Ever wondered what it would be like to visit a real-life Atlantis? Or to scan the murky depths of a lake for a larger-than-life monster? Turns out, you can. Whether you’re a mythology buff looking to summon Zeus atop Mt. Olympus or want to follow in the footsteps of Indiana Jones, these real-life destinations are chock-full of history, scenery, and ancient lore, and worth a visit every chance you get. Just don’t forget to brush up on your ancient mythology before you go.
Mount Olympus, Greece
As the home of Zeus and other gods in Ancient Greek mythology, Mt Olympus has long been the armchair mythologist’s favorite destination. Although widely known for its storybook origins, the region is actually an ecologist's paradise, playing host to more than 1,500 plant species and more than 100 avian species.
The highest peak on Olympus (there are more than 50!) is Mytikas, which reaches more than 9,500 feet in altitude and is a worldwide destination for hikers, backpackers, and, of course, die-hard fans of Greek mythology. Along with being one of Greece’s most beautiful wilderness areas, Mt. Olympus was named Greece’s first national park in 1938, and a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 1981.
Loch Ness, Scotland
Of course, a list of mythical places wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one location of campfire legend lore. Located in one of the most beautiful parts of the Scottish Highlands, Loch Ness spans more than 20 miles and can reach depths of 750 feet. Because of its particularly murky water, the Loch has long been speculated to be the home of a dinosaur-like Loch Ness monster. While you might not catch a glimpse of the giant water horse, the beautiful Scottish Highlands lake is certainly worth the visit, and offers picturesque views as well as a variety of hikes throughout the region.
Atlantis may be more famous than Zealandia, but the lost eighth continent is far easier to visit – because it actually exists. As big as Greenland, Zealandia clocks in at roughly 1.35 million square miles, but this natural wonder is not easily glimpsed by the casual tourist. That’s because it’s largely underwater, with only small portions peeking up and appearing as a series of islands connected at the root. These days, the easiest way to visit Zealandia is by way of New Zealand and Norfolk Island. Even if it’s largely underwater, the destination is worth the visit, as New Zealand offers some of the most lush, unusual scenery in the world.
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Cyclopean Isles, Italy
Just off the eastern coast of Sicily a towering row of rocks hover over an equally uneven shore. While this location may not be as popularly sought after as other Mediterranean destinations, the Cyclopean Isles’ mythical past may be enough to lure you in for a visit.
Indeed, the very rocks that stand tall over the coastline are said to have been thrown by Polyphemus, the Cyclops, at the legendary Odysseus as the latter fled his captor in the famed epic passed down by Homer. While Polyphemus has likely found a new home, the Scogli dei Ciclopi near Catania remains a fantastic summer visit.
El Dorado, Colombia
Whether your interest in El Dorado is a result of the well-grossing DreamWorks movie or the actual history of the indigenous people of the Altiplano Cundiboyacense of Colombia, the myth of the “Golden Empire” remains a tantalizing story for any adventurer.
While the glittering empire of lore is an inflated myth rooted in Spanish quests for gold, history does mention the nearby Lake Guatavita was the site of an ancient ritual in which anointed leaders would drop jewels, gold, and other treasures into the waters as an offering to the gods. Today, Lake Guatavita, is a beautiful, if rarely noted, destination as tantalizing for modern travelers as explorers throughout history.
Of all the Greek myths, the legend of the rise and fall of Troy has had the warmest embrace in media, from oral histories, poems, and plays to novels and big-budget Hollywood films. While the actual occurrence of the Trojan War remains a topic of intense debate amongst archaeologists and historians, it is widely believed the city referred to in Homer’s epic poem is the ancient city on the northwest coast of Turkey. If you’re a history buff or simply hoping to catch a glimpse of Achilles’ supposed final resting place, the ruins of Troy in Canakkale are worth a visit, along with the coastline and life-size replica of the Trojan horse the city has to offer.
The second-highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kenya, has long been a sacred place to numerous tribes including the Kikuyu, Embu, Ameru, and Maasai. The Kikuyu people believe it to be the place the god Ngai showed the first man, called Gikuyu, and first woman, called Mumbi, the land where they would live at the foot of Kirinyaga. From his throne at the summit, Ngai watched as Gikuyu and Mumbi had nine daughters and populated what is today Kenya.
Today Kirinyaga is preserved not only in folklore, but as Mt. Kenya National Park and Unesco World Heritage Site. Visitors can view this former stratovolcano from the base, or try to summit its glaciated 17,057 foot (5,199 meter) peak. If you aren’t a skilled mountaineer, skip the crampons and ice axes to instead trek to Point Lenana, an accomplishment in its own right.
If you grew up reading any of the iconic stories about King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone, or even Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then Cornwall should be at the top of your list when it comes to European destinations with a mythologic pedigree. Not only is Cornwall the historical setting of the once and future king, this coastal destination boasts some of England’s best coastline. Between the stark, rocky cliffs that dot its shores and the world-famous surfing spots along tucked-in beaches, Cornwall lives up to its fairytale reputation.
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Japan is a place full of local stories and a sense of magic, but one of the best-known mythological places in Nippon is a cave near Takachiho. The Shinto shrine Ama-No-Iwato-Jinja honors the sun goddess Amaterasu, who hid away in the cave after one of her brother’s (Susanoo, the storm god) rages. Many gods and goddesses tried to lure her out of the cavern known as Ama-no-Yasukawara, and eventually succeeded by creating a fun, jovial atmosphere Amaterasu didn't want to miss out on.
Sherwood Forest, England
Robin Hood has been a popular folk hero since the Late Middle Ages, and the Sherwood Forest where he lived with his band of merry men is just as legendary. To this day it still receives plenty of tourist traffic, and for good reason. The original Sherwood Forest, in England, hosts Robin Hood festivals where fully regaled actors play the parts of some of history’s most cunning antiheroes.
If you can't swing a trip to Nottinghamshire, the popular English forest has a distant cousin that also bears the famous name. Sherwood, Oregon – albeit not the original setting for Robin Hood and his gang – works hard to carry the mythical reputation of its English counterpart and also happens to offer spectacular wine. Each year, Sherwood hosts an annual Robin Hood festival in mid-July, featuring classic garb, eats, and other attractions for kids of all ages.