Legendary for its ancient history, home to some of the world’s most important historic sites, beautiful islands, charming traditional villages, friendly people and delicious cuisine, Greece is hard to beat when it comes to travel destinations. The problem is, with so many fantastic destinations to experience, it can be hard to choose which to visit – this list will help you make that decision at least a little bit easier.
Nearly every travel begins their journey through Greece by arriving into Athens, the birthplace of western civilization. It’s an absolute must-visit with the opportunity to gaze up at landmarks and monuments that are thousands of years old like the Acropolis and Parthenon that date all the way back to the 5th-century BC. In this captivating capital city, you can walk in the footsteps of ancient philosophers like Socrates and Plato as well as enjoy a wide range of gastronomic delights, bustling markets and hopping nightlife. For an awe-inspiring view over it all, take the Funicular train up Mount Lycabettus where you’ll see across the Attica basin out to the Aegean Sea.
Delphi, nestled along the slopes of Mount Parnassus about 115 miles northwest of Athens, makes for an ideal day trip from the city. It provides an alluring blend of spectacular natural beauty and ancient ruins as a place that was revered by the ancient Greeks as the center of the Earth. It’s home to iconic monuments like the Athenian Treasury, Temple of Apollo, and hippodrome which once hosted ancient Pythian Games events. Just above is a theater built from local limestone in the 4th-century BC that gave audiences an incredible view of the sanctuary below.
One of the largest islands in Greece, you could easily spend a week or longer in Crete and not even experience a fraction of it all. It’s home to many fabulous cities, including Knossos, Europe’s oldest, along with charming traditional villages, Minoan ruins and some of Europe’s best beaches – it even boasts stretches with pink sands along with scenic mountains for hiking. Don’t miss the Heraklion Archaeological Museum if you have any interest in history – as one of the country’s top museums, it features artifacts spanning 5,000 years of history. Crete truly offers a little bit of everything, allowing visitors to experience much of what Greece has to offer all in one place.
Santorini is an island that’s frequently found on travelers’ bucket lists. One of the most photographed destinations in all of Greece, it’s famous for its whitewashed homes and blue-domed churches that spill down the rim of the ancient caldera, as well as for legendary sunsets that draw a crowd, especially from the hilltop village of Oia. Visitors can also enjoy sunset sails, tasting island-made wines and exploring remarkable archaeological site – the Minoan city was destroyed in a massive volcanic eruption with much of it preserved under ash, similar to Pompei. Santorini’s volcanic activity has also resulted in natural hot springs for soaking and colorful beaches like Red Beach which looks as if it should be on the planet Mars.
Mykonos is famous for its nightlife, a cosmopolitan island home to some of the country’s most luxurious resorts and stylish boutique hotels, fine dining restaurants and upscale shops. It’s also a stunningly beautiful island, filled with exquisite stretches of sand, like Super Paradise and Psarrou beaches, as well as featuring iconic Cycladic architecture, lovely old churches and famous 16th-century windmills. Many visitors here spend their days at the beach, sipping cocktails as the sun goes down before heading to bars and nightclubs where the crowds file in and often stay until the wee hours of the morning.
Just a few miles from Mykonos, Delos is a popular day trip via boat tour. The birthplace of Apollo, the entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to some of the most extensive remains from the golden age of classical Greece – the 5th- and 4th-century BC, and even earlier, including temples, statues, mosaics and a theater. Here you can stroll around the revival of the glory of the Greek civilization and enjoy some great beaches too.
South of Mykonos and north of Santorini, Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades and an ideal spot for those seeking a less-visited Greek island destination. There’s plenty of room to toss down a blanket on the sand with some of the very best beaches in the country found here, while the stretches along the south-west coast are whiter and brighter than any other, framed by clear aquamarine waters. It’s also a hiker’s haven, with mountainous terrain that includes soaring Mount Zeus where visitors can walk steep winding trails alongside goats, listening to the sounds of the bells that jingle around their necks, the songs of the birds and little else. There are ancient sites like the Gate of the Apollo Temple which greets visitors at the harbor entrance and the ruins of the Temple of Demeter that date from 3000 to 2000 BC.
Experience the islands the way they used to be with a visit to Hydra, where motorized vehicles like cars and motorcycles aren’t permitted. Transport here is primarily on foot, by donkey or boat. A perfect place to relax and enjoy authentic Greece, here most conversations overheard are in Greek, with relatively few foreign visitors. Take in the scene, with the donkeys clip-clopping past as you gaze out over the horseshoe shaped harbor sipping a glass of wine or dining on Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit and drizzled with honey.
Situated off the northwest coast of Greece, Corfu is a favorite with its rich history and culture, mythology, striking scenic beauty and nature. It has the feel of an entirely different time, though ancient history and modern sensibilities peacefully coexist. Discover gorgeous sandy beaches, bird-filled lagoons, magnificent waterfalls, whitewashed fishing villages and grand Venetian buildings. One of Corfu’s oldest villages, Perithia, was founded in the 14th century (though likely inhabited long before). UNESCO-protected today, there are 130 homes here, many of which were built in Venetian-style. Take a guided tour to learn more and then wander the stone paths, discovering small, welcoming eateries that serve tasty traditional cuisine.
Located in the heart of the Cyclades, Paros is characterized by lush valleys, serene landscapes with rolling hills dotted with monasteries and small churches, while encircled by beautiful sandy beaches and stunning turquoise waters. Paros Town, its capital and main port, is located on the west coast and framed by high hills. Its “heart” is the old quarter just steps from the port behind the main square. It hosts a 13th-century Venetian castle that was made from the vestiges of various ancient sanctuaries, along the remnants of many historic remnants and temples.
Just a short ferry ride from Santorini, Ios is famously Instagrammable with its nearly 50 miles of sandy beaches, some of which have been named among the very best in Europe, all edging the stunning aquamarine waters of the Aegean. It also boasts traditional hilltop villages with lots of Greek charm, impressive whitewashed Cycladic buildings and an abundance of dining and nightlife options. It’s also home to famous Mylopotas Beach, a long white stretch of sand where it’s easy to find your own secluded spot. Some of its other highlights include Homer’s tomb, a great archaeological museum and a Byzantine castle.
The remote and tranquil isle of Folegandros is located at the southern edge of the Cyclades. Ideal for those who want to avoid the tourist crowds, there are no big cruise ships docking here, nor are there fine dining restaurants, but there is plenty of peace and quiet along with tasty authentic Greek dishes often complemented with the region’s famous drink, rakomelo. Here you’ll see goats scurrying up the hillsides as old wooden windmills twirl in the breeze while the Chora features timeless traditional Cycladic architecture with whitewashed homes and colorfully painted doors.
Only an hour from Athens, Kea Island has somehow managed to remain a well-kept local secret. Athenians enjoy it on weekends and summer holidays as an island getaway that feels like it’s worlds away from the city. Take advantage of beaches without the crowds, outstanding snorkeling and diving, ancient ruins that are waiting to be explored and ancient mule tracks that now serve as hiking trails leading to remote, hidden beaches and other sites. When it comes to dining, you’re unlikely to find anything generic – instead of Greek salad think salads with wild herbs and local cheese paired with a refined beverage distilled from local grape skins known as Tsipouro.
Poros is also in Athens’ backyard, located in the southern part of the Saronic Gulf, only about an hour away by ferry. This island gem is home to wonderful traditional villages connected by Byzantine footpaths filled with fine examples of Cycladic architecture, including those blue-domed churches and whitewashed homes. Visit ancient ruins, including the Temple of Poseidon, built around 520 BC, explore the Archaeological Museum of Poros and enjoy spending time on the beach, swimming in enticing brilliant blue waters in places like Love Bay.
The seaport town of Nafplio, sometimes referred to as Nafplion, is one of the most romantic destinations in Greece, and one of the prettiest in the eastern Peloponnese. The 15th-century Bourtzi Castle sits in the heart of its harbor, built to defend the city from pirates, keeping watch over the entrance to the bay as it has for more than five centuries now. The town itself traces its history to the prehistoric era, and was conquered by the Venetian, Turkish and Frankish, all of which left their mark. These influences can be seen in its architecture, culture and traditions, which makes wandering the winding streets especially enticing. View medieval castles, ancient walls, Ottoman fountains, Venetian and neoclassical buildings, all of which make it especially popular with history and architecture enthusiasts.
Located on the mainland about four hours northwest of Athens, Meteora is set high atop rocky outcrops and is one of the largest pilgrimage sites in all of Greece. Its name translates to “suspended in the air” which is just what it looks like. The dramatic cliffs rise over 1,200 feet into the sky, overlooking the villages of Kastraki and Kalambaka. To reach these sacred places requires walking the very same paths monks have used for centuries. The trek not only brings spectacular panoramic views, but the opportunity to experience living history with monks and nuns still inhabiting it today. The 14th-century monasteries were built by monks seeking freedom from religious persecution, and today, six remain, open to the public, providing an experience of a lifetime and vistas you won’t soon forget.
Pylos is a picturesque seaside town on the Peloponnese Peninsula, home to beautiful Voidokoilia beach, often named among the country’s most beautiful with its smooth white sands edged by intense cerulean waters. Visitors can explore a fascinating archaeological museum which features finds dating to prehistoric times to throughout the region’s history as well as the nearby Palace of Nestor, located just a short drive north. Considered to be one of the most well-preserved Mycenaean structures, the two-story building was featured in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. While it was destroyed in the 1400s, the primary structure can still be seeing along with a Late Helladic era settlement that includes remains of city walls.
Also on the Peloponnese Peninsula, Olympia is one of the most fascinating destinations in all of Greece. The UNESCO-listed site is the place where the very first Olympic Games were held to honor Zeus. It includes remnants of the stadium which once hosted the competitions, as well as the 5th-century Temple of Zeus, famous for the masterpiece it once held – a massive 43-foot-high statue of the god made from gold and ivory, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The country’s second biggest city, the capital of the Macedonia region of Northern Greece, is famous for its parties, once named among the list of “ultimate party cities” by Lonely Planet, but it offers an idyllic blend of old and new with everything from Turkish baths and Byzantine walls to lively food markets, museums and art galleries. Some of the very best wines in Greece are produced in this area and can be found served in the wide selection of bars and restaurants here, which are also famous worldwide for menus with mouth-watering, often spicy, cuisine.
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