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Travel Guide: Greece Highlights

28th Jul 2015 12:00am | By Editor

Islands and ancient sites are the main highlights in Greece.

Athens

You will likely fly in and out of Athens, so be sure to book your first or last couple of nights here to explore one of the oldest cities in the world, with 3,400 years of recorded history.

The most iconic of ancient ruins is the Acropolis - head there as late as possible to avoid the crowds. Join a tour to find out the history behind the Parthenon, the Theatre of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, or simply climb up for the fantastic views across the city and sea.Then there are the tranquil National Gardens which house the restored 50,000-seat Panathenic Stadium, and 10 minutes away you will find the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. Museums worth checking out include the New Acropolis Museum, and the Benaki Museum.

At night, try Adrianou Street for al-fresco dining followed by the bars and clubs in Gazi Square. Doing it VIP? Head for Villa Mercedes, the cream of Athenian clubbing with regular PAs by international DJs, such as David Guetta. Don’t arrive before 1am.

Acropolis

Open: 8am-7.30pm Tuesday to Sunday April to October, 11am-7.30pm Mondays April to October, 8.30am-3pm seven days a week November to March

Tickets: Adult €12

National Gardens

Closes: Half an hour before sunset

Tickets: Free

New Acropolis Museum

Open: 8am-8pm Tuesday to Sunday

Closed: Mondays

Tickets: Adult €1

Benaki Museum

Open: 9am-5pm Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 9am-midnight Thursdays, 9am-3pm Sundays

Closed: Tuesdays

Tickets: Adult €6 Note Free on Thursdays

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Island-hopping

Most travellers head to the Cyclades, the group of islands most convenient to Athens. The famous party islands of Mykonos and Ios are there, as is the stunning Santorini. Best to stick to one group of islands and travel between them.

Santorini

Santorini is the postcard model for Greece. Those whitewashed houses with blue roofs to complement the Aegean expanses beyond, the dazzling sunlight and dramatically plummeting precipices – you will find them in Santorini, my friend.

The 18km-long isle is somewhat of a geological phenomenon. The Santorini ‘caldera’ or cauldron is a volcanic basin, formed from an eruption 3,500 years ago. This makes for a spectacular landscape and it’s tempting to do nothing but soak it all up with swim in the warm sea and a stretch on the dark sand by day and dinner and drinks in Fira (aka Thera or Thira) with spectacular views by night. But history buffs would do well to explore the Byzantine Empire monuments, basilicas, monasteries and ancient settlements. In the south, the once-buried Minoan city of Akrotiri, dubbed a Bronze Age Pompeii, has emerged from its heavy coat of volcanic ash and stone and is Greece’s best-preserved prehistoric city dating back to 1600BC. 

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Crete

One of the most popular islands is Crete, which is Greece’s largest. It has its own distinctive culture, history and cuisine (snails in tomato sauce sound good to you?), so much so that at times it seems like a separate country. Visitors can spend their vacations admiring the remnants of ancient civilisations, such as the Minoan ruin complex Knossos, exploring gorges that spill out to the sea and hiking up whitewashed mountains. 

Of course no Greek island holiday would be complete without a little lazing on a pristine, sun-soaked beach, and the southern coast is the best place for this, with its clean sands and isolated coves, along with smaller and slower-paced villages. Over on the north side is where the nightlife gets more raucous. Malia is still the place to go for the biggest party scene, with fish bowls, glow sticks and slut drops galore.

Mykonos

Ever since Jackie Kennedy and Onassis set foot here in the ’60s, the party has gone on and on. The frolicking is concentrated around the tavernas, cocktail bars and nightclubs of ‘Little Venice’ where people gather on bar terraces at sunset for an aperitif or mezedes washed down with ouzo.

By day the main beaches - Paradise Beach and the gay-friendly - and, in parts, nudist Super Paradise Beach - are packed and getting through the maze of Mykonos town is a jostle. If you want some quiet time to sweat out that hangover quieter spots include Kalafatis, good for surfing and diving; Ftelia, for windsurfers; and Ornos, with  a coarse-sand beach that has been described as a slice of heaven.

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Corfu

This Ioanian paradise inspired both Shakespeare (most agree it’s the setting for The Tempest) and Homer (it  appears in The Odyssey as ‘Scheria’). Check out the pretty, Venetian-style old quarters of the east coast capital, Corfu Town, which has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Or if what you really want is a few beers, a lot of vodka jelly shots and a night spent in a sweaty blur of drinking and dancing, head to the southern town of Kávos

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Sail the smaller islands

A sailing trip hopping between Greece’s smaller spots dotted along the crescent between Athens and Epidavros is also a great way to spend your time. You’ll want to reserve seven days as you will likely need to loop back to Athens to catch your flight back home.  

Top five stop-offs

Aegina

A common spot for weekending Athenians, you can stroll among fellow vacationers, buzzing motorbikes and diners spilling onto the pavements along the waterfront for a taste of a true Greek holiday. For day-to-day life, head behind the bustling harbour to see chatting teens and washing lines strung between town houses, or for history, spot the Temple of Apollo just north of the harbour. Beyond that stands lush land sprinkled with wildflowers, making for a pretty backdrop for this slice of Grecian life.

Perdika

Perdika is a quiet fishing village by day, with a surprising scene of late-night music bars by night. For a swim, catch a caique (small boat) to the island of Moni (if your boat doesn’t stop there already), which has a tree-lined beach and relaxed cafe. Otherwise, sink a few cold ones in a taverna, waiting for the sun set, before enjoying the live bands.

Poros

Separated from the mainland by a small channel, Poros Town feels more as if it’s perched on a lake, with ice-cream coloured houses dotting the shores and rising up to greet a clock tower. The other side of the island is dominated by forest and sandy coves. Russian Bay is a good option for chilling out, while Neorian Beach offers classic watersports including banana boating and water skiing.

Hydra

Hydra is unique because it is vehicle free; the only mode of transport are the ambling donkeys which clip-clop across the cobbled lanes. That’s not to say it’s not bustling, though, as the port sees sailboats, ferries and water taxis sweeping in and out, with cafes and restaurants lining the waterside to welcome hungry and thirsty travellers. Walk into the winding streets to get a taste of traditional Mediterranean life; peeking into dark windows that keep the heat out, and smiling at old women chattering on their doorsteps. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, head into the mountains to find peaceful monasteries and sweeping vistas.

Spetses

For a taste of true carefree island life, Spetses is a great port of call. The lively old town lines the waterfront, offering sleek restaurants and nightlife, also found at its buzzing clock tower square. Rent a moped for the day and ride the Tarmac roads that line the pebble beaches and weave between the rolling hills. Head for Agii Anargyri and Agia Paraskevi to grab some food at a tavern, have a go at some watersports and swim out to Bekiris Cave. Bliss.

 

Ancient Delos

This Unesco World Heritage Site is at the centre of the Cyclades island group and is one of the most important archaelogical sites in Greece. It is said to be the birthplace of the twins Apollo and Artemis. Take an excursion boat from Mykonos as overnight stays are prohibited.

 

The Peloponnese and Olympia

The Corinth Canal severed this area from the mainland in the late 19th century and it does have an island feel about it. Visit ancient Olympia — the birthplace of the Olympic Games.