An iconic image of the sun setting across rows of white-washed houses (with bright blue shutters!) will conjure up thoughts of balmy, summer days in Greece - even if you've never been there! Greece is not only the cradle of Western civilization and home to some of the world's greatest ancient monuments, but it's also famous for its delicious food and relaxed lifestyle.
Endless kilometers of aquamarine coastline, sun-bleached ancient ruins, strong feta, and stronger ouzo – the Greek landscape thrills while the culture captivates a population passionate about everything from politics to art.
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GREECE QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Athens
- Currency: euro (€)
- Area: 131,957 km²
- Population: 10,688,058 (July 2006 estimate)
- Language: Greek 99% (official)
- Religion: Greek Orthodox 98%, Muslim 1.3%, other 0.7%
- Electricity: 220V, 50Hz (European plug)
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GREECE PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 6 January, Epiphany
- 25 March, Independence Day
- 1 May, May Day
- 15 August, Assumption of the Virgin Mary
- 28 October, Ochi Day
Also, Eastern Orthodox Christian holidays.
FESTIVALS IN GREECE
Athens & Epidaurus Festival - The ancient theatre at Epidavros and Athens' Odeon of Herodes Atticus are the headline venues of Greece's annual cultural festival featuring a top line-up of local and international music, dance, and theatre. (June to August)
BEST TIME TO VISIT GREECE
Greece has a Mediterranean climate, with mild and wet winters in the southern lowland and island regions and cold winters with strong snowfalls in the mountainous areas in the central and northern regions and hot, dry summers. The best time to visit most of Greece is outside the mid-July to end of August peak season, when soaring temperatures, plus crowds of foreigners and locals alike, can be overpowering.
May & June - Greece opens the shutters in time for Orthodox Easter; the best months to visit.
July & August - Be prepared to battle summer crowds, high prices, and soaring temperatures.
September & October - The tourist season winds down; an excellent, relaxing time to head to Greece.
You won’t miss out on warm weather if you come in June or September, excellent times almost everywhere but particularly on the islands. An exception to this, however, is the north mainland coast – notably the Halkidhikí peninsula – and the islands of Samothráki and Thássos, which only really bloom during July and August. In October you will almost certainly hit a stormy spell, especially in western Greece or in the mountains, but for most of that month the “little summer of Áyios Dhimítrios” prevails, and southerly Dodecanese and Crete are extremely pleasant. Autumn, in general, is beautiful; the light is softer, the sea often balmier than the air, and the colours subtler.
GREECE WEATHER SYNOPSIS
Greece has a Mediterranean climate, with mild and wet winters in the southern lowland and island regions and cold winters with strong snowfalls in the mountainous areas in the central and northern regions and hot, dry summers.
GREECE TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN GREECE
The snow sports season in Greece is from December until March when the snow is thick and consistent.
HIKING & CYCLING IN GREECE
The best time for outdoor activities in Greece is from April to October, although the months of July and August can be unbearably hot if you're not at the higher altitudes climbing Mount Olympus.
BEACH OPTIONS IN GREECE
Greece has loads of beautiful beaches with a summer beach season stretching from June to September and August by far being the busiest month.
SURFING IN GREECE
Greece might not have the biggest waves, but there is some fun surfable swell from June to September, particularly in the peak summer months of July and August.
KITESURF IN GREECE
The best winds for kitesurfing in Greece are usually from June to September, making it a great summer kitesurfing destination.
For more details on kite surfing in Greece expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN GREECE
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
GREECE TRAVEL COSTS
Greece can be a budget-friendly destination but if you move around a lot and head only for popular spots, you might want to up your budget a bit.
Some suggestions on how you can make savings:
Book overnight ferries – Greece’s inter-island ferries can get quite expensive and taking the overnight ferries can save you up to half off the normal price plus save you a night of accommodation.
Avoid Mykonos – Mykonos gets a lot of hype and yes it's a cool island and deserves it but it is also Greece’s most expensive. It has hardly any budget accommodation, 12 EUR drinks, and 40 EUR meals! The island caters to upscale honeymooners so if you are on a tight budget skip it completely.
Visit Greece in the off-season – August is by far the most expensive month, so if you can arrange for a visit before June which would really cut down your accommodation and flight costs by up to half.
GREECE TRAVEL TIPS
A €30 unified ticket from the Acropolis (valid for five days) includes entry to the other significant ancient sites: Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Keramikos, Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Theatre of Dionysos.
Enter the sites free on the first Sunday of the month from November to March, and on certain holidays. Anyone aged under 18 years or with an EU student card gets in free.
The metro, tram and bus system makes getting around central Athens and to Piraeus easy. Best is to get yourself an ATH.ENACARD to load fare products. Regular tickets are good for 90 minutes (€1.40), or a 24-hour/f5-day travel pass (€4.50/9) are valid for all forms of public transport except for airport services. The three-day tourist ticket (€22) includes airport transport. Bus/trolleybus–only tickets cannot be used on the metro. Details here.
GETTING AROUND GREECE:
Greece has an extensive network of ferries – the only means of reaching many of the islands. Schedules are often subject to delays due to poor weather and industrial action, and prices fluctuate regularly. In summer, ferries run regular services between all but the most out-of-the-way destinations; however, services seriously slow down in winter (and in some cases stop completely). Check for schedules and tickets on Bookaway.
A great way to explore areas in Greece that are off the beaten track, but be careful on highways – Greece has the highest road-fatality rate in Europe. The road network is decent, but freeway tolls are fairly hefty. Almost all islands are served by car ferries, but they are expensive; costs vary by the size of the vehicle. EU-registered vehicles are allowed free entry into Greece for six months without road taxes being due; a green card (international third-party insurance) is all that's required.
If you are considering to hire a car you'll get better rates with local rental-car companies than with the big multinational outfits. Check insurance waivers closely, and how they assist in a breakdown.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF GREECE
Athens - Trace the ancient to the modern, from the Acropolis to booming nightclubs.
Cyclades - Island-hop under the Aegean sun.
Lesvos (Mytilini) - Sip ouzo while munching grilled octopus on this olive-tree-filled island.
Santorini - Stare dumbfounded at the dramatic volcanic caldera on this incomparable island.
Hania, Crete - Stroll the lovely Venetian Harbour then enjoy some of Greece's best food.
Meteora - Climb russet rock pinnacles to exquisite monasteries.
Nafplio - Base yourself in this quaint village and explore the back roads and ruins of the Peloponnese.
Rhodes Town - Lose yourself within the medieval walls of the Old Town.
Delphi - Search for the oracle amid the dazzling ruins.
Explore Athens' museums and ancient sites on day one before spending a couple of days in the Peloponnese visiting Nafplio, Mycenae, and Olympia. Take a ferry to the Cyclades and enjoy Mykonos and spectacular Santorini.
Allow for more time in Athens and the Peloponnese, then visit the Ionian Islands for a few days. Explore the villages of Zagorohoria before heading back to Athens via Meteora and Delphi. Take a ferry from Piraeus south to Mykonos, then island-hop via Santorini to Crete. After exploring Crete, take the ferry east to Rhodes, then north to Kos, Samos, and Lesvos. Wrap up in relaxed, cosmopolitan Thessaloniki.
Ancient and modern, with equal measures of grunge and grace, bustling Athens is a mix of history and edginess. Monuments mingle with first-rate museums, bustling shops, and stylish, alfresco dining. Even in the face of current financial issues, Athens is more cosmopolitan than ever before with hip hotels, artsy-industrial neighbourhoods, and entertainment quarters showing its modern face. (see map for links to sights)
The Acropolis is the most important ancient site in the Western world. Crowned by the Parthenon, it stands sentinel over Athens, visible from almost everywhere within the city. Its monuments and sanctuaries of Pentelic marble gleam white in the midday sun and gradually take on a honey hue as the sun sinks, while at night they stand brilliantly illuminated above the city.
The heart of ancient Athens was the Agora, the lively, crowded focal point of administrative, commercial, political, and social activity. Socrates expounded his philosophy here, and in AD 49 St Paul came here to win converts to Christianity. The site today is a lush, refreshing respite, with beautiful monuments and temples and a fascinating museum.
The entrance to the Roman Agora is through the well-preserved Gate of Athena Archegetis, flanked by four Doric columns. It was financed by Julius Caesar and erected sometime during the 1st century AD. Restored and reopened in 2016, the extraordinary Tower of the Winds was built in the 1st century BC by a Syrian astronomer named Andronicus. The octagonal monument of Pentelic marble is an ingenious construction that functioned as a sundial, weather vane, water clock, and compass.
Temple of Olympian Zeus is the largest temple in Greece; begun in the 6th century BC by Peisistratos, it was abandoned for lack of funds. Various other leaders had stabs at completing it, but it was left to Hadrian to complete the work in AD 131 – taking more than 700 years in total to build.
The grand Panathenaic Stadium lies between two pine-covered hills between the neighbourhoods of Mets and Pangrati. It was originally built in the 4th century BC as a venue for the Panathenaic athletic contests. It's said that at Hadrian’s inauguration in AD 120, 1000 wild animals were sacrificed in the arena. Later, the seats were rebuilt in Pentelic marble by Herodes Atticus. There are seats for 70,000 spectators, a running track, and a central area for field events.
In front of the parliament building on Plateia Syntagmatos (Syntagma Sq), the traditionally costumed evzones (guards) of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier change every hour on the hour. On Sunday at 11 am, a whole platoon marches down Vasilissis Sofias to the tomb, accompanied by a band.
A delightful, shady refuge during summer, the National Gardens were formerly the royal gardens, designed by Queen Amalia. There are a large children’s playground, a duck pond, and a shady cafe.
The National Archaeological Museum houses the world's finest collection of Greek antiquities. Treasures offering a view of Greek art and history – dating from the Neolithic era to classical periods – include exquisite sculptures, pottery, jewelry, frescoes, and artifacts found throughout Greece. The beautifully presented exhibits are displayed mainly thematically. Allow plenty of time to view the vast and spectacular collections (more than 11,000 items) housed in this enormous (8000-sq-meter) 19th-century neoclassical building.
The Peloponnese encompasses a breath-taking array of landscapes, villages and ruins, where much of Greek history has played out.
Nafplio - Elegant Venetian houses and neoclassical mansions dripping with crimson bougainvillea cascade down Nafplio's hillside to the azure sea. Vibrant cafes, shops, and restaurants fill winding pedestrian streets. Crenulated Palamidi Fortress perched above it all
Epidavros - In its day Epidavros was famed as far away as Rome as a place of miraculous healing. Visitors came great distances to this Sanctuary of Asclepius (god of medicine), set amid pine-clad hills, to seek a cure for their ailments. Don't miss the peaceful Sanctuary of Asclepius, an ancient spa and healing center.
Mycenae - Although settled as early as the 6th millennium BC, Ancient Mycenae, pronounced mih-kee-nes, was at its most powerful from 1600 to 1200 BC. Mycenae’s grand entrance, the Lion Gate, is Europe’s oldest monumental sculpture.
Mystras - The captivating ruins of churches, libraries, strongholds, and palaces in the fortress town of Mystras (miss-trahss), a World Heritage-listed site, spill from a spur of the Taÿgetos Mountains 7km west of Sparta. It's among the most important historical sites in the Peloponnese. This is where the Byzantine Empire’s richly artistic and intellectual culture made its last stand before an invading Ottoman army, almost 1000 years after its foundation. Traveller facilities are found in Mystras village, 1km or so below the main gate of ancient Mystras. Staying in the village allows you to beat the crowds and the heat.
Olympia - The compact modern village of Olympia (o-lim-bee-ah), lined with souvenir shops and eateries, caters to the coach-loads of tourists who pass through on their way to the most famous sight in the Peloponnese: Ancient Olympia. This is where myth and fact merge – where Zeus allegedly held the first Olympic Games and where the first Olympics were staged in 776 BC, and every four years thereafter until AD 393 when Emperor Theodosius I banned them. Just 500m south of the village, across the Kladeos River, the remains of Ancient Olympia rest amid luxurious greenery. The Olympic Flame is lit here every four years.
Central Greece's dramatic landscape of deep gorges, rugged mountains, and fertile valleys is home to the magical stone pinnacle-topping monasteries of Meteora and the iconic ruins of ancient Delphi, where Alexander the Great sought advice from the Delphic oracle.
Delphi - Modern Delphi and its adjoining ruins hang stunningly on the slopes of Mt Parnassos overlooking the shimmering Gulf of Corinth. According to mythology, Zeus released two eagles at opposite ends of the world and they met here, thus making Delphi the center of the world. By the 6th century BC, Ancient Delphi had become the Sanctuary of Apollo. Thousands of pilgrims flocked here to consult the female oracle who sat at the mouth of a fume-emitting chasm. After sacrificing a sheep or goat, pilgrims would ask a question, and a priest would translate the oracle's response into verse. Wars, voyages, and business transactions were undertaken on the strength of these prophecies.
Meteora - (meh-teh-o-rah) should be a certified Wonder of the World with its magnificent late-14th-century monasteries perched dramatically atop enormous rocky pinnacles. The tranquil village of Kastraki, 2km from Kalambaka, is the best base for visiting Meteora.
Mt Olympus - Just as it did for the ancients, Greece's highest mountain, Olympus, the cloud-covered lair of the Greek pantheon, fires the visitor's imagination today. The highest of Olympus' eight peaks is Mytikas (2917m), popular with trekkers, who use Litohoro (305m), 5km inland from the Athens–Thessaloniki highway, as their base. The main route up takes two days, with a stay overnight at one of the refuges. Good protective clothing is essential, even in summer.
Northern Greece is graced with magnificent mountains, thick forests, tranquil lakes, and archaeological sites. It's easy to get off the beaten track and experience aspects of Greece noticeably different from other mainland areas and the islands.
Thessaloniki - Dodge cherry sellers in the street, smell spices in the air, and enjoy waterfront breezes in Thessaloniki (thess-ah-lo-nee-kih), also known as Salonica. The second city of Byzantium and of modern Greece boasts countless Byzantine churches, a smattering of Roman ruins, engaging museums, shopping to rival Athens, fine restaurants, and a lively café scene and nightlife. Check out the seafront White Tower with its spine-chilling history, and wander hammams (Turkish baths), Ottoman and Roman sites like Galerius' Rotunda, and churches such as the enormous, revered 5th-century Church of Agios Dimitrios with its crypt containing the relics of the city's patron saint.
Zagorohoria - Don't miss the spectacular Zagori region, with its deep gorges, abundant wildlife, dense forests, and snow-capped mountains. Some 46 charming villages, famous for their grey-slate architecture, and known collectively as the Zagorohoria, are sprinkled across a large expanse of the Pindos Mountains north of Ioannina. These beautifully restored gems were once only connected by stone paths and arching footbridges, but paved roads now wind between them.
Vikos Gorge - Monodendri is a popular departure point for treks through dramatic 12km-long, 900m-deep Vikos Gorge, with its sheer limestone walls. Exquisite inns with attached tavernas abound in remote (but popular) twin villages Megalo Papingo and Mikro Papingo.
The Cyclades (kih-klah-dez) are the Greek islands of postcards. Named after the rough kyklos (circle) they form around the island of Delos, they're lapped by the azure Aegean and speckled with white cubist buildings and blue-domed Byzantine churches. Throw in sun-blasted golden beaches, more than a dash of hedonism and history, and it's easy to see why many find the Cyclades irresistible.
Mykonos - The great glamour island of the Cyclades happily flaunts its sizzling style and party-hard reputation. The high-season mix of good-time holidaymakers, cruise-ship crowds (which can reach 15,000 a day), and posturing fashionistas throngs through Mykonos Town, a traditional Cycladic maze. While it retains authentic cubist charms, it remains a mecca for gay travellers and the well bankrolled and can get super-packed in high season. The island's most popular beaches, thronged in summer, are on the southern coast. Platys Gialos has wall-to-wall sun lounges, while nudity is not uncommon at Paradise Beach, Super Paradise, Elia, and more secluded Agrari. Without your own wheels, catch buses from Hora or caïques from Ornos and Platys Gialos to further beaches.
Delos - Southwest of Mykonos, the island of Delos, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the Cyclades' archaeological jewel. The mythical birthplace of twins Apollo and Artemis, splendid Ancient Delos was a shrine-turned–sacred treasury and commercial center. It was inhabited from the 3rd millennium BC and reached its apex of power around the 5th century BC. Overnight stays are forbidden (as is swimming) and boat schedules allow a maximum of four hours at Delos. A simple café is located by the museum, but it pays to bring water and food. Wear a hat, sunscreen, and walking shoes. Boats from Mykonos to Delos (approx. €20 return, 30 minutes) depart between 9 am and 5 pm in summer, and return between noon and 8 pm.
Naxos - The largest of the Cyclades islands, beautiful, raw Naxos could probably survive without tourism. Green and fertile, with vast central mountains, Naxos produces olives, grapes, figs, citrus, corn, and potatoes. Explore its fascinating main town, excellent beaches, remote villages and striking interior. Naxos Town (Hora), on the west coast, is the island's capital and port. The most alluring part of Hora is the 13th-century residential neighbourhood of Kastro, which Marco Sanudo made the capital of his duchy in 1207. Located behind the waterfront, get lost in its narrow alleyways scrambling up to its spectacular hilltop location. From Naxos Town harbour, a causeway leads to the Palatia islet and the striking, unfinished Temple of Apollo, Naxos’ most famous landmark (also known as the Portara, or ‘Doorway’). Simply two marble columns with a crowning lintel, it makes an arresting sight, and people gather at sunset for splendid views.
Santorini - Stunning Santorini may well have conquered a corner of your imagination before you've even set eyes on it. The startling sight of the submerged caldera almost encircled by sheer lava-layered cliffs – topped by clifftop towns that look like a dusting of icing sugar – will grab your attention and not let it go. If you turn up in the high season, though, be prepared for intense crowds and some serious commercial onslaughts – Santorini survives on tourism. Santorini is known for its multi-hued beaches. The black-sand beaches of Perissa, Perivolos, Agios Giorgos, and Kamari can sizzle (beach mats are essential). Red Beach, near Ancient Akrotiri, has impressive red cliffs and smooth, hand-sized pebbles submerged under clear water.
With its dramatic landscape, myriad mountain villages, unique cultural identity, and some of the best food in Greece, Crete is a delight to explore. As Greece's largest, most southerly island, its size, distance, and independent history give it the feel of a different country.
The island is split by a spectacular chain of mountains running east to west. Major towns are on the more hospitable northern coast, while most of the southern coast is too precipitous to support large settlements. The rugged mountainous interior, dotted with caves and sliced by dramatic gorges, offers rigorous hiking and climbing. Small villages like Margarites, a potters' village near Mt Idi, offer a glimpse into traditional life.
Iraklio - Crete's capital and economic hub, is a bustling modern city and the fifth-largest in Greece. It has a lively city center, an excellent archaeological museum, and is close to Knossos, Crete's major visitor attraction. Other towns are more picturesque, but in a pinch, you can stay over in Iraklio.
Knossos - Crete’s most famous historical attraction is the Palace of Knossos, 5km south of Iraklio, and the grand capital of Minoan Crete. Excavation on Knossos (k-nos-os) started in 1878 with Cretan archaeologist Minos Kalokerinos and continued from 1900 to 1930 with British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. Today, it's hard to make sense, in the extensive restorations, of what is Evans' interpretation and what actually existed in Minoan times. But the setting is gorgeous and the ruins and recreations impressive, incorporating an immense palace, courtyards, private apartments, baths, lively frescoes, and more.
Rethymno - On the coast between Iraklio and Hania, is one of the island's architectural treasures, due to its stunning fortress and mix of Venetian and Turkish houses in the old quarter. It's worth a stop to explore the area around the old Venetian harbour, and shop in its interesting arts and crafts boutiques.
Hania - Crete's most romantic, evocative, and alluring town, Hania is the former capital and the island's second-largest city. There is a rich mosaic of Venetian and Ottoman architecture, particularly in the area of the old harbour, which lures tourists in droves. Modern Hania with its university retains the exoticism of a city playing with East and West and has some of the best hotels and restaurants on the island. It's an excellent base for exploring nearby idyllic beaches and a spectacular mountainous interior. stroll around the old harbour is a must for any visitor to Hania. Pastel-colored historic homes and businesses line the harbour, zigzagging back into narrow lanes lined with shops. The entire area is ensconced in impressive Venetian fortifications, and it’s worth the 1.5km walk around the sea wall to the Venetian lighthouse.
Samaria Gorge - Certainly one of Europe's most spectacular gorges and a superb (and very popular) hike. Walkers should take rugged footwear, food, drinks, and sun protection for this strenuous five- to six-hour trek. You can do the walk as part of an excursion tour, or independently by taking the Omalos bus from the main bus station in Hania (one hour) to the head of the gorge at Xyloskalo (1230m). It's a 16.7km walk (all downhill) to Agia Roumeli on the coast, from where you take a boat to Hora Sfakion (1¼ hours) and then a bus back to Hania (1½ hours). You are not allowed to spend the night in the gorge, so you need to complete the walk in a day, or beat the crowds and stay over in one of the nearby villages. Other gorges, like Imbros, also make for wonderful walking and are far less crowded.
Strung out along the coast of western Turkey, the 12 main islands of the Dodecanese (dodeca means 12) have suffered a turbulent past of invasions and occupations that have endowed them with a fascinating diversity. Conquered successively by the Romans, the Arabs, the Knights of St John, the Turks, the Italians, then liberated from the Germans by British and Greek commandos in 1944, the Dodecanese became part of Greece in 1947. These days, tourists rule.
Rhodes - The largest island in the Dodecanese. According to mythology, the sun god Helios chose Rhodes as his bride and bestowed light, warmth, and vegetation upon her. The blessing seems to have paid off, for Rhodes produces more flowers and sunny days than most Greek islands. Throw in an east coast of virtually uninterrupted sandy beaches and it's easy to understand why sun-starved northern Europeans flock here in droves. Rhodes' capital is Rhodes Town, on the northern tip of the island. Its magnificent Old Town, the largest inhabited medieval town in Europe, is enclosed within massive walls and is a delight to explore. Nowhere else in the Dodecanese can boast so many layers of architectural history, with ruins and relics of the classical, medieval, Ottoman, and Italian eras entangled in a mind-boggling maze of twisting alleys.
Kos - Only 5km from the Turkish peninsula of Bodrum, Kos is popular with history buffs as the birthplace of Hippocrates (460–377 BC), the father of medicine. The island also attracts an entirely different crowd – hordes of sun-worshipping beach lovers from northern Europe who pack the long, sandy stretches in summer. Busy Kos Town has lots of bicycle paths and renting a bike along the pretty waterfront is great for seeing the sights. Near the Castle of the Knights is Hippocrates Plane Tree, under which the man himself is said to have taught his pupils. The modern town is built on the vast remains of the ancient Greek one – explore the ruins!
NORTHEASTERN AEGEAN ISLANDS
One of Greece's best-kept secrets, these far-flung islands are strewn across the north-eastern corner of the Aegean, closer to Turkey than mainland Greece. They harbour unspoiled scenery, welcoming locals, fascinating independent cultures, and remain relatively calm even when other Greek islands are sagging with tourists at the height of summer.
Samos - A lush mountainous island only 3km from Turkey, Samos has a glorious history as the legendary birthplace of Hera, wife, and sister of god-of-all-gods Zeus. Samos was an important center of Hellenic culture, and the mathematician Pythagoras and storyteller Aesop are among its sons. The island has beaches that bake in summer, and a hinterland that is superb for hiking. Spring brings with it pink flamingos, wildflowers, and orchids that the island grows for export, while summer brings throngs of package tourists. However, Samos is an island of forests, mountains, wildlife, and over 30 villages, harbouring excellent, cheap tavernas. The captivating villages of Vourliotes and Manolates, on the slopes of imposing Mt Ampelos, northwest of Vathy, are excellent walking territory and have many marked pathways.
Lesvos, or Mytilini as it is often called, tends to do things in a big way. The third-largest of the Greek islands after Crete and Evia, Lesvos produces half the world's ouzo and is home to over 11 million olive trees. Mountainous yet fertile, the island has world-class local cuisine, and presents excellent hiking and birdwatching opportunities, but remains refreshingly untouched in terms of tourism. The capital and main port, Mytilini, is a lively student town with great eating and drinking options, plus eclectic churches and grand 19th-century mansions and museums. It is built between two harbours (north and south) with an imposing fortress on the promontory to the east. All ferries dock at the southern harbour, and most of the town's action is around this waterfront.
Scattered to the southeast of the Pelion Peninsula, to which they were joined in prehistoric times, the 11 islands that make up the Sporades group have similarly mountainous terrain and dense vegetation and are surrounded by scintillatingly clear seas. The main ports for the Sporades are Volos and Agios Konstantinos on the mainland.
Skiathos - Lush and green, Skiathos has a beach resort feel about it. Charter flights bring loads of package tourists, but the island still oozes enjoyment and is downright mellow in winter. Skiathos Town, with its quaint old harbour, and some excellent beaches are on the hospitable south coast. Skiathos has superb beaches, particularly on the south coast. Koukounaries is popular with families and has a wonderfully protected marshland for waterfowl. A stroll over the headland, Big Banana Beach is stunning, but if you want an all-over tan, head a tad further to Little Banana Beach, where bathing suits are a rarity. Beautiful Lalaria on the north coast is accessible only by boat.
The idyllic cypress- and the fir-covered Ionian Islands stretch down the western coast of Greece from Corfu in the north to Kythira, off the southern tip of the Peloponnese. Mountainous, with dramatic cliff-backed beaches, soft light, and turquoise water, they're more Italian in feel, offering a contrasting experience to other Greek islands.
Corfu - Many consider Corfu, or Kerkyra (ker-kih-rah) in Greek, to be Greece's most beautiful island – the unfortunate consequence of which is that it's overbuilt and often overrun with crowds. Look beyond them to find its core splendor. Built on a promontory and wedged between two fortresses, Corfu's Old Town is a tangle of narrow walking streets through gorgeous Venetian buildings. Explore the winding alleys and surprising plazas in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the hordes of day-trippers seeking souvenirs. To explore the island fully your own transport is best. Much of the coast just north of Corfu Town is overwhelmed with beach resorts, the south is quieter, and the west has a beautiful, if popular, coastline. The Corfu Trail traverses the island north to south.
WHAT TO PACK FOR GREECE
WHAT TO EAT IN GREECE
Nutritious and flavourful, food is one of the great pleasures of travelling in Greece. The country's rich culinary heritage draws from a fusion of mountain village food, island cuisine, flavours introduced by Greeks from Asia Minor, and influences from various invaders and historical trading partners. The essence of classic Greek cuisine lies in fresh, seasonal home-grown produce and generally simple, unfussy cooking that brings out the rich flavours of the Mediterranean.
Savoury appetisers - Known as mezedhes (literally, 'tastes'; meze for short), standards include tzatziki (yoghurt, cucumber and garlic), melitzanosalata (aubergine dip), taramasalata (fish-roe dip), dolmadhes (stuffed vine leaves; dolmas for short), fasolia (beans) and oktapodi (octopus).
Cheap eats - Gyros is pork or chicken shaved from a revolving stack of sizzling meat and wrapped in pitta bread with tomato, onion, fried potatoes and lashings of tzatziki. Souvlaki is skewered meat, usually pork.
Taverna staples - You'll find mousakas (layers of aubergine and mince, topped with béchamel sauce and baked) on every menu, alongside moschari (oven-baked veal and potatoes), keftedes (meatballs), stifado (meat stew), pastitsio (baked dish of macaroni with minced meat and béchamel sauce) and yemista (either tomatoes or green peppers stuffed with minced meat and rice).
Sweets - Greeks are serious about their sweets, with zaharoplasteia (sweet shops) in even the smallest villages. Try variations on baklava (thin layers of pastry filled with honey and nuts). Or go simple: delicious Greek yoghurt drizzled with honey.
Top Tipples - Legendary aniseed-flavoured ouzo, sipped slowly, turns a cloudy white when ice or water is added. Raki, the Cretan firewater, is produced from grape skins. Greek coffee, a legacy of Ottoman rule, is a favourite pastime.
LGBTQ IN GREECE
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Greece have evolved significantly over the last years, establishing it as one of the most liberal countries in Southeast Europe. Discrimination is not as common anymore, although LGBT people in Greece do still face social challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Greece since 1951, and anti-discrimination laws in employment were enacted in 2005. Greek public opinion on homosexuality is generally regarded as culturally liberal, with same-sex unions being legally recognised since 2015.
Gay culture is vibrant in the capital of Athens, particularly in the gay neighbourhood of Gazi, in Thessaloniki and some of the Greek islands. Greece is one of Europe's most popular LGBT tourist destinations, with many establishments catering for the LGBT community on islands such as Mykonos and Lesbos. There are four LGBT pride parades held annually in Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras and Heraklion.