Fans of Greek mythology are sure to have heard of the Lost City of Atlantis, first described about 2,400 years ago by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. It’s never been found and is rumored to be underwater either in the Atlantic Ocean or more likely, if real, near Santorini, formed after a massive volcanic eruption thousands of years ago, sparking a tsunami that sank the city.
Further famous mythical underwater sites include Cape Tianaron at the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese peninsula on the Greek mainland. It’s thought here lies an underwater cave, one of the many Gates to Hell where the dead enter, guarded by the three-headed dog Cerberus.
Urban myths can, however, occasionally turn out to be real. Here we explore some incredible ancient sunken cities that can be found in Greece. Be sure to seek them out during your next vacation.
1. The Ancient Sunken City Of Epidaurus
Epidaurus, in the Peloponnese region of mainland Greece, is well known for its ancient amphitheater with amazing acoustics. Every summer, the Athens and Epidaurus Festival is celebrated, and a performance is always enacted here.
But a few meters offshore from Kalymnos Beach, a short drive from the small town of Epidaurus, and only an hour and 50 minutes from central Athens, you’ll literally be able to swim amongst history.
A rudimentary sign on the beach points the way to the Sunken City (as it’s referred to locally). At only 7 feet offshore and 4 to 6 feet deep, you can view from an elevated position on land, while snorkeling, or by taking a boat ride. You’ll see ancient tombs, walls, paths, and foundations of this 12th century B.C. city thought to be an ancient trading post by archaeologists.
2. Unnamed Bronze Age Site In The Argolic Gulf, Peloponnese
Most sunken cities are discovered by accident; that was certainly the case of this unnamed Bronze Age metropolis found in the Argolic Gulf waters of the Peloponnese at Kilada Bay.
A team from the University of Geneva was initially looking for the remains of an 8,000-year-old town, the oldest submerged one in Europe. Instead, a 4,500-year-old settlement of 12 acres was found with a stone defense structure, towers, and paved roads, plus several artifacts such as stone tools and pottery.
At only 2 and a half hours from Athens, it makes for an interesting day trip, but my suggestion would be to base yourself in the unique Peloponnese resort town of Porto Cheli, a mere 15-minute drive from Kilada Bay and the Site. Allow yourself time to explore the unique islands of Spetses and Hydra with their Venetian architecture and grand mansions which can be reached by ferry from Porto Cheli.
3. Archampoli, Evia Island
The second biggest Greek island after Crete, Evia has much to delight the international visitor with its choice of small coves and stretches of beaches and mountainous villages to explore, and a little-known attraction nearby is the ancient settlement of Archampoli, found off the southern Cape of Kafieris. Archampoli is actually a gorge with steep vertical cliffs and hidden caves, plus ruins of ancient 6th-century city walls. It’s thought the area was important in the past as it has remnants of an acropolis, a temple, its own harbor, and a metal mine.
Once you reach the beach, there’s an ancient settlement submerged under the sea, the perfect vantage point being from the surrounding cliffs to see these shallow ancient ruins.
Evia can be reached in just under an hour from Athens, but the island is quite large at 1,422 square miles, so take the ferry from the Athenian port of Rafina to the southern town of Marmari on the island. Archampoli is a half-hour drive from there.
4. Pountaleza, Near Lavrio, Athens
You don’t need to travel far from Greece’s capital to experience an ancient sunken city. Lavrio is a small port town about an hour from Athens on the southernmost tip of the Athens Riviera. It mostly serves smaller Cycladic islands such as Kea and Andros, popular destinations for Greek travelers and must-visit islands for international travelers too.
The town was once rich in silver mines and many can be found hidden away in the surrounding villages. Pountaleza is only a partially submerged village, hence can be viewed from the shore and is thought to be one such mining village.
The Museum of Mineralogy in Lavrio Town gives a good overview of the area’s past. At only a 50-minute drive from Athens along the Riviera coastal road, why not stop at The Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion along the way to make a truly enriching and unique day trip?
5. Pavlopetri Near Laconia, Peloponnese
Dating back to roughly 3000 B.C. and located under the beautiful waters of the Laconia region of the southern Peloponnese, Pavlopetri is reputed to be the world’s oldest ancient sunken city.
It’s thought to have sunk in 1100 B.C. and lies a mere 14 feet underwater, making it possible to view as you snorkel.
Archaeologists have discovered that Pavlopetri is unique in that it has sophisticated labyrinth planning. Roads, two-story houses, a water management system, and a town square have all been identified.
The Southern Peloponnese, where Pavlopetri and the Laconia region are located, is considered to be one of the most unspoilt areas of Greece, so be sure to spend at least a few days exploring this unique and traditional region.
6. Peristera Shipwreck, Alonissos Island
Alonissos is an amazing Greek island that takes about 2 hours to reach by car ferry from the eastern side of the island of Evia. The best way to get to Alonissos, though, is to fly to Skiathos and then take a 2-hour ferry, which runs on regular schedules, particularly in the summer.
Skiathos and its sister island, Skopelos, are famous as the filming locations for Mamma Mia!, but it’s Alonissos that’s a quieter tourism destination owing to its National Marine Park status.
Founded in 2002, the waters around Alonissos are the first Marine Park in Greece and the largest protected marine area in Europe. You can enjoy the waters responsibly, and if you’re lucky, maybe even spot a monk seal — so named due to its tendency to prefer to live in isolation. The decline in the population of the monk seal in recent years has seen the need to provide these creatures a safe haven, hence the creation of the National Marine Park.
Alonissos also boasts the ancient Shipwreck of Peristera. Located approximately 80 feet underwater, the shipwreck dates back to 425 B.C. when a large merchant carrier from Athens, thought to be carrying wine, sunk near the western rocky shores of Peristera on the island, hence the name.
The wreck has remained pretty well intact, allowing those who have scuba diving abilities to explore a classical-era vessel, a unique part of Greece’s history — hence affording it the nickname “The Parthenon of Shipwrecks.”
In 2020, the first Underwater Museum of Greece opened at Peristera, allowing recreational divers to swim with experienced divers to view the wreck and accompanying aquatic life, plus visit the wreck virtually in the accompanying museum for those who feel they’re unable to partake in a dive.
Whether you choose to go diving or not, Alonissos itself makes for a unique Greek island getaway.
Bonus: Shipwreck Bay, Zakynthos Island
These give an overview of some of the incredible sunken cities to explore in Greece, plus the shipwreck of Alonissos island. Yet not all shipwrecks are sunken. The incredibly popular Greek island of Zakynthos has the picture-postcard wreck of MV Panagiotis.
Located on the beach of the hidden cove of the same name, this smuggler’s ship ran aground sometime in the 1980s. The surrounding limestone cliffs give the waters of Navagio an aqua blue appearance that rivals that of the Caribbean and showcases the area as one of the most photographed beaches and wrecks in the country.
This means, however, that it’s also popular, so expect to find many boat trips to the cove. Its location means it’s only accessible by sea, but for me, the best vantage point is from the 650-foot cliffs that surround the cove. From the island’s capital, Zakynthos Town, it’s an hour’s drive, and the route is signposted. Once there, you’ll find several spots to see the wreck nestled in the sand, with wide-reaching views out across the waters.
As we’ve seen, there are several incredible ancient sunken cities to explore in Greece, along with some more popular attractions such as shipwrecks. For a bespoke Greek experience, tailor-made and including some of these hidden gems, I recommend Fly Me To The Moon Travel, a Greek destination management company operating since 2014.
For more ideas and inspiration on Greece’s islands, check out these articles: