Undecided on what to do or where to go during your next trip to Greece? Should you stay in Athens for a week or forego it altogether and head to the islands? And if you go to the islands, where to go first? If you still can’t make a plan, here is a helpful guide on the best things to see or do in Greece.
A trip to Greece requires a stop through Athens to see the Acropolis. Anywhere you are in the center, the sacred rock of the Acropolis is a dominant sight to marvel at. This magnificent creation, comprising of several monuments and temples is a unique insight into Greece’s glorious past and rich culture. Oh and don’t forget to stop by the Acropolis museum either. It is where most of the artefacts found in and around the Acropolis hill are exhibited.
Although Athens may sometimes be seen as a lay-over before hitting the islands, the capital of Greece is a fine destination in itself. Perfect for a long weekend city trip from many European cities, Athens is a mixture of modernity and antiquity where traces of the past cohabit with contemporary life. While chaotic for many, it boasts a dynamic nightlife, age-old monuments and hidden gems dotting the center. But don’t forget that Athens also has its fair share of beaches and its beautiful Riviera, which brings an added bonus for the urban traveler.
Often forgotten, discreet Thessaloniki is also another must when it comes to discovering the real Greece. The Lady of the North, as it is often dubbed, has many charms that will easily seduce the discerning traveler. Blessed with a rich culture, vibrant food scene and a plethora of sights, Thessaloniki definitely deserves a visit.
It is impossible to boast the beauty of Greece without mentioning its islands. An integral part of the country’s appeal, the islands are a must. With over 6,000 islands scattered in the Ionian and Aegean seas, they offer a plethora of diverse landscapes, from sandy and pebbly beaches stretching over kilometers, to hidden coves, rugged mountains and verdant valleys.
Island hopping is an excellent option to visit them, though it is not as organized as visitors would like. You can still tailor-make your own island hopping trip according to your budget and time constraints.
It is in the Aegean Sea that you will find most of the islands, divided into seven groups: The Northeastern Aegean Islands, which include Ikaria, Lesbos, Samos, Chios or Lemnos. The Sporades, which include Skyros, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skiathos.
The Argosaronic islands, all very close to Athens and perfect for a escape: Aegina, Agistri, Spetses, Hydra, Poros and Methana.
The Dodecanese, with far-flung destinations such as Rhodes, Patmos, Leros, Kos, Symi, Astypalaia, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kastellorizo, Nisyros, or Tilos.
The Aegean Sea is also home to the two biggest islands of Evia, off the mainland and Crete.
The Ionian Sea only has one cluster of islands, which includes the lush and green islands of Corfu, Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Ithaka, Paxi and Kythira, though it is actually located in the south of Peloponnese. It is also there that you will find beautiful satellite islands such as Antipaxi, Scorpios and so on.
But this is not over, islands like Gavdos (in the south of Crete) or Elafonissos (in Lakonia, Peloponnese) are also magnificent islands but aren’t part of any island groups.
It is true there is something undeniably attractive about the islands, but you should also take the time to visit the mainland. Greece is a beautiful country, with ancient treasures dotting its soil, even outside Athens.
There is the ancient city of Mycenae, the sites of Olympia, Delphi, Epidaurus and the isolation of the Temple of Apollo Epicurius. Add to that, the Pindos mountain range in Epirus, picturesque Zagorohoria, breathtaking Meteora, beautiful Halkidiki and the stunning cities of Kavala, Kastoria or Monemvasia, and the mainland is a wonderland.
Adventure lovers will enjoy hiking the Vikos gorge and exploring its Dragon lakes, climbing up Mount Olympus or snowboarding in the Falakro mountains, while the nature lovers will revel in the beauty of regions such as the Prespa lakes, the lagoon of Messologhi or mountainous Pelion. Your easiest bet to see all these beauties is to hire a car and go on the most memorable road trip of your life.
Greeks are a very social people. They may be loud for European standards but this can be explained by the fact their life is spent outdoors. The weather certainly helps to do that but another reason is also that Greeks are passionate people who enjoy spending time together. One of the best ways to witness this is at a panigiri. These local feasts are usually held in honor of a saint on the saint’s day and involves eating, drinking and dancing until the wee hours of morning. Even if you do not know any moves, overcome your shyness and join the fun when the band starts playing. You will quickly see why a panigiri is a highly-anticipated social event.
Greece is a very religious country and this is also visible in the number of churches that can be found in each city and village. And don’t get us started on the islands. Even if you are not religious yourself, visiting a church is something you should do while visiting Greece. Adorned with colorful frescoes and icons, the sacred sanctuaries will astonish.
Besides the splendid destinations it has to offer, Greece is a country where traditions are held dear. While it is a major summer destination, Greece has proved it is a fun spot for all seasons, but you should particularly give Greece a chance during Easter. Indeed, Greek Orthodox Easter is a major celebration throughout the country, with each region having its specific traditions. It is a magical time to see the country as it is slowly waking up from winter hibernation and nature is showing its true colors. Plus, you will surely be able to enjoy better prices.
You may wonder why we added a visit to the farmer’s market in this list of things to do in Greece, but if you know anything about Greece, you will quickly understand why. Full of life and animation, the markets are the heart of Greek life. Whether in a tiny village or big city, every neighborhood has a market day. It is where older locals meet for a weekly chat with the neighbors and where visitors can score some of the freshest seasonal produce. Greek honey, spices and many other things can be taken home as souvenirs.
While some will grimace with disgust, visitors should definitely try some ouzo. For those who have never tasted it, visiting Greece is the perfect opportunity. Sure, not everyone likes anise-flavored things, so of course if this is your case, you can forget it, but if you are pretty open to anything, who knows, you may end up liking it.
Greeks, just like Italians, are very serious about their coffee. You will see them drink one on their way to work or school, on the beach or virtually anywhere else. Don’t be surprised if you spot them sitting for hours in a café, even if they are done with coffee just to chat, this is just how Greeks socialize. And no one, not even the waiter, will come and ask them to leave once their cup is empty. So why not give it a go? Whether you prefer cold or warm coffee, with or without sugar, this is definitely something you need to try.