The Greek flag on the summit of Mount Olympus
The Greek flag and Skolio Peak behind, as seen from the summit of Mount Olympus. Photo: iStock

Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece, at 2917m tall. It’s also one of the highest peaks in Europe in topographical terms (measuring the height relative to the lowest contour line encircling it) and, of course, it's home to the 12 Olympian gods of the ancient Greek world. You know; Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and all that lot. Bunch of troublemakers, if you ask us.

Climb Mount Olympus in Greece | Much Better Adventures
Climb to the summit of Greece’s Mt Olympus (2918m), one of the world’s most famous peaks and the legendary home of the Greek gods, on a small group adventure.

Mount Olympus actually has 52 peaks. The 2,917m summit is called Mytikas and is challenging to reach, requiring tough scrambling. Skala Peak (2,882m) and Skolio Peak (2,911m) are also commonly climbed. The mountain is situated in Olympus National Park, which became the country's first national park when it was declared as such way back in 1938. It's also a World Biosphere Reserve.

The mythology and magnitude of Olympus make this a mountain like no other; drenched in romance and beauty that goes beyond the Mediterranean views.

This article is a guide to climbing Mount Olympus, as well a look into the fascinating mythical history of the mountain. It’s important to note that any route descriptions are only short summaries, designed to inspire but not to serve any navigational purpose. To stay safe on the mountain, hire a local guide.

Where is Mount Olympus?

Mount Olympus is located in the Olympus mountain range in northern Greece.

Specifically, Olympus is on the border between the regions of Thessaly and Macedonia, between what are known as the "regional units" of Larissa and Pieria.

To the northwest of Mount Olympus, meanwhile, you’ll find the villages of Kokkinopoulou, Petra, Vrontou and Dion. To the southeast, the Ziliana gorge divides Mount Olympus from the Lower Olympus mountain and the Agiga Triada Sparmou Monastery can be found to the west of the mountain.

How to get to Mount Olympus? The gateway city is Thessaloniki 50 miles (80km) northeast of Olympus. It's the second largest city in Greece and it's absolutely gorgeous - sitting on the coast. From Thessaloniki, hikers usually transfer to the small town of Litochoro (a name which loosely translates as “the city of the gods), at the base of Olympus, before heading off to the trailhead at Prionia.

Athens, the capital of Greece, is about six hours south of Mount Olympus.

Best Time to Climb Mount Olympus?

Climbers scrambling up to the exposed summit of Mount Olympus
The final ascent to the peak of Olympus is a graded, exposed scramble.

The climbing season on Mount Olympus is relatively short compared to other mountains. The trekking season runs from June to the end of October.

Mount Olympus has a Mediterranean climate, meaning it’s hot and dry in the summer and humid and cold in the winter. The winters can be severe.

Speaking generally, the temperatures range from -10°C to 10°C, while in the summer temperatures go from 0°C to 20°C. It often snows throughout the winter, though rain and snow is also not unheard of in the summer. Over the 2000m mark, the mountain is actually snow-capped for around nine months of the year, from September to May. The north slopes receive more rainfall than the northwest slopes and so the scenery can be quite different between the two.

Who Was the First Person to Climb Mount Olympus?

A view from the trail leading to the top of Mount Olympus
A beautiful view from the trail to the top of Olympus. Photo: Ben Dumond

Mount Olympus has a history as ancient as the country in which it sits. The mountain was formed of sedimentary rock, moulded by glaciers over one million years ago and shaped by wind and rain. People have been climbing the mountain for hundreds of years, too. Archaeological findings on Mount Olympus have shown that the third highest peak on the mountain, Agios Antonios, was once the site of a sanctuary to Zeus. All of which is to say that it is likely that someone, at some point, reached the summit of Mytikas before the modern day.

Richter was abducted by bandits while climbing Olympus, and the Ottoman guards travelling with him were reportedly killed.

In the modern age of exploration and mountaineering, the German engineer and climber Edward Richter was one of the first to try and reach the higher summits of the mountain in 1911. It didn't go to plan. Richter was abducted by bandits while climbing Olympus, and the Ottoman guards travelling with him were reportedly killed. A newspaper report from the time stated that Richter was later "discovered safe and well at a place on the Greek frontier" but, rather unsurprisingly given the aforementioned abduction, he didn't reach the summit.

Mytikas was eventually reached on 2 August 1913, one year after the liberation of northern Greece from Ottoman rule. The men who reached it were Swiss climbers Frédéric Boissonnas and Daniel Baud-Bovy, guided by Christos Kakkalos – a local hunter from Litochoro. Not to be shown up by the tourists, Kakkalos was the first man to actually summit Olympus. He then spent the rest of his days working as a guide on the mountain, until he passed away in 1976.

Climbing Mount Olympus: The Two-Day Route

Climbers on Mount Olympus
It can get hands on at times, but what else do you expect on your way to the house of the gods?

Mount Olympus typically takes two days to climb, with one night spent in a mountain refuge along the way. Of course, there are a variety of routes and a variety of mountain refuges on Olympus, but the majority of those climbing the mountain start from the town of Litochoro and follow the road to Prionia where the hike begins. We'll describe one route from here, but first, a few basics.

The majority of the Mount Olympus ascent isn’t a technical climb, but the finale can be tricky. The final section of the climb, from the summit of Skala Peak at 2,882m to the peak of Mytikas at 2,918m is categorised as a YDS (Yosemite Decimal System) Class III rock scramble. For context, a Class III is defined as: “Scrambling with increased exposure. Handholds are necessary. A rope should be available for learning climbers, or if you just choose to use one that day, but is usually not required. Falls could easily be fatal.”

The final section of the climb, from Skala Peak at 2,882m to the peak of Mytikas at 2,918m is categorised as a Class III rock scramble.

Basically, it’s trickier than your average ascent and it can be vertigo-inducing.

An alternative route, if you’re not up for the scramble, is to take a narrow ridge line over to Skolio Peak, which is at 1,911m. A lot of people do this. While nearly 10,000 people climb Mount Olympus each year, the vast majority only reach the Skolio summit. On our climb up Mount Olympus, we offer the option to summit Mytikas (weather permitting) – but Skala Peak or Skolio Peak are also options. Either way the views of the rugged outline of Olympus are stunning.

Day One: Litochoro to the Christos Kakkalos Mountain Refuge

Litochoro town and Mount Olympus
Litochoro town and the Olympus Mountains in Greece. Photo: iStock
  • Distance: 12km
  • Walking Time: 8-9 hours
  • Ascent profile: 1,600m up

The trailhead at Pironia at 1,100m is the highest point on Mount Olympus accessible by car. From here, your route will take you along the E4 route, through pine, fir and birch forests as you climb up to Spilios Agapitos Refuge, a beautiful stone building set at 2,100m. This is the busiest trail on the mountain and it’s likely you’ll meet plenty of other hikers from around the world as you hike.

Climb Mount Olympus in Greece | Much Better Adventures
Climb to the summit of Greece’s Mt Olympus (2918m), one of the world’s most famous peaks and the legendary home of the Greek gods, on a small group adventure.

You’ll continue on from the refuge, and from here, you'll find yourself on switchbacks, zig-zagging up Mount Olympus, climbing above the treeline to get your first view of the rugged, spiking summits of this remarkable mountain.

You'll stay the night at the Christos Kakkalos Refuge, a small, scenic refuge at 2,650m which usually has tents dotted around the outside.

Watching the sun set over Greece and look out over the Plateau of Muses.

Day Two: Christos Kakkalos Mountain Refuge to the Summit

The winding route up to the Christos Kakkalos Mountain Refuge. Photo: Getty
The winding route up to the Christos Kakkalos Mountain Refuge. Photo: Getty
  • Distance: 12km
  • Walking Time: 8-9 hours
  • Ascent profile: 268m up, 1800m down

It’s an early rise the next day, and of course, as with any mountain climb, the chances of summiting Mytikas will depend on the conditions on the mountain.

Over breakfast, your guide will decide which summit you are going to attempt to climb based on the weather and the fitness and ability of the group.

There are two options. The first is to climb Skala Peak at 2,882m and then cross a narrow ridgeline over to Skolio Peak at 2,911m. This is the most commonly reached peak on Mount Olympus. The full summit of Mytikas at 2,918m is more challenging to reach, with exposed scrambling which requires a level head.

Descend with fresh views and end at the Gkortsia trailhead. From there, it’s back to Litochoro. Check out the full Mount Olympus climb itinerary right here.

Why Was Mount Olympus Important to the Greeks?

Mytikas, the highest summit on Mount Olympus, swathed in cloud.
Mytikas, the highest summit on Mount Olympus, the tallest point in Greece. Photo: iStock

The history and mythology surrounding Mount Olympus is as much of a reason to climb the mountain as the scenery. There are few mountains in the world that can stand up to Mount Olympus in terms of romanticism or folklore. It is “the mountain of the gods” after all. This mountain was literally thought to be the place where the ancient gods of Greece looked down on society each morning and decided who was going to be defeating centaurs and who was going to be accidentally standing in Pegasus poo.

In Homer’s Odyssey (6.42) he speaks of ‘Οὔλυμπο’ / ‘Oulumpos’, as the seat of the gods, without specifying a peak. Olympus was dreamt of as being a high mountain top, constantly shrouded from human eyes by clouds, and so, in most regions in Greece, the highest point of elevation was once named some variant of “Olympus”. Being the tallest of all of them, it’s no surprise that the name stuck for the great Mount Olympus.

Olympus was known as the home of the 12 Olympian gods of the ancient Greek world. They are, in full: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and either Hestia or Dionysus.

An illustration of the Greek gods on Mount Olympus
Illustration of the Greek gods hanging out, maxing and relaxing all cool. Photo: iStock

The Olympians were deities - supernatural beings - and tended to be third or fourth generation immortal. They were worshipped as the principal gods of the Greek pantheon and gained their supremacy in a 10-year war of gods, in which Zeus led his siblings to victory and rule over the previous generation of gods – known as the Titans. According to folklore, it was this battle between the new gods and the Titans which actually shaped Mount Olympus.

Zeus, god of the sky, lightning, thunder, law, order and justice, was the king of the gods and ruler of Mount Olympus. He was the youngest child of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, and was also the brother and husband of Hera (times have certainly changed in that respect) and brother of Poseidon, Hades, Demeter and Hestia.

They gained their supremacy in a 10-year war of gods, in which Zeus led his siblings to victory and rule.

Hades was also a major Greek god, but his realm was the underworld, as far from the lofty heights of Olympus as one could be. As such, he wasn’t considered an “Olympian” and isn’t counted as one of the 12 ancient gods of Greece who presided on Mount Olympus. So you’ll be glad to hear that you shouldn’t be bumping into Hades, god of the dead and the king of the underworld, on your hike.

It was said that the tables in Zeus’ palace on Olympus were made of gold and were automations created by Hephaestus. So there is a chance that you’ll see some solid golden tables wandering about the mountain by themselves.

Mount Olympus: The Tale of Bellerophon

An illustration of Bellerophon riding the divine winged-horse Pegasus, fighting the monster Chimera.
Bellerophon riding the divine winged-horse Pegasus, fighting the monster Chimera. Amazing what you end up looking at on an adventure website these days. Photo: iStock

The legends once claimed that no human could actually climb Mount Olympus - something now proven incorrect. Naturally, though, where humans are forbidden, at least one or two of us will inevitably try and reach. Enter Bellerophon.

Bellerophon was a Greek hero who was banished from his home after accidentally killing his own brother. He fled to Tiryns, where he was eventually sent on a quest by the King to attempt to slay the Chimera, a fire-breathing monster who was part lion, part goat and part serpent. Bellerophon was expected to die in his efforts but, after taming the divine winged-horse Pegasus, he successfully slayed the Chimera.

Due to his success, the King (who, as you may be gathering, didn’t like Bellerophon) then sent the poor hero on further quests to try and kill him. But Bellerophon prevailed - defeating pirate ogres, Amazons and even avoided direct assassination attempts organised by the King. He began to get a reputation with the gods as a result, and was eventually recognised as “the son of a god”.

A while after this, having got a little too big for his boots, Bellerophon decided to try and fly Pegasus to the top of Mount Olympus, where he would preside with the gods. He flew to the gates but, upon seeing him, Zeus sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus, who bucked Bellerophon off his back. The hero then fell from his horse and back down to Earth (literally). He didn’t die, but he did live out the rest of his days blinded, alone and in misery.

Don’t worry, though. None of that should happen to you on Mount Olympus. Unless you’ve annoyed Zeus recently. You haven’t, have you? Be careful up there.

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Inspired? Check out our two-day hike up Mount Olympus, or have a look at our full range of adventure holidays in Greece!