Pulling in more than 13 million tourists every year, Greece is one of the world’s most popular holiday spots. And it’s not hard to see why. Spotless sands, centuries of history, and traditional sugar-cube towns are just the start of what the country has to offer. Greece offers a wealth of culture, iconic views and life’s best pleasures: delicious food and wine at reasonable prices; beautiful beaches and plentiful sunshine; quaint villages; a seemingly endless lacework of coastline; and little islands full of scenic surprises and ancient sites.
Greece and Greeks welcome with open arms the thousands of visitors that flock to admire their national assets every year – no one leaves without having been warmed, both by the sun and the hospitality.
Back in 1450 BC, a massive volcanic eruption caused the middle of Santorini to fall into the sea. It left a steep-edged crater known as a caldera peeping above the waves, which, today, is a spectacular sight from the island’s clifftops.
It’s not just the geological make-up of the island that turns heads, though. With its whitewashed houses, blue-domed churches and never-ending vineyards, Santorini is Greece at its traditional best. Thira, the capital, is a popular place to stay – it’s perched on top of the caldera rim overlooking the Aegean. And the northern town of Oia, which also has a spot on the caldera, is the best place to see the island’s famous sunsets.
The beach scene
If you don’t mind your sand in a darker shade of grey – a legacy of the island’s volcanic past – there are some great beaches in towns like Kamari and Perissa. Framed by jagged cliffs, Kamari’s dark sandy sweep has been given Blue Flag status. As for Perissa, the 7-kilometre stretch here comes with a good helping of watersports.
Mykonos Town is a jumble of white houses, scrubbed and polished and accessorised with blue doors and flower-filled balconies. The whole place is a warren of narrow lanes and endless nooks and crannies hiding a little church here, a tiny boutique there. It climbs from the port up the gentle inclines of a hillside, watched over by the island’s 16th-century windmills.
There’s plenty to see while you get your bearings. Coming from the ferry quay, there’s every chance you’ll pass the Archaeological Museum and its pottery displays, plus the Folklore Museum housed in an 18th-century mansion. Keep walking uphill and you might end up on Matoyianni Street, wall-to-wall with independent stores selling leather goods and one-of-a-kind jewellery.
By the shore
Cupped in a wide bay, the harbour is where the Prada-clothed crowd hang out to watch the world go by. It’s a whirl of activity, with fishing boats bobbing on the water and ferries coming and going from other islands in the Cyclades. The Little Venice quarter, so-called because of its balconied houses teetering right by the water’s edge, is nearby. It’s a long-standing artists’ haunt, and has almost as many galleries as it does restaurants and bars.
The town has a small beach at the harbour front, and superior sands are close by. Platys Gialos is a long, stretch, 15 minutes away by bus, and the springboard to other southern Mykonos beaches.
With a coastline that unravels for over 290 kilometres, Kos has more than its fair share of beaches. They come in all shapes and sizes, from golden swathes backed by beach bars, to hidden bays and little-known coves. The island’s good looks don’t end with its shores, either. Inland, whitewashed villages spill down the hillsides and wild flowers blanket the fields. Then there’s Mount Dikeos, whose slopes are peppered with pine forests and castles.
In terms of where to stay, Kos has two very different sides to it. Kardamena is the best place to head for nightlife – its streets are packed with karaoke bars, English pubs and strobe-lit clubs. The cosmopolitan capital, Kos Town, is also lively, with holidays here revolving around lantern-lit dinners by the harbour-side, and cocktails and dancing in the bars of the backstreets.
Kefalos combines old and new. At first glance it’s thoroughly traditional, with its sugar-cube houses, ancient ruins and timeworn windmills. But it’s also home to the purpose-built resort of Kamari, which is bubbling with cafés, bars and restaurants. If you want to keep things low-key, Psalidi is another good option. There’s little more than a golden sandy beach and a sprinkle of tavernas and shops here.
Culture, shopping & food
Athens exudes a unique charm; its lively character wins over tens of thousands of visitors every year. Street markets, vine-covered tavernas, souvenir stalls and ancient monuments are dotted among high-rise buildings in this capital city, which one out of four Greeks calls home. For tourists the greatest advantage is that most attractions are accessible on foot in the central area around the landmark Acropolis.
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