As everyone knows, Greece is a beautiful country that has so much more to offer than the islands. With over 130,000 square kilometers, mainland Greece is blessed with rugged mountains, spectacular coasts, and unique archaeological wonders. Here is a great itinerary suggestion that will allow you to see most of the country. Starting in Athens, make your way around the stunning mainland all the way to Thessaloniki and back.
Start in Athens and drive to Corinth by the coastal road Olimpia Odos/A8/E94. Visit the site of the ancient city of Corinth and climb the Acrocorinth, a fortified hill a few kilometers away. After the visit, drive on to the Theatre of Epidaurus, famous for its remarkable acoustics, via EO Isthmou Archaias Epidavrou. While you’re there, make a stop at Palea Epidaurus where you can enjoy fresh fish and seafood at one of the small taverns at the port. Then proceed to Nafplio, and for the rest of the day, explore. For the ultimate accommodation, stay at the Xenon Inn located on the Syntagma Square. For a tasty dinner, head to Es Aei, Enoteca and Tapas Bar, a delightful spot where the wine list will make any wine bar blush.
After a hearty breakfast at 3Sixty, drive on to Mycenae and visit the archaeological site and the Tomb of Agamemnon. The Citadel, one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the region, is definitely worth a visit. Later, head to Olympiathrough Central Peloponnesus. When you arrive, check in at the Hotel Europa Olympia and have dinner at the hotel restaurant.
You are now in the cradle of the Olympic Games, so make the most of it. Visit the archaeological site with the sanctuary of Olympian Zeus, the Ancient Stadium, and the Archaeological Museum, and try to imagine what the ancient games were like. Then drive on to your next destination: Delphi. You will be able to cross the Corinthian Bay via the Rio-Antirrio Bridge and drive by Nafpactos (Lepanto) to finally arrive in Delphi. To make your stay even more rustic, stay at the Historic Villa in Delphi, which overlooks the gulf.
In the morning, visit the archaeological site and the Museum of Delphi. After your visit, depart for Kalampaka, the small city sitting at the foot of the stunning complex of Meteora. Perched on top of the rocky peaks, ageless monasteries defy the laws of gravity. Spend the afternoon exploring them, and then check in at the Dellas Boutique Hotel located right at the foot of one of the rocks.
Leave for Kastoria. You will see that the charming area, with its quaint villages and lush forests, has stunning architecture, with stone houses perched on the mountain blocks. So skip the hotel and choose to stay in one of them for a real experience. Spend the rest of the day visiting Kastoria, an ancient Byzantine city with over 70 churches. Though you may not have time to see them all, several are worth visiting. One of them is the Panagia Koumbelidiki with its 13th-century frescos. Stroll along the shaded path around the headland that overlooks the city.
In the morning, make your way to the Prespa lakes and stay in a charming secluded stone house in the most beautiful village in the region, Agios Germanos. Then head out to admire the majestic Prespa lakes. Spend the day exploring one of the wildest regions in Greece. The lakes, surrounded by Albania and FYROM, stand at 800 meters above sea level. The area is protected and offers plenty of hiking paths. It is also a unique region where you can watch hundreds of wild animals and birds. For dinner, you should try to score some delicious fresh trout in a restaurant by the lake.
Make your way to Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. Throughout the era of the Byzantine Empire, the city was the co-capital, second to Constantinople/Istanbul. Wander in the center and get the feel of the glorious past of the city, which has some of the oldest churches in the Christian world. And do pay a visit to the Museum of Byzantine Culture. For a convenient location, stay at this downtown mezzanine studio to enjoy what Thessaloniki has to offer.
Venture into the spectacular Thessaloniki plain to get to Veroia (or Veria), a small city located at the foot of the Macedonian hills. But before you get there, make a stop at Vergina to see the royal burial site. It includes the tomb of Philip II of Macedonia, discovered in 1977.
Veroia was called the little Jerusalem because of the 72 churches it had. Nowadays, about ten of them are still standing, so you know what you have to do. Before visiting, refresh yourself and settle down at this minimalist apartment before venturing out.
On your way to Portaria, you will pass along the stunning Mount Olympus, home of the gods and the highest mountain in Greece, rising more than 2,900 meters above sea level. Pass Volos, a large port at the foot of Mount Pelion, and continue your journey towards Portaria, a cute little village tucked away in the hills. Stay at the elegant Hotel Despotiko and get some rest.
You are almost at the end of your road trip, so make the most of it. Wind your way down the roads of the peninsula, discovering its small villages and splendid beaches. If you are tired of driving, use the old mule cobbled paths, the kalderimia, which connects some villages together. After a beautiful day exploring, why not stop at the Thermopylae (the Hot Gate) to pay tribute to Leonidas I, who resisted against the Persian armies of King Xerxes I, on your way back to Athens? Does this sound familiar? Of course, the story is the simplified plot of the movie 300, starring hunk Gerard Butler. Molon labe! – or ‘Come and take them.’