Ancient sun-bleached ruins pierce blue skies as the Aegean laps at the endless coastline. And Greek culture is alive with passionate music, inspired cuisine and thrill-seeking activities. Standing in the shadow of the Acropolis feels other-worldly. Greece is full of such moments. Step into the ring where Olympians first competed. Climb steps hewn out of stone to Meteora’s monasteries, perched atop towering rocks. Contemplate the oracle’s insights from the grandeur of Delphi, take in a starlit drama at an ancient outdoor theatre and be stunned by massive marble sculptures dredged up from the Aegean. But then you’ll encounter bold modern art, the melancholic throb of rembetika (blues songs) and artisans creating new work from traditional techniques. Greece has endless cultural pursuits and a calendar bursting with festivals, holidays and exhibits.
If there is a picture-perfect town in northern Greece, Parga is it – the hollow castle perches above a sandy bay, rock islets stick out of the sea sporting slanting pines, and the surrounding beaches and coves are as inviting as the transparent turquoise waters. Add to it a labyrinthine and charming old quarter, and you have the ideal Greek seaside town. Yes, it's a little on the touristy side (quite a lot in high summer), but it's a beauty. This former Venetian possession is an excellent base for swimming, historic sites and excursions to the Ionian Islands. After the sun sets, a slew of seafront tavernas and bars give Parga plenty of fizz. Outside May to September, Parga snoozes: expect shutdowns of some restaurants and activities if you visit during the low season. Centuries of turbulent history have taken their toll on Parga's castle, now a romantic ruin with remarkable sea views. Dating to the 11th century, the castle passed from Venetian to Ottoman control with numerous invasions and bouts of rebuilding in between. The ramparts are uneven, so wear sturdy shoes and hang on to the kids. Pause for a drink in the cafe (open from 11am until late) to watch ferries, rather than invading pirate ships, ply the shore.
Poised between the Aegean and Ionian Seas, the gloriously time-forgotten island of Kythira lies just 12km off the southern tip of the Peloponnese’s Lakonian Peninsula. Despite its distinctly Cycladic sugar-cube architecture, both historic and modern, Kythira is officially regarded as belonging to the Ionian Island group. With its population of less than 4000 spread between 40 villages, Kythira feels for much of the year like a ghost land; it's an unspoiled wilderness of lush valleys, abrupt overgrown gorges, and flower-speckled cliffs tumbling into the vivid blue sea. Apart from July and August, when Italians especially swoop in to enjoy the fine sandy beaches, tourism remains very low-key. Visiting outside these months, however, brings huge rewards, whether you fancy hiking to scenic wonders and intriguing ancient settlements, or simply relaxing in the old-style tavernas and kafeneia (coffee houses) that pepper its village squares. Crowning the rocky headland that soars at the southern end of Hora, this majestic 14th-century fortress was built by Kythira’s first Venetian governor. Within its ramparts the fort is now largely in ruins, but the site is stupendous, drenched in wildflowers and commanding stunning views down to Kapsali and out as far as Antikythira. Only the unenthralling Coat of Arms Collection, in a former powder magazine, charges an admission fee.
Despite being connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway, making it one of the few Greek islands that you can drive to, Lefkada remains surprisingly unaffected by tourism. Laid-back Lefkada Town is a charming place to spend a day or two, while the hills of the interior still conceal timeless villages and wild olive groves, and the rugged west coast holds some amazing beaches, albeit in some cases badly damaged by recent earthquakes. Only along the east coast are there some overdeveloped enclaves; if you continue all the way south you’ll find stunning little bays and inlets, as well as windy conditions that attract kitesurfers and windsurfers from all over the world. Lefkada was originally a peninsula, not a true island. Corinthian colonisers cut a canal through the narrow isthmus that joined it to the rest of Greece in the 8th century BC. The once-spectacular beach at Porto Katsiki, near the island's southwest corner, sustained major earthquake damage in 2015. As the debris washes away, it has started to heal, but the precarious walkway that formerly crossed to the adjoining headland lies in ruins. The beach remains accessible by road.
Andros, the second-largest island of the Cyclades, has a long and proud seafaring tradition and, conversely, is a walker’s paradise. Its wild mountains are cleaved by fecund valleys with bubbling streams and ancient stone mills. A lush island, springs tend to be a feature of each village, and waterfalls cascade down hillsides most of the year. It’s worth renting a car to get out to the footpaths, many of them stepped and cobbled, which will lead you through majestic landscapes and among wildflowers and archaeological remnants. The handsome main town of Hora, also known as Andros, is a shipowners’ enclave packed with neoclassical mansions. The picturesque ruins of a Venetian fortress stand on an island linked to the tip of the headland by the worn remnants of an arched stone bridge. Don't attempt to scramble over in the manner of locals. Andros (Greek: Άνδρος, pronounced [ˈanðros]) is the northernmost island of the Greek Cyclades archipelago, about 10 km (6 mi) southeast of Euboea, and about 3 km (2 mi) north of Tinos. It is nearly 40 km (25 mi) long, and its greatest breadth is 16 km (10 mi). It is for the most part mountainous, with many fruitful and well-watered valleys. The municipality, which includes the island Andros and several small, uninhabited islands, has an area of 380 km2 (146.719 sq mi). The largest towns are Andros (town), Gavrio, Batsi, and Ormos Korthiou. The island is famous for its Sariza spring at Apoikia, where the water flows from a sculpted stone lion's head. Palaeopolis, the ancient capital, was built into a steep hillside, and the breakwater of its harbor can still be seen underwater. Andros also offers great hiking options.
While no Greek island is like another, Chios has one of the most distinctive faces, thanks to the unique fortress-like architecture of its villages that makes them look so different to their sugar-cube cousins on other islands. That style stems from the island's history as the ancestral home of shipping barons and the world's only commercial producer of mastic. Its varied terrain ranges from lonesome mountain crags in the north, to the citrus-grove estates of Kampos, near the island’s port capital in the centre, to the fertile Mastihohoria in the south, where generations of mastic growers have turned their villages into decorative art gems. The intriguing, little-visited satellite islands of Psara and Inousses share Chios’ legacy of maritime greatness. Chios (/ˈkaɪ.ɒs/; Greek: Χίος, Khíos, Greek pronunciation: [ˈçi.os]) is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, situated in the Aegean Sea, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) off the Anatolian coast. The island is separated from Turkey by the Chios Strait. Chios is notable for its exports of mastic gum and its nickname is the Mastic Island. Tourist attractions include its medieval villages and the 11th-century monastery of Nea Moni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Administratively, the island forms a separate municipality within the Chios regional unit, which is part of the North Aegean region. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Chios. Locals refer to Chios town as "Chora" ("Χώρα" literally means land or country, but usually refers to the capital or a settlement at the highest point of a Greek island). It was also the site of the Chios massacre in which tens of thousands of Greeks on the island were killed by Ottoman troops during the Greek War of Independence in 1822.
Every bit as rugged, romantic and all-round epic as its role in Homeric legend would suggest, Ithaki is something special. The hilly, sea-girt homeland to which Odysseus struggled to return for 10 heroic years continues to charm and seduce travellers with its ancient ruins, breathtaking harbour villages and wilderness walks. Squeezed between Kefallonia and the mainland, it’s the kind of island where time seems to slow down and cares slip away. Cut almost in two by the huge gulf that shields Vathy, its main town, Ithaki effectively consists of two separate islands linked by a narrow isthmus. Vathy is the only significant settlement in the south, while the mighty northern massif holds delightful villages such as Stavros and Anogi, and is peppered with little coves holding pocket-sized resorts such as Frikes and Kioni. Ithaca, Ithaki or Ithaka (/ˈɪθəkə/; Greek: Ιθάκη, Ithakē [iˈθaci]) is a Greek island located in the Ionian Sea, off the northeast coast of Kefalonia and to the west of continental Greece. Ithaca's main island has an area of 96 square kilometres (37 sq mi) and had a population in 2011 of 3,231. It is the second-smallest of seven main Ionian Islands, after Paxi. Ithaca is a separate regional unit of the Ionian Islands region, and the only municipality of the regional unit. The capital is Vathy (or Vathi). Modern Ithaca is generally identified with Homer's Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, whose delayed return to the island is the plot of the classical Greek tale the Odyssey.
Beautiful Zakynthos , also known by its Italian name Zante, has become dominated along its southern and southeastern shoreline by heavy package tourism. Once you leave the long sandy beaches of those regions behind, however, and set off to explore the rest of the island, you'll discover plenty of forested wilderness and traditional rural villages. Some attractive lower-key bases lie just beyond the larger, run-of-the-mill resorts, including Keri and Limni Keriou in the remote southwest, and Agios Nikolaos and Cape Skinari in the far north, but it’s the spectacular scenery of the rugged west coast, where mighty limestone cliffs plummet down to unreal turquoise waters, that’s the true highlight. Zakynthos (Greek: Ζάκυνθος, Zákynthos [ˈzacinθos] (About this sound listen), Italian: Zacìnto) or Zante (Greek: Τζάντε, Tzánte /ˈzɑːnti, -teɪ, ˈzæn-/, Italian: Zante; from Venetian), is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. It is the third largest of the Ionian Islands. Zakynthos is a separate regional unit of the Ionian Islands region, and its only municipality. It covers an area of 405.55 km2 (156.6 sq mi) and its coastline is roughly 123 km (76 mi) in length. The name, like all similar names ending in -nthos, is pre-Mycenaean or Pelasgian in origin. In Greek mythology the island was said to be named after Zakynthos, the son of a legendary Arcadian chief Dardanus. Zakynthos is a tourist destination, with an international airport served by charter flights from northern Europe. The island's nickname is "The flower of the Levant", bestowed upon it by the Venetians who were in possession of Zakynthos from 1484–1797
Still recognisable as the idyllic refuge where the shipwrecked Odysseus was soothed and sent on his way home, Corfu continues to welcome weary travellers with its lush scenery, bountiful produce and pristine beaches. Since the 8th century BC the island the Greeks call Kerkyra has been prized for its untamed beauty and strategic location. Ancient armies fought to possess it, while in the early days of modern Greece it was a beacon of learning. Corfiots remain proud of their intellectual and artistic roots, with vestiges of the past ranging from Corfu Town's Venetian architecture to British legacies such as cricket and ginger beer. While certain regions of the island have succumbed to overdevelopment, particularly those close to Corfu Town, Corfu is large enough to make it possible to escape the crowds. Venture across cypress-studded hills to find vertiginous villages in the fertile interior, and sandy coves lapped by cobalt-blue waters. Corfu or Kerkyra (/kɔːrˈfuː, -fjuː/; Greek: Κέρκυρα, translit. Kérkyra, [ˈcercira]; Ancient Greek: Κόρκυρα, translit. Kórkyra, [kórkyra]; Latin: Corcyra; Italian: Corfù) is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. It is the second largest of the Ionian Islands, and, including its small satellite islands, forms the northwesternmost part of Greece. The island is part of the Corfu regional unit, and is administered as a single municipality, which also includes the smaller islands of Ereikoussa, Mathraki and Othonoi. The municipality has an area of 610,9 km2, the island proper 592,8 km2. The principal city of the island and seat of the municipality (pop. 32,095) is also named Corfu. Corfu is home to the Ionian University.
Crete is a magical tapestry of splendid beaches, ancient treasures, and landscapes encompassing vibrant cities and dreamy villages, where locals share their traditions, wonderful cuisine and generous spirit. There’s something undeniably artistic in the way the Cretan landscape unfolds, from the sun-drenched beaches in the north to the rugged canyons spilling out at the cove-carved and cliff-lined southern coast. In between, valleys cradle moody villages, and round-shouldered hills are the overture to often snow-dabbed mountains. Take it all in on a driving tour, trek through Europe’s longest gorge, hike to the cave where Zeus was born or cycle among orchards on the Lasithi Plateau. Leave time to plant your footprints on a sandy beach, and boat, kayak or snorkel in the crystalline waters. Crete's natural beauty is equalled only by the richness of its history. The island is the birthplace of the first advanced society on European soil, the Minoans, who ruled some 4000 years ago, and you’ll find evocative vestiges all over, including the famous Palace of Knossos. At the crossroads of three continents, Crete has been coveted and occupied by consecutive invaders. History imbues Hania and Rethymno, where labyrinthine lanes – laid out by the Venetians – are lorded over by mighty fortresses, and where gorgeously restored Renaissance mansions rub rafters with mosques and Turkish bathhouses. The Byzantine influence stands in magnificent frescoed chapels, churches and monasteries.
Rugged Kalymnos is characterised by its dramatic mountains that draw hardy climbers from all over the world. Its western flank is particularly spectacular with skeletal crags towering above dazzling blue waters. The island is also greener than most of its neighbours, cradling fertile valleys dotted with beehives and bursting with oleander. Add to this the enticing, car-free islet of Telendos, immediately offshore, and you begin to see why the island is fast becoming a must-visit destination. While its sponge-fishing heyday is long past, Kalymnos remains inextricably entwined with the sea, particularly in its capital and main ferry port, Pothia, where you’ll still find stalls piled high with unearthly looking sponges, and a statue of Poseidon surveying the harbour. As Pothia is a working town, it’s more restful to stay in the smaller west-coast settlements such as Emborios and Myrties, or over on Telendos. Kalymnos, (Greek: Κάλυμνος) is a Greek island and municipality in the southeastern Aegean Sea. It belongs to the Dodecanese and is located to the west of the peninsula of Bodrum (the ancient Halicarnassos), between the islands of Kos (south, at a distance of 12 km (7 mi)) and Leros (north, at a distance of less than 2 km (1 mi)): the latter is linked to it through a series of islets. Kalymnos lies between two and five hours away by sea from Rhodes.
Celebrated for its wild mountains and blue coves, this long craggy island is among the least commercialised in Greece. Legend has it Prometheus and his Titans were born here, and with its cloud-wrapped villages and rugged beauty, there’s still something undeniably primal in the air. Homer, never a man to mince his words, called it 'Karpathos', but actually it’s a lovely island. Popular with adrenaline junkies, southern Karpathos is in the spotlight each summer when it hosts an international kitesurfing competition. Meanwhile, the fierce wind that lifts the spray from the turquoise waves blows its way to the mountainous north, battering pine trees and howling past sugar-cube houses. Karpathian women at this end of the island still wear traditional garb, especially in the time-forgotten village eyrie of Olymbos, perched atop a perilous mountain ridge. Karpathos (Greek: Κάρπαθος, Greek pronunciation: [ˈkarpaθos]) is the second largest of the Greek Dodecanese islands, in the southeastern Aegean Sea. Together with the neighboring smaller Saria Island it forms the municipality of Karpathos, which is part of the Karpathos regional unit. Because of its remote location, Karpathos has preserved many peculiarities of dress, customs and dialect, the last resembling those of Crete and Cyprus. The island has also been called Carpathus in Latin, Scarpanto in Italian.
Fringed by the finest beaches in the Dodecanese, dwarfed beneath mighty crags, and blessed with lush valleys, Kos is an island of endless treasures. Visitors soon become blasé at sidestepping the millennia-old Corinthian columns that poke through the rampant wildflowers – even in Kos Town, the lively capital, ancient Greek ruins are scattered everywhere you turn, and a mighty medieval castle still watches over the harbour. Visitors to Kos naturally tend to focus their attention on its beaches. In addition to those around Kos Town, there are three main resort areas. Kardamena, on the south coast, is very much dominated by package tourism, but Mastihari, on the north coast, and Kamari, in the far southwest, are more appealing. Away from the resorts, the island retains considerable wilderness, with the rugged Dikeos mountains soaring to almost 850m just a few kilometres west of Kos Town. Kos or Cos (/kɒs/; Greek: Κως [kos]) is a Greek island, part of the Dodecanese island chain in the southeastern Aegean Sea, off the Anatolian coast of Turkey. Kos is the third largest island of the Dodecanese by area, after Rhodes and Karpathos; it has a population of 33,388 (2011 census), making it the second most populous of the Dodecanese, after Rhodes. The island measures 40 by 8 kilometres (25 by 5 miles), and is 4 km (2 miles) from the coast of the ancient region of Caria in Turkey. Administratively, Kos constitutes a municipality within the Kos regional unit, which is part of the South Aegean region. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Kos town.
Greece’s third-largest island, Lesvos is marked by long sweeps of rugged, desert-like western plains that give way to sandy beaches and salt marshes in the centre. To the east are thickly forested mountains and dense olive groves – around 11 million olive trees are cultivated here. The port and capital, Mytilini Town, is a lively place year-round, filled with exemplary ouzeries and good accommodation, while the north-coast town of Molyvos (aka Mythimna) is an aesthetic treat, with old stone houses clustered on winding lanes overlooking the sea. Along with hiking and cycling, Lesvos is a mecca for birdwatching; more than 279 species, from raptors to waders, are often sighted. The island's therapeutic hot springs gush with some of the warmest mineral waters in Europe. Despite its undeniable tourist appeal, Lesvos' chief livelihood is agriculture. Its olive oil is highly regarded, and the island’s farmers produce around half the ouzo sold worldwide. The island of Lesvos is blessed with Award-winning beaches , traditional villages , more varieties of birds and wildflowers than anywhere in Europe, pine forests, medieval castles , scenic harbors with cafes and inexpensive seafood restaurants , abundant fish, museums including two of the finest art museums in Greece, hotels of every class and category, and some of the warmest, friendliest people in all of Greece. Lesvos has been a favorite location for artists, writers and romantics. Its natural attractions include a petrified forest , and the unique Hot Springs, health inducing spas that are dotted around Lesvos. Many have been in use for thousands of years for rheumatism, arthritis, gynaecological and dermatological ailments,as well as kidney and gallstones, neurological ailments, bronchitis and sciatica.
By far the largest and historically the most important of the Dodecanese islands, Rhodes (ro-dos) abounds in beaches, wooded valleys and ancient history. Whether you arrive in search of buzzing nightlife, languid sun worshipping, diving in crystal-clear waters or to embark on a culture-vulture journey through past civilisations, it’s all here. The atmospheric Old Town of Rhodes is a maze of cobbled streets that will spirit you back to the days of the Byzantine Empire and beyond. Further south is the picture-perfect town of Lindos, a soul-warming vista of sugar-cube houses spilling down to a turquoise bay. Lindos is a nice place to visit. A steep footpath climbs the 116m-high rock above Lindos to reach the beautifully preserved Acropolis. First walled in the 6th century BC, the clifftop is now enclosed by battlements constructed by the Knights of St John. Once within, you’re confronted by stunning ancient remains that include a Temple to Athena Lindia and a 20-columned Hellenistic stoa. Silhouetted against the deep blue sky, the stark white columns are dazzling, while the long-range coastal views are out of this world. Be sure to pack a hat and some water, as there’s no shade at the top, and take care to protect young kids from the many dangerous drop-offs. Donkey rides to the Acropolis from the village entrance only spare you around three minutes of exposed walking on the hillside, and you should note that animal-rights groups urge people to consider the treatment of the donkeys before deciding to take a ride.
Lying just off the Turkish coast, Samos is one of the northeastern Aegean Islands’ best-known destinations, yet beyond its low-key resorts and the lively capital, Vathy, there are numerous off-the-beaten-track beaches and quiet spots in the cool, forested inland mountains where traditional life continues. Famous for its sweet local wine, Samos is also historically significant. It was the legendary birthplace of Hera, and the sprawling ruins of her ancient sanctuary, the Heraion, are impressive. Both the great mathematician Pythagoras and the hedonistic father of atomic theory, the 4th-century-BC philosopher Epicurus, were born here. Samos' scientific genius is also affirmed by the astonishing 524 BC Evpalinos Tunnel, a spectacular feat of ancient engineering that stretches for more than 1km deep underground.Samos' is a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, separated from Turkey by the mile-wide Mycale Strait. It was the birthplace of mathematician Pythagoras and philosopher Epicurus, and is known for producing sweet Muscat wine. On the southeast coast, the remains of the ancient port of Pythagoreion include the underground Eupalinian aqueduct, built in the 6th century B.C.
Alonnisos rises from the sea in a mountain of greenery, with stands of Aleppo pine, kermes oak, mastic and arbutus bushes, vineyards, olive and fruit trees, threaded with perfumy patches of wild herbs. The west and north coasts are steep and rocky, while the east is speckled with bays and pebble-and-sand beaches. Alonnisos has had its share of bad luck; in 1952, a thriving wine industry collapsed when vines imported from California were infested with phylloxera insects. Robbed of their livelihood, many people moved away. Then, in 1965, an earthquake destroyed the hilltop capital of Old Alonnisos. Inhabitants were rehoused at Patitiri, which has since evolved into a quaint island port; 11km to the north is the seaside village of Steni Vala. The most recent trouble was in early 2017, when storms destroyed a third of the island's trees; many inhabitants decamp to Athens for the surprisingly harsh winter season. Blessed with rugged natural landscapes, and surrounded by small islands scattered around the archipelagos, Alonnisos is an island ideal for those you want to unwind and enjoy leisure walks surrounded by pine forests, olive groves and orchards. The island is the most remote of the Northern Sporades island group, and plays host to the National Marine Park of Northern Sporades, a refuge for rare seabirds, dolphins and the Mediterranean monk seal, monachus monachus. “Ikos”, as was named the island in antiquity, was first inhabited by Stafylos (meaning grape), the son of Dionysus and Ariadne. This myth explains the island’s strong bonds with viticulture from ancient times until today. Urns bearing the stamp “IKION” were exported all around the ancient world confirming the island’s great fame as excellent wine-producing region. According to the myth, Pileas, the father of Achilles, was buried on Alonissos. This is the reason why the island’s second name is “Achilliodromia”. Different versions of this name have survived throughout the years: “Hiliodromia”, “Liadromia”, “Diadromia”.