Located in southeastern Europe, Greece is one of Europe’s most interesting and beautiful countries, attracting throngs of tourists every year. With fascinating culture, rich history, diverse landscapes, ancient ruins, whitewashed villages, stunning islands, and food that will knock your socks off, the country holds allure for every kind of traveler. It could take months of research to whittle down what to do. But, lucky for you, we have hand-picked the ten best places in Greece for your bucket list trip!
If you are traveling with children, here is a Greece family trip itinerary that you’ll want to see.
Note: in preparation for your trip, here are some easy Greek words you should get familiar with.
Halkidiki is a very popular tourist destination in northern Greece. Halkidiki has long been famed for its cosmopolitan seaside resorts, beautiful natural landscape, and Mediterranean forests that give way to sandy beaches in sheltered bays
Halkidiki hosts three peninsulas: Kassandra, Sithonia, and Athos. Kassandra, the westernmost peninsula, is the most developed, boasting lots of luxury resorts, nightclubs, and beaches. Sithonia is less organized and full of secluded coves and Athos is a private monastic community, where the entrance is allowed only via a special permit.
The region’s notable archaeological sites include Stageira, Aristotle’s birthplace, and Olynthus, known for its well-preserved mosaic floors. Mount Athos is a picturesque region with some of the area’s most beautiful beaches and impressive Byzantine monasteries.
Overlooking the Aegean Sea, Thessaloniki is Greece’s second-largest city and the capital city of the Macedonian region of Northern Greece. Stylish with lively social events, universities, and a buzzing nightlife make this city a must-visit. Even though Thessaloniki is reputed to have been the second most important city in the Byzantine Empire (after Constantinople), unfortunately, it is bypassed by tourists who head south to the larger capital of Athens.
The city’s old quarter is a mass of winding streets adorned by white-plastered houses and UNESCO-listed Byzantine churches, Roman monuments such as the Triumphal Arch of Galerius and the 4th-century Rotunda, the White Tower, Byzantine walls, and Turkish baths.
Thessaloniki is marked by the 15th-century White Tower on the seafront. The tower was part of the city walls when it belonged to the Ottoman Empire. As the city grew, most of the walls fell. The White Tower managed to resist the passage of time and in the 19th century, it was repurposed as a prison.
8 Ionian Islands
After the Cyclades and Crete, the Ionian Islands are the most popular island complex in Greece. Located on the western side of the country not far from Italy, this archipelago is historically and culturally connected to Italy. The Venetian architecture of the capital’s old towns is reminiscent of Medieval Italy.
There are many reasons to love the Ionian Islands, from a year-round temperate climate to dramatic landscapes, shimmering blue beaches, and jagged mountains. Inhabited since the Paleolithic Era, the Ionian Islands are jam-packed with cultural allures that give tourists a peek into Greece’s historic and mythological past.
Corfu, along with its rich cultural heritage and historic roots that go back to the 8th century BC, also boasts rugged mountains and some of the best emerald beaches in Greece. White sandy beaches like Paleokastritsa and Kassiopi are just a short drive from the Venetian capital Corfu Town. The capital is filled with Byzantine fortresses, neoclassical 19th-century British buildings, Parisian-style arcades, and Orthodox church towers. Corfu is also just a short ferry ride from Albania, which is also convenient.
Zakynthos is known for the world-famous Shipwreck Beach, the most exotic and photographed beach in the Ionian Islands. Lefkada’s highlight is that it’s the only island reachable by a land bridge, making it popular with people who are touring the mainland but want the experience of visiting at least one Greek Island.
Zagori, a region of superb natural beauty, is located in the Pindus Mountains in Epirus in northwestern Greece. Covering 620 square miles, it contains 46 traditional stone villages known as Zagorohoria which date back to the 18th century, dense forests, rugged mountains, powerful rivers, and incredibly crafted stone bridges that have stood the test of time.
Zagori is home to the impressive Vikos Gorge, the second deepest gorge in the world after the Grand Canyon. Rising to 3400 feet, the steep walls of the gorge provide visitors with spectacular panoramic views. The best way to enjoy the area is by hiking the scenic paths that connect the villages.
Second to the Acropolis in Athens, UNESCO World Heritage Site Delphi is Greece’s most popular archaeological site. Located about two and half hours from Athens, the crumbling ruins are perched on Mount Parnassus. The archaeological site dates from between the 8th century BC and the 2nd century AD and was once revered by the ancient Greeks as the center of the earth. Dedicated to the god, Apollo, Delphi was an important oracle.
Built on the lower slopes of Mount Parnassus, in ancient times people would make pilgrimages to the sacred Temple of Apollo to ask advice from the mythical and most famous Oracle of Greece on a wide range of topics from farming to relationships and politics. Significant ruins and structures at Delphi include the Temple of Apollo, the Athenian Treasury, the theater, and the hippodrome that once hosted events of the ancient Pythian Games.
Important sites within Delphi include the Treasury of Athens, the Treasury of Sifnos, the Treasury of Argos, the Delphi Stadium, the Chios Altar, the Delphi Theater, the Stoa of the Athenians, the Delphi Gymnasium, and the Temple of Athena Pronaia.
Here are some tips for visiting Delphi as a day trip from Athens.
Nafplio, on the Peloponnese Peninsula, was our favorite and most beautiful city in mainland Greece. Once the capital of Greece, Nafplio is the playground of Athens’ rich and famous.
The Ottomans, Byzantines, Venetians, and many more have all left their mark on this little seaside metropolis. Citadels and fortresses dot the hillsides giving Nafplio an enticing charm.
Nafplio is one of the most romantic towns in Europe. Our fantastic rental, Aggleliki Apartments, overlooked the old town below and gave us a daily sunrise so exploding with a kaleidoscope of vibrant color that we made it a point to wake up at the crack of dawn every morning to capture it. 137 steps located right outside our door took us directly into the heart of the old town. We loved this option as we headed out to dinner each night…not so much on the climb back with full bellies!
We loved exploring the pedestrian-only, narrow, winding streets of old town filled with neo-classical mansions, churches and overlooked by the 18th-century Venetian Palamidi Fortress. The seaside esplanade is a great place to sample delicious seafood as the sun goes down over the harbor.
There’s also Avanitia Beach, accessed by climbing to the ruins of Akronafplia Castle and then down to the beach. You can also access the beach by car, but where’s the fun in that?
Nafplio is an excellent base to explore other ancient sites in Pelopenes, such as Corinth, Mystra, and Mycenae.
A bucket-list destination for me, Meteora did not disappoint. Precariously perched on top of towering rock pillars, the surreal “hanging” monasteries were founded in the 14th century.
The Greek word meteora means “suspended in the air,” which expertly describes the spectacular cliffs that rise more than 1,200 feet into the air in the Pindus Mountains.
Meteora’s wild and inaccessible landscape was a refuge for Christian monks during the Ottoman occupation and many monks settled in the area, slowly creating beautiful monasteries.
Getting into the monasteries is not for the faint of heart, especially in the heat of summer. Ascending endless flights of stone steps carved into the rocks are required to reach the inside chambers and ethereal views over the area.
Meteora overlooks the town of Kalambaka, where we stayed. It’s a charming tiny town with lots of family-owned restaurants offering their delicious recipes which have been handed down for generations. I had the best moussaka in Greece here at a tiny family tavern, made by the elderly matriarch. Our budget-friendly hotel, Lithos Guesthouse, had a view of the Meteora right from our balcony – it doesn’t get any better than that and was one of the best places in Greece, dollar for dollar.
In this UNESCO site, of the total twenty-four monasteries that were built, only six have survived to this day:
- Megalos Meteoros (Great Meteor)
- Agios Stefanos (Saint Stefan)
- Agia Triada (Holy Trinity)
- Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas (Saint Nicholas)
Largest of the Greek Islands and birthplace of mythological Zeus, Crete’s stunning turquoise beaches, dramatic mountain gorges, charming harbor towns, and ancient archaeological sites make it the perfect destination for a diverse holiday. There is no better way to explore the treasure trove of fascinating attractions than via a Crete road trip.
A must-visit is the Old Town of Chania sitting on the Venetian harbor. Stroll through the narrow labyrinth of cobbled streets filled with shops and tavernas.
Located in the south of the Aegean Sea, the land of King Minos offers a glimpse through thousands of years of history at the Archaeological Palace of Knossos, an ancient settlement where the mysterious Minoan civilization strived for centuries, dating back to the Bronze Age. Knossos is considered Europe’s oldest city.
Crete has some of Greece’s most amazing natural attractions, such as the double lagoons of Balos, the pink sand beach of Elafonisi, and the Samaria Gorge – a 10-mile long canyon through forests of ancient cypress trees with vertical cliffs.
The capital of Greece and the country’s largest city, Athens was also the heartbeat of Ancient Greece. Its claim to fame is that it’s known as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy. With a history spanning over 3,400 years, the city is still dominated by ancient landmarks, including the Acropolis, a hilltop citadel featuring the multi-columned Parthenon temple.
Culturally, Athens is remarkable. It hosted Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, was a center for philosophy and the arts, and became the first city to host the modern-day Olympics.
Athens is a city of many layers, unique in how it seamlessly blends the old with the new. Ruins with a complex history dating back thousands of years old are juxtaposed next to cosmopolitan restaurants, theaters, and upscale shopping. Resilient and proud, the city overcame a crippling financial crisis from 2007 to 2008. You just can’t visit Athens and not leave fascinated.
The Cyclades is the most well-known of the Greek islands, located southeast of mainland Greece in the Aegean Sea, and one of the best places in Greece. The islands host some of Greece’s most important archaeological sites and are known for their idyllic beaches, ancient ruins, rugged landscapes, and of course the iconic, picture-perfect, whitewashed stucco buildings juxtaposed against the shimmering cerulean sea. Cyclades island hopping with Yacht Getaways is the most exciting way to experience several of the islands in one trip.
Visited by millions of tourists each year, Santorini and Mykonos are undoubtedly the superstar islands of the Cyclades, but they are outrageously crowded in the summer. If you prefer to avoid the hordes yet still explore some gorgeous islands, Paros, Ios, Naxos, Koufonisia, and others will not disappoint.
Paros ranked high as one of our favorite Greek islands! Gorgeous mountain landscapes, lush valleys and rolling hills, picturesque whitewashed villages dotted with blue-domed windmills, small churches and monasteries, and shimmering turquoise beaches epitomize everything symbolic of Greek Islands. Paros has everything you could want for a perfect Greek vacation… from seafood to sunsets, and stunning beaches to traditional villages, there are a ton of opportunities to make lasting memories. Our hotel, Golden Sunset Paros, was located high in the hills of Parikia had glorious panoramic sunset.
Koufonisia (Κουφονήσι) is a secret gem, and arguably the most beautiful and most romantic Greek island, and ranks near the top of our list of most stunning beaches in the world. That said, it’s definitely the place for a laid-back respite from a busy life as resort tourism has not yet permeated this island.
All photos ©Kary Kern unless otherwise indicated.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.
She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.
Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.