4 of the Best Islands to Explore in Greece

Over the last five years, the country of Greece has seen a steady increase in the number of international tourists who visit each year, a trend that industry experts believe will continue in 2018. This is due in part to the Greek National Tourism Organization’s development strategy to bring in new visitors. However, tourists choose Greece as their preferred vacation destination for all that it has to offer: ancient history, rich culture, beautiful, varied landscapes.

While many visitors are drawn to the historical allure of renowned mainland cities like Athens, one of the most enticing options for people who wish to plan a vacation in Greece is the prospect of visiting one of the 6,000 islands located across the Ionian and Aegean Seas. With only 227 of these 6,000 are inhabited, below are eight of the most popular islands for visitors from around the world.

 

  1. Santorini

Also known as Thira, Santorini has a rich background, both historically and according to Greek myth. Archaeological evidence suggests that a civilization existed on the island as far back as 3600 B.C., and that a Minoan colony once settled on its shores. According to Greek mythology, Santorini was a miracle island created when a man named Euphemus threw a clod of earth taken from the island of Anaphe into the sea. Santorini is built on a caldera that resulted from a massive volcanic explosion in 1600 B.C., but today it exists as the third most popular tourist destination in the country.

Santorini

The tourist season runs between April and November every year. Visitors enjoy exploring its black sand beaches, exploring its clifftop towns and villages, and taking in views of romantic sunsets over the Aegean Sea from anywhere on the island. Oia, a village located on the island’s northern tip, is known specifically for its views of the sunset, and is an excellent place to get away if couples are looking for a romantic vacation spot.

 

  1. Naxos

Less popular among tourists than its neighbor Santorini (but no less beautiful) is the island of Naxos, also located in the group of islands known as the Cyclades. Greek myths state that Naxos was the location of the nuptials of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus, and accordingly, the island is home to a sanctuary honoring the god.

Naxos

Naxos appeals to tourists who wish to get some distance from the ultra-modern, nightlife-heavy scene prevalent on some of the more popular islands, and who are instead interested in experiencing some of the more traditional elements of Greek culture. In addition to the beautiful, less crowded beaches located on the island’s west coast, Naxos also boasts ancient ruins, an ancient Venetian castle that hosts orchestral concerts, and horseback riding expeditions that lead visitors through local farmlands as well as beaches that run alongside seaside cliffs.

One of the best aspects of Naxos for the visitor looking to see a more authentic side of Greek life is the ability to visit any of the island’s 46 traditional villages, where locals sit together drinking coffee outside of cafes and fresh baklava is sold fresh from the bakery.

 

  1. Hydra

Located in the Saronic Gulf, Hydra is closer to Athens than almost any other island. As a result, it is a popular destination for locals looking to get out of Greece’s capital city for a weekend. It is known for its bohemian, artistic culture and has been visited by many celebrities in the 20th century, including writer Henry Miller, musician Leonard Cohen, and movie star Sofia Loren.

hydra

One thing that sets Hydra apart is the fact that the use of cars or any other motorized vehicle is banned on the island. Locals and visitors alike travel only by boat, by foot, or by donkey. Tourists on Hydra enjoy taking donkey tours to admire the monasteries, stone mansions and cobblestone streets of the island’s main town. They can also visit one of the island’s many impressive art and history museums. Hydra is also a popular place for yachting, and many tourists enjoy lunching as they watch boats come and go inside the harbor.

 

  1. Corfu

Corfu is a part of the Ionian Islands, and it is known as the “Grand Lady” of this Greek Island Group. Located farther west than most islands, Corfu historically has had a strong connection to Europe. This helped it become one of the first Greek islands to open itself up to tourism. European influence mingles with Greek tradition in Corfu’s cosmopolitan culture. Additionally, the lush nature of the foliage there means that the beaches are among the most beautiful of all the Greek islands.

Corfu

One of the best places for tourists to visit on Corfu is Old Town, which is home to two Venetian fortresses. Visitors can tour monasteries and medieval castles or visit Achillion Palace, which was constructed by the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in the late 19th century as a summer vacation home.

Another popular activity on Corfu is diving, and tourists have the opportunity to take classes, guided tours, or rent equipment to dive solo. Many locations along Corfu’s coasts give visitors the opportunity to explore coral reefs, including the Kassiopi, Pipitos, and Kalami Reefs.

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5 Amazing Cities and Towns to Visit on the Greek Mainland

When travelers plan a visit to Greece, many of them are drawn to the southern half of the country, interested in navigating its chain of islands via ferry. The natural and architectural beauty that characterizes islands like Santorini, Mykonos, and Corfu are undeniably can’t-miss sights. However, visitors may also want to consider what some of Greece’s most distinct and important mainland locations have to offer. Listed below are five mainland cities and towns that tourists should plan to visit during a trip to Greece.

 

  1. Thessaloniki

Greece

Located on the coast of the Aegean Sea in Macedonia, this city is the second largest in the entire country, with a bustling commercial district and a nightlife scene to match. It is one of the most modern cities in Greece, and it is also considered to be a hub for artistic talent, drawing in poets, musicians, philosophers, and visual artists from around the country.

In spite of the cosmopolitan nature of Thessaloniki’s culture, the city is old. It was founded in 316 B.C., and the ruins of ancient Greek, Byzantine, Ottoman, Roman, Balkan, and European architecture blend into the cityscape alongside modern buildings that stand as testament to its rich and varied history,

 

  1. Patras

To the southwest of Thessaloniki lies the city of Patras, a port town that serves as a hub for travelers who wish to ferry to the Ionian Islands and parts of Italy. Like Thessaloniki, Patras boasts a vibrant nightlife and is one of Greece’s premier cities of commerce, with many shopping districts and markets sure to thrill visitors.

Patra is also famous for being one of the best places in Greece to experience Carnival, the period preceding the observation of Lent each year. The Patras Carnival celebrations are the largest in the country, and they include art exhibitions, street performances, treasure hunts, music, costumes, and parades full of colorful, artistic floats.

 

  1. Pelion

pelion

Pelion is proof that travelers do not need to island-hop in order to see the most beautiful seascapes in Greece. “Pelion” actually refers to a lush, forested mountain region located on the country’s eastern peninsula, home to 20 picturesque villages. These include beach towns like Mylopotamos, Fakistra, and Agios Ioannis on the eastern side of the mountain facing the Aegean Sea, as well as more traditional mountain cities like Portaria, Makrinitsa, and Vizitsa, which boast stone-roofed buildings and other elegant architectural features.

In the summer, visitors can enjoy exotic sandy beaches and Greece’s famed crystal-blue water. Many towns in Pelion have opportunities for fishing and boating as well. In the winter, travelers may be drawn to the villages in Pelion located at higher elevations, where hiking trails and opportunities to connect with nature abound. The area also maintains several villages with ski resorts for athletic tourists who enjoy the snow.

 

 

  1. Nafplio

Located only two hours from the capital city of Athens, Nafplio is a waterfront town distinguished by the influence of the Venetian architectural movement on its buildings. As such, it is arguably one of the most romantic cities in Greece, with the older portions of the city featuring sunny cobblestone squares, streets mostly free of automobiles, quaint cafes, and authentic local shops and museums.

One of the most popular activities for couples who visit the city is taking a walk along the one-kilometer path known as the Arvanitia Promenade. It begins at the end of the shores of Nafplio, guides travelers around the high rock walls of the oldest portion of the city by the sea, and ends at the popular Arvanitia Square. In addition, Nafplio is home to some incredible medieval structures, including Palamidi Castle, the fortress known as Bourtzi, and Akronafplia fortress – the oldest castle in the city.

 

  1. Athens

athens

No list of Greek mainland destinations is complete without mentioning the cultural giant that is its capital city of Athens. Athens is an ancient city considered to be the cradle of Western civilization. Today, it functions as a busy, modern metropolis that is also home to some of the most famous historical sites in the world.

Here, travelers can marvel at the ancient buildings located within the Athenian Acropolis, including the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheion. To further explore ancient culture, visitors also may take in many of Athens’ renowned museums, including the National Archaeological Museum, the Acropolis Museum, and the Benaki Museum.

While a visit to the ancient ruins in Athens are a must-have experience for tourists, Athens also has many modern amenities and experiences to offer its visitors. The district of Monastiraki is an increasingly popular area of the city for tourists to purchase souvenirs. The area has a distinctly bohemian feel, and many hand-crafted local crafts, clothing, and antiques can be found there.

Athens is also an excellent place to experience Greek nightlife, with many popular bars in different settings and price ranges located throughout the city. Finally, though not typically known for its beaches, the Athens Riviera located in the southern suburbs offers visitors a great place to lounge on the beach, swim in the ocean, and sail to nearby islands.