Experience the lesser-known side of the country with this two-week trip across Northern Greece. You'll go from Greece's second city of Thessaloniki to living like the proverbial pasha in lakeside Ioannina, then up to the clifftop monasteries of Meteora. Continue on through the stone Zagori mountain villages to wrap up your journey on the shores of Corfu in the Ionian Sea, where you'll follow in legendary traveler Odysseus's footsteps.

Highlights

  • Visit the birthplace of Alexander the Great at Pella
  • Climb to the clifftop monasteries of Meteora
  • Relax by the lake in Ioannina
  • Trek through the Zagori stone villages
  • See the sights of the Odyssey on Corfu

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Athens, Fly to Thessaloniki Thessaloniki
Day 2 Explore Ano Poli Thessaloniki
Day 3 Pella and Vergina Royal Tombs, Drive to Kalabaka Kalabaka
Day 4 Explore Meteora Kalabaka
Day 5 Travel to Ioannina Ioannina
Day 6 Dodona Sanctuary and Theater Ioannina
Day 7 Travel to Zagori Zagori
Day 8 Zagori Bridges and Villages Hike Zagori
Day 9 Zagorian Cooking Workshop Zagori
Day 10 Zagori Villages to Corfu Corfu
Day 11 Corfu Food Tour Corfu
Day 12 Corfu Jeep Safari Corfu
Day 13 Odyssey Tour Corfu
Day 14 Return to Athens, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Athens, Fly to Thessaloniki

Walkable streets in the city center
Walkable streets in the city center

Welcome to Greece! Your journey begins in history-rich Thessaloniki in the north. After landing in Athens, you'll transfer to your short flight to this dynamic city.

The day is yours to explore with a self-guided walking tour, so you can pick and choose based on your interests and time of arrival. You'll start with history, scoping out the UNESCO World Heritage listed Byzantine churches and the Roman agora, which hosted traders from around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. 

Continue to the modern food and flower markets amid the riots of color and flavor on view. Don't miss the opportunity to sample the bougatsa, a typical semolina-based dessert. Keep going on to the crypt of Saint Dimitrios, a subterranean space recently discovered below the church. You'll learn about the range of cultures that have shaped Thessaloniki as you go, including Ottomans, Christians, and Jews.

End your trip at the top of the White Tower. This fifteenth-century structure is one of the city's most famous landmarks and its unofficial symbol, and is home to both a history museum and views across the water.

Day 2: Explore Ano Poli

Sunset at the castle
View from the castle

After breakfast in the city, head out to Ano Poli (Upper Town). Many of the city's main defensive structures were built here due to its hilltop position overlooking the city. It's also the only section of the city to have survived the great fire in 1917, preserving much of its history, and fringed by the original city walls. Some highlights include:

  • The Alaca Imaret, a fifteenth-century Ottoman monument decorated with the original ceiling frescoes that now hosts art exhibitions.
  • The Church of Osios David, a fifth-century Christian church that features a mosaic of the vision of Ezekiel and a rare depiction of an adolescent Christ.
  • The Byzantine Castle of Thessaloniki, also known Heptapyrgion or Yedi Kule, and former prison.
  • The peacocks of the 14th century Vlatodon Monastery.

Listen for the rebetiko music coming out of the tavernas, and take some time to stop and listen while lingering over a meal and taking in the views over the city and Aegean Sea.

In the late afternoon, take a relaxing stroll along Thessaloniki's seafront promenade, before settling into one of the city's excellent restaurants for dinner. Nea Folia and Sempriko are just a few of the numerous options.

Day 3: Pella and Vergina Royal Tombs, Drive to Kalabaka

Alexander in engraved format
Alexander in engraved format

Hop on the road out of Thessaloniki to Vergina, roughly an hour away. You'll venture into ancient Macedonian history with this self-guided exploration to the Pella and Vergina archaeological sites.

Start at the ancient city of Pella, the capital of ancient Macedonia starting in the late 5th century BCE and birthplace of Alexander the Great. The site covers more than 15 square acres (40 sq km), where excavations have unearthed a variety of artifacts of daily life. The recently built onsite museum houses many of them, including mosaics, silver artifacts, weapons, statues, and maps dating back to the 4th century BCE.

Take a quick drive to neighboring Vergina, the first capital of ancient Macedonia (yes, before Pella) once known as Aiges. Explore the royal tomb of King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, and visit the museum/tomb complex to see his burial artifacts such as gold jewelry, weapons, religious artifacts, and a gold larnax that likely contained the king's remains.

Stop in the town of Naousa and have a late lunch at one of its many surrounding wineries or town tavernas before you continue on to Kalabaka.

Day 4: Explore Meteora

Up on the clifftop
Up on the clifftop

Ascend to six cliffside monasteries today as you explore the rock formations of Meteora. These clifftop monasteries, including Megalo Meteoron and Agios Stefanos, sit perched atop high rock formations but are still inhabited and used by monks and nuns today. The area has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the largest pilgrimage sites in Greece.

Meet your guide for three hours among the monasteries. You'll see all six of the monasteries, with visits inside one or two of them for a glimpse of what the ninth-century monastic life may have been like. 

You'll tread the same paths that monks used for hundreds of years to reach these holy places, climbing close to 1,000 feet in the air above the canyons of the Pindos range. Before the paths were constructed, the monastery residents used nets and rope ladders to hoist goods (and sometimes their fellow clergy) to the clifftops. You'll experience both living history and panoramic views as you explore.

Day 5: Travel to Ioannina

Lake Pamvotida
Lake Pamvotida

Today brings you to Ioannina, a lakeside city that was once the center of the Enlightenment in Greece, with well-preserved buildings, examples of Ottoman architecture and influence, and a silver-grey lake. It's also the gateway to the mountain villages of Zagori.

Ioannina's old town is still surrounded by the old defensive walls, which wrap around buildings full of Greece's Ottoman heritage and folkloric architecture, and the fortified castle is one of the oldest Byzantine castles in the country. Walk its streets, looking out for the silversmithing that the city is known for, or get outside the walls and follow the paths along the shores of the lake instead. Take in the waterfront views while enjoying a sherbetia, a sweet wine flavored with fruit and flowers.

Day 6: Dodona Sanctuary and Theater

Ancient theater at Dodona
Ancient theater at Dodona

These well-preserved ruins are one of the archaeological highlights of the Ioannina region. Offerings have been found in the area dating back to the 8th century BCE, though building began in the 4th century BCE and it is believed to have reached its peak in the 3rd.

Take a guided tour through the sanctuary that was home to one of Greece's oldest oracles. Priests would gather under the oak trees and listen to the noises of the leaves to predict the future and answer the questions of the many pilgrims who made their way to the city. Explore the full site to see the Temple of Zeus surrounding the sacred oak trees, Bouleterion Hall, and the partially excavated stadium. Its theater is one of the largest in Greece, with the ability to seat up to 18,000 people.

Return to Ioannina in the evening and take a stroll along the lakefront promenade, admiring the mountain views and the city walls.

Day 7: Travel to Zagori

Stone river bridge
Stone river bridge

After breakfast, head to the fairytale Zagori Villages. This cluster of more than 40 hillside villages hides its well-preserved stone structures among the snowcapped mountain peaks, rivers, and gorges of Pindos, built amphitheatrically amid unspoiled landscapes.

Whether you choose to linger under the trees, explore old monasteries, or visit the stone mansions of well-known residents, you're sure to find something to enchant you. Though Zagori is most popular as a winter destination, the mountain towns are equally as charming amid autumn foliage or in spring and summer when the peonies and hydrangeas bloom.

Many of the villages are on the List of Traditional Settlements of Greece, a testament to their unchanged nature over the years. Your local specialist will provide you with a custom guidebook to help you decide where to wander.

Day 8: Zagori Bridges and Villages Hike

Sunrise in Vitsa
Sunrise in Vitsa

Discover the rest of the Zagorichoria, villages of Zagori, in the Pindos mountains, the ideal spot for fairytale exploration. 

Due to the unique flora and fauna present in the region, it's been designated a national park with strict preservation rules. You'll take an easy guided half-day hike (great for families), taking in views of the surrounding scenery and learning about the history and culture of the region. It's a beautiful walk among the stone houses, small farms, and river bridges, which were built with a special technique believed to be unique to the region.

Stop at the sixteenth-century Monastery of Pagia Spiliotissa for some bonus exploring, built atop a rock overlooking the Voidomatis river. The village of Vitsa makes an ideal stop for lunch, especially if you can find the area's mushroom-hunting expert. Spend the rest of your day resting and enjoying the slow pace of life in this region.

Day 9: Zagorian Cooking Workshop

Zagori mushroom rice
Zagori mushroom rice

Venture up to the village of Aristi to learn about the Zagorian culinary tradition, known for its rich flavors. You'll work with an expert to create three courses of Zagorian cuisine from freshly picked ingredients. Then sit down to enjoy your results with a glass of local wine. You'll start with a fresh salad, followed by one of the famous Zagorian pies, then the main dish made with meat from local farms and a dessert.

In the evening, stay around Aristi and explore the village. Stroll around the stone houses, across mule paths and Ottoman-era bridges, and scope out the folkloric artists' galleries and central square.

Day 10: Zagori Villages to Corfu

The bay at Paleokastritsa in Corfu
Sunrise over the Corfu coast

Today, you'll have one more breakfast in the mountains before you head down to the sea, with a boat transfer to the island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea. Watch for the many species of marine mammals that call the surrounding waters home on your way, and see why Odysseus was able to recuperate from his mythological journeys here.

You'll enter the city past its two guardians of the Old Fort and New Fort. The former was built in the thirteenth century and is surrounded by a seawater moat. It hides a slew of iconography, including the Porta Sopranza, winged lions of Saint Mark, and the Doric-inspired Church of St. George behind its walls. The New Fort on the northwestern border, meanwhile, boasts cubist military architecture.

You'll receive a personal guidebook from your local specialist to enhance your explorations on your arrival. See the sandstone beaches, Pompeiian-inspired Achillion Palace, and Mon Repos aristocratic villa and gardens with local tips close at hand.

Day 11: Corfu Food Tour

Cured meats and olives await
Cured meats and olives await

Eat your way around the Old Town on this guided food tour.  You'll spend three hours sampling everything Corfu has to offer, noticing its traditional roots and Italian influence along the way.  Meet the players of the local food scene as you learn about the history of Corfiot food and ingredients and visit the open-air markets. Your samples will include loukomades (fried dough with honey), spinach and cheese pies, kumquats, cold cuts, and seafood mezze, along with ingredients like traditional butter and cream, olive oil, and plenty of ouzo to wash it down.

Don't leave the Old Town at the end of your tour, but instead spend some time walking off all that food around this UNESCO World Heritage site. Look up to see the crisscrossing balconies indicative of Corfu's Neapolitan influence or have a seat in Spianada Square to watch the city life go by.

Day 12: Corfu Jeep Safari

Old Perithia
Old Perithia

After breakfast, you'll head to the Corfiot upland villages with this road tour through Corfu's rugged mountains. You'll drive though idyllic countryside to Kato Korakiana village, followed by Agios Martinos, Lafki, and the remote Old Perithia. Stop to purchase snacks and snap some photos along the way in one of the villages. Old Perithia is particularly attractive, listed as a "Designated Area of Natural Beauty."

Get back on the road to reach the highest point of the island on Mount Pantokrator, reaching nearly 3,000 feet. Visit the monastery for 360-degree views of the island and even across to the mainland.

Your return trip will take you through the traditional villages at Strinilas and Spartillas, then back to the coast and main road at the resort of Ipsos. You'll be escorted by an expert guide, with stony trails, shady olive groves, and island views all the while.

Day 13: Odyssey Tour

Paleokastritsa bay
Paleokastritsa bay

Travel back to Homer's Odyssey with this adventure.  According to the story, Corfu was the island of the Phaeacians, where Odysseus was shipwrecked during a storm while trying to escape from the nymph Calypso. Your guide will take you around the island to points relevant to this Classical epic over the course of this 6-hour tour.

Some top stops include the beautiful Paleokastritsa bay, possibly the spot where Odysseus washed up on the shore and was discovered by princess Nausicaa, and Ermones beach, another equally scenic contender for Nausicaa's place of discovery with trees down to the edge of the sea. You'll also visit the Kanoni area, where you can take in views of the islet of Pontikonisi while listening to stories from Greek mythology.

Day 14: Return to Athens, Depart

Wave to the city
Wave to the city

Time to say farewell to Greece. You'll head back to Athens after breakfast to catch your flight, either home or onward to your next adventure.

Map

Map of Enchanting Northern Greece and Corfu - 14 Days
Map of Enchanting Northern Greece and Corfu - 14 Days