Greece is a land where ancient mythology and history mingle with breathtaking nature and strong local traditions. This fascinating country is a dream coming true: crystal-clear sea, idyllic islands, mountain passages, land and underwater caves, archeological sites, and delicious cuisine.
When planning a vacation in Greece, many travelers stop at including popular destinations and sights such as the Acropolis of Athens and the island of Santorini or Mykonos. However, there is so much more to discover in Greece.
Whether you are looking for adventure, relaxing seaside vacations, or immersive cultural experiences, Greece is the perfect place for your next holiday. With this guide, I will help you navigate the best things to do and see in Greece, including both popular options and unusual ones.
Stroll Down the Streets of Athens
It’s impossible to start a guide on Greece without opening it up with its capital, Athens.
The Acropolis is Athens’s most iconic place for a reason: closely visiting the archeological site, built in homage to the goddess Athena Parthenos, will be one of the highlights of your Greek holidays.
But let me tell you: Athens is much more than the Parthenon and the ancient Agora.
Stroll down Athen’s streets and explore Monastiraki district and Psyrri district, to have a different feel of the city.
Monastiraki neighborhood is located right in the heart of Athens, and in the central square, you can admire a Greek Orthodox church, a mosque, and the pillars of Hadrian’s Library.
If you are in Athens on a Sunday, don’t miss the flea market in Monastiraki district! Not far from here, you will find the funky neighborhood of Psyrri, filled with cafes, bars, local restaurants, and boutique shops.
Another great district to explore by foot is Plaka. Rocketed in the shadow of the Acropolis, Plaka’s tight and twisting alleys are dotted with family-run shops. If you love shopping (or simply window shopping), Plaka is the place for you!
You will find shops that sell from ceramics to handmade jewelry and from musical instruments to Greek culinary ingredients (like the mouthwatering olives!). And in summer, the streets of Plaka are filled with flowering bougainvillea: a perfect scenario for a late morning walk!
Take a Panoramic Ride of the Vouraikos Gorge
An unusual experience to do during your Greek holidays is riding a train in the rack railway Diakopto – Kalavrita, in the Peloponnese region. The train goes from Diakopto to Kalavrita, running parallel to the Vouraikos river and its canyons.
During the 22 km ride, you will have a panoramic view of the Vouraikos Gorge. Steep slopes, impressive waterfalls, deep caves, and lush vegetation creates a marvelous natural setting.
Once you get off the train, you can decide to keep exploring the Vouraikos Gorge by foot, following one of the many trekking paths. If you go for it, don’t worry about the train: the drivers will honk to warn you when they are coming!
The rack railway line through the Vouraikos Gorge is one of the most spectacular train routes in Europe, and it is also one of the world’s narrowest train lines: the tracks are only 75 centimeters apart!
Feel Like You’re Among the Gods on Mount Olympus
Located in northeast Greece, Mount Olympus has been known for being the house of Greek gods since before the time of Homer.
Mount Olympus is the tallest mountain in Greece and the second tallest mountain in the Balkans, at the height of 2917 meters. The mountain rises almost straight from the Aegean Sea, and the view from atop is breathtaking. With its lower slopes, incredible waterfalls, and deep gorges and caves where lesser gods (like the nymphs) were said to live, climbing Mount Olympus is one of the best activities to do in Greece.
The trails vary in difficulty from III to VIII in international mountaineering standards, and for experienced hikers reaching the peaks of Mount Olympus is not tricky. However, if you aren’t a seasoned climber, I suggest you join a guided trek: consider that Mount Olympus has 52 separate peaks that are snow-capped for 8 months of the year and often hidden in the clouds.
This half-day hiking tour will lead you through the gorgeous natural scenery of Mount Olympus all the way to the monastery of Agios Dionysios. On your way, you will also see the bathtub of Zeus!
Scuba Dive in Alónnisos
Greece is such a popular travel destination because of its magnificent sea. One of the best activities to do here is scuba diving or snorkeling.
There are several popular scuba spots in Greece, but for me, there is one that beats them all: the island of Alónnisos.
Located in the Northern Sporades, Alónnisos is inhabited by no more than 3,000 people making it a true natural paradise. The island and an archipelago of uninhabited islands off its shore are part of the National Marine Park, the largest natural marine park in the Mediterranean sea.
The underwater world of the marine park is something you will never forget! The National Marine Park spans around 2,260km2, so there is plenty of space to explore by diving (or snorkeling). Some parts of the park are inaccessible to help conserve the Mediterranean monk seal, but the rest is there for you to discover.
Swim in and out of the underwater caves for your chance to spot rare flora and fauna. The National Marine Park is also an underwater museum, home to one of the most significant ancient shipwrecks in the world and more than 4,000 amphoras perfectly intact.
Be at the Center of Ancient Greece’s history in Delphi
The archaeological site of Delphi is an absolute must if you love Ancient Greece’s history and culture – or if you just want to see one of the most beautiful sites in the country!
The Temple of Apollo is located on a hill at the foot of Mount Parnassus and not far from the Gulf of Corinth, in the town of Delfi.
The sanctuary of Delphi had a great influence on the politics of classical Greece, and many wars were initiated or ended because the oracle said so. For the ancient Greeks, consulting the oracle of Delphi meant asking questions to the god Apollo, who answered through a priestess called Pythia.
The archeological site of Delfi is a UNESCO World Heritage site: besides the Temple of Apollo, you can also admire the ancient theater and the stadium that hosted the Pitic Games. The admission fee you will need to pay includes access to the Delphi Museum, which will help you understand what the site was like and includes a series of remains and statues found in Delphi.
At Delphi, ancient history meets the extraordinary natural beauty of Mount Parnassus. From the very well-conserved remains of the Temple of Apollo, you will marvel at incredible views of the valley and the sea!
Recall the Battle Cries of Thermopylae
Do you remember the movie “300” with Gerard Butler? Well, the movie is about the historical battle fought at Thermopylae between the Spartans and the Persian empire.
Today, the valley of Thermopylae is a serene place from which you can admire the landscape of Central Greece spreading towards the sea. But in the past, the Thermopylae was the place of a memorable battle, becoming a true symbol of heroism.
If you are a history geek like I am, visiting the Thermopylae will be the highlight of your vacation!
Once you are done imagining the Spartan forces in full armor ready to ward off the attacks of the hordes of Persians in the narrow pass at Thermopylae, go to pay homage to the statue of the Spartan king, Leonidas.
Near Thermopylae, next to the national road connecting Athens to Thessaloniki, in the town of Lamia, there is a memorial statue of King Leonidas and his soldiers with an inscription saying: “Stranger, tell Spartans that we lay here, staying faithful to Sparta’s laws.”
Watch a Show at Epidaurus Theater
Epidaurus is a UNESCO World Heritage site located about 30km east of Nafplio, in the Peloponnese. In ancient times, people traveled to Epidaurus from all over Greece to visit the temple dedicated to the god of medicine, Asclepius. This is one of the most interesting buildings in the town was the theatre. Built in the 4th century B.C., it hosted theatrical performances to entertain all the sick who came here for miraculous healing.
The Epidaurus Theater is nowadays one of the most incredible sites to visit in Greece! With its capacity of accommodating 14,000 people, this theatre has remained perfectly preserved, and it has an exceptional acoustic. If you drop a coin in the middle of the stage, everyone at the top of the stand will be able to hear it!
What is even more incredible is that the theatre is still used to host shows, from performances of ancient Greek tragedies to modern operas. If you are looking for something outstanding to do during your Greek holidays, watching a show at Epidaurus Theater is what you should go for!
Besides the theater, at the Epidaurus archeological site you can visit the Gymnasium, the Stadium, the Tholos, and the Temple of Asclepius. The admission ticket also includes the Museum of Epidaurus where you will see ancient surgical equipment and statues found on site.
Sail Through the Corinth Canal
With its narrow passage through high cliffs, sailing through the Corinth Canal is a memorable experience!
Since 1893, the Corinth Canal has separated central Greece from the Peloponnese and the Ionian Sea from the Aegean Sea. The canal is of fundamental importance: without it, the boat ride to arrive at the Peloponnese would be 400 km long!
The grand idea of creating a canal emerged already in the late 7th century B.C.; however, it was impossible to build it with the technologies of the time.
Nowadays, the Corinth Canal is mostly crossed by small tourist boats or cruise ships. The channel is incredibly narrow, it is only 24.6 meters wide, so only a ship at the time can cross it. This makes sailing on a private boat through the Corinth Canal an extra special experience!
If you are looking for intense sensations, you can bungee jump from the top of the Corinth Canal!
Visit the Ruins of Mycenae for a Legendary Experience
There is hardly a better place to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of Ancient Greece than Mycenae, in the plain of Argolis.
Mycenae is a UNESCO World Heritage site best known for being the ancient residence of King Agamemnon, one of the heroes of Homer’s “The Iliad”.
The golden age of Mycenae was between 1600 and 1200 B.C., after which the city suffered a series of invasions and a devastating fire that destroyed it completely.
The symbol of Mycenae is the Lion’s Gate, the majestic entrance to the city. The door is more than three meters high, and it is surmounted by a monolith decorated with two lions facing each other on the sides of a column. Passing through the Lion’s Gate will give you strong emotions, I assure you!
Once on the other side, you will be inside Mycenae, with its enormous walls (their thickness ranges from 3 to 8 meters!) The city’s walls are so imposing that the legends say they have been built with the help of a Cyclops. Inside the so-called Cyclopean Walls, you will visit the ruins of the royal palace of Agamemnon, the Treasury of Atreus, a circular building where a member of a royal family was certainly buried, and the Tombs of the Kings, among which there is the alleged tomb of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife.
The archeological site of Mycenae is unfortunately not in good condition: my tip is to visit the Archaeological Museum to see the reproductions of many remains found on the site.
Go for Olive Oil and Wine Tastings
When I think of Greece, one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is the delicious Greek cuisine. Do you know why Greek dishes taste so good? Because of the olive oil drizzled on every plate!
The story of the production of olive oil in Greece began around 60,000 years ago: Greeks used to build their houses around olive trees, and olive oil has remained a crucial part of Greek culture and cuisine ever since.
Another food item that tastes incredible in Greece? Wine, of course! A great activity to do in Greece then is an olive oil and wine tasting tour, like this one in Crete.
Relax on Elafonisos Island
Elafonisos is a tiny island of about 22 square kilometers overlooking the southern tip of the Peloponnese. The turquoise and shallow waters of the sea around the white and fine sandy beaches on the island make Elafonios the perfect place to relax.
Elafonisos Island is also known as Deer Island, as there used to be many deer here in the past. Today, these magnificent animals are not present on the island anymore, but Elafonisos is still home to some of the most pristine beaches in Greece.
Among the beaches on the island, Simos Beach is a true slice of heaven on earth with its crystal-clear turquoise waters, sand dunes close to 10 meters high, and golden and pink sand. The pink sand of Simos Beach comes from the shells that lie on the seabed: an incredible spectacle!
Another perfect spot to relax on the island is Elafonisos Town: stroll along the vibrant promenade, stop for a quick visit to the Church of Agios Spiridonas, and then end your day in one of the many restaurants while watching the sunset set on the Aegean Sea.
Visit the Capital of the Former Byzantine Empire
Mystras is among the best tourist attractions in the Peloponnese, and with right: this ancient, fortified city was once the cultural capital of the Byzantine Empire.
It is located just 10 minutes by car from the city of Sparta, and today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mystras was destroyed by several fires, and it has been under reconstruction since 1950. However, the town is magnificent: you can visit the remains of the castle, several churches, monasteries, and palaces.
When visiting, you will notice that there are two different entrances, one for the lower town and one for the upper town. In Mystras’ upper town, you will walk along a path until you reach the fortress and the church of Agia Sofia. Once at the top, just stop and marvel at the beautiful panorama of the town and the plain.
The lower town of Mistras is definitely more reach in sites to visit: the church of Agios Teodoros and the Metropolitan Church of Hagios Demetrios, as well as several monasteries, among which the stunning Monastery of Pantanassa.
Feel Like You’re on a Movie Set on Skopelos Island
Skopelos is one of Greece’s gorgeous islands. However, it is a rather special one: the worldwide famous movie “Mamma Mia!” was shot on Skopelos Island!
If you are a fan of this musical, there is no better place to visit in Greece. A must is a visit to the church of Agios Ioanni: club its steep staircase and reach the tip of the promontory on which the church is located to marvel at the breathtaking view. The Agios Ioannis church is indeed iconic: it was the set of the wedding of Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan’s characters in “Mamma Mia!”.
Hollywood fame aside, Skopelos Island is truly magnificent, with its pristine nature and crystal-clear sea.
Skopelos is also a perfect place to visit if you are a foodie: the real tiropita (the delicious feta cheese pie) was born first here. However, everyone in Skopelos goes crazy for the astakomakaronada (“spaghetti with lobster”).
Eat in a Traditional Taverna
A must for every Greek vacation is eating the amazing Greek food. There is no better place to do it than in a taverna, the traditional Greek home-style restaurant.
Most of the tavernas are family-run restaurants where you will find a homemade menu with traditional dishes for a good price.
Foods that are normally served at tavernas include grilled meats, simple seafood dishes, and a wide variety of appetizers (called “mezedes” in Greek), such as stuffed grape leaves (“dolmades”), Greek cheeses, and dips and spreads like tzatziki and fava, a thick dip made out of Greek fava beans.
Traditional Greek cuisine is also vegetarian and vegan-friendly! When visiting Greece, ask specifically for “nistisimo food”: this is the food traditionally served during the fasting festivity of the Greek Orthodox Church. The nistisimo cuisine excludes all meat products, and the majority of land animals derivate, as well as most seafood. You will be able to find nistisimo food in every taverna all year round!
Hop on a Boat Tour of Delos Island
Delos is a small uninhabited island famous for its archeological site listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Delos has a central place in ancient mythology as being the birthplace of the god Apollo and the goddess Artemis. The island is filled with temples and sanctuaries dedicated to the two gods. The oldest temples on Delos Island were built during the 8th century B.C., and the best way to explore the archeological site is with a licensed guide. A great idea would be to join an organized boat tour to Delos, also considering that it is forbidden to spend the night on the island.
With this 4-hour tour from Mykonos, you can discover ancient Delos and its legends alongside an expert guide while also sailing on a traditional boat.
Stay in a Cave House in Santorini
A fantastic way to enjoy your Greek holidays is to stay in a cave house. The island of Santorini is the best location to choose your cave accommodation. Worldwide renowned for its whitewashed houses with blue roofs that perfectly match the intense color of the Aegean Sea, Santorini offers countless caves you can sleep in. From charming B&B to private apartments to luxury resorts, the caves in Santorini all share an element: they offer spectacular views!
The cave houses are usually not natural caves but man-made caves excavated into a cliffside and then built as houses or rooms. Santorini has many hotels with cave rooms and cave pools because it is a volcanic island, and so the cliffs are naturally holed.
If you ask me, the best town to stay in Santorini is Oia: there is no better place in Santorini to amaze at the spectacular sunsets! In Oia, you will find many of the best cave hotels and villas in all of Santorini.
Follow Ulysses’s steps in Ithaca
Ithaca is an island famous for being the homeland of Ulysses, the main character of Homer’s “The Odyssey”.
Ithaca is a small island, quieter and less touristy than the nearby Kefalonia. Ithaca has retained an authentic Greek vibe, and its pristine beaches are to live for. On the island, you will not find large beaches but only small bays, which are sometimes only accessible by boat.
If you are looking for a place to relax during your Greek holidays, you should really consider visiting Ithaca! As soon as you arrive, it will be easy to see why Ulysses found peace on the island and did everything he could to be back to his dear homeland, among verdant green hills and azure waters.
There are many things you can do in Ithaca to enjoy your time: from strolling down the streets of one of the many towns, such as Vathy and Kioni, to visiting an archeological site (unmissable are The School of Homer in Agios Athanasios and Pilikata, which is thought to be where Ulysses’s city lay), to hike until reaching the acropolis of Alalkomenes. And, of course, don’t forget to relax on one of Ithaca’s incredible beaches!
Discover the Town of Meteora
Meteora is a town located in central Greece, 5 hours by car from Athens. Visiting Meteora will definitely be one of the most memorable experiences of your Greek holidays!
The name of the town literally means “rocks suspended in the air”: Meteora is surrounded by rock formations created by erosion due to an ancient inland sea.
On top of the impressive rocks, several monasteries have been built. Historically, the only way to arrive at the monasteries was through a system of cables and pulleys. Today, practical stairs lead you up to six of the monasteries, which you can visit without too much trouble: this will leave you time to explore them at your own pace while marveling at the incredible views from atop the rocks!
The largest monastery is the Monastery Gran Meteora, situated on a rock at a height of 610 meters! Another must-see monastery? The one of Aghia Triada was used as a set for the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”.
Explore the Cave of Zeus
The impressive Diktaean Cave is said to be the birthplace of Zeus, the father of the Olympian gods. The cave is located above the village of Psychro, Crete, at an altitude of 1025 meters.
The route to the cave is magnificent: climbing the mountains, you will view the Lassithi Plateau from above. If you are not much of a walker, you can jump on the back of a donkey as the locals use these animals to go around.
According to legend, there was a prophecy saying that the king of the world, Cronus, would be dethroned by his son. To avoid it, Cronus devoured all of his children, except one, Zeus, saved by his mother, Rea. As soon as the goddess gave birth to Zeus in the Diktaean Cave, she handed Cronus a blanket with a rock inside that the god swallowed, thinking it was the newborn. Rea managed to keep the cave a secret from Cronus until Zeus grew and dethroned his father.
The legend is amusing, making visiting the Diktaean Cave even more special. The cave is actually huge, and you will have to do a lot of exploring: going through different chambers, you will then reach the great hall with large columns, stalagmites, and stalactites, among which a spectacular one called the “mantle of Zeus”.
Dance the Night Away in Ios
Greece is indeed the perfect place to visit to have a laid-back vacation, but sometimes a little fun doesn’t hurt!
The island popular for being Greece’s party hub is Mykonos: however, this spot is definitely overcrowded and expensive. So, if you are looking for a place to go to the beach during the day and then dance the night away, consider visiting Ios.
Ios Island, close to Mykonos, is dotted with trendy bars on the beach that hosts amazing parties until dawn!
Ios is mainly a hang-out spot for young people who want to party, but you could always visit the island during a day trip to enjoy its coast and crystal-clear waters at Mylopotas beach, Kalamos beach, and Manganari beach.
Go for a Hike on the Menalon Trail
An unusual way to discover Greece is on foot. If you love walking and immersing yourself in nature, the Menalon Trail is a fabulous trekking path in the heart of Peloponnese. The trail unfolds through the western slopes of Mount Menalon, the Lousios river and its beautiful gorge, the Gortynia Mountains, and the Mylaon River Valley.
The Menalon Trail is 72-kilometer long with eight different walks you can choose to hike. Along the way, you can stop at the several traditional villages you will encounter to breathe the local culture.
The Menalon Trail is one of the most beautiful treks in Greece, and walking it will give you the chance to explore an area rich in history, wonderful landscapes, breathtaking panorama, and with one of the greatest variety of flora and fauna in all of Arcadia.