Many ancient religions had various beliefs as to where their gods lived, be it in the underworld, the sea, forests, or in the sky. The Ancient Greeks had no doubts that their gods lived on Mount Olympus.
Many other Greek mountains attracted their own myths, from Mount Othrys, home of the Titans, to Mount Parnassus, home of the Muses. Climb any of them and the combination of sky, light, and scenery will help reveal why those people of long ago held them sacred.
Today, the Greek gods are a fascinating memory, sometimes brought to life on screen, but the mountains endure. From Olympus itself, to tiny Mount Kyntho on Delos, they each retain a special something.
Here are ten of the most extraordinary mountains in Greece.
Mount Olympus, Thessaloniki
The highest of Greece’s mountains looms even larger in its mythology. Supposedly created during an epic battle between the 12 gods and the Titans, it became the home of the winning gods.
Its underlying basic rock is limestone, which has eroded into a rugged landscape cut by gorges that make it one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. It has also given Mount Olympus more than 50 peaks, the highest being Mytikas at 9,570 feet.
The mountain’s slopes are covered in pine forest, the highest in Europe. With dozens of endemic plant, animal and bird species, it’s a beautiful place and the whole area was made a national park in 1938.
The park is much used for activities such as hiking, rafting and jeep safaris. The pretty village of Litochoro is a good base, with authentic Greek restaurants, and interesting shops.
Those 12 gods of Greek mythology are familiar to us through names such as Zeus, Athena, Apollo, and Poseidon. The nearby city of Dion was dedicated to Zeus and its temples to other ancient gods.
In Dion’s Archaeological Museum, you’ll discover many finds from the region and Mount Olympus itself. As well as statues, mosaics, and coins, these include a water organ thought to be the world’s oldest keyboard instrument.
Read: Best Hikes in Europe
Mount Parnitha, Athens
Mount Parnitha is less than an hour away from the busy center of Athens. Popular with city-dwellers and one of the best day trips from Athens, it offers a cooling break in the summer.
Its dense fir and pine forests have an alpine feel, especially around the small and tranquil Lake Beletsi. Though man-made, the lake has become an important refuge for birds and other wildlife.
The entire mountain is protected by a vast national park. You might see animals such as red deer or rabbits, and you’ll certainly spot dozens of bird species.
The slopes of Mount Parnitha are cut by many caves and springs. Water was carried from here to the Roman baths of Athens by Hadrian’s Aqueduct, built by slave labor in 140 A.D.
One cave was dedicated to the worship of the god Pan, which gave the mountain its name. Archaeologists found thousands of oil lamps in the cave, which is full of stalagmites and stalactites.
Higher up, you can see views opening up eastwards to the Saronic Gulf, including the islands of Salamina and Aegina. You also have Athens in the distance, and should you be overnighting in the city, dramatic sunsets across the mountain ranges to the west.
White Mountains, Chania
The White Mountains in western Crete are made up of dozens of summits that stay covered in snow into late spring. The highest in the range is Pachnes which reaches over 8,000 feet.
The mountains take their name from this lengthy snow cover and the limestone peaks, which still shine white in the summer sun. Weathering has cut the limestone into deep gorges, of which Samaria is the most famous.
This landscape truly is extraordinary. High plateaus stand among the many peaks, forming a desert landscape that is also one of the wettest places in Europe.
This contradiction is explained by the fact that the precipitation is mostly snow. That disappears into the limestone when it melts, adding to the erosion caused by wind and frost.
Exploring this rugged, arid interior is only for the well prepared. Most visitors confine themselves to the more accessible gorges, such as Samaria with its hundreds of endemic plants and picturesque trees.
The longest gorge in Europe, Samaria starts at 4,000 feet and runs for six miles to the southern coast at Agia Roumeli. The village beach—and a dip in the Mediterranean Sea—is a welcome relief for those who hike the entire length of the gorge, a tough but rewarding day.
Mount Eros, Hydra
On car-less Hydra—where transport is confined to horse and donkey carts—walking is a necessary option. One of the most popular hikes in Greece is up picturesque Mount Eros.
Hydra is among the prettiest of the Greek islands, standing quiet, unspoiled, and exclusive. It has long been the haunt of artists and musicians, most famously the late Leonard Cohen.
The walk up Eros should take you less than two hours each way, depending on your level of fitness. It’s a rough path, so take a ride by cart if time or mobility is a concern, and carry plenty of water.
There are trees shading much of the path and Profitis Ilias Monastery is another refuge. The monks provide cool water at their gates, although you may not see the monks themselves.
The monastery cats seem as much a photo opportunity as its lovely interior. A small shop sells incense, icons, honey, and even cold beer.
At around 2,000ft, the summit of Mount Eros offers amazing 360-degree views of Hydra, the surrounding bright blue sea, and the nearby islands. The calm aura of the monastery also adds a very special spiritual dimension.
Mount Lycabettus, Athens
Mount Lycabettus may be only 900 feet tall, but it is the highest mountain in Athens. The view from on top across the city, including such sights as the Acropolis, and the Panathenaic Stadium, is extraordinary.
Athenians love to come here to enjoy one of the largest green areas in the city, and for the views and cool breezes. During the day, it’s also a destination for dog walkers and, at sunset, for courting couples.
You can climb the hill on foot—it should take 30-40 minutes—but most visitors use a taxi or the funicular railway. The “teleferik” needs only a few minutes to reach the top.
Once up, you will find the tiny Chapel of St. George. Inside, it’s decorated in ornate Greek style with a dedication to St. George killing the dragon.
The church’s white walls and small belfry are visible from all over Athens, so it’s interesting to know what lies inside. It’s also a quiet refuge from the summer heat.
In front is a large viewing terrace that has soaring views over the city. Stay awhile to pick out sights such as the temple of Zeus, the Hellenic Parliament buildings and even the port of Piraeus.
Read: Three Days in Athens
Mount Kynthos, Delos
It might be only 370 feet, but Mount Kynthos is still the highest point on the remote island of Delos. This remarkable island is an open-air archaeological museum, and its mountain is covered in ruins.
Delos was the most sacred site in Ancient Greece after Delphi. Approaching it by boat, you can imagine how it might have looked when the temples and statues were shining new in the Mediterranean sun.
From the summit, reached by a short but steep climb, you have an even better overview of the island’s treasures. The Sanctuary of Kynthian Zeus and Athenae is your feet, while the smaller Sanctuary of Zeus Hypsistos is nearby.
You can see the Sanctuary of Artemis Locheia below you, along with dozens of other temples to now-unknown deities. Among the jumble of walls and pillars laid out before you are a gymnasium, theater, and stadium.
Before making your way back down, take time to appreciate the spectacular views out to sea. Neighboring Mykonos is the most obvious, but you can also see Naxos, Paros, Rineia and Tinos.
The island’s fascinating museum helps put everything you have seen into context. Its treasures include the originals of a row of white marble lions dating to the 7th century BCE.
Profitis Ilias, Rhodes
You don’t have to spend much time on Greek islands to become addicted to the search for the ultimate sea vista. On Rhodes, a contender has to be the one from the top of Mount Profitis Ilias.
Standing more than 2,500 feet high, this mountain was chosen by the Italian Governor of Rhodes during WWII for his summer residence. It was to be the retirement home of the dictator Benito Mussolini.
The Villa de Vecchi and its small chapel are now abandoned. However, near the site you can take in the magnificent view that first attracted Italian interest.
The walk up is through gnarled forests of cypress and pine. Old mule tracks have been tidied up with stonework to create a trail.
A short walk further on is the Byzantine Prophetes Elias Monastery. Go all the way to the top of the mountain for more of the dramatic views that Greece is known for.
Mount Ida, Crete
Mount Ida is the highest mountain on Crete, at just over 8,000ft, and has spectacular views to match. It is one of a close group of five peaks making up the Psiloritis massive.
One of those other peaks is Timios Stavros (“Holy Cross”), which has a tiny chapel. Every September, it becomes a pilgrimage site for people from all over the Mediterranean island.
The mountain’s biggest claim to fame, however, is as the birthplace (and/or the infant home) of Zeus. The Idaion Andron cave is on the east side of Mount Ida and excavations reveal it has been used since at least 4,000 BCE.
Ivory, silver, gold and bronze votive offerings, including extraordinary shields and jewelry, have been found. Of course, none remain in the cave, but you can see many of these treasures in the Archeological Museum of Heraklion.
From December through May, the summit of Mount Ida is covered with snow. The slopes were once rich woodland but little remains, except in patches near some villages.
Hiking those exposed slopes in summer is hot, thirsty work. The area is best explored in a guided tour that will cover the history, mythology and current life of its people.
Mount Hymettus, Athens
Less than 30 minutes from the center of Athens, Mount Hymettus has been a refuge from the city since time immemorial. Its surviving monasteries and grottos recall a time when ancient Greek philosophers wandered its forests deep in thought. It’s one of the most serene mountains in Greece.
Almost cleared of trees during World War II, the woodland is now being lovingly restored. A nature reserve—and fire-spotting volunteers—protect the mountain slopes and its many hundreds of species of flora and fauna.
Local beekeepers treasure the wild thyme here. The rich, thyme-scented honey is particularly good poured over thick Greek yogurt.
Hidden in the woods is the Monastery of Kaisariani, which dates to the 12th century. Byzantine frescoes and an interesting old bathhouse hint at its glorious past as a renowned center of philosophy.
At over 3,000 feet in height and ten miles in length, Mount Hymettus dominates the southeast view from Athens. The panoramas back over Athens are equally extensive, taking in what seems like the whole city.
Mount Skopos, Zakynthos
The views of Zakynthos from Skopos Mountain are so good, it was originally the site of the island’s watchtower. This tower was later replaced by a temple to Diana, and then by the present monastery of Panagia Skopiotissa.
The centuries may have brought many changes, but that striking view endures. You can see Zakynthos Town, much of the island, and across the Ionian Sea to the Peloponnese and Kefalonia.
Mount Skopos is 1,600 feet high and a tough, four-hour hike. Fortunately for anyone short of fitness or time, a rough track allows access by car or quad bike.
The monastery of Panagia Skopiotissa near the top dates to 1624 but stands on the site of an even older building. The interior has frescos dating to the later 17th century, some lovely icons and a number of other interesting pieces.
There are some excellent viewpoints near the monastery, and many visitors go no further. The climb to the very top of Mount Skopos is a short, rewarding scramble for anyone with energy to spare.
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