Top things to do in Greece

Must-see Greece sights

With over 200 inhabited islands and a landscape ranging from Mediterranean to Balkan, Greece has enough appeal to fill months of travel.

  1. Explore glorious Athens
  2. Discover the incredible Peloponnese
  3. See wonderful Greek villages
  4. Explore exciting Thessaloniki
  5. Climb Greece’s magical mountains
  6. Relax in Santorini
  7. Visit Olympia

The initial glimpse of sapphire water or the discovery of millennia-old ruins bordered by ancient olive groves is intoxicating, and it’s the mingling of history and hedonism that ensures Greece’s enduring appeal.

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1. Explore glorious Athens

Exasperating and exhilarating, Athens has been inhabited continuously for over seven thousand years. Its mix of contemporary culture, nightlife and heritage rivals that of any European city. Part of Athens’ charm is the mix of retro and contemporary: cutting-edge clothes shops and designer bars stand by the remnants of the Ottoman bazaar, while modernist 1960s apartment blocks stand shoulder to shoulder with Neoclassical mansions. Plaka is the best place to begin exploring the city. One of the few parts of Athens with unified architecture, its narrow streets and stepped lanes are flanked by nineteenth-century Neoclassical houses. The interlocking streets provide countless opportunities for watching the world - or at least the tourists - go by. The Acropolis complex is an essential sight and one of the best things to do in Greece.

Best for: Ruins

While you’re there: Don’t forget to visit the Acropolis Museum.

2. Discover the incredible Peloponnese

The appeal of the Peloponnese is hard to overstate. The beaches of this southern peninsula are among the finest and least developed in the country, while its ancient sites include the Homeric palace of Agamemnon at Mycenae and the Greek theatre at Epidaurus. Medieval remains run from the fabulous castle at Acrocorinth and the strange tower-houses and frescoed churches of the Mani, to the extraordinary Byzantine towns of Mystra and Monemvasia.

Best for: Beaches

While you’re there: One of Europe’s quirkiest journeys is the rail line, Odontotos, from Dhiakofto to Kalavryta at over 120 years old.

3. See wonderful Greek villages

Few places are more exciting to arrive at than Kalambaka and the neighbouring village of Kastraki, about twenty minutes’ walk away. Your eye is immediately drawn to the grey cylinders of rock overhead - these are the outlying monoliths of the extraordinary valley of Meteora, familiar to many through films such as the James Bond classic For Your Eyes Only. The earliest religious communities in the valley emerged during the late tenth century, when homes were made in the caves. In 1336 they were joined by two monks from Mount Athos, one of whom established the first monastery here. This is one of the most rewarding things to do in Greece.

Best for: Incredible rock formations

While you’re there: Varlaám is one of the oldest and most beautiful monasteries in the valley - well worth a visit.

4. Explore exciting Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, feels more Central European and modern than Athens. Thessaloniki boasts many excellent sights - including a superb archeological museum and some lovely frescoed Byzantine churches - but the most obvious pleasures of Greece’s second city are in its street life: its myriad bars, first rate yet affordable restaurants and pumping clubs.

Best for: Nightlife

While you’re there: If you feel like something more contemporary, the excellent portside Museum of Photography is worth a visit.

5. Climb Greece’s magical mountains

Highest, most magical and most dramatic of all Greek mountains, Mount Olympus - the mythical seat of the gods - rears straight up nearly 3000m from the shores of the Thermaikos Gulf. Dense forests cover its lower slopes and its wild flowers are gorgeous. If you’re well equipped, no special expertise is necessary to reach the top between mid-June and October, though it’s a long hard pull, and its weather is notoriously fickle. The usual approach to Mount Olympus is via Litohoro on the eastern slopes, a pleasant village in a magnificent mountain setting. You can buy a proper map of the range in Athens, Thessaloniki or Litohoro. Looking for Greece holidays? We suggest staying at the A for Athens Hotel in the capital for a comfortable stay.

Best for: Adventure

While you’re there: Make sure to take plenty of water on your hikes and to take layers.

6. Relax in Santorini

What to do in Greece if you're looking to chill? Head to Santorini. It’s the epitome of relaxation, with its sun-drenched beaches and ambling, whitewashed stone paths. The island (a partially submerged volcanic caldera poking above the ocean’s surface in five places) is a welcome destination for those who have spent too many nights partying on Ios or Mykonos. As the ferry manoeuvres into the great bay, cliffs loom hundreds of metres above. The only colours are the reddish-brown, black and grey pumice strata layering the cliff face of Thira, the ancient name of Santorini. Despite a past every bit as turbulent as the geological conditions that formed it, the island is now best known for its spectacular views, dark-sand beaches and light, dry white wines.

Best for: Relaxing

While you're there: Near the northwestern tip of the island is one of the most dramatic towns of the Cyclades, Ia. Jaw-droppingly beautiful and magical.

7. Visit Olympia

The historic resonance of Olympia, which for over a millennium hosted the Panhellenic Games, is rivalled only by Delphi or Mycenae. Its site, too, ranks with this company, for although the ruins are confusing, the setting is as perfect as could be imagined: a luxuriant valley of wild olive and plane trees beside the twin rivers of Alfios and Kladheos, overlooked by the pine-covered Mount Kronion. The modern village of Arhea Olymbia is adjacent to the site.

Best for: More history

While you're there: The ancient site is a must-see here.

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