The home of Odysseus’ voyage that wound its way through the islands. A landscape so vastly diverse and beautiful with 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites spread across a country built upon the soil of western civilization’s beginnings. Soil with roots reaching back centuries to the discovery and advancement of philosophy, democracy, art, literature, science, math and architecture. Architecture that wears its centuries as proud battle wounds and stands taller when Helios’ chariot careens across the horizon. Greece has it all, and then some. This mecca in southern Europe is fantasized on Instagram, idolized in movies and romanticized in Greek mythology for good reason, but this paradise is best explored in person.
Follow these hotspots for a trip any traveller would dream of exploring:
As the capital of Greece, Athens will be your travel hub, but more importantly, it’s your gateway to a country bridging itself between its ancient roots and the era of modernity.
As the Acropolis feels the first touch of sunlight from its perch above the city, it also looms highest among most Greece travel itineraries – and for good reason. A standing ode to 5th-century BC, you can walk in the footsteps of history as you make your way to the Parthenon, the large mass of marble observing the depths of the bustling city below just as Athena watched over her prodigy in the midst of battle.
A 4th-century marvel built entirely of marble and home to the first modern Olympic games. If you put yourself through the blood, sweat and tears of running marathons, this could be your finish line in the annual Athens Classic Marathon, or just tour it and get your exercise that way.
Mount Lycabettus is all about the views. You can choose to hike up or charge ahead on the funicular railway that climbs the limestone hill to the summit. With a 908-foot (300 meters) incline, you can get a panorama of both the city of Athens and the Acropolis. Only the goddess Athena has a better view.
This cultural hotspot does not only connect Syntagma Square with the Kerameikos archaeological site but also offers tourists a chance to shop until they drop. This pedestrian-only street spans about a mile (1.5 km) with high-end fashion stores and boutiques. It’s wildly popular and wildly expensive.
West of Athens, and a peninsula in southern Greece, Peloponnese is not talked about enough as a Greek travel destination. It has the best food, it’s putting Greece back on the map with wine connoisseurs, the landscape is so vast and diverse and Hercules fought the Nemean lion in Peloponnese’s very own soil – why aren’t you there yet?
Nafplio is like Lake Como or Aix-en-Provence, a postcard at every turn. This town sits along the Peloponnese coast dotted with fortresses, citadels and narrow streets to wander through taking in the architecture, smelling the delicious seafood wafting and falling in love with this Greek charm lost in time. Visit the fortress of Palameda that overlooks the merging of rolling sea with Nafplio’s rolling hills.
Simos Beach can be found on Elafonissos, right between the two tips of eastern Peloponnese. When you imagine a beach in paradise, you’re lounging on the creamy white sands of Simos Beach and watching the turquoise tide dance with the sun’s rays. Simos Beach is also one of the few beaches where you can actually camp in Greece. So, head to Elafonissos to unwind, hang out with nature on Simos Beach and enjoy the quiet vibe of this sleepy port town.
You have to go to Epidaurus during the Epidaurus Festival – it’s a mid-summer staple activity. During this time, antique Greek play representations are performed at the ancient theatre, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The theatre was built in the 4th century B.C. and can hold around 14,000 people – and it is still in immaculate condition for its age.
Like the Acropolis, Olympia is a must during your Greek holiday. This ancient site is home to the ruined Temples of Zeus and Hera and the Ancient Olympic Games. From 776 B.C. to 393 A.D., the Ancient Olympic Games were held here until they were forbidden. Before this era’s Olympic Games, the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame still takes place in Olympia. Before exploring, definitely check out the Olympia Archaeological Museum to put context to the ancient ruins you’ll be walking along.
Thessaloniki is Athens’ little brother to the north. Even though it’s the second biggest city in Greece, it sees far less foot traffic than most Greek destinations, but by skipping Thessaloniki you’re missing out on these incredible travellers’ treasures:
Modiano Market is a mecca for foodies. The open market houses hundreds and hundreds of flavors and scents from spices, cheese, fish, meat and everything else under the sun. Wandering through the countless stalls, bars and tavernas, you will feel an overwhelming desire to touch, taste and try everything along the way. And if you cover all of the ground that Modiano Market offers then just a couple of minutes down the road is the Aristotelous Plaza where you’ll discover Kapani, the oldest open market in the city.
Find the Thessaloniki Citadel or Heptapyrgion in the upper-city right before dusk. Pack a few gyros and some wine to enjoy after you explore the Citadel and watch as the sun sinks lower and lower and the shadows spread across Thessaloniki. The Citadel is a symbol of Thessaloniki’s turbulent past that you can learn more about as you tour its structure and surroundings.
The Cyclades is an archipelago of islands that extends into the most beautiful abyss of blue that will leave you in awe. While the Cyclades are most known for its honeymoon getaway, Santorini, it encompasses 23 other islands that are totally worth visiting, whether you’re honeymooning or backpacking.
There are so many things to do and see around this island in the Cyclades that it deserves its own ‘27 Best Places’ guide. The top two places to wander in Santorini are the little towns of Oia and Fira that are etched into the island as if they grew from the roots of the land. They both offer picturesque views, narrow winding streets and Greek staples from the bright white houses to the blue domes that highlight the churches and Santorini’s effortlessly romantic charm.
Santorini’s popular neighbour to the north is also known for that typical Greek charm and partying. Spend your day exploring the island by moped, and make sure to marvel at the ancient windmills and wander through Little Venice. Then at night, head over to Cavo Paradiso for some DJs, dancing and a pool! Cavo Paradiso is a club in Mykonos that overlooks the little town situated on the island. Clubs not your scene? Don’t worry there are a number of smaller, more intimate bars lining the waterfront.
Amorgos is an untouched Greek haven in the middle of the ocean. You can come here for the whitewashed buildings that glisten in the reflection of the island’s crystal clear water and the traditional local experience devoid of overcrowding and tourism, or really get to know the island’s draw – adventure sports. Diving, hiking and climbing are all in abundance on Amorgos. Dive near coves and swim along the coast for sites like the cavern of Nikouria Isle, the Deep Blue Wall, the Shipwreck of Manina Three and so many other treasures. You could spend days and days on Amorgos just getting lost on these hiking trails: Palea Strata, Fotodotis, Itonia, Valsamitis and Melania. With the rise of climbing amongst adventurers and athletes, Amorgos also needs to be on the radar for best crags across the world.
This Cyclades island is like Mykonos, but more relaxed, serene and family-friendly. Visit Naxos’ coasts for the ultimate beach getaway. The largest island in the archipelago offers must-see sites, and beaches that stretch across a pristine landscape that you didn’t even know could exist so beautifully. Enjoy the calm of Agios Prokopios’ fine sand that just simply flows into the translucent water caressing the shoreline. And then be sure to catch the sunset between Portara of Naxos’ arch.
A group of islands in the southeastern corner of the Aegean Sea, the Dodecanese Islands are a gem hiding in the shadows of the Cyclades. Come here for medieval castles, ancient sites, Byzantine churches and of course your Greek beaches.
Find Rhodes nestled between Turkey and Crete, offering some of the most stunning scenery you’ll find in all of Greece. The buildings and houses with stories to tell perfectly compliment the greens and blues vying for attention at this island’s shoreline. Visit the Old Town and Lindos to walk the same footsteps as the ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Italians and now you. It’s a refreshing escape to times long gone, but memories forever etched into the cultural core of Rhodes.
Patmos is as much a Christian pilgrimage site as it is a touristic destination. Just wandering through this quaint island, you would never guess its heritage linked to St. John and the Book of Revelation. Patmos is essentially the birthplace of the New Testament’s finale. You can even find the cave where John quite literally had his visions of the final judgment. This holy site is near St. Anne’s chapel. The Monastery of St. John is also quite impressive as the citadel has held watch over the sacred island since 1088. Whether you’re religious or not, the island is steeped in can’t-miss history that governs the society we live in today.
A beautiful secret hiding in the wash of the Aegean Sea, Leros is the most authentic and intimate Greek experience you can find. It’s an island with only 8,000 permanent residents and very few tourists. An island rife in hiking, diving and World War II history, Leros is a worthy escape for any traveller willing to explore the quiet cobble-stoned streets.
The Ionian Islands lie to the west and look a little bit different from the rest of the Greek lineage in southern Europe. In juxtaposition to the familiar rocky terrain of other Greek islands, these islands boast a cooler climate and abundance of greenery, like is more likely to be found in the rolling hills of Tuscany’s countryside. But don’t worry, these sevens islands still have picturesque beaches and idyllic sunsets.
Corfu holds UNESCO World Heritage status, and for good reason. It’s the only city in all of Greece to avoid Ottoman oppression, and thus has a unique history let by the Venetians, French and British rule over the years. You can see the different cultures represented throughout the city. And even more unique, is Corfu’s landscape. This Greek cut of jade is the most forested region in all of Greece, and creeks run crisscross all over the island for a refreshing escape from the salty waters of the sea. Before you leave, definitely check out the Liston, a bustling pedestrian esplanade with heaps of arcades!
This Ionian island is for animal lovers. Zante holds the first established marine National Park in all of Greece. Head south to this island and see the protected Caretta-Caretta turtles nesting. This species only nests in Greece, no other European countries, and Zante’s marine environment surrounding the Ionian island proves crucial to their future survival.
Crunched on time? Crete has it all. It’s Greek’s largest island with a diverse selection of touristic attractions for everyone and anyone.
Balos Lagoon is a rainbow of colours and activity. The vibrant hues of sea blue, translucent green, blinding white and coral pink coexist to form one of the most picture-worthy spots in the entire world, which is why it gets really crowded during July and August so get here early! You can hike around the lagoon, snorkel beyond the shallow waters or embrace the warmth of the sun as your kids play in the pools hugging the shore.
A Bronze age and Greek mythology mecca, Knossos Palace is considered Europe’s oldest city. With intricate frescos and a magnificent throne room exuding an aura of complex rulings and royalty, the Knossos Palace is a sight to be seen. But don’t forget the Greek myth as you wander, this is the place where Theseus killed the Minotaur.
The Samaria Gorge runs 8 miles (13 km) long through the Samaria Gorge National Park – it’s the longest in Europe. An epic hike where rock and water cohabit and form a natural wonder for explorers and adventurers alike.
One of the most famous and important caves in Greece can be found dotting Crete’s landscape. The Dikteon Cave is known for the Greek mythology legend where Rhea gave birth to Zeus, King of the Gods while hiding from the Titan Kronos. Walking down the zig-zagged staircase with rocky formations hanging overhead, you can not only feel the dampness of earth as you descend into its depths but also a lurking history that we may never really be able to understand or know.
Other Greek Treasures:
You haven’t been to Greece if you haven’t visited Mount Olympus. As the tallest peak in the entire country, it looms over its southwestern neighbour, Thessaloniki. Established as the first Greek National Park in 1938, it has been home to visitors exploring its extremely diverse vegetation, climbing its numerous peaks and ascending the various slopes scattered throughout the country’s natural wonder.
The Delphi archaeological site is an ode to Ancient Greece that will give tourists a peek into the country’s rife history. Home to the Temple of Apollo, and understood as the very place where Pythia, or the Oracle of Delphi, recited Apollo’s prophecies to mortals. This sanctuary used to be the epitome of the centre of the world where citizens and royalty alike came to understand their fates. Beyond the Temple of Apollo, the theatre, and the stadium that hosted the Pythic Games, Delphi is also a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site because of Delphi’s foundation – Mount Parnassus, a gift from Mother Nature.
An out of the way tourist destination hours between Thessaloniki and Athens that is still completely worth the trip. Located in the centre of Greece, Meteora offers out of this world scenery with rock formations from ancient inland sea erosion. And built on top of the rocks? Six impressive monasteries that you can spend days wandering through and around. It feels like another planet far removed from the rest of the hustle and bustle of Greece’s most popular tourist destinations.
Vikos Gorge puts the gorge in gorgeous. Even farther removed than Meteora, it is the ideal outdoor adventure in Greece. It’s 7.5 miles (12 km) and nearly 3,000 feet (900 m) deep – one of the deepest gorges in the entire world. Hike from Monodendri to Vikos and explore the entirety of this nature-lovers quiet escape amongst the trees and winding trails. And beyond the 27 best places to visit in Greece, there’s still so much the country has to offer. Whether you’re a honey-mooner, foodie, budget backpacker or a traveller looking to do all of the things, you can’t go wrong with Greece’s island hopping, history, Tzatziki or beaches.
To discover more about your Greek holiday, check out My Villa Breaks for where to go, where to stay and what to do.