Visiting Olympia Greece & Katakolon
For me Olympia, Greece brings forth vivid mental images of ancient Greek athletes competing in togas thousands of years ago. Today’s Olympic Games seek to emulate what took place in Olympia in ancient times and that effort only serves to embolden the uniqueness of this place. Our arrival to this area of the world came on a cruise ship via the small port town of Katakolon, but the site is easily reached via bus from Athens or other transport options from many other areas of Greece and Europe.
From Katakolon it took us one hour via train to reach the town of Olympia, Greece. The journey cost 10 Euro return with a 50% discount for children 12 and under. (Shawn Reece just made it!) Alternatively, several coach companies operate from the town’s main corridor and charge the same 10 Euro rate with no discount for children as far as I could tell. When given the choice I always choose the train and in this situation I was happy I did. While the coaches looked to be fine, the train was comfortable, scenic and easy.
The Ruins at Olympia
The site housing the ancient ruins is easy to find in the small town of Olympia. It is located just over a river spanning bridge about a ten minute walk from the train station. Just inside the gate we found a small museum. We decided to skip this based purely on internet reviews read beforehand, but combo tickets for both the site and the museum were available there. Alternatively, two ticket booths with overwhelmingly long lines were open at the entrance to the ruins themselves. Based on observations alone most people opted to buy a combo ticket at the ruins entrance, opting to visit the museum after the ruins themselves.
To be honest there isn’t much at Olympia. Describing what is left at the site as “ruins” provides a fair description in my opinion. Our time there was further soiled by on and off torrential downpours. Even with waterproof clothing it became quite cold and uncomfortable, but we stuck through and took about an hour to explore what is left of the ancient capital of sports. From administrative buildings to a field where athletics took place, signs did an ok job of describing what we were seeing.
(I understand a miniature model of the grounds is housed in the museum, but pictures of the model are shown on the plaques at the site.) Had we opted to hire a tour guide perhaps we would have been given more information, but I didn’t feel it was necessary. Save yourself some money and bring a printout from the internet with you. Most of the tour guides spoke very broken English anyway and the need to stay with tour groups was visibly uncomfortable for some given the weather.
While this review may not seem very positive based on my observations, I do recommend visiting Olympia if given the chance. After all Olympia is the birthplace of sports in many ways and for a young athlete like Shawn Reece it can be inspiring. Maybe there isn’t much left of the buildings, but imagination can be useful at times. Watching Shawn Reece and Jasmine race on a field that was once used by ancient Greek athletes was both a magical and unique experience that all of us will remember for the rest of our lives.
- Transport to Olympia Greece & Katakolon is relatively easy to obtain from most places in Greece.
- Skip the museum unless you don’t plan on visiting many other historical sites during your overall trip. Museum fatigue is real and can take away from other sites you visit in the following days. While the ruins of Olympia are quite interesting, a museum is a bit of overkill for what is housed there. Bring an internet printout instead.
- If you do plan on visiting the museum, buy the combination ticket there to save time as the lines at the entrance to the ruins are much longer. (Unfortunately the museum will not allow you to buy a ruins only ticket.) For ticket prices please see the photo gallery.
- The weather can be poor in the winter and hot in the summer. Plan accordingly and don’t be afraid to seek refuge in the town if needed.
- The modern town of Olympia is adjacent to the site and has restaurants, souvenir shops and just about everything else you need. Beware that prices are high around the ruins themselves. Walk a little further away for a better deal. We also found that Katakolon had better food and slightly cheaper prices. (See pics.)
- Take time to role play with your children allowing them to imagine being one of the athletes competing in the ancient Olympics. I promise the experience will be memorable!