I would bet a fortune and say that the first two things that come to anyone’s mind when they hear about ‘Greece’ is ‘Greek islands’ and ‘history’. And indeed this small European country is the richest in both. Every year, hoards of tourists flock the beautiful gems of the Greek seas and enjoy an ideal and relaxing vacation under the sun. There are others too, who wish to do a bit more than lie on a beach all day and explore and learn more about this country’s fascinating and ‘glorious’ past. In the homeplace of ‘democracy’ and some of the most popular monuments in the world, Greece’s history and past is perfectly portrayed and explained in detail in a plethora of museums scattered throughout the country. And though the list is endless, in this blog, I will present to you which museums I, from an archaeologist’s as well as history and art enthusiast’s point of view, believe to be the most representative in the ‘Best Museums in Greece’ category!
By Savina Skourmalla on 21 – 12 – 22
- Best museums in Greece – Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis is synonymous to Athens and when one visits the capital of Greece, visiting the Acropolis is on top of their list. Everyone wants a glimpse of the opposing Parthenon, standing proud and bejewelling Athens from its high stand, contributing as the signature of the city as well as one of the most important monuments in the world. In order to understand the history of the sacred hill and the Parthenon however and explore the connection between the past and the present , a visit to the homonymous museum and one of the most detailed and best museums in Greece, the Acropolis Museum, is mandatory.
The state-of-the art Museum opened its doors in 2009 and was designed to project all the missing parts and information from the Acropolis Hill as well as how the Parthenon looked as a whole in the ancient time. Its complementary and explanatory character and its strategic location manage to connect the exhibited findings and the ancient ruins of the site in context.
The museum is found only 280 metres away from the Parthenon, on the southern slope of the Acropolis and its modern architectural structure with the huge glass windows allows the natural light to shine upon the marbles and gives you the impression that the monument is close enough for you to touch.
The first exhibit which you will come across once you enter the Acropolis Museum is the Gallery of the Slopes, where different artefacts and objects that give an insight to an ancient Athenian’s everyday life are exhibited. The stairs at the end of the corridor play a key role to the whole experience in the museum as they simulate the ascend to the Acropolis Hill.
The Archaic Acropolis Gallery is exhibited on the first floor and includes artefacts dating from the 7th century down to the 5th century. The exhibits, such as the famous statues of the Kouros and Kores style, are purposely positioned in a way through which the visitor will be able to examine and marvel at all the details and shapes from a 360 degree view.
The second floor is home to one of the most impressive displays in the museum, the beautiful Caryatid ladies. The statues are aligned in their original position when they supported the roof of the Erechteion.
The journey to the Acropolis Museum ends on the third level where the Parthenon Gallery resides. The exhibits found during the archaeological excavations in the Parthenon are exhibited in the same setting as they were found in the temple of Athena Nike. The room duplicates and connects what was,is and what could be as the natural environment of the Parthenon is visible through the grand glass windows and it will make you feel like the monument has come to life. The original design is easily reconstructed in one’s mind by looking at the surrounding metopes that depict the ancient ‘Panathenaea’ games as well as the sparse statues and artefacts.
Along the journey, you will notice some ‘empty’ spots between the exhibited metopes of the Parthenon and the Caryad ladies that used to be 6 but only 5 stand in the museum today. This is not a mistaken negligence, but a strategic move and a message towards the British Museum to return what was taken from Lord Elgin during his excavations. Between these empty spaces lies the hope that the missing parts will one day return home to a museum created especially for them, and one of the best museums in Greece.
If you wish to explore the Acropolis hill in the most fun and unique way, you could try Acropolis by Bike, the only tour in Athens that combines the thrill of cycling with a guided tour to the sacred rock and the Parthenon.In this unique bike tour of Athens, you will have the opportunity to learn about the ancient and modern city in the most fun and exciting way!
You can find information about tickets and opening hours here
- Best museums in Greece – Delphi Archaeological Museum
The sanctuary of Delphi is home to the spectacular oracle of Apollo and one of the most ancient and historic sites in Greece. In the ancient times it was considered ‘the centre of the earth’ and constituted as the spiritual centre of the Greek world with great religious importance. Profound military and political figures from all over the Mediterranean visited the oracle dedicated to the Olympian god Apollo in order to receive a prophecy in exchange of gifts.
The Archaeological Museum of Delphi is a first class museum and one of the best museums in Greece and hosts numerous findings of the excavations on the site. Since it first opened in 1903, the museum has been considered an ambassador for ancient Greek art and presents best the history of the sanctuary of Deplhi and its prominent Oracle and its one of the most visited museums in Greece. The exhibits and artefacts that cover a vast period of history, from the 2nd millennium BC until late Antiquity are arranged in 14 different rooms and two levels that follow a chronological order to understand the birth and course of the monument.
The first two rooms are devoted to the oldest findings and include artefacts from Mycenae like clay figurines and other exhibits from the Geometric and Archaic periods, most of which depicts votive offerings made of bronze. In Room 3 you will find the prominent archaic male statues known as Kouroi of Delphi as well as the metopes of the Treasury of the Sicyonians which show the story of the Argonautic expedition and other fascinating stories of Greek mythology. Room 4 houses the valuable gold and ivory findings of the Delphian Sacred Way and in Room 5 the impressive Sphinx of Naxos is displayed. This enormous statue was originally placed on top of a 10 metre column that dominated the oracle of Apollo. In this room you will also be able to marvel at the Siphnian Treasury that vividly depicts the stories of Homer about the Trojan Wars.
The archaic and classical facades and sculptures from the Temple Of Apollo are found in Room 6 and in Room 7 you will see artefacts from the Treasury of the Atheniansa house of dedications and votive offerings created by wealthy Athenians as a tribute to honour Delphi.
Room 8 is dedicated to music and arts as it’s home to the Delphic Hymns and the Attic white-ground kylix that depicts Apollo. In the following 2 rooms the findings in the Temple of Athena Pronaia and the Tholos of Delphi are exhibited.
The exhibits in Room 11 transition from the late classical period to the Hellenistic one and it’s home to the sculptures of the Dancers of Delphi, the Dedication of Daochos and the impressive statue of Agias of Pharsala. In Room 12 the objects come from the Hellinistic and Roman period including the outstanding marble statue of Antinous the Bust of Titus Quinctius Flaminimus as well as a statue of a philosopher, unclear as to whether it depicts Plutarch or Plato. In Room 13 one will find the ‘star’ of the museum, the 5th century bronze sculpture of the Charioteer of Delphi which is believed to have been part of a larger complex with a chariot and horses. In the last Room the visitor can learn about the final years of the sanctuary.
As the resting place of some of the most important discoveries, The Archaeological Museum of Delphi is not only one of the most important museums in Greece but also one of the most significant of the modern world. If you wish to discover and fully experience the site of Delphi and this exceptional museum, you can join our Delphi Day Trip from Athens.This full-day guided tour will definitely be one of your highlights in Athens and a great way to explore one of the best museums in Greece!
You can find information about tickets and opening hours here
- Best museums in Greece – National Archaeological Museum
The next best museum in Greece is found in Athens as well and it’s not only the largest museum in Greece but also one of the most important museums in the world. The National Archaeological museum has a rich history and a spectacular collection of artefacts which include some of the most famous findings of Greek antiquity.
The exhibits of the museum cover a period ranging from the neolithic and prehistoric times up to the Roman and Byzantine period and present different items from sculptures and pottery to coins and jewellery.
The permanent collections of the museum include Mycenaean, Cycladic, Neolithic and even Egyptian antiquities and other splendid collections of metalwork, jewellery, terracotta figurines and glass vases. All of the exhibitions in the museum hold grave archaeological significance and help the visitor understand Greek history and ancient ways but there are some artefacts that truly stand out and steal the spotlight.
The Jockey of Artemision has definitely popped up at least once in our school books and is the centrepiece and mascot of the museum. Entirely made of bronze this exceptionally rare and well preserved artefact shows a young jockey riding a horse, and their gestures, expressions and posture give the impression of static movement. The museum houses one of the greatest findings of the Bronze Age, the iconic golden death Mask of Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae. This death mask is impressive in the fact that it shows the facial features and even the beard of the deceased king.
Another central exhibit is the mysterious bronze sculpture that has divided both archaeologists and historians as to whether it depicts Zeus or Poseidon. The statue stands holding his arm up and ready to throw either a thunder or a trident to an unlucky soul. Another impressive bronze statue the museum houses is that of the first roman emperor Augustus which is the only life sized statue in the world that depicts this great political figure.
In the centre of the statuary hall one can marvel at the statue of Poseidon that perfectly represents the post classic – early Roman period style depicting the nude god. In the same hall the statue of the stoic Kouros stands proud. The Kouros (male) and Korai (female) statues adorned funeral monuments and their contraposto motion marks the beginning of the new golden age of ancient Greek culture. A colossal bust of the Roman emperor Hadrian is exhibited in the Roman collection hall and represents the great artistic and architectural achievements of the Roman occupation in Athens.
One of the oldest and most important finds exhibited in the museum is the Mycenaean Warrior Vase that shows soldiers marching to war all while their loved ones bid their farewell. The vase dates back to the 12 century and most of its surface has survived in great condition and is almost intact and visible today.
One of the most interesting exhibits of this fascinating museum is the Antikythera mechanism which was discovered in a ship-wreck in the Aegean Sea and resembles a modern analog computer! This complex and fascinating time-calculating machine was used as a calendar and was believed to be able to predict astronomical phenomena.
The conservation team and laboratory of the National Museum of Athens put a great effort into putting all these significant artefacts in great conditions for many decades and even managing to protect, record and hide them away from the Nazis during the German occupation in 1941. The result of this effort was a well preserved collection of some of the most important relics of the past that visitors can learn about today in one of the best museums in Greece.
You can find information about tickets and opening hours here
- Best museums in Greece – Archaeological Museum of Olympia
Ancient Olympia in Peloponnese is world famous for being the birthplace of the Olympic Games. The first ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia in 776 BC in honour of the father of the Gods, Zeus. Ever since, Ancient Olympia is considered one of the most sacred sites in antiquity and one of the best historical monuments in Greece today. The finds of the excavations in Olympia that represent the long history of this celebrated sanctuary and valuable information about the Olympic games and their connection to the modern games reside in the Archaeological Museum of Olympia.
The permanent exhibition of the 19th century museum contains significant masterpieces in 12 large halls that cover a period of about 3,500 years of history from the prehistoric times to the Early Christian era and is presented in chronological sequence to make it easier for the visitor to understand the site’s long history. As a proud owner of the largest bronze collection in the world as well as some of the most famous sculptures, the Archaeological Museum of Olympia proudly holds the title of one of the best museums in Greece.
The museum’s collection of bronze is presented in more than 14,000 pieces and represents the largest amount ever found in a site. The exhibits include figurines, cauldrons and ancient Greek weaponry. One of the most significant finds to marvel at the museum is the Helmet of Miltiades, the Athenian general who won the battle of Marathon against the Persians.
In the sculpture collection one will find some of the most important masterpieces of ancient Greek art that are found in most school books around the world. The winged statue of Niki of Paeonios is a worldwide synonym to victory and the jaw-dropping statue of Hermes of Praxiteles holding an infant Dionysus is one of the most superb sculptures of the 4th century BC and is believed to be the original work of the sculpture. The 5th century sculptured ornaments from the Temple of Zeus are a large scale and impressive collection of the figures that adorned the metopes of the dominating temple of the god in Olympia. Today you can marvel at the impressive centauromachy scene with the emblematic figure of Apollo in the centre, as well as the Labours of Hercules and the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos.
Part of this rich museum collection is the impressive relics from Phidias’ workshops that were found in Olympia. Phidias was the most renowned sculptor in Greek antiquity and the creator of the gold and ivory statue of Zeus that used to adorn the Parthenon. That very statue along with its counterpart statue of Athena were made in his workshop that was stationed in Olympia. The excavations brought to life tools, raw materials, jewels and casts that gave a small glimpse behind the scenes of this artist’s majestic works which are all exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Olympia. A unique example of this collection is a cup that personally belonged to Phidias and inscribed ‘I belong to Pheidias’.
The Archaeological Museum of Olympia is the oldest of the 3 in total museums that can be found in Olympia. The Museum of Ancient Olympic Games and the Museum of the History of the Excavations at Olympia complement each other and represent best the history of the celebrated sanctuary of Zeus.
For ticket information and opening hours click here.
- Best museums in Greece – Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
In the second largest city in Greece, the mesmerising Thessaloniki, resides one of the largest and best museums in Greece, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. The museum opened its doors in 1962 to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Thessaloniki and it presents the best example of architectural modernism in the country.
The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki houses artefacts and unique masterpieces of Greek art that belong to the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods and were excavated throughout Macedonia. The artefacts are exhibited in 8 units through which the visitors can see and understand the culture, life and history of Ancient Macedonia.
Unit 1 is dedicated to Prehistoric Macedonia and its collection includes items that deal with everyday life in prehistoric times such as vessels, tools and jewellery. Through the different thematic parts the visitor will also get a scope into issues like social and ideological beliefs such as adornment, social inequalities and life after death. The skull parts of the ‘macedonian ouranopithecus’ is one of the highlights of this unit. In Unit 2 ‘Towards the birth of cities’ the findings of the first human settlements of the Iron Age in the area are presented and show the birth of the ancient cities. Here one can see the evolution through trade and exchange between settlements as well as the evolving of metalwork.
‘Macedonia from the 7th century BC until late antiquity’ is presented in the largest unit(3) of the museum and presents artefacts from different aspects of the life of the people of ancient Macedonia from the creation of the Macedonian kingdom up to late Roman era. The collection in this unit aims to educate the visitor about politics, economy, social life, religion, art and everyday life of ancient Macedonian society. The audiovisual addition to the exhibition with texts, images and videos will give the visitor a stimulating and comprehensive approach to understanding the past.
In the 4th Unit named ‘Thessaloniki, Metropolis of Macedonia’ you can find the spectacular 3rd century AD Mosaic floor that shows Ariadne of Naxos, an imposing statue of Octavianus Augustus who is portrayed like an Olympian god as well as other ornaments like elegant perfume vases in different shapes and colours. These exhibits give an insight on unknown aspects of the Roman monumental occupation of the city and the private and public life of its residents. The most impressive exhibition in the museum is found in Unit 5 named ‘The Gold of Macedon’ that contains the largest collection of gold artefacts from the excavations in the ancient Macedonian cemeteries. This collection is an ode to ancient macedonian metallurgy and the use of the most precious metals. The protagonist of this collection is the Derveni krater that shows the sacred wedding of Dionysus with Ariadne but even though it looks gold it’s made of copper and tin and there’s no trace of gold on it!
In Unit 6, the ‘Fild, House, Garden, Grave’ section is the museums open air exhibition when the visitor has the chance to walk among burial monuments, the altars and the sarcophagi that show the prosperity of Thessaloniki from the 2nd to the 4th century AD. Unit 7 is also open air and its name ‘Memory in Stone’ indicates that it’s dedicated to stone findings. In this unit the visitor can find specially designed archaeological trenches for educational excavation programs with an aim to acquaint children and adults alike with the magic of archaeological discovery. Also educational is the last unit of the museum named ‘Macedonia. From fragments to pixels’ where the visitor can use the interactive screens to learn about the time and space of the museum from the past fragments to the digital era of pixels.
The Archaeological museum of Thessaloniki is the central museum of northern Greece and its unique collection of artefacts and other cultural activities makes it one of the best museums in Greece!
For ticket information and opening hours click here.