It's rare to find white-sand beaches, buildings thousands of years old, natural wonders, and UNESCO sites all in one place. From chilling on remote islands to hiking ancient volcanoes, here are just a few of the best things you can do on a visit to Greece.
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#1 Go Sailing Around Corfu
Outdoor cafés and a relaxed pace of living: island life in Greece is exactly how you'd imagine. Off the western mainland, Corfu is the biggest of the Ionian islands. You could spend your time exploring the Venetian buildings and fortress (the Palaio Frourio) in Corfu Old Town, looking out to Albania from unspoiled beaches on the northeast coast, buying olive-wood everything, and checking out the local villages among the cypress and fir trees. But how about a bit of yachting? Corfu is surrounded by wonderful, smaller islands — and you can visit them by sailboat.
If you’ve never sailed before, you could take a one-week training course with a local sailing school, then set out into the turquoise waters off Corfu and over to the islands of Naxos and Paxos as part of a flotilla. A trained crew will sort out your port passes at each dock, they'll find you the best restaurants, and they’ll help you out if you or your boat gets into any difficulties.
#2 Exercise Your Calf Muscles at the Meteora
The Meteora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's known for its centuries-old monasteries that sit precariously atop ancient limestone pillars. It’s less well-known for its hiking, but — to start — the steep trail that leads from the outskirts of the laid-back village of Kalambaka to the 14th-century Monastery of the Holy Trinity is amazing.
Your rewards for the trek include great views out to the region's valleys and pinnacles. And when you get back down to the town of Kalambaka, you can pop into a local taverna for roast lamb, fried zucchini balls, and a celebratory shot of ouzo.
#3 Go Back in Time at the Acropolis
One of the most important sites in the Ancient World, the Parthenon has towered over the city of Athens since 447 BCE. The Pentelic marble that makes up the ruins of the Acropolis is especially beautiful at sunrise and sunset, plus the crowds will be fewer then. If you can, time your visit for the early morning or late afternoon. There’s also the Acropolis Museum to visit. It features five stories of ancient statues, sculptures, and frieze panels that date back to the 5th century BCE.
For a more in-depth look at Athens, consider this 4-day tour that takes you through the city's highlights.
#4 Trek Through the Samaria Gorge on Crete
In White Mountains National Reserve on the island of Crete in the south of Greece, you’ll find one of the longest gorges in Europe. The nine-mile hike through Samaria Gorge takes a full day, especially if you stop to seek out the 450 species of flora, from peonies to dragon arum, that thrive here.
From the trailhead at Xyloskalo, which is 4,101 feet above sea level, the first couple of miles of trail lead straight down the side of the gorge via steep switchbacks and steps; then you’ll be crossing loose rock deep in the canyon till you reach the seaside village of Agia Roumeli, which is home to some very welcome bars and a pretty beach.
After working up an appetite, you'll want to indulge in some of the farm-to-table culinary specialties that Crete is known for. Check out this 6-day food tour, featuring tours of the island's olive groves and vineyards.
#5 Hike Along a Caldera Rim on Santorini
On the island of Santorini, it’s possible to hike between the picture-perfect towns of Fira and Oia along the rim of a burnt-out volcano. The walk covers six miles and takes about four hours if you’re going at a relaxed pace. Starting in the main town of Fira, along the way you’ll go up hills, skirt Byzantine churches, peer into the depths of the volcano, and — with any luck — reach Oia, just in time to watch the sunset over the Ionian Sea.
#6 Visit the Olive Groves of Kalamata
From wandering among olive blossoms in spring to seeing the rich autumn harvest in fall, any of the seasonal stages of Greece’s gnarled and twisted olive trees is worth seeing. Olive groves can be found all over the country, but perhaps the most famous are in Kalamata on the Peloponnese peninsula, south of Athens. In particular, the villages of Thouria and Sperchogia are known for their bountiful olive harvests. While you’re in the area, it’s worth visiting an eleotrivio — where olives are transformed into various grades of oil — to see how it’s made and to buy all the extra virgin you can.
#7 Charter a Boat out to Navagio Beach
One of the world’s most famous beaches, if you’re staying on Zakynthos Island, a visit out to Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach on the northwest of the island is a fun one. The sand is perfect, the limestone cliffs shoot up to what can be an impossibly blue sky, and the Ionian Sea is lovely for swimming in right through summer. You can only reach the beach by boat, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be sharing the experience with lots of others. With views like the one above, it's easy to see why.
#8 Go Wine Tasting around Nemea
The Greek mastery of drinks goes far beyond ouzo and retsina. The terroir in locations like Nemea is perfect for making wine. This spot is an hour and a half’s drive west of Athens in the Peloponnese peninsula, and it’s home to some great local wineries.
Do a tasting or two, then visit Nafplio Town! It’s surrounded by beaches and home to some gorgeous plazas and hidden alleyways by the sea. Also nearby by is Mycenae archaeological site, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus. It’s also a World Heritage Site, and for good reason. Dating back to the 4th century BCE, this ruin is as historic as the name suggests.
#9 Eat your Way around Corfu Town
Venetian and French influences can be found not just in the architecture of Corfu Town’s old streets, but in the cooking too. Think Italian-style trattorias and dishes of fried veal topped with a white sauce made bright with garlic, vinegar and parsley. Think rich gelato topped with fresh slices of kumquat grown on the island. Spicy red bourdeto fish stew and rice pudding made warm with a healthy dash of cinnamon. Think some of the best food, anywhere.
#10 Go Snorkeling on Kalymnos
East of the mainland, the Dodecanese is an amazing set of islands. If Rhodes is too mainstream for you, how about little Kalymnos? Covering 42 square miles, it’s known for its sponge diving. This has been going on since the times of Homer, and it has brought a lot of prosperity to the island over the years. Get in on the action under the water, and look out for dragonfish and sea bream while you snorkel or dive. If you’re up for it, join the adventures up-high too. Kalymnos is a paradise for rock climbers, with the walls around its western flank known for their epic climbing crags. See you on the cliffs!
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