Greece is about so much more than sun and sand. This vibrant country made up of its mainland and numerous islands, offers stunning scenery, a rich history, and a welcoming culture that every backpacker will want to be part of. Here are ten of the essential sights to experience on your trip to Greece.
The northwestern region of Zagori is renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty. Its two national parks provide some of the best hiking in the country. With mountain paths winding through densely forested areas, it offers stunning views down to the valleys and rivers below. The paths connect a series of villages containing some excellent examples of 18th Century architecture. Truly a region backpackers will love – the beautiful Vikos Gorge is not to be missed!
The Peleponnese peninsula is a beautiful coastal landmass with secluded beaches bordered by lush green forestry. It can be easily accessed from the Greek mainland via the Rio-Antirrio Bridge. Peleponnese is an area steeped in history – here you’ll find the legendary Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games, as well as eclectic architecture from every period in its long and rich history.
Meteora’s jagged cliffs soar over 1,200 feet above sea level, offering stunning views across the northern mainland. It doesn’t seem feasible that their summits could be used for building on, but they in fact house a series of monasteries dating back as far as the 14th Century. The monasteries, some of which are still standing, look as if they are suspended in the air, which is the meaning of the name Meteora.
Crete is the largest and one of the best-known of the Greek islands. It’s a great destination for backpackers as it offers something for everyone – beautiful beaches, stunning mountains, and rural villages cohabit alongside vibrant cities offering historical and cultural attractions, and a thriving nightlife. It is believed that European civilization began here. Its long history is reflected in the varied architecture of the island.
Renowned as one of the most beautiful of all the Greek islands, Santorini is one of the Cyclades Islands off the southeast coast of the mainland. Popular with tourists of all ages, Santorini is famous for its black sand beaches. The best-known of these is Kamari, around which much of the island’s buzzing nightlife is centered. However, exploring Santorini will also reveal numerous historical sights including Ancient Thera, with ruins dating back to the 4th Century, and the excavated town of Akrotiri, buried by a volcanic eruption in 1500 BC. Akrotiri was recently reopened to offer today’s visitors a perfectly preserved insight into Bronze Age Greek life.
Zakynthos, also known as Zante, is one of the Ionian Islands. It is located off the Mediterranean coast of the mainland. It is renowned for its rugged scenery, especially the cliffs and caves to the north and west of the island. One of the most spectacular sights here can be found at the Blue Caves in Cape Skinari, which can only be accessed by boat. The best time to visit is in the early morning when the arches of the caves turn blue due to reflections from the sea. It’s a magical experience.
The Greek capital is a wonderful blend of the ancient and the modern. The city’s history is evident everywhere, but it sits within a bustling 21st Century hive of business, retail, dining, and nightlife. The ancient historical sites here are on just about everybody’s bucket lists. World famous seats of Ancient Greek civilization, such as the Parthenon temple, showpiece of the Acropolis, which presides over the city from its clifftop vantage point even now, 2,500 years after its construction; and the colossal Temple of Olympian Zeus, begun in 515 BC, with columns that reach 57 feet into the sky.
But Athens has plenty more to offer than its ancient history – the changing of the guards at Syntagma Square and the Hellenic Parliament Building are must-sees while you’re here, and the picturesque Plaka District with its quaint boutiques and cafes offers a real taste of traditional Greek culture.
The region of Halkidiki is made up of three distinct peninsulas: Kassandra, Sithonia, and Athos. Kassandra is heavily populated with hotels and is the center of the region’s nightlife – it’s perennially popular with tourists. Sithonia is renowned for its beautiful beaches and coastal scenery, featuring secluded coves and crystalline waters. Mysterious Athos, to the east, is largely a religious area inhabited by monks – no women are allowed to visit the area, even as sightseers!
Cape Sounion is an essential stop for anyone interested in the ancient history of Greece. It houses the legendary Temple of Poseidon, God of the Sea. The ruins can be found at the most southern tip of the Attica Peninsula, surrounded by sea on three sides. They offer the perfect vantage point to witness the spectacular sunsets over the Aegean Sea.
Located in the north of Greece, in the Macedonian region, Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in the country. It’s widely known for its friendly and eventful culture – the calendar in Thessaloniki is packed with festivals and celebrations. The nightlife is widely considered the best in Greece, with tavernas, bars, and clubs to suit every taste. It’s not just about partying, though – Thessaloniki’s historical Byzantine city center contains some of the country’s best museums and art galleries, as well as colorful markets where you can sample the delicious local produce.