Steeped in mystery and mythology, Greece welcomes guests with stunning landscapes, incredible monuments and a proud, vibrant culture.
Much of what we think of as “Western civilization” sprang from this mountainous country, including democracy, trial by jury, libraries, lighthouses, standardized medicine and theater — making Greece a must on any culture vulture’s bucket list.
The Hellenic Republic is a history-lover’s dream, home to 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than 100 archaeological museums and countless remnants of its ancient occupation. Two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were here: the magnificent Colossus of Rhodes (as tall as the Statue of Liberty) and the majestic gold-and-ivory statue of Zeus at Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympics.
More than 6,000 islands dot the three seas — Aegean, Ionian and Mediterranean — that surround the mainland, and no point in the country is farther than 85 miles from the turquoise waters that lap its 16,000 miles of coastline. The people are as warm as the sun-soaked beaches, and philoxenia (literally “friend to the stranger”) is the guiding principle of legendary Greek hospitality that — like the sirens in the Odyssey — lures visitors back again and again.
Can’t Miss Destinations
Known for iconic landmarks including the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the ancient Agora, the country’s capital is filled with must-see attractions. The Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum are among the best in the world, but there are modern pleasures to be found as well. Athens puts Broadway to shame with 148 theatrical stages — the most of any city in the world — so don’t miss seeing a performance in the birthplace of acting and theater. Spend some time strolling the narrow, mostly car-free streets of the Plaka. The oldest part of the city, this district in the shadow of the Acropolis has tons of shops and tavernas and an intimate, village vibe.
Dedicated to the god Apollo and revered by ancients as the “navel of the earth,” the ruins at Delphi are second only to the Acropolis as the country’s most popular archaeological attraction. Located two and a half hours from the capital along the slopes of imposing Mount Parnassus, the Temple of Apollo was presided over by a series of oracles — priestesses believed to have the gift of prophecy. The current temple dates from the fourth century B.C. Above it, and well worth the climb, sits a theater that could hold 5,000 spectators, as well as a stadium that played host to the Pythian games.
It’s wildly popular with tourists — and for good reason. Rated as one of the most scenic sites in all of the Greek islands, Santorini’s unique geography is the result of a powerful volcanic eruption that occurred 3,600 years ago, at the height of the Minoan civilization. The blast, one of the largest in recorded history, created an enormous caldera that’s mostly submerged beneath the Aegean’s impossibly blue waters. Today whitewashed sugar-cube houses perch on cliffs above the sea, and holiday-makers bask on the island’s red, white and black sand-and-pebble beaches.
Traditional Greek cuisine is a Mediterranean melange that relies on seasonal ingredients bursting with freshness and redolent with just-picked herbs and silky, grassy olive oil. Enjoy a little bit of everything with meze — an array of small plates traditionally served with drinks. There’ll be olives, of course, along with sharp, tangy sheep’s cheese and lamb keftedes (meatballs). Pickled foods are popular, so you may find artichokes, small sweet red peppers and even octopus. Accompany the feast with fresh-from-the-oven pita rounds dipped in fragrant olive oil.
The ancient gods gathered on Mount Olympus, and their magic still makes a nightly appearance. The beauty of Greek sunsets is legendary, and no evening should pass without observing the grandeur. Now open to mortals, Mount Olympus guarantees a spectacular view, as do the steps of the Acropolis and Oia, Santorini’s bougainvillea-bedecked village. Each sunset should be a celebration, and at least one should be spent on the water, enjoying a cruise while the golden sun slips into Homer’s “wine-dark sea.”
For millennia an ancient sunken ship called the Peristera Wreck remained truly hidden, resting under 80 feet of water in Europe’s largest protected marine park. The large merchant vessel went down about 2,500 years ago, carrying a trove of two-handled wine amphora and other relics. Dubbed “the Parthenon of shipwrecks,” the site was closely guarded and restricted to scientists. Now it’s open to the diving public as Greece’s first underwater museum. Nondivers can experience a virtual reality tour at the information center, located on the island of Alonissos.
No one wants the evil eye, and the brilliant blue charms that protect against it may be bought inexpensively by the handful at almost any market. (They make great stocking stuffers too!) Spirits aficionados will appreciate a bottle of anise-kissed ouzo, while cooks will clamor for artisanal olive oil. But for yourself, bring home as much Cretan honey as you can carry. Legend has it that Zeus himself was born in a cave here, attended by a hive of sacred bees. Regardless of myth, Crete’s honey is legendary, flavored with pine, thyme and other wild herbs that grow in abundance on the rugged island.