Katakolon (Olympia), Greece
Located on the west coast of the Peloponnesus, Greece’s largest peninsula, this sleepy fishing village is your gateway to Olympia, site of the original Olympic Games. The seaside Greek town of Katakolon, is your typical small-town cruise port; fishing boats abound in the harbor; cafes lace the waterfront; shops sell T-shirts, hats and jewelry; and a small beach draws swimmers of all ages. But none of this is why ships make this town a destination.
Drive 40 minutes from Katakolon and you are transported back thousands of years to Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games. Walk in the footsteps of early Greek and Roman athletes; wrestlers, chariot drivers, discus throwers, runners and long-jumpers; who vied for glory and the gods’ favor. Stand alongside the massive columns, and envision the once-magnificent temples, athletes training in the palestra and runners readying on the track.
Held every four years between 776 B.C. and 393 A.D., when the Emperor Theodosius banned pagan festivals, the Olympic Games celebrated the ideal harmony of mind and body. Olympia’s temples were destroyed after the games were banned. An earthquake in the 6th century compounded the destruction, and floods buried the site. Excavation of the ruins began in 1875, and Olympia was declared a National Park in 1976.
Tourists flock to the site and its companion museums, including the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, a treasure trove of pieced-together sculptures and statues that once adorned the ancient structures, and the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games, where you can learn about the original competitions.
If you’ve already visited Ancient Olympia, there are other sights in the area, including the spectacular temple of Apollo Epicurius and the medieval Chlemoutsi (Hlemoutsi) fortress; or seek out the golden-sand beaches that ring the Gulf of Kyparissia.
The disabled cruiser visiting Katakolon (Olympia) will find the terrain mostly friendly. The entire town is less than a 10-minute walk/roll from the dock. Accessibility around port is flat, even and wheelchair accessible. The town itself is flat and easily accessible without cobblestone streets. However, most of the pavements do not have dropped curbs and accessible toilets are not readily available.
The Olympia archaeological site is mostly flat but very uneven and rough in places. Olympia archaeological museum is wheelchair accessible however, there are a lot of steps to reach the museum.
It should be noted that Greece was not designed for people in wheelchairs. Even before they created the uneven streets and steps, the topography of the country was rocky and mountainous. Add the crooked sidewalks, too many cars, hotels with no wheelchair access ramps and elevators that are too narrow and you have the makings of a challenge for anyone who is dependent upon a wheelchair.
Where You’re Docked
The port of Katakolon is in town, you exit the ship to an open-air dock that also has a small duty-free shop, a good place to purchase bottles of water, soda, cigarettes, alcohol and other items. After a less than a 10-minute walk to the right from the dock, you reach Katakolon, with its waterfront cafes and shops.
The town has three streets that run parallel to the shore. The one closest to the water provides access to the marina, along with seaside cafes and taverns. Moving away from the water, the next street is the main drag, lined with shops selling typical tourist items like T-shirts, hats, white cotton and linen dresses, and jewelry, as well as olive oil. There’s also a news shop that sells international papers and an internet cafe. The third street is more residential and less touristy, but you’ll find a bakery, a few shops and a traditional cafe.
If you want a quick swim, Plakes Beach, also known as Renata Beach, to your left as you leave the port, offers a small swath of pebbly sands.
Good to Know
Aggressive jewelers. Some jewelers hang outside urging people to come in their shops, but once you do the games begin. Expect major haggling. You may get a great deal but you also may have to work for it.
Greece is hot in the summer, and its inland sites are even hotter. In the summer, temperatures can spike over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen, bring plenty of water and plan to purchase more bottled water for the ride back to Katakolon, if needed.
The bus drop-off point for Ancient Olympia is different from the bus pick-up point, so listen carefully to your guide’s instructions. To catch your return bus, follow the footpath to the left of the Archaeological Museum to reach the bus departure area. Allow 5 to 10 minutes to get there from the museum, depending on your walking speed.
Although convenient, the cafe at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia serves high-priced soft drinks and snacks. The outdoor vendors near the entrances to ancient Olympia are often less pricey.
On Foot: It’s an easy walk from the dock to the heart of Katakolon with its array of restaurants, shops and the small beach. You can walk to the town beach, but the next beach is nearly 2 miles up the road.
By Car: You can rent a car and drive the well-maintained roads to the ancient site yourself, picking up a guide, if available, once you arrive.
By Scooter: Scooters (also known as motos) are available for rent in town. You’ll see rental shops across from the port and along the main street.
By Taxi and Van: Taxis and vans that accommodate small groups line up to meet the cruise ships. Expect a taxi to Olympia and back costs about 80 euros (about $83), with 60 to 90 minutes waiting time at the site. If you’re an antiquities buff, bargain for more time. Taxis are technically required to use the meter, which includes charges for waiting time, and to give you a machine-printed receipt; however, we found that they quoted a flat rate. If that’s the case, be sure to bargain, and don’t pay until after the driver returns you to the ship. The local tourism office advises against booking a taxi in advance via the internet, saying those operators will simply arrange for a local taxi and mark up the price, socking you with an added fee.
By Horse Carriage: Once you get to Ancient Olympia, you can walk into the site (about a quarter-mile) or take a 2-euro carriage ride to the main entrance.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The euro is the official currency. ATMs are available at the port, in the town of Katakolon and also in the modern town of Olympia that borders the ancient site. Some shops and restaurants take credit cards, and a few will accept U.S. dollars.
Greek is the native language, but most vendors, shop owners and taxi drivers know enough English to enable you to bargain, order food and get to and from your destinations.
Outside the ancient Olympic site, vendors sell souvenirs and books about Olympia. “Olympia and the Olympic Games: The Monuments Then and Now” features photographs of the sites as they appear now plus an overlay of what the sites looked like in ancient times.
In town, local olive oil products, like soaps and lotions, make great gifts. For something more elaborate ArtPoint on Katakolon’s main street sells jewelry, museum reproductions, mosaics and Byzantine-style icons.
In Katakolon, the taverns and cafes line the waterfront, serving traditional Greek dishes, including pastitsio (a baked casserole with ground meat, pasta tubes and bechamel sauce), moussaka(meat sauce layered with eggplant and topped with bechamel sauce), gyros (meat sliced from a vertical rotisserie and tucked into pita bread, usually with salad and sauce), souvlaki (grilled skewers of meat and vegetables), grilled meats and seafood and appetizer dips including tzatziki(yogurt with cucumber and garlic), taramasalata (made with salted and cured fish roe) and melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant, garlic, olive oil and lemon).
Vegetarians will be happy to know there are usually plenty of options, including stuffed zucchini, eggplant or peppers, Greek salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and feta cheese) and the dips mentioned above.
Points of Interest
- Ancient Olympia Archaeological Site – Ancient Olympia lies in the valley formed by the Alfios River, and is home to the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Zeus where the gold and ivory Statue of Zeus; one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; was housed, and the Stadium, where the marble starting blocks are still in position.After a 40-minute drive from the port, tour buses pull up to the archeological site’s parking lot at the foot of Mount Kronion. You’ll walk about a quarter-mile to the site entrance, passing the ticket booth along the way. Horse-drawn carriages are available for a modest fee if you’d rather ride than walk. The ancient site was ravaged over the years, first by earthquakes and then by two nearby rivers, which flooded and changed course, burying everything in silt. The remains have been unearthed, although — due to earthquake risk; archaeologists have chosen to reconstruct only a rare few columns. Still, wandering with a good guide amid tumbled pillars, passageways, partial statues, steps and stones, you might imagine the eons-old games nearly ready to begin.Among the key structures to see are:
- The Palaestra: Athletes trained here and anointed themselves with olive oil in the side chambers; it’s now defined by rows of columns.
- The Temple of Hera: This temple once held a huge statue of the goddess, and it’s also where the exquisite statue of Hermes by Praxiteles (now in the museum) was found. In front of the remains, the Olympic flame of the modern games is lit (using sunlight and a lens).
- The Temple of Zeus: This massive structure once contained the nearly 40-foot-high gold-and-ivory seated statue of the god. Huge sections of columns lie where they’ve fallen and a tall pedestal outside the structure was once topped by a statue of Nike (goddess of victory), now in the museum.
- The Stadium: On the way to the stadium, you’ll pass a hill which once housed an elaborate Roman-era fountain system and treasuries where offerings were stored. Then you reach the remains of a vaulted passageway that leads to the stadium. The oval stadium is surrounded by grassy slopes, where as many as 20,000 spectators (all male) sat. You can still see the stone starting and finishing lines, separated by a distance of about 581 feet. Competitors in the ancient games had to be Greek, born free (not slaves) and without criminal convictions. The oldest contests were foot races, but eventually the challenges grew to include warrior races in full armor, a pentathlon, wrestling and more.
- Pheidias’ Workshop: Once the building where the sculptor Pheidias crafted the huge statue of Zeus; a Byzantine church was later constructed in the ruins.
- Archaeological Museum of Olympia – Classical and Roman history is beautifully unveiled, with some of the finest decorative sculpture on display. The museum contains remarkable sculptures and reliefs carved by the era’s greatest artists. The two most famous statues are the Nike of Paionios, whose gown seems to flow in the wind, and the Hermes of Praxiteles, holding the infant Dionysus, carved of fine Parian marble. Another room contains the reconstructed pediments from the Temple of Zeus. The two triangular sections are at eye level, giving you a sense of just how massive the temple must have been. On the east pediment, the figures and horses illustrate preparations for a legendary chariot race; the west pediment depicts the battle of the Centaurs and the Lapiths. In the same room, smaller stone plaques, or metopes, illustrate the labors of Hercules.
- Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games – This fascinating museum is located before the archaeological site entrance, in a modern structure built in Hellenistic style. You’ll pass it on your right, up a hill, shortly after the bus drop-off area. While it’s not always included in shore-excursion tours, the museum is well-worth visiting if you’re interested in the ancient sports. You’ll find excellent displays featuring implements; discuses, stone weights used in the ancient long-jump, strigils used to scrape olive oil off the skin and more. There are also urns and mosaics depicting various sports, plus some bragging inscriptions by athletes.
- Katakolon – the town is small, you can relax really well. There are good places to eat, to buy some souvenirs or jewelry. You can also visit the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology. It is always open when a cruise ship arrives.
- Clermont (Chlemoutsi) Fortress – Located about 30 miles northeast of the port (a 50-minute drive), this imposing castle, completed in 1223, was occupied and modified by a series of conquerors through the ages. You can take in spectacular views from atop the walls and visit the jousting courtyard, chapel and ceremonial halls.
- Domaine Mercouri Winery: About 10 minutes, or 2.5 miles, from Katakolon, the Domaine Mercouri winery, a family estate, was established in 1860 and occupies 23 acres. This family-run estate is one of Katakolon’s oldest established wineries, with vineyards that border the Ionian Sea. Behold a wine cellar and olive press, and a family museum with old agricultural tools.
- Beaches – Plakes Beach is just on the other side of Katakolon’s jetty; a short walk of about 200 yards. It is a small, pebbly beach with a relaxed beach bar sporting palm-frond umbrellas. Amenities include changing rooms and a shower.If you want to spend several hours soaking up the sun, head to Agios Andreas Beach. This arc of sand fronts crystal clear waters, with trees and greenery in the background. It’s located just a couple of miles north from the port, about a five-minute drive. There are a couple of cafes overlooking the beach, with umbrellas if you need a respite from the fierce Greek sun.
Katakolon (Olympia) Accessible Excursions
Ancient Olympia & Katakolon Accessible Shore Excursion
You will begin your accessible shore excursion from Katakolon when your guide and driver pick you up from the cruise terminal in a wheelchair accessible van to visit the ancient site of the original Olympic games.
If you are interested in ancient Greek ruins, this 5-hour accessible Olympia shore excursion from Katakolon, Greece is for you. The archeological site you will visit on this tour includes the stadium (with start and finish line and judges’ seat still intact), the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Zeus, and much more.
You will drive 40 minutes from Katakolon to the archaeological site to explore the ancient ruins that were once home to the original Olympic games every 4 years. You will also see the House of Nero, built by the emperor for his stay in Olympia during the games. After visiting the ruins, you will tour the Olympia Archaeological Museum, one of Greece’s most important museums, which houses thousands of artifacts that have been found at the ancient Olympic site over the years.
At the end of your Katakolon accessible shore excursion, if time allows, you will visit Kourouta Beach. Afterwards, your guide and driver will return you to the cruise terminal where you can board your ship.
The Ancient Olympia & Katakolon Accessible Shore Excursion uses a wheelchair accessible van and follows a step-free route. However, the guides are unable to push a wheelchair.