A Guide to Sparta, Greece

Sparta is the second most famous city in Greece after Athens. And with good reason! Home to the renowned Spartan warriors of ancient times, Sparta is also in the heart of some of the best and rarest olive oil-producing olive tree groves.

With history and tradition intertwined, gorgeous scenery, and imposing mountains, Sparta is the perfect destination for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in history, folklore, good food, and breathtaking vistas.

Thanks to its strategic location and its historical fame, there are many things to do in Sparta, from hiking and mountaineering to food tours and crafts making, as well as exploring the abundance of archaeological sites surrounding the modern city.

Sparta can offer flexibility in your vacation planning, and offer something for every taste, whether you want to relax and recharge or go adventuring! This guide has everything you need to know to make the most of your Sparta vacation and create unique, amazing memories with your loved ones.

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How to get to Sparta

Where is Sparta Map

Sparta is located on the southeastern side of the Peloponnese, in the region of Laconia. Sparta is called “Sparti” in Greek, so expect to read that name frequently when you’re on your way there. Depending on when you wish to travel to Sparta, there are more or fewer options.

If you intend to travel there in the summer, you can fly most of the way to the airport in Kalamata. Kalamata’s airport is international, so you can book a direct flight there from abroad, but it only operates during summer. From Kalamata, you will then take the bus, taxi, or car to Sparta.

If you take the bus from Kalamata to Sparti, you need to book your seat with KTEL Messinias. Tickets range from 5 to 7 euro, and the bus ride there lasts roughly two hours. If you take the taxi from Kalamata to Sparti, the ride lasts only one hour, but the taxi fare will set you back around 44 to 55 euro.

If you plan to explore the surrounding area of Sparta anyway, it is a good idea to have a car waiting for you at the airport! It’s best to rent your car well in advance as during high season you may not have a lot of range of selection or even a car available for you. A good way to secure the car you want is through Discover Cars, where you can get a good deal and reliable service exactly the way you need it.

If you first land at Athens airport, when you enter Greece, you will need to catch a bus or taxi to get you directly from Athens to Sparta. To take the bus, you will need to go to KTEL’s Kifissos Station and take the KTEL Lakonias bus to Sparta.

The fare is around 20 euro and the trip lasts roughly four hours. To get to Kifissos station you can take a bus from Omonoia Square in central Athens (specifically bus line 051) or take a taxi if you want to go there faster.

You can also get a taxi from Athens to Sparta. The trip lasts around three hours, but it can be more expensive. Take the time to research taxi services, however, as there are shuttle taxi services and minivan taxi services which turn the trip into a tour!

You can book in advance and have a set, fixed price on the fare, and enjoy some of the most picturesque routes getting to Sparta, as well as some of the most iconic rest points for the locals, like the Isthmus of Corinth!

Another option is to visit Monemvasia on an organized custom trip. We visited Monemvasia with Jayway Travel, a boutique tour operator specializing in custom tours to Europe for the US and Canadian markets.

If you are interested in an organized trip to Greece or Europe for you, your family, or a group of friends you can request a trip plan here.

Mythology of Sparta

According to Ancient Greek mythology, Sparta was a princess, daughter of King Eurotas who was the king of Laconia. She married Lacaedemon, who was the son of Zeus from the nymph Taygete. Together, they ruled over Laconia.

Lacaedemon gave his name to their realm and the city-state that was the seat of his power was named after his wife, Sparta. So, according to legend, Sparta was founded by the offspring of Zeus. Later on, Spartans also claimed a direct lineage to the hero Heracles (Hercules), as his twin sons Eurysthenes and Procles conquered Lacaedemon and ruled for several ages.

Sparta is also very famous through the myth of Helen of Troy, or “Beautiful Helen” as she is referred to in Greek. According to the legend, Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leda.

She was married to King Menelaus of Sparta. Through the influence of the goddess of love Aphrodite, she eloped with the Trojan prince Paris and left for Troy, effectively triggering the Trojan War and the destruction of Troy.

Brief History of Sparta

Sparta rose to prominence in the early Archaic period. Originally a colony of the people of Boeotia, Sparta established itself as a powerful city-state thanks to its strict militaristic regime and lifestyle.

Through constant military training, Spartans were able to keep an iron fist over the other peoples of Laconia and their abundance of slaves.

It is characteristic of its two kings that would rule, its unusual approach to women and their elevated status in its society, as well as its fighters’ bravery, prowess, and determination to never flee before the enemy.

It features prominently in the accounts of the Trojan War through the story of Helen of Troy and King Menelaus as presented in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Later on, during the Persian Wars, Sparta was lauded for its king Leonidas and their clever yet desperate last stand against the Persians in Thermopylae in 480 BCE.

It is said that this defeat and the legends around it rallied the Greeks from the other city-states and especially Athens to retaliate against the Persians and win over them at the Battle of Salamis and, a year later, at the Battle of Plataea.

Sparta’s peak influence and political power was reached during the Peloponnesian Wars when it finally defeated Athens, the only other political rival of Sparta during Classical Greece. However, that didn’t last long as the Spartans were soon defeated by the city-state of Thebes.

After that, the rise of the city-state of Macedon ended any chance of Sparta regaining a hold as the leader of the Greek city-states.

Despite its decline, Sparta maintained its independence and self-determination, refusing to join Alexander the Great and the rest of the Greek city-states in his campaign in Asia. During Roman times and Byzantine times, the city was inhabited without interruption.

Its natural fortifications thanks to the mountain Taygetos and the river valley made the Byzantines build a fortified citadel nearby, which they called Monemvasia.

Things to do in Sparta

There is a wide range of exciting things to do and see in Sparta. This is a short list of what you shouldn’t miss as well as some of the most unique experiences you could have on a vacation:

Explore the Acropolis of Sparta

The Acropolis of Sparta is considered the most important archaeological site in the entire Peloponnese. It is a complex of buildings and has been excavated on and off since the turn of the century when it was discovered in 1902.

Surrounded by picturesque olive trees that will provide you with much-needed shade, the Acropolis features several monuments you must see:

The ancient theater with the red and white marble slabs is considered the biggest of its kind in Ancient Greece. It was built in the early Roman times and would seat 16,000 spectators. A big part of it remains preserved for you to enjoy.

The Temple of Athena Chalkioikos is considered Sparta’s most important temple. It’s right over the ancient theater and its name implies that it was once lined with copper sheets engraved with ancient scenes. This account is brought to us by Pausanias who documented it as very little of the temple stands today. However, it is connected to Sparta’s mythical origins and its prominent legislator Lykourgos who established the system of governance Sparta is so famous for.

The mysterious Circular Building the use of which is still unknown today! It is in the agora, in the southeastern part of the Acropolis, and it baffles scholars as to its use.

The Basilica is the mark of the Byzantines in the archaeological site. A magnificent church built sometime in the 6th or 7th century CE with a complex of other supportive buildings surrounding it shows that this church, dedicated to Jesus Christ, must have been the region’s cathedral at the time.

Visit the Archaeological Museum of Sparta

Archaeological Museum of Sparta - Things to do in Sparta

This is one of Greece’s oldest museums, built-in 1847. Housed in a beautiful neoclassical building, it holds several collections and artifacts excavated from the surrounding areas and especially from various sites in Ancient Sparta.

The exhibits range from the prehistoric to the Roman eras. Make sure you see some of its unique exhibits, such as the collection of amphorae with relief decorations, several pieces and items from the temples of Artemis and Apollo, and a 6th-century BCE stele featuring Menelaus, Helen, Clytemnestra, and Agamemnon.

See the Statue of Leonidas

Statue of Leonidas - Things to do in Sparta

This is probably the most photographed spot in all of Sparta! The dramatic statue of Leonidas, the Spartan King, was created in 1969 and stands impressively in Sparta’s most central street. You will easily find it by directing yourself towards the Municipality building. It is a beautiful piece of Greek post-war sculpture and the trademark landmark of the city!

Visit the Tomb of Leonidas

Also called Leonideion, the Tomb of Leonidas is in the north of the city. Under the shadow of huge pine trees, you will see an ancient structure like a cross between a temple and a tomb. According to the traveler and historian Pausanias, that is the location where the bones of Leonidas were transported and interred.

Though there is no further indication of who is buried in the structure, it is abundantly clear that the peoples of antiquity firmly believed that it was where the hero of Thermopylae was buried and so do modern ones!

Explore the Archaeological site of Mystras

Mystras was a Byzantine castle town that was built in the 11 century CE. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered of the most important medieval sites of Greece. Mystras was also called “the wonder of Morea” and was very prominent and important to Byzantine emperors at the time.

It is located 5 km from the center of Sparta and is the closest you can get to a time machine back to that glorious historical era. Walk through the streets of Mystras and visit the gorgeous Palace of the Despots, take in the stunning views, and enjoy the parts of town that have been reconstructed and are currently in use.

There is a little village of Mystras with a lot of refurbished and renovated traditional castle mansions and buildings you can stay in near the archaeological site. While in Mystras, enjoy its Byzantine churches with beautiful frescoes, the monastery of Panagia, and more. Tickets are 12 euros and 6 euros for the reduced one.

Visit the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil

The Peloponnese and especially the valleys with olive tree groves in Laconia and Kalamata are associated with some of the world’s best quality olive oil. There are several varieties of Olive Oil that enjoy international acclaim and awards that are made in these regions. And it’s not surprising, as the olive, the olive tree, and olive oil are intimately intertwined with the Greek heritage and culture, especially in the Peloponnese.

This powerful connection that yields what is called Greece’s “liquid gold” is what is celebrated in the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil. The museum itself is surprisingly fascinating, with a large variety of exhibits and demonstrations.

You will get to see fossilized olive trees more than 50,000 years old, the first archaeological evidence of the olive tree’s cultivation and significance in neolithic times, and how the olive tree became central in the development of Greek mythology, heritage, customs, and identity.

You will also be treated to different displays of how olive oil is made through the ages, from the prehistoric olive presses to the modern ones!

Visit the House of Mosaics

At the junction of Dioskourou and Palaiologou streets in Sparta, you will find the House of Mosaics. It’s a modern, neoclassical-inspired building that houses two of the most gorgeous mosaics discovered in Roman buildings in the area, during 19th-century excavations. You will see the mosaic floors showcased individually within.

One is the Rapture of Europa mosaic and the other is Orpheus Charming Animals with his music. The mosaics date from the 3rd and 4th centuries CE. Admission is free!

Make your own mosaic

Invest three hours from your vacation to make a unique souvenir as you acquire the basics of one of the most ancient art mediums- mosaics! In the center of Sparta, there takes place the one-day workshop on Mosaic Art.

You will be provided with all the tools and stones necessary to create your own stone mosaic, as you learn the ancient techniques, including how to tint and glue your pebbles (the tesserae) together.

Once you’re done, you’ll be offered a treat and will walk away with the art you created and all that you learned delivered to your email inbox! The lesson is taught in English and takes place in a beautiful garden to serve as further inspiration.

Try the local beer

Sparta is also recently known for its quality local beer! Sparta Beer by Lakoniki Brewery is a microbrewery beer that produces Lager and American Pale Ale varieties. They are made with water from the springs of Mt. Taygetos and locally grown malts.

Both versions have a rich color and powerful flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste that singles them out from other Greek labels. Ask for it whenever you sit down for a meal or a refreshment!

Visit a fish farm

It’s worth driving 20 minutes from Sparta to Kastori in Laconia, for a unique treat! Visit the fish farm G-Fish, where you can get a tour of how salmon and trout are raised before tasting the delectable, unique products of the farm, such as fresh salmon, smoked trout and salmon, top-quality caviar, and more!

Enjoy the gorgeous view of Taygetos’ river, and Aghios Mammas, and walk the picturesque paths of Kastori village. Return home with some of the finest quality fish and caviar products you will ever taste.

Go hiking at Mt. Taygetos

Mt. Taygetos is the tallest mountain of the Peloponnese and one of the most impressive, imposing, and picturesque ones in Greece. It is perfect for those who love hiking and going along gorgeous trails with stunning views and surprising vistas, and those who love adventure and challenge. Many of the trails you will be guided to are ancient ones, used by the ancient Spartans themselves as they imposed their rule in all of Messinia.

There are many peaks and many trails, which offer a wide variety of difficulty trails and lengths. You can go on trails that last less than an hour or more than a day! It all depends on you. There are experienced guides to prepare you and guide you to the Taygetos refuge, various beautiful springs, and the gorgeous chapel of Profitis Elias (Prophet Elias) no matter what your skill in hiking and backpacking.

If you are especially adventurous, you can also go climbing! Just make sure you do your research, book your place in various hiking teams, or get assigned a guide, and you’re all set!

Enjoy the food

The traditional dishes of Sparta and Laconia will bring a smile to your face just by smelling their aroma. Made with local products and with recipes that were defined and refined by Sparta’s unique history through the ages, you are in for one of the tastiest culinary journeys available. While there are many dishes to enjoy, here are a few to start with in any tavern:

Syglino: This is a unique, fragrant cured meat that originates from Mani. It is made with pork packed tightly with salt and a vast array of aromatic local herbs. It is then smoked over fragrant wood to give it its distinctive aroma and taste. You will find it in many traditional recipes where it adds that extra boost to every bite.

Maniatiki salad: This salad from Messinia is different from what you might expect! It is made with boiled potatoes, hardboiled eggs, oranges, olives, fresh onions, and aromatic herbs. On many occasions, you will also find chopped-up syglino. The salad is drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. The balance of tastes is perfect, with the richness of the potato and the egg evened out with the oranges and onions.

Sausage with orange: This type of sausage is characterized by the tiny pieces of orange found within the pork-cured meat it is made of. There are also many herbs included, making for an extremely tasty sausage you can have on its own over the grill or fried in oil and doused with lemon. You will also find it in many local dishes.

Pitaroudes: These are local thin pies, filled with herbs and spinach or other greens and vegetables. They are crispy and filling an excellent snack or breakfast food.

Bouzopoula: This is a piglet that has been cooked in the oven for several hours, with crispy, tasty skin and fragrant, tender meat that melts in the mouth.

Where to stay in Sparta

While there are many options for accommodation in Sparta, if you’re looking to pamper yourself and get the full experience of Messinian luxury, then you should opt for the 5-Star Mystras Grand Palace.

Situated between Mystras and Sparta, at the perfect location for quick access to all the sightseeing you will want to do, this hotel is a retreat in Sparta’s medieval heritage. Suites are built in the castle town style and furnished traditionally but with full modern amenities and services.

There are also assorted spa services such as a beauty center and a sauna and jacuzzi spa center. There are also high-quality bars and restaurants on-site, and the gorgeous environment of the Laconian Valley and orchards for you to enjoy.

Where to eat in Sparta

While it’s part of the adventure to discover the various tavernas and restaurants in Sparta and the surrounding areas, here are a couple of excellent places to eat and start your food adventure:

Tsipouradiko To 50: This is a restaurant in Sparta with a gorgeously traditional environment. Stepping inside feels like traveling back in time in Greece during the 50s or the 60s. There is also a gorgeous garden to relax in as you enjoy 50’s amazing food.

Every dish is made with local fresh produce and the recipes span from the timeless traditional dishes to new iterations and new flavors. It’s indicative that the place is popular with the locals too, and people from all over Greece make sure to stop here to eat if they’re passing through Sparta.

Ktima Skreka: Ktima Skreka has been around since 1935 and it shows in its gorgeous setting and its family-run heritage. This is a taverna that has been thriving under the direction of three generations of the same family.

Here you will find all the traditional, slow-cooked dishes with incredible flavors and love, and history that make them unforgettable. The produce is homegrown at Stima Skreka’s own field, and there are high-quality products you can buy if you give them a heads up.

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