If tanning sessions at the beach interspersed with exploration of ancient ruins and nights of ouzo-infused partying sounds like your thing, then Greece could be just the ticket. Known for its friendly natives, moussaka and being the developer of western culture as we know it, you only need a glimpse of the Parthenon to acknowledge that Greece is a mighty nation. Whether you take a dip in the Ionian Sea or the Aegean, the 1,400 islands here are unlikely to leave you feeling disappointed.
Athens: the capital of Greece is a smoggy, noisy and chaotic city, but beyond its surface, it turns out to be an ancient, classical location offering visitors numerous neighboring archaeological sites, dominated by the Acropolis.
The Acropolis: is the most important historic monument in the Western world. The best time to get here is as early as possible to avoid being trampled down by the enormous tourist crowds.
Santorini: with its sea-filled caldera surrounded by black-sand beaches, this island is considered as one of the most stunning in Greece. Do not hesitate to try some of the top wines in the world, which are produced here.
Crete: unique landscapes with mountains, caves and gorges as well as paradise beaches and remote coves impress visitors to this island, while the 3,000-year-old Knossós palace contributes to the cultural understanding of the Minoan era.
Mykonos: another postcard-island which lies in the Cyclades; you will almost certainly get lost in Mykonos Town, where a labyrinth of narrow streets was designed in the 18th century in order to confuse the harassing pirates.
Two weeks is the minimum period to see the main attractions and get some recreation.
Three or four days to visit the highlights of Athens including the Acropolis.
A week for the paradisiacal islands; head for Crete or Santorini.
Three or four days to go trekking in Greece’s gorgeous national parks.
Three days to experience the charming island of Mykonos.
Four days to go sailing in the Aegean or Ionian seas.
The major health problem here has to do with visitors’ overexposure to the sun, leading to actinocutitis (sunburn), so be alert, particularly on boats and in the water. Make sure that your polio and tetanus vaccinations are up-to-date. In any of the larger cities you can consult English-speaking doctors. The water is safe, but if you are feeling precautious, bottled water is offered almost everywhere. The crime rate in Greece is low, particularly theft.
There are direct flights to Athens from overseas, and charter flights can be booked from Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London and Paris. Road connections are existent from Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Turkey. Car ferries leave from Italy and Turkey, and there are boats from Cyprus and Israel. Trains go from Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia and Turkey. The bus is the standard public transport inside the country, and ferries steer toward any of the 166 populated islands.
What’s cool: Ancient history and culture, stunning beaches, trekking in the national parks, sailing and scuba diving in the Ionian and Aegean seas, mouth-watering Greek food, warm-hearted people, comfortable tourist infrastructure.
What’s not: Pollution in Athens, tourist crowds at the Acropolis, extremely hot weather in summer, getting sunburned, package holiday groups on the islands, over persistent Petros’ offering a taste of holiday romance.
The peak period (July/August) is least recommended due to masses of tourists and almost unbearably hot temperatures. June and September are superb months, especially for the islands. In October, you might be hit by a storm, especially in the west, but fall is generally a very pleasant season. The coldest time is between December and March, when snow falls in the mountains.
The Greek calendar is packed with hundreds of cultural events and festivals, especially in summer. Here are some of the most recommendable.
April: Easter is definitely the most essential Greek festival of the year (considerably more than Christmas), with processions and fireworks displays.
June to September: innumerous cultural festivals, with the Hellenic Festival being the most famous. Highlights include classical drama and music in amphitheaters at Athens, Epidaurus, Dion and Dodona.
July to September: every couple of days, religious festivals are celebrated, particularly in the countryside.
October: Óhi Day is a national holiday with folk-dancing and parades to remember Metaxa’s one-word answer to Mussolini’s ultimatum in 1940: “Ohi!” (No!).
November: International Thessaloniki Film Festival has become a main regional festival in Europe.
Cultural sightseeing: is obligatory, with the country’s mythological history and culture, outstanding landmarks and beautiful scenery.
Sailing: it goes without saying that Greece is among the top countries for sailing.
Scuba diving: below the surface of the crystal blue waters lies the marine beauty of Greece.
Walking and trekking: are magnificent here, where you are never far from nature for exploring mountains, forests, gorges, caves or islands on foot.
Skiing and snowboarding: are probably not among your first associations with Greece, but there are 18 ski resorts in the 6,500-feet-high mountains, so after going skiing in the morning you can enjoy some fish for lunch by the sea!
Dining: the Greek cuisine is one of the richest and also the oldest (the first cookery book was written in 330 BC).
Due to its quality of ingredients and their combination, Greek cuisine is both tasty and healthy. The diet is simple: a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit, cereals, herbs, olive oil and honey, and lesser quantities of meat, fish, dairy products and wine. The world-known ouzo (aniseed liquor) serves as both appetizer and digestive – yassu! When you manage to stay away from the tourist spots, you will not only experience the genuine Greek cooking, which has far more to offer than souvlaki and moussaka, but you might also become integrated into the lively local traditions of music, dancing, celebrations and the overwhelming hospitality of the people.