Greece has seen the rise and fall of many great civilisations, from the Minoans of Bronze Age Crete to the short-lived Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great.
Thankfully, the relics of Greece’s rich history have been preserved, rescued and restored in museums across the country.
Now, at sites such as the Royal Tombs of Aigai and the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, visitors can discover the country’s cultural heritage first-hand.
Here are 8 of the greatest museums to visit in Greece.
1. Acropolis Museum, Athens
The New Acropolis Museum in Athens is undoubtedly one of the most important museums in Greece. It boasts a vast collection of artefacts retrieved from the sacred rock of the Acropolis. With its collections spanning countless centuries, from the Mycenean period of 1600-1100 BC to the Christian era, the museum offers a comprehensive window on ancient Greece.
Visitors to the New Acropolis Museum have the chance to explore several levels of spacious exhibits, including a series of ancient statues housed in a room of glass, which bathes the relics in natural light. Some of the objects on display at the Acropolis Museum were discovered when the building’s foundations were being put down.
2. The Archaeological Museum of Olympia, Peloponnese
The Archaeological Museum of Olympia is situated on the storied site of ancient Olympia, where the Olympic Games began. Countless artefacts discovered at the site are on display in the museum.
One of the museum’s most cherished relics is the ‘Hermes of Praxiteles’, an ancient statue of Hermes and the infant Dionysus rescued from the ruins of Olympia. The Archaeological Museum of Olympia also houses the glorious metopes (decorated panels) from the ancient Temple of Zeus in Olympia.
3. The Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens
Cycladic culture blossomed in the islands of the central Aegean between 3200-2000 BC. Characterised by small marble sculptures and statuettes, Cycladic artefacts are often revered for their ingenuity and artistic merit. And the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens features dozens of these cherished relics.
Visitors to the museum will find displays of figurines, statuettes, pottery, weapons and much more, all dating back to the Cycladic culture of Ancient Greece. The Museum of Cycladic Art possesses one of the largest collections of Cycladic relics anywhere in the world.
4. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete
The collections of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum cover more than 5,000 years of history, with artefacts from the Neolithic Era right up to the Roman Empire on display.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is perhaps best recognised for its collection of artefacts relating to the Minoan civilisation (roughly 3000-1100 BC). It features works of art, impeccably preserved pottery and even frescoes rescued from the ancient city of Knossos, Crete.
5. The National Archaeological Museum, Athens
The National Archaeological Museum of Greece is situated in Athens. It’s the oldest museum in the city, dating back to 1829, and also the largest museum in Greece. It was first established as a place to house archaeological artefacts from Athens but soon grew to house relics from across Greece.
Today, the National Archaeological Museum in Athens hosts more than 11,000 artefacts within its walls. Visitors can expect to see exhibits covering several millennia of Greek civilisation, from the prehistoric period through to the Roman Empire and late antiquity.
6. Delphi Archaeological Museum, Delphi
The sanctuary of Delphi is a glorious ancient site around 120km north of Athens. Essentially a shrine to the Greek god Apollo, and featuring a grand temple dedicated to the deity, the sanctuary was constructed where the spirit of Apollo was said to have appeared. It was a place of reverence for Ancient Greeks and boasts some truly dazzling architectural and cultural relics.
Today, the Archaeological Museum of Delphi hosts various artefacts from the sanctuary, painting a picture of the ancient site and its rich history. Perhaps the most famed exhibit at the Delphi Archaeological Museum is the ‘Charioteer of Delphi’, a bronze statue of a chariot driver crafted by Pythagoras.
7. The Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aigai, Vergina
The Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aigai is a Greek heritage site some 75km west of Thessaloniki. There, visitors can explore ancient ruins and also venture into an underground cemetery-turned-museum. Its tombs boast relics dating back millennia, primarily to the ancient Macedonian civilisation.
Among the most highly lauded exhibits at the Museum of the Royal Tombs are exquisite pieces of jewellery, ancient frescoes and impeccably preserved miniature statues made of ivory. The site also contains the burial cluster of Phillip II of Macedon, who is perhaps most famed for being the father of Alexander the Great.
8. Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki
The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki is one of the largest museums in Greece, boasting artefacts from prehistory right through to late antiquity. The museum’s key specialty is the history of Macedonian civilisation, and it houses a comprehensive collection of artefacts retrieved from the lands of ancient Macedonia.
Among the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki’s most revered artefacts are the gold-leaf crowns of ancient Macedonia, Greek artworks and sculptures and the ‘Derveni krater’, an ornate urn used to ceremonially mix wine and water.