Travel Guide: Greece
Greece Travel Guide: Things To Do in Greece. Places To See in Greece.
Greece is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. With its ancient ruins, numerous coastlines and unique culture, it is one of the most visited countries in the world, with about 19 million tourists going to Greece every year. There’s a reason why many choose to go to Greece. It’s because it has many things to offer travelers looking for interesting places to see and things to do. The country of Greece is known for its culture, historical contributions, ancient ruins, art, drama, mythology, philosophy, delicious food and appealing climate. Basking in the warm Mediterranean sun most of the year, many travelers flock to Greece to escape cold climates. It is for these reasons that make Greece a wonderful travel destination any time of the year.
As the cradle of western civilization, Greece has contributed much to the world. It is from the Greeks from which concepts such as democracy, philosophy, the use of coinage in economics and mythology have evolved. It’s no wonder there are so many famous Greeks in history, including Plato, Homer and Socrates, whose works are still being studied today, not to mention a number of mythological figures from Athena to Zeus.
The nation’s passion for beauty, symmetry, knowledge, culture, nature and history can be seen in the ancient ruins, which is the preservation of the grand testament to their regal past. Their deference to nature and a belief in something greater can be seen in the number of temples and monuments all over the country. The untouched beauty of much of their land shows their appreciation for nature. Finally, their love for the good life and leisure can be seen in the way they have taken mealtimes into an art form that can often last for hours as it is something to be savored and enjoyed.
There’s something for everyone here in Greece. Travelers in tour groups, families with young children or couples looking for a romantic getaway can find it all in Greece. You don’t have to be a historian or archeologist to appreciate the vast number of cultural artifacts found in the museum. You don’t have to be an architect or engineer to appreciate the classical beauty and symmetry of their design.
Travelers who appreciate the outdoors will find the clean sea air, deep blue Aegean waters and the lush mountains of Greece simply sublime. Those who love the fresh yet satisfying flavors of Mediterranean cooking will find a host of delicious Greek dishes, from cheesy moussaka to mouth watering gyros and kebabs. There’s no need to feel guilty in indulging in some spinach pie or spanakopita. Most Greek dishes are made fresh ingredients and loaded with heart-friendly olive oil, so it’s even good for you! From the monuments on Acropolis to the black sand beaches of Santorini, Greece is the place to be. The sovereignty of Greece encompasses a total of 6,000 islands although only about 227 are inhabited and lesser than that are visited by tourists. What draws people to flock to Greece is the fact that it is somehow familiar, having been studied by generations of students, yet the country still remains intriguing, mysterious and exotic. It’s no wonder Greece remains as fascinating today as it was many centuries ago.
Here are the places to see in Greece and the things to do in Greece. This section of the Travel Guide Greece gives some valuable information on the top tourist spots you shouldn’t miss. Spread out all over the Aegean Sea, the Greek islands have much to offer travelers looking for history, beauty, culture, excellent food, friendly people, diverse flora and fauna, adventure and relaxation. Here are some can’t miss places in Greece.
The capital of Greece and the favorite city of goddess Athena from whom the city was named. It is now a bustling metropolis and rated an Alpha City, the world’s 32nd richest based on purchasing power and ranks 25th in the most expensive cities list.
Things to see in Athens
The largest and most populous city of Greece, Athens is a bustling capital of the country. It is a juxtaposition of the ancient and the new. The most eye catching landmark in Athens is the Acropolis.
Acropolis literally means “high point in the city”, a fitting name for a monument that looms over the city. The original entrance to the Acropolis is called the Beule Gate, but the modern entrance is the Propylaia. Here, three ancient temples still stand today: the Temple of Athena Parthenos or Partheno; The Temple of Athena Nike; and the Erechtheion. The Temple of Athena Nike has often been called the “jewel of Greek architecture”, with its eight ionic columns, while it is the Parthenon that is one of the most recognizable structures in the world.
Here, you can also find the Acropolis Museum, a must stop for those who want to take a closer look at many artifacts and archeological finds. The Elgin marbles, sculptures done mostly by Phidias and his students, are found here.
The National Archeological Museum is a must stop for any traveler going to Greece. The prized piece here is the golden mask of Agamemnon. For some Greek artwork, go to the National Gallery. Aside from some El Greco masterpieces, you’ll also find an array of sculptures, especially in the sculpture gardens. Children may enjoy a visit to the Goulandris Museum of Natural History.
In the shopping district of Agora, the archeological site of Hephaesteion (Hephaestus) can be found, majestically standing on top of the hill of Agoraois Kolonos. It is dedicated to the god of craftsmen, metalworkers, blacksmiths and sculptors. He was also the god of fire and volcano, Hephaestus, one of the sons of Hera and Zeus and called Vulcan by the Romans. It is today one of the best preserved temples of ancient times. Travelers will also marvel at the Stoa of Attalos, a covered portico that was a gift of King Attalus II of Pergamon to the city of Athens to show his gratitude for the excellent education he received from the city. It was destroyed in 267 AD and was fully reconstructed in the 1950s and became the home of the Ancient Agora Museum. It now showcases archeological finds dating back to the 7th up to the 5th century BC, and mostly those related to the democracy of Athens.
Over at Kerameikos, located at the northwest part of the Acropolis is what used to be the potters’ quarters. The place is the origin of the word “ceramics”. Archeological excavations of the area are undertaken by the Greek Archeological Society and the German Archeological Institute at Athens. Their museum, the Oberlaender Museum features archeological finds from burial sites. Travelers will be amazed at the intricacy of detail in the pottery and sculpture pieces here.
One of the largest temples ever built is the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. It was envisioned to be the greatest temple in ancient Greece and turned to be the largest temple in Greece and used to house the monument to the greatest of the Greek gods, Zeus. Barbarians pillaged the temple and brought it to ruins. It was never repaired and although only 15 columns remain standing, travelers can still walk here and imagine themselves paying tribute to the most powerful of the Greek gods. The broken pieces of a sixteenth column lie on the ground where it fell in 1852 at the height of a storm. Another colossal monument is the Hadrian’s Arch that used to span an ancient road in the center of Athens. It was built to honor the arrival of Hadrian, a Roman Emperor. The arch also leads to the inner areas which include the Temple of Zeus.
Because Greece is the birthplace of the Olympics, you can find the Olympic Sports Complex here. Those looking for some beautiful gardens and a marina should pass by the Faliro Coastal Zone Olympic Complex near the port of Piraeus. Finally, there is also the Helliniko Olympic complex on the eastern coast of Greece. These areas have been host to the Olympics at one time or another in the past.
Pass by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syndagma (Syntagma) Square. The square is also the location of the present-day Greek Parliament. Another must see is the 19th century Chapel of St. George on top of the limestone Mt. Lycabettus, said to be created by Athena. This is also the largest of the seven hills of Athens, making it a perfect place to catch the sunset or to watch the city light up at night.
Things to do in Athens
There are many things to do in Athens, your problem may be how to do it all in a limited amount of time. Be sure to take your digital camera as you will be astounded by the scenery that Athens has to offer. Walk around the Parthenon and visit the various museums and monuments at the Acropolis. If you’re taking children with you, read them the stories of Greek mythology, so you can point out the legendary sites of various mythological battles, and you can point out which temples are for Athena, Poseidon and Zeus.
If you’re in the mood for some shopping, bargain your way through Agora. You’ll find many trinkets in silver and decorative replicas that you may want to take home with you. Keep in mind that Greek laws are very strict about what you take with you, so be sure to keep your receipts, and only buy replicas and never attempt to bring out of the country authentic archeological pieces. If you don’t mind second hand finds, the Sunday flea market next to Plaka Monastiraki is the best place to be.
While in Syndagma, stick around to watch the changing of the guards, which is done every hour. Young children will enjoy the traditional costumes worn by the guards, complete with tassels.
Be sure to wait around to witness some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world from the top of Mt. Lycabettus. As the highest of the seven hills of Athens, it is the perfect spot to take a stroll and enjoy a panoramic view of the city. After sunset, watch as the city begins to light up, providing an excellent nighttime view of Athens.
During the Athens Festival, travelers can enjoy some performances at the Lycabettus Theater. For some refreshments, be sure to stop by any of the cafes at Haritos. While in Athens, eat at any of the restaurants in town. Keep in mind that some places don’t offer menus and merely create specials based on the catch of the day or what is in season. You may even want to wrap up your day by celebrating with a glass of Ouzo as you enjoy your leisurely dinner.
There are daytrips that can be done from Athens for travelers who have the time. There is the Temple of Poseidon, god of the sea. Originally built in 600 BC, the structure seen today was only a reconstruction done in 440 BC. This nautical landmarks stands on Cape Sounion. The16 white Doric columns remain today and are worth the trip to see. Not to be outdone is the breathtaking sunset over the Aegean Sea, so be sure to stay and wait for this natural spectacle.
The town of Marathon is another interesting place for travelers to visit. It is this city where runners often go to, recreating the very steps of Phidippides, also Pheidippides. It was said that he was sent to Sparta to ask for help because the Persians have invaded Athens, specifically the town of Marathon. He ran for two days for a total of 240 kilometers to Sparta. Afterwards he ran the 40-kilometer distance from Marathon to Athens to announce their victory in the Battle of Marathon and died on the spot due to exhaustion. Near Marathon is Rhamnous, the site of the Temple of Nemesis, the goddess of balance and revenge which she shared with the goddess of divine law, Themis. If you’re tired from running, there are two beaches here, Schinias and Timvos Marathonas.
Finally, another great activity for travelers to Athens is to take the day trip to Delphi and visit the site of the temple of Apollo and where Apollo sought the counsel of an oracle. In ancient times, the Greeks journeyed here to seek the counsel of the priestess of Apollo. Travelers can ask a question, make a wish and imagine themselves basking in the favored attention of the gods.
Thessaloniki has a population that is almost half the size of Athens. It is a diverse place where travelers can see various influences from the Byzantine, European, and Turkish as well as contemporary eras. It is a major transportation hub and a very essential commercial port for both Greece and southeastern Europe.
Things to see in Thessaloniki
The most famous church in Thessaloniki is the Agios Dimitrios or the Church of Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. It is also the oldest church in the city. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can see an unusual ciborium at one side of the church, covered in or made of silver, although there were no indications that it was constructed for St. Demetrius. It also contains six mosaic panels depicting St. Demetrius with the restoration officials. The mosaics are rare examples of the art during the Dark Ages.
Another church worth visiting is the Agia Sophia that dates back to the early part of the eighth century. This has an impressive domed ceiling depicting the Ascension but done in mosaic, depicting Christ sitting on a rainbow throne and the Virgin Mary below it amid the Apostles and angels. Other mosaic art including the Virgin Enthroned can also be viewed.
Spanning the streets of Dimitrios Gounari and Egnatia are the remains of the Arch of Galerius, with its still intact pillars decorated with marble slabs sculpted in relief. The Arch of Galerius commemorates the victory of Caesar over Persia in 397 AD. Bey Hamam, the Baths of Paradise is English, is another interesting attraction. It is a Turkish bath house from the 15th century that has been fully preserved. The Heptapyrgion is a fortress from the 5th Century, made in the Byzantine style. Despite its name meaning Fortress of Seven Towers, it actually has ten towers, five facing north and the remaining five facing south. From a citadel it became a prison in the 1890s and was actually used until 1989. It now houses the offices of the 9th Ephorate of Byzantine and Modern Antiquities and the Ministry of Culture.
Over at the waterfront, the White Tower is the only remains of a 15th century sea wall that can still be seen today. The circular tower was once used by the Ottomans as a prison and had been a silent witness to the many executions performed within its walls. After restoration and remodeling, it became the symbol of Thessaloniki, the capital city. For some great archeological finds, visit the Archeological Museum to see some artifacts from Neolithic tombs and some authentic Macedonian gold. Another museum worth visiting is the Museum of Byzantine culture.
Things to do in Thessaloniki
When in Thessaloniki, travelers must have some world famous ouzo. There are a number of ouzeries in the city, perfect for enjoying a glass of this potent aperitif while enjoying a plate of delicious octopus, squid and other appetizers. In fact, there are many different areas where you can relax and unwind. Check out the night life options at the Ladadika district.
Because of its location, it’s very easy to take a daytrip to Vergina, in central Macedonia from Thessaloniki. Take a picture of the Great Tumulus, which is the largest mound of earth in the area. It is about 2 meters tall and 110 meters wide. A tumulus is a mound of soil and stones placed over a grave or several graves. Here, travelers can see the ancient tombs of Vergina, which is believed to be the final resting place of Macedonian royalty. Archeological digs in 1977 have unearthed four undisturbed burial chambers and three more were discovered in 1980. It is also believed that these are the tombs of Alexander the Great’s half-brother Philip III Arrhidaeus and his wife, his father Philip II, and Alexander’s son, Alexander IV of Macedon. Although there are still speculations as to the identity of the people buried there, the artifacts displayed in the museum strongly suggest that this may be true. You can see the larnax belonging to King Philip II, a closed box, like a holder of the ashes of a cremated individual. What’s remarkable is that it weighs 11 kilos and is made of 24 karat gold. Inside it was found human bones and a wreath of gold weighing 717 grams, decorated in 68 acorns and 313 oak leaves. There are other artifacts on display at the museum, most of them from the archeological digs in the area.
About 100 kilometers away from Thessaloniki is Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece and consists of 52 peaks, the highest of which is Mytikas. Mount Olympus in ancient Greece is considered as the home of the 12 Olympian gods.
Things to see in Mount Olympus
The highest point of Mount Olympus is Mytikas. There is an archeological park and museum that are worth visiting. The village of Dion at the base of Mount Olympus is a good place to start. This village honors Zeus, and you can visit the archeological site and museum in the municipality.
Things to do in Mount Olympus
As the highest point in all of Greece, Mount Olympus attracts a number of hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. There are various points from which to begin a hike, depending on your skill level and where you want to go. Your best starting point for a hike up the mountain is in Litochoro. During the hike, take your time and feel the magic of the land, so you can see how the ancients were inspired to believe that it is the residence of the gods.
During the Olympus Festival, there are many plays that are held. These are done in an ancient theater that has been restored.
Things to see in Olympia
This is the world famous site of the ancient Olympics, so it’s a great travel destination for many tourists. Olympia is a bustling and active city. However, travelers can still go to the ancient Olympic Arena, also known as Altis. Other must see sights are the Temple of Zeus and Hera’s Temple.
Museum lovers will like the Archeological Museum, which houses some sculptures, such as Nike of Paionios and Hermes of Praxiteles. The Nike was a creation of Thracian sculptor Paionios, contracted by the Messenians to create a statue to symbolize their victory on the war they fought for Demosthenes in 426 BCE. In its full glory the Nike is a winged lady, draped in a peplos that fell away from her left shoulder and exposing one of her breasts. She is shown holding a mantle or cape pinned to her right shoulder and which she holds in her left hand, allowing the wind to blow on it and spread it behind her in soft folds.
Hermes was the only surviving original work of Praxiteles and shows his great mastery of marble giving the statue the feel of the softness of human flesh. Though the right lower arm and hand are missing from the statue dedicated to Hermes, the messenger of the gods, accordingly it holds a shiny object to prevent a young infant, Dionysos, from crying. What is intriguing is that the face of Hermes shows different facial expressions depending on where you view it. From the front the face looks calm. From the right you can see the beginning of a smile from his lips while when you view if from the left side you can see a sorrowful face. There is also the Museum of Olympic Games, more popularly known as the Sport’s Museum.
Things to do in Olympia
You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy Olympia. This is a bustling city that pays tribute to its historical past, while as the same time enjoys the distinction of being a thriving city. Visit the Museum. Take pictures of the Temples of Zeus and Hera. There are also many small cafes that are worth a visit. If you’re looking for something to eat, head over to Kondili Street for some good Greek restaurants. For cheaper dining options, look for some tavernas further down the road.
It is the regional capital of Western Greece, located in northern region of Peloponnese at the base of Mount Panachaikon.
Things to see in Patras
As the third largest city of Greece, Patras holds many attractions for travelers.
Drop by the partially reconstructed Roman Odeon, an open-air theater that is now the venue for concerts and theatrical performances in the summer before you check out the Roman Amphitheater which has only been partially excavated and located nearby. If you are looking for an ancient castle, check out the Patras Castle that was built in 6 AD and stroll along the public garden inside. You can also visit the church of the patron saint of Patras, Saint Andrew which faces the sea. It is the second largest church that has been built in the Byzantine style and can seat 5,000 people.
Go to the site of the 2004 Olympics and check out the Pampeloponnisiako Stadium. To see the largest orthodox cathedral in Greece, pass by the Agios Andreas. The holy head of St. Andrews can be found here.
Things to do in Patras
During the Carnival season is one of the best times to visit Patras. This port city transforms into a party place. Another must do in Patras is to stop at the Achaia Clauss Winery near the Petroto village. This is the most famous wine maker of Greece. There are free samples, and it’s a great place to pick up a bottle or two of its famous dark wine called Mavrodafni, which is made from black grapes to bring home with you.
Santorini or its official name, Thira is an island located in the Cyclades group of islands on the southern part of Aegean Sea and the largest in the group. It is a remnant of a volcanic caldera that broke the island into several smaller ones after an eruption. Although the land is arid and with the absence of rivers, water is scarce, it has a small flourishing wine industry using very old indigenous varieties of grapes.
Things to see in Santorini
The island of Santorini is a top travel destination for many travelers going to Greece. The black sand beaches in Perissa and Kamari make it a top draw for many travelers. Perissa is protected from the north winds by the mountain of Profitis Ilias. Directly across from it is Kamari Beach, very much like Perissa in physical characteristics, with a rock called Mesa Vouno near one of its end. It creates a wonderful sight when it is lighted at night. It can be more crowded than Perissa though. In contrast, the white washed buildings against the deep blue sky make it picturesque. The town capital is Fira, where travelers can take leisurely strolls.
If you find yourself at the southwestern side of the island, pass by Akrotiri, which is an excavation site of a Minoan Bronze Age city and is said to be the inspiration for Atlantis, written by Plato. This is a fascinating look at ancient life, since the city has been fully preserved because of the volcanic rock that surrounds it.
Things to do in Santorini
Most people head to Santorini to get away from it all. The unique black sand beaches provide a perfect escape for those who want to leave the hustle and bustle of downtown Athens behind. Take a sip of Greek coffee from one of the many cafes. Bring your camera, as Santorini is sure to be a photographer’s paradise. One of Santorini’s secrets is the little village of Oia, eleven kilometers from the capital. It sits atop a cliff and overlooks the island of Thirassia and the volcano in Nea Kameni and Palia. But that is not the best this little village offers. The best is the spectacular sunset you can see from this high vantage point, known to be one of the most beautiful in the world. So while you are in Santorini, make sure that you head off to your own vantage point in this quiet village and wait for the sun to settle down for the evening across the deep blue Aegean Sea. And remember to take lots of pictures.
Corfu is the second largest Greek island belonging to the Ionian group and the location of the Ionian University. In Greek Corfu’s name translates to Korkyra, a water nymph and the daughter of Asopos and the wife of Poseidon. Their child was named Phaiax and the inhabitants of the island became known as Phaiakes (Phaeacians in Latin). Corfu used to be the playground of European royalty and the rich and famous but is now open to mass tourism.
Things to see in Corfu
The old fortress called Palaio Frourio was built on an artificial islet and while parts of it is slowly being eroded by the environment, the interior has been restored and being used as a venue for cultural events. It has a natural giant obelisk at the highest point in the center of the islet. The obelisk has an observation post on top and a giant cross graces its very apex. At the base of the natural obelisk is the church of St. George, built in the Byzantine style, which greatly contrasts with the architectural style of Palaio Frourio. Corfu also has a newer fortification, called the Neo Frourio, which was used as a naval garrison. Now it can be explored by the public so you can view the Winged Lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice. You should not miss the Achilleion, the summer palace built by the Empress of Austria, Elisabeth of Bavaria in memory of her son Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. The palace and the gardens are filled with paintings and statues of Achilles and scenes depicting the story of the Trojan War.
Things to do in Corfu
Explore the capital city and savor the glory of various examples of Venetian architecture around the city. If you want to savor the fresh catch of the day, head down to the fishing village of Kassiopi and have something to eat at one of the fish taverns. Pelakas can be your starting point when you want to explore Corfu and you can also catch a glimpse of the famed sunset in the island when to stay around until late afternoon. Corfu being an island has plenty of beaches if you want to spend a day bathing and sunning. Some of the beautiful beaches you can head to are Issos with its golden sand; Nissaki with its rock formations, deep blue green water and soft fine sand; the secluded cove of Glyfada or the most popular beach resort of Paleokastritsa where you can find many sea caves that are waiting to be explored.
While Crete is the most populated and largest of the islands of Greece and had vastly contributed to the cultural heritage and economy of the mainland, it has retained its own set of cultural traits, including its music, poetry and most of all, its dialect. The island was the center of the Minoan civilization, and home to the architects who built the first palaces found in Europe and was the civilization with the highest culture in ancient Europe.
Things to see in Crete
If you are after archeological digs, you will have a grand time in Knossos and Phaistos for Minoan sites or spend a day in Gortys or the island of Koufonisi where you can likely explore ruins from World War II as well as those belonging to the Roman and Minoan periods. The Heraklion Archeological Museum is a good place as any to view as much as you can of ancient history from Crete during the Minoan civilization. The Gouverneto Monastery and the Monastery of Arkadi are also worth spending some hours in.
Things to do in Crete
As a top holiday destination, you cannot go wrong when you head to Vai and have a grand time at its palm beach. You can also go and explore the massive Venetian fortress Rocca al Mare. For a truly Minoan civilization experience, then you should not miss going to Knossos, as it is the largest Bronze Age exploration site. The ruins in Knossos, named the Palace of Minos actually cover a very wide archeological site and the excavations have already revealed over 1,000 interlocking rooms with different functions. Archeologists have also found a throne room. Exploration first started in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos. It was later continued by Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 to 1931 and had revealed the full extent of the palace, and actually restored it using concrete. A conservation program has been put in place to halt its deterioration while excavation continues. Tours for the palace are available, starting from the West entrance where you will be able to view about 14 to 15 areas of interest before you get back to where you started.
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