Head to Multi-Cultural Markets in Thessaloniki
In the big cities, life centers around the local markets. Especially in Thessaloniki—which is filled with Balkan, Ottoman, and Jewish influences—heading to a lively market like Modiano or Kapani is one of the best parts of a visit. From giant strawberries to crunchy pistachios, endless herbs to fresh fish and olive oil, it's all available. You can also buy crafts that'll make a wonderful souvenir, like embroidered tablecloths. Join a guide to get an even deeper insight into Thessaloniki's market culture, and to find all the best food samples.
One tip: If it's summer, go early to avoid the heat, then stop off for an impossibly rich Greek coffee at a nearby café once you're done shopping.
Visit Artisans in their Workshops
From jewelry to ceramics and pottery, Greece's artisans take pride in producing great quality crafts. Head to Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum in Athens to learn about local techniques. Also, visit the Benaki Museum's collection of handcrafted jewelry.
If you like to learn new skills while you're on vacation, head north to the workshop of Hector Mavridis to take an intensive ceramics workshop. You'll learn throwing and firing techniques. And in among the studio work, there'll be long lunches and informal evening discussions on ceramic art and art in general. Idyllic? Yes. And if you want to get your hands properly dirty you could even join a workshop that takes you olive-picking during the autumn harvesting season, and go orange-picking too.
Try Spanakopita & Baklava from a Greek Bakery
One of the best things about staying in a Greek village for the week is getting to join in on the routine of local life. In the morning, the bakery starts to fill with women purchasing goods for a big family lunch. Flaky phyllo pastries filled with tiropita (white cheese) and spanakopita (cooked spinach) all get snapped up. And the Ottomans' love of sweets means there's always a bunch of sweet pastries to buy too. From cakes to halva and baklava sticky with honey, there's lots to buy—and you may just get invited to a family lunch while you wait in line.
Hang with Locals During a Beach Sunset
You're unlikely to find locals baking under the midday sun, but once temperatures start to cool in the late afternoon, Greeks come to the beach to swim, enjoy a frappe (very sweet iced coffee) from a sunbed, and watch the sun go down with friends and family. Some great beaches to join in on the local action include family-friendly Ornos Beach on Mykonos and the stunning series of bays at Paleokastritsa on the island of Corfu. And if hanging out on the beach in the evening has you tapping your feet and itching to get going for dinner, just remember the Greek saying, siga siga (slowly, slowly). In other words, take it easy.
Visit Greek Orthodox Monasteries and Churches
The Greek Orthodox Church is still a big part of daily life, especially among older generations, and it's shaped much of Greek culture. Visiting local monasteries and churches can be a wonderful insight into the country. They're everywhere, and often, they're in stunning locations. From modest chapels like Agia Anna, a whitewashed dome by the sea on the island of Amorgos, and the ridiculously scenic church of Agios Ioannis, made famous by Mamma Mia, to grand buildings like the 4th-century Church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani (Church of 100 Doors) on Paros, and the clifftop monasteries of the Meteora on the mainland, there are plenty to explore.
Harvest Produce & Learn Traditional Recipes
Imagine crafting the best Mediterranean dishes alongside a top chef. You can! On the island of Crete, the birthplace of the Minoan civilization, spend the day at the Botanical Park and Gardens. First up, pick your ingredients for the day from the 50 acres of farm fields and orchards. Then head indoors to learn the craft of making traditional Greek food. Cretans eat anything their fertile soil produces, and they create simple dishes, using herbs to add flavor and natural sweeteners like grape juice syrup to their desserts. Once you've created your meal, head to the patio with the rest of the participants to eat overlooking the botanical park.
Glass of Cretan wine to accompany your dish? Essential. The wine scene in Greece really is major. With exceptional wine bars in Athens, and vineyards all the way from Northern Greece down to, yes, Crete, you can get in on the action practically anywhere in the country. And if you're interested in an itinerary crafted solely around the art of Cretan gastronomy, this six-day tour could be perfect.
Stay Somewhere Unique
You could stay in a pretty hotel somewhere on the coast, or you could head to the volcanic island of Santorini in the Cyclades and stay in a cave apartment. There are boutique hotels and laid-back hostels that provide this option, and the rooms are always lovely and cool inside. Koufonissia is a trio of islands, also in the Cyclades, and in Ano Koufonisi you'll find the area's only preserved windmill. Today it's a villa with views across the bay. Why not sleep outside the box? For more unique lodging options in Greece, click here.