Sparta was the ancient rival of Athens, known for its fierce warriors and military culture (as showcased in the historically inaccurate movie “300”). These days, the city doesn’t get the visitors Athens does but it does still have a lot of ruins to explore.
While Sparta is much smaller than Athens, there is no shortage of things to do, excursions to take, and places to eat when you visit.
It’s an often-overlooked city (most travelers skip this entire area as it’s out of the way) but you can get all the history of Greece without the tourists of Athens if you visit. The city is small and you only really need a couple of nights to check it all out. If you have a couple of extra days, it’s worth the drive or bus ride from Athens — especially if you’re a history buff.
This travel guide to Sparta can help you plan your trip so you can make the most of your trip without breaking the bank!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Sparta
1. See the King Leonidas Statue
2. Visit the Archaeological Museum
3. Tour the Diros Caves
4. Visit the Mystras
5. Visit the Museum of the Olive and Olive Oil
Other Things to See and Do in Sparta
1. Walk around the modern town
Travelers don’t often hang out in the modern town of Sparta, which is why you should check it out. Head to the main square where the town hall is and enjoy some people-watching at one of the cafes. There are also a handful of ouzeries in the square if you would like to pick up some souvenirs.
2. Explore the ancient Sparta archaeological site
There’s not much left from the ancient city, located north of the Leonidas statue, but a walkthrough leads to where the acropolis and the agora stood from the 2nd-century BCE until the Roman era. You can also find the remains of an ancient theater (it used to be the second-largest in Greece) and the Sanctuary of Athena (a place where people could worship Athena and leave offerings). It’s free to wander around.
3. Visit the Sanctuary of Artemis
On the north side of town are the remains of the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, the most important deity for the Spartans. Artemis was the goddess of wild animals and the hunt as well as chastity and childbirth. The Orthia moniker mostly likely comes from a local deity who became merged with Artemis over the centuries as it is not found anywhere else in Greece. The Sanctuary was the site of some rather violent rituals, including the flogging of young Spartan boys until they bled. Since Spartan culture revolved around military service, this was considered an important way to prepare the children for the challenges ahead. Most of the ruins are Roman or Byzantine, but it’s still worth a visit.
4. Check out the Koumantareios Art Gallery
Opened in 1982, this gallery features a permanent collection of around 40 paintings, as well as a temporary, rotating exhibit of pieces from the National Art Gallery in Athens. Housed in a neoclassical 20th-century mansion, the gallery is a small and intimate space. It’s free to visit.
5. Explore the Menelaion
A few miles outside of the city on the hill of the Prophet Elias lies the Menelaion, a 5th-century BCE shrine that was built to honor King Menelaus, husband of Helen of Troy (who was considered the most beautiful woman in the world). There is not a lot left to see of this site except for its crumbling ruins, but it’s worth a visit to walk around here if you have extra time in Sparta. There’s no admission fee.
6. Make some mosaic art
Head to the village of Xirokambi near Sparta and meet Dimitra, a self-taught mosaic artist who hosts art classes in her cozy workshop. She makes her mosaic pieces by hand so that each section of glass is unique. If you want to try your hand at making your own mosaic, she hosts three-hour workshops in her courtyard for 70 EUR.
For more information on other destinations in Greece, check out these guides:
Sparta Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There are currently no hostels in Sparta, which means you’ll need to find a cheap hotel or B&B to stay at if you’re on a budget.
For those traveling with a tent, camping is available outside the city. A basic plot for one person without electricity costs 11 EUR per night.
Budget hotel prices – A room with a private en suite bathroom in a two-star hotel starts at 45 EUR regardless of the season. Expect basic amenities like TV and free Wi-Fi.
Airbnb is available in Sparta, with private rooms averaging 70 EUR per night. A full apartment starts at 80 EUR per night and goes up from there.
Food – Traditional Greek cuisine is very healthy with a lot of fresh vegetables, olive oil, lamb, fish, pork, cheeses (especially feta), and yogurts are also super common. Filo pastries stuffed with meat or spinach and cheese are a local favorite as are souvlaki and gyros.
Street food like traditional gyros or souvlaki cost around 5 EUR each. Greek salads usually cost around 7 EUR while a plate of pasta is about 8 EUR. An eggplant salad is less than 5 EUR.
A mid-range restaurant costs about 15 EUR per person for a multi-course meal and a drink. A plate of souvlaki with some sides (like fries and a salad) will be about 7 EUR, and a beer will cost you from 3.50 EUR.
Higher-end restaurants aren’t typical in Sparta but expect to pay from 13 EUR for dishes like a seafood risotto or 18 EUR for filet mignon.
If you cook for yourself, you can spend as little as 40 EUR on groceries per week, which includes basic staples like pasta, rice, vegetables, and some meat.
Backpacking Sparta Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Sparta, expect to spend about 41 EUR per day. This assumes you’re camping, eating cheap fast food and cooking some meals, walking everywhere, limiting your drinking, and sticking to mostly free activities like wandering the ruins. If you plan on drinking, add 5-10 EUR more to your budget per day.
On a mid-range budget of about 115 EUR per day, you can stay in a budget hotel room, eat out for all your meals, take an occasional taxi to get around, enjoy a few drinks, and do some paid activities like visiting the museums and the caves.
On a “luxury” budget of about 225 EUR per day, you can stay in a hotel or private Airbnb, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, rent a car to explore the region, and do more paid tours and activities. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
Since Sparta isn’t a very touristy area, you don’t have to worry much about prices fluctuating in the on-season and off-season.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you spend more, some days you spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in EUR.
Sparta Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Sparta is a pretty inexpensive city. It’s more of a “local place to live” than hub of tourist activity and as such prices are a lot cheaper than elsewhere in Greece. Here are some of my favorite ways to cut your costs in Sparta:
- Use the Greek salad/bread rule – Is a restaurant cheap or expensive? Here’s how to find out: if the bread cover is .50 EUR or a Greek salad is less than 7 EUR, the restaurant is cheap. If the cover is around 1 EUR and a salad is 7-8.50 EUR, the prices are average. Anything more than that and the place is expensive.
- Eat super cheap – Gyros (and other street snacks) usually only cost a few euros. They are quick and easy and can keep you full for less than 10 EUR per day!
- Take a self-guided tour – Don’t indulge in the guided tours that are often very costly. The ruins in the area are easy to get around and visit.
- Stay with a local – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts all throughout Sparta. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see. There aren’t many though so be sure to send your request early!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Sparta
Sparta doesn’t have any hostel options, but fortunately, there are lots of budget-friendly hotels and small apartment rentals. These are my recommended places to stay in Sparta:
How to Get Around Sparta
Walk – Sparta is small (just 16,000 people live here) and you can get around easily on foot to see most sites.
Taxi – Taxis are cheap here and they’re really your only method of getting to attractions outside of town (like Mystras). A taxi from Sparta to Mystras should cost less than 10 EUR.
Car rental – There is one car rental office in Sparta with prices starting at 35 EUR per day. Drivers must be at least 21 years old and have had their license for at least one year. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required.
When to Go to Sparta
Summer in Sparta is hot. The average daily temperature in July-August is 93°F (34°C). There’s not much relief here if you want to escape the heat either — the sea is around 62 miles (100 kilometers) away. Walking around in the sweltering heat can be a bit much, so I’d avoid coming in the middle of the summer if you can.
May-June and September/early October are the best times to visit as the weather is much more comfortable. You’ll be able to walk around and explore without sweating bullets.
Winter temperatures average 50°F (10°C) so it’s still warm enough to visit, however, some businesses shut down during this time so I’d avoiding visiting in the winter if you can.
How to Stay Safe on Sparta
Sparta is a very safe place to travel. Violent crime is rare in Sparta. Petty crime like pick-pocketing is your only real concern (and it’s also uncommon). Keep an eye on your possessions when out and about and don’t flash your valuables and you’ll be fine.
If you’re visiting in the summer, always bring water and sunscreen and wear a hat as heat stroke can occur.
If you rent a vehicle, don’t leave any valuables in it overnight. Break-ins are rare but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Scams in Sparta are rare, however, if you’re worried about getting scammed you can read about the most common travel scams here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move somewhere else.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Sparta! Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Sparta Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Sparta. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Sparta Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Sparta Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Iliad, by Homer
A story of men and gods, Homer’s epic poem conveys the horror and heroism of the Trojan War before moving into its heart-wrenching, tragic conclusion. This version, translated by classicist Robert Fagles, is a beautiful rendition of the story. Just take a second to appreciate the fact that this poem has been around since the 9th century BCE. It’s a wonderful glimpse into life at that time. (Follow it up with The Odyssey!)
Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis
This book was first published in 1946 and is considered a Greek classic. It’s the story of a Greek working man named Zorba, a great lover of life, and the unnamed narrator who accompanies him to Crete where they work together in a mine. The book is about the “struggle of men to find their souls and purpose in life.” Zorba is a lively, memorable character, and the writing is absolutely poetic. This is a must-read.
Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens, by Sofka Zinovieff
Sofka Zinovieff became enamored with Greece when she studied there as a student. Years later she moved back with her Greek husband and two young daughters. This book is about her first year in Athens and all the trials and (hilarious) tribulations that come with learning how to be Athenian. There are a lot of great insights into everyday Athenian life here, including how to catch a taxi, the importance of cigarettes, and how to get a pig cooked at the bakers. It will definitely spark your desire to hang out in Athens for a while!
It’s All Greek to Me, by John Mole
This is the self-deprecating, humorous true story of John Mole, a man whose dreams of a Greek paradise lead him to buy a broken-down home in the countryside. The house has no water, no electricity, no doors, and no windows. Mole drags his family along for the journey. Together, they spend time cleaning out 20 years of goat poop and getting to know the friendly neighbors (like Elpida, who cures back pain with raw eggs). This is a seriously funny, charming book!
The Summer of My Greek Taverna: A Memoir, by Tom Stone
One summer, Tom Stone went to Greece to write a novel. He ended up staying 22 years. On the island of Patmos, he fell in love with a French painter named Danielle, and seven years later they moved to Crete. This book is about life as an American struggling to make his dreams a reality in a foreign place and all the joys and sorrows that accompany that.
Sparta Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Greece and continue planning your trip: