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10 best places to visit in Greece

You can take your pick of picture-postcard Greek islands or stick to the beautiful Greek mainland if you're planning a summer vacation in Europe. To help you decide where to go, here’s our pick of the best places to visit in Greece.

1. Athens

This European capital has so much going for it but is often overlooked in favor of Paris or London. But where else would you find 5th century history around the corner from funky contemporary street art? There’s so much to see and do in Athens: Acropolis of Athens, Ancient Agora of Athens, the National Gardens, Mount Lucabettus and much, much more. The Acropolis is an Ancient Greek masterpiece and one of the most historically rich places in the world. It comprises a number of structures and monuments which help tell the story of how the Ancient Greeks lived and who and what they worshiped. The most famous monuments are the Propylaea and the Parthenon. The former is the gateway to the Acropolis and the Parthenon is a large temple dedicated to Athena, the Greek goddess. The city also has some wonderful street art tours, as well as fantastic local restaurants and bars. A pretty good way to start your Greek education! Read more: Top 15 attractions and things to do in Athens.

Best places to visit in Greece: Athens

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2. Santorini

This picture-postcard volcanic island is the jewel in Greece’s crown. Its blue and white domed buildings perched on the caldera-edge cliff sides are instantly recognizable, and make it one of the most popular places to visit in Greece. If you want to do more here than gaze out to the crystal ocean (and take lots of obligatory selfies) visit Ancient Akrotiri, an ancient Minoan city that was buried by volcanic ash in 1613. You can still see the remains of buildings, roads and pottery; a guided tour costs around €10 (Dh45). Santorini’s capital, Fira, is what you usually see on Santorini tourism fliers, but it’s even more beautiful in person. It has some stunning hotels with gorgeous swimming pools, chic bars and excellent restaurants. Ammoudi, another popular place to visit in Santorini, is a pretty fishing village, and a wonderful spot for a fish lunch (if you’re happy to walk down and up 300 steps to get there). You can get a ferry to Santorini from the port town of Pireaus or Rafina. A bus from Athens airport to Pireaus takes around 1.5 hours.

Best places to visit in Greece: Santorini

3. Mykonos

Nowhere does stylish islands like Greece. Mykonos is another island in the Cyclades island group (like Santorini) and has gorgeous sandy beaches, great restaurants serving delicious fresh fish and lots of history. It’s also something of a party island and a good place to visit in Greece if you want to really let your hair down; the party scene comes alive in the summer with visiting DJs and clubs that never seem to close! If this isn’t your scene, explore Mykonos’ history instead. The Panagia Paraportiani is the island’s most famous church and made up of four small chapels. Its whitewashed walls are definitely worth a photo! Popular beaches in Mykonos include Psarou in the south and Agios Sostis in the north.

4. Crete

The Greek island of Crete is worth a long vacation in itself, so don’t feel guilty about just transiting through the mainland. It has some beautiful scenic fishing villages, delicious food, and lots and lots of history. It’s home to the Heraklion Archeological Museum, one of Greece’s biggest and most important museums. It showcases artifacts from the country’s history from over 5,000 years. Even if museums aren’t usually your thing, the color-coded rooms and clever signing will draw you in. If you do like history, Crete has a plethora of churches, castles and monasteries for you to explore (Zangarólon, Toploú, Arkadíou and Préveli). The island also has some stunning beaches so think about renting a car and making your way around the coast, stopping when you see somewhere that takes your fancy. If you’re traveling with kids, there’s plenty to do on Crete, including three large water parks and the newly refurbished Acquaplus inland from Hersónissos.

Best places to visit in Greece: Crete

5. Meteora

This incredible group of rock formations is one of the most visited places in Greece. It consists of a number of huge pinnacles of natural rock, on which six monasteries perch, and was built by monks in the 14th century. There were originally 20 but only six have stood the test of time. There’s a museum on the site of the biggest monastery, the Monastery of Great Meteoron, where you can learn more about the construction of the monasteries and their religious importance, so it’s a good place to start. The other monasteries are: Holy Monastery of Varlaam, Holy Monastery of Rousanou, Holy Monastery of St Nicholas Anapausas, Holy Monastery of St Stephen and Monastery of Holy Trinity. All of the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one that should be on your list of must-visit places in Greece. A direct train from Athens to Meteora (Kalambaka station) will take around 5 hours. Take a hiking tour if you want to find the best views and trails.

Best places to visit in Greece: Meteora

6. Delphi

This is another nice place to visit on mainland Greece and the country’s second most popular archaeological site after the Acropolis in Athens. In ancient times it was thought to be the center of the world; the place where heaven and earth joined. Its most important building, the Temple of Apollo, is built into the cliffside and surrounded by other structures all pointing to the area’s historical significance. It gets very busy with tourists but don’t let this put you off. Some tour companies (such as Fantasy Travel of Greece) combine a trip to Delphi with Meteora and usually offer overnight or two-day excursions. Alternatively, rent a car and take the E75 north out of Athens; the drive should take you around 2.5 hours.

7. Rhodes

This is the largest Greek Island in the Dodecanese and one of the most popular places to visit in Greece. As with lots of the islands in the region it has some wonderful historical sights but also plenty of great restaurants, shops and cafes. Rhodes Town itself has an Old Town which is behind very high walls and surrounded by a moat. The cobbled alleys are narrow and winding, the perfect place for a sunset stroll. Rhodes New Town is further north and has a very different vibe to Rhodes Old Town, with lots of fancy restaurants and a very picturesque waterfront. Things to do and places to visit on Rhodes include the Nea Agora New Market (great, cheap cafes and shops selling local goods), Rhodes Aquarium (fun for the kids), people watching on Elli Beach, and admiring the historical buildings at Mandraki Harbour. Ferries operate from Piraeus to Rhodes daily, see the timetables here.

Best places to visit in Greece: Rhodes

8. Zagori

Situated in northwestern mainland Greece, Zagori as about as far from island life as you can get. It’s made up of forests, massive gorges and lush valleys. There are hundreds of pathways and trails leading through the area so it’s a great location for a hiking or walking vacation. You can trek from village to village and over some of the valley’s 90-plus stone bridges. Its most famous destination is the Vikos Gorge, a 3000ft gorge close to the border with Albania, which is incredibly popular with hikers (read more about the experience here).

9. Thessaloniki

This is Greece’s second-largest city and one of the most popular places to visit in Greece because of its beautiful architecture, delicious foods and Roman history. The city has a big student population so there’s quite a young vibe in certain parts, especially Dimitriou Gounari and Navarinou Square. One of the first places you should visit in Thessaloniki is Aristolelous Square at the waterfront. It’s where some of the city’s most handsome buildings are, and there’s lots of outdoor restaurants to sit at and watch the world go by. If you’re into Greek history, check out the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki which is split into seven eras, making it easier to navigate and learn. Other popular attractions are the Arch of Gelarius and Rotunda, dating back to the fourth century but with beautifully-intact mosaics, and the 14th century Vlatadon Monastery located in the atmospheric Ano Poli part of the city.

Best places to visit in Greece: Thessaloniki

10. Hydra

This island is smaller than most of the others we’ve recommended and can only be reached on a boat from Athens. So if you’re staying in the Greek capital, it makes a great day trip. It takes around 90 minutes to reach and there’s enough art galleries, tavernas, pretty alleyways, jewelry shops and historical sites to keep you busy for a day. There’s also a small Hydra Cathedral (Church of Dormition) and museum in the harbor which was built after a nun arrived on the island in 1643. Top tips: you need to dress appropriately if you’re going inside the cathedral and photos are not allowed.

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*Published September 2017. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.

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