- Corfu old town
- Samaria Gorge
- Oia a Santorini
- Ionian Islands
- North Aegean Islands
- The Cyclades
- Dodecanese Islands
- Halkidiki and Mount Athos
- Elafonisi and Balos
- The Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni
- Vikos Gorge
- Evia and the Sporades
Let's begin our tour of Greece in what is perhaps the only way possible: from Athens, itsfascinating capital. Athens is the perfect balance of ancient and modern, with the addition of a unique personality and a genuinely interesting layout. In Athens, life is lived casually among the ancient temples of inestimable value, and the many relics that are testament to the city's grandiose past - as well as representing the foundation on which the history of humankind and civilisation - and a bustling modern life with art galleries, musical events, fashionable nightspots and fast food shops.
We mentioned the layout of Athens; the most important, fascinating and surprising part is doubtless the Acropolis, which not only dominates the city from above, forming its most characteristic part, but is also the oldest part, where the grandiose culture of Greece developed, the very same that we studied at school; and in the Acropolis, are the best things to see in Athens.
Among these we cannot fail to mention the temples, especially the Parthenon: dedicated to Athena Parthenos, it represents the quintessence of classic culture and architectural perfection, surviving thousands of years of war and natural disasters. There are also other extremely important temples that really should not be missed, such as the Temple of Nike, which stands on the verge of a precipice. The Theatre of Dionysus has a charm all its own. It dates back to the 6th century B.C.E., when the city of Athens was at the height of its splendour, and was the meeting place par excellence,as well as being the place in which the great playwrights, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes would stage their plays.
If the ancient part of Athens has so much to offer, then the modern part is just as exciting, with its many quarters to be explored, above all, the Plaka, one of the most picturesque areas in the city, which is almost completely pedestrianised, and full of restaurants and shops.
We mentioned that every place in Greece has absorbed the charm of its myths. This applies to Peloponnese, in Southern Greece, which, although inhabited since Neolithic times, was founded by Pelops who began the Mycenaean civilisation.
Pelops is the protagonist of a very famous myth. Pelops was the son of King Tantalus who, to trick the gods and test their omniscience, invited them to a banquet where he served the flesh of his son, Pelops; the gods realised this and punished Tantalus, condemning him to suffer a hunger and thirst that would never be satisfied, before bringing Pelops back to life, who would then go on to conquer the Peloponnese. The main cities of Peloponnese are Argos- Mykines, Corinth, Kalamata, Patras, Pirgos, Sparta and Tripoli.
Mycenae is an ancient city, probably with pre-Indo-European origins; however, all the myths that have come down to us - and there are many - concern the city's so-called Age of Heroes and the fact that traditional mythology is so rich gives us the idea of the Mycenae’s importance in Greece during that period.
The most interesting thing is that all of these myths can be seen in the relics and ruins of the city, which can and must be visited when passing by Mycenae. For example, you can visit the mythical Tombs of Atreus and Clytemnestra: the first dates back to 1250 B.C.E. and consists of enormous, impressive blocks of stone that form a triangular entrance, and the second, which is outside the walls of Mycenae because, according to the myth, Clytemnestra killed her husband and king, Agamemnon, with the aid of her lover, Aegisthus, and that is why she was not worthy of being buried in the city.
Also not to be missed is the Acropolis surrounded by Cyclopean masonry walls (called this because the classical Greeks believed that only the mythical Cyclops were able to move the blocks used to build them) and the Lion Gate, a monumental gate with a bas-relief of two lionesses, which is the only surviving piece of monumental sculpture from Mycenaean civilisation. Another must-see is the Archaeological Museum of Mycenae, where it is possible to admire the spectacular Mask of Agamemnon.
Corfu old town
Now let's move to the stunning island of Corfu, and in particular, to its wonderful old town.
This is an absolute gem - not just for the island, but also for the whole of Greece - since it provides a fantastic example of the combination of Byzantine and Venetian art and architecture, and it is set out in a fascinating maze of paved streets, dotted with historic buildings and shops that are truly unique.
Talking of stores that sell local produce, wineries and its own particular atmosphere, the Campiello district is something incredible, with its steps, shops, hidden courtyards, picturesque cobbled squared and even an old Venetian well, an attraction with its own great charm.
To the south of the Spilia quarter, is the city’s oldest building, which dates back to 1497 and has a balcony which it is said is identical to that of Romeo and Juliet in Verona.
Monemvasia has a more modern history compared to other places in Greece, because it only began to become historically important in the 6t century, during the great Slavic migrations. It stood in an extremely favourable position, completely sheltered by the rocks and invisible from the sea.
The most important historical figure from Monemvasia is Makarios Melissenos, a Byzantine adventurer who travelled throughout the Mediterranean, carrying out numerous feats.
There’s lots to see in Monemvasia: there’s Elkomenos Christos, a stunning Greek-Orthodox church and naturally, the old fortified town, the Kastro, with its spectacular views over the roofs and out to sea.
Olympia brings to mind a single thing for every one of us: the mythical Olympic Games! This is where the first Olympic Games were held and where, every four years, before the ruins of the Temple of Hera, women dressed as priestesses symbolically light the Olympic flame.
Olympia was also an extremely important city of worship and today, luckily, there are lots of ruins to reflect this, which visitors can enjoy. Not only are there the remains of the stadium and the areas where the athletes used to train, but there are also the remains of the Temple of Zeus (in whose honour the Games were held), with a monumental, giant statue of the god made in gold and ivory by Pheidias, and the Temple of Hera, where the laurel crowns to be presented to the winners of the games were kept.
Of the myriad Greek islands, the stunning island of Crete is doubtless to be included in the list of things to see when visiting Greece. Crete is the cradle of Minoan civilisation, a perfect combination of ancient history, unspoiled nature, spectacular beaches and fun.
It is the ideal destination for history lovers who want to know more about the roots of our civilisation, but also those who love to get brown under the sun, laying on paradise beaches, maybe reading something on Greece’s fascinating ancient myths. It is also the ideal place for those who don’t want to leave the hustle and bustle of city life behind them on their holidays: Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos are the two main towns on the the island, and they are full of things to do and see. Boredom is not an option!
This is perhaps one of the most evocative locations in all Greece and probably in the whole world. Meteora in Greek means “suspended in the air” and in fact, seeing this incredible city, it is natural to wonder whether or not it is challenging the laws of physics: it is in fact located on the peak of some towering sandstone cliffs that truly seem to be hovering in the air.
The extraordinary morphology of this place consists of four rocky “towers”, 400 metres high, and is probably due to erosion, which started in the delta of the river that 25 million years ago, flowed into the sea where the Plain of Thessaly is located today.
Meteora is not only an extraordinary spectacle, but it is also home to one of the main groups of monasteries in all Greece, as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Samaria Gorge is one of the main natural attractions on the island of Crete.
It is a rocky gorge some 12 kilometres long, starting from Omalos, 1250 metres above sea level, and ending on the beach of Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea.
The whole gorge takes a good four hours to complete, in close contact with unspoiled nature, through woods, clearings and over streams, to reach the actual gorge and the narrowest, most famous point along the trail, the Iron Gates, just three metres wide. A truly extraordinary adventure.
Like many places in Greece, Rhodes has two hearts: one ancient and one modern. According to the myth, the stunning island of Rhodes was chosen by Apollo as his home and it is said that this is the reason that the island is blessed by 300 days of sunshine a year.
There’s so much to see and do on Rhodes, including five different castles, two acropolises and a museum of archaeology. The ideal destination for ancient history enthusiasts!
Nature lovers are sure to find something on the largest island in the Dodecanese: in the valley between Paradissi and Theologos there is a kind of heaven on earth, where the combined climate and flora, together with the passage of the River Pelecanos river, has created the perfect habitat for millions of Panaxia Quadripunctuaria (dotted Harlequin) butterflies .
Oia a Santorini
Santorini is an iconic volcanic island in the Cyclades, and its most beautiful, picturesque village is doubtless Oia, as well as one of the best locations to visit on Santorini.
Picture the whitewashed houses with light blue domed rooftops, black beaches, and spectacular sunsets where the fiery sun seems to plunge into the sea. Well, these are all things that you will see in Oia, located on the sides of the caldera, which has kept all of its authenticity in spite of the fact that the island has been invaded by mass tourism over the years.
Oia is also full of typical restaurants to try out, as well as characteristic boutiques and incredible views just waiting to be photographed.
We have already mentioned some of the Greek islands, but the truth is that Greece has so many islands and archipelagos. We can start with the Ionian Islands, an archipelago in the Ionian Sea, which includes seven large islands and numerous smaller ones.
Their geographical position makes these the islands which have been most influenced by Italy and Venetian rule. The larger islands in the archipelago are Corfu, Paxos, Levkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Zakynthos and Kythira.
Each of these islands has its own particular features, but they all share a breath-taking sea together with mountain landscapes, and a warm climate that makes them the ideal destination for summer holidays.
North Aegean Islands
Continuing with the islands in the North Aegean, here we find some of the major islands, such as Samos, Lesbos, Lemnos, Ikaria, Chios and Agios Efstratios, together with lots of little islands.
These islands are the ideal destination for those looking to spend a holiday that is all about nature, tranquillity, but also history. The Island of Lesbos, for example, is known for being the homeland of the poet Sappho and can boast a magnificent Byzantine castle, while Samos is the birthplace of Pythagoras and Epicurus, and in the Archaeological Museum in the main town (also Samos), it is possible to admire ancient sculptures, vases and Byzantine relics.
The Cyclades are perhaps the most famous group of islands in Greece, as well as a favourite destination of many young people seeking summer fun.
The archipelago consists of 220 islands, the main ones being Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Antiparos, Kimolos, Delos, Ios, Kea, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Folegandros, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Syros, Tinos and the already mentioned Santorini.
A fantastic idea for a holiday might include a tour, by sea, of as many islands in this archipelago as possible, disembarking where you want to, and making the most of the crystal clear waters around them.
The Dodecanese Islands deserve a visit, even more so when touring, stopping off at each to discover the beauty and particular characteristics of each one.
The capital is Rhodes, which we have already mentioned, while the other islands in the archipelago are Kos, the home of Hippocrates, Kalymnos, Léros, Patmos, Karpathos, Symi,
Astypalaia, Kasos, Nìsyros, Lipsi, Tìlos, and Kastelorizo (where “Mediterraneo”, the famous Oscar-winning film by Gabriele Salvatores was made).
Back on the mainland, we can stop off at Thessaloniki. With its art, ruins, culture, Byzantine churches, shops, and typical restaurants, boredom here is not an option. It is also less well known to mass tourism and this makes it even more extraordinary and authentic.
The symbol of the city is the church of Hagios Dimitrios, the church of Hagia Sophia with a name not just reminiscent of the famous Turkish church in Istanbul, but the most famous monument in Thessaloniki is doubtless the White Tower, built on the remains of a Bynzantine tower and home to a museum dedicated tot he history of the town, as well as a belvedere offering a truly extraordinary view. Also worth visiting is the .
The nerve centre of life in Thessaloniki is Aristotelous Square, lined with shops and overlooking the sea. An ideal spot for shopping, enjoying a snack and having fun.
Halkidiki and Mount Athos
If Meteora has one of the main groups of monasteries in Greece, Mount Athos, which is the easternmost peninsula of the three that make up Halkidiki, is the holy mountain that is home to the largest and most important group of monasteries in the whole country. The first was founded by St Athanasius in 963 and today, on this mountain, which is 2000 metres above sea level in its highest point, includes 20 Orthodox monasteries and 12 hermitages, as well as artefacts and religious monuments all over the surrounding hills.
It is important to know that only 120 Orthodox pilgrims are allowed to visit Mount Athos every day, together with 10 non-Orthodox pilgrims. Women are not allowed under any circumstances.
The peninsula is only reached by sea, and it offers a spectacular views of flourishing vegetation dotted with monasteries and Byzantine castles.
Elafonisi and Balos
Two of the most stunning beaches on the island of Crete are without doubt, Elafonisi and Balos. The first is a spectacular pink beach to rival the famous pink beach in Bermuda. The pink sand contrasts with the crystalline blue of the sea and it is in a remote corner of the island, where it has earned itself the title of paradise on earth.
Balos lagoon is another paradise, with white sand, bright blue sea and warm water. Balos is the ideal place for nature and adventure lovers, since to reach it, it is necessary to travel 11 kilometres of track, surrounded by scrub and goats, plus a section on foot that takes around twenty minutes or so.
The Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni
To visit some of the most important and beautiful monasteries in Greece, you don’t need to go to Mount Athos; the monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Monì of Chios are perfect for you, as well as being the best examples of Macedonian art in Greece.
The monastery of Daphni is north of Athens, in the forest of the same name, it contains some of the world’s most beautiful mosaics; the monastery of Hosios Loukas is in Beoetia, and one of the main examples of Byzantine art as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while the monastery of Nea Monì is on the island of Chios and according to tradition, it was built on the site of a place where three nuns found an icon of the Virgin Mary hanging from the branch of a myrtle tree.
Mystras is famous because it was the last centre of Byzantine learning. as well as for its splendid churches and monasteries that can still be visited today.
Out of all of them is the marvellous Metropolitan Church of Hagios Demetrios - Demetrios was revered by crusaders, and helped them during their battles - the Monastery of Peribleptos and the Convent of Pantanassa. This latter is still inhabited by nuns, who sell their handmade lace and embroidery to visitors.
The town of Mystras is absolutely fascinating and picturesque, where time seems to have stood still. It is ideal for a nice peaceful visit and in fact there are just 1500 inhabitants!
The Vikos Gorge is an example of natural views that you wouldn’t expect to find in Greece: the surroundings feature snowy mountain tops, streams and crystalline rivers, in the heart of the northern Pindus National Park.
The Vikos gorge is actually a split in the rock, 20 kilometres long, 900 metres deep and 1000 metres wide. It is a truly breathtaking natural monument, dug out over millions of years by the Voïdomatis, an affluent of the Aoos river.
The whole area can be explored both for a full immersion in unspoiled nature - in fact it is home to many threatened species that have found an ideal home in the almost pristine, untouched conditions - but also through history, since the route through the gorge is dotted with traditional bridges and villages.
The more fearless can also try a descent and crossing.
Evia and the Sporades
The Sporades are two different archipelagos in the Aegean Sea, the Northern Sporades, which include Skiatos, Skopelos, Alonnisos and Skyros, and the Southern Sporades, including Samos, Ikaria and the rest of the Dodecanese.
Evia is an island just 40 metres from the mainland and not only it is the departure point for many of the ferries going to the Northern Sporades, but they also offer a wealth of marvels to explore.
It is still relatively unknown to European tourists, which makes it extremely authentic and liveable. Its coasts have both sandy and rocky beaches, and of course, crystal clear sea everywhere.
The main town on Evia is Chalcis, while Limni is a pretty little town, an ex-fishing village, full of typical taverns in which to enjoy local specialities, and views of the stunning harbour.
Delphi is one of the most important cities in Greece, because of the archaeological site of what was without doubt, an important city in Ancient Greece,home to the Oracle of the God Apollo, the most important of all the oracles.
The Sanctuary of the Pythia in Delphi was first built in the 7th century B.C.E., then destroyed and rebuilt several times over. Stories and myths involving the oracle of Delphi abound, with the most famous perhaps being the Pythia’s answer to Oedipus.
Today, the remains of this incredible institution can be visited, and the excavations there include an impressive theatre, a stadium and naturally, the remains of the Temple of Apollo.
Another important shrine of Ancient Greece was the one in Epidaurus, dedicated to Asklepios the god who healed the faithful who came there to pay tribute during the festivities in his honour.
The foundations of this temple can still be seen today, together with the single nave and the plinth on which the god’s statue would have been placed.
The Theatre of Epidaurus is also part of this incredible architectural complex and luckily, not only can it still be admired today, but it is still used for theatre performances, offering the same’perfect acoustics that Polykleitos the Younger was able to achieve in 350 B.C.E.
Discover Greece with Costa Cruises
Set off on a Cost Cruise in search of the authentic Greece, from its mythical cities to its history, ancient relics, and also its magnificent islands. Fall in love with Athens, the Ionian Islands and the Cyclades, but also with Meteora, Olympia, and so much more.