visit a better beach, head 3 km northwest to the beach at Agios Andreas, which was the natural harbor of ancient Olympia. Read more about the Katakolo area beach scene.

Plakes Beach with sunny blue skies
Plakes Beach in Katakolo is not the best in the area but can suffice if pressed for time.

Katakalon Hotels

If you travel to Olympia independently, you can base yourself on the beach close to Katakolo. This makes for a relaxing vacation, near a lot of restaurants and cafes to spend afternoons or evenings.

Orizontes View Hotel is a fantastic place to stay in Katakalo. All of its elegant and modern rooms have views of the Ionian Sea. It is also a short walk from Katakalo village, which is filled with restaurants and cafes.

Families and groups of friends will often find the best value booking short term apartment and house rentals. You can find these listings on websites like booking, in addition to others. Book listings with consistently great reviews for the best experience.

Katakalon and Ancient Olympia Tour

If you disembark in Katakalon on a cruise ship, you will have limited time. So it’s a great idea to book this 4.5 hour guided tour of Katakalon and Ancient Olympia. In addition to the Archeological Site of Olympia, you will also be guided through the Archeological Museum of Olympia. The tour is seasonal and costs around $60 USD.

Olympia Riveria

The Olympia Riviera offers an idllyic seaside vacation, located in the beautiful Ilia region of the Peloponnese, in southern Greece. Vast stretches of sandy beaches offer a relaxing reprieve for couples and families, with sweeping views of the Ionian Islands of Zakynthos and Kefalonia. Grecotel features a variety of resorts, packed with plush amenities, ideally suited for a sun-kissed holiday.

Grecotel Olympia Riveria

Grecotel Olympia Riveria offers a choice of luxurious resorts, along with a beautiful ancient Greek style massage facility, the Elixir Spa Center. It is also home to one of Greece’s largest aqua parks. The 5 star Grecotel Olympia Oasis and Aqua Park offers a stunning location nestled along the Ionian Sea.

Grecotel Olympia Riveria is a beautiful resort along the Ionian Sea.

Sweeping views across the sea include the Ionian Islands of Zakynthos and Cephalonia. Dotted with an abundance of pools that cascade down to the sea, guests are indulged with delightful food, scenic views and warm hospitality.

View of the Ionian Sea from the 5-star Mandola Rosa, Grecotel Exclusive Resort along the Olympia Riveria.

The Greek word, filoxenia, which translates to “friend to a stranger” is a motto on display throughout a stay. Grecotel Olympia Riviera is ideally suited for couples and family trips. Couples should consider staying at the amazing 5-star Mandola Rosa, Grecotel Exclusive Resort, which is inspired by Belle Époque design. It is quieter and more opulent than the Grecotel Olympia Oasis, which is popular with families with children.

The beautiful Elixir Spa Center at Grecotel Olympia Riveria is inspired by classical Greece.

Pyrgos, Ilias

Pyrgos is home to around 48,000 people. It’s located around 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Olympia and 6 miles (10 kilometers) from Katakolo. You can take the train from Pyrgos to Olympia, as well as Katakolo. Since my father was born in Pyrgos, we stayed two nights there on our recent visit. Pyrgos does not offer visitors a wealth of attractions, but it does present an opportunity to experience authentic Greek life while visiting the area.

Read my article covering 10 unique Greek Peloponnese experiences, spanning epic ancient sites like Messina, the Corinth Canal, a state of the art Greek spa in Loutraki and a fantastic olive oil tour in Kalamata.

St Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas Church was built in 1897 and inaugurated in 1906. It is a beautiful church in Karagorgia Square in Pyrgos-Ilias that has battled occasional earthquakes for over 100 years. My father was baptized in that church in 1928. St. Nicholas recently reopened after major renovations following serious damage from a 2015 earthquake. On a side note, Alex Kallimanis Sr. was one of 1,200 Greek soldiers who served as part of NATO forces during the Korean War. Read his story in this Odyssey of a Korean War Veteran.

Alex and his Dad out the front of St. Nicholas Church in Prygos, Ilias
St. Nicholas Church was built in 1906 and is where my father was baptized. Karagorgia Square, Pyrgos-Ilias, Greece.

Karagorgia Square

Karagorgia Square is the spacious central square and heart of Pygros’ nightlife. There are some wonderful and inexpensive restaurants in Pyrgos. Piatsa Makaroni, on the main square, is a charming restaurant with delicious high-quality pasta and house wine, at great prices. Some may consider it Italian food, but pasta is also common in Greece. Mediterranean cultures have influenced each other for thousands of years.

Collage of Greek food

Pyrgos Hotels

We can personally recommend Hotel Olympos as a comfortable place to base yourself. It is centrally located in Pyrgos and the beds are comfortable. That is where we stayed since our family lives in Athens now.

More Tips on Travel Around Olympia and Greece

Our recent trip to Olympia was part of my 89-year-old father’s final planned trip to Greece. Read more of our tips, based on this trip, and years of experience traveling to Greece. Check out these Great Tips for Visiting Athens. Naxos is one of Greece’s best all-around islands, read about it in Tips for Visiting Naxos. Chania, Crete is one of the foodie capitals of Greece, and there are a host of other reasons Chania is a fantastic place to visit!

While in the area, I visited my grandparents grave in Strefi for the first time, which is just a few miles from Olympia. We organized a taxi to take us from the ancient site to Strefi and then back to Pyrgos. It was an emotional visit with my dad and a story for a future article. Read his article on a previous journey home to Olympia.

Planning to visit Olympia and have questions?

If you have questions about travel to Olympia or Greece in general, email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below. I’m a dual Greek and American citizen who has visited Greece over 15 times, including on multiple press trips. I’ve helped many people plan amazing trips to Greece and am happy to assist with your travel plans!

Pinterest Pin

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. We receive a small commission when you book or sign up through these links and it costs you nothing extra. When it suits you, please use them, as it helps us help you! 


  • Alex Kallimanis

    Alex Kallimanis is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner who has visited 67+ different countries, including all 27 European Union countries across all continents except Antarctica. He has resided around the world, living in countries like Australia, the Netherlands and Ireland for over 7 years combined. Currently residing in the Tampa, Florida, area with his wife Bell, he still spends much of his time in Europe as a dual Greek citizen. Alex is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a bachelor of arts degree in history, and was the president of Phi Alpha Theta (Honors History Society) during his senior year there. Alex is an avid enthusiast of sports, spas, delicious food, the outdoors, craft beverages, history and culture.

    View all posts

2 thoughts on “Local Tips for Visiting Olympia, Greece

  1. Hi, I’m hoping to be traveling with my 13 year old son to Greece. We would take a bus Athens to Olympia. My question is, are taxis readily available that once off the bus I can get to the ruins snd to my hotel without a car? Thank you

    1. Hi Ingrid. Yes, taxis are readily available in Olympia as it’s a major tourist attraction. So you don’t need to a rent a car to travel between your hotel and the ruins in ancient Olympia. If you have time, you can take the train from Olympia to Katakalo to enjoy the beach. Have a great trip to Greece and let us know if you have anymore questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.