Top 10 Destinations in Greece
Largely considered the cradle of Western civilisation, the ancient city of Athens is a history buff's dream come true. It's one of the world's oldest cities and gave rise to one of its most influential empires. Over the centuries Athens has undergone many transformations, as demonstrated in the awe-inspiring monuments that range from the Classical, Roman and Byzantine eras. And topping it all is the iconic Acropolis, a grand reminder of the country's epic history and significant heritage. The Acropolis is home to the 5th century Parthenon and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Visitors to the city also won't want to miss the chance to stroll through the beautiful Plaka district. Check out our guide to the best places to visit in Athens after you've seen the Acropolis.
The site of Delphi was once home to the sanctuary of Apollo and the shrine of his oracle. And to the ancient Greeks, Delphi was thought to be the centre of the world as they knew it. Today the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the country's most important archaeological areas with the ruins of many important monuments including 4th century temples, treasuries, a theatre, hippodrome and gymnasium. For visitors the location of the ancient temple is worth the trip alone. Delphi is perched on the slopes of Mount Parnassos overlooking a dramatic valley filled with olive and cypress trees. And as it's an easy day trip from Athens, it's little wonder Delphi is one of Greece's top attractions.
The monasteries of Meteora have to be seen to be believed. Located in the centre of the country, your first impression of the landscape will be the towering sandstone pillars which rise up from the ground. And then you'll spot the handful of monasteries perched precariously from the top of the pillars. These fabled monasteries date back to the 14th century. They were built by local monks who previously lived in the caves of Meteora, and originally numbered 24. Only six have survived and today these monasteries, once isolated from the rest of the world thanks to their vertigo-inducing position close to the clouds, are one of the most popular destinations in all of Greece. And the region has been recognised by UNESCO not only for its natural brilliance but also for its art with the monasteries home to post-Byzantine frescoes. You can visit some of the monasteries but be warned, it's quite a climb!
Greece is home to over 6,000 islands, so it's little wonder a few have made it onto a list of top places to visit. And the island of Santorini frequently finds itself on the round-up of Greece's best islands. It's not a stretch to describe it as one of the most scenic. Black sand beaches, active volcanoes and the pretty whitewashed villages of Oia and Fira are just some of the highlights of the island, which is about as good as it gets for a European summer holiday. Aside from the dazzling panoramas and magical sunsets, you'll also find scenic walks to enjoy, acclaimed wines to sample, and history to discover at the Minoan Bronze Age archaeological site of Akrotiri.
Popular with island-hoppers and party-goers, the island of Mykonos is one of Greece's most visited. You'll find a plethora of hip bars, trendy restaurants and buzzing nightclubs that have become popular with holidaymakers after a slice of Ibiza-style fun and St. Tropez-style chic. The island's offering of great beaches also ensures that sun worshippers and sea-swimmers are well catered for. The main town's clothing and jewellery boutiques also make it a great place for retail therapy. Mykonos is certainly not one of the cheapest islands so it's worth booking in advance or consider visiting out of season for a less expensive and more sedate experience.
Once the "co-reigning" city of the Byzantine Empire alongside Constantinople (ancient Istanbul), Thessaloniki is a modern Greek metropolis with both history and culture. Step back in time as you walk the Byzantine city walls, gaze upon the 4th century Arch of Galerius and explore the ruins of the Roman forum. And immerse yourself in contemporary Greece with a walk along the thriving waterfront where trendy cocktail bars stand beside pleasant green spaces and public gardens. The city of Thessaloniki is also an excellent springboard for exploring the gorgeous sand beaches and dramatic mountainous landscapes of the northern Halkidiki region.
Perhaps most famous as the birthplace of the Olympic Games, the ancient sanctuary of Olympia is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Greece. Every era of Greek civilisation is represented here from the ruins of the Temple of Hera built circa 590 BC, to the Roman Nymphaeum that dates back to 150 AD. The most celebrated of Olympia's ancient monuments is the Temple of Zeus, which once housed one of the original Seven Wonders of the World - a 13-metre-tall statue of Zeus made from gold and ivory. Today visitors can explore the impressive ruins of temples, sculptures and columns while enjoying the scenic surrounds of idyllic countryside overlooked by the Hill of Krónos.
The name 'Nisiros' might not be familiar to many holidaymakers but the volcanic Dodecanese island is the place to go if you're looking for peace and quiet without the usual hordes of tourists. Nisiros has remained relatively untouched by the tourism boom in Greece - its picturesque villages are as traditional as you can get and the beaches are beautifully unspoiled. Its star attraction is the Nisiros volcano, located in the centre of the island and still active. It's possible to enter deep into the crater to see the bubbling mud pools and steam geysers. Film buffs might recognise this stark, lunar-like landscape from the James Bond Moonraker movie.
With its colourful neoclassical mansions sat beneath rugged hills, the port of Symi island is deemed to be the prettiest in all of Greece. And it's one of importance too with the 19th century buildings and old markets preserved as a national monument. Symi is popular with day trippers who, aside from enjoying the local tavernas, visit the Panormitis Monastery and the crumbling acropolis. You don't come to Symi for the beaches, which are few and far between, and more often than not narrow strips of shingle. However, if your idea of a perfect Greek island includes postcard-worthy architecture, laid-back glamour, sweltering summer temperatures and sensational food, then Symi is an excellent choice.
To visit Rhodes is to take a walk through antiquity. Rhodes is so historic, and packed with so many famous sites, that it was given UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1988. Some of the must-visit sites include the Venetian fort of Kritina, which dates back to the 16th century. There's also the 30m-tall Colossus, a statue of the sun god Helios. There's more to the island than just history though, with nightlife to rival party island Mykonos and popular beach resorts to please the sun worshippers. Head out of the Old Town and you'll also discover secluded coves and picturesque villages where you can escape the crowds and enjoy a little tranquillity.
To help you plan your trip to Greece, check out our handy Travel Guide resources:Best Time to Visit - climate and seasons in Greece
Tourist Visas - what to know before you go
Top Travel Tips - information about money, food and vaccinations