By Dana Perkiss
Greece is a country known for its ancient culture and epic mythology, as well as for its multitude of beaches and cultural attractions to visit. It’s well known that the country is bustling with ancient ruins and sites to see, but not as well known that Greece is also a trailblazer in modern art and culture, too.
From tombs that still hold the bodies of kings to theaters where ancient Greek life still comes alive, and all the way to impressively innovative buildings which house famous contemporary art pieces, this is your guide to some of the best places to experience both ancient and modern art and culture in Greece.
There’s no better attraction to see while in Greece than visiting one of the most renowned historical sites in the world, the Acropolis. “Acropolis” in Greek translates to “high city”, but the Acropolis in Athens is definitely the most well-known and worth visiting. Perched on a glittering high hill of limestone rock (which dates back to the age of dinosaurs), this historic site is home to multiple cultural buildings.
The Parthenon stands in remnants as the temple which was built in honor of the goddess Athena and is a stunning view for all visitors. Continue walking through the Acropolis to find the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a stone, open-air theater built in 161 AD. During the summer, the theater comes to life with classical Greek shows and musicals that will transport you back to ancient times.
With its modern glass and sleek designs, the Acropolis Museum is hard to miss. This archaeological museum boasts about 90,000 square feet of space featuring ancient artifacts found from the Acropolis of Athens. The museum also has a popular cafe and terrace with a stunning view of the city. For an extra fun adventure, head below the museum to discover a wholly excavated neighborhood now open for viewing.
Tip: It is recommended to start your tour on the top floor of the ‘Parthenon Gallery’ and then go down.
Delphi rests alongside Mount Parnassus just outside of Athens and is famed to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re visiting Greece in the winter, it’s worth checking out the 23 ski slopes Parnassus has to offer. But for a taste of history, Delphi has it all.
Once known as a pilgrimage location for honoring the ancient Greek god of light, Apollo, this spot is now a popular tourist attraction for viewing the ruins. The Sacred Way is the main path for walking through Delphi, and at the end you’ll find the ruins of the Temple of Apollo. Next to the temple you’ll find the glorious ancient theater as well as the Stadium of Delphi nearby. Built in the 4th century BC, the theater was home to the Pythian Games, which were athletic and musical competitions to honor Apollo.
For a more modern tour of history, you’ll enjoy exploring the Archaeological Museum of Delphi which lies just between the ancient ruins and the modern town. This museum is known for hosting famed ancient Greek art and collectables dug up from Delphi archaeological sites. While you’re there, be sure to view the Sphinx of the Naxians which is one of the earliest known portrayals of the mythical creature.
If you’ve ever read Homer’s the Iliad or the Odyssey in English class, then you may recognize Mycenae as the land from which King Agamemnon reigned when he led the battle against Troy. As another UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll feel a part of history as you walk through the archaeological ruins. While you’re there, you’ll get to view many renowned ancient sites such as The Lion Gate, the Cyclopean Walls, and the Museum of Mycenae.
Dedicated to Athena and Hephaestus, the god of fire, the Hephaestus Temple dates back to 450 BC and can be found on top of the Agoreao Koronos Hill in Athens. As the best-preserved temple in Greece (impressively, it’s still mostly intact), this temple is definitely worth visiting. It was built in a Doric style featuring large columns, sculptures lining the building, and friezes which depict mythological stories including Hercules and the Trojan War.
As one of the largest museums in Greece, you’ll want to visit the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. It was built in a modern fashion, a stark contrast to the centuries of history awaiting inside. The museum boasts extraordinary collections of artefacts dating from ancient Macedonia, from all the way back to the Prehistoric age.
After spending lots of time exploring ancient ruins and historical museums, you’ll feel refreshed at the change of pace at the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil. Located in Sparta, this museum will walk you through the history of the olive and olive oil as you learn about the cultural, religious, and economical significance of the olive in the Mediterranean. You’ll view fossilized olive leaves from over 60,000 years ago, read the first written words regarding the olive, and see the evolution of olive oil production technology.
In Athens you will find the incredible National Museum of Contemporary Art, which prides itself for its astounding showcase of contemporary Greek and international art. The museum boasts exhibitions and programs for the public, as well as a diverse collection of art mediums like sculptures, installations, and industrial designs. Though Greece is known for its historical and mythological attractions, you won’t regret viewing the more modern side of the country.
With locations in both Athens and Thessaloniki, it’ll be easy to visit one of the Kalfayan Galleries. This gallery is known for connecting the Western and Eastern worlds by showcasing art from Greece, the Middle East, and the Balkans. The gallery is known worldwide through its work in international art fairs and collaborations with other art institutions.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) is truly a spectacular sight to see. A stark contrast from the ancient archeology Greece has to offer, the SNFCC was built in a futuristic sleek style and is one of the biggest, most sustainable complex buildings in the world. The SNFCC is a huge community space which offers an array of educational, recreational, sustainable, and cultural activities for people to join. It is home to the National Library of Greece, Stavros Niarchos Park, and the Greek National Opera.
Romantso is a must-visit for everyone, but especially for creatives. Located in Athens and based in the former printing plant for “Romantso” magazine, this building is a large cultural center which hosts a multitude of public events, such as art shows, workshops, and concerts. Romantso is also known as an incubator for creatives as it provides both private and public workspaces.
To truly experience both ancient and contemporary arts and culture, there’s no better place to visit than Greece.