KALOS ORISATE ! WELCOME! Come explore Greece, a land of striking beauty and contrasts! From its thriving capital metropolis to its many quaint villages, Greece offers something for everyone. Stroll hillside streets lined with whitewashed houses on the island of Santorini, explore the Palace of Knossos in Crete, hike the rugged hills to see the fabulously perched monasteries of Meteora, go sailing or windsurfing in the cerulean waters of the Cyclades, relax in famed thermal hot springs on Evia, or party in hot nightspots in Athens.
Greece is perhaps best known for its history as one of the major classical civilizations of the West. The Minoan civilization was one of the first advanced civilizations in Europe, starting around 3000 B.C. In ancient Greece science, politics, and the arts flourished, and Greek citizens came together athletically at the famed Olympic Games and in their worship of a pantheon of gods and goddesses such as Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Athena, and Aphrodite. Sculptures, reliefs, and paintings of these mythical figures can be seen in nearly every corner of Greece. Despite its tumultuous past under the rule of Macedonia, Rome, and Turkey, Greece has retained its dignity and splendor to the present day, and you can still see traces of the many cultures that have occupied the area.
No visit to Greece is complete without spending time in Athens. The political, commercial, and cultural capital of the country, Athens is made up of a number of neighborhoods, each with its own unique flavor. Head up to the Acropolis, where you will find the Parthenon - perhaps the most famous landmark in Greece, and spend time down in the Agora, the main meeting place in ancient times. The National Archaeological Museum and the Acropolis Museum showcase some of the world's most fabulous treasures, and you can watch live theatre at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a restored theatre nearly 2000 years old.
While in Athens, sample the modern day markets, which offer a wide range of shopping from high-end boutiques to homespun street vendors. Greece is known for its traditional folk crafts and classic goods such as carpets and textiles, ceramics, copper, woodwork, and shoes. Visit Ermou - a pedestrian area in the heart of the city full of shops, the colorful Flea Market on Sundays for unique finds, and the Central Market for fresh food and spices. Souvlaki and gyros are delectable staples full of steaming lamb, along with flaky pies filled with cheese or spinach. And do not forget the dessert – savor a piece of authentic baklava dripping with honey and nuts.
Bask in the cultural life of Greece by attending a music, opera, or dance performance in Athens. The city features the Greek National Opera as well as traditional folk dancing, and in the summer you can enjoy outdoor movies in the warm moonlit nights. Music tavernas offer live performances and rembetika clubs offer rembetika, the Greek blues, as well as traditional popular music. Of course, Athens is a beach town, so soak up the sun on one of the full-service beaches around the city, visit a waterpark, or take the waters at Limni Vouliagmenis, a warm lake known for its therapeutic minerals. If you are in Athens between May and October, visit the annual Hellenic Festival for months of music, theater performances, and dancing in multiple areas around the city.
From Athens, take a scenic drive south along the coast to Cape Sounion to the Temple of Poseidon, seated high on a cliff with a dramatic drop to the sea which once inspired the great poet Lord Byron. If you fancy a return to nature, escape modern and ancient civilization and take in the wild Mount Parnitha National Park, full of hiking trails and mountain peaks.
Head east from Athens to explore the Peloponnese, a large peninsula that was once home to ancient Sparta. Here you can explore the coastal resorts in the northern area of Achaia reachable by scenic rail. Explore the town of Ancient Corinth, with both Greek and Roman ruins arranged under an impressive limestone outcrop. Climb the formation for amazing views of the surrounding countryside. Take a cruise and marvel at the engineering feat of the Corinth Canal.
The Argolis Peninsula to the north of the Peloponnese boasts some of the oldest archaeology in the country. The town of Argos is thought to be the oldest continually inhabited town in Greece, and the nearby World Heritage site of ancient Mycenae is an amazing complex with walls over 40 feet high and 20 feet thick. Next visit the Venetian Palamidi Fortress in Nafplio, which sits on a 700 foot high stone perch and is rumored to be accessible by 999 steps, or the ancient 14,000 person theatre at Epidavros, which retains its incredible acoustics and is still used for performances today. The beaches of Messinia, in the west of the Peloponnese, are some of Greece's best, and nearby is Kalamata, the city that gives its name to the succulent Kalamata olive.
The inland areas of central and northern Greece also hold many surprises and delights. The city of Delphi, once home to the legendary Oracle and considered by the ancients to be the center of the world, offers incredible views from the slopes of Mount Parnassos. Make your own pilgrimage up the Sacred Way to the Temple of Apollo and visit the spring where ancient pilgrims washed before consulting the Oracle for advice. Mount Parnassos itself offers opportunities to rock-climb, ski, or just surround yourself with wildflowers.
Stop on the Pelion Peninsula in the vibrant university town of Volos and stop in one of its famous ouzeria, restaurants serving tantalizing mezedes - appetizers like ??? - along with tsipuro, a Greek drink similar to ouzo. The east edge of the Peninsula features plunging cliffs that roll west into gentle hills filled with lush fruited plains, scattered with charming villages. Further north, the towering cliffs of Meteora dazzle with their height and otherworldliness, and are made even more impressive by the monasteries that cling to the pinnacles.
Venture into the Zagoria Villages, near the border with Albania. These villages, which enjoyed a somewhat comfortable isolation over the years and thrived culturally and economically, are known for their houses made of local slate, making the buildings blend into the landscape. The Pindos mountain range offers visitors of all abilities a myriad variety of walks and hikes in its peaceful gorges and forests. Similar fantastic foliage can be found on Mount Olympus, the highest peak in Greece and famous for its central role in ancient Greek mythology as the home of the gods. It offers a challenge for serious mountain climbers as well as relaxation in the health resorts at the base.
Off the mainland, Greece offers a stunning choice of sun-drenched islands to explore. The Cyclades, not far off the coast from Athens, offer quintessential Greek island life in a variety of forms. Party by night in Mykonos's hip clubs and by day on its beaches, claim a secluded spot on the traditional Andros, wonder at Santorini's giant volcanic caldera, or discover the ghostly ancient ruins of Delos. To get farther away from the crowds, visit the Dodecanese along the coast of Turkey for a quieter yet equally as diverse marine treat. Greece's islands are great places for diving, windsurfing, and kiteboarding for some water fun!
Crete is the largest island in Greece, and one of the most fascinating. Not far outside the bustling city of Iraklio lies one of the greatest discoveries of history – the Palace of Knossos. The Palace is still decorated with original frescoes, which capture the imagination and shed light into the mysterious Minoan civilization. Crete also has its share of natural wonders, including the magnificent Samaria Gorge, one of the longest in Europe. A hike through the compelling formation leads you to the famous Iron Gates, where the gorge narrows to about a dozen feet wide, and if you are lucky you might spy the kri kri, a rare wild goat. Crete, like the whole of Greece, offers amazing vistas, world-class historic sites, delectable food, and natural wonders that one can never forget.