Greece. The monolithic pillar of the old world. An ancient breeding ground of art and science and philosophy. A bountiful country that teems with beauty and sophistication that the question of whether to see it for yourself becomes a matter of “when” rather than an “if.”
Any self-confessed world traveler has to walk the copper grounds of Greece. It isn’t really as much travel as it is a pilgrimage. A gesture of respect due to a great civilization that once was and its grand contributions to the world as we know it today.
Here’s a trivia: the Hellenic Republic of Greece is called by the natives as Hellas which means the “Land of Light.” Hellas is a Hellenic word derived from two words which means “sunlight” and “earth.”If you take a map, you will find the location of Greece at the crossroads of European, Asian, and African continents, at the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula. This strategic position which puts the country at the converging point of three continental cultures perhaps helped govern the philosophical and scientific movements that catapulted the country to its great heights many centuries back.
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Today, ancient Greece has come to be considered as the “cradle of western civilization.” Perhaps most of us still remember that bit but not exactly how it came to be. I know you didn’t come here for a lecture so I’ll keep this history recall brief and simple.
How Did Greece Become the Cradle of Western Civilization?
Ancient Greece wasn’t in as grandiose a position as we put it today during its era. The Greeks looked up to civilizations they considered to be far more complex and what we commonly consider in modern lingo as “awesome.” These civilizations were the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and all the developed cultures of ancient Mesopotamia. In fact, they borrowed a lot from middle eastern culture including their ideas and methods of astronomy and geometry.
But what set the Greeks apart from their contemporaries was how they secularized knowledge, dislodged it from religion, and turned them into science. The liberation of thought beyond the boundaries of religion turned out to be quiet an achievement, allowing the birth of revolutionary ideas that were fundamental to the establishment of western civilization. These include democracy, extensive works on philosophy, and arts - socio-cultural influences that helped shape the identity of the west.
Who Were the Greeks and How Did Their Culture Spread?
Ancient Greeks were originally from the Mediterranean. By the 5th century BC, they have organized themselves into independent states, each with their own distinct culture. Of course, as tribes, they fought among other states and within themselves. By the 4th century BC, the Macedonians took brief control over the landmass of Hellas.
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By the 2nd century BC, the Greeks went under Roman rule. During that time, Greek culture was all over the Mediterranean and even the Greek language was more common than Latin. The Romans, as part of their agenda to expand sovereignty, introduced Greek culture to the east.
By the 4th century AD, the Roman empire got too large to be centrally controlled. So what they did is they split the empire into two: the Western Roman empire and the Greek Byzantium in the east which was renamed Constantinople. It wasn’t long after that the Western branch of the Roman empire, due to conflicts with other nations in the west, collapsed, and the turmoil cascaded to the east. Though the Byzantines briefly regained control of Greece, it eventually went under the tutelage of the Ottoman empire for almost 400 years.
It was only by the 19th century that Greece finally stood up on its legs economically and declared independence in 1821.
Greek Terrain & Climate
Greece has a largely mountainous and rocky terrain. The country has a total of 2000 islands but only 168 of them are inhabited. That leaves a lot of possibilities for exploration. To the east of Greece is the Aegean Sea and to its west is the Ionian sea, separating it from Italy. To its south is the Libyan Sea while in the north, it is bordered by Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, and Bulgaria.
Greece has a hot and dry summer with August as the hottest month. During December, the weather is usually rainy. The coldest month is January.
What to Expect
If visiting Greece is in your bucket list, prepare for a spectacular experience. The land of light has precious things to offer. From jet blue seas to the striking ruins, art and history to philosophy, Greece has a remarkable measure of cultural wealth that will leave a lasting impression among those who come to look.
Visit the Acropolis
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One of the most stunning visions you will find in Greece is the ancient acropolis. An acropolis is a citadel or fortified part of the city built on a hill. Greece’s Acropolis dates as far back as the 5th century BC but even all that time has never erased its grandeur and sheer beauty.
The Acropolis is the central attraction in Athens, the capital of Greece, where it dominates the skyline. The citadel was originally a result of the ambitious plans of Athenian statesman Pericles, put to realization by a group of artists under the inspired guidance of the sculptor Pheidias. What was just an ordinary rocky hill, through the artists’ discerning, was transformed into a colossal monument of art and thought.
Some of the most magnificent structures built during that time included the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Erechtheon, and the small temple of Athena Nike, among others.
To see the monuments of the Acropolis, you will need a good pair of hiking shoes or boots to protect your feet from the heat and the rocky surface. And because it takes some hiking effort, it might be best if you visit early in the morning while the temperature is still cooler.
But whatever tiredness and exhaustion you acquired during the ascent will all be worth it once you’re on top. You will be greeted by the breathtaking closeness of the fantastic ruins with columns that reach magnificent heights. Even the presence of a bustling crowd of tourists does not diminish the awe that grips you while being this intimate with such time-old, gigantic living phantoms. All around is the majestic view of the city of Athens in 360.
Be sure to observe respect for the ruins. There are signages around that tells you to avoid touching the columns. Warn your kids if you’re travelling with one/some. You may encounter a lot of restoration work going on so always observe safety precautions.
Visit Peter the Pelican in Mykonos
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Peter, named from the Greek word for rock, Petra, is an emblematic symbol of the rocky island of Mykonos. Today, you can see Peter in his taxidermy state but during his glory days, Mykonos’s favorite mascot was widely revered in the whole island, even occasionally chased by tourists for iconic photo ops. Peter the Pelican was most at home in the old port, a great walking area lined with quaint cafes and Greek restaurants. From here, you have a lovely view of the sunset.
Mykonos itself is a widely famous island with a reputation for thumping music blaring into the depths of night. The beaches are lined with bars and festive, pompous soirees, an attraction that has apparently commanded the attention of fun-loving folks around the globe. But of course, the island is more than the pelican and the booze. The beaches are glorified for their golden sand and crystal clear waters. If you're visiting as a family, we recommend the Kalo Livadi, Lia, Elia, and Ornos beaches. The Kapari beach is a great option if you prefer a more secluded location. If you want the thrill of the crowd, the trendy Psarou and Paraga beaches are unmissable.
You can also visit the famous landmarks of Chora, the windmills and the Little Venice, a neighbourhood with colourful houses built on the edge of the sea. Or, you can get lost in the beautiful corners and alleyways of the town, its signature white houses with blue doors, wrapped in colorful bougainvillea vines. Along its passageways, you will be met with surprising chic little shops, cafes, occasional restos, and bars.
Another UNESCO Heritage Site located in Mykonos is the archaeological site of Delos, said to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis according to mythology. The massive ruins is located near the sea, on the steep of a hill with massive stone pillars still standing amid hundreds of years of human degradation and physical weathering.
Other fun and enjoyable activities you can do around Mykonos includes adventurous biking tours, cruising and wine tasting, among others.
Browse through ALX’s impressive listing of luxury accommodations, rentals, and vacation homes for rent in Mykonos.
Climb the Mount Olympus
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Anybody who’s remotely familiar with Greek mythology will recognize Mt. Olympus instantly. The highest mountain in Greece located within the Olympus range bordering Thessaly and Macedonia, it is said to be the home of the Gods, the very same mountain where Zeus sat on his throne and Hades ruled the Underworld.
Olympus is home to approximately 1700 species of flora and fauna, some of which are very rare. Its steep slopes and challenging terrain attract serious and newbie hikers alike, not only Greek locals but travelers and climbers from all over the world.
The nearest village you can find is Litohoro. If you’re coming from Athens or Thessaloniki, you can get to this village via bus or train, although if you’re coming by train, the station is still 9km far from the village. At Litohoro, you can find lodging places, vacation rentals, and other accommodation options. You’re lucky if the refuges are open during the time of your visit. There are also restaurants and shops around. It’s a quaint little town worth stopping by.
You can also opt to drive through Dion and arrive at the foot of the mountain where pavement meets gravel.
Don’t take the challenge lightly. Prepare warm clothing, sunscreen, enough food and water for nutrition and hydration, and some decent shoes.
Sway to the Gentle Rhythm of Life in Hydra and Spetses
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The Saronic Island of Hydra offers a laid-back way to experience a humble holiday far from the usual busy corporate life. Here, you can never find vehicles, save for the ambulance and the regular garbage machine. So how do people get around, you ask? They have something called a water taxi, so the surrounding waterways serve as roads. They also commonly travel using mules and donkeys! That alone is reason enough to visit this delightful little island.
Still, just because the island seems very laid-back doesn’t mean it’s boring. In fact, there are plenty of exciting activities to engage in. Horse-riding should be on your list. Scuba diving is also another popular activity. Beach hopping is a thing and navigating through Hydra’s terrain will surely be a remarkable form of recreation.
Spetses is another Saronic island. It’s a lovely laid-back town of mostly affluent citizens. Charming cafes and stylish boutiques fringe the port full of Neoclassical houses. Because cars are banned from the town so the only traffic you will ever encounter is one of horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and mopeds.
The beach is immaculate with a rustic vibe - a humble retreat where you don’t have to sacrifice privacy to have a good time.
See the Sunset in Santorini
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One of the most revered destinations in Greece is the dreamy Santorini, also known to the natives as Thira. Just one look at its magnificence and you will understand why Santorini became the pride of the Aegean. Whitewashed cubiform houses provide a picturesque contrast against the blue sea and of course, the stunning sunsets are unlike anywhere in the world.
The islands of Santorini are situated in an active volcano whose crater is in the Aegean underwater. The Santorini islands came into existence after thousands of years of volcanic activity.
Today, Santorini has become a global symbol of romance, frequented by newlyweds and vacationing couples. Its charm and beauty has captured the hearts of millions of travelers who visit the city annually.
There are plenty of things to do around Santorini. Aside from taking breathtaking Instagram photos of the colorful homes and the Aegean in the background, Santorini is also a walker’s paradise, filled with exciting pockets and corners that hide special surprises. Discover the churches built into caves and the staircases carved right on the cliffs! On the island of Palia Kameni, you can dive right into the thermal waters and experience the volcanic spa.
Taste authentic Greek cuisine. Considered one of the top gourmet destinations in the country, Santorini has plenty of fine dining choices, moderately-priced options, and spaces that serve local cuisine. It is said that Greeks are the masters of charcoal-grilled and spit-roasted meats. Their modern cookery commonly makes use of ingredients such as vegetables, olive oil, grains, fish, wine, and meat while olives, cheese, lemon juice, herbs, bread and yogurt are also considered important ingredients. Souvlaki is the favorite fast food which is consisted of small pieces of meat and occasionally, vegetables, grilled on a skewer. And don’t leave the county without trying Taramasalata, a classic mainstay in Grecian dishes. Don’t miss the Dolmades, a grape leaf-wrapped rice parcel, or Greece’s layered version of the Mediterranean Moussaka.
Other favorite pastimes among travelers when in Santorini is visiting the wineries. Close to Oia, you will discover the multicoloured hamlet of Finikia. The village is known to be a site of old wineries, now converted into charming, polychromatic homes with cobbled streets and local tavernas that serve delightful local delicacies.
Experience Authentic Mediterranean Charm in Corfu
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At first glance, Corfu seems like a typical Mediterranean island. This is true, but also untrue all the same. Because up close, Corfu transforms into a vibrant island with a very amiable character that didn’t diminish since it became the top tourist destination in the whole of Greece every Easter. It is said that the people come for the experience, not necessarily the religion. The culture, music, and customs throughout history helped mold the embracing spiritual identity of the place.
So if you’re in Corfu for leisure, always take every opportunity to immerse in the local culture. Watch the sunset from the Monastery of Panagia Palaiokastritsa or in Kanoi where airplanes take off right above your head every 10 or 20 minutes. Of course, tasting local cuisine is most necessary, to get a taste of the flavors that brewed the wealth and culture of this island.
Aesthetic-wise, Corfu's picturesque windmill in the area of Garitsa and the seaside taste of bliss in the Anemomylos say it all. Many have fallen in love with this island. It is even often said that once you visit, it would take some solid will of character to leave. The whole island teems with beauty and the sense of good life, something that we all sometimes spend thousands of dollars in just to experience for a day.
Not much can be found in terms of a vibrant nightlife although there is indeed the Corfu way along Prosalendou Street in the heart of the old city where numerous tsipouradika get crowded every night.
To see more of the natural beauty of the island, cycle to the beach! The route is beautiful, with plenty of natural sites that make the trip leisurely. The beach as a conclusion serves a refreshing way to reenergize. Then repeat.
To complete your live-like-a-local adventure, rent a private Corfu home. Here are some great options to start with.
Test the Acoustics at the Epidaurus Theater
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If you want to see at least a part of how theater was in the ancient times, there’s no better spot than Greece’s priced Edpidaurus Theater, the amphitheater famous worldwide for its superb acoustics. It is said that a speaker talking in moderate voice at the theater’s central space can be heard all the way to the back rows without the need for artificial amplification.
Go and test the myth for yourself. First of all, it isn’t just an amphitheater but an awe-inspiring one - too large that the performers look like ants from the farthest row of seats. After all, the theater was made to hold an audience of 13000!
During your visit, you may occasionally spot some performances being held or practiced which are always nice curiosities to watch. Nearby, you can also visit the Sanctuary of Asclepius, an important healing center in the ancient times which used to be frequented by Greeks and other men of ancient nations in the times of old.
The theater in itself is within the Sanctuary so you can visit the two sites at the same time. To get there, you need to drive by car or bike, if that’s what you fancy. If you’re coming from Athens, “follow the signs for Corinth and exit the Athens-Corinth Motorway immediately after crossing the bridge over the Corinth Canal. Keep in the right-hand lane, pass underneath the Motorway, and then turn left onto the Corinth-Epidaurus B-road in the direction of Epidaurus. Follow the signs for the Epidaurus Ancient Theatre; in about an hour, having passed Nea Epidavros and Palea Epidavros, you arrive at the Lygourio crossroads; turn left here for the Sanctuary of Asklepios.” (source: http://greekfestival.gr)
If you’re coming from Nafplion, drive through Lygourio town and head for the archaeological site of the Sanctuary of Asklepios.
You can find plenty of parking spaces near the theater.
Witness the Spiritual Glory of the Meteora Monasteries
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The Meteora Monasteries are considered to be the “preservation ark for the 2000-year-old Christian Orthodox creed.” During the 14th century, the first monks arrived in the area to establish a monastic community. But their aim was far more ambitious than it sounds. They wanted to put the community on top of the giant cliffs, not exactly because they thought it was easy but because it was hard. The existence of these monasteries today is a monumental evidence of the human capacity to put into realization whatever he deems worthwhile, and a lasting symbol of man’s eternal desire to connect with the realm of the spiritual.
Located in Thessaly, the six monasteries, namely The Great Meteoron, The Monastery of Varlaam, The Monastery of Roussanou, The Monastery of St. Stephen, The Monastery of the Holy Trinity, and The Monastery of St. Nikolas, are built on huge rock pillars and hill-like boulders common in the area. Originally, there had been over 20, making it one of the most religious sites in Greece. The monasteries are also now considered a UNESCO Heritage Site.
In the old times, this otherworldly landscape was only reachable by getting hoisted up a rope and a net. Now, there are steep staircases carved on the cliffs that, although might be challenging, is definitely worth all the effort. The views along the ascent are priceless.
Just a few tips: there is a 3 euro entrance fee for each monastery. Women will be required to wear skirts. If you don’t have the required attire, the will be one provided which is free to use. Men are also required to cover their knees. The bathrooms are also free and no photography is allowed inside.
The nearest towns are Kastraki and Kalambaka where you can find plenty of accommodation options, if you plan to visit the monasteries for more than a day.
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Kefalonia or also spelled Cephalonia is the largest Ionian Island composed of marvelous, fine, white sand beaches and picturesque villages. Myrtos beach, Antisamos beach, Petani beach, Xi beach, and Skala are all great options to quench your thirst for saltwater.
If you want to see what life was like in the island, retreat to the Fiskardo, a small fishing village that is the closest you can find to authentic vintage Mediterranean life.
A boat tour to the Melissani Cave is a recommended tourist attraction. This stunning cave lake is found some 2 km from the town of Sami. This cave lake is so fairy-tale like especially when you see the bright rays from the roof of the cave fall into the crystal blue waters of the cave. The water is so clear that a picture of a boat filled with people looks almost like it's suspended in the air.
Beautiful villages are a staple in any Grecian island. In Kefalonia, be sure to explore Agia Efimia, a coastal fishing village, Assos, a small town with only 100 inhabitants, and Sami, a seaside town with a waterfront and unique Venetian buildings, shops, and cafes.
Catch a boat tour to Ithaca, go kayaking along the scenic coastline, and have a taste of beer at the local brewery.
If you are not just passing by, secure a lovely place to stay in Kefalonia. Find great options here.
Enjoy the Mediterranean at Balos Beach
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Located approximately 56km northwest of Chania, the spectacular beach of the Balos Lagoon is one of the most scenic meeting of sand and sea in Crete and in all of Greece. Fine white sand lace the coast and the crystal waters are so clear you can see the sea life in motion underneath. Because it is wildly popular among locals and tourists, it is highly recommended that you visit early in the morning to avoid the crowd. Visiting during the months of July and August can be pretty tough with all the beach goers.
There are three ways to get to Balos Beach:
1. If you are one of the more adventurous types, you can get to Balos by trekking from Kaliviani, all the way to the rough and dry landscape of Gramvousa and the range of Platyskinos. Along the way, there are curious stops such as the small chapel of Saint George in Tigani. The whole trip will take you three hours but we’re pretty sure the beautiful scene of the Balos will make the effort all worth it.
2. The second way is to take the ferry which fares in the morning from Kissamos. The trip will be scenic and there’s a fair chance of dolphin sighting which, by the way, is quiet an experience. The boat fare would cost you around 25 to 30 euros.
3. The third way to get access to Balos is to drive the dirt road by motorbike or by car from Kaliviani, passing along Cape Gramvousa. You will have to pay a small environment protection fee near Kaliviani. A bit more driving and you will find a wide parking area next to a canteen where the Balos beach is just within view. From here, another 1km walk to the beach.
Marvel at the Wealth of Archaeological Sites
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When it comes to treasures of the old days (and by old, we mean REALLY OLD), few other countries can contend with what Greece has to offer. It is home to many archaeological sites, most of which have been declared world heritage by the UNESCO.
While the Acropolis is perhaps the most visited, you shouldn’t miss other architectural marvels of the old world such as the Delphi, located on Mount Parnassus, the Temple of Hephaestus which dates back to 450 BC and located atop Agoreao Koronos Hill, the Palace of Malia in Malia built in 1900 BC, the ancient ruins of Corinth, and the palatial city of Phaestos. Of course, you can’t not see another famous UNESCO Heritage site, the Mycenae, mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
Find the Ultimate Greek Adventure in Crete
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Crete has something to offer for all types of travelers. Characterized geographically as having varied terrain, it is home to fine-sand beaches and elaborate mountainscapes. According to mythology, Zeus, the Greek God of the sky and the weather was born here. It is also the largest Greek Island. All these make Crete well-positioned as a top destination in all of Greece.
For those who love history, surely a trip to the Palace of Knossos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum would be a priority. For beach lovers, there are plenty of pretty coastlines including the Vai Beach and the Elafonisi Beach. If you like hiking and trail navigation, the Samaria Gorge offers just the right challenge and if you prefer scouring the quaint little shops for souvenirs, you musn't miss the botique-lined boulevards of Agios Nikolaos.
Proving its historical eminence, every major town in Crete has its own archaeological museum. Castles are also revered architectural sights. Add that to the medieval monasteries and churchese that once served as refuge during the many wars that the island has endured.
For kids and pure aquaholics, the island's three waterparks will be a delight. Limnoupolis is located near Hania, the WaterCity can be found near Iráklio, and Acquaplus is 3km inland from Hersónissos.
Seek a Private Retreat in Kea
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For travelers who prefer an exclusive, private vacation, the island of Kea in the Aegean Sea’s Cyclades archipelago offers just that. Compared to other (inhabited) islands in the archipelago, this one hasn’t been too open to tourism yet. Its hilly countryside and pristine beaches are quiet, making it perfect for a holiday retreat cradled in peace, tranquility, and pure Mediterranean beauty.
Sightseeing is something you can do around the island with leisure and without the usual coming and going of other tourists. Beach bums will have the times of their lives on the shores of Otzias and Koundourus, Xyla, Gialiskari, Sykamia, Pisses, and Koundouraki. Kea Events is a change of scenery for those who want to splash but don’t have time to get to the beach. It’s an events complex that opens its big swimming pool to the public free of charge with only the condition that you buy something from their menu.
Head to the Aristos for delightful local seafood. Fresh catches of lobsters and sardines are served in generous dishes that showcase the taste of the Mediterranean. Its location at the waterfront is apt and charming at the same time. Of course, there are other fine choices for food. The Stroufi tou Mimi is one of the best in the island. Taverna tou Simou is famous for using local ingredients, recreating a mix of traditional Kea and family recipes. The Magazes is another recommended choice. Don’t miss their delectable lobster pasta! If seasonal dishes is what you fancy, head over to the To Spiti Sti Hora.
Hiking is another popular activity in Kea, but if you prefer underwater adventure, know that you’re in for some spectacular adventure! Kea’s coastal waters is home to several shipwrecks including Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, lost in 1916.
To complete your private holiday, stay in a place you can call home. Find private villas for rent in Kea, Greece here.
It’s All About the Water in Paros
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Perhaps one of the most commendable places to visit if you’re fond of soaking up is the island of Paros in Greece. Another island in the Aegean, in the Cyclades archipelago, its major selling point is its breathtaking beaches and globally renowned water sports. The Lageri beach in Noussa, The Faragas Beach, Martselo Beach, and Alyki beach are just some of its top-rated beaches. Popular water sports include kite-surfing and wind-surfing, scuba diving, wakeboarding, and familiar beach activities. And why not rent a boat for a cruise if you want to get personal and hop from Paros’s coastline marvels to another?
In town, the old port of Noussa is worth stopping by. The scenic harbor is great for people watching or witnessing the beautiful sunset. The cobbled streets are fringed with endearing taverns, amazing restaurants, and delightful coffee and pastry shops. You can perhaps say it has great character that just stays with you long after you leave.
The little town of Parikia is another great place to get lost in. Don’t bring a map. Navigating through its streets will take you to surprising corners and breathtaking discoveries. A perfect destination if you delight in the fundamental joy of discovering something new.
If you and your family or friends are big water sports fans, Paros is a must-visit in Greece. Make the experience personal by staying in an authentic local accommodation you can call home. See for yourself.
These are only some of the most coveted places to see and love in Greece. There are plenty more to explore from nature trails to unique Greek museums.
To make your trip extra worthwhile, treat yourself to some luxury accommodations. In Greece, there are plenty of holiday rentals, private villas and homes, and apartments for rent we can pair you with - and right away! Browse through our extensive list of accommodation partners in top tourist destinations in Greece and we’ll guarantee that the only problem you’re going to have is choosing which property is best.