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Just reading about Greece is enough to inspire fantasies of hopping on the next plane over. It’s not at all surprising that the country ranks among the top twenty vacation spots in the world. In pictures it can be difficult to distinguish the bright, shining blue of the sea from the sky above—both are crystal clear. Those who revel in beauty could easily lose themselves entirely in Greece, as the scenery provides nothing short of a feast for the eyes. Lest you think that this is a country of all style and no substance, know that history is a living thing in Greece, beckoning you from every street corner and entreating with a tongue understandable in any language: look at me.
Four millennia of the human saga have played on this stage, lending Greece a cultural significance measurable on the global scale. There is something indescribable about standing in the delicately-crumbling midst of a structure thousands of years old, touching a small piece of the ancient past. This is the ancestral home of both comedy and drama, democracies and republics, the Olympic games, and the Western alphabet. Your sense of wonder will be reborn here.
The Greek are open and congenial, affectionate and generous, and above all—passionate. The art of romance has been cultivated to perfection. From delicious, intimate seafood dinners to bronzing your skin on the beach, from long swims to drowsy afternoon naps accompanied by the chorus of cicadas outside your balcony, a world of sensual pleasures is waiting. The food is delicious, the wine is plentiful, and the lifestyle is blissfully laid-back.
Top Sights in Greece
The capital city of Greece offers the best of both worlds, ancient and new. Of course, no visit here is complete without visiting the Acropolis and Parthenon, both over twenty-five hundred years old. Views of these iconic ruins dominate the city, as well as the city’s tourist scene. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Athens is stuck in “BC” time, however! The nightlife sparkles, with bars and clubs staying open well into the wee hours. In fact, some travel guides claim that the parties here are some of the best in Europe. The ancient and modern exist side-by-side in Athens, where haute cuisine cozies up to neighborhood taverns and luxe boutiques look over open-air market stalls. A full third of the country’s population lives in Athens, making this your go-to spot for meeting new faces.
Mykonos and Santorini
Circling the sacred island of Delos, the Cyclades Islands each offer something special to those who take the time to explore. The two islands most popular with visitors are Mykonos and Santorini. Mykonos is renowned as a Mediterranean party paradise, offering a decidedly sophisticated take on nightlife. By daylight, the good times spill over onto the beaches, where the diverse and lively crowd is notably dense. The word most commonly associated with Santorini is “picturesque,” and that’s phrasing it mildly. The scenery is nothing short of exquisite here—one could lose themselves in the sheer prettiness of this volcanic cluster. Luxury cruise liners are a common sight, and the continual influx of moneyed visitors has led to a fantastic proliferation of restaurants and taverns. Santorini is known for its white wine, which visitors are wont to enjoy while basking on the dark sand beaches. Be sure to stick around for the whole day, as catching a Santorini sundown is a visual delight worthy of any bucket list.
The site of the ancient Olympic games is another can’t-miss Grecian destination. You will daydream of the athletic glory of days long gone by as you stand in the stadium and trace the path of the racetrack, which was only just fully excavated in the last century. Indeed, Olympia is still an active excavation site, making this a true curiosity for anyone interested in archaeology. The old grounds stood witness to a whole new civilization’s achievements in 2004 when the shot put event of the Athens summer games was held here. A small museum will fill you in on everything you need to know about the site and its long history. Those out to soak up as much history as possible will relish a visit to the Temple of Zeus, where Olympians paid tribute to the father of the gods.
Rich vineyards, a cosmopolitan vibe, and the longest summers in Greece join forces to make Crete an irresistible component of any Greek visit. A land of hidden treasures, your visit to the island will be marked by Minoan ruins, ornate monasteries, breathtaking sea views, and museums ranging from the world-class to the single-room shrines to folklore. A cottage industry in ecotourism has sprung up almost overnight in Crete, where areas of the verdant interior remain mostly untouched. Lodges and retreats with a focus on sustainable living afford visitors the chance to sightsee with local plants and animals or take part in traditional Cretan trade crafts.
The capital of the Dodecanese island chain is referred to as one of the sunniest corners of Greece, a land resplendent with the remains of medieval architecture. Divided into the “old town” (mostly built before the sixteenth century AD!) and the “new town” (which is flavored strongly by Venetian aesthetics), Rhodes leads something of a double life. Visitors are as apt to spend their days windsurfing and kiting as they are wandering a five hundred year old fort. The hiking is known to be amazing here, thanks to scenic routes and great weather.
|Primary Airports: Athens International Airport (ATH), Thessaloniki Airport (SKG), Corfu International Airport (CFU)|
|Government: Parliamentary Republic|
|Currency: Euro (EUR)|
|Population: 10,688,000 (2006 est.)|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (United Kingdom plug)|
|Time Zone: UTC +2|
Greece Travel Reviews
Crete, Greece's Big Island
One of the things that I've learned living in Greece is that it is expected - no, required - to take the month of August off and head for an island. It doesn't matter which island, there are ancient ruins, crystal-clear turquoise seas, and great food to be had on any one of the more than 2,000 Greek islands. For my first island trip, I chose Crete, which is the largest Greek island. I choose it because of it's history, the unique lifestyle of the locals, and because I have friends who live there.
It is a mountainous island, and the National Highway stretches the length of it on the southern edge, connecting the two main ports of entry: in the west is Heraklion, and Chania is on the eastern tip. I started in Chania, an ancient Venetian port with an amazing old-town section, then hiked back to my friends in Heraklion. I don't recommend doing that without a better plan than I had; it was a long, sometimes perilous, trip. However, along that route, you'll find quaint villages, ancient ruins - including Knossis - and sleepy beach towns that are dotted with every type of accommodation from picturesque cottages with reasonable prices to major hotels and resorts. The key to finding the good beaches - both nude and family-style - is to look for walking access between the hotels; these lead to quiet, free beaches that are often separated from the pay beaches by rocky outcroppings on either side. I found several that were beautiful, clean, and almost completely deserted until after 3pm, when the local fishermen come.
To some, Crete is an acquired taste, and not indicative of 'typical' Greek island living. I fell in love with it, and have returned many times since. You could spend months there and never see it all.
Greece - My Take
Greece. Just speaking the name of the country evokes emotion. For me, the most recognizable place is Acropolis Hill. This is where the Parthenon, The Propylaea, and the Temple of Athena Nike stand. Once I set foot on Sacred Rock as Acropolis Hill has been called, was an enlightening experience, from the architecture to the museum. It gave the feeling of stepping back into time.
Ancient architecture has a way of transporting you to a different time and place. Even with all of the technology we possess, there is nothing like being at the place to feel the history. Standing before the ancient ruins you will get an understanding of what Grecian life was like, how they worshipped, and the power of the Athenian empire.
We stayed on Lycabettus Hill, which gave us a wonderful view of Acropolis Hill in all its grandeur. The view was particularly beautiful at night when the structures were lit. This location afforded us the ability to walk the city quirt a bit. We found it safe and the people we encountered (mostly tourists) friendly.
The food? Well, that’s a different story. We found the food in Athens to be mediocre. That is not to say that all of Greece is the same – a meal we enjoyed in Hydra ranks high on our list of meals the world over. The best thing to do is take a look around the area and try different places. Taking a right off Lycabettus Hill will lead you to a kind of restaurant corridor where different types of cuisine can be sampled.
Classical History Tour Through Greece
I traveled to Greece as a student to appreciate the history and culture of this amazing country. The three places I enjoyed staying in the most were the capitol city, Athens, the city of Herculaneum on the Greek island of Crete, and the isolated mountain resort town of Delphi.
In Athens we hiked to the top of the world famous Acropolis and visited the ancient Greek temple the Parthenon. Looking out over the modern city below while standing in the ruins of the past was quite moving. We also visited the incredible National Archaeological Museum with its many ancient treasures. If you like nightlife, the discotheques of Athens are some of the most famous and popular in the world.
We took the overnight cruise ship to the ancient island of Crete and wandered through the old city of Herculaneum. The unique downtown squares were enjoyable and the fresh Gyros made by the street vendors and wrapped with the world's most delicious french fries are not to be missed!
The highlight of our trip was staying in the incredibly beautiful mountain resort town of Delphi, home of another famous ancient Greek site, the Temple of Delphi. Delphi is in the middle of nowhere and waking up every morning in a hotel perched on the edge of a cliff to view the sheep grazing on the green hills was quite an experience!
Everywhere I traveled in Greece was amazing but my top cities were the ones with great historical interest.
Aegina Island in Greece
The summer after college and before starting graduate school, my wife and I took a three month backpacking trip through Europe. Our trip through Europe was magnificent both in terms of what we saw and what we learned about history and art.
One particular place stands out as glorious. We took a boat to a Greek Island, Aegina, where the water was marble blue and the vistas were inspirational. I would sit at the edge of the sea and watch the glowing bright red sun slowly dropping to the sea. Then darkness brought luminous stars that were brighter than I had ever seen before. I understood, as I never understood before, why Greeks viewed the stars and named the constellations. I crawled into my sleeping bag in my make-shift tent for the deepest most relaxed sleep of my life.
The food was scrumptious. Think fresh organic locally grown vegetables, salads and fresh seafood, and you will have some understanding of the outstanding flavor of the food. The food is grown locally so you can expect it to be both rich in nutrients and delicious. It is garden to table quality.
There was so much to do on the island. I liked swimming in the clear pristine water and then drying off under the sun on the beach. One of my favorite activities is hiking and Aegina has rocky trails over the hills. It is possible to take short boat trips to other areas of the island and hike on other trails. We loved our time on Aegina and it is a heartwarming memory that will stay with my wife and I forever.
Tour of Greek Antiquity
Throughout my college career, my friends and I would read Greek and Roman history extensively. Upon graduation, we figured that we would seize the opportunity to visit some of Greece's most treasured historical sites. We stayed in Greece for a total of eight days. It was an experience that I will never forget.
After exploring the ruins of former Constantinople and neighboring Thrace for two weeks, we crossed the Turkish border near Alexandroupoli and went straight to Thessalonica. The Arch of Galerius I was in disrepair, but the same emperor's rotunda was impeccably restored. The hotel in the city had modern amenities and overlooked the crystal blue waters of the Aegean.
Our tour then went on to the island of Corfu, where we stayed for two days. The island is heavily influenced by Venetian architecture and felt like heaven on earth. The people were remarkably friendly and affluent. Every inch of Corfu was beautiful. I would have moved there permanently if I had not already found a job in the United States.
The remainder of the tour was spent visiting the iconic sights that have made Greece famous. The theater at Delphi is one of my favorite places because it provides a breathtaking view of the rolling hills that encompass it on all sides.
The last segment of the journey was spent in Athens. I found it unfortunate that many of the historical sites in the city have been restored to such an extent that they are effectively replicas built to attract droves of tourists. For this reason, I would recommend that travelers avoid Athens, except to use the international airport.
A Honeymoon on Santorini
My wife and I went to Santorini for our honeymoon back in 2011. It was an incredible experience. Santorini has been branded as the most beautiful island in the world, and it's true. The streets are tight and winding as they move up toward the cliffs, but you get to the top and look out over hundreds of feet down to the ocean. We stayed at Galaxy Suites, which was right on that cliff edge, with a great view of the water, the sunset, the boats and the islands out in the misty bay.
The island itself isn't very big, but there are tons of stairs—nearly 1,000 to walk all the way up from the shore after a boat tour. You have to use the stairs, though, as the cliff is too steep to climb. We stayed near the middle of the crescent-shaped island, in Thira, and we spent one day hiking over to Oia. It took a few hours, but it's a stunning hike, with just an old church in the middle. You walk along the spine of the island. Oia is as picturesque as it gets, with an old fort where people gather to watch the sunset.
Everyone on Santorini was nice, and we had no trouble finding people who spoke English. The food was terrific. They brought us juice, fruit, bread and Greek yogurt for breakfast every day, along with strong coffee. For dinner, we ate a lot of lamb and drank very good local wine.
The Home of the Minotaur
As a professor who often teaches classes on ancient epics, I was thrilled to visit the Minoan palace of Knossos, Crete (ca. 1900 - 1400 B.C), the legendary home of King Minos, and setting of stories of Theseus and the Minotaur and of Daedalus and Icarus. From the Athenian port of Piraeus, I enjoyed the overnight ferry trip to Heraklion, rocked to sleep by the gentle swells of Homer's wine-dark sea. Morning arrival meant time to visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, home to the bare-breasted but elaborately skirted porcelain snake goddess figurines, the still-undeciphered Phaistos Disk, and the Hagia Triada sarcophagus depicting Minoan funerary practices. Also in the museum are the iconic, brilliantly colored frescoes from Knossos, include images of bull-leaping ceremonies, with an athletic young men vaulting over the backs of a bulls, fluidly realistic paintings of dolphins, lilies, and antelopes, and the female portrait named "La Parisienne" for her lustrous black ringlets, red lip dye, and dramatic black eyeliner. A 25-minute bus ride from town is the palace itself, sprawling over an area of five acres. Its majestic throne room, colorful colonnades and plentiful storehouses, dramatically, if not entirely accurately reconstructed in the early twentieth century, provide a cool twilit refuge from the sun that sears the open central courtyard. An hour of exploring left time to visit Heraklion's Venetian fortress, Koules, before dining in a waterfront taverna and retiring to a guesthouse for the night.
3 Days in Kos, Greece
Every summer, I try to make a short trip to a Greek island from a coastal city in Turkey. There are many islands in the Aegean Sea region worth a visit.
My friends and I took a 45-minute ferry ride from Bodrum, TR to Kos, GR through the bluest sea I’d ever seen. After we arrived in Kos, we checked-in at the Americana Hotel, which was in walking distance to the town center. We then walked the quaint streets until we found a typical Greek restaurant with a beautiful garden. The seafood and local cuisine was fresh and satisfying. Of course we had Ouzo, the famous anise flavored liquor.
The next day, we rented a beach buggy and drove to the nearest beach of Mastichari. Lounging on the white sandy beaches while staring at the turquoise sea was beyond relaxing. There are locals walking along the beach offering short massages in your chez lounge, which I highly recommend. Walk to one of the local markets and get cold beer.
The following day, we took a bus from the town center to Thermos Beach. This beach is a bit rocky, but the actual sunbathing area has small pebbles so it was comfortable to walk. Thermos is famous for thermal waters that are a small hike from the main beach. My girlfriend and I had a well-deserved soak in the warm seawater while the boys spent the day exploring more of the island in a beach buggy.
The Greek Isles
The Mediterranean Sea is lovely as are the Greek Islands themselves. Great scenery. Average cruise ship accommodations though. Athens over 100 degrees in July. I would highly endorse the islands themselves but not the Olympia Cruise Lines.