Places To Go
Often considered to be the birth of the Western civilization, Greece had a tremendous influence on art, politics, philosophy, language, sports and many other things. On top of that, Greece is a wonderful Mediterranean country to visit, from white sandy beaches, historical ruins or one of its 6,000 islands.
One of the world's most ancient cities, Athens remains Europe's undisputed historical and cultural capital. The city of seven hills, this sprawling urban center hosts nearly 4 million residents and attracts almost as many annual visitors from around the world. The birthplace of Western civilization, Athens boasts a vibrant nightlife and a diverse culinary scene, offering impassioned foodies a chance to explore a range of trendy mainstream restaurants, traditional taverns, and alternative cafes. Famous for its ancient monuments that sit as they did thousands of years ago, sophisticated and cosmopolitan Athens remains one of Europe's safest and most livable cities dedicated to preserving its age-old traditions and indulging its hedonistic urban lifestyle.
Crete's largest city, Heraklion remains best known for its proximity to a sprawling Bronze Age archaeological site, once the center of a vanished Minoan civilization. Founded by Arab raiders sometime in the 9th century, Heraklion swapped its rulers several times over the centuries, eventually coming under Venetian and then Ottoman control. Before retreating, the successive conquerors left an indelible mark on the city's architecture of medieval fortifications, Byzantine churches, and lavish fountains. The birthplace of El Greco, modern Heraklion is a densely populated city infamous for its traffic congestion. Take a break from the big port city and its throngs of tourists by exploring the ancient sites located just a short drive from the busy coastline.
Located on Santorini's southwestern coastline, the small village of Akrotiri sits just a short walk from one of Europe's most significant Bronze Age archaeological sites. In 1627 a massive volcanic eruption destroyed a Minoan settlement located here, burying the remains of many everyday objects and preserving for posterity the ancient way of life of a long-gone culture. The settlement, once an important port city on the Aegean, likely served as an inspiration for Plato's story of Atlantis, mentioned in two of the philosopher's major works. The modern village of Akrotiri now draws history buffs and vacationers from around the globe and offers easy proximity to a series of red and black volcanic beaches.
Every day hundreds of visitors come to Oia just to experience its sunsets. A small town proudly perched on top of crescent-shaped volcanic cliffs, Oia serves as one of Santorini's major cruise ship ports. Crowded and lively, the compact town epitomizes the finest aspects of Cycladic architecture, its steep alleys flanked by whitewashed houses and blue-roofed little churches. A well-preserved fort from the Venetian period serves as a lookout point, offering 360-degree views of the sea and the curving coastline. If you come to Oia solely for its sunsets, remember that the town's western side offers the finest views, so claim a good spot there as early as you can.
Nafplio, a city famed for its narrow lanes and elegant architecture, provides a comfortable base for exploring the many surrounding ancient sites. International travelers and vacationing Athenians flock to this vibrant seaport, drawn by its romantic old town of mixed Greek, Turkish, and Venetian buildings. The town's unusual moniker comes from Nafplios, a hero of Greek mythology and the alleged founder of the original settlement. Today, most Greeks prefer to call Nafplios simply "Oraia," which roughly translates as "beautiful." Devote your undivided attention to the atmospheric old town, or set up camp in the city and spend your vacation touring the nearby villages, Venetian fortifications, and Byzantine churches.
A city with a stormy history and a cosmopolitan heart, Thessaloniki attracts visitors with its diverse culinary scene, dynamic nightlife, and youthful energy. Considered one of the most cultured and affordable Greek cities, Thessaloniki serves tourists as a convenient base for quick day trips into the surrounding region, the starting point of Alexander the Great's legendary conquests. More manageable and less crowded than its big sister Athens, this walkable city boasts a continuous history of more than 3,000 years and contains well-preserved relics of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman rulers. Fifteen of its churches, built between the 4th and 14th centuries and recognized as World Heritage Sites, represent some of the world's finest examples of Byzantine art and architecture.
Ancient Greeks revered Delphi as the center of their universe, building an impressive sanctuary to Apollo in order to mark this sacred spot. Today the small town and its eponymous archaeological site, inscribed on the World Heritage List, top the itinerary of most visitors to this part of Greece. Sightseers come here by the thousands to admire the mastery of ancient Greek architects who constructed a vast complex that once included a temple, stadium, hippodrome, theater, and gymnasium. Despite the constant flow of tour buses, the modern village of Delphi retains much of its unspoiled look and feel, providing a good base for hiking trips to nearby Mount Parnassus.
Hydra is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece, located in the Aegean Sea between the Saronic Gulf and the Argolic Gulf. It is separated from the Peloponnese by narrow strip of water. In ancient times, the island was known as Hydrea, which was a reference to the springs on the island.The municipality of Hydra consists of the islands Hydra, Dokos and a few uninhabited islets. The province of Hydra was one of the provinces of the Piraeus Prefecture. Its territory corresponded with that of the current municipality. It was abolished in 2006.There is one main town, known simply as "Hydra port" . It consists of a crescent-shaped harbor, around which is centered a strand of restaurants, shops, markets, and galleries that cater to tourists and locals . Steep stone streets lead up and outwards from the harbor area. Most of the local residences, as well as the hostelries on the island are located on these streets. Other small villages or hamlets on the island include Mandraki, Kamini, Vlychos, Palamidas, Episkopi, and Molos.Transport, tourism and leisureHydra depends upon tourism, and Athenians comprise a sizeable segment of its visitors. High speed hydrofoils and catamarans from Piraeus, some 37nmi away, serve Hydra, stopping first at Poros before going on to Spetses. There is a passenger ferry service providing an alternative to Hydrofoils which runs from Hydra Harbour to Metochi on the Peloponnese coast. Many Athenians drive to Metochi, leave their car in the secure car park and take the 20 minute passenger ferry across to Hydra.
To see a greener and less-crowded version of Greece, place the Ionian Islands at the top of your itinerary. Stretching along the west coast of the Greek mainland, this chain of islands boasts villages, rural landscapes, and beaches washed by the crystalline waters of the Ionian Sea. The "Seven Islands," as the locals prefer to call them, often seem far removed from the rest of the country. Greatly influenced by past Venetian, British, and French rulers, the islands retain their distinct atmosphere and boast a rich cultural and architectural heritage. To experience some of that special Ionian culture, head to the smaller islands of Paxi and Ithaki, which offer wild terrain and outstanding local cuisine.
Diverse in character, size, and population, the Greek Isles enjoy immense popularity as offshore natural playgrounds drawing tourists in search of biodiversity, traditional culture, and outdoor activities. Of course, the highlights of any Greek Isles vacation are likely to be the warm climate, pale blue seas, and pristine beaches. Take trips between the islands, or settle on one to fully explore its personality and features. Ideal for water sports fanatics and seekers of rustic charm, the Greek Isles also boast proud heritages. Soak it all in through the local cuisine, impressive architecture, and general way of life.
Northeast Aegean Islands
Although many travelers use the Northeast Aegean Islands merely as a jumping-off point for the nearby coastline of Turkey, they provide an ideal destination for vacationers seeking an alternative experience in the Greek islands. The group includes five big and eight small islands, scattered across the northeastern part of the Aegean Sea. Not as well known to foreign travelers, these islands draw mostly domestic visitors and retain a strong Greek identity, marked by traditional village life and age-old religious festivals. If you don't want to spend your entire time on a single island, use well-connected Lesbos as a base, and split your time between the group's smaller members.
Home to Athens, the national capital, the historic region of Attica remained a collection of smaller kingdoms for a good portion of its long history. Today the region ranks as one of Greece's top travel destinations, drawing visitors with its archaeological sites that include a string of ancient temples, fortresses, tombs, theaters, columns, and city walls. Attica also includes several islands, ideal for both long-stay vacations and brief day trips from Athens. Be sure to add the northern section of Attica to your itinerary if you wish to escape the cities in favor of forested mountains and gently rolling hills.