The first stop on our cruise saw us disembark at the sleepy seaside town of Katakolon, the gateway to ancient Olympia. A half hour journey from the port, sits Olympia; the area that was home to the first Olympic Games and was in use for over a thousand years. Here, the fittest and strongest ancient Greek competed against one another to demonstrate their physical prowess and to pay tribute to their gods. The first Olympiad was held in 776BC and every four years following that where the ancient Greeks gathered to watch or compete in these athletic competitions.
Nowadays, these ruins host countless tourists as they soak up the sights of these historic sporting grounds, whilst trying to shelter from the baking Greek summer sun.
The Temple of Zeus (or what remains of it) is one of the key ruins left behind – this temple once housed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a 40-foot statue of Zeus crafted from gold and ivory. The ancient pillars lay in ruin, signalling just how large this temple must have been.
Another key site at ancient Olympia is the stadium itself. Stepping through the stone arch, the grounds open up right in front of you and it’s not hard to imagine the chariot races that once would have happened there. Though it’s not much to look at now, the fact that these ancient people organised sporting events on such a massive scale is impressive in itself.
To get to Olympia, you have a few different options – the cruise ships offer tours (which guarantee you’ll get back to the ship on time), or you can jump on the train or a private bus tour once you’re ashore. There is also the option to rent a car to get yourself to the ancient grounds but with the bus and train being reliable and well-priced, it wouldn’t be our recommendation.
Royal Caribbean offered two organised tours to the site; for USD89.75 per adult, they take you to the grounds and show you around (in what looked like relatively large groups) the archaeological site and museum, before you’re given some free time to look around and shop in modern Olympia. Alternatively, for USD44.75, they organise a transfer only option – guests who choose this excursion will need to pay the entrance fee upon arrival at the site.
If you’re wanting a little more flexibility or to save some money (always our preference!), you can organise your own transport in town upon your arrival and take yourself for a walk around the grounds. Entrance to ancient Olympia and the archaeological museum is €12 for each adult, which combined with the bus in (€10 each) offers a substantial saving on booking through the cruise line! Instead of paying USD44.75 (€40) for their bus and €12 entrance fee (which would add to €52), we carried out the same trip independently for only €22 each.
In regard to independent transport, there is a train that operates just along from the port; though we’d initially planned on taking this, it seemed to be easier to catch a bus and as the price was relatively comparable, we decided to jump aboard. We purchased our tickets from the guys wearing blue shirts as they seemed to be the friendliest of the vendors selling tickets and after the 30 minute trip out, we were given 3 hours, 15 minutes to explore the grounds, museum and modern town (which had a lovely feel about it) before meeting back for the return trip. This had us back to the ship at about 1.30pm, plenty of time to ensure we made the 4.30pm all-aboard call.
The bus was €10/adult return, whereas the train did appear to be the cheaper option if you’re travelling in a larger group – online we’d read that the first ticket was €10, two tickets were €15 and four tickets were only €20 in total. We didn’t see the train running but from what we read online it does appear to be reliable so I presume it was just that we didn’t cross paths.
We were pleased with our decision to head out to ancient Olympia but the experience overall didn’t compete with seeing the likes of Petra or the Giza pyramids. If you’re in the area, we would recommend making the journey out to have a look around, but definitely do it independently to save yourself some money – if we’d have spent twice the amount to go through Royal Caribbean, I think we would have come away disappointed.
If you do go, we’d love to hear what you think of the experience. Oh and don’t forget to pack a hat, water and sunscreen too as there’s not much shelter out there!