Explore Ancient Greece on this 19-day tour, focussing on two of the most remarkable eras: the Aegean Bronze Age and the rule of the Macedonian kings, Philip and Alexander the Great. The tour begins with the sprawling palaces of the Minoans on Crete and then continues to Athens and the Peloponnese, entering the world of Mycenaean kings with their forbidding palaces and monumental burials. It then visits the great classical sites of Olympia and Delphi before arriving at Thessaloniki, gateway to ancient Macedon.
The palace of Minos at Knossos, the legendary Minotaur’s lair
The incomparable museums, Acropolis and Agora of Athens
The palaces of Agamemnon at Mycenae, the citadel of Tiryns and the beautifully preserved Palace of Nestor at Pylos
Enchanting Delphi, home of the oracle
Meteora, whose stone pinnacles are crowned by Byzantine monasteries
The Macedonian capital of Pella, birthplace of Alexander, with its opulent houses and fine mosaics
Vergina, where Alexander’s father Philip was assassinated, and his spectacular tomb discovered unplundered in 1977
Day 1: Arrive in Athens.
Days 2–4: Fly to Heraklion and explore the palaces of Knossos, Malia and Phaistos.
Days 5–6: Return to Athens, admire the acropolis and the Archaeological Museum.
Days 7–8: Drive to Nafplio to visit Mycenae, Epidaurus and Tiryns.
Days 9–10: The Palace of Nestor and the Venetian castle at Methoni.
Day 11: The Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia.
Days 12–13: Continue to Delphi.
Day 14: Travel to Volos via Thermopylae.
Days 15–19: Drive to Meteora. In Thessaloniki explore Macedonian Pella and Vergina.
The tour begins at Athens Airport and ends at our hotel in Thessaloniki. Qatar Airways offers direct flights into Athens and out of Thessaloniki from several Australian ports. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Monday April 12: Arrive
The tour commences at the hotel in Athens at 6pm. Meet your tour leader and fellow travellers in the lobby of the hotel for drinks followed by dinner. Overnight Athens (D)
Tuesday April 13: Heraklion Archaeological Museum
This morning we transfer to Athens Airport and board a flight to Heraklion. We arrive in Crete and transfer to our hotel before John conducts an orientation tour of the Venetian city on foot. In the afternoon we visit the excellent Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. Its collection includes Minoan artefacts and wall paintings from Knossos and the other Minoan palaces as well as the mysterious Phaistos Disk. This evening we enjoy a welcome dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Heraklion. (B, D)
Wednesday April 14: Phaistos and Knossos
This morning we travel to Phaistos, a Minoan royal palace complex on a dramatic hilltop site overlooking the Messara Plain. After lunch we visit Crete’s most famous site, the Minoan palace complex of Knossos. The area shows occupation from Neolithic times but the first palace was established c. 1900 BC. This was destroyed by an earthquake 200 years later and completely rebuilt. The site is, in fact, a complex of administrative, residential, and religious structures that offers an excellent idea of what life in Minoan Crete may have been like. Overnight Heraklion. (B, L)
Thursday April 15: Gournia and Malia
Today we head to the Minoan town of Gournia, named for the hollow vessels found at the site. Gournia was excavated by an American team of archaeologists in the early part of the 20th century and consists of a central palace, some sixty houses and an interconnecting road system. We explore another Minoan site at Malia, the third largest palace on Crete after Knossos and Phaistos. Originally constructed c. 1900 BC it was later destroyed and the ruins we see today are of the second palace rebuilt c. 1650 BC. The palace was discovered in 1915 and excavations of the entire town continue today. Overnight Heraklion. (B)
Friday April 16: Athens Archaeological Museum
We depart our hotel in Heraklion and board a flight to Athens where we transfer to our hotel. After lunch we visit the National Archaeological Museum of Greece, with its incomparable collection of Mycenaean and classical period art and artefacts. Originally built to house finds from around Athens it has become a truly national museum with collections devoted to prehistory, sculptures, metallurgy and pottery. These pieces will remain with us during the tour as exemplars of many of the sites we shall visit throughout the country in the coming days. Dinner is in a local tavern. Overnight Athens. (B, L, D)
Saturday April 17: Athens Agora and the Acropolis
There is a talk in the hotel this morning preceding our walk through the Agora, centre of the ancient city where citizens assembled for a wide variety of administrative, cultural, religious and political purposes. We continue up to the Acropolis. The Parthenon, Erechtheion, and the exquisite temple of Athena Nike are the centrepieces of the ancient buildings on the Acropolis and encapsulate both the beauty and achievements of ancient Greece. We complete our tour with a visit to the Acropolis Museum where artefacts recovered from the site and spanning thousands of years are displayed. Dinner is in a local tavern. Overnight Athens. (B)
Sunday April 18: Mycenae and Tiryns
We depart for the Plain of Argos and arrive at Mycenae, the seat of Agamemnon who served as leader of the Greek coalition at Troy and a site that gave its name to a whole civilization. This morning we walk through the famous Lion Gate, see the Shaft Graves of Circle A and climb through the site to the crowning Megaron Palace where the Mycenaean king would have held sway over much territory. Blending back into the rocky hills, the ruins of this ancient powerhouse are in a spectacular location atop the citadel and ringed by well-preserved Cyclopean walls. This afternoon we stop at the smaller Mycenaean citadel of Tiryns. Celebrated by Homer for their strength, the walls of Tiryns still impress as does the well-preserved acropolis, entrance ramp and gate house. We arrive at our hotel and settle in before dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Nafplio. (B, D)
Monday April 19: Nafplio and Epidaurus
This morning we walk through the narrow-cobbled streets of the old town of Nafplio, characterised by Venetian architecture, through Syntagma Square to the Archaeological Museum to see the finds discovered from Tiryns, Mycenae and Epidaurus. We visit the baroque fortress of Palamidi, standing 216 metres above the town. This afternoon we visit the impressive site of Epidaurus, the location of the Asclepeion, one of the most famous healing centres of the Classical world. The well-preserved 4th century BC theatre is regarded as the best in Greece for its fine structure and perfect acoustics. Overnight Nafplio. (B)
Tuesday April 20: The Palace of Nestor at Pylos
Departing Nafplio we pass through Kalamata – the second largest town in the Peloponnese and famous for its olives and olive oil – on our way to Pylos, located on magnificent Navarino Bay, stopping at the Mycenaean period ‘Palace of Nestor’, seat of power for wise king Nestor in Homer’s Iliad. This recently restored site contains one of the best-preserved Mycenaean palaces ever excavated. We arrive in Pylos and freshen up before dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Pylos (B, D)
Wednesday April 21: Pylos
Using the small town of Pylos as our base, we explore our immediate surroundings in order to examine the role of Pylos during the Peloponnesian War, as well as its role in hastening the end of Ottoman rule in Greece. In the afternoon we head to Methoni, which contains one of the best-preserved Venetian castles in the area. Founded during the Crusades, this castle with its impressive sea tower was a vital staging post for traders moving between the Levant and Europe. Overnight Pylos. (B)
Thursday April 22: Olympia
We depart Pylos for the ancient site of Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games and where the Olympic flame is still lit every four years. Home to the Temple of Zeus, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, the sanctuary at Olympia not only lies in a beautiful and peaceful setting but its largely non-reconstructed remains allow a unique opportunity to visualise how this complex would have looked during its heyday. The archaeological museum is a treasure trove of artefacts excavated from the sacred precinct including superb architectural sculptures from the Temple of Zeus itself. Overnight Olympia. (B, D)
Friday April 23: To Delphi
Today we travel to Delphi, chosen by the Greeks as the navel of the Earth and located on the spectacular cliff face of Mt Parnassus. This afternoon we visit the Delphi Museum and view its collection of treasures including the marble Sphinx of Naxos and the marvellous Charioteer, one of the finest extant bronze statues from the classical world. Our visit also prepares us for our visit to the site tomorrow. We check in to our hotel and enjoy dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Delphi. (B, D)
Saturday April 24: Sanctuary of Apollo
This morning we travel to the walled monastery of Hosias Loukas. An important monument of the Middle Byzantine period the lavish frescoes and marble and mosaic decorations reflect the classic decorative style for this era. In the afternoon we visit the impressive and mystical archaeological site of Delphi, home to the most important oracle of the ancient world whose influence on rulers and the ruled alike was profound. Political decisions were made and colonies around the Mediterranean were founded only after consultation with the Oracle. We explore the Temple of Apollo, treasuries, the theatre, stadium and Altar of the Chians. Overnight Delphi. (B)
Sunday April 25: Thermopylae
This morning we head east to Volos. Along the way, we make a short detour to the site of Thermopylae, the location of the famous last stand by Spartan soldiers during the 480 BC Persian Wars. Little remains at the site except for a bronze statue of Leonidas, the warrior King of the Spartans, erected in 1955. Overnight Volos. (B, D)
Monday April 26: Meteora
We depart for Meteora to see the amazing landscape of steep-faced sandstone pinnacles, often crowned with a Byzantine monastery. Access to the monasteries required long ladders tied together or large nets and baskets used to haul up both goods and people. Reaching the top required a leap of faith as it is said the ropes were only replaced “when the Lord let them break”, symbolising the fragility of life. We continue to Thessaloniki our base for the next three days. Overnight Thessaloniki. (B, D)
Tuesday April 27: Thessaloniki
Founded in 315 BC by Cassander of Macedon, Thessaloniki’s history spans some 2,300 years. An important metropolis by the Roman period, Thessaloniki was the second largest and wealthiest city of the Byzantine Empire. The city is home to numerous notable Byzantine monuments, as well as several Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish structures. Today we start by visiting the palace, Arch and Rotunda of Galerius, the Byzantine citadel and two incomparable museums: the Archaeology Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Culture. Overnight Thessaloniki. (B)
Wednesday April 28: Pella and Vergina
Today we take an excursion to visit the premier cities of the ancient Macedonian kingdom: Pella and Vergina. In this world of Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II, we visit the ancestral capital at Pella and view the beautifully executed pebble mosaic floors, the well-presented site museum and the streets and buildings of a city that, for the briefest of moments, ruled from Greece to India. At Vergina we visit the theatre where Philip II was assassinated and visit his tomb, now presented in a state-of-the-art complex that both covers his tumulus tomb and showcases the beautiful objects found there. Overnight Thessaloniki. (B)
Thursday April 29: Byzantine churches
This morning we visit two important Byzantine monuments: the church of St. Sofia (Hagia Sophia) and the church of St Demetrius (Hagios Demetrios). These originally seventh and eighth century churches have suffered the vicissitudes of time but still retain tantalising glimpses of the fine early Byzantine wall mosaics and frescoes which survived the ninth century iconoclast movement. This evening we conclude our tour with dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Thessaloniki. (B, D)
Friday April 30: Depart
Our tour concludes today after breakfast at the hotel. If you are departing from Thessaloniki airport today, we can organise a transfer to the airport. Keep in mind that the cost of airport transfers is included for all passengers booking their international flights through Academy Travel. We can also organise flights back to Athens to continue your stay.
Dr John Tidmarsh
An archaeologist, former lecturer and current Co-Director of the University of Sydney excavations at Pella in Jordan.
Dr John Tidmarsh is an archaeologist who has conducted excavations in Syria, Jordan, Greece, and Cyprus. He is currently Co-Director of the University of Sydney excavations at Pella in Jordan and also Co-Director of the Australian Mission to Jebel Khalid, Syria. He is an Honorary Associate, Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Sydney and was previously Senior Investigator of the University of Sydney excavations in Torone, Greece and Associate Director of the University of Sydney excavations at Paphos, Cyprus.
He has travelled widely in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East and since the 1980s has led numerous tours to Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Oman, and Greece.
His main interests are in the art, archaeology and history of Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic period in the east, and in the Islamic World. He has written many articles and conference papers on these areas and has co-authored several books on the excavations at Jebel Khalid in Syria. He is soon to complete his book on the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods at Pella in Jordan.
John has a BA (Hons), MA (Hons) and PhD from the University of Sydney where he was previously tutor, then part-time lecturer in Classical Archaeology. He is a former President of the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation at that university.
We asked John, what motivates your passion for travel?
“Since I first joined the excavation team in 1978 at Pella in Jordan I have become addicted to travelling and working in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.
Along with my fascination for the detective work and discovery which archaeological excavation entails, one of my greatest joys is introducing my tour groups to worlds very different from those they have encountered while travelling in the USA and Europe. It is a source of real pleasure for me to see those first-timers to the Middle East, who often approach the region with slight trepidation though they may have travelled widely elsewhere, become quickly entranced by the marvellous mountain and desert landscapes and monuments that these countries possess and, more importantly, by the unsurpassed friendliness and hospitality of both Arabs and Persians alike.”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity