Ranging from the pearly beaches of the Aegean islands to the rugged hills of Crete, the mythical massifs of Olympus in the north to the time-forgotten monasteries of Athos and the pulsing streets of modern Athens, Greece is alive with a truly eclectic range of destinations. Here, we take a look at 15 of the top hotspots that every traveler should have on their Grecian bucket list.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Greece:
A dog-leg of an island that bridges the gap between the Albanian Adriatic coast and the Ionian Sea of Greece, Corfu really is the stuff of travel brochures. Along its twisting and turning coastline, alabaster beaches like Pelekas and Chalikounas ooze with isolated beauty, while the likes of the Corfu Old Town and Old Perithia burst with Venetian relics, anti-pirate castles and sun-splashed esplanades. Inland and the territory gives way to Corfu’s more untrodden reaches, where forests of sharp cypresses and flailing Spanish fir trees rise with the mountains, and charming villages like Lakones offer a dash of whitewash amidst the greenery.
The onetime capital of the 19th-century Greek State and a long term favourite of Athens’ moneyed elite (just check the seaside mansions that line the shore and the bobbing millionaire yachts in the harbour!), Nafplion has been shaped over the centuries by Greeks, Ottomans, Byzantines and others. Cue the soaring and formidable bulwarks of the Palamidi Citadel on the ridges above the town; a 17th-century fortification raised by the Venetians. Then there’s the pretty, marble-clad Constitution Square (a namesake of the national revival that took place here), not to mention the buzzing esplanade along the port – a great place for real, earthy Mediterranean seafood!
Straddling the join between ancient Attica and the Peloponnese, amidst the ridges of the Oneia Mountains and the sparkling waters of the Corinthian Gulf, Corinth boomed in ancient times. It was made formidable by its navy and its tactical position on the Isthmus of Corinth, which became an important contact point between the two super powers of Sparta and Athens during the tumultuous Peloponnesian War of the early 5th century BC. Corinth sided with the winner and was certainly an ally to be wooed, just as those formidable fortifications, the soaring ancient acropolis (perhaps even more striking than its counterpart in Athens) and the wealth of art and culture displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth show today.
4. The Halkidiki Peninsula
Jutting its way out into the Aegean Sea like three arched fingers just south of the lively city of Thessaloniki, the Halkidiki Peninsula comes complete with some of the north’s best beaches and resorts. Golden, powdery sands at Kalamitsi on the end of the Sithonia headland draw a subdued crowd of ecotourists with thier concomitant campsites, while Kassandra knows how to party and comes with seaside cocktail bars and a smattering of swish hotel chains overlooking the Med. Then there’s mysterious Athos – the easternmost peninsular. Defiant and traditional in the extreme, this is where some of Greece’s most traditional monastic communities make their home, clinging fiercely to the ways of the Greek Orthodox Church from their high-perched cloisters in the hills.
Raised by mythical cyclops (at least if you believe the legends) and the ancestral home of the mighty King Agamemnon (the same of the Trojan Wars), Mycenae can be found draped over the limestone hills and olive-clad ridges of the Peloponnesian Argolid. One of the less-trodden and more off-the-beaten-track regions of Greece, the spot is unquestionably one of the most immersive and awesome of archaeological remains going. It comes from a much earlier time than the mighty Athenian Acropolis, or the temples of Delphi. In fact, the ruined town here hit its zenith in the 14th century BC with the Atreid dynasty, and it’s from this time that many of its monolith fortifications, striking burial sites and colossal kingly tombs date.
Hallowed ancient ground abounds in Delphi, standing on its perch on the edge of Mount Parnassus on the fringes of the Corinthian Gulf. For countless centuries this cascading set of breathtaking ruins and looming peristyles was the veritable religious centre of the ancient world; a place sought out by kings and emperors, demagogues and democrats for the portents of its famous oracle and the auspicious rulings of its Pythian priestesses. The piece de resistance of the site has to be the crumbling ruins of the Temple of Apollo, which conceals the old rooms of the sages below its hexastyle Doric columns. There are also lines of ancient treasuries to be seen, built by the various city states of the ancient world, along with one glorious theatre and mountaintop stadium.
A teardrop in the Aegean, Rhodes draws booming crowds of tourists each year with its unique combination of shimmering, sparkling beaches, secluded pebble coves, uber-luxurious five-star resorts, fascinating towns and irresistible mountain interiors. Start off with a trip to the ancient settlement of Rhodes city. It clings to the north-eastern coast and was once the home of the mighty Colossus of Rhodes (one of the wonders of the ancient world), although now showcases the beautiful medieval Grand Master’s Palace (a UNESCO site to boot). Elsewhere and the Valley of the Butterflies blooms with colour, the beaches around Ixia glimmer in the sun, Faliraki’s 18-30 clubs never sleep and the inland villages and castles ooze a more laid-back, Dodecanese charm.
Rugged and rocky Zakynthos rises like a glimmering pearl from the cerulean waters of the Ionian Sea. Chalk-white cliffs delineate its coast, which loom like bulwarks in the west to hide gems like the iconic Navagio Beach (or Shipwreck Beach, if you prefer) and the deep, dark Blue Caves of the northern shore. In the middle of the island, hikers and adventure seekers will discover the fir-dotted, cypress-spotted olive groves that are rarely seen by visitors, while famous Laganas beats and booms in the south-west; an 18-30s hotspot of thumping clubs and cocktail bars that goes into overdrive during the summer high-season.
Greece’s second largest city makes its home in a tight-knit inlet on the Aegean Sea in the northern reaches of the country. Part booming commercial port town part elegant historical centre part lively university town (there are more students here than in any other place in Greece), the city offers a real plethora of things to see and do. The centre was largely rebuilt following a destructive fire in the early 20th century and now mimics the Byzantine style of the east, while the heritage-packed Ano Poli (Upper Town) that was not burned showcases classic Greek and Balkan architecture. Travelers should be sure to delve into the exhibitions of the iconic White Tower, check out the Museum of Byzantine Culture and see the Ataturk House here, all before letting loose in the tavernas and chic bars of Nikis Avenue and Krini.
Arching its way beautifully along the rugged coastal reaches of northern Crete, Chania conceals tight-knit lanes of Cretan tavernas and salt-smelling fish restaurants aplenty below its terracotta roofs and the stone-clad tower of its Venetian Lighthouse on the edge of the Med. It’s unquestionably one of the most attractive towns on the island, mixing Turkic architecture and Italianate designs along its gorgeous harbourside. There are Ottoman relics and crumbling forts to see too, not to mention some seriously great dishes to sample – from Crete’s own highland greens to dakos pizza breads, uber-fresh olive oils and – of course – potent homebrewed raki.
Just a short jaunt south out of the Cretan capital of Heraklion, travelers will discover the largest Bronze Age relic in all of Greece: the sprawling Palace of Knossos. Meticulously excavated during the early 20th century and carefully reconstructed in parts, the site reveals many secrets of the ancient Minoans (who dominated this section of the Aegean for almost two millennia). It comes awash with gorgeous mosaics and the famous charging bull frescos, which adorn the central palace structure and the iconic red-painted columns that support it. There are also the remains of Minoan pottery to see, and the resplendent throne room of the Bronze Age kings, the very place where the famous legend of the Minotaur and labyrinth would have played out.
Few cities in the world can boast as much history as Athens. Crowned by the great Parthenon and the sprawling remains of the Agora, it was here that figures like Socrates and Plato, Euripides and Pericles would have stood debating and discussing the issues of the day. It was the birthplace of democracy, which came with Cleisthenes in the late 6th century, and the incubator of all great classical tragedy and comedy: Oedipus Rex; The Antigone; The Phoenician Women. The metropolis remains the largest in Greece too; it’s pulsating, often troubled political kingpin and a place peppered with pretty churches and parliament buildings. Don’t miss the Plaka area, where earthy tavernas cascade through the ancient ruins of the Acropolis hill.
The birthplace of the Olympic Games is without doubt one of the most totemic UNESCO Heritage Sites in Greece today. Hailed as the heart of the so-called Valley of Gods for its mind-boggling wealth of honorific temples and looming monuments to the likes of Zeus and Hera (many of which are preserved in the on-site archaeology museum), the site also shows the excavated Olympic stadium and training grounds, where athletes would have competed for the prestige of their poleis (city states) all those millennia ago. Nearby, travelers can seek out the natural beauties of the Alfios River valley to boot, and the rugged inland hills of the Peloponnese, complete with hiking and mountain biking trails aplenty.
Once revered by many as the greatest healing place in the ancient world, Epidaurus and its vast array of crumbling ruins can be found clinging to the edges of the Argolid Peninsula just around the Corinthian panhandle. The most famous relic here is the old Sanctuary of Asklepios, which boomed with healers and patients alike from the Classical to the Roman eras. That said, many of Epidaurus’ modern visitors come solely for the colossal amphitheatre at the site’s heart; a 4th-century BC masterpiece which has some of the finest acoustics of any outdoor stadium in the world!
Like something plucked straight out of James Cameron’s Avatar, the great bluffs and hoodoos of Meteora are all but guaranteed to draw a gasp. Set right in the heartlands of northern Greece, these dramatic pillars of sandstone play host to some of the country’s most traditional Orthodox monasteries – the Holy Monastery of Rousanou, Varlaam and Great Meteoron – which can be seen clinging tenuously to the precipices in glorious displays of Byzantine and post-Byzantine art and architecture. UNESCO-attested, these breathtaking structures were raised between the 14th and 16th centuries and dominate the awesome mountain landscape of the region.