Few countries can boast such an important heritage for Western civilisation as Greece. A number of first-class historical monuments recall the time when the great Greek emperors and writers shaped the development of science, literature and democracy. No fewer than 17 of these monuments are inscribed on the World Heritage List. However, the many charming small islands, sandy beaches and picturesque whitewashed coastal towns are at least as many reasons for the millions of tourists who visit this Mediterranean country every year.
The Parthenon, the landmark of the capital Athens, is world famous, as is the magnificent site of Delphi, where powerful rulers sought the prophecies of the most important oracle of the ancient Greek world. There is the Temple of Apollo at Bassae and the beautiful old town of Rhodes, once dominated by the Colossus of Rhodes. The archaeological site of Olympia is the birthplace of our modern Olympic Games and the place from which the Olympic flame is sent around the world. The many Eastern Orthodox monasteries of Meteora are simply breathtaking to behold, built high on rock pillars of natural sandstone. In the small town of Vergina, the ancient site of Agai was discovered and many valuables were found in several intact tombs, including the tomb of Philip II of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great. Proudly perched on Mount Taygetos is the ancient city of Mystras, which is close to (and often confused with) ancient Sparta. Another great place is the island of Delos, not far from the popular resort of Mykonos. According to legend, Apollo and Artemis were born here. The island was once the most important Panhellenic sanctuary and is now littered with archaeological remains.
Some of the main tourist attractions are on one of the beautiful Greek islands, so you can combine sightseeing with relaxation on one of the many quality beaches. Patmos is a good example, with its historic Chora centre, the Monastery of St John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse, but also with pleasant seaside restaurants with beautiful views. Corfu has the same qualities and is a popular holiday destination with good beaches and an impressive historic town centre. The coastal towns of Samos, just a stone’s throw from the Turkish mainland, are a good place to sample the island’s local wines (famous in ancient times!). Also on the island are the World Heritage Temple of Hera, the remains of the fortified port of Pythagoreion and the famous Eupalinos Tunnel, a kilometre-long underground aqueduct built in the 6th century BC. Although not an island, ancient Mount Athos is located in northern Greece, on the Halkidiki peninsula. It is one of the most popular tourist areas in the country, with excellent beaches, many other ancient sites and many charming villages.
If you want more history, admire the huge sanctuary of Asclepius in Epidaurus or the archaeological sites of Mycenae and Tiryns. The monasteries of Daphne (Athens), Hosios Loukas (Boeotia) and Nea Moni (on the island of Chios) complete the World Heritage lists for Greece.
When it comes to the famous Greek islands, it’s hard to choose from the 6,000 options available to you, 227 of which are inhabited. Their rocky coasts, sandy beaches, charming villages, sheltered coves and numerous marinas make them extremely popular with travellers of all kinds. The large island of Crete is a very popular tourist destination, with scenery ranging from wide sandy palm beaches to high snow-capped peaks and beautiful river gorges, and a lively nightlife in the main tourist towns. If you want to party in the evening, the charming towns of Mykonos or Ios are also good choices. The volcanic island of Santorini is one of the most romantic choices and offers spectacular views. Its whitewashed capital, Fira, sits spectacularly on the edge of a 400m cliff overlooking a beautiful blue lagoon. Other popular spots include Lesvos, Paros, Lefkada and Kos. Zakynthos National Marine Park is the most important nesting site for loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean. The green, rugged hills and valleys of Kefalonia are home to a number of vineyards, and the island’s cliffs and beautiful beaches make it a hotspot for tourism. For a more authentic and less touristy experience, try Syros, Amorgos or another small, less developed island. But if you want to live the Cycladic way, Andros is one of the most pristine places to visit.