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Who hasn’t dreamed of traveling to Greece? If you’ve never been, with so many destinations to choose from, from historic cities to gorgeous islands. These amazing places, recommended time and time again by those who visit, can help narrow your options to make that decision a little easier.
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Many travelers dream of visiting Santorini, often ranked as one of the world’s best islands, and also one of the most photographed destinations in Greece, with its jaw-dropping sunsets and dramatic landscapes. Its streets are carved into a high cliff that overlooks the site of an ancient volcanic eruption that occurred in 1650 BC, and was one of the most powerful in human history. The village of Oia is known as the prime spot for sunset-watching over the caldera, and in the town of Akrotiri, visitors can explore a Minoan site that was believed to have been destroyed by the eruption that was blamed for the demise of the civilization on Crete as well. The island also offers beaches that are ideal for snorkeling and diving, like Red Beach, that looks as if it came from the planet Mars.
One of the largest and most densely populated islands in Greece, it would be easy to spend a week or more in Crete without getting bored. While its main modern city, Iraklio, is a bit dull, the rest of the island offers all sorts of attractions, including scenic mountains for hiking, Minoan ruins for exploring, alluring beaches for soaking up the sun, dramatic caves, gorges, picturesque villages and more. This was the place where, according to myth, Theseus slew the half-bull, half-human creature known as the Minotaur, saving numerous young Athenians from being sacrificed to the monster. For those that don’t want to leave the modern amenities behind, this island is a good choice with its wide range of hotels, restaurants and shops. As it offers a little bit of everything, it makes a perfect stop for those who are traveling to Greece for the first time.
Mykonos is a picturesque, cosmopolitan island with some of the most stylish boutique hotels in Greece. Its winding streets are lined with interesting shops, art galleries and authentic restaurants, and it’s also considered to have some of the best nightlife in the country. Spend your days strolling past some of the finest traditional Greek architectural character and soaking up the sun and sand on exquisite beaches like Psarrou, Paradise and Super Paradise Beaches. Just before dusk, enjoy sipping seaside drinks while watching a glorious sunset and then head to nightclubs, where the crowds fill in later at night.
The capital of Greece is legendary for its long history and amazing attractions, including the country’s top museums and the iconic Parthenon which rises above the city. No trip to Greece would be complete without experiencing the famously lively Athens. While incredible 5th-century sites like the Parthenon and the Acropolis, which overlooks the Agora, the commercial and civic heart of ancient Athens, where Socrates and Plato once walked, are what fascinates many travelers, visitors will also find plenty of modern cultural attractions too. Enjoy high-end restaurants with outstanding cuisine, a wealth of world-class art galleries and museums like the Benaki Museum, which recently opened a new annex as the city’s window on contemporary art and design.
Zakynthos, known as the “Green Island,” is not only breathtakingly scenic, it is home to some of the best beaches in Greece. One must-do is to take a boat excursion to Smugglers’ Cove, which sits in Shipwreck Bay near the picturesque mountain village of Volimes, where you’ll discover one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, along with a shipwreck. The ship was said to have been abandoned in 1981 after Greek authorities were tipped off that it was smuggling contraband which included wine, women and cigarettes. A chase ensued, and stormy weather and bad visibility resulted in it running aground on the beach. The town of Zante, which was reconstructed in traditional Venetian-style in the 1950s after much of it was destroyed in an earthquake, is a wonderful place to stroll the streets enjoying the thriving local arts scene and watch the fishing boats along the waterfront.
Best known as the place where the famous statue, the “Venus de Milo” was discovered, Milos Island is located halfway between Athens and Crete. It’s not only home to some of the very best beaches in the Greek Islands, like Sarakiniko, Paliochori, Tzigrado, and Papafragas, but it’s rich in many other things that visitors to Greece often look for, like breathtaking views and glorious sunsets, white-washed Cycladic villages, history, fantastic food and kind people. The “island of colors” is noted as such as the sands are incredibly diverse from white to black, pebble- or shell-covered. Their waters are always clear and come in a variety of shades: pale or deep blue, emerald or vibrant green. The island is an ideal destination for those that want to discover authentic Greece and all of its scenic beauty, without the crowds that are found on the more popular islands, and at a fraction of the price.
Halkidiki, a three-fingered peninsula just below Thessaloniki in northern Greece, is renowned for its nearly 350 miles of pristine coastline, with crystal blue seas and striking white sands, making it a mecca for beach lovers and outdoor adventurers of all types. On Sithonia, Halkidiki’s second peninsula, the rolling landscape appeals to nature lovers seeking to escape the crowds. Discover picturesque harbors, deserted beaches and fishing hamlets as well as the opportunity to enjoy mountain biking, horseback riding, golf, and all kinds of water activities, including diving. By climbing to the top of the 2,661-foot-high Mount Dragoudelis, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view over the entire peninsula. Mount Athos, arguably the most fascinating of the three, named after the mountain under which it lies, is home to a number of monasteries that still practice the ancient ways – a boat trip around the peninsula offers an insight into the mystical life enjoyed there.
Visiting Hydra is like stepping back in time. There are no cars or motorcycles as they aren’t permitted. Instead, you’ll get around by boat, donkey or your own two feet. While there aren’t a ton of things to do, the island is a perfect place to relax and enjoy a more authentic experience, with few foreign tourists, and most conversations overheard spoken in Greek. Enjoy gazing at the fabulous horseshoe-shaped harbor, one of the most scenic in the country, and watching the donkeys trod past while enjoying a cocktail or dining on Greek yogurt piled high with fresh fruit and honey.
Nafplio is a seaport town that is one of the most picturesque in eastern Peloponnese, and one of the romantic cities in all of Greece. It traces its history back to the prehistoric era when soldiers participated in the Trojan War. Over the centuries, a variety of conquerors, including Venetian, Turkish and Frankish, left their mark which can be seen in their culture, traditions and architecture. Fascinating for history buffs and architectural lovers alike, the medieval castles, monuments, statues, Ottoman fountains, ancient walls, Venetian and neoclassical buildings are sure to mesmerize. It’s also filled with modern amenities, including upscale boutiques and quayside cafes, along with plenty of hotels and guesthouses. Don’t miss climbing the 999 steps carved into the rock at Palamidi Castle, where you’ll enjoy breathtaking views that keep getting better and better the higher you climb. In the end, the vista of Argolic Bay and Nafplio is so outstanding, you won’t regret the effort it takes.
Less than an hour from Athens in the southernmost region of Greece, Peloponnese is a wide peninsula connected to the mainland by a bridge. It offers unique natural diversity combined with unspoiled landscapes including extraordinary beaches with crystal clear water, mountainous villages, lakes and valleys. It’s also home to some of the most important and impressive ancient Greek sites, museums and monuments within about 60 miles and frequently hosts cultural events like festivals, theater and music. Here you can view Venetian fortresses, classical Greek temples, Mycenaean palaces and Byzantine churches. Among the fascinating ruins is Olympia, which hosted the very first Olympic Games in honor of Zeus. The site encompasses remnants of the stadium that hosted the contests and the Temple of Zeus, which housed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: an enormous gold and ivory statue of the king of the gods.
Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the Macedonia region of Northern Greece. It is a lively place to visit, deemed one of the world’s “ultimate party cities” by Lonely Planet, with its vibrant nightlife, exciting festivals, a multitude of social events and more. It offers both old and new attractions, from its Turkish baths and Byzantine walls to museums, art galleries and colorful food markets. It’s also world-famous for its cuisine, which is considered to be some of the best, and the spiciest, in all of Greece. Both food and wine are an important part of life here, and the climate is excellent for the cultivation of grapes. Many of the country’s very best wines are produced in and around Thessaloniki, reflected in its extensive selection of bars and restaurants.
Delphi, tucked along the slopes of Mt. Parnassus, offers the perfect blend of ancient ruins and stunning natural beauty and is a popular day trip from Athens. Revered by ancient Greeks as the center of the earth, Delphi is home to multiple significant ruins and structures, including the Temple of Apollo, the Athenian Treasury, and the theater and hippodrome that once hosted events of the ancient Pythian Games. You won’t want to miss visiting the Delphi museum either, which hosts the famous bronze statue, The Charioteer, along with Kleobis and Biton, two excellent examples of Archaic statuary. The village, within walking distance of the ancient site, has a good selection of restaurants and cafes as well as a variety of affordable lodging options.
Hidden away between two larger Cycladic Islands, Amorgos and Naxos, Koufonisia is made up of two small islets, Ano (Upper) Koufonissi and Kato (Lower) Koufonissi, which are separated by a less than 700-foot-wide sea channel. Kato Koufonissi is uninhabited, but Ano Koufonissi is home to a buzzing community of a little less than 400, with most making their livings from fishing. The charming island is filled with whitewashed Cycladic cottages with blue windows, stone windmills, flowery courtyards, winding alleys and light blue domes. There are very few cars and no real roads, so everyone either bikes or walks. The island also boasts the largest fishing fleet in the country in proportion to its population, with more boats than inhabitants. Its shipyard will take you back through time, with most vessels made only with simple tools. Despite the tiny size of the island, there are several restaurants and lodging options for those that want to stay overnight – and, if you’re up for camping, you can camp on the deserted isle of Kato Koufonissi for free.
Often acclaimed as the Greek Tuscany, the hilly Pelion Peninsula, which is actually a large mountain, offers it all: beautiful beaches, charming villages, lush countryside, dense forests, an abundance of fruit trees and more. Makrinitsa, Portaria, Milies and Tsagarada are its most traditional villages, featuring grey stone roofed homes and lovely paved paths. On the eastern side, you’ll find idyllic beaches and brilliant blue waters, like Fakistra, Mylopotamos and Agios Ioannis. This is a popular destination year-round, with visitors flocking to the beaches in the summer, and in the winter, to the ski center in Chania village. The Pelion Ski Center, one of the smallest and best-known Greek ski resorts, offers the chance to ski while enjoying views of the Aegean Sea.
Mount Olympus, the star of Olympus National Park, is the highest mountain in Greece at over 9,570-feet-high, and the home to the Gods of Greek mythology. Rich in tree and plant life, it supports more than 1700 species, some very rare. The village of Dion, on the mountain’s flanks, was a Macedonian holy city where King Archelaus held nine days of games to honor Zeus. Today it hosts a remarkable archaeological site, where work is ongoing, and an archaeological museum. In the summer the Olympus Festival includes performances at the ancient theater. Of course, if you really want to experience Mount Olympus, and are able, taking a hike up is the way to do it. While the final stretch is relentless, once you get above the cloud line, the views from here are what dreams are made of. There are nine refuges for overnight stays, and each is able to house dozens of people – many have kitchens or even restaurants.
The Greek word Meteora means “suspended in the air,” which very aptly describes the dramatic cliffs that rise more than 1,200 feet into the sky overlooking the villages of Kalambaka and Kastraki in the north-central mainland of Greece. This vast Eastern Orthodox monastic complex is unlike anywhere else in the world – what makes the cliffs even more impressive, is the historic monasteries that are perched among them, dating all the way back to the 14th century, built by monks seeking spiritual isolation and freedom from religious persecution. Today, six monasteries remain and are open to the public, if you are willing to make the trek up to them, which is more than worth the effort for the reward. The views from Meteora are absolutely stunning no matter where you stand – and, while Greece is filled with magnificent vistas, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that’s more unique.
Delos is an island floating in the Aegean Sea just a few miles from cosmopolitan Mykonos, renowned for its history and culture. As the birthplace of Apollo, it boasts some of the most extensive remains from the golden age of classical Greece, and even earlier. It offers the chance to take a stroll around the revival of the glory of the Greek civilization, with the entire island named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, made up of ruins that include statues, mosaics, temples and a theater. Nowhere else on the planet is there a natural, insular archaeological site of this size and importance, hosting so many monumental antiquities from the Archaic, the Classical, and the Hellenistic periods. While there are no overnight accommodations, the island is easily accessible from Mykonos, making it an ideal daytrip via a boat excursion.
This region in northwestern Greece is filled with spectacular natural beauty, including striking geology and two national parks. You’ll discover a dreamy landscape of alpine lakes, icy rushing rivers, dense forests, rugged mountains and stone bridges in Zagori, with traditional villages, often featuring grand stone houses, dotted along the way. In fact, the wild beauty of nature isn’t the main reason visitors are drawn here. The area is best-known and loved for its traditional villages that date back nearly a thousand years. In addition to the beautiful old stone houses, there are lovely shady squares, small churches and cobbled alleyways. The best way to experience the area is by hiking the numerous paths that connect the nearly 50 villages.