When visiting Greece, many tourists stick to the cities or the islands, meaning that they miss out on the country’s enchanting countryside. They’re also missing out on one of the best ways to see it: by train.
Because Greece has a fairly craggy landscape, the train system is not quite as extensive as other countries in Europe. However, Greece actually has claim to the very first railway on the continent. Found in Corinth, this railway was used in ancient times to transport boats across the isthmus. Nowadays, tourists have access to several different lines, including a high-speed train that connects Athens to Thessaloniki.
Some of the routes that tourists may want to check out include the following:
Little Train of Pelion
Located in southeast Thessaly, Pelion is a mountainous, forested area between the Aegean Sea and the Pagasetic Gulf. This part of the country is home to two dozen charming villages that attract many visitors throughout the year. Plus, hiking trails and stone paths lead visitors to various springs, beaches, and coves.
In Greek mythology, Pelion is the source of many medicinal herbs, as well as the home of Chiron, a centaur who tutored heroes. Chiron lived on the top of one of the mountains in this region, and getting to him was part of the hero’s journey.
The initial railway in this area dates back to the late 1800s and was built to connect Pelion to the coast as a means of improving trade without expanding roads. An Italian engineer named Evaristo de Chirico led the construction of the track in 1897. The original train rain until 1971, but it was revived in 1996 for local and tourist use.
Locals call the train the Moutzouris. The track crosses many viaducts and goes through multiple tunnels between its two stations, Ano Gatzea and Milies. The whole journey takes only 90 minutes, with the train running once daily between spring and autumn.
The Rack Railway
One of the oldest lines in the whole of Greece is the so-called “rack line,” which is a rack and pin line that connects Diakofto to Kalavrita in the Peloponnese.
The small village of Kalavrita is located on Mount Helmos. In the ancient world, the city was destroyed by the Aetolians, but it was later rebuilt by the Roman emperor Hadrian. By the 13th century, the city had ceded control to the Franks. The ruins of a medieval fortress and castle sit above the town and can be explored by visitors.
Kalavrita also had an important role in the 1821 Greek war for independence against the Turks. At the nearby monastery of Agia Lavra, a local bishop raised the revolutionary flag that has now become a national treasure. The monastery is also home to a monument to the fighters of the war.
In 1889 a railroad was built to connect Kavrita to Diakofto, a seaside town located along the Gulf of Corinth. Engineers used stone and wood to build the original track, which stretches for 14 miles. At the turn of the millennium, the track was renovated.
Locals call the train the Odontotos, which means “tooth.” The whole journey takes about an hour and runs parallel to the Vouraikos River through tunnels, over a waterfall, and along cliffs. Riders will also pass through dense forests populated with oleander and pine. The train runs daily throughout the year.
The city of Katakolon serves as the gateway to Olympia, the part of Greece that is home to the original Olympic Games. For that reason, the seaside village is a popular tourist destination. Because of its strategic location on the Ionian Sea, the village has also become a popular port of call for cruise lines.
In this area, tourists can visit the Sanctuary of Zeus and explore the stadium, temples, treasuries, and athletics quadrangles. A museum housing many fine sculptures is also close to the town. The Sanctuary of Zeus has emerged as one of the most popular destinations in all of Greece.
Getting to Olympia from Katakolon is a 25-mile car or bus ride, but travelers would do best to travel by train, which takes only about 45 minutes and costs relatively little.
The train opened in Pyrgos in 1883, operated by the Pyrgos-Katakolon Railway. However, a different railway company took the tracks over in 1951 and diverted the pathway. The line got an update in 2007 and continues to run for limited passenger service.
The trains run about every two hours throughout the year and continue to stop at Pyrgos, which could be another part of the adventure on the way to Olympia.