Introducing Greece

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Greece is, of course, the land of ancient sites and architectural treasures -- the Acropolis in Athens, the amphitheater of Epidaurus, and the reconstructed palace at Knossos among the best known. But Greece is much more: It offers age-old spectacular natural sights, for instance -- from Santorini's caldera to the gray pinnacles of rock of the Meteora -- and modern diversions ranging from elegant museums to luxury resorts.

A visit to the land of Homer, Aristotle, and Sophocles is a journey to the dawn of classical civilization, with archaeological splendors from Athens to Crete. The towering monasteries of Meteora and soaring Mt. Olympus inspire awe, while relaxing islands like Corfu and Santorini invite simple pleasures and a taste of the good life on the Aegean Sea. The Greek countryside presents the perfect coda with idyllic landscapes of cypress groves, vineyards, and olive trees, as well as dramatic coves with sparkling white sand and rugged mountains that plunge into the sea.

It can be bewildering to plan your trip with so many options vying for your attention. Take us along and we'll help you figure it out. We've explored the archaeological sites, visited the museums, inspected the hotels, reviewed the tavernas and ouzeries, and scoped out the beaches. Here's what we consider the best of the best.

While its economic reputation has taken a battering, Greece remains a premier-league travel destination. Its incredible historic sites span four millennia, encompassing both the legendary and the obscure. Its convoluted coastline is punctuated by superb beaches, while its mountainous interior urges you to dust off your hiking boots and explore. Yet perhaps its greatest riches are the islands, ranging from backwaters where the boat calls twice a week to resorts as cosmopolitan as any in the Mediterranean.

For anyone with a cultural bone in their body Greece cannot fail to inspire. Minoans, Romans, Arabs, Latin Crusaders, Venetians, Slavs, Albanians and Turks have all left their mark, and almost every town or village has a link to the past, whether it’s a delicately crumbling temple to Aphrodite, a forbidding Venetian fort or a dusty Byzantine monastery decorated with exquisite frescoes. And let’s not forget the museums stuffed to bursting with Classical sculpture and archeological treasures.

But the call to cultural duty will never be too overwhelming on a Greek holiday. The hedonistic pleasures of languor and warmth – swimming in balmy seas at dusk, talking and drinking under the stars – are just as appealing. Bar a few upmarket and “boutique” exceptions you may struggle to find five-star comfort – orthopaedic mattresses, faultless plumbing and cordon bleu cuisine are not the country’s strongpoint – but this isn’t really what the Greek experience is about. Greek food, for example, is at its best fresh, abundant and uncomplicated, while the genuine welcome you receive at the simplest taverna is often enough to get you booking next year’s break as soon as you have returned home.

Whatever you come here for, it’s clear that Greece needs its tourists like never before. For the last few years it’s been synonymous with financial calamity with a titanic debt crisis seemingly ready to engulf Europe. However, this seems to have put off few people (visits to the islands were up 30 percent in 2011). Perhaps they know what we’ve known since the first edition of this guide was published thirty years ago – Greece can offer surprises and a true sense of discovery to even the most demanding traveller.

Despite the economic turmoil it has faced since the 2007 global recession, Greece remains a top-tier travel destination. With spectacular beaches and majestic scenery, the relics of four millennia of ancient culture and some of Europe’s best party spots, those who travel to Greece are certain to experience a once in a lifetime vacation.

Consult Buffalo Trip’s Greece travel guide for the best of this European playground.

Places to visit in Greece

The hundreds of islands that spill out into the seas surrounding Greece are divided into distinct groups: the Ionian islands to the west, the Sporádes to the east, and the Cyclades and Dodecanese trailing out southeast from Athens. The three largest islands are Crete, Lésvos and Evia.

The Greek mainland meanwhile is the heart of the country, with dramatic scenery and spectacular ruins recalling the grandeur of ancient civilisations – starting with Athens, birthplace of democracy and home to the most impressive remains from the Classical period to be found anywhere; the ancient strongholds of Mycenae; the holy site of Delphi, regarded by the ancients as the centre of the world; the stadium and temples of Olympia, where the Olympic Games began; and the wonderfully preserved theatre at Epidauros, among others.

Thessaloníki, the second city of the Byzantine Empire, has a rich heritage of stylish Byzantine churches, and the monastery of ósios Loukás is world famous for its art treasures. Venetian and Frankish occupation enriched Greece’s coastline with picturesque castles and walled cities such as Monemvasía. 

But the Greek mainland is not just about history. There are the rugged mountain ranges of southern and central Greece, while in the east the peaks of Mount Olympos are the highest in the land. As for the coast, this forms a series of so many coves and inlets that it runs to a length of 15,000 km (9,300 miles). 

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