When traveling to Greece, most tourists stay on the popular track: Athens, Mykonos, Santorini. But with thousands of years of history, and as many islands, Greece is full of unique beaches, sites, and treasures that reward a traveler interested in navigating the country like a local. Here are 6 ideas to help you get off the beaten path.

Discover Hidden Gems in Greece

If you’re looking for a unique destination, you're in luck: Greece offers options for every kind of traveler. Whether you’re interested in incorporating thrilling outdoor adventures - like whitewater rafting and hiking—or you’re more inspired by finding solitude on a white sand beach, you can personalize your trip beyond the tried-and-true hit list that fills most tourists’ itineraries.

Fortresses, Churches, and Volcanoes in Nisyros 

Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in Nikia

If you’re thinking about exploring islands in the far-flung Dodecanese, head to Nisryos after you’ve taken in all that Rhodes and Kos have to offer. The entire island is an active volcano, formed over 150,000 years ago, with a caldera measuring roughly 2.5 miles in diameter. The volcano hasn’t erupted in over a century but has left its mark on Nisryos’s geography with a series of hydrothermal craters.

Mandraki, the island’s harbor and capital, is a village full of cobblestone neighborhoods. Delfinion (Dolphin) Square boasts unique mosaics composed of pebbles, and the enclave of Langadi—which features traditional two-story homes made of volcanic rock, insulated with pumice, and adorned with wooden balconies—is not to be missed. The neighborhood’s main thoroughfare leads you to Paliokastro, a fortress from the Hellenistic-era that gives way to views of Mandraki.   

Head up the mountain to the volcano and take in the spectacular vista of the vibrant Aegean below you. If you can stand the sulfuric fumes and are wearing sturdy shoes, walk across Polyvotis, the oldest and largest crater before heading to the five younger craters nearby. The most imposing of these is Stefano: formed between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago, its rocky landscape is otherworldly and was even home to a spectacular 10-hour improvised concert put on by 15 young musicians inspired by the site’s terrain and energy.

After, head to the Volcanological Museum, where you can learn about volcanoes and the island’s history while looking out onto the edge of the caldera. The small museum is easy to get through in under an hour and offers multimedia presentations, 3D exhibits, computer simulations, and an informative documentary.

Before you leave, explore the sweet village of Nikia, whose labyrinth of cobblestone streets lead to Porta, a circular plaza home to the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. Be sure to walk through the other villages on the island, too. Emporios sits on the eastern slope of the mountain, atop the volcano’s crater; though once a bustling community, the village has been deserted since an earthquake in 1933, but still has a handful of shops, tavernas and Pantoniki, a medieval fortress.

Discover a Painted Town in Chios

Painted buildings of Pyrgi

Situated in the northeast of the Aegean, Chios is just 45 minutes by air from Athens. The island is well known for its cultivation of mastic, or “Arabic gum,” a resin produced by local trees used to make everything from jams and ouzo to medicines and paints. But the island is also home to gorgeous beaches and a variety of cultural sites, like the Byzantine Nea Moni monastery and the narrow, medieval village of Mesta.

A visit to Chios isn’t complete without stopping in Pyrgi, “the painted village,” a marvel of design. The village is a prime example of xysta style, exemplified by geometric black, grey, and white patterns that adorn the buildings. The effect is created when the design is hand-engraved onto plaster. Don’t miss the Church of the Holy Apostles, and stop into the Chios Mastic Museum before buying some treats made of the island’s signature product in one of Pyrgi’s charming shops.

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Wander Through a Marble Village In Tinos

Coastline of Tinos Island

Only a couple of hours from Athens by speed-boat, Tinos is overlooked by those traveling to Mykonos 20 minutes away. But this spot in the Cyclades is not only home to phenomenal dining, artisanal crafts, and hundreds of churches, but an awe-inspiring village filled with marble art.

Pyrgos, the largest village on the island, is celebrated for its incredible marble features, sculptures, and shops. This pedestrian-only enclave features breathtaking marble paths, decorated with features and fountains, contrasted by the technicolor bougainvillea that climb the white walls of the town. Pick up a handmade piece in a boutique, pop into an atelier to visit a working marble artist, or visit the Museum of Marble Crafts. Wind down in one of the squares to enjoy a slice of galaktoboureko, a dessert of semolina custard in crunchy phyllo.   

Dive into even more culture in the other villages on the island. Volax is reminiscent of Stonehenge; it’s set in a valley surrounded by granite boulders in an almost supernatural array. Local artisans include phenomenal weavers, specializing in traditional Tinian baskets. In Ysternia, the “terrace of the Aegean,” take in views of the sea before tucking into some louza, a local charcuterie. And explore both Orthodox and Catholic churches in lush Kardiani, a hillside village with treats like portokalopita (orange cake) at its tavernas.

Find a solitude on a beach in Koufonisia

Kato Koufonisi

Koufonisia, Greek for “hollow islands," was named by pirates who assumed the locale’s massive sea caves made the land itself empty. Composed of three small islands—Keros, Kato (Lower) Koufonisi, and Pano (Upper) Koufonisi—Koufonisia is usually bypassed by tourists because it’s more remote than other islands in the Lesser Cyclades. But trekking out to this idyllic trio of islands will reward you with near-private beaches that beg you to sack out and unplug.

If you’re arriving by ferry from Athens, Naxos or Amorgos, you’ll dock at Pano Koufonisi, the main island in this mini-chain and, at fewer than 400 residents, the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Cyclades. Keros, the tiniest island in the trio, is a working archeological site and is therefore closed off to visitors. Kato Koufonisi is rocky, wild, and windswept, while chic Pano is lined with pristine beaches.

Compared to glamorous Mykonos, Koufonisia is far more rustic. In fact, it only received electricity in 1980 and there’s only one ATM on Pano Koufonisi. There are few real roads on land and you can’t rent a car or bike, so relax as you traverse the island on foot. Skip Ammos, the town’s most popular beach and instead head to the southern beaches via water taxi from the town harbor. Sure, you can walk your way through a string of beaches—Finikas, Fanos, and Italida—but consider cruising first to Pori, a horseshoe-shaped white sand beach.

From Pori you can find your own secluded strip of sand or climb atop rocky perches to dive into the water below. You can also access a number of sea caves, including To Mati Tou Diavolou (Devil’s Eye), Gala (Milk), or the caves at Xylobatis Cove. On your way back to town, be sure to stop halfway to take a plunge into Pisina, a natural swimming pool carved out of rock.

Take a ferry to Kato Koufonisi, where you can explore sea caves by boat or lay out on the island’s beaches. Beware that the terrain is rougher than Pano’s, so pack some sturdy footwear for the sometimes rocky and pebbly coast. After some sun, duck into the island’s sole restaurant, Venetsanos Taverna, for some seaside fare like mithizra, a tangy cheese that has the salty brine of feta and creamy texture of ricotta.

Go Hiking and Rafting in Zagori

Stone bridge in a Zagori gorge

While beaches and ancient sites typically top itineraries, the Zagori region in the northwest offers incredible nature and adventure. The area is best known for its architecture, storied arch stone river bridges, and its 40 small villages steeped in tradition.

Three hours outside of Thessaloniki puts you in the heart of Vikos-Aoös National Park, where you can hike, mountain bike, and rock climb. If you’re an avid hiker, traverse Vikos Gorge, one of the deepest in the world; this medium difficulty-level route will take five to seven hours to complete. Take in the sites of the Voidomatis River’s crystal-blue water along the bottom of the gorge and the Monastery of Saint Paraskevi at the top.

If the water calls to you and you're looking for more thrills, you can kayak and even raft down the Voidomatis in the spring. You’ll encounter 2nd and 3rd level rapids and, depending on the route, you can descend a waterfall that runs under a stone bridge in Kleidonia.

Chase Waterfalls on Kythira

Cove on Kythira

Kythira stands apart from the other Ionian islands, and not just geographically. This mythical home of the Aphrodite is what you’d picture for the goddess of love: the island’s terrain is heavily wooded, with gorges, rugged cliffs, and romantic waterfalls.

Less than ten miles from Chora, the island’s capital, nestled in a forested valley, lies the scenic medieval village of Mylopotamos. Sit under a majestic canopy of trees in the main square while you sip on a glass of wine and nibble on mezze. Pass a charming pond populated with ducks before following the river down a gorge, on a path that takes you by old water mills.

You’ll eventually come upon Neraida, the first of two storybook waterfalls, spilling into a pool (be prepared—it's cold!). If you continue another half a mile down the gorge, you’ll find another waterfall. And if adventure still calls to you, link up with a guide and gear up to follow the ravine to a cliff, where you can descend the 100-foot-long rope to the cove on Kalami beach.

You can spend the day splashing around or explore more of Kythira’s magic. Walk around Kastro, a 12th century Venetian castle that sits atop Chora, and gaze out onto the Aegean, Ionian, and Cretan sea. Head underground at the Cave of Agia Sofia, in Kapsali. Inside the rock formation sits a church dedicated to Agia Sofia, a site likely used by very early Christians, adorned with frescos dating back 700 years.