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Ancient Greece developed many of the Western world's cultural building blocks, as the Olympic Games, democracy, mathematics and philosophy all began there. Today the country is known as a great holiday destination rather than a centre of culture and learning, and attracts visitors by the thousands. Most of them come for the simple pleasures of its delicious food, wine, beautiful beaches, sunshine and quaint villages, with beach lovers in particular relishing the seemingly endless lacework of coastline and small islands stocked with ancient sites and scenic surprises.
Greece exudes traditional charm, especially on its ever-popular islands, which cling to their traditional ways despite the influx of tourists. Black-clad women still deliver vegetables to island tavernas on panniered donkeys, while bronzed, weather-beaten fishermen sit in the sun, drink thick coffee and play dominoes or backgammon. The tourist infrastructure has intruded in many respects, but the timeless aspect of whitewashed buildings clustered on hillsides has been retained. The myriad islands in the Aegean Sea are easily accessible from Piraeus, Athens' historic harbour, and many of the larger ones have airports with connections to Athens or major European cities.
On the mainland, the capital Athens is sprawling, polluted and overcrowded, but nevertheless enthralls visitors. It's dominated by its major landmark, the Parthenon, though the remains of other Classical Greek wonders are found mainly on the Peloponnese Peninsula. Thessaloniki lies in the north and is modern and vibrant with a Byzantine flavour.
Visitors are sure to love this ancient and sun-filled country.
Greece is easily one of the world's best destinations. From historic sightseeing to glorious beaches, travellers truly are in for a treat. Most visitors begin their trip in Athens, where Classical Greece colours the modern capital through famous structures such as the Parthenon and the Acropolis. There are also many wonderful museums; Syntagma Square is the city's social, political and commercial hub.
From Athens, many venture out to the islands. Mountainous Crete is the most popular and features sparkling beaches, spectacular green outcroppings, ancient Minoan sites, and the famous Samaria Gorge Trail. Other popular island destinations include Corfu, for its mythic significance, Santorini, for its volcanic history and vibrant nightlife, and Rhodes, which is a World Heritage Site. History buffs should head to the Peloponnese Peninsula for the region's ancient ruins and battlefields.
Displaying mainly Hellenistic and Roman treasures found in and around Kos Town and dating from as far back as the 3rd century BC, the Archaeological Museum allows visitors a glimpse into the former glory enjoyed by this quaint port town. The museum is in Eleutherias Square and is housed in a two-storey neoclassical building which is itself a monument, dating back to 1935 and the Italian occupation. The museum's collection includes artefacts and archaeological findings from Kos and surrounds and even Rhodes and there are pieces on display from sites such as ancient Asklepeion, the Altar of Dionysus, the Odeon and the Roman Residence. From original mosaics of Hippocrates, who taught here, to statues of Asklepieion, Artemis and Hygeia found north of Decumanus Maximus, a trip to the Archaeological Museum provides a good foundation of knowledge for visitors who plan to explore the surrounding sites. Many remarkable and valuable sculptures, mosaics and coins, among other things, are on display and the museum is well arranged and labelled.
In Athens, first-time visitors generally flock to the Acropolis. Perched on a steep, flat-topped rock above the sprawling city, the citadel is a striking image of the ancient world; a timeless collection of magnificent temples, most of which honour Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The Athenian statesman, Pericles, erected most of the present-day ruins after Persians destroyed the original buildings. Visitors enter through the Propylaea: the monumental entranceway. The tiny, restored temple of Athena Nike is to the entrance's right. The Parthenon may be the Acropolis' biggest drawcard. Built of Pentelic marble quarried from the distant mountains, it's the greatest surviving monument of Doric architecture, and the backdrop to a magnificent view of Athens. The Erechtheion temple sits alongside the Parthenon. According to mythology, it is the site where Poseidon and Athena contested the right to be Athens' deity. Athena won after gifting Athens the olive tree. The Acropolis' museum is located by the citadel's southern slope. It displays some of the carvings and friezes recovered from the temples.
The remains of the Agora lie clustered below the Acropolis. As Ancient Athens' commercial and civic centre, it's where the great philosophers Socrates and Plato once walked and talked. In fact, the disgraced Socrates committed suicide in the Agora's southwest corner. Today, the area is littered with ancient ruins, including the Dionysos Theatre, where Classical Athens' great tragedians put on their work. Visitors can also see the restored Stoa of Attalos, which served as a law court, municipal office and shopping arcade in 200 BC. The museum on the building's ground floor contains artefacts covering 5,000 years of Athenian history.
This is the largest and most popular of Athens' many museums, and is usually very crowded. Its vast collection includes treasures unearthed from Mycenae by Heinrich Schliemann; a staggering array of sculpture including the earliest known Greek figurines dating from around 2000 BC; frescoes from the volcanic island of Santorini; and so much more that it is recommended visitors make several visits to absorb it all. One of the most popular displays is the Mycenae gold, collected from ancient tombs, including Agamemnon's death mask. The museum is world-class and well-arranged and it hosts regular temporary exhibitions and educational programmes (lectures and workshops) for those interested. There is a gift shop and cafe for visitors to relax in if they get tired, which is often necessary as the museum can occupy one for hours and there is not much seating in the exhibition rooms. Photography is allowed in the museum and the glass display cases have been designed to make photography possible. There is a disabled entrance around the side of the building. By all accounts this is one of the most captivating and impressive museums in the world and it is a must on any visit to Athens.
The port of Piraeus is the chief port in Greece, the largest passenger port in Europe, and the third largest in the world, servicing about 20 million passengers annually. Although not really attractive to tourists, the confusing, bustling port of Athens is the departure point for hundreds of island ferries and cruise ships, so most tourists will pass through it while visiting Greece. Piraeus has been Athens' port since ancient times and was for many years the chief harbour of Ancient Greece. Piraeus was a city, not merely a port, and was once separated from the mainland, occupying its own rocky island. Today it is part of Athens and the port actually consists of three harbours, with most of the tourist boats using the Zea Limani section. There are several good fish restaurants in the harbour precincts, and a sprawling street market. Visitors with time on their hands while waiting for ferries can also explore the Maritime Museum at Akti Themistokleous, alongside the pier used by the island hydrofoils, which features models of ancient and modern ships. There are also archaeological sites at the port, including the remains of some of the ancient fortifications of the harbours.
Plaka is the old historical neighbourhood of Athens, clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis, and incorporating labyrinthine streets and neoclassical architecture. Modern Plaka has been built on top of the residential areas of the ancient town of Athens and it is known as the 'Neighbourhood of the Gods' because of its proximity to the Acropolis and its many archaeological sites. The old town is a very popular gathering place for travellers and tourists, particularly in the warm Athens evenings. Strolling the narrow streets of the Plaka flanked by ancient monuments, Byzantine churches and mosques, stately mansions, and inviting tavernas with vine-covered courtyards, makes a pleasant diversion. The Ancient Agora is a central feature of this area and the modern Plaka was built around it. Archaeological excavations have been taking place here continuously for decades and new ruins and artefacts are still being found. No cars are allowed in Plaka, which is completely pedestrianised. There is some great shopping to be done in the area but, on busy days, travellers should beware of pick-pockets who target market places and tourists. A visit to Athens is not complete without a long supper beneath the stars in Plaka.
Lykavittos Hill juts a steep 984 feet (300m) right up from the centre of the city of Athens, and is a great vantage point from which to take in the scope of the city and its beautiful views. In fact, this is the best spot from which to view the city, in every direction, and a dreamy place to explore and take photographs. It is said that wolves once inhabited the hill, in explanation of how it got its name, because 'lykos' means wolf in Greek. Another popular myth explains that the hill was formed when Athena, the patron of Athens, dropped a rock she was planning to use for the Acropolis. The St. George Chapel and Lykavittos Theatre perch atop the hill, which can be reached by car, cable car or a healthy hike. There is a restaurant and cafe on the summit to refresh exhausted hikers or provide a romantic location for a dinner. The cable car departs every 30 minutes, from the corners of Aristippou and Ploutarchou Streets in Kolonaki. Those who plan to walk up, which is a really wonderful way to experience the hill, should begin their hike on Ploutarchou Street. After walking about half way up the hill hikers will come upon some steps that take them the rest of the way to the top.
Syntagma Square, or Constitution Square in English, is named for the Constitution that King Otto was forced to grant to the people of Greece after a popular military uprising in September 1843. The square forms the heart of modern Athens and is home to the Parliament Building, built in 1840 as a royal palace. Tourists flock to photograph the unusually clad guards at the palace; the skirted and pom-pommed guard is changed ceremonially, every hour, in front of the memorial to the Unknown Soldier. There are two green areas planted with lots of trees in the north and south of the square which provide some welcome coolness on hot days. The National Gardens are around the Parliament Building and they are a delight in the heat. The square is a central point of access to all the major attractions of Athens, particularly 'museum mile' along Vassilissis Sophias Avenue, which runs from Syntagma Square. Here most of Athens' museums are clustered, including the Benaki Museum, Museum of Cycladic Art and the Byzantine Museum. Syntagma Square is also a transport hub with a metro station.
Among shady pine, olive and oak trees, in a valley between Mount Kronos and the Alfios River on the Peloponnese Peninsula, lies one of the most famous historical and archaeological sites in Greece. Olympia includes the remains of two ancient temples and the stadium where the first Olympic Games took place in 776 BC. Since the modern Olympics were inaugurated in 1896 torchbearers have set out from Olympia to carry the Olympic flame in relays across the world to wherever the games are held every four years. The site also boasts one of the finest archaeological museums in Greece. The ruins themselves are fascinating, being the remnants of an ancient Olympic village including a gymnasium, baths, the Prytaneion (where winners were honoured) and a Doric Temple dedicated to Hera. In the nearby modern village of Olympia there is another museum that is often sadly overlooked: the Museum of the Olympic Games contains some interesting memorabilia from games past and gives those interested in the event a fantastic overview of its history and significance.
Ancient Corinth is rests around the base of Acrocorinth. Originally a Greek acropolis, this lofty fortress hill has been a Roman citadel, a Byzantine castle and more over the course of its history. Most of the city's surviving buildings are Roman, though. Caesar built them after his armies sacked much of the original settlement. Since then, recurring earthquakes have toppled large parts of ancient Corinth, but enough of it remains to fire up the imagination. The 6th-century BC Temple of Apollo is particularly beautiful. It sits on a hill overlooking the marketplace's remains. Visitors will find an archaeological museum in the site's southwest corner, and it contains some worthwhile collections of mosaic floors, pottery and works of art.
This ancient site, 31 miles (50km) south of Corinth, bears the remains of the ancient palace and citadel of Mycenae, a place of archaeological controversy but fascinating for the lay visitor. Homer's fabulous story has it that the kingdom of Mycenae was dripping in gold and revelling in riches before King Agamemnon decided to lead an assault on Troy, back in about 1,250 BC. The king started a war that lasted a decade, battling to win the impossibly beautiful Helen of Troy back from Prince Paris. German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered Mycenae, which he believed gave credence to Homer's tale, in 1874 after he had excavated the remains of Troy itself. There is no doubt that Mycenae was a city of power and prosperity and the ruins, from the Lion Gate (oldest example of monumental sculpture in Europe) to the palace complex, houses and beehive tomb of Agamemnon, are well worth exploring. Most of the more exceptional finds from the site are on exhibit in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. These include frescoes, gold jewellery, and the gold mask said to have belonged to Agamemnon, among other priceless pieces.
A definite must on a tour of the Peloponnese is the famed ancient theatre of Epidaurus, built in the 3rd century BC and so well preserved that with little or no restoration it is still in use today for regular summer dramatic performances, which are lent a mystical aura by the beautiful and ancient setting. The theatre has perfect acoustics, allowing even a whisper on stage to be heard in the back row of the limestone amphitheatre, which can seat 14,000. North of the theatre are the ruins of the healing Sanctuary of Asklepios, which has a museum explaining how the original temple complex would have looked and functioned. This was once the most famous healing centre of the Greek and Roman world, and some argue that it is the birthplace of modern medicine. It is very interesting to learn about the evolution of medical treatment in this place and to explore the ruins and remains of the sanctuary, which once spawned 200 dependent spas throughout the Mediterranean. Where the ancient town of Epidaurus once stood there is now the modern day village of Palia Epidaurus. This is a popular seaside resort with scenic beaches, a small harbour and several tavernas.
The Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum is regarded as one of the finest museums in Europe; it is near the famous White Tower and opposite the city's international fairgrounds. The museum houses a huge collection including the incredible treasures from the tomb of Alexander the Great's father, Phillip of Macedon, which was discovered at Vergina in 1977. Another treasured artefact is the 3rd century BC Derveni papyrus, the only intact ancient papyrus found in Greece, which was discovered in the tombs of Derveni. Other rooms in the museum contain exhibits depicting the history of the city from prehistoric days through to the Roman period, including spectacular mosaics and some exquisite, delicate Hellenistic glass. The museum will occupy visitors for a few hours if they are interested in history and archaeology and it is a well-organised and impressively laid out collection. Thessaloniki has a captivating history and it rewards investigation.
Close to one of the city's main bus terminals in Dikasterion Square lies the archaeological site of the ancient Greek agora or marketplace, which was later expanded to become a Roman Forum on two levels. The Roman Forum was constructed in the late 2nd century AD and it constituted the administrative centre of the town till about the 5th century. The forum was the heart of the ancient city, and was discovered by workmen in the 1960s. The best-preserved component of the forum is the large theatre, which is still used for occasional summer concerts. On the southwest corner of the square is the magnificent church of Panagia Chalkeon. The Archaeological Museum built beneath the ruins houses some of the artefacts discovered in excavations on the site and a visit to the museum gives great context for exploring the site. It is small but captivating. Entry to the ruins is free but there are no written explanations, making the museum a necessary stop. The site is closed on Mondays. The area around the excavations is full of artists, shops and taverns and there are some wonderful little places to buy traditional wares and souvenirs.
The city of Thessaloniki's most famous landmark, the White Tower, was originally built as part of the city walls to fortify the coast during Ottoman rule. It now stands, no longer quite white but still very imposing, on the seaside promenade south of the Archaeological Museum, having been restored and offering panoramic views of the city and harbour from its rooftop cafe. Although now a proud landmark of the city, and the chosen symbol of its residents, the tower has a bloody history. It was used by the Ottomans as a prison, infamous for its brutality, and was the site for public executions; on the way up the winding staircase to the cafe visitors can peep into the dim rooms that were once used as cells. As a result of this notoriety as a brutal place it was known as the 'Tower of Blood' or the 'Red Tower' to local Greeks up until the end of the 19th century. When Thessaloniki was reclaimed by the Greeks the tower was whitewashed as a gesture of symbolic cleansing and it has since been re-imagined in the collective imagination as a positive symbol of freedom and pride. The tower contains a museum housing some Byzantine art and historical artefacts from Thessaloniki's history between 300 and 1,500 AD.
Most of Thessaloniki's beautiful churches are situated along the quaint, narrow-cobbled streets of the Upper City area. They date from various eras, including Byzantine. In particular, visitors should look out for the domed Church of Saint George. Its history goes back to the 4th century, when it was Roman Emperor Galerius' mausoleum. Agia Sofia is Thessaloniki's largest and most famous Byzantine church. The Agii Apostoli and the beautifully frescoed Agios Nikolaos Orfanos are also must-sees. Thessaloniki's churches are open to visitors, but often close during the afternoon. For this reason, visitors should try to tour them in the morning. Sightseers should also follow local custom when entering, meaning they should dress appropriately and act respectfully in these sacred places, and ask permission before taking photographs. Some churches will not admit sightseers during services but tourists are always welcome to attend.
Corfu Town has its own Archaeological Museum. Though small and ordinary-looking from the outside, it's definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in archaeology or the area's ancient history. Built between 1962 and 1965, the museum was initially meant to house important artefacts from Corfu's sixth century BC Temple of Artemis. Indeed, its greatest treasure is the temple's Gorgon pediment, which is Greece's oldest surviving stone pediment. To many, it is a fine example of archaic sculpture. Visitors will find some other interesting sculptures too, such as the Lion of Menecrates. A famous Corinthian sculptor carved it in the late 7th century BC. The 500 BC pediment of Dionysus is another fascinating artefact. The museum's collection also features some interesting coins, vases and armour.
Although it may seem strange to visit a museum dedicated to Eastern art and antiquity while on holiday in Greece, this museum is very interesting and the only one of its kind in the country. Gregorios Manos, the founder of the museum, was a Greek ambassador to Austria who was passionate about the East and purchased at art auctions about 9,500 authentic Chinese, Korean and Japanese artefacts, which formed the basis of the museum collection when it was opened in 1928. The permanent collection includes arms and armour, bronze, ceramics, paintings, sculptures and textiles from China, Japan, Korea, India and a few other Asian countries. The three-storey building housing this collection of art is a beautiful neoclassical structure built by the British in 1820 when the Ionian Islands were ruled by Britain. The building itself justifies visiting the museum for those with an interest in architecture. The museum is a peaceful oasis that immerses the visitor in another world and culture. It is situated at the north end of the Esplanade in Corfu Town.
Empress Elizabeth of Austria built the Achilleion in 1890. Standing just south of Corfu, the palace was intended as a memorial to her son, Rudolf, following his death by apparent suicide one year earlier. Neoclassical in style, the palace takes the mythical figure, Achilles, as its central theme, and features numerous statues and motifs associated with him. The gardens are also set with a number of statues commissioned by the Empress, including German sculptor, Herter's, 'Dying Achilles'. After Elisabeth's assassination, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II purchased the Achilleion property and used it as a summer home. During his time, the palace hosted many notable guests and became a hub of European diplomacy. The Kaiser added some artwork of his own. The palace transitioned to a new purpose when it served as a military hospital during World War One, and as a military headquarters in World War Two. Later, a brief spell under private ownership saw it house a casino in the upper storey. It has since been reclaimed as a museum, and as a venue for state events. The Achilleion houses many valuable artworks and is well worth a visit. Its sprawling gardens are also a joy to explore.
The Minoan palace at Knossos, covering an area of 215,278 square feet (20,000 sq metres), is one of the world's greatest sightseeing experiences and a must for visitors in the area. It consists of four wings, arranged around a rectangular, central court. The palace originally had many storeys, was built of ashlar blocks, and had walls decorated with splendid frescoes. British archaeologist, Arthur Evans, who excavated most of the labyrinthine Knossos site, has painstakingly restored some sections of the palace. The remains now visible are actually not those of the original palace, which was built around 2,000 BC and destroyed by an earthquake about 1,700 BC. A subsequent, more complex, palace was then constructed and it is these ruins that can still be seen and parts of which have been restored. The palace was first unearthed in 1878 by a Cretan merchant and antiquarian, but was not systematically excavated until 1900. The Knossos site is about three miles (5km) south of Heraklion.
A visit to the Minoan palace at Knossos should be complemented with a visit to the wonderful Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. This is one of the largest and most renowned museums in Greece, and even in Europe, and the Minoan collection is the best of its kind in the world. The museum features artefacts spanning 5,500 years of Cretan history and prehistory from the Neolithic (5000 BC) to the Late Roman Period (late 4th century AD). Thousands of artefacts depicting the intriguing Minoan culture are on display, from magnificent bull-headed drinking vessels to the mysterious Phaistos disk inscribed with undeciphered symbols. The exhibition takes up 20 rooms and is arranged chronologically. There is a museum shop where visitors can buy copies, books, postcards and the like, and a museum cafe for refreshments.
This museum deals with Crete's more modern history and highlights the islanders' long battle for independence from early Christian times to the present day. The museum is housed in a two-storey neoclassical building constructed in 1903 on the site of an earlier mansion. The Historical Museum has impressive collections of ceramics, sculptures, coins, jewellery, Byzantine art, Ottoman artefacts, and ethnographic displays, and the history of Crete is thoroughly and well laid out. The medieval and Renaissance collection contains the only painting on Crete by the island's famous painter El Greco, The Landscape of God-trodden Mount Sinai, which is one of the museum's treasures. Another world-renowned Cretan, Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek, is also remembered in the museum, which houses a recreation of his study. There are frequent temporary exhibitions to be enjoyed, and there is a library containing some interesting documents and rare editions.
Situated about 14 miles (23km) south of Rethymnon, the Monastery of Arkadhi is something of a national Cretan shrine. During the 1866 rebellion against the Turks the monastery became a refuge for Cretan insurgents and their families (it was the Cretan Christians who revolted against Turkish rule in the rebellion). They were surrounded by the Turks and after two days of fighting, ignited the gunpowder storeroom, which killed hundreds of both Turks and Cretans. The tragedy brought international recognition to the cause for Cretan independence and those who died in the blast have become celebrated martyr figures. An ossuary displays the skulls of many of the victims and it is possible to see the roofless room where the explosion took place, as well as the surviving 16th-century church that is one of the loveliest Venetian buildings on the island. There is also a small museum that details the history of the monastery and the battle for independence. It is a very interesting, and rather sad, place to explore and gives visitors some valuable insight into Cretan nationalism and history.
Gortyna is both a municipality in Greece and an archaeological site on Crete that was once the Roman capital of the island. The two are unrelated. The remains of the ancient city of Gortyna, to the south of Heraklion, tell a later tale than that of the other archaeological sites in Crete, despite the fact that there is evidence of human settlement in the area dating back to the Neolithic era. The greatest treasure of the site is the Gortyn Law Code, recorded on important inscribed stones that date back to the 5th century BC. These remarkable stones are a complete code of law based on Minoan tradition. The Code stones are still preserved and exhibited in the north round wall of the Roman Odeon at the Gortyna site (although of course the theatre was built much later, in the 1st century). Other highlights at Gortyna include the Church of St Titus, where Christianity was first introduced to the island, and the Temple of Apollo Pythios, which dates from 700 BC. The city was thriving before Roman invasion but its early alliance with the Romans meant that it was not invaded and became even more powerful in the region. The site is often called Gortyn, rather than Gortyna.
South of Heraklion lies Crete's second most important Minoan archaeological site, the Palace complex of Phaistos, considered by many to be a finer example of Minoan architecture than Knossos. The west propylon, the monumental entranceway to the palace, is particularly impressive, and the ceremonial staircase and great court are breathtaking. Like Knossos the site has actually been built on twice, with the original palace, built about 2000 BC, having been destroyed by fire and replaced with a new palace around 300 years later. A number of valuable artefacts have been found on the site including the Phaistos disc, which was discovered in 1908 in the basements of the northern complex of the palace. This artefact is a clay disk, dated to between 1950 BC and 1400 BC and impressed with a unique and sophisticated hieroglyphic script. A number of tombs were also found, a short distance from the ruins of the palace complex, and these are thought to belong to the one-time rulers of Phaistos. The city of Phaistos is associated with the mythical king of Crete, Rhadamanthys, and the city is mentioned in many old texts including Homer, who detailed the city's involvement in the siege of Troy. For anybody with an interest in archaeology, Phaistos is a must.
The Samaria Gorge National Park, in the White Mountains of western Crete, is said to be one of the most splendid scenic parks in Europe and the hike through the gorge is breathtaking. It is an arduous trip but well worth it to see one of the great natural wonders of Europe and most people will be able to handle the walk although they may find it strenuous. From the top of the gorge it is a 10 mile (16km) hike through the dramatic geological formations and wildflower-strewn cliff sides of the National Park. There are lots of awe-inspiring views and natural features along the way and it is a dream for photographers. Once inside the gorge hikers tend to follow the water, which helps keep one cool but hikers must note that they will be in direct sun at least part of the time so it is important to come prepared with hats, sunscreen and water. Hikers are always delighted to see that there are restaurants and bars at the end of the walk to provide well-earned refreshment. From the village of Agia Roumeli at the end of the gorge hikers board boats to sail to Khora Sfakion or Paleohora where there are buses back to Haniá, Rethymnon or Heraklion. Nature-lovers will find the gorge one of the absolute highlights of a visit to Crete.
The ancient Acropolis of Rhodes sits high on a hill overlooking the city's west. In the past, it featured sanctuaries, large temples and public buildings, all set on stepped terraces interspersed with gardens. Today's remains date back to the 2nd century BC, though excavations continue at the site. The Stadium, however, has been fully excavated and restored, as has the Temple of Athena Polias on the site's northern edge. Visitors can also see the Nymphaia, a marble Odeon, the Temple of Pythian Apollo and the remains of the Gymnasium. In their day, these sites were used for recreation, worship, lectures and musical events. This hugely atmospheric site is worth visiting; views from the top are tremendous.
From Rhodes it is a short ferry crossing to the hospitable island of Karpathos where the clock has stood still in the delightful village of Olymbos in the south. Here the locals go about their business much as they did in Homer's time, wearing their traditional costumes and preserving their language and culture, partly with the aim of attracting tourists but also because they are proud of their heritage and want to preserve local customs. They are particularly proud of their unique houses, built of carved stone and decorated inside with gorgeous embroidery and other colourful folk art decor. The island has great beaches and unspoilt villages and is a pleasure to explore, with a picturesque bay and a monastery at Kyra Panagia, the Diafani village on a promontory to the north, and forested mountains. Karpathos is also renowned for its feast days and weddings. Visitors who happen to catch one in progress will usually receive a warm invitation to join the festivities. Just four nautical miles from Karpathos is the smaller island of Kassos, linked by ferry, which has a tiny community of fishermen still living the way they have for centuries.
This island, sometimes called the 'Jerusalem of the Aegean', is an official pilgrimage site for members of the Catholic religion, because it is home to the sacred cavern where the exiled St John the Evangelist was inspired to write the Biblical Book of Revelations. Cruise ships and ferries keep the small port very active, disgorging visitors who wish to visit the holy cave and witness the cracks in the wall, said to have appeared when St John heard the voice of the Lord. The small Monastery of the Apocalypse is very close to the cave and both are worth exploring. The small and lovely Chapel of St Anne encloses the cave and was built in the 11th century. Crowning the island is the immense Monastery of St John, with its buttressed walls and, inside, frescoes, icons, tapestries and pendants made of precious stones. The monastery was completed in the 11th century and it is a richly decorated fortress with spectacular views. The historical centre of Patmos, including the monastery and the sacred cave, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can walk up to the monastery from Skala along the Byzantine path.
The Benaki is one of Greece's most famous museums, where visitors can explore Greek culture through artefacts dating from antiquity to present times. Paleolithic and Neolithic relics, items from the late Roman Empire, and pieces left after centuries of Frankish and Ottoman occupation are all on display. Greece's struggle for independence in 1821, and the formation of the modern Greek state feature in the more recent content. Visitors should look out for the Museum of Islamic art, temporary exhibitions, as well as restoration and conservation workshops. The museum's library holds a very valuable and extensive collection on topics relating to its exhibitions. Visitors can't borrow books, though the library is open to the public for onsite use.
Attica Zoo is unique in Greece. Featuring exotic animals such as lynxes, Angolan lions, and Persian leopards, plus more than 30 bird species, it's a must for animal lovers of all ages. Striving to combine education with entertainment, the zoo takes visitors on a journey through a number of themed sections, showcasing more than 2 000 animals from 350 species. Visitors can explore a reptile house, a children's farm, a monkey jungle and other walk-through enclosures.
Picnicking with the children at the National Gardens on a Saturday has become a common pastime for local Athenian families and is a great way to spend a sunny summer's day when the days are long. The gardens used to be called the Royal Gardens because they were the gardens of the king and the locals are very proud of this lovely green space in a city that doesn't actually have many parks. The gardens have a collection of plants and trees from all over the world and plenty of water features that add coolness in the heat. The Gardens feature a small zoo, duck ponds, resident cats, a Botanical Museum, a playground and lots of wide-open space for children to play in. For children who love books, the gardens are also home to a Children's Library. There are many beautiful areas to relax in the shade and get some respite from the busy city of Athens, and the gardens are also wonderful for walking or running. Locals enjoy playing games together at makeshift tables and often they don't mind if tourists want to join them. The gardens are located just behind the Greek parliament building, next to Syntagma Square, and are easy to locate.
Allou! Fun Park has rides to suit every age group and thrill threshold. Visitors will soon realise why it's the city's most popular theme park. Access is technically free, meaning anyone can enter and soak up the festive atmosphere. Otherwise, all rides and activities accept a variety of payment options. Visitors planning to spend a few hours enjoying themselves should purchase an Allou! Day Pass, which allows limitless access to almost all of the rides and games on offer.
The Hellenic Children's Museum is a non-profit educational and cultural organisation that was established in Athens in 1987 and aims to encourage children to explore, learn, discover and question all around them. The museum is located in two houses that have been specifically designed for use by children, and kids will be excited to find a museum dedicated to their amusement rather than the more traditional ones they get dragged to. The space is full of games and interactive exhibits and a variety of activities are organised for visitors. An activity might be something like learning how chocolate is made, helping to make it, and then getting to eat it! The Hellenic Children's Museum is both educational and extremely entertaining and it is frequented by locals as much as by tourists. The staff are very friendly and capable and know just how to entertain their little visitors. The museum is best for children under 10.
Aqualand Water Park is the perfect place to cool off while holidaying on Corfu. With its wide variety of slides, rides and pools, it's understandably one of the island's most popular attractions for kids and adults alike. Children aged four to eight can enjoy water games, slides, jumping castles, playgrounds and more in a fun-filled kid's area. Thrill seekers will find steep, scary slides. Visitors looking to relax should head for Jacuzzis, gentle pools, the Lazy River and sun loungers. Parking, sunbeds, umbrellas, as well as access to shower facilities and changing areas are all free. Dining options include a bar, a restaurant and various fast-food kiosks. Visitors should pack plenty of sunscreen as the park is very much exposed to the glorious Greek sun.
The Aegean Maritime Museum is a non-profit institution. Located on the island of Mykonos, it collects, studies and promotes Greek maritime history and tradition. Visitors can enjoy wonderful models of pre-Minoan ships, a superb collection of old maps and documents, navigational instruments, as well as rare coins and engravings. The museum is also proud of its three 'living' historical exhibits, namely the 'Armenistis' lighthouse, the Perama-type sailing boat 'Evangelistria', and the cable-laying steamship, 'Thalis o Milissios'. Along with these treasures, visitors can stroll through a picturesque garden courtyard and admire anchors, the top of the old Mykonos lighthouse, and replicas of drowned sailors' gravestones. The museum gives fascinating insight into the island's history, and is a good stop for the entire family.
The island of Delos is a must for history buffs and lovers of Greek mythology. In fact, the UNESCO World Heritage site one of Greece's most important mythological, historical and archaeological locations. People have lived on Delos since the 3rd millennium BC, with the island serving as a sacred site for multiple religions, cults and sects over the centuries. It has also played a role in numerous historical events and been the subject of myths and prophecies. Archaeological excavations on Delos are extensive and ongoing, uncovering many valuable buildings and artefacts. Some of these are on display in the Archaeological Museum of Delos. Visitors should look out for the circular Sacred Lake, the Minoan Fountain, the Terrace of the Lions, and several impressive ancient buildings and temples.
The white windmills are iconic on Mykonos island and are visible from every part of Hora village. Those interested in the mechanics of windmills (once such common and important technology and now seldom seen) will be captivated by them and children also tend to be enthralled. There is a reason for everybody to take a stroll to the famous windmills though, and that is the spectacular views from the hill. The hill is best visited in the late afternoon, towards sunset, and overlooks the whole town of Hora and the harbour too. There are 16 windmills left on Mykonos and seven of these stand on the hill at Hora (also often called Chora). Some of them were built by the Venetians in the 16th century, but construction continued into the 20th century, so they are not all that old, or have been renovated since then. They were once an important means of survival and income for the inhabitants of the town, and were used primarily to mill wheat. They are white-walled, thatched-roofed windmills and are rather mesmerising, although they are now out of use. It is a great spot for photographs and picnics and one of the mills has been turned into a small museum. There is no need for directions as the windmills are probably the first thing visitors will see when they enter the village or the port.
A must for all families on vacation in Kos, especially with young children, Lido Waterpark provides wonderful games, activities, sun, fun and more. It is one of the largest waterparks in Greece and features numerous slides (including Kamikaze, Multi lane and Black Hole), pools (including a wave pool), jacuzzis, hydromassage facilities, tubing courses and even a fish spa where the little critters will massage and clean your feet. For those who prefer land activities there is sunbathing, beach volleyball and even trampolines for amusement. There's a special area for young kids too little to enjoy the slides, where there is a kind of waterworld playground and shallow pools. There is also a bar and multiple restaurants for food, drinks and snacks and even a mini-market for shopping. The park is clean and safe, with the water recycled and renewed on a daily basis and a team of qualified lifeguards permanently on duty. Visitors should remember to pack sunscreen, as the summer heat and all the water can mean serious sun exposure.
The Castle of the Knights of the Order of Saint John is situated at the entrance of Kos harbour and is an amazing place to visit. The sprawling ruins, some of which are extremely well-preserved, are located on what used to be an island and the bridge that once joined it to the mainland is still usable. Parts of the castle date back to the late 14th century but, as it took over a hundred years to build, there is evidence of more than one architectural style at the site. The castle has two defensive precincts: the interior has four circular corner towers and the larger exterior precinct has massive bastions in its four corners, battlements and gun ports. The two precincts are separated by a moat and joined by a drawbridge. There is a Hellenistic frieze over the main gate. A museum on the site, which is housed in a reconstructed building that was once the knights' warehouse, holds alters, sculptures and inscriptions from the site. The elevated sections of the castle afford visitors astounding views over the ocean. It is best to wear sensible walking shoes when visiting, as exploring the castle thoroughly means traversing some steep steps and uneven ground.
Aquaworld Aquarium features a wonderful array marine creatures, plus reptiles such as loggerhead turtles, Balkan green lizards, skinks, geckos and snakes. All in all, it's guaranteed to keep the little ones captivated. Aquaworld is, in fact, a rescue centre that has taken in or rehabilitated most of its population. The institution encourages hands-on interaction with many of its animals and offers fantastic photo opportunities. Although it specialises in local fauna, Aquaworld does collect reptiles and marine life from further afield as well.
A fantastic place to take the kids during the heat of summer while on holiday in Crete, the Limnoupolis Waterpark offers fantastic rides, slides and water fun. Limnoupolis is located in a green, scenic area that sets it apart from many other parks of its kind, which are often sadly devoid of vegetation. There should be something for everyone at this park: for thrill seekers, slides such as Kamikaze and the Black Hole should summon up some adrenalin; for more mellow fun there are multiple water slides such as the Crazy River, the Multiplista, the Giant Slide, and the Triple Twist; for those who merely want to relax and unwind there is the Lazy River, where visitors float on tubes through waterfalls and caves, and the jacuzzi area; for kids there is a special pool and play area. In the unlikely event that children get bored there are also video games to play. There is a nicely designed pool bar and rope suspension bridge over the main pool as well as an artificial island in the middle. There are restaurants and a mini-market for refreshments. Lifeguards permanently on duty ensure that visitors stay safe.
Star Beach Water Park features all the expected things, such as various nice pools and four big water slides ranging from the relaxing to the thrilling, but it also offers traditional beach watersports such as jet skiing, scuba diving, waterskiing and banana boat rides, and a kind of bungee jumping, to name a few. There are sun beds and umbrellas in relaxation areas by the pools and tubing rivers for lazy sun worshippers and parents to float along while the kids let off some steam. There is also a spa that offers various beauty treatments. For the really little kids there is Baby Star Beach, a children's water playground with shallow pools. Star Beach has an amazing variety of amenities and activities including free WiFi and free foam parties on a daily basis. There are lifeguards permanently on duty so the park is very safe. Needless to say there are also restaurants and a bar to replenish energy for more fun activities. This is a great trip for the whole family and a good combination of wholesome beach fun and poolside relaxation.
A trip to the Eftalou Thermal Baths is a wonderful excursion for anyone on holiday in Lesvos. The hot, natural springs are located nearly three miles (4km) outside of Molyvos on the northern coast of Lesvos. Highly popular with tourists, the Eftalou's Springs are located at the beach and are one of the few springs in Greece where men and women can bathe together. The temperature of the water is between 109F and 116F (43C and 47C), which is very hot. Bathing in the water is recommended for a number of conditions and illnesses including blood pressure problems, rheumatism, gallstones, and neuralgia. It is also just extremely relaxing and therapeutic! It is recommended, though, that visitors don't stay in the water for longer than 20 minutes in each session due to the extreme heat. There is an old, domed bath house, which has a charming, old-fashioned atmosphere and is an experience in itself, and a newly renovated spa building next door to it that offers a variety of treatments and facilities. The coastal setting is also pretty and enjoyable, which adds to the experience. A novelty for children, this is an activity the whole family will enjoy.
One of the three largest petrified forests in the world, the Petrified Forest of Sigri on the western edge of the island, dates back 15 million years and is protected as a natural monument. A visit to the Petrified Forest of Sigri is a fascinating outing for families with children or for anybody interested in natural phenomena. The Petrified Forest was the result of a volcanic eruption around 21 to 15 million years ago that buried the flora and trees of the region (including oaks and sequoias) beneath layers of ash. Visitors can view 'the Pompeii of the plant world', which features some impressively well-preserved specimens; on some of the trees visitors can still see leaves and fruit preserved for millennia. Visitors can view the Petrified Forest along three main mountain trails: Trail One is called 'Discovering the Petrified Forest' and is a good introduction to the area; Trail Two, 'The History of the Petrified Coniferous Forest', details the process by which the trees were preserved; and Trail Three, which is the longest, takes people to the tallest standing trunks. In Sigri there is an interesting museum dedicated to the forest that displays some stunning examples of petrified wood and explains the process well.
Donkey trekking is a great activity for the whole family. Travellers can enjoy day-excursions through verdant green valleys, past olive groves and along mountain paths. Sunset-treks are also wonderful, with tasty, beach barbeques waiting to reward riders at the finish. Along with being a terrific way to appreciate the island's scenery, donkey treks allow visitors to discover its traditions. Indeed, Lesvos is self-sufficient and proud, with well-preserved local customs. It also has a refreshing lack of tourist trappings, despite its popularity with travellers.
Filerimos Hill used to be the citadel of the ancient town of Ialysos, and its large plateau is home to some intriguing historical attractions. On the eastern side of the hill, see the foundations of the Athena Polias temple and an early Christian basilica, dedicated to Virgin Mary, as well as a Byzantine church. The Monastery of Filerimos, which is thought to have been built by knights, and was later renovated by Italians, is an important archaeological site where Mycenaean pottery and a Doric foundation have been unearthed. A lovely path to the west, lined with cypress and pine trees, leads to an impressive crucifix at the centre of a small square. Apart from all the exciting archaeological ruins and artefacts, this is a pretty area that offers visitors lovely views from the vantage of the hill with some great photo opportunities. Despite its wealth of ancient artefacts and historical significance Filerimos Hill is not as crowded with tourists as some of the other sites on Rhodes, which is also a great advantage for those who like to avoid crowds.
With buildings and monuments dating back hundreds of years, Old Town offers a wealth of historic attractions and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The medieval streets feature Gothic windows and paved courtyards lit by traditional street lamps. The most famous of these is the Street of Knights (or Knights Avenue) which leads to the Palace of the Prince Grand Master. This palace displays several artefacts from as far back as the 13th century, when the crusades first came to Rhodes. The shops and stalls of Socrates Street are worth browsing for local jewellery, pottery and clothes. Although there are many gates through which to enter the Old Town, one of the best starting points is Eleftheria (Liberty) Gate, from where visitors will come to Simi Square, which contains the ruins of the Temple of Venus, thought to date from the 3rd century BC. Getting lost in the Rhodes Old Town is almost obligatory: there are about 200 streets and they don't even have names so it can get confusing. Getting lost here is rather wonderful but when visitors need to find their way again, they should ask for Socrates Street, which is the 'main' street of the area. The Old Town is completely pedestrianised.
The beaches on Rhodes Island are a great attraction for visitors. There are about 45 attractive beaches on the island so there is a lot for visitors to choose from! Afandou beach is quite undeveloped and therefore good for those who don't like a crowd. Faliraki beach, on the other hand, is usually quite crowded and has all the necessary amenities including sunbeds, umbrellas, watersport facilities, restaurants and beach bars to enjoy. The shallow waters of Faliraki beach make it a popular holiday spot for families with children, as do the great facilities. The Faliraki Waterpark and Luna Park distinguish this beach from others on the island as they feature water slides, kamikaze slides and a gigantic wave pool, as well as fully trained and certified lifeguards for safety. Faliraki Beach is on the northeast of the island, just over seven miles (12km) from Rhodes town. Kalathos beach has crystal-clear waters, wooden sunbeds and bamboo umbrellas (very eco-friendly!) and Kallithea beach is renowned for its hot medicinal springs and beautiful palm trees. Lindos beach is right beneath the castle of the same name and is a peaceful little cove, great for a quick dip after visiting the castle.
A wonderful place to take the kids while on Rhodes is Petaloudes, the Valley of the Butterflies, although any nature-lover will enjoy this unique experience. This attraction sees a myriad of beautiful butterflies colouring its skies and kids can follow them along the narrow streams, and over the rustic little bridges. The shaded walkways lead to rock pools and waterfalls, and carry a vanilla scent emanating from the local storax trees. The best time to visit the valley is after the rainy season (which ends in late May) when the high humidity in the area sees thousands of Jersey Tiger Moths, which are in fact butterflies despite their name, cover the landscape. They are attracted by the Oriental Sweet Gum trees in the area and can be found in the valley throughout the summer. The Valley of Butterflies is a natural park and a protected conservation area that is lovely to visit, even when the butterflies are not around. There is a small Natural History Museum at the entry to the valley, where visitors can learn more about this unique ecosystem.
Children love the Marine Aquarium on Rhodes Island, and will be enamoured by its diverse range of live Eastern Mediterranean specimens, which include sea flowers, turtles, octopuses and strange-looking decapods (crustaceans with 10 limbs). This venue has been used as an aquarium-museum and research station since 1963 and, as such, it displays an interesting collection of preserved and mounted marine specimens, as well as numerous scientific instruments. The aquarium is housed in an interesting Art Deco building that was designed by an Italian architect when the island was under Italian rule. It is officially known as the Hydrobiological Station of Rhodes and is far more than a museum; the station is a research centre and a rescue and rehabilitation centre for aquatic animals that works to re-release animals back into the wild once they have been sufficiently cared for and rested. The Marine Aquarium is a very well-respected institution, although it is not as big as many modern aquariums. The aquarium creates an underwater atmosphere that captivates visitors of all ages and the air conditioning ensures that it is a cool and refreshing place to be, especially on a hot summer day.
The coast of Samos has many beautiful beaches to enjoy as it is a large, lush island. There are at least 20 beaches that tourists and locals recommend. Mykali beach, south of Samos town, is covered in white pebbles and lapped by emerald waters and is one of the most popular beaches on the island. On the mountainous northwest coast of Samos, visitors will find the secluded Megalo Seitani beach, which can only be reached on foot and richly rewards those who make the extra effort. There are a few other beaches on the island that are inaccessible to cars and these tend to be the most private and secluded. The Vlendza beach, just outside the town of Avlakia, has good amenities including sunbeds and umbrellas, as well as a small tavern. Tsamadou beach lies just outside of Kokkari Town and is the only official nudist beach on the island. The best beach on Samos for children is Psili Ammos beach, as kids love to play in its warm, shallow waters and build sand castles on the shore. It is a very safe beach with calm waters. This long sandy strip also attracts migrant flamingos each year in December and the pink flocks are a delightful sight. There are also a couple of taverns nearby to enjoy. Psili Ammos beach is 35 miles (56km) southwest of Vathy.
The largest Greek temple ever built, the Temple of Hera was one of the essential sanctuaries of ancient Greece, and is now a great sightseeing attraction. It was built near the mouth of the Imvrasos river for worship of the goddess who, according to myth, was born and lived there. Only half of one of its 115 columns stands today, but the bases of the columns and other temple foundations are still visible so it is possible to imagine what the giant temple looked like. The Temple of Hera was constructed over a long period of time; it was added to, renovated or completely rebuilt a number of times over the centuries when it was destroyed by earthquakes or other means. The oldest building phase identified by archaeologists is the 8th century BC. The very large temple, the ruins of which we can see today, was known as the 'Polycrates Temple'. One of the giant statues from this site can still be seen in the Samos Archaeological Museum, which is a good complement to a trip to the temple ruins as it provides context and information. Unlike many other archaeological sites in Greece, however, there is some information given at the temple and visitors receive a free guide leaflet upon entry. This temple is not to be confused with the Temple of Hera at Olympus, where the Olympic Flame is lit for each Olympic Games.
One of the great attractions on Samos is the cave where Pythagoras lived and worked as a philosopher, mathematician, astrologer, doctor and musician. Very little is actually known for sure about Pythagoras but legend has it that he used the caves as a refuge from the tyranny of Polycrates. We know his teachings were mystical as well as mathematical as he was the founder of an esoteric religious movement known as Pythagoreanism. Although some tenets of this religious and philosophical movement are known, for the most part it too is somewhat shrouded in secrecy. Most of the caves are now open to the public. The site is made up of two caves and two chapels, with 'holy water' dripping from their stalactites, and was used for prayer and teaching as well as shelter. The cave is located on Mount Kerkis, an extinct volcano that forms the second-highest peak in the East Aegean, and although it is located near the base the climb may still be a bit difficult for some. The views from the cave are beautiful and there are some great photo opportunities. It is advisable to bring a bottle of water and sensible shoes for the rather steep walk.
The Ancient Theatre of Pythagorion sits just below Panagia Spiliani monastery's ruins. Its stage and some seats are all that remains. Still, these remnants hint at how grand the venue must have been in its time. Today, performers use the site for plays, as well as concerts and modern recitals. Historians and culture buffs should check the calendar for events. Otherwise, Pythagorion is the perfect Mediterranean escape, with a pretty harbour, gorgeous beaches, and the Mediterranean's oldest manmade port standing out as the town's highlights. Attractions in and around the port include the statue of Pythagoras, the Castle of Lykourgos, the Church of Metamorphosis, the Ephpalinos Tunnel and Roman Baths. Visitors who wish to explore a bit further can enjoy sailing excursions to other cities, villages, beaches and ancient sites. The town also has a vibrant nightlife.
Children love to visit these beautiful waterfalls on the northeast coast of Samos Island, although it is certainly not necessary to have children along to enjoy this scenic island attraction. Visitors should follow the road west from Karlovassi that leads towards the harbour, which will bring them to the pristine Potami Beach; just over a mile (2km) further visitors will reach a forest and lake, beyond which there is a series of waterfalls. The rambling walk along the river soon becomes an adventure through the forest leading to the waterfall. Swimming in the small lake is a great way for kids to cool off and there are lovely spots for the folks to sit and relax, or perhaps enjoy a picnic lunch. There are rock valleys and several lovely little pools and waterfalls to explore. There are some beautiful old trees, interesting rock formations and small bridges and visitors may even be lucky enough to spot some turtles or other animals. For the snap happy, this enchanting little forest provides many photo opportunities as well as fun for the whole family. There is no entry fee; visitors simply ramble into the forest from the beach and enjoy the waterfalls.
The castle of Lykourgos Logothetis is a magnificent example of defensive architecture. It is situated to the southwest of the port of Pythagorio, and was built at the beginning of the 19th century, playing a vital role in the Greek Revolution against Turkish rule. The castle was built, with the help of many locals, out of the remains of ancient buildings and monuments, to help repel the invaders and it became the headquarters of the revolutionary movement in Samos and the main asset in their defence against the Ottoman navy. It is named after the local leader of the revolution. There is a temple next door to the castle that commemorates the victory of 6 August 1824 when Samos successfully resisted an attack by the Turks. The anniversary is still celebrated at the church annually. Lykourgos has wonderful views and many interesting architectural features. The hill on which the castle is located may be the oldest acropolis in Samos, as a number of prehistoric artefacts have been discovered there, making the whole area captivating and rather mysterious. Kids will probably enjoy exploring the castle as much as adults, so it makes a good excursion for the whole family.
The beaches of Santorini are unlike other Greek beaches and have special and dramatic geological features such as black shining pebbles and unique land formations, coloured by black, white and red sands. The beaches tend to be coves surrounded by steep cliffs that add to their beauty. The waters are deep though, so visitors should be cautious. The Red beach is possibly the most famous and is located near the village and ancient site of Akrotiri. It is popular because of the stunning volcanic slabs and colour of its sand, although the sand is not comfortable to sit on so the sun loungers on the beach are necessary. Perissa beach, just southeast of Fira, is another favourite and has an impressively long, black sandy beach with an enormous rock rising out of the sea. For those who prefer a quiet and unspoilt beach environment, Cape Columbo is one of Santorini's most beautiful and most isolated beaches. The waves here are rougher though so beware of a more dangerous sea. The southeastern beaches of Monolithos, Avis and Kamari are family favourites. At Monolithos beach kids love the football pitch, basketball court and play area. Trees at the back of the beach provide shaded respite from the sun, and there are also snacks available on the beach.
The island of Skopelos has plenty of beautiful beaches for visitors to enjoy; in fact, it boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. Some of them may be recognisable from the film Mamma Mia, which was shot on the island. Most are shingle beaches lapped by clear blue waters, great for snorkelling, fishing and swimming. There are usually sunbeds and umbrellas available at the beach, and waterfront taverns nearby. It is ideal to hire a boat to sail to private, secluded coves at one's leisure, but by car or even bus one can still reach lots of great beaches. Favourite Skopelos beaches include Stafilos, which is just just under three miles (4km) from Skopelos town, and is a very pretty beach with a bar and a lifeguard. There is parking for cars and the bus does stop at this beach. Panormos is another favourite; the bay boasts one of the most beautiful, natural ports in the world and it is celebrated for its sunsets. Visitors should beware that the water on Panormos gets deep quite fast. Milia is considered by many to be the most attractive beach on the island; it is long and white and has pine forests descending all the way to the beach. The Amarandos coves are also a popular attraction.
The Folklore Museum of Skopelos is housed in a traditional building, its interior reminiscent of Skopelitian homes of the past. The museum exhibits local 19th and 20th-century artefacts focusing on three areas of handiwork practiced traditionally in Skopelos: embroidery, weaving, and handicraft work including ceramics, woodcarving, the making of knives, tools and agricultural implements, and folk art paintings. There are also nautical exhibits and model ships on display, illustrating the proud nautical history of the area. The museum has recreated rooms and outfits to give visitors an idea of how locals lived and looked in centuries past. It is a small but charming museum and should'nt take much time to explore; it is interesting to walk into this old house and become immersed in the belongings and skilled produce of past inhabitants. For those passionate about arts and crafts this is a must. As the collection is modern and not ancient, those tourists who wish to explore ancient Greece need not visit.
The National Marine Park of North Sporades is a great attraction for visitors to Skopelos. The park was the first designated Marine Park in the country and is currently one of the largest marine protected areas in Europe. Besides the open ocean, the park includes Alonnisos, six smaller islands (Peristera, Kyra Panagia, Gioura, Psathura, Piperi and Skantzoura), and 22 uninhabited islets and rocky outcrops. The waters are a conservation area as they are the breeding grounds for endangered Mediterranean monk seals. There are also a number of dolphin and whale species in the area, including the striped dolphin and the long-finned pilot whale. The park is very beautiful and there is lots to explore. One of the most popular and beautiful beaches is Agios Dimitrios, a pebble beach with stunning turquoise water, which has been voted several times as one of the most lovely beaches in the world. There are many wonderful beaches to explore in the park and several great walking paths. On Alonnisos visitors will find Patitiri port, from where many boats depart to all the beaches of the island as well as the rest of the islands of the Marine Park, where access is permitted. Some areas are kept completely free from human influence.
Located on the northwest coast of Thassos is the major port of Skala Prinos. Each Monday morning, locals and tourists wander through the Prinos Sreet Market. The market offers a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as a good assortment of nuts. Leather goods are also available from the market, as well as shoes and clothes. As with most markets of this kind there are seldom changing rooms to use for trying on clothes so shoppers have to try on what they can at the stall, or guess their size. The market is small enough to feel quaint and friendly but large enough to have a good bustle and selection of goods. Skala Prinos also has some really lovely sandy beaches with shallow, clear, calm waters which are perfect for children and have great views of the mainland. It is wonderful to pop to one of the beaches after a quick exploration of the market for a refreshing swim.
The history of Thassos is uncovered at the Museum Theologos, set in an old mansion that was the home of the mountain village's former mayor, Mr Chatzigeorgiou. The mayor played an essential role in the revolution against the Turks that took place on the island in 1821. Exhibits include displays of olive presses, flour mills, tools, looms and chests from the 18th century, as well as some wonderful pictures. The museum is only one interesting aspect of this fascinating old town, situated up in the mountains. It is worth visiting just to stroll through the picturesque streets and stumble over all the evidence of antiquity. Theologos used to be the most important village on the island and was both the political and economic centre of Thassos, which is why the museum is situated here. Theologos was declared a cultural capital by the Greek government in 1979, which means that construction or alteration to existing buildings is limited to preserve the authentic old architecture. The village has also preserved many folk traditions and still produces its own olives, vegetables, alcohol and lamb, so that when visitors have a meal at the local taverna, they will almost certainly be eating local produce.
Most visitors to Thassos are drawn by the stunning white sandy beaches on the east cost of this island. The more popular beaches have all the required tourist amenities, but despite this the beaches have retained their natural beauty and have not been ruined by crowds or infrastructure. The largest and most popular beach is Chrissi Ammoudia (Golden Beach), a sweeping strech of white sand that is set against the towering slopes of Mount Ipsario, which rises to 1,200m (4,000 ft). Tripiti Beach, on the south of the island, is known for its natural bathtub and a cave leading to the Aegean Sea. It is a big beach, quite far from the main town, and boasts rich marine life in its waters. Livadi is popular with campers and backpackers and is a protected cove. Makriammos is a beautiful, long, sandy beach and is a favourite for many; it is also home to some great mussels. Pefkari has bars, taverns and a small kiosk, and watersports include banana boat rides, jet-skiing and paragliding. The nudist beach of Paradise is one of the most beautiful on the island, as the name suggests. It is not exclusively a nudist beach but nudity is tolerated. The eastern beaches are the calmest and Scala Potamia and Golden Beach are two of the best for small kids as they are sandy with shallow, calm waters.
Zante is renowned for unspoilt beaches and rich marine life and it is a great island for nature-lovers. The beaches on the island are also known for their beautiful emerald green water. The region of Vassilikos has some of the best beaches on the island and a favourite is St Nicholas, which has great watersports facilities. Gerakas is also very popular, voted one of Greece's best beaches. Gerakas is a long, sandy beach with lovely and unusual rock formations. Many of the holiday resorts have their own beaches for visitors to enjoy, and these are the Zante beaches with the best amenities; generally the beaches do not have restaurants and bars because their lack of development is their greatest attraction. The Kalamaki, Porto Zoro and Laganas beaches are all beautiful. Loggerhead sea turtles can be seen at Laganas Bay, home to the National Marine Park. Navagio beach is also a great favourite, famous for its shipwreck: the 'Panagiotis' was wrecked in 1982 while smuggling a large cargo of cigarettes and trying to evade a customs patrol in stormy weather. There is a view point (of somewhat dubious stability) from which the wreck can be seen, and there are also boat trips available to the beach where the ship lies.
Located near a picturesque village called Volimes, the Blue Caves are one of Zakynthos Island's best-loved attractions. Only accessible by boat, these striking rock formations put on an unforgettable show. Essentially, the caves capture and reflect light in a marvellous variety of blues; visitors will enjoy the best displays at sunrise, sunset, or from under water while scuba diving. Oftentimes, visitors can enjoy round-island boat trips that include the caves and Navagio Beach, with its famous shipwreck. Small, 25-passenger boats are generally more pleasant than 300-seaters, as they can sail into the caves, which is a magical experience.
Marathonisi is a small island in Laganas Bay, completely unspoilt by human inhabitants. There are two main beaches on this island: the white sands of the larger beach are the nesting area of the endangered Caretta Caretta (Loggerhead) sea turtle; and the smaller pebble beach is home to a couple of interesting sea caves. Visitors can swim into these caves, or paddle a boat around them, and they create a snorkeller's paradise. The Monachus sea seal, also an endangered species, also visits the island to reproduce and visitors may even be lucky enough to see some of these rare animals. The natural pine, olive and green oak forests on the island are another beautiful attraction. There is no development on the island, which is part of the National Marine Park, and visitors are advised to take water and supplies for the day. There is a little picnic snack boat that circles the island and provides refreshments to visitors, but it is best for visitors to assume they will be fending for themselves while they are on the deserted island. The National Park ensures that the beach is empty of people by sunset so that the turtles, who come ashore at night, are not disturbed.
Nymphes is a big village with a unique and colourful history. Legend has it that the mythical nymphs would come to bathe in the village's waterfalls, giving lucky humans a chance to catch a glimpse. Nymphs were nature spirits in Greek mythology and were usually portrayed as beautiful, female guardians of nature. There were different kinds and the ones at Nymphes would have been Naiads, guardians of springs and rivers. Nowadays travellers can still walk to and enjoy the scenic waterfalls and wells in this lush setting; it is easy to imagine the nymphs in this magical landscape. Other attractions in Nymphes include the nearby monastery of Askitario, where, according to local tradition, the monk Artemios Paissios lived in the 5th century and worked many miracles. The Agriculture Co-operative is also interesting and it produces fruit, and liqueurs and sweets made mostly from the kum-kuat fruit. They will allow visitors to sample their wares free of charge and, if visitors find something they like, they can buy it; these local treats make for good souvenirs. Other lovely villages to visit on Corfu include Kynopiastes, Lakones and Roda.
Made popular again by the 2006 film 300, the ancient city of Sparta sits in the middle of the Plains of Laconia in the Peloponnese, which is one of the most historic regions in the world. Sparta emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC and by 650 BC was rising to be a dominant military power in ancient Greece. It was recognised as the leader of the Greek forces in the Greco-Persian Wars, from which Greece eventually emerged victorious but at great cost to Sparta, and many other city-states. By 146 BC Sparta had lost its independence to Roman conquest. The Spartans were fiercely militaristic and their whole way of life was centred around military training and prowess. The Spartans were a legendary military force, and are still referenced in military strategy. At the archaeological site visitors can view the excavations and ruins and visit the tomb of King Leonidas, the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, and the Sparta Archaeological Museum in town, as well as view a number of ruins and ancient churches in nearby Mystras. The famous battlefield of Thermopylae can also still be visited and there are several monuments there to the Spartan force that was wiped out after extreme feats of prowess and bravery, including a monument to King Leonidas.
Santorini is a large wine-producing region, which was helped along by a volcanic explosion in 1650 BC. The vines on the island are very old, and are trained into a distinctive basket shape to protect them from the elements. Wine has been grown in the region since ancient times and has been renowned since as early as the Middle Ages, when the Venetians made it famous; the Italian influence is still detectable in the wine tradition of Santorini today. One of the grapes that the region is known for is the sweet Vin Santo (or vinsanto), which is dried in the sun before use. The blended rose from white grapes such as Athiri, Aidini and Assyrtiko, and red grapes such as Mandelaria, is also highly acclaimed. There are a number of great wineries on the island. Antoniou is very popular, particularly for weddings, and Boutari is the largest vineyard in the region. Sigalas, which has spectacular views from their patio, is a lovely place to while away a day, and Volcan has a Wine Museum that will interest fanatics interested in the production process and history of the area.
The Museum of Pre-Historic Thera has displays of many archaeological finds from the excavations at Akrotiri, including Neolithic pottery from as far back as 3300 BC. The exhibits attempt to show life in prehistoric times, with tools, metalworkings, pottery, furniture, and other artefacts on display. The exhibition is laid out in four parts: the history of research at Thera; the geology of Thera; the island's history from the Late Neolithic to the Late Cycladic I period (early 17th century BC); and the heyday of the city at Akrotiri (mature Late Cycladic 1 period, 17th century BC). Visitors should look out for the gold ibex figurine and the magnificent wall paintings, or frescoes, of Ladies and Papyri and of the Blue Monkeys. A visit to this small but interesting museum is a great complement to exploring the archaeological site of Akrotiri as it provides context and displays the impressive artefacts discovered at the site. Often tour guides will combine the site and the museum. The museum is well-organised and informative and offers a lot of good background information; it consistently rates well with tourists in reviews.
Voted one of Europe's most beautiful beaches, and voted 12 times as the most beautiful beach in Greece, Myrtos is one of Cephalonia's most popular attractions. The pebble beach is set a full kilometre below the road, in a dramatic vista of white limestone, turquoise sea, and green trees. The beach was used as the setting for scenes out of the movie Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Just north of Argostoli, the beach is well-maintained and offers a snack bar and sunbed and umbrella rentals. A steep, winding road, with stunning lookout spots and views along the way, leads down to the beach from the village of Divarata and, during peak season, there is a public bus service that runs to the beach from the Agia Efimia harbour. Because of the pebbles, visitors are advised to wear some kind of beach shoes. It's best to get to the beach early if visitors are driving themselves, as it is very popular and parking can become scarce later in the day. Thankfully, the beach itself seldom feels too crowded because of its length. It is not the best beach for young children, as the waves can get rather rough and little ones are sometimes frustrated by the pebbles.
Cephalonia's caves are popular attractions, each offering a unique experience. In Melissani, visitors are taken in boats through a small channel into a brilliant turquoise subterranean lake. In Greek mythology caves have always been associated with the divine and many religious ceremonies were held in caves. It is therefore not surprising that several ancient artefacts have been found in the Melissani cave. Melissani is said to be the place where the nymph of the same name committed suicide because the god Pan would not reciprocate her love. The stalactites within the cave that look like dolphins are said to be her frozen messengers. It is a beautiful and mysterious place to visit. Drogarati Cave is much larger and has tours 200 feet (60m) below the ground, with lights highlighting spectacular displays of limestone stalagmites and stalactites. The Drogarati Cave is thought to be about 150 million years old and was traditionally said to be the home of a dragon. Drogarati is known for its good acoustics, and has hosted many concerts from international artists including Maria Callas. The caves are usually both open between Easter and the end of October, although Drogarati may be open during the winter months as well. Both are very well known and easy to find.
The tiny island of Ithaca has a rich history, acting as the scenic backdrop for mythological epics such as Homer's Odyssey. Ithaca has been inhabited since the second millennium BC and has been occupied or ruled by the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Normans, the Turks, the Venetians and the French, as well as briefly being a British protectorate, so the island has a rich and rather tumultuous history. But visitors would not think so when exploring the lovely countryside: the mountainous interior hides pockets of cypresses, pines, and olive trees and some of these are ancient; one of the olive trees is thought to be at least 1,500 years old. There are also some Neolithic and Early Hellenic ruins on the island. Nowadays, Ithaca is home to a number of traditional villages, with a few museums and beaches. The best beach is arguably Filiatro, which has olive trees growing all the way down to the shoreline and a peaceful bay which is lovely for swimming. Vathy, also known as Ithaki Town, is the largest town, where many of the island's roughly 3,000 inhabitants live. The town is a popular port for yachts and other small pleasure cruises in the Ionian Islands, and has some good restaurants and shops. In fact, Vathy has one of the largest natural harbours in the world. Ithaca is near enough to Cephalonia to make for a fun and interesting excursion or weekend away.
Aegina is the closest Saronic Gulf Island to Athens. As such, it's almost one of the city's suburbs, offering cosmopolitan shops, restaurants and accommodation. Formed largely from an extinct volcano, the island was once the training place of Achilles' elite fighting unit, the Myrmidons. Today, it boasts a buffet of cultural attractions. The well-preserved Temple of Aphaia and the monastery at Agios Nektarios are time-honoured favourites. Visitors can also enjoy the pretty town of Perdika, though it's likely to be busy during peak season. By ferry, the rugged island is around 40 minutes away from Piraeus port, and is a wonderful setting for seaside holidays.
Considered the most beautiful island in the Saronic Gulf, Hydra has a number of pretty towns with not a high-rise building or noisy car in sight thanks to zealous development restrictions. The island is not named for the mythical beast, the Hydra, but comes from the Greek word for water and pays tribute to the natural springs on the island. Hydra port is the main village and the pretty, crescent-shaped harbour has some great restaurants, shops and galleries to entertain visitors. Steep and quaint stone streets lead upwards from the port, pebbled beaches ring Hydra's impressive mansions of wealthy Athenians, and there are worthwhile cultural attractions such as the Cathedral of Hydra and the Hydra Museum. Other villages and hamlets on the island include Mandraki, Kamini, Vlychos, Palamidas, Episkopi and Molos but as no cars are allowed the only methods of transport are donkeys, bicycles and your own two feet. This adds to the charm of the place and it is wonderful to walk or ride around the island. Though the island is very beautiful, its longstanding reputation as a weekend getaway spot has obliterated most traditional ways of life in favour of catering to tourists.
The ancient name of Poros was Pogon and it is actually an island-pair inclusive of Sphairia, the southern, volcanic island where the modern city is located, and Kalaureia, the larger, northern island. A bridge connects the two islands. Poros, separated from the Peloponnase by only a few hundred metres, is a quiet, wooded island with scenic pine, olive and lemon groves and a pretty monastery, as well as two good beaches at Askeli and Neorio. It is lush and mountainous and a popular weekend getaway for locals and tourists. Graves on Poros have been dated to the Mycenaean period and evidence suggests that the island-pair have been inhabited since the Bronze Age. The Archaeological Museum is worth a visit and houses findings from the Sanctuary of Poseidon and other nearby ancient sites. The city's main landmark is the clock tower built in 1927 and other attractions include Bourtzi Castle, built around 1828, and the original site of the Sanctuary of Poseidon which dates to roughly 520 BC. The presence of a naval training base means that Poros Town's waterfront area is often lively and crowded at night. However, many visit Poros simply to relax and enjoy the lovely scenery and beaches.
Spetses is a popular weekend destination in the Saronic Gulf, with towns full of white-washed mansions and fragrant pine forests. Catering more for wealthy travellers than package tourists, the island's gently rolling hills are good for hiking, and intrepid explorers will find good swimming holes and beaches. The island's little port of Dapia, the first impression visitors get of Spetses, is surrounded by whitewashed, Neoclassical houses and ringed by smart cafés and stylish boutiques. The highlight of the season in Spetses is the celebration of the Panaghia Armata, which re-enacts an 1822 naval battle between the Greek forces and the Turkish Armada. Although the island is now as peaceful as they come, cannons still line the promenade as testament to its proud militaristic past. Part of Spetses's appeal is that the island remains comparatively undiscovered and travellers still get the feeling of being somewhere authentic, instead of touristy. Cars are banned from the central town area so locals still use horse-drawn carriages and bicycles to get around which adds to the charm. Spetses is quite a pricey island, thanks to the upper-class Athenians who retreat here for holidays, but it is a very rewarding one.
Paleokastritsa is one of the most beautiful villages on the beautiful Corfu and it is frequently included in tours of the island. This resort area is on the west coast of Corfu island about 16 miles (26km) from Corfu Town and consists of six lovely coves with sandy beaches, surrounded by green forests and olive trees. There is a variety of accommodation here for those who choose to stay. The local tavernas, clustered around the waterfront, are renowned for serving up the town's delicious lobster catches, and there are a few bars and clubs that provide after hours entertainment. There is a monastery, dating from 1228, on the promontory about a mile from the beach with a surprisingly nice selection of gifts and handcrafted souvenirs. In one of the cells of the monastery a small museum has been founded that exhibits the holy relics of the monastery. Magnificent views are obtained from the monastery complex and the hills above, particularly from the village of Lakones. A medieval castle, Angelokastro, overlooks the area, sitting on a hilltop which can be reached by a very scenic drive via the village of Lakones, or on foot, though the walk is arduous. There are several nearby villages worth visiting, and Paleokastritsa is a good base from which to explore Corfu.
Greek Phrase Book
|Me lene||My name is...||meh leh-nee|
|Poso kani...||How much is...?||poh-soh kah-nee|
|Pou ine?||Where is...?||poo ee-neh|
|Milas Anglika?||Do you speak English?||mee-lahs Ang-lee-kah?|
|Den Katalaveno||I don t understand||then kah-tah-lag-veh-no|
|Ena, dio, tria, tessera, pende||One, two, three, four, five||eea, theeow, treeah, tesserah, pen-de|
|Thelo Yiatros||I need a doctor||Thelo Yia-tros|
Greece's Mediterranean climate gives it long, hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Summer temperatures are tempered by breezes called 'Meltemia', and the Etesian wind which blows north across the Aegean Sea. Rainfall is generally low in most of the country and heaviest in the mountainous regions, where snow is likely and temperatures can get severe. Mercury on the mainland regularly hits the high spots.
Summer (between June and August) is Greece's peak holiday season and draws millions of beach lovers to its gorgeous coastline. Autumn is pleasant for travellers who prefer smaller crowds and milder conditions, while winter (December to February) sees the coldest, most variable weather and is the least popular time to visit. Travellers looking to explore Greece's cultural and historical attractions should not be put off by the winter months.
Daphne's is one of the most exclusive restaurants in Athens. Generally on the calendar for visiting celebrities and dignitaries, the establishment serves classic and traditional meals in an idyllic setting of tables positioned around a converted mansion home and a pleasant courtyard.
Tucked neatly into a cosy and intimate corner of Athens, this French bistro delights palates with a small list of French staples. Customers are expected to share benches with others during busy hour, making for a fun way to meet locals.
Voted Greece's best restaurant by the 'Athinorama' Golden Chef's Hat Award on multiple occassions, Spondi will drain wallets but fill stomachs and leave guests wanting more. Operating from a charming 19th-century townhouse with an open courtyard, the venue has a sense of grandeur tempered by friendly service.
Taverna Tou Psiri is delightfully un-touristy and a favourite among locals. Travellers can expect decent, no-frills traditional food.
Situated in the Plaka area, Giouvetsakia offers authentic, pocket-friendly Greek cuisine. The small family-run restaurant is known for its specialty, Giouvetsi, which is a hearty lamb stew done with orzo in a red sauce. Guests receive a complimentary fruit dish after any meal.
Vlassis is extremely popular among locals. The restaurant relies on traditional recipes from northern Greece and the islands, plus gourmet Mediterranean creations. Pricing is reasonable.
Offering seafood with a uniquely Greek twist, Chef Lefteris Lazaro creatively combines various Greek wines and olive oil in his exquisite creations. Situated in the city centre with a striking view of the Acropolis, this is affluent dining at its best.
Located in Athens, Oroscopo wins over tourists with its range of traditional and international dishes. All food is prepared with pure Greek ingredients.
The official currency is the euro (EUR), which is divided into 100 cents. All major credit cards are accepted and ATMs are widespread.
Greek is the national language, but English is widely spoken.
Electrical current is 230 volts and 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use, including the European-style two-pin and the round three-pin.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid three months beyond the period of intended stay. No visa is required for a touristic stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
UK nationals: British passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, only need to be valid for period of intended stay in Greece. All other endorsements require at least three months validity beyond the period of intended stay in Greece.
UK nationals: A visa is not required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days in a 180 day period for holders of passports with any other endorsement.
UK nationals: Holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar authorities, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom', do not require a visa to visit Greece.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Greece. No visa is required for a touristic stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Greece. No visa is required for a touristic stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay, and a valid Schengen visa, to enter Greece.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid on arrival in Greece. No visa is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Greece. No visa is required for a touristic stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. All of these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries.
Non-EEA travellers to Greece must hold visible means of financial support to cover their stay in the country. It is also recommended that non-EEA members hold return or onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Passengers not holding onward tickets may be asked for proof of sufficient funds for their return or onward journey. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are no specific health risks but everyone 12 years of age and older should get fully vaccinated for COVID-19 before visiting Greece. Most health problems come from too much sun and too much food or alcohol, though there's also the risk of encountering sea urchins, jellyfish and mosquitoes. Medical facilities in major cities are excellent but some of the smaller islands are a long way from a decent hospital. Larger towns and resorts have English-speaking private doctors and the highly professional local pharmacies can usually deal with any minor complaint. Travellers should take along any necessary prescription medication. Food and water are safe, but those visiting for short periods should consider sticking to bottled water. After Brexit, the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for UK citizens. The GHIC allows UK citizens access to state healthcare during visits to the EU. The GHIC is not valid in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, nor is it an alternative to travel insurance.
A service charge is automatically added to most restaurant bills and an additional tip is not expected, though it's always welcome. Rounding up the bill is sufficient for drinks at cafes; taxis, porters and cloakroom attendants will expect a tip.
Though Greece is a safe destination, peak tourist season usually sees a spike in petty theft cases, especially in crowded areas. Visitors should conceal valuables or store them in hotel safes and watch out for pickpockets. Violent crime is rare but there have been incidents on some islands; visitors travelling alone should not accept lifts from strangers.
Though more traditional than the British in some ways, most Greeks are friendly and welcoming enough to seem intrusive to reserved British tourists. Greeks are also the heaviest smokers in Europe and will often ignore the smoking ban in public places. Swimwear is expected on the beach but tourists should dress properly in bars and restaurants.
Greeks prefer to dress formally in dark-coloured suits for men and stylish outfits for women. Punctuality is important to them though meetings may not start immediately. Visitors should offer a firm handshake and maintain eye contact when greeting Greek men and women for the first time, and print business cards in both Greek and English. There is no ritual surrounding the exchange of business cards.
As Greeks like getting to know their colleagues before conducting any serious business, it's unlikely a deal will take shape at the first meeting. The local culture follows a hierarchical structure and visitors should show respect in the same way. Gift giving is common in social settings but not necessarily in business.
The international access code for Greece is +30 and the outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). Free WiFi is available at cafes, hotels, restaurants and similar establishments throughout Greece; purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option to paying high international roaming costs.
Travellers visiting from inside the EU can bring in 800 cigarettes, or 200 cigars, or 400 cigarillos, or 1kg of tobacco, 10 litres of spirits with an alcohol volume over 22 percent, 20 litres of spirits with an alcohol volume under 22 percent, 90 litres of wine and 110 litres of beer.
Visitors arriving from outside the EU and are over the age of 17 will not pay duty for 200 cigarettes, or 50 cigars, or 100 cigarillos, or 250g of tobacco, 1 litres of spirits with an alcohol volume over 22 percent, 2 litres of spirits with an alcohol volume under 22 percent, 4 litres of wine and 16 litres of beer.
Greek National Tourism Organisation, Athens: +30 21 870 7000.
Greek Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 939 1300.
Greek Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7313 5600.
Greek Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 6271.
Greek Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6271 0100.
Greek Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 348 2352.
Greek Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 676 7254.
Greek Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 473 7775.
United States Embassy, Athens: +30 21 721 2951.
British Embassy, Athens: +30 21 727 2600.
Canadian Embassy, Athens: +30 21 727 3400.
Australian Embassy, Athens: +30 21 870 4000.
South African Embassy, Athens: +30 21 617 8020.
Irish Embassy, Athens: +30 21 723 2771.
New Zealand Consulate-General, Athens: +30 21 692 4136.
Locals and visitors love Cape Sounion. Around 43 miles (69km) east of Athens, the popular seaside resort is famous in Greek Mythology. Its best-known feature is the 5th-century BC Temple of Poseidon. Perched on the cliffs above the town, it's said to be where King Aegeus waited for his son, Theseus, who'd left to slay the Minotaur of Crete. The story goes that Theseus hoisted the wrong colour sail on his return, convincing his father he'd died fighting the Minotaur. In his grief, the king threw himself from the cliffs and gave the Aegean Sea its name. Visitors can enjoy some beautiful views from the temple; the cape's coastline is worth exploring and its restaurants are good.
This great Byzantine architectural masterpiece dates from the 11th century AD and has been called the most perfect monument of that century. The monastery was built on the site of an ancient Temple of Apollo and one surviving column can be seen near the entrance. It is situated about five and a half miles (9km) west of Athens on the road to Corinth. The church and monastery have suffered the ravages of invaders and earthquakes through the centuries. During the Crusades Cistercian monks turned Daphni into a Catholic monastery, but today it has been reclaimed by the Greek Orthodox Church and its beautiful mosaic work depicting Biblical scenes has been restored. In between the monastery has had an eventful history; during the War of Independence it was officially deconsecrated and used as a barracks and even as a lunatic asylum. The monastery was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. Tragically, the monastery was heavily damaged by the 1999 Athens earthquake and is still not completely open to visitors as restoration work continues with no set date of completion. However, travellers can still visit the monastery and see the mosaics through all the scaffolding.
About 26 miles (42km) northeast of Athens, between the villages of Nea Makri and Marathona, is the site of the great battle between the small force of Athenians and the mighty Persian army in 490 BC. On the plain of Marathon today the burial mound of the 192 Athenians who fell in the fight can be seen, along with a small museum displaying archaeological relics from the battlefield. The battle is famed not only for the Athenian victory against huge odds, but also for the fleetness of the Athenian runner, Pheidippides, who was dispatched to Athens with news of the victory and fell dead from exhaustion after delivering the message to the city; thus the name 'Marathon' was given to long-distance running races. The marathon race in the 2004 Olympics started here, and followed the same route as that run by Pheidippedes in the legend, ending at the Panathinaikon Stadium in Athens, which was built for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Marathon remains one of the most famous battlefields in the world and a visit to the site is a must for anybody with an interest in military history.
Situated on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, Delphi was home to Classical Greece's most important oracle. The country's ancient people visited the site to worship the god Apollo. Pilgrims came from all over the Classical Greek world to seek Apollo's advice via his oracle. The area also hosted the Pythian Games. Held every four years, they attracted famous athletes from all over Ancient Greece. They were one of the four Panhellenic games, which are considered precursors of the modern Olympics. Today, travellers hike up the Sacred Way much as ancient pilgrims did, and marvel at the site's fantastic ruins. They include the marble Sanctuary of Apollo, the Castalian Spring and the Sanctuary of Athena. Many visit the site's excellent museum. Scenically, Delphi is spectacular and presents enviable photographic opportunities. It's ideal to stay overnight, as the site is extensive.
The Saronic group of islands are all within an hour or two of Piraeus by boat, making them ideal destinations for day trips from the city for those who want to experience a taste of Greek island life. Alternatively, visitors can use the islands as tranquil bases on which to stay while commuting to Athens to see the sights. Aegina is the closest island, sporting a sandy beach called Agia Marina, and a quaint fishing village called Perdika. Hydra has no sandy beaches, but the town is picturesque and offers good seafood restaurants. Poros can be reached from Piraeus in little more than an hour and sports beautiful forests that descend to the beach. It offers watersports opportunities and a lively café scene, as well as being a ferry hub offering connections to all the popular Aegean islands. Spetsi has an attractive old harbour and one of the oldest wooden boat-building yards in Greece. It is also renowned for its beaches and pine forests. Piraeus port may be a little confusing or overwhelming at first but it is also exciting and the boat trips to the islands are usually wonderful experiences in themselves.
Only men are welcome to make a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, the secretive 'Shangri-La' on a rugged promontory about 80 miles (129km) southeast of Thessaloniki. Here it is possible to step back in time and mingle with hundreds of monks, from more than 20 monasteries, in one of the most scenic spots in Europe. This unique, mountainous enclave on the coast is sprinkled with huge monasteries, most resembling castles, containing wonderful frescoes, mosaics and libraries. There are also smaller monasteries known as kelions attached to small churches, as well as caves on the mountain slopes where monks retreat as hermits. There are forests and pristine seashore, and beautiful gardens cared for by the monks. It is a truly astounding area to explore and there is nowhere quite like it in the world; unsurprisingly, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mount Athos is a self-governing area within Greece, and to visit, it is necessary to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens, or from the Ministry of Northern Greece in Thessaloniki. Women will unfortunately be unable to obtain such a permit, and the amount of visitors allowed daily is limited.
Vergina, known in ancient times as Aigai, is the most important of a cluster of three archaeological sites in the area connected with Philip, father of Alexander the Great. Vergina is where Philip built a massive palace and a theatre, and where he was assassinated in 336 BC. The palace has been excavated, as has the theatre, and the site also features hundreds of burial mounds, some dating from the Iron Age, across the plain. The tomb of Philip was found here undisturbed in 1977, full of treasures that are now on display in Thessaloniki's Archaeological Museum. The vast palace is full of amazing mosaics and paintings and is really exciting to explore, as are the tombs, which are surrounded by a museum and can be seen in all their ancient splendour. The site of ancient Aigai has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a privilege to explore for those with an interest in ancient history and archaeology. Nearby is Pella, the remains of the former capital of Macedonia from the 5th century, where Alexander the Great was born; and Dion, an important religious sanctuary once frequented by Philip and Alexander.
Towering above ancient Dion, about 48 miles (77km) south of Thessaloniki, is Greece's highest mountain, Mount Olympus, home to some of the famed Gods of Greek mythology. Olympus was the residence of the divine family, the twelve most important ruling gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, who therefore were called the Olympians. Olympus was not heaven but a dwelling place of the gods. The mountain is rich in tree and plant life, supporting more than 1,700 species, some very rare, and it is part of a National Park and a World's Biosphere Reserve. The main village in the area is Litohoro, which is connected to Athens and Thessaloniki by bus and train, and has been nicknamed the 'City of Gods' due to its location beneath the mountain. It is possible to climb the highest peak in about two days, and almost the whole hike is non-technical and can be done without experience or special equipment, along numerous mountain trails. However, the final ascent to the summit of Mytikas, the highest of Mount Olympus's 52 peaks, is a class 3 rock scramble and requires some skill and experience. About 10,000 people climb the mountain every year but most only reach the Skolio summit. Hikers generally set out from Litochoro.
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