Video Game Inspired Travel
Video game tourism? Why not.
Maybe you’ve taken a trip to Scotland or London because one of your kids is a big Harry Potter fan. Or maybe you’ve done a musical tour following the concert schedule of one of your favorite bands? Or perhaps you have booked a trip to a new city because it was the filming location for one of your favorite movies? But have you ever traveled to see the setting of a video game?
Knowing how much my teens love the Assassin’s Creed video game series, I followed in the literal footsteps of the game creators for the brand new Assassin’s Creed Odessey, set in ancient Greece. Accompanied by the talented team behind the Ubisoft game, we explored historic sites in Athens, Delphi, and Crete. It was as if I were a time traveler, learning the history of these iconic sites while watching the same settings unfold on my screen when I checked out the game.
Our group was lucky enough to be accompanied by Assassin’s Creed’s creative director, Jonathan Dumont, as well as Ubisoft historian, Stéphanie-Anne Ruatta. Ruatta used her PhD and extensive knowledge of Ancient Greece to lend her expertise to everything we encountered. As a non-gamer, I was surprised and impressed by how deeply the game creators dove into the history of Greece. If you (or your teens) play Assassin’s Creed, you can take pride in the fact that you are learning slices of history as you play.
If you want to trace our Assassin’s Creed inspired route through ancient Greece (in 2018 or beyond), follow our itinerary below.
Start at the Acropolis, where in the second half of the fifth century BC, artists under the inspired guidance of the sculpton, Pheidias, transformed this iconic rocky hill into a unique monument to the arts. You can find the temple dedicated to Nike (we’re not just talking about the sneakers, kids) and the patron goddess, Athena.
Next, go back to the cobbled pedestrian walkway at the base of the Acropolis and ascend a lesser hill leading to the Hills of the Muses Philopappos, Pnyx, and Nymphs. This archeological site has over a dozen points of interest, including the old gate to the city and the site of the birth of democracy. The latter is where citizens first embraced this style of government (barring women and slaves, who continued to have no rights or voice). And don’t miss the ‘prison of Socrates’– incorrectly named as it was not a prison at all, but rather the hiding place for many Greek antiquities during the second world war. Even under extreme torture, the Greeks did not reveal where they’d hidden the treasures that are now enjoyed by the world in museums.
On your second day in the city, check out the Museum of Cycladic Art. While it’s obviously known for its Cycladic collection, the entire fourth floor is devoted to day-to-day Greek antiquity, which teaches guests how every day people lived in Ancient Greece. The exhibit is designed to let you follow the life of an Athenian male from birth until death, with panels and artifacts depicting an ancient Athenian wedding, school, social life, funeral, and more. The short 10-minute film recreating the Athenian’s life is well worth a watch.
Dive even deeper into history by seeking out an interactive tour or class, such as the weapons workshop I took part in. I learned about all the various weapons used during the time period of the game (approximately 400 AD), how they were constructed, and the ways they were used by Greek heroes and common foot soldiers alike.
Make the drive outside the city to visit the mountainous town of Delphi, several thousand feet (800 meters) above sea level. As you pass through the quaint village of Arachova (about ten minutes’ drive from Delphi), try to imagine it covered in snow. Yes, it snows here and Arachova is actually a ski town.
At Delphi, you’ll immediately understand why this place carries the name ‘navel of the world’; it really does feel like you’re standing at the center of humanity. It’s as if Delphi is balanced between mankind and nature as you look out across the vast mountains and valley below. If you look hard enough, you might spot the port in the distance. If you play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, opt for the eagle’s view while in this part of the game. You’ll soar over Delphi on geothermal winds, recognizing everything you see in the scenery. When the game creators first visited Delphi for research with Stephanie, they took photos of everything, from the rocks on the ground to the flowers blooming on the hillsides, and even the color of the sky, beautifully reconstructing it all in the game.
Outside of the game, you can see Delphi antiquities in the small museum on-site. I suggest staying the night in the adjacent town, or in Arachova, before heading back to Athens (though if needed, it can be done in a day trip).
The Assassin’s Creed universe spans most of Greece and the Greek islands, with the ability to navigate between bodies of earth on traditional Greek traimie ships. A short 50-minute flight from Athens will take you to the island of Crete, where you can see some of the game’s island settings, including the archeological site of Knossos.
This one-time capital of Minoan Crete is conveniently located just outside Heraklion. You will fight for room between crowds from bus and cruise tours, but if you go early enough in the day, you should be able to beat the heat and the worst of the lines. Hire a guide right on-site or opt for an audio guide, when available. You’ll want one or the other to make heads or tails of the sprawling palace ruins, the home of the most important of Crete’s kings: King Menos, son of Zeus and Europa.
The artifacts in the palace ruins (including the frescos) are reproductions, with the exception of King Menos’ wooden throne, located in the aptly-named Throne Room. However, you can see the remainder of the actual artifacts in the nearby Heraklion Archaeological Museum, about 15 minutes away in the city. Plan to stay at least 2-3 days on Crete to enjoy the beautiful beaches and coastal towns. Since you’re so close, you might want to consider a ferry ride to nearby Santorini.
I love that my kids can take a deep dive into history while they play a video game, and that we can see for ourselves the real historic sites and culture depicted so accurately. If you’ve ever traveled based on inspiration from a book or movie, consider seeking out the setting of your kids’ or your favorite video game too. You’ll gain an unique perspective, get a better understanding of the world your kids enjoy exploring with their controllers, and sneak in some old-fashioned family vacay bonding time too. Who knows? Video game inspired travel might be the wave of the future.
This is a post by fellow Twist Traveler, Amy Whitley, a family travel writer, editor, and columnist based in Southern Oregon. An avid traveler, backpacker, skier, and hiker, Amy has written about family and outdoor experiences for local and national publications across the globe and on her site, PitStopsForKids.com.