It would be hard to tell whether it is the rich historical and cultural heritage of Greece or its scenic beaches that attract more visitors. But one thing is sure: Greece has been and continues to be one of the most popular destinations of tourists from all over the world. In 2016 it had 30 million visitors, most of them heading to the capital or to one of the famous islands: Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, Corfu and Rhodes are the most popular choices. The country has recently seen a major economic depression, nevertheless, its tourism is flourishing: Greece really has a lot to offer its visitors and is also a relatively safe country to travel in.
Greece is located on the Balkan Peninsula, occupying a position at the juncture of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Its area has been inhabited since the Stone Age and ancient Greece was one of the earliest and most influential civilizations in the world. Its ancient heritage is truly stunning and accounts for the majority of it is 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Greece has a coastline of 8,500 miles as well as hundreds of scenic islands with sandy beaches and blue crystal waters, so it’s the perfect choice for a summer vacation. The beaches offer a wide range of activities: you can basically do anything from diving to paragliding.
Much of Greece is mountainous and the country has plenty of inviting hiking trails. You can climb the Mt. Olympus, the legendary home of the gods, which is also the highest peak in the country at 9,570 ft. The gorge of Samaria on Crete is also a great hiking spot with unbelievable natural beauty.
Cities and Attractions in Greece
Top things to do and see in Greece
Explore the Meteora
The Meteora is one of the most breathtaking sites in Greece (or indeed in the world). The word “meteora” means something like “suspended in the air” and is very expressive of the place. It is a complex of monasteries built on top of gigantic monolithic pillars: a truly unforgettable site.
The first of the monasteries was established in the 14th century by monks hiding from the Turkish invaders of the region, and by the 16th century, there were as many as 24 of them. Out of the six monasteries existing today four are inhabited by men and two by women, and all accept visitors but make sure you check the opening hours for the ones you want to see inside because not all are open on all days of the week. Inside the buildings used by nuns, women need to wear skirts (but wraps are offered for those who forget to bring one).
Visit the Acropolis of Athens
The capital of Greece is so rich in ancient ruins and monuments that it has become a world center of archaeological research. Its most famous landmark, the Acropolis is a symbol of Ancient Greece. It is a stunning sight and a really great place to discover, not just for lovers of history. Read more about it under ”Athens”.
Greece has 6,000 islands and mini-islands scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, so a lifetime would not be enough to explore them all. Your visit to Greece, however, wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one of them and it’s a good idea to pick the ones that you find most interesting and go island hopping for a few days or weeks. Every island has its own character and attractions, but the most popular destinations are Santorini (a really scenic island, like a living postcard), Mykonos (which is beautiful but perhaps a bit too touristy and overpriced), Crete (the largest island in Greece with fascinating historical sites) and Corfu (famous for its green landscape and fortresses).
Spend an afternoon at Shipwreck Cove (Zakynthos)
Navagio Beach on Zakynthos is probably the most famous and most photographed beach in Greece. It is an excellent sandy beach with clear turquoise water, but its highlight is the ship that got shipwrecked here in 1980. You have to take a boat to get to the beautiful bay enclosed between steep rocks, or drive to the viewing platform which provides the best view of the place from above. Lounging in the sun on this stunning beach is an absolutely unique experience, but make sure you bring your own parasol and everything you might need because there is no shade and no facilities.
Once famous as the seat of the oracle, Delphi today is one of the most extensive and intriguing archeological sites in Greece. The remains of the Temple of Apollo, the so-called “Treasuries”, the ancient theater, the Gymnasium, the Stadium and many other buildings are not only a great spectacle (especially around sunset) but also exciting traces of what life was like thousands of years ago. The nearby Delphi Archaeological Museum, which displays artifacts associated with Delphi, is also well worth a visit.
Delphi is about a three-hour bus ride from Athens, so it’s a popular day-trip destination from the capital. Expert guides will enhance the experience, but just wandering around and absorbing the atmosphere is also great.
What to eat in Greece
Greek cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, seafood, and grilled meats, and is seasoned with oregano, mint, garlic, basil, thyme and fennel seed. It’s easy to eat healthy here and there are so many delicious dishes that you will be spoilt for choice. Some of the ones that you should not miss are moussaka (a dish based on sautéed eggplants, tomatoes, and ground meat), souvlaki (small pieces of meat grilled on a skewer and served with pita bread) and dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice, currants, and pine kernels). The good news for budget travelers is that you will always find street stalls where you can fill your stomach with tasty Greek street food, but there’s nothing like having a hearty meal at a traditional tavern. Finish your meal with a glass of retsina (white or rosé wine infused with resin aroma) or try the other famous national beverages of Greece: ouzo and Metaxa are known worldwide.
Related post: An inside look at greek food culture
Being a part of the Eurozone, most people think of Greece as an expensive destination. That is not entirely true, though. Greece in fact has plenty of budget options, although in the high season (July and August) you are likely to spend considerably more than off season. Also, the predominantly touristy places like the island of Mykonos are best to be avoided if you are on a budget. The typical daily cost is around 60-100 USD. The cheapest hostels in Greece offer beds for around 15-20 USD and you can find modest hotel rooms for two for 30-40 USD (not in the high season, though).
Food and drinks
A nice dinner for two costs about 20-30 USD, but if you want to save on your food, go for the delicious street food (gyros, falafel, souvlaki), typically around 5 USD per meal. Greek cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, seafood and grilled meats, and is seasoned with oregano, mint, garlic, basil, thyme and fennel seed. It’s easy to eat healthy here and there are so many delicious dishes that you will be spoilt for choice. Some of the ones that you should not miss are moussaka (a dish based on sautéed eggplants, tomatoes and ground meat), souvlaki (small pieces of meat grilled on a skewer and served with pita bread) and dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice, currants and pine kernels). The good news for budget travelers is that you will always find street stalls where you can fill your stomach with tasty Greek street food, but there’s nothing like having a hearty meal at a traditional tavern. Finish your meal with a glass of retsina (white or rosé wine infused with resin aroma) or try the other famous national beverages of Greece: ouzo and metaxa are known worldwide.
Read more in our blog posts: An inside look at Greek food culture
The cost of getting around within Greece can get a little high, especially if you visit several islands. The ferry rides between the islands are not cheap: to give an example, the trip from Athens to Santorini (1 passenger, no vehicle) costs between 40-70 USD depending on the company. The cost of public transportation is reasonable and so is admission to the majority of attractions: tickets are usually below 15 USD.