Discovering the Ancient Monuments of Greece

In Greece
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All winter I’ve been planning a family trip to Greece in April 2017. We thought it would be nice to travel to a country with warmer weather than at home (in Slovenia). Also, my sister and her daughter were reading Greek mythology stories all the time, and they were curious to see the ancient monuments they read about in real. The weather turned out to be perfect, and there were not as many tourists as in summer peak season. Here is a description of places we visited on our one-week road trip.

Map showing our route from Ljubljana (Slovenia) to Athens.

From Ljubljana to Skopje

We started our trip on Easter Sunday at 4 am, sleepy but excited. We were 5 people travelling in one car, including my dad, my sister, her husband and their 6 year old daughter (my niece). The plan was to take 2 full days to cover the 1,700 km distance from Ljubljana to Athens, with an overnight stop in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. The first day we covered almost 1,000 km as we drove through 4 different countries and reached Skopje in afternoon. We had few hours to explore the city centre but as it was a holiday, most shops and attractions were closed. We enjoyed looking at all the big statues and beautiful buildings of Skopje and we also found an open restaurant for a yummy dinner before returning to our rented apartment to sleep.

Archaeological Museum of Macedonia in Skopje, reflecting in a puddle.

Statue of Alexander the Great above the fountain, commanding the stormy skies.

From Skopje to Athens

The next day we continued driving south and after a few hours we crossed the last border and entered Greece. By noon we started feeling hungry and decided to try to find a place to eat in some small town along the way. Unfortunately, as it was Easter Monday, all restaurants were closed, so we had to drive on the highway till the next rest area that offered snacks. Before reaching Athens, we unexpectedly got stuck in a long traffic jam, which started about 100 km before reaching the city. We figured that all the Greeks were returning home after the holidays, so we had no option but to wait patiently in the long line of cars and move slowly until we reached our hotel in late evening. I really don’t recommend travelling to Greece during Easter, unless you are well prepared!

Map showing the places we visited in Greece.

Exploring Athens, the Capital of Greece

We only had one full day to see the most visited sights in Athens, and I still can’t believe how lucky we were. The date of our Athens sightseeing was 18th of April, which is International Monuments Day. On this day, all the entrances to the historic sites and museums are free! We saved lots of money, especially while visiting the famous Acropolis, for which the ticket price is 20 € per person. I really felt like winning lottery, just like other tourists that day who did not know about free entrance. Besides visiting the crowded Acropolis, we also walked through the market area called Monastiraki, got lost inside the huge Archaeological Museum of Athens, and climbed the countless stairs up the Lycabettus Hill. From the top of this hill we could see the Athens spreading far away in all directions, and also the temples of Acropolis lighted by the setting sun. Tired from all the walking and sightseeing, we took the metro back to our hotel.

One of the temples at the Acropolis of Athens.

View of the Acropolis of Athens, from Lycabettus hill.

Panoramic view of Athens on the way up the Lycabettus hill.

The Ancient Sanctuary of Delphi

After a long sleep and a nice breakfast, we packed up and started driving west towards our next destination, Delphi. This famous ancient sanctuary was known as the centre of the world by the ancient Greek, where all the important decision makers went to listen to their prophecies. But now only ruins of the once glorious site are left, the most important of which are the Apollo temple, ancient theatre, stadium and treasury. We spent about 2 hours exploring the place and the museum next to it, and then drove to the nearest town to get a yummy Greek lunch with a lovely view over the valley.

Me pointing towards the ancient theatre and Apollo temple at Delphi.

My niece taking the first bite of a huge Greek salad 🙂

The Ancient City of Argos

After lunch we had to hurry on to reach our hotel in Argos before dawn. Argos lies in the northern part of the Peloponnese peninsula and is one of the most ancient towns in Greece. When driving through Argos we had some issues finding our hotel, because the town is shaped like a maze, full of narrow one-way streets. Our hotel had the best location we could imagine, right next to the beautiful main square. After checking-in we drove few km uphill to see the Larissa Castle, from where we could see the whole Argos and surrounding landscapes under the sunset coloured skies. Simply overwhelming!

Sunset view of Argos from Larissa Castle

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The Ancient Ruins of Sparta and Olympia

We planned one full day to explore the sights of southern parts of the Peloponnese, and we decided to visit Sparta and Olympia, both of which are remote and less visited. We drove 2 hours from Argos to Sparta, taking a local road across the hills full of wild forests and olive trees. The ancient site of Sparta lies outside the town and is free of charge to enter. We roamed around the beautiful natural area full of Greek and Roman ruins, and posing for pictures in funny ways, inspired by the movie “300” about the ancient Spartan wars. Then we drove again for 2 hours to reach the ancient Olympia, which did have an entrance fee and more visitors, and even more ruins. I am happy that we visited these places in spring, when there’s green grass and blooming flowers everywhere!

A group pic of me and my family at Ancient Sparta, posing like Spartans!!

My sister and her husband walking through the ruins of ancient Olympia.

Epidaurus and Mycenae

The last full day in Greece was spent exploring sites near Argos. First we visited the ancient theatre Epidaurus, which is the biggest and best kept theatre in Greece. Near the theatre there are ruins of a healing centre where in ancient times ill people came to get cured. The next stop was Mycenae, the ancient centre of Greek civilisation. We got completely immersed in the rich historical heritage of this place while walking through the Lion gate and imagining the way people used to live there. We could spend the whole day in Mycenae, but we had to start our journey back home, after another delicious Greek lunch. We drove the rest of the day and reached Meteora by evening.

Panoramic view of Epidaurus theatre.

The Lion Gate of Mycenae.

Rocks and Monasteries of Meteora

I chose Meteora as our last sightseeing place before returning home, but we only had a few hours in the morning to explore it. Meteora literally means “fallen from the sky”, and it really felt like we were on a different planet. The area is full of funny shaped rocks, on top of which lie old monasteries. We drove up to the top of the rocks and then stopped at viewpoints and also went inside one of the monasteries. I really wished we could stay longer in Meteora, as I could see that the place offers much more. While driving further north we crossed Venetikos River, which made a wonderful sight.

Me posing in front of the rocky landscape of Meteora.

A garden inside one of the monasteries of Meteora.

Panoramic view of rocks and monasteries of Meteora.

The beautiful Venetikos River near Meteora

After leaving Meteora we started the long journey back to Slovenia, which took us about 15 hours, also due to the long wait at each border crossing. But overall, the April Greece trip was really interesting and fun, so I hope we can plan a similar trip soon again!

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