Marian from TravelShopGirl delivers a report on her day trip to Olympia, where she visited its famous Archaeological Site and immersed herself in the history of the Ancient Olympic Games:
If you find yourself on a Mediterranean cruise, one of your ports of call might be Katakolon, Greece. This small seaside port with a population of about 600 people is located along the Ionian Sea and is a frequent stop for cruise ships along this route. Sometimes you’ll see it spelled as Katakolo, but either way you’ll know that you’re definitely in the right place. Did you know that Katakolon is the second busiest cruise port in Greece after Piraeus?
If you’re in Katakolon, you’re probably going to get off the ship to explore the small port on foot, or with an organised tour group. But if you’re ready for adventure, why not set off an independent excursion on your own? When I visited Katakolon, I decided to rent a car and drive 40 minutes to Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, and explore Greece on my own.
Disembarking in Port at Katakolon
After disembarking from the ship, my husband and I only needed to walk a short distance to the rental car agency I had contacted online in advance of our arrival. Everything was ready for us, so I only needed to present my credit card and off we went. Within minutes of our arrival, we were already out on the open road.
Once inside my cute little red car, I zipped along the highway and we began our 40km trip to our destination. Home of the site of the Olympic Games from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD, the original Olympia stadium still stands today. Today, the Archaeological Site of Olympia is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Every time the Olympic flame is lit for today’s games, it is lit in front of the Temple of Hera in Olympia and transported by torch to wherever the games are being held.
Exploring the Archaeological Site of Olympia
To enter the Archaeological Site of Olympia, guests must first pay an admission fee of €12; while we were there, we even saw a few archaeological teams hard at work under the hot sun. Once inside the site, you can wander on your own to discover the sanctuary of Zeus and other buildings that were constructed specifically for the Olympic Games. You’ll definitely want to wear weather appropriate clothing – as you won’t find any cover or protection from the sun, or if it rains. The overall site boasts a total size of over 210 square miles, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes as this place is huge and it feels like you could roam for days.
There are many areas of interest within the Archaeological Site, including, the Temple of Zeus, the Temple of Hera, and one of my favourites, the Palaestra of Olympia – where you’ll see a majestic row of columns lining the lower part of what was once a gymnasium used to practice boxing, wrestling, and jumping. However, visitors should be mindful that nothing actually looks the way that it once did; but if you refer to informational plaques located throughout the site and employ a little imagination, you should be able to get a sense of what the ancient Olympians experienced.
My visit to Olympia was in August, which is considered the hottest month of the year locally. Average temperatures in August run around 25°C and it was brutally hot during my day in Olympia. After a few hours of exploring the ancient site, we decided to pack up our gear and head back to our little red car for the short drive back.
Visiting the Town, and the Journey Back
Since we had plenty of time before we needed to return to our ship in Katakolon, we decided to stop off for a drink first. You can’t miss Praxiteles Kondyli, Olympia’s main street, which is lined with all kinds of stores – from souvenir and art shops to antiques stores and cafes. If you’re looking to pick up a few gifts for friends and family, this is definitely the place to do it.
After finding a side street to park the car on, we walked a few blocks and checked out a couple of stores before settling on a place to stop for a while. I really wanted to sit down and have a cold drink, which I was able to do at a cute little cafe. Most of these cafes offer guests the choice of sitting inside or outside – with patio cooling systems and sun umbrellas to keep you cool should you opt for the latter. Don’t worry if you don’t speak any Greek, because I found that many staff speak English and many of the menus and stores offered English translations, making the day an extremely easy one to navigate overall.
After our quick beverages and a chance to cool off in the shade, we walked back to our car before the half hour drive back to Katakolon. The modern and wide highway offered multiple lanes, which made for an effortless trip back. The process of returning the rental car was an easy one, but that’s probably because not many had chosen to rent a car on this day. We spotted others from our cruise who had taken the train to Olympia – with a railway that connecting it to Katakolon and Pyrgos, the capital of the Elis regional unit of Greece about 16km from Olympia.
Overall, I had an exciting time visiting Olympia when our cruise ship stopped off in Katakolon and I would absolutely recommend the experience to anyone visiting Greece. While we could’ve easily visited any one of the many beaches in the area (like Plakes Beach, which is a 200 metre walk from the port), as a history buff I couldn’t imagine not stopping off in Olympia during this trip. If you have the opportunity to visit Katakolon, Greece on a cruise, I’d definitely consider renting a car and taking an adventure out to Olympia on your own accord.
If all the above has gotten you in the mood for a visit to one of Greece’s many historic sites, the best way to visit is undoubtedly in cruising luxury. Check out our selection of Mediterranean cruise deals and set out on your own adventure.