Difference Between Olympia and Mount Olympus in Greece

This is an epic traveler's mistake

Mount Olympus
Jason Pratt/Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/CC-BY-2.0

If you plan on visiting Greece, and you are learning about the different locations to visit, do not make a very common mistake and assume that Olympia and Mount Olympus are one and the same. They are not.

So, what's the difference? The two Olympic places may share the same name, but the two are vastly different. Both are cannot-miss destinations, but do not expect to combine them on the same leg of your trip.

As a crow flies, the two places are more than 170 miles away from each other, but in terms of driving distance, it is about 350 miles of roadway between the two.

Olympic Name and Olympic Games

If you remember learning about the Greek gods Zeus, Poseidon, and Athena, then you might recall Mount Olympus is the mythological home of the Olympian Greek gods and goddesses. Although, it sounds like a mythological place, it actually exists. 

Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece located between Thessaly and Macedonia. It is in central Greece, on the Greek mainland, in a wild mountainous area.

Olympia is the home of the original Olympic Games and the Olympic Stadium. Olympia is in the Peloponnese, the large peninsula forming the southwest of Greece. The ancient site is about 6 miles east of the regional capital of Pyrgos, surrounded by beautiful, fertile countryside. By car, it takes about four hours to get to Olympia from Athens.

Visiting Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus is a beautiful mountain, soaring into the sky, a fitting abode for the Olympian gods and goddesses. Like Fuji in Japan, it is appreciated both from afar and up-close as a hiking or skiing destination. An outstanding archaeological site in view of Olympus is the little-visited city of Dion, which boasts a partially-intact Temple of Isis.

Many visitors to Olympus feel impelled to climb it. For experienced hikers, the ascent and descent, in good weather, can be accomplished in a single day. It is about 9,570 feet tall.

It is a relatively easy drive to Mt. Olympus, departing from either Thessaloniki or Athens. The drives are long. It can take about six hours to drive from Athens, and half that if you are departing from Thessaloniki. However, usual cautions about driving in Greece apply. Though the road itself is a good one, good roads sometimes inspire Greek drivers to new heights of daring. 

Visiting Olympia

The vast archaeological remains of Olympia will enchant most visitors, partly because this section of Greek history lives on for us in the modern Olympic Games.

For this reason, the excellent Archaeological Museum at Olympia is particularly worthwhile. Obviously, the Olympic Collection attracts most visitors, but the museum also boasts the famous Hermes by Praxiteles and the winged Nike of Paionios.

In this age of jogging and modern marathons, many visitors run a few yards in the well-preserved Olympic Stadium. Athletes just cannot resist the temptation to run in the same stadium of the first Olympians. Remember to bring your own water if you intend to pursue this activity seriously.

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