29 Ultimate Things to Do in Greece
An odyssey for everyone!
What is Greece most famous for? Beaches, archaeological sites, delicious food, dancing in the moonlight? It’s hard to pick. Yes, this is the place where starry-eyed honeymooners watch the sunset into the Aegean Sea from the whitewashed cliffs of Santorini. But it’s also where adventure travelers raft in sparkling rivers, snorkelers, and scuba divers swim over ancient wrecks, hikers dodge sheep on mountain paths, and kids realize that Rick Riordan wasn’t the first to dream up the Minotaur. The best things to do in Greece aren’t just the biggies like visiting ancient monuments and swimming in cobalt water. The small moments are just as wonderful, whether it’s drinking local wine under a plane tree in a village, wandering a winding alley between whitewashed houses, or biting into a super fresh tomato and a cube of salty feta. Whatever you hope to see—and there are so many places to visit in Greece—the country is an ideal travel destination. WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT GREECE?The best time to visit is when the weather’s warm but the crowds aren’t raging, a.k.a. the shoulder season of May/June and September/October. Visitors no longer have to show negative Covid tests to enter the country. Here’s where you can find the latest on Covid precautions and travel requirements.
Watch the Sunset in Santorini
This crescent-shaped Cycladic Island was formed by an intense volcanic eruption in approximately 1650 B.C. Today it is renowned for its rocky cliffs, which overlook the caldera, the volcanic crater in the ocean floor, rising 1,100 feet above sea level and offering dramatic views of the Aegean Sea. The towns of Fira, Imerovigli, and Ia (Oia) are perched along the top of the island and linked by a hiking path that offers incredible views. Bars and restaurants in each town provide some spectacular and wildly popular sunset-watching opportunities across the bay, but you’ll want to explore the rest of the island as well to take in its vineyards, beaches, and the archaeological site of Akrotiri, the Bronze Age city that was preserved when the volcano erupted. With its seriously romantic backdrop, it’s no wonder that Santorini is such a popular wedding and honeymoon destination.
Explore the Acropolis in Athens
Every city-state in ancient Greece had an acropolis, a fortress high up on a hill to keep hostile visitors at bay. But the best-preserved and most famous Acropolis is the one built-in 5 B.C. in Athens. Considered to be the jewel of the Athenian civilization, the pinnacle of Classical beauty, and the epitome of human accomplishment in the ancient world, this symbol of Greece is a must-see. Following the steps pilgrims once walked to visit the temple of Athena, tourists enter from the Beule Gate on the west side of the hill, taking in the imposing scale and remarkable architectural design of the Propylaia, the Parthenon (which is the large temple at the top of the hill), and the Erechteion. Don’t miss the Acropolis Museum, directly across the pedestrian walkway from the archaeological site. A marvel of modern architecture, it contains many important statues, votive offerings, and archaeologic details from the Acropolis.
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Stroll Around Europe’s Oldest City: Knossos
WHERE: Knossos, Crete
The legendary home of the Minotaur, the Palace of Knossos, is the most famous archaeological site on Crete, Greece’s largest island. The Minoan civilization, named for the mythological King Minos, dominated this region of the southeastern Mediterranean some 5,000 years ago. Excavations, which first started in Knossos in 1878, offer a glimpse into what life might have been like in the ancient kingdom before it was (supposedly) destroyed by the volcanic eruptions in Santorini and the subsequent tsunami that reached Cretan shores. The in-situ restoration (some would say over-restoration) by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans paints an evocative picture of the Minoans’ everyday life, rituals, and artistic skill.
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Get Serious Mamma Mia Vibes
WHERE: Skopelos, Sporades
About 6,000 islands and islets are scattered around the Hellenic seascape, so one might wonder why Skopelos? Because it is possibly the greenest of all the Greek islands (with more than 67 percent of the land covered by pine trees). Its combo of glowing greenery and aquamarine crystalline waters make visitors fall in love with it—case in point: the producers of Mamma Mia, who filmed the movie here and on the mainland across the water. To visit Agios Ioannis Kastri (St. John of the Castle), the whitewashed island chapel where the movie’s wedding was filmed, you’ll need to climb up 110 steps; time your visit to the sunset for incredible views.
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Explore Greece’s First Capital
WHERE: Nafplion, Peloponnese
The history of modern Greece is intertwined with “Nafplio the Beautiful,” as Greeks call it. Though Athens is the capital of Greece today, Nafplion was the first seat of the newly independent state in 1821. The city retains its picturesque character, especially in its historic center, the Venetian Old Town. There, narrow alleyways are covered with thick bougainvillea and lined with relaxed cafés and well-preserved neoclassical buildings that feel a world away from the busy pace of the modern town of Nafplion. The city is an ideal base for exploring the ancient sites of the Peloponnese, such as Mycenae and Tiryns.
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Museum Hop in a Cultural Capital
Greece’s first city has one of the highest number of museums per capita—most of which are smack-dab in the city center. The vast National Archaeological Museum houses many impressive artifacts unearthed throughout the country, while smaller boutique museums specialize in a given era or topic. Some of the best include the Cycladic Museum, devoted to Cycladic idols and the era that produced them, and the Benaki Museum, which displays Greek culture through costumes, pottery, and decorative arts. Both are housed in neoclassical mansions on Vassilias Sofias Avenue, which is also home to the War Museum, the Byzantine Museum, and the recently refurbished, ultra-modern National Gallery, showcasing Greek and European art from the 14th to the 20th century.
Climb the Mountain of the Gods
WHERE: Mt. Olympus, Macedonia and Thessaly
The tallest mountain of Greece (2,917 meters or 9,570 feet) set the stage for the trials and tribulations of the twelve Olympian Gods. In order to worship Zeus, an impressive sanctuary was set up at Dion, at the foot of the mountain, where a good-sized city sprung up in Hellenistic times. The mountain became Greece’s first National Park in 1938 and was named the Olympus Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1981. On its slopes, you’ll find numerous trails, eateries serving hearty soups and tasty game dishes, and some small but inviting waterfalls. Hike one of the five trails to the summit or hire a guide to lead you on a shorter trek.
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Stay and Play in Greece’s Second City
WHERE: Thessaloniki, Macedonia
The second-largest city in Greece is so much more than a getaway stop on the way to the beach towns of Halkidiki or the monasteries of Mount Athos (a trip only open to men and requiring a special permit). A vibrant party city with a multicultural history, Thessaloniki has some of the best nightlife in Greece in hip neighborhoods such as the Ladadika, once home to the city’s oil warehouses. It’s one of the country’s top places to hear rembetika, Greek blues. But there’s plenty to do by day, too—walk along the promenade of Thermaikos, visit the Archaeological Museum to see the marvelous golden treasures from the Royal Tombs of Vergina, and enjoy an eastern-spiced meal in the Old Town.
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Wander a Clifftop City
WHERE: Folegandros, Cyclades
With one of the prettiest towns in Greece, Folegandros is the archetypal Cycladic island. Rocky and tiny, it has 20 kilometers of scenic paths that wind through the beautiful windswept clifftop city of Chora before continuing on to the villages of Stavros, Xristos, Fira, and Agkali. Its volcanic landscape, enviable views, and gorgeous sunset have led to it being called the “new” Santorini—as in minus the crowds. It’s the perfect place to relax, as there’s not much to do but swim, sun, sleep, and roam about its slate-paved streets and take in the infinite views beyond the whitewashed cubic houses and blue church domes.
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Keep the Olympic Flame Alive
WHERE: Olympia, Peloponnese
Olympia is a gotta-see-it day trip when touring the Peloponnese. This important sanctuary was dedicated to Zeus, and the Pan-Hellenic Olympic Games were held in his honor every four years from 776 BCE to 393 CE. The modern Olympics revived the games in 1896, and the flame of every Olympics since 1936 has been lit in the Temple of Hera before making its long journey around the world. Walking around the tranquil site surrounded by pine trees and olive groves, you’ll get a glimpse into the lives of ancient heroes and feel inspired by their sportsmanship.
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Party Like a Jet-Setter
WHERE: Mykonos, Cyclades
Greece’s most famous island is the quintessential party paradise that attracts an impressive number of A-list celebrities and jet-setters. But there’s more to Mykonos than infinity pools, beach parties, high-end boutiques, and all-night clubs. You’ll have to wake up early to see the fishermen selling their catch on the harbor of Chora, but you can wander that capital town any time of day looking for Petros, the pelican, the island’s mascot, or watching waves splash onto the taverna chairs in Little Venice. Chora gets crowded when the cruise ships come in; there’s a quieter side to the island, but in the summer months, you need to look hard to find it; visit the more traditional settlements like Ano Mera and its monastery.
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Go Back in Time on a Magical Island
WHERE: Delos, Cyclades
Just a short boat ride away from the party world of Mykonos lies tiny, uninhabited Delos—an islet that is purely an archaeological site, the remains of a magical place in ancient Greek civilization. The mythological birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis, Delos functioned as a religious sanctuary, the center of the Delian League, the geographic center of the Cyclades, and a safe port for incoming vessels in ancient times. Today, Delos makes for an unforgettable day trip, whether you go back and forth on one of the boats leaving Mykonos’s harbor or book a cruise that allows for swimming on the shores of uninhabited Rhenia island before or after the site visit. Whatever you choose, don’t forget your sunglasses!
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Step Back to the Middle Ages
WHERE: Monemvasia, Peloponese
Monemvasia is more like the country’s Mont-St.-Michel: a community that grew within an island fortress often called the Gibraltar of Greece. Enter the old town from its unique single entrance (moni emvasia , according to the Byzantines), and you are suddenly transported five centuries back to the clashes between the Byzantine empire and the Franks. This is a cozy town where everything still needs to be brought in through the gate via donkeys, but there’s a surprising amount of things to do: swim of the rocks below the town’s lower gate, wander the narrow alleyways, eat saita, the crepe-like local greens pie at one of the three tavernas, taste local wine at one of the bars or cafes, and hike up to the church of Agia Sophia at the top of the island. It’s such an evocative spot; Greeks often get married here or visit year-round for romantic getaways.
Explore Out-of-This-World Rock Formations
WHERE: Meteora, Thessaly
There is something supernatural about the sandstone cliffs of Meteora. Here, majestic geological forces and the determination of the human spirit combined to create monasteries nestled on top of impressive rock formations. The natural pillars were created about 60 million years ago as the seabed was pushed upwards and weathered by water, winds, and temperature changes. In the 16th century, there were 24 monasteries at the top of these peaks; six remain and are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. They can be visited by pilgrims paying admission, but you can also take in the rocks’ ethereal and dramatic beauty by hiking, especially at sunset, and rock-climbing (for more adventurous types).
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Get Lost in a Medieval Maze
WHERE: Rhodes, Dodecanese
The oldest populated Medieval town in the world draws you into its maze-like nameless streets with beautifully restored buildings and cobbled, car-free paths. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is striking even from first glance, as impressive fortified walls and a moat surround it. A visit to the Palace of the Grandmaster, the Knights of St John Hospital, and the Street of Knights can be combined with more traditional tourist endeavors like fine dining and souvenir shopping. It’s like walking into a film set; only it’s real.
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Find Your Perfect Beach
With 8,498 miles of coastline, you are never too far away from a pristine beach in Greece. In fact, 545 of Greece’s beaches boast Blue Flag status for their cleanliness. The question is, what kind of beach do you like? There are sandy shores full of sunbeds and clubs hosting all-day beach parties, like Scorpios on Mykonos’ Paraga Beach. There are pebbled beaches where the water is so clear you can spot every little fish, like Damouchari beach on the Pelion Peninsula. There are coves you have to shimmy down rope ladders to get to (Tsigrado on Milos) and others you have to take boats to (like the famed Navagio, or Shipwreck Beach, on Zakynthos). And that’s just ocean beaches, not to mention lakes, lagoons, and natural swimming pools made of waterfalls or mountain streams. Think about what you want (desert island splendor? Reserve-ahead beach chairs? Something in between?). Then ask a local for recommendations.
Discover a Spiritual World
Thousands of churches, chapels, and monasteries are scattered throughout Greece, sometimes in the most unusual places: on top of mountains, rugged slopes, or winding roads. Some have an architectural interest (such as the whitewashed Panagia Paraportiani on Mykonos or the blue-domed churches on Santorini). Others are highly sought-after pilgrimage sites, such as the Evangelistria Church on Tinos, which is believed to be miracle-working. However, they all attest to the Greeks’ deeply religious spirit and historical connection to Orthodox Christianity’s roots. Orthodox Easter (usually in April or early May) and the Assumption of Mary (on August 15) are the two biggest Greek holidays.
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Vacation Like a Writer
WHERE: Corfu, Ionian islands
Corfu’s lush green slopes, protected coves, and mild climate first lured Ulysses, followed by a string of Byzantine, Venetian, and British colonizers. The Ionian island has also drawn painters and writers, most notably the literary Durrell brothers, whose masterpieces include The Alexandrian Quartet and My Family and Other Animals, and whose exploits are recounted in the series The Durrells on Corfu. The Venetian-style Old Town of Corfu is a gem that looks much as it did in the brothers’ day (and is a designated UNESCO Heritage Centre). To lean into that Durrell vibe, avoid the resorts catering to package tourists and explore the island’s attractions, including the Achilleion Summer Palace, the islet of Pontikonisi, and miles of beaches from the sandy shores of the protected Korission lagoon to sunbed-filled Glyfada to remote Myrtiotissa, a remote nudist beach named for the monastery in the hillside overlooking it.
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Leave Your Car Behind
WHERE: Hydra, Saronic Islands
All cobbled streets and gray stone mansions that once belonged to sea captains, car-free Hydra is an artist’s dream. (This may explain why the tiny island, a two-hour catamaran ride from Athens, is dotted with galleries, notably the DESTE foundation’s Slaughterhouse Space, which hosts a buzzy exhibit each summer.) Donkey carts carry luggage up the hilly alleys from the crescent-shaped port, and, for humans, life on tiny Hydra follows a relaxed, slow pace with refreshing dives from the rocks of Hydronetta, boat trips to pebbly nearby beaches, and tasty meals on the seafront or at inland tavernas. Venture out for a walk along Hydra’s windswept paths, where you’ll be in awe of the simple beauty of this island, which songwriter Leonard Cohen found so inspiring when he lived here.
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Have a Revelation of Your Own
WHERE: Patmos, the Dodecanese
It is not easy to get to Patmos, as there is no airport, and the fastest connection to the mainland takes about seven hours. But once you arrive, you’ll immediately sense the serenity and sophistication that makes the island so attractive to its loyal repeat visitors. Whitewashed Chora, the main town, is filled with aristocratic mansions where visitors, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the Aga Khan once stayed. Rising above the town is the fortress-like Monastery of St. John the Theologian, which dates to 1088 and is located just above the cave where St John was moved to write the Revelation in 95 A.D. But these aren’t the only places you’ll find inspiration; stunning beaches ring the island, from those with tavernas and sunbeds like Kambi to more remote spots such as Livadi Geranou.
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Enter Warrior Country
WHERE: Mani, the Peloponnese
Countless stone towers, seven fortresses, Byzantine churches, archaeological sites, and 98 traditional and historical protected villages are scattered throughout Mani. Many Greek heroes hail from this land of warriors where difficult living conditions (especially the lack of drinking water), the isolation, the strict social norms, and the high ethics made Maniots a proud people so prone to vendettas that families built homes of stone towers that would be impenetrable to their enemies. Today, the area, beautifully described by Patrick Leigh Fermor in his book, Mani, is home to some beautiful beaches such Marmari, “ghost villages” including Vathia, and charming towns full of stone homes, airy main squares, and traditional tavernas like Kardamyli. Enjoy it on a road trip or walking expedition around Mani, Areopoli, Gytheio, Oitylo, etc.
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Consult an Oracle
According to mythological lore, the ancients determined that Delphi was the center of the cosmos when Zeus let two eagles fly from opposite ends of the world and the sacred birds met here. The ruins on the current archaeological site date to the sixth to fourth century B.C., when the sanctuary was filled with pilgrims visiting the Pythia, the priestess who spoke for the oracle thought to inhabit the space. Her predictions were only relayed on the 7th day of the month and deeply influenced the fate of the ancient world. The Delphic sanctuary today has one of the highest concentrations of ancient ruins in the world, from theaters to temples, and is easily accessed from Athens on a day trip. Don’t miss the museum and its statue of the famed Charioteer.
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Swim Off the Face of the Moon
Once known for its mining industry, Milos is rich in minerals, which give the coast its gorgeous beaches, from black, volcanic Gerontas to reddish Paleochori, where patches of sand are warmed by underground sulfur springs. But the most Instagrammed of them all is Sarakiniko, where white sandstone craters give the beach the look of a lunar landscape. Take a boat trip to view the ever-changing coastline, the Kleftiko sea caves, named for pirates, and the syrmata, whitewashed structures carved out of the coast with colorful doors where fisherman kept their boats, sleeping on the upper floor on nights they didn’t want to go back inland up to their villages. Speaking of villages, don’t miss lovely Trypiti and, just above it, Plaka, where the narrow alleys are lined with boutiques, restaurants, and churches, and there’s a view around every corner.
Peep at Palazzos
There are over 1,300 neoclassical buildings in Ermoupolis, Syros’s capital city. And many of those are Italianate palazzos built right above the water in the Vaporia neighborhood. If you’re not staying in a hotel or AirBnB above those, you can swim past the palazzos off the town “beach,” really a stone dock next to Asteria Beach bar. Back on dry land, you’ll feel the influence of the Venetian merchants who settled Syros at the Apollon Theater, a miniature replica of La Scala, where Homer, Aeschylus, and Euripides are depicted in the ceiling frescos alongside Italian composers including Verdi and Bellini. The theater hosts some of the many festivals held each year on this artsy island.
Pay Homage to Poseidon
If you like your ancient temples with a side of ocean views, have we got the archaeological site for you! The Temple to Poseidon, built circa 700 BC, stands on Cape Sounion, which juts out into the Aegean sea—so named because King Aegeus, seeing his son Theseus’s ship return with black sails, mistakenly believed his boy had been eaten by the Minotaur and threw himself into the ocean. The temple stands out against the blue sky and sea backdrop—especially at sunset, which is not coincidentally when the site is most crowded. There are small coves at the site’s base and organized beaches nearby for cooling off before or after your temple visit.
Raft a Sparkling River
WHERE: The Zagorohoria, Epirus
The Voidomatis is said to be the cleanest river in Europe, and rafting it is just one of the outdoor adventures you’ll find in the Zagorhoria, 40 picture-perfect villages built around the edge of the Vikos Gorge in the northern Greek province of Epirus. You can also mountain bike, horseback ride, or hike in, under, and over the arched gray stone bridges that distinguish the region. Or, just sit in the main square of any of the villages, enjoying local specialties such as pites (savory pies) made with local greens or liqueurs distilled using herbs foraged in the area, which is part of the Pindos National Park.
Visit a Village
WHERE: Metsovo, Epirus
Greece is full of beautiful villages, from Lefkes on the island of Paros to Monodendri on the Albanian border. But one of the loveliest, and largest, is Metsovo in the Pindus Mountains. The settlement became prosperous during Ottoman rule, when, in return for guarding the mountain passes, locals were given tax breaks and some local autonomy. Metsovo is popular with Greek tourists who love its weaving, wood-carving, and delicious local cuisine—smoked cheese, roast meat, and savory pies. There’s also plenty of wine as one of the town’s benefactors, the Averoff family, own a prestigious winery on the outskirts of town. You can visit sites from the Folk Art Museum to the Averoff contemporary art gallery, hike in warm months, and ski in col. The altitude keeps Metsovo cool in summer and makes it an ideal place to cozy up by the fire in winter.
Spot a Minaret
WHERE: Ioannina, Epirus
Greece was under Ottoman occupation from the mid-15th century until the War for Independence was won in 1821. But Ottoman rule lingered in some parts of the country until 1913 in parts of northern Greece, including Ioannina. That history is most vivid in the city’s Old Town on the banks of Lake Pamvotis, where two mosques, an Orthodox church, and a synagogue share the walled space. One mosque is now the Municipal Museum, filled with local costumes and silverwork, and the other is shuttered but stands next to the Byzantine museum, full of historic icons. Wander the Old Town to walk through Greek history and spot stone-and-wooden architecture that differs dramatically from the whitewashed Cycladic islands.
See an Outdoor Movie
WHERE: All Over Greece
One checklist item in every Greek summer is catching a movie at an outdoor cinema. These aren’t screens set up in a park; they’re purpose-built courtyards, gardens, and rooftops filled with folding chairs and concession stands selling souvlakia, cheese, spinach pies, and beer and wine. (Yes, there’s usually popcorn, too.) Most islands and towns have one, and big cities have several—in Athens, the Aegli has been showing movies in the National Garden every summer since 1903, and Cine Paris and Cine Thiseion have Acropolis views you can stare at if the movie gets boring. Cine Manto is a garden oasis in the heart of Mykonos Town, where you’ll find locals as well as tourists. Cine Enastron is on Paros Park, next to the ocean. Wherever you are, ask a local if there’s a therino cinema, then sit back and enjoy the show.