Things to do in Greece
Unarguably Athens’ most iconic attraction, the rocky Acropolis hill is crowned by three ancient temples and receives about a million visitors annually. The biggest temple, the 5th-century BC Parthenon, is supported by 46 marble columns and was built in honor of the goddess Athena, after whom the city is named. The Acropolis is at its most beautiful after dark, when it dominates the city skyline, bathed in golden floodlighting.
Opened in 2009, this high-tech glass, steel, and concrete building displays archaic and classical statues and other finds from the Acropolis. The highlight is the top floor, where a reconstruction of the 2,500-year-marble frieze that once ran around the top of the Parthenon has been put together combining the original bas-reliefs and white plaster copies of the controversial Elgin Marbles, the pieces that were removed by Lord Elgin in 1801 and are now on display in London’s British Museum.
For an authentic taste of rural life, opt for accommodations on a working farm. Most offer rooms in carefully restored old stone cottages with traditional furnishings. Adjoining tavernas frequently serve Cretan specialties made from local organic produce.
Lying below the Acropolis, in ancient times the Agora (marketplace) was the main focus of public life. Starting in the 6th century BC, this is where political, philosophical, and cultural discussions took place. Today a picturesque and verdant space, scattered with crumbling ruins, its main surviving buildings are the Stoa of Attalos (now housing the Agora Museum) and the proud Temple of Hephaestus.
The islands’ most impressive archaeological site is Delos on Delos islet, opposite Mykonos. Regarded as sacred by the ancients, it has three temples dedicated to Apollo, plus the renowned Sanctuary of Dionysus, with huge marble phalluses mounted on columns.
From April through October, this small gallery stages exhibitions focusing on contemporary Greek and foreign artists. Located in a late-19th-century winery – converted into a gallery in 1999 – the exhibitions are staged in two large cavernous kanaves (wine cellars) carved out of pumice rock.
Athens & Epidaurus Festival
If you’re lucky enough to be in Athens between early June and late September, be sure to attend an open-air music, dance, or theater performance at the 2nd-century AD Odeon of Herodes Atticus, carved into the rocks below the Acropolis. Maria Callas sang here, Margot Fonteyn danced here.
Boutari Wine Tasting
Greece’s largest wine producer, Boutari, gives tours of its Fantaxometoco vineyard and cellars in Kato Archanes, 5 miles from Heraklion. The purpose-built visitor’ centre offers an audio-visual presentation, wine tasting and a shop.
In an underground space below the courtyard garden of a neoclassical villa, this museum traces the development of the Byzantine Empire and its later influences through an exhibition divided into two parts: Byzantium (4th century – 1453) and Post-Byzantium (1453-present). Exhibits include religious icons, sculptures, ceramics, ecclesiastical textiles, paintings, jewelry, frescoes, and mosaics.
Balmy summer evenings, waterside restaurants and open-air beach clubs make for a carefree nightlife. Abandon yourself to the hedonistic pleasures of after-dark Mykonos, with dinner and cocktails in town, followed by dancing til sunrise at Cavo Paradiso beach.
Clubbing in Platanias
Platanias, which lies just six miles west of Hania, hosts about a dozen open-air seaside dance clubs that from early June to early September. One of the largest and most popular is Mylos.
Corfu's Old Town
The UNESCO-listed medieval old town of Corfu is a must see for its two Venetian fortresses, the 19th-century arcaded Liston and the green Spianada.
Crete Golf Club
Four miles inland from the seaside resort of Hersonissos lies the ultramodern Crete Golf Club course, which is backed by stunning mountains. It stays open all year.
Wandering through the maze of Chora’s bougainvillea-swathed alleyways is a classic Mykonos experience. From the port, make your way up and down the web of streets or walk around the harbor to the sea-facing bars and restaurants in Alefkandra.
Hania Old Town
On the north coast, the historic center of Crete's second largest town and former-capital (before Heraklion took its place in 1971), Hania is packed with centuries-old monuments that testify to the island’s years spent under Venice and the Ottoman Turks.
From May through October, intrepid trekkers tackle the dramatic Samaria Gorge, hiking 10 miles from the starting point at Xiloskalo (served by early-morning bus from Hania’s main bus station) down to the coast. Allow 5 to 8 hours, depending on how fit you are.
Crete’s most visited archaeological site is this 4,000-year-old palace, with its labyrinth of partially-frescoed rooms built around a vast central courtyard. Head to the nearby Heraklion Archaeological Museum (011-30-28102-26092) to see items like gold jewelry from the site.
Although Skiathos’ most famous strand is Koukounaries, escapists prefer the much-photographed Lalaria on the north coast. Backed by cliffs, the smooth white stone beach gives way to crystal-clear aquamarine water. Accessible by taxi boat from Skiathos Town.
Crete’s top party resort, Malia, caters to 18- to 30-year-olds on package deals, with a neon-lit strip of late-night discos, English-style pubs, and fast food kiosks.
For fantastic panorama views over the entire city and out to sea, follow a zigzag path to the summit of rocky pine-scented Lycabettus, Athens’ highest point at 909 feet. Crowned by a tiny whitewashed Orthodox church, and a pricey café-restaurant with outdoor seating on a stone terrace, the top can also be reached by funicular if you don’t feel like the hike.
Museum of Prehistoric Thira
Although the Akrotiri archaeological site is likely to remain closed through 2009, you can see finds from this ancient Minoan town, which was buried below lava in the 17th-century BC, at the Museum of Prehistoric Thira. Highlights include painted ceramics and frescoes depicting swallows, antelopes, monkeys, and women in Minoan dress.
Mykonos Diving Center
Most of the Aegean is off-limits due to its underwater archeological treasures, but the waters around Mykonos are free for exploration. The Mykonos Diving Centre offers PADI certification courses and diving rental equipment
National Archaeological Museum
To see some of the finest examples of Ancient Greek art, visit this world-class museum. The ground floor is primarily devoted to classical sculpture, with proud marble statues, and touching stelae (carved stone tombstones) depicting the deceased saying farewell to their loved ones. Upstairs, the Thera Rooms display three 16th-century BC frescoes from the island of Santorini – Boxing Boys, Antelopes, and Spring.
This lovely sandy beach sits in a sweeping cove of aquamarine water overlooked by a whitewashed village and a hilltop fortress. Visit in May or October to avoid the crowds.
Paradiso and Super Paradiso
Only glamorous Mykonos could give us these twin sand party beaches. The former is developed, with water sports facilities and a string of bars playing 24-hour music; the latter is prettier and popular with gay nudists.
Rhodes Old Town
The fortified Old Town of Rhodes, also a UNESCO heritage site, is dominated by the 14th-century Palace of the Grand Masters and several Turkish-era mosques.
Hire a yacht and a skipper and chart your own route to explore the islands by sea. Kiriacoulis, Greece’s largest charter company, has bases on Paros, Skiathos, Rhodes, Kos, Corfu, and Lefkas.
Santorini Dive Center
Santorini’s underwater caldera offers fascinating opportunities for diving enthusiasts. Santorini Dive Center has a base near Akrotiri, affording fast and easy access to the caldera and the volcano, plus the chance to explore nearby underwater caves, reefs, and wrecks. At their second base, in Perissa, they run a two-hour Discover Scuba program for beginners.
Santorini Sailing Center
Greece is a haven for sailing. Santorini Sailing Center offers privately available sailboats, speedboats and catamarans, each with a skipper, by the hour or by the day. They can also arrange bespoke luxury private cruises around the caldera or to neighboring islands such as Anafi and Ios.
Snorkeling is allowed everywhere, but scuba diving is prohibited in areas containing underwater antiquities. On the islands of Paros, Eurodivers offer PADI courses, plus scuba diving trips to approved reefs, caves, and wrecks.
From April through November, Diver’s Club at Caspis Beach Hotel in Agia Pelagia, near Heraklion, offers diving programs, including PADI, CMAS, and NITROX courses. Explore underwater treasures like the 98-foot El Greco Cave and the Messerschmidt plane wreck.
The Archaeological Museum
Just a stones throw from the harbor, this little museum, built in 1902, houses archaeological finds including Hellenistic vases and artistic pithos portraying the fall of Troy.
The Museum of Folklore
Housed in a 19th-century sea captain’s mansion near the quay, the old homestead showcases local crafts, furniture, embroidery, and photos.
The Nautical Museum of the Aegean
Catering to sailor’s sensibilities this maritime museum displays an extensive collection of ship models and nautical instruments.
Tria Pigadia (Three Wells)
Near Alefkandra are the three wells which supplied all of Mykonos with water until 1956. Legend has it that virgins who drink from the wells will find husbands. Observe, but don’t drink, the briny water.
Santorini is known for the busy black-sand beaches of Kamari and Perissa. To escape the crowds, head for Vlychada (Vlihada) on the south coast. This long, gray-sand beach is backed by dramatic pumice stone cliffs that were sculpted into bizarre formations by the elements. It’s peaceful and unspoiled (and nudist-friendly toward the west end).
Escape the city heat with a few hours swimming and sunbathing on a nearby beach. One of the nicest has to be the EOT beach in Vouliagmeni (located about 12 miles from Athens). A gently curving strip of golden sand giving onto a horseshoe-shaped bay, it’s lined with wooden sun beds and big white umbrellas, and equipped with showers, changing cabins, and several snack bars.
One of the Mediterranean’s top windsurfing bases is Vassiliki on Lefkada. Here, Club Vassiliki takes advantage of the awesome weather conditions and their store of the latest and best equipment to offer guests a top-notch surf experience.
Santorini’s volcanic soils support rich vineyards. Santo Wines, between the port and Thira, commands views down onto the caldera, and offers guided cellar tours, plus wine tasting and bottles for sale.
Santorini produces some of Greece’s best white wines. The winemaking museum at the Koutsouannopoulos Vineyard (open 10am-8pm) traces the history of wine production on the island from 1660 onwards, with waxwork figures and reconstructions of working machinery. Personal audio tours are available in ten languages. And yes, it’s possible to taste the wines!
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