Greece is a postcard-worthy country of some of the most significant archaeological sites in the world. Here, thousands of years of history come alive on a land considered a treasure by Romans, Venetians, Ottomans, French and other great Empires who fought to hold her cities and islands as their own. You’ll be fighting too in order to stay longer in Greece, once you experience the vibrancy of the region’s colors, its people and all of the ancient and modern wonders you can enjoy. Here’s a look at some of the best vacation spots in Greece.
Nafplio is a lovely Argolic Gulf seaport on the Peloponnesian coast. This picturesque ancient village of only about 30,000 inhabitants is a setting of traditional Greek architecture and sculpted works, where you can see evidence of the city’s storied history under multiple kingdoms and empires. Colorful Venetian influence from 1338 to 1540 provides picture-postcard beauty you seek from Greece, along with indications of Ottoman, French and Byzantine rule. The Castle of Palamidi is perched high above the city, a big attractor for tourists. You will want to catch your breath at the foot of the castle’s staircase from the village, as it is about 999 steps to the top. Once you have reached the fortress, views of gorgeous Greek white sand beaches and the village below will knock your breath away again.
Meteora is a collective of six functioning monasteries all built on natural sandstone pillars. The landscape of this region is unlike any other you may have experienced, so bring your hiking shoes and a camera. One of the greatest attributes of the Meteora monasteries are their staircases leading from an accessible level to their perches high above the ground. You can climb up to gain perspective of both the Eastern Orthodox Church’s past and that of Athonite architecture of Northern Greece. The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron is the region’s largest, dating to the mid-14th century. Five other monasteries date back to the late 15th to 16th centuries, two inhabited by nuns.
Beyond its beauty and archeological wonder, the area is full of cinematic intrigue as the setting for many feature films, such as the James Bond flick For Your Eyes Only and the more recent World War Z. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you will quickly recognize the Eyrie of Vale of House of Arryn.
Modernity meets archaeological antiquity in Delphi, a village on the slope of Mount Parnassus in north central Greece dating to about 510 BC. If you love mythology, you will recognize Delphi as where Zeus sought to reach the center of Grandmother Earth, called Gaia. This is where Zeus found the navel of Gaia when his eagles’ paths crossed to indicate the precise location. The Olympics also were born here in 586 BC as the Pythian Games. Delphi is both mountainous and rugged for the hiker or explorer in you. You will want to visit the Temple of Apollo, its ancient neoclassical columns rising boldly to the sky. There are many other ruins here, including the reconstructed Athenian Treasury, theatre at Delphi and the Stoa of the Athenians. Local hotels, guest houses, cafes, shops and museums provide every comfort and diversion you need to make your stay enjoyable.
Santorini is one of the most photographed Greek islands, where deep royal blue seas lap onto cliffs where village dwellings are precariously perched, their blue domes and doors deeply contrasted against whitewashed walls. Santorini offers several villages for exploration and many vistas where you can enjoy spectacular views while sipping on award-winning Greek wine.
Beyond the picture postcard elements of this highly traveled island are ancient ruins, volcanic craters to explore and a bit of mystery presenting you with the opportunity to venture in search of the lost city of Atlantis. Santorini is the most popular vacation spot in Greece, so finding the right hotel, spa treatments, restaurants and cultural exhibits to suit your fancy is not difficult.
Athens is a bustling city by Greek standards, both its largest and capital. Not enough can be said about this city’s archaeological and historic wonder. One of Athens’ most famous sites is the Acropolis. This hilltop citadel is the most complete ancient Greek monumental complex still in existence, having been first fortified in the 13th century BC and developed over many centuries.
You can climb to the top of the hill on which the Acropolis is situated from the Plaka, one of Athens oldest neighborhoods. In this district, shopping can be enjoyed in galleries, furriers and jewelry boutiques. In case you start to become distracted in the Plaka district, just look again to the Parthenon of the Acropolis for it to lure you back on track. The Parthenon is the grand temple built over 15 years from 447 to 432 BC as a tribute to the goddess Athena. At night, the temple is illuminated which is quite romantic as a backdrop for evening walks.
Zakynthos is an island in the Ionian sea, west of the Greek mainland. With an international airport conveniently on the island, you can fly in and hit the beaches within moments of pulling your suitcase off the plane. One particular beach you will not want to miss is Navagio beach, a boat-accessible cove of white pebbled sand and striking turquoise waters. You can climb up to an observation deck to overlook a shipwreck, explore a nearby monastery, take a boat into the Blue Caves cut into the cliffs and check out a lighthouse on a nearby island. Scuba diving is a major attractor, so do not forget your gear. If solid ground is more your style, island villages offer shopping, museums, decadent dining, resort experiences and so much more to keep you entertained.
The largest city and capital of the island of Crete, Heraklion is home to almost 200,000 people and a convenient international airport. The city’s influences from Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman eras are evident in its architecture, sculptures, busts and fountains. You can stay on solid ground and explore cobblestoned streets or take a boat excursion to explore more of the island and seas around it. Near Heraklion, the Palace of Knossos is a major attraction in Crete. It was once the seat of all of Crete’s civic, economic and religious administration. First excavated in the early 20th century, the palace is now available for you to walk around its structures, seeing firsthand the elaborate nature of its design and construction, complete with colorful wall frescoes, a throne room, theatre and a multitude of other ruins which will fill you with wonder.
Another beautiful Greek isle, Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese islands and was once known as Colossus. You will feel pampered to the extreme if you choose to enjoy the amenities of one of many nearby resorts where medicinal baths and health treatments are popular. You can walk flat sandy beaches and enjoy crystalline blue waters, explore ancient Greek ruins, traverse cobblestoned streets of Medieval Old Town and follow perimeter fortification walls for which the city is known worldwide. Castles, monasteries and the Acropolis provide plenty of sightseeing opportunities, as does the Venetian Market of Mandraki, where you can shop to your heart’s content.
Another beautiful city on the north coast of the island of Crete, this lovely town provides a seaside promenade of shops, cafes and other businesses for you to explore. Chania’s Old Town is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets with tightly constructed villas and marketplaces throughout. You will see Venetian influence in Old Town, as it appears very similar to the villages of Italy with its wrought iron balconies and shuttered windows. A vibrant nightlife is one feature of Old Town’s harbour, where you will find and drink and socialization any night of the week. Chania’s modern city also offers its own charms, historic sights and a quaint lighthouse at the port.
Mykonos is both a hilly island and its principal town. The island is a hilly landscape of traditional Greek dwellings, tightly constructed villages and dozens of Venetian windmills used to capture the island’s most prominent natural resource for grinding of flour. You will certainly want to explore Little Venice, once a fishing village where many of the inhabitants were secretly pirates. Underground storage areas provided spaces for the pirates to stash their treasures. Now, Little Venice is a maze of quaint shops, cafes and galleries where you will find your own treasures, even if an authentic Greek salad is all you desire. Museums, churches and theatre also await your exploration.