One of the most beautiful and diverse countries in Europe is undoubtedly Greece. This is a guest post about the best places to visit in Greece – from Athens all the way to Santorini and beyond!
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Best Places to Visit in Greece
Greece, one of the world’s most ancient countries, boasts hundreds of beautiful places. One only has to google it for stunning photos of picturesque villages, secluded beaches, crumbling castles, and towering acropolis.
It is not just the Greek islands that draw us in, either. Mainland Greece – from the Peloponnese to the far north – has enticing and mysterious locations.
Some of these locations are found in the Ancient Greek myths, others are rife with Byzantine history or ascetic monks, but they are all interesting and important to Greek history and culture.
No matter what you want to do in Greece, you will find it in one of the places listed below. Here are some of the best places to visit in Greece.
Athens, the capital of Greece, is one of the greatest capital cities in history. With settlement that stretches back to 1400 BC and evidence of humans dating back to between the 11th and 7th century BCE, the area now known as Athens has been inhabited for over 5,000 years.
Some of the most popular attractions in Athens include the Acropolis, which is home to several temples dedicated to various gods and goddesses, the National Archaeological Museum, and the new Acropolis Museum.
Small neighborhoods like Plaka and Monastiraki beckon visitors with mouth-watering foods, brightly-colored stalls, and local artists and designer boutiques.
Just a few hours north of Athens is Delphi, home to the ancient Oracle. This site, once considered the center of the world, is notable for its importance to Greek city-states, as evidenced by the many monuments built by the various governments. For this reason, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Since ancient times, Delphi was a place of worship and would have had a temple, a theatre, a council building, treasury, stora, and sanctuary, among other structures. All are in ruins today but it is still a most impressive sight.
Meteora is located on the mainland, a few hours north of Delphi in the Plains of Thessaly. It is home to six Eastern Orthodox monasteries, all built on top of natural sandstone pillars.
While there is evidence of human settlement as far back as 50,000 years ago in caves, and there were monks living in the caves from the 9th century onwards, the earliest monasteries were built in or around the 14th century.
At the peak, there were 24 monasteries in Meteora, although today there are only 6 functioning ones. Access to the monasteries was by ropes or ladders that could be removed.
Today, it is easier to visit the monasteries, as there are now staircases built into the rock.
Greece’s second-largest city, located in the north of the country, is an open-air Byzantine museum with many churches and monuments dating to this era. Thessaloniki was founded in the 1st century BCE by Cassander of Macedon and became an important Roman city.
Under the Byzantines, the city flourished and was the second largest and wealthiest city in the empire. Today, Thessaloniki is considered Greece’s cultural capital, with yearly art and film festivals.
It also features plenty of street art and has been named as one of the best mid-size European cities. In 1917, after a great fire destroyed much of the city, the city was rebuilt according to a Byzantine city plan.
The Ano Poli, or upper town, was not destroyed and remains as the most traditional part of the city.
The Mani is the middle of the three peninsulas that jut out from the southern Peloponnese peninsula, south of Kalamata. It is divided into two parts, the Outer Mani and the Deep Mani.
Outer Mani, in the north, is somewhat well-traversed by visitors, though not as many as other parts of Greece but the Deep Mani to the south of Outer Mani is an entirely different story. If you are in search of the most beautiful beaches or the most remote fishing villages, this is where to go.
The Mani is known for the Diros Caves, which are some of the most interesting lake caves in the world, full of dripping stalactites that reflect and shimmer in the crystal clear water.
Some other attractions in the Mani include Byzantine churches, Spartan temples, and more.
Monemvasia is a small town on the Peloponnese peninsula, about four hours from Athens. It is a small town constructed on an island accessible by a causeway from the mainland and boasts Byzantine ruins, including a castle, town walls, and churches.
Visiting or staying in Monemvasia is like stepping back in time to a fortified village and it is well worth a stop.
, or the Zagori villages, are 46 fairy tale-esque villages in the Pindus Mountains, in Epirus, northern Greece.
They are connected by winding mountain roads and arched stone bridges that date to the 18th century; today there are modern roads but these are the most picturesque way to access the villages.
Perhaps the most famous of the Greek islands, Mykonos is a paradise for everyone from celebrities to college kids.
The capital town of Hora is a vibrant town with plenty of boutique and designer shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, and more. Don’t miss Little Venice, or Alefkántra, where imposing Italianate mansions line the streets overlooking the water.
Mykonos is also known for its parties, often at beach bars along the south coast. But Mykonos has a quieter side too; you can stay at one of the Royal Myconian properties for some luxurious pampering.
Santorini is a small island in the Cyclades island group, but despite its size, it is one of the most well-known and popular Greek islands.
It is popular with honeymooners and couples because it is considered incredibly romantic. The whitewashed buildings of Fira (Thera), Oia, and Imerovigli look out over the caldera that was formed from a massive volcanic eruption thousands of years ago.
Scientists and archaeologists speculate that the eruption caused – perhaps indirectly – the fall of the Minoan civilization on Crete (1600 BCE – ish).
Besides sipping local wines on a terrace overlooking the caldera and the sunset, visitors to Santorini also enjoy exploring the island’s archaeological site, Akrotiri, a Bronze Age Minoan settlement that was destroyed in the 16th century BCE eruption.
Crete is the largest Greek island and the fifth-largest in the Mediterranean. It is located about 100 miles south of the Greek mainland.
The largest city is Heraklion, in the northeast part of the island; visitors to Crete will arrive into either Heraklion or Chania, the second-largest city located in the west. Over its 130,000 years of human settlement, Crete has been ruled by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Emirate of Crete, the Venetians, and the Ottomans.
During World War Two it was also occupied by the Nazis. Crete was home to Europe’s earliest advanced civilization, the Minoans, who were wiped out in the 16th century BCE in part due to a major volcanic eruption and in part due to the Mycenaens.
The Palace of Knossos, home of the Minotaur, is located on Crete. Other popular tourist attractions include the White Mountains (Lefka Ori), Arkadi Monastery, and the Venetian fortresses.
Milos is an island in the Cyclades, near to Santorini and Mykonos and north of Crete. It was well known in ancient times for obsidian, which was used for stone tools and weapons until bronze became the common element in manufacturing.
Milos was uninhabited until the early Bronze Age when fishermen settled on the island. The island grew through the first millennium BCE under various Greek rules. Like many of the other islands, it was also ruled by Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans.
Only about 4,000 people live on the island today, which is known for remote beaches, some active adventures, and a slower pace of life than Santorini and Mykonos,
Unlike many other Greek islands, Corfu never fell under Ottoman rule and as a result, it feels a bit like you’re traveling in Italy. The Venetian fortress and the character of the Old Town are particularly impressive.
Other influences on Corfu, which is located in the northwest of the country, are the French and the British; the French influence is felt at Spianada in the center of Corfu town where beautiful French mansions line the city square.
Corfu is also no stranger to royalty; Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh – Queen Elizabeth’s husband – was born on Corfu at Mon Repos, while Empress Elisabeth of Austria – better known as Sisi – lived at Achilleion.
Skopelos is an island in the Northern Sporades island group, on the eastern side of the country. It is a beautiful island and has always been popular with locals for its stunning beaches, picture-perfect landscape and unspoiled way of life.
Along with neighboring Skiathos, Skopelos hosted filming of the 2007 Hollywood blockbuster Mamma Mia! and has seen an increase in tourism since then. There are two main towns, Hora and Glossa, where you can find decent accommodations and a wide range of restaurants, bars, and shops.
Do not miss Agios Ioannis Kastri, the church from the movie, which is located on a steep cliff across a small causeway from the mainland.
Rhodes is the largest Dodecanese island, northeast of Crete off the western coast of Turkey. It was well known in ancient times (and in modern history classes) for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (no evidence of the statue remains).
After the reign of Alexander the Great, Rhodes was a commercial and maritime powerhouse; it controlled much of the Aegean trade in the 3rd century BCE and was also well known for its culture and schools.
The Medieval Town of the City of Rhodes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while other famous sites include the Acropolis of Lindos, Acropolis of Rhodes, the castle of Monolithos, and the Jewish Quarter.
Naxos, the largest of the Cycladic islands, often flies under the radar compared to neighboring Mykonos. It is one of the greenest Greek islands, with beautiful beaches, towering mountains, and small, remote villages to explore.
Naxos has a long and varied history, beginning with the Greek legend that says Zeus was raised on Mt Zas. There is evidence of Neanderthal settlement on the island as well, but the city really rose to prominence as a Classical Greek city-state.
Ruins to explore today include the Temple of Demeter, the Fotodotis Monastery, and Venetian fortresses. Naxos is also well-known for its windsurfing and kitesurfing, and also for the number of unspoiled beaches.
Kefalonia, located in the Ionian Sea, is the biggest and most beautiful Ionian island. Like many other islands, it has beautiful hidden beaches, enchanting fishing villages, a rich local culinary scene, and underground caves to explore.
Some of the most famous beaches include Myrtos, which is surrounded by towering cliffs, Antisamos, and Skala. Kefalonia is famous for being the film location for Captain Correlli’s Mandolin but has a charm all its own that you should seek out.
Zakynthos is the southernmost Ionian Island, located about 9 miles south of Kefalonia. It is well-served by an airport that has flights from northern Europe and is a popular tourist destination.
In addition to having some gorgeous beaches like Navagio, which is only accessible by boat, Zakynthos also has a wide array of sea cliffs and caves with arches only accessible by boat.
While it would seem that most of the island is accessible only by boat, that’s not true as there are some fantastic beaches near town that are great for a day of sunbathing or watching for the endangered sea turtles.
Zakynthos has a distinctly Venetian feel to it, having been under Venetian rule for a long time. Don’t miss the town nightlife either!
Hydra is one of the islands closest to Athens, making it perfect for a day trip from the city. But, if you have more time, spend at least one night there.
Hydra, which has no cars, is the epitome of relaxed Greek life. Spend time in the small town, hike along the coast to further away beaches, or relax on the rocks near town.
Hydra was settled in antiquity, though the Dorian invasion of 12th century BC depopulated the island and it wasn’t repopulated for several hundred years.
There is very little in the history books about Hydra, though we know it was settled during the Byzantines era and the later Venetian and Ottoman Empires. The island played a large role in the shipping industry as well as the Greek Revolution.
Today, Hydra attracts celebrities as well as local Athenians and is a delightful place to spend some time.
Greece has many beautiful places. The center of the ancient world and a place that beckons to many today for romantic getaways, yachting trips, and island parties, it has not lost its appeal or its splendor.
These are some of the best places in Greece and all can be visited as part of a tour itinerary or on your own.
Chrysoula is a travel blogger with a professional background in Tourism and Marketing. Her blog Travel Passionate is in English and French and is focused on luxury travel, cultural and culinary experiences around the world.
She enjoys exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations and she is interested in presenting the best locations, attractions, and accommodation in each area she visits.
Travelpassionate is a trusted resource for travel tips and destination guides that aims to inspire others to travel and experience different cultures.
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