Real-Life Places in Greece Where Greek Myths Took Place
Greek myths have fascinated the Western world for thousands of years. And while no one takes these stories literally anymore, it's still fun to visit the locations where they are said to have happened.
Yes, Mount Olympus is a real place that you can visit. So is the town where Hercules defeated the three-headed Hydra, the palace that hid the Minotaur and the temple of Delphi.
Follow this map of Greek myths to see the real-life places where your favorite stories took place.
Mount Olympus: The Home of the Gods
Few places are as important to Greek mythology as Mount Olympus. Greek deities were not allmighty and omnipresent beings, as gods are in other religions. They were flawed, petty and had a restrained physical form. Because of this, they needed a specific place to live. For the ancient Greeks, this was Mount Olympus.
Standing at 10,000 feet, Olympus is the tallest mountain in Greece. Few, if any, humans in ancient times are recorded to have made it to the top. Its inaccessibility is probably what made it seem like the perfect hideaway of the gods.
You can definitely climb the mountain if you're in good enough shape. Just remember that Zeus was known for shapeshifting into animals. So if you cross any wildlife on the way, make sure to treat them with respect just in case.
Lerna: Home of the Hydra
Have you ever heard something be described as a "Herculean task"? This comes from the myth of Heracles (better known for his Roman name, Hercules). Hera, once again, got revenge on Zeus by making Heracles go mad and kill his wife, Megara and all of his children. We know that's not the version Disney tells. When he came to his senses, Apollo told him that to gain forgiveness, he needed to complete 12 impossible tasks for King Eurystheus.
Most of the tasks happened on the peninsula of Peloponnese. Maybe the most famous is that of the Lernaean Hydra, a nine-headed beast. When Heracles cut one head off, two more would grow in its place. There are multiple accounts of how he managed to win the fight, but he always comes out victorious.
This story is set in ancient Lerna, which goes by Myloi today. With a population of fewer than 750 permanent residents, this is the quiet fishing village of your dreams. Greek travelers love it for its seafood and beaches. Most, however, come as a day trip from Argos, an ancient city filled with archaeological sites like the Larissa Palace and an Ancient Theatre.
Pelion: The Centaur Mountain
Centaurs are mythical creatures with a human's upper body and a horse's lower body. In ancient Greece, they were believed to live in the woods of Mount Pelion.
These peculiar beings were revered for their wisdom as well as their strength. They were great warriors. Chiron, the wisest of all centaurs, trained many of the heroes of Greek mythology: Heracles, Odysseus, Theseus, Jason and Achilles.
The mountain is a popular destination for national tourists in central Greece. Pretty villages outside the tourist radar dot its green hills. If you want Greece off the beaten path, consider a trip to this unusual destination.
Acheron River: Gate to the Underworld
Greeks believed that five rivers led to the underworld. One of these was the Acheron River. If you follow along its path, it goes into deep caves that could very much pass for a place where souls rest.
The ancient dwellers of a town now known as Epirus built the Necromanteion of Acheron on the banks of the river. This is one of the few standing temples to Hades, the god of the underworld, and his wife, Persephone.
Still in fairly good shape, the temple is a lesser-known destination. But if you find yourself on the northern Ionian coast of Greece, make it a point to visit. But don't go off into dark places on your own, or you might end up in Hades.
Delphi: Oracle of Delphi Temple
Delphi is featured in countless myths. Here, the most respected oracles of the ancient Western world resided.
According to myth, Apollo founded a temple for himself (Greek gods were pretty self-absorbed). He visited nine times a year, during which Greeks, but also people from as far as Central Asia, would come here for prophecies.
If you've ever seen a movie about ancient Greece, you've probably seen the oracles in Delphi featured at some point. What's fascinating about this site is that it wasn't just important in myths, but in real life too. Several recorded wars began after consultation with the oracles. The site lost its influence over time, but it was still operating in 381 A.D. In fact, it wasn't fully abandoned until the 15th century.
About two hours away from Athens, Delphi's Temple of Apollo is one of the most popular day trips from the Greek capital. If you have time, seeing what was once thought to be the center of the world is a very cool experience.
Thebes: Birthplace of Oedipus
Thebes (not to be confused with Thebes, Egypt, now known as Luxor) was an important city-state. Throughout history, it warred or allied with Athens. The city was almost entirely destroyed by Alexander the Great in 336 B.C. and never fully recovered.
Many Greek myths happened here, but none have reached the collective imagination as much as the tragedy of Oedipus. You know, the guy who accidentally killed his father and married his mother. Turned into a play that continues to appear on stage, the myth also served as the analogy for Freud's controversial Oedipus complex theory.
Despite its proximity to Athens, Thebes isn't as popular as one would expect. But mythology enthusiasts can see sites like the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, the Mycenaean Palace, the Seven Gates of Ancient Thebes and the Temple of Apollo.
Knossos: The Minotaur's Palace
As the largest of all Greek islands, Crete was home to several important groups, including the Bronze Age Minoan civilization. It's also where the famed Minotaur is said to have been held captive.
Poseidon, the god of the sea, was mad at King Minos for failing to sacrifice a bull for him. He punished him by making his wife fall in love with the same bull that escaped being slaughtered. (Greek myths are weird.)
That's how the Minotaur, a creature half-bull, half-man was born. Of course, you couldn't have a beast roaming around, so Minos built a labyrinth and imprisoned the Minotaur in there, feeding it a steady diet of young Athenians. That is, until the Athenian prince, Theseus killed it.
When you visit Crete, you can't leave without visiting the Palace of Knossos. As the largest archaeological site on the island, it is thought to have been the center of the Minoan civilization and, therefore, the palace where the Minotaur once aimlessly roamed.
Ithaca: Odysseus' Home
Odysseus is one of the most famous Greek figures in the entire world. Even if you haven't heard about him, you know the things he's done. Remember the Trojan Horse? That was his idea.
And after helping destroy Troy without a trace of guilt, he embarked on a 10-year journey back to his home in Ithaca. The adventures are described in Homer's "The Odyssey," a famous epic that continues to influence western culture.
But rather than a mythical island, Itaca is real and can very easily be visited while traveling in the Ionian Sea. Many people go on a day trip from Kefalonia, a larger island that is a stone throw's away. Lovers of mythology, however, can spend a few days here, visiting archeological sites and enjoying the island's beautiful beaches.
Aegina: Achilles' Army
Achilles is another important figure of the Trojan War and Greek mythology in general. Having been dipped into the River Styx by his mother, his whole body was invincible — except the part of his heel from which his mother had held him.
But before Paris of Troy killed him by shooting an arrow straight into his only vulnerable spot, Achilles led a famously strong army. Interestingly, the army was made up of men who had once been ants on the island of Aegina.
Hera, Zeus' wife, found out one of her husband's many lovers was on Aegina. She sought revenge by sending a plague that killed most of the island's inhabitants. To make up for it, Zeus turned all the ants that roamed around Aegina into humans. Somehow, they then became loyal to Achilles.
Though foreigners still haven't caught wind of the island, it is very popular with Greek tourists. A ferry from Athens takes about an hour, so many people from the capital come here to enjoy the sea or go on a boating adventure. While generally laid-back, Aegina is also a known party destination.
Delos: Birthplace of Artemis and Apollo
If you're vacationing in Mykonos and want to do more than party, hop on a boat to neighboring Delos. This small island is incredibly important in mythology, as it was here that the gods Artemis and Apollo were born.
Their mother, Leto, found refuge on this island while escaping Hera, who was not very happy that her cheating husband was up to it again.
History is still one of Delos' main draws, with most people coming to the island to visit its archaeological site. Interestingly, you'll also find a temple to Isis, the Egyptian goddess of fertility.
The other reason people come here is the beach. Like other Cyclades islands, Delos is blessed with clear blue water that is perfect for swimming.
More Map Stories From Far & Wide
Love history and maps? Check out these other interesting map stories.